Allan Boroughs http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk Sat, 12 Nov 2016 09:43:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In the Lost World http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/in-the-lost-world/ http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/in-the-lost-world/#respond Sat, 12 Nov 2016 09:43:34 +0000 http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/?p=2763 The real adventure begins when our gear is loaded into 4X4s for the 20km journey to the start of the trek.  The Pemon people manage the […]

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The real adventure begins when our gear is loaded into 4X4s for the 20km journey to the start of the trek.  The Pemon people manage the trail and will hire us the guides and porters we need though it takes over an hour to manage this transaction due to the large number of banknotes involved.  It gives me time to look around.

The people here are strong and good looking and clearly work incredibly hard to make a difficult living.  As Manuel says when we observe the scrawny camp dogs, “when dogs are skinny you know that people are starving.”

The first days walk is allegedly moderate (though it doesn’t feel that way) and takes us to the isolated Tek river camp where we can wash away the sweat in the icy river and enjoy Manuel’s tenderloin steaks prepared over an open fire – there really are advantages to bringing a guide who runs his own French restaurant.  Conversation over dinner is limited and none of us have much energy after 8pm.

The following morning, the temporary latrine outside the camp affords undoubtedly the best view I have ever enjoyed from a kludge.  The prospect of Roraima rises like a sandstone fortress out of the plains.   The clouds cling to its flat roof and high waterfalls form splashy horse’s tails as the rainwater spills over the sides.

A steady day’s climbing brings us to base camp and a chance to rest and wash some underpants in a very gritty river (not advised).  We are now frighteningly close to the mountain – to call Roraima sheer sided is no exaggeration.  The sandstone cliffs rise out of the rainforest absolutely vertically, streaming with water and completely unclimbable (many professional climbers have tried and failed utterly).  Fortunately for us Roraima is one of the few mountains that has an accessible trail to the summit although from here it ascends sharply at a 45 degree angle and looks about as accessible as Kim Jong-un’s private bathroom.

It’s not difficult to see why the Pemon regard these mountains as sacred and the home of the Gods/  Nor is it difficult to see why explorers like Percy Fawcett might have speculated about the strange creatures that live on the top in such an isolated eco-structure (an idea that gave rise to Conan Doyle’s 1912 ovel, ‘The Lost World’).  Tomorrow some of these mysteries might be revealed but for now I’m content to believe that there might just be dinosaurs.

(Bloody hell, my legs hurt.)

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How Roraima got its name http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/roraima-got-name/ http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/roraima-got-name/#respond Sun, 04 Sep 2016 10:19:20 +0000 http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/?p=2758 Once there was a time when the animals and the humans knew the same language and they could all understand each other.  And at that time […]

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Once there was a time when the animals and the humans knew the same language and they could all understand each other.  And at that time the world tree grew large and beautiful and it held enough fruit for all the animals.

The spirits guarded the tree carefully and only someone who was pure of heart was allowed to climb the tree and pick the fruit.  And because Makunaima was the purest among them, he alone was chosen.  Every day Makunamia would climb the tree and pick fruit for all the animals and they were all fed and happy.    But not the monkey.

The monkey was angry that Makunaima was allowed to climb the tree when he could not.  One morning, consumed by his own jealousy, the monkey waited until Makunaima had climbed the tree as usual and then called to all his monkey brothers to help him cut down the world tree.  They hacked and hacked at  the beautiful world tree until it fell and Makunaima was killed.

At first the animals were pleased because now they could take whatever fruit they wanted.  But when the spirits saw what had happened, they were so angry at what the monkey had done that they caused the stump of the great tree to spout water.  The water gushed over the sides of the stump until the whole world was flooded and the creatures of the earth were frightened and dispersed.

And when the flood had cleared, the animals and the humans found they could no longer understand each other for the spirits had taken that gift away.  And that is how the stump of the world tree became Mount Roraima.

from an original folk tale of the Pemon people told to me by Manuel Pauji

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Poison darts, murder and gold http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/poison-darts/ http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/poison-darts/#respond Wed, 31 Aug 2016 17:35:37 +0000 http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/?p=2753 At Ciudad Bolivar we pause to examine Jimmy Angel’s plane, rescued from a tepui top from where he crash landed in the 30’s shortly after he […]

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At Ciudad Bolivar we pause to examine Jimmy Angel’s plane, rescued from a tepui top from where he crash landed in the 30’s shortly after he ‘discovered’ and named Angel Falls.  Of course the falls already had a name, Kerepakupai Meru, and they were well known to the Pemon people as a sacred place.  But then this was a different era and one in which white guys got to name everything. Nevertheless, I do like Jimmy’s plane.  It is a gem of an Indiana Jones aircraft, held together with rivets and good wishes and is exactly the sort of flying machine I would expect a gold prospector to own.

