Saturday 21st July 2018
I can´t say I ever get tired of walking. There is something quite freeing about being alone on a road or footpath and enjoying God´s amazing creation and the ingenuity of man. Ever since the first Camino por Amor walk in 2016 I have enjoyed walking throughout Central America, exploring new areas, meeting hundreds of new people, shared some quite unforgettable memories and seen how my stress levels and general health improves dramatically by just walking.
The Camino por Amor walk last week was another opportunity to enjoy all of the above as well as generate interest in our work and funds for the various projects we partner with in Central America. It was my third walk and this one was yet another challenge with Steve Poulson for the first to finish and the team that got the most votes in our music video challenge contest. I will explain what happened in a bit and I am hoping that, when I get time, to make a short video of the walk and give you details of the more challenging walk coming for 2019!
The plan WAS… for me to walk from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to Guatemala City and for Steve Poulson to walk from Guatemala City to Tegucigalpa. The plan WAS… to walk 90km per day for six days and then walk about 65km on the last day to our final destination. The journey would take us through the Valle Seco (Dry Valley), which spans from the capital of Honduras to the outskirts of Guatemala City. It would be a mainly uphill walk for me, with some days having to walk up more than 2,800m on hot roads and with little shade, while Steve would be walking downhill, which challenges on the body in many ways.
At the point where both Team Guatemala and Team Honduras crossed over in order to get to our starting points, we met for lunch to discuss plans, tactics and to reveal the half-way challenge, which we would have to complete before we met again on our return. We also took advantage of the meeting to show off each other´s support vehicles and decided to make our own Camino por Amor Top Gear Special. Our half-way challenge was to make a music video, which we would upload when we met together again and then allow people to vote which one they liked the best. Needless to say Team Guatemala won that vote with a superb music video based on the song “Más que Nada”.
From day one both myself and Steve realised that walking 90km in one day is going to take its toll on your body. Getting up at 3am on day two and trying to walk another 90km was going to be a challenge but we were committed to it despite the way our bodies were saying “hang on a minute, you need to rest”.
Steve posted photos of the state of his feet followed by more photos of the state of his walking mate Julio´s feet. It was not a pretty sight and we realised that from day two Team Honduras were not going to make up on lost ground due to injury and so we could either press forwards to a massive victory to be humble and work as one team. We decided on the later and so discussed with Steve the way we could accommodate his bad feet and try and walk as much as possible each day and then walk the 65km on the last day but agreed there and then on a draw. It was now set!
Despite the changes to the challenge of walking this distance and team Honduras´ health problems, we struck difficulties on day two when my back just froze up and cried out “take me to hospital”. (My back was still not right after a fracture last year.) My support vehicle had gone off to buy fuel and ice and so I sent out my distress message and location and waited for their rescue. It didn´t take long before the magnificent Ford Escape climbed the hill and within seconds the team, consisting of Ben and Joseph Soden, had the exercise mat out and started to apply all sorts of creams to my back while trying their best to cool my body temperature. I thought I was heading to hospital, but with a short rest and some medication and massaging I was ready to walk up the never-ending hill.
As the walk progressed we started to settle into a pattern of walking the first 25km, then breakfast, then walking 10km before a short rest, stretch, re-fuel the body with water and then repeat. Each 10km was very different and I had planned about 10 hours of music to listen to each day that fitted in roughly with each 10km. Little treats were planned for 65km, like a Coke or a chocolate bar but by then it was already dark and we were thinking of finding somewhere to stay the night and desperate to get into a cold shower and then hit the bed.
Each day started with “Video killed the radio star” a track that was just the perfect beat for walking about 4.7 miles an hour. The track fitted in with the movement of my walking poles and that set me up for the rest of the day but by day 7 it was becoming rather annoying.
The fun came when Team Honduras came up the hill I was walking down and our half-way point was reached and celebrated with lunch and a quick look at the England match. We then showed each other our music videos and laughed at Steve´s Barbie girl section of their video and knew this would be a tough competition indeed. Later that evening as Joseph and Ben were unloading the support car when it decided to die on us. This was met with the obvious rejoicing by Team Honduras and, after we discovered they were not to blame for our dead car, we knew we had a much bigger problem on our hands.
The Team Guatemala car, together with its neat flashing light and mobile communications centre that would rival anything NASA could come up with had died. There was nothing happening at all, not even a spark or glimmer of hope from our look under the bonnet (hood). I was not sure what I was looking for but there was no life and since the brakes and transmission are electronic it really was a dead duck in the water. Thanks to my car insurance a recovery vehicle was on its way to take it back to Guatemala and our friend and team worker, Sony, hired a car in Guatemala and headed over to us right away. It would mean that we would miss a few hours of walking time but would have another vehicle to support us walking all the way back to Guatemala City.
The following day was different without our usual car by the side of us but we had a new team member and renewed energy after a longer than planned rest the previous night. We pressed on and saw that Steve had been taken to a clinic as he was suffering from more pain in his knees and feet. We were not without our challenges this day as I got to just over our half-way point and the pounding heat on my head and back started to drain me of all energy. Ben and Joseph told me how they saw me walking “rather strangely” as I lunged from one side to the other and started to feel very light-headed and was unable to feel my legs or the pain in my back. I was very dehydrated and needed to be cooled down as the temperatures were now nearly 30 degrees plus the reflection off the road increased the actual temperature to unbearable limits. I almost collapsed but was able to find a tiny try that gave me some shade and bend over and wait for help to come. Once again, my team were able to get me going again and I then started to think more about the reason I was walking and the faces of the children together with the little book they had made me to read on the journey that consisted of short messages and photos. Furthermore, I had either Ben or Joseph walking with me now to encourage me and be there to support for when my body started to fail.
As we approached the border of Honduras and Guatemala on day 5 we were celebrating my birthday and Steve had left a present with me with instructions to open it on my birthday but film it at the same time. I had no idea what it was and when I opened the black rubbish bag I found a huge pink hat with a large flower at the front that I had to wear for the day. It was hilarious and caused no end of laughter and comments from police and members of the public as we walked along the road and crossed the border. A fun interlude that got us to day 6 and that would lead to day 7, which was our last day and final push up into the mountains to Guatemala City.
We were joined on the last day from friends from my men´s group in church and then later by two busses of children from La Terminal in Guatemala City, all of which would be benefitting from funds raised on the walk.
The triumphal entry into Guatemala City was one of high emotion and to walk up the last bit of the hill and see all the children with their banners and screaming out my name and Camino por Amor was almost overwhelming. The city had sent some police motorcycle outriders to accompany us to our final destination and near to the finish we were joined by more friends from Guatemala City and the British Ambassador to Honduras and British Ambassador to Guatemala.
Walking around the corner into the street where our mentoring centre is situated was an adrenaline rush as we saw all the children, who had been bussed to the finish to save their feet, screaming and waving while firecrackers were lit that made a statement that no amount of words could. It was the end, it was time to stop walking and lie down on the floor, enjoy a cold drink and the applause and hugs from everyone there. It was mission accomplished and now, the thing we had talked about every day on the walk, was about to happen. Ben, Joseph and I headed for a comfortable hotel swimming pool, hot tub and then a large steak and cold drinks.
We are so grateful to the thousands of people who watched our videos, all those who donated, for those who followed every step of the gruelling journey and for the hundreds of comments each day on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Job done!