Next we plow south along the Trans-Amazonian highway which runs south as far as Manaus.  Back in the 80’s when the road was being built it was not unusual for construction crews to be attacked with poison darts from remote tribes objecting to the rude invasion of their homelands.  Even today police will pick up any drivers who have broken down after dark for their own safety.

Now the country starts to unscroll faster than I can keep up.  Oil country gives way to hydro-electric country and giant pylons march relentlessly across country towards the city centres.  Blast furnaces and steel mills squat on the horizon until the scenery gradually morphs into jungle.

Then we arrive in gold country.  There is still a gold rush on in these parts.  Independent miners still pan for alluvial gold in the rivers or exploit hidden mines deep in the jungle.  Gold towns thrive along the route; dangerous little enclaves where the roads run with red mud, Landcruisers park nose to tail and the shop keepers will readily accept gold and raw diamonds in exchange for goods.

Every so often wild-man hermit miners emerge from the forest to stock up on provisions and visit the local bordello.  It’s not unusual for a successful miner to spend upwards of $30,000 in a single weekend and robbery and murder are the local spectator sports.  Pausing at one of these frontier towns to buy rum we stand out like a group of day old chicks in a box of pythons.  Dangerous eyes follow our every move and we are all very glad to get back into the van.

This is a country that breeds some serious badasses.  The man who owns the restaurant where we stop for lunch boasts a long history as a soldier of fortune and a presidential bodyguard and he makes Jason Bourne look like a social worker.  On one occasion he thwarted an assassination attempt by three gunmen by sticking his fingers in the end of the gun and then killing all three assassins himself.

Tonight we have arrived at base camp, checking our gear and repacking rucksacks in preparation for the off tomorrow.  Our tents are pitched at the top of a spectacular waterfall, dropping a hundred feet into a gorge where cloud hangs in the valleys like snagged wool.  It requires only a stray brontosaurus to stomp through the bracken for the scene to be truly complete.

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Chocolate trees, wombles and maggots http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/chocolate-trees-wombles-maggots/ http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/chocolate-trees-wombles-maggots/#respond Mon, 29 Aug 2016 17:38:53 +0000 http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/?p=2749 The eight hour drive to the Gran Sabana offers the prospect of getting to know our travelling companions a little better and Manuel and Doug provide […]

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The eight hour drive to the Gran Sabana offers the prospect of getting to know our travelling companions a little better and Manuel and Doug provide a splendid run down on the local delicacies we can expect to sample along the way.  My personal favourite is cuache – a hot chilli sauce made from termites and ants, ‘boiled to remove most of the cyanide’ – nice.  If that feels too tame there are the finger-fat palm tree grubs (big maggoty things basically) that, according to Doug, ‘taste like almonds, dipped in a bit of shit’.

The drive takes us through cacao growing country – chocolate trees to you – before giving way to the shale oil fields that dominate the East of the country.  If the nodding donkeys and flame stacks belching rubber-black smoke weren’t enough to confirm we are in oil country, the stop for fuel is an eye opener.  In a country where the price of bolivars looks more like a homeopathic potency than an exchange rate, the cost of 100 litres of diesel is a paltry 4 bolivars.

This is too small a number to calculate accurately but equates to less than one quarter of a US cent or, as near to free as makes no difference.  “People may be starving and at the mercy of criminal gangs,” says Manuel, “but without a car in Venezuela you are nothing.  The last time they tried to raise the price of fuel we came close to a civil war.”

This evening we cross the mighty Orinoco (named after the greatest of the Wombles) and into Bolivar state.  We visit the obligatory statue of Simon De Bolivar in the town square and make approving noises over the bullet hole in the cathedral wall where he executed his brother-in-law (which sounds very like one of our family get-togethers).

Tomorrow we plunge further south into the Gran Sabana and the adventure begins to take shape.  The excitement in the group is palpable and even the prospect of almonds dipped in shit cannot dampen our enthusiasm for what is to come.

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Murder, cash and a decent burger – welcome to Venezuela http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/murder-cash-decent-burger-welcome-venezuela/ http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/murder-cash-decent-burger-welcome-venezuela/#respond Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:07:36 +0000 http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/?p=2736 “Caracas – murder capital of the world!” trumpet the uncomforting headlines.  According to the Daily Mail we would be two times safer in Baghdad than we […]

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“Caracas – murder capital of the world!” trumpet the uncomforting headlines.  According to the Daily Mail we would be two times safer in Baghdad than we are here (whatever that means).  Unsurprisingly, these statistics do not tell the whole truth.  The majority of murders in Caracas are committed by the poorest on the poorest and although attacks on foreign nationals gain all the headlines, violent crime, it seems, never strays far from its roots.

That said, the airport is a little hairy and when we arrive at the hotel we are warned to stay within the security compound because ‘there is literally no safe part of town’.  Nevertheless, leaving aside the justifiable paranoia and the tabloid bellowing there is a truly beautiful country here.

My travelling companion and I are in Venezuela for two weeks of trekking in the remote Gran Sabana and navigating the Akkanan river in a dugout canoe.  It is an adventure of heroic proportions and already our excitement is building.  From our hotel window we can see the Avila hills towering over northern Caracas, wreathed in woolly cloud.  Humid forest smells hang in the air and painted brick housing explodes in pastel hues across the palm covered hillsides.

First order of the day on arriving at the hotel is to change some money.  Venezuelan Bolivars are not available outside the country and all transactions must be done here at the official bank rate of 6 Bolivars to the $ or, if you prefer, at the black market rate of 750 Bolivars to the $.  Unsurprisingly there is not much of a queue for the official currency exchange desk.

The money changer is a nervous character which is understandable when you consider that the cash in his briefcase is around 10 times the national average salary and that this is a place where you can be shot for your sunglasses.  “Would you mind shutting the door,” is his first request; “Yup, absolutely – shutting the door – no problem whatsoever there.”

We will need around $240 worth of local currency which is roughly 180,000 Bolivars.    Despite rampant inflation of around 800% (figures correct at time of going to press) the government refuses to print any denominations larger than a 100 Bolivar note.  Accordingly, in exchange for our $240 dollars we receive a stack of notes a foot high.

Stuffing the money into our rucksacks we return to our room and spread the stack guiltily on the bed.  The room looks like a scene from ‘Breaking Bad’ or that part of a heist movie where the gang is counting the money moments before someone sprays the room with automatic gunfire.

The large wads of cash take some getting used to – a couple of decent burgers and a coke required a wadge of over 150 bank notes to pay for it.  “Don’t take more than two stacks of bills out with you at any one time,” advises our guide in a slightly surreal exchange.

Money matters aside, the little we have seen of the country so far confirms that it is quite beautiful and the obvious enthusiasm of our hosts leaves us excited and anxious for the adventure to begin.  We will leave, we are told, at 7.00am tomorrow morning.  This is slightly later than planned as our guides will first need to pick up money to pay for porters and provisions along the way.  They will both need to go because the sack of cash we will take with us weighs over half a hundredweight.

Welcome to Venezuela.

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Allan Boroughs is in the jungle – he may be some time… http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/allan-boroughs-jungle-may-time/ http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/allan-boroughs-jungle-may-time/#respond Fri, 05 Aug 2016 12:50:22 +0000 http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/?p=2731 How much adventure is too much?  It’s a question I ask myself again as I prepare to leave for 3 weeks in the Venezuelan jungles.  I […]

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How much adventure is too much?  It’s a question I ask myself again as I prepare to leave for 3 weeks in the Venezuelan jungles.  I have tried to settle my pre-travelling nerves by finding as much information on Venezuela on line as I can.  Unfortunately this does not settle my nerves.

Venezuela is currently in the grip of a desperate economic crisis –a large proportion of the population is in extreme poverty and the statistics on violent crime in Caracas make grim reading.  They are not statistics I like.

However, as you would expect I have taken precautions.  A LOT of precautions.  Venezuela values its tourists and I am being met, escorted, chaperoned and guided through all stages of my visit and, according to all the local advice I can get, I am highly unlikely to encounter any problems of the human kind.

The jungle however, is another matter.  My adventuring hero and Amazonian explorer, Perceval Harrison Fawcett wrote detailed accounts of his jungle explorations including ‘the great balls of flesh eating ticks that dropped from the trees as we passed’; being attacked by a 62 foot anaconda and calming an Indian war party by playing God Save the Queen on his accordion.

I suspect my trip will be a little less wild but, once again faced with the prospect of the unknown, I have taken precautions.  Already my living room looks like the aftermath of a gas explosion in Millets.  I am taking quick drying clothes, plastic bags, waterproofs, industrial strength mosquito repellent strong enough to melt plastic (really!) and tea – because, well you know…TEA!

My travelling companion takes a long look at my assorted hardware and delivers his verdict.  “Jeez, did you buy enough bloody gadgets?”  I’m not sure – did I buy enough gadgets?  Am I missing some vital bit of Bear Grylls kit that will make the difference between life and death?  Or did I simply bring too much stuff?  I survey the kit again and decide that it must be ok because at least I didn’t pack an accordion.

One question I always ask kids on my school visits is “how many of you have ever had to go and visit somewhere or someone new when it made you feel really nervous?”  Most invariably put their hand up.  “And how many of you had a fabulous time that you weren’t expecting when you got there?” Again most put their hand up and then regale me with stories about wild adventures with new friends in exciting places that they would never have ventured to unless they had stepped outside their comfort zone.  And there it is.  The definition of adventure – ‘it felt scary, but I did it anyway’.

So how much adventure is too much?  I‘ll tell you when I get back.

See you in three weeks.

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There may be dinosaurs! http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/there-may-be-dinosaurs/ http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/there-may-be-dinosaurs/#respond Wed, 04 May 2016 20:45:38 +0000 http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/?p=2719 In 1908 the adventurer, explorer, cartographer, fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and occasional spy, Perceval Harrison Fawcett, visited the great sandstone plateaus of the Franco […]

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In 1908 the adventurer, explorer, cartographer, fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and occasional spy, Perceval Harrison Fawcett, visited the great sandstone plateaus of the Franco Ricardo hills in Bolivia.  Of the plateaux he wrote, ‘they stood like a lost world, forested to their tops’. Fawcett’s descriptions so impressed the young Conan-Doyle when he heard them that he immediately set about writing ‘The Lost World’.  (No not that one).

Wind forward a hundred years or so and I find myself preparing to follow in Percy’s footsteps.  Not quite to Bolivia where drug cartels and a rumbling border war make writing research a tad risky, but to the equally daunting flat topped tepui mountains of Venezuela.  Our objective is the top of Mount Roraima which the locals believed to be the stump of the world tree and which the newly arrived white Europeans considered to be unscaleable and, quite likely, still inhabited by dinosaurs.

Despite my admiration of Percy Fawcett I have no great desire to follow too far his footsteps.  Quite apart from his encounters with previously uncontacted cannibal tribes he wrote frequently of the dangers of huge leeches, anacondas and ‘great balls of jumping ticks that fall out of the trees’.

I can say with some confidence that I am unlikely to be eaten (by people) in modern day Venezuela eaten by balls of jumping ticks however remains a distinct possibility.  With this in mind I have been skin-testing several brands of super-strength, jungle-formula insect repellent to see if it brings me or my travelling companion out in festering hives.

It is a daunting prospect, the packaging contains the sort of warnings normally reserved for nuclear waste.  “Keep out of reach of children, keep away from food, do not allow to contaminate water supplies, avoid discharge into the environment.  May cause rash, blistering, suppuration, nausea, dizziness, fainting.  Will melt rubber and plastic.”

It also adds (unhelpfully) “in case of allergic reaction to our jungle strength formula, please consult your GP.” – clearly untroubled by the notion that ‘jungle’ and ‘your GP’ are words seldom found in the same sentence.

I travel, as always, in search of adventure, as research for a book (as yet not fully formed) and for the same adrenalin, unpredictability and general scariness that always makes for good memories.  For me there is always a sense that, when things stop going to plan is when the adventure is most likely to start.

However, as any Edwardian gentleman explorer will tell you, there is no excuse for taking uneccesary risks.   So now I consider my tube of undiluted toxic insect poison carefully.  Am I really happy to smear this toxic sludge on my skin simply to avoid being eaten by a few blood-gorged jumping ticks?

Bloody right I am!

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UKMG Extravaganza! http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/ukmg-extravaganza/ Sun, 06 Sep 2015 17:36:23 +0000 http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/?p=2713 I am like the proverbial two tailed canine at the prospect of being at the UK Extravaganza – 17th October at Nottingham Central Library.  Do come! […]

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I am like the proverbial two tailed canine at the prospect of being at the UK Extravaganza – 17th October at Nottingham Central Library.  Do come!  Lots of multi-talented world-famous MG writers…AND ME!

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Radio stars! http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/radio-stars/ Sat, 04 Apr 2015 13:32:35 +0000 http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/?p=2705 Last week saw the hyper-talented Rachel Kellehar and me celebrate International Children’s Book Day by going to Share Radio.  We talked at length about Children’s Literature, […]

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Last week saw the hyper-talented Rachel Kellehar and me celebrate International Children’s Book Day by going to Share Radio.  We talked at length about Children’s Literature, the state of the market, what publishers look for in new work and how to get published.  A splendid time was had by all and we even managed to sound coherent throughout.  You can judge how well we did – here 

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Ironheart is shortlisted for the Portsmouth Book Award! http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/ironheart-shortlisted-portsmouth-book-award/ http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/ironheart-shortlisted-portsmouth-book-award/#respond Tue, 10 Feb 2015 08:46:17 +0000 http://www.allanboroughs.co.uk/?p=2698 So delighted to learn that Ironheart has been shortlisted for the Portsmouth Book Award (Longer Novel Category) – thanks so much and best of luck to […]

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So delighted to learn that Ironheart has been shortlisted for the Portsmouth Book Award (Longer Novel Category) – thanks so much and best of luck to all shortlisted authors

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