Sculpture Trail: Burton Green

Made in Burton Green is a community art project taking place in June and July. There are many parts to it; my friend and I visited the Sculpture Trail in the National Grid Woods. All of the pieces are handmade as part of the project, using materials such as wiring, papier mache and wool.

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We went on a dry but cloudy day, after a lot of rain in the past few days. It was doable with trainers, providing you don’t mind them getting muddy! It’s staged in part of a wood, so the terrain is obviously uneven, but the path is marked both by the creatures and signs. To get to the trail, park at Burton Green Village Hall, turn left and then turn left again at the scarecrow. The theme is mostly Beatrix Potter, but we also saw characters from some other children’s books, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Charlotte’s Web.

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The whole loop takes about 20 minutes, but we were limited on time/distance, so we walked to the end of the sculpture trail and walked back again. There are more pieces elsewhere on the main road which we didn’t manage to see. Each section had been carefully thought out to make the most of the trees and space available- there was lots to stop and look at, we were suitably impressed!

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Independence Day: Resurgence

I know I’m going against the grain here, but I wasn’t overly impressed with this film. The trailer looked good, the concept was great, but I didn’t really feel any kind of attachment to it while watching it.

I watched the 1996 Independence Day film in science lessons, you know, the ones at the end of the year where your teacher is trying to make a film link with a subject so they can legitimately show it to their class. We saw it in 3 parts, and I recall looking forward to the next lesson to finish watching it. I remember the rousing speech the President gave during it and feeling the tension.

Independence Day: Resurgence tells the story of Earth 20 years on, and how it faces another attack. A lot of the actors from the 1996 film appeared again in this film, which was a great idea- you could see how they had aged and it added to the story rather than breaking off and having completely new characters. There were obviously some new faces, and a few of them had ties to their family who had fought in the 1996 film, which, again, was a great concept. I liked the fact that the female characters seemed to have a bit of resolve about them and were treated as equals to their male counterparts.

However, it felt a bit like the film was ‘trying too hard’. Some of the screenplay was a bit obvious and I didn’t find many of the attempts at humour funny. I didn’t feel any of the underlying tension, and I found myself rolling my eyes at the usual Sci-Fi ‘sacrificing’ saga (where someone always has to fly into the blast to save the world), rather than being upset by it. I wasn’t rooting for any particular character either. There were many ‘we’ve only got one shot to do this’ comments, but they then ended up having more than ‘one shot’, so I stopped believing what they were saying to the point that when they killed off one of the main characters, I almost missed it. The CGI and effects were good quality and the soundtrack was alright but, again, nothing special.

It was a nice way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon and I’m glad I went to see it. It just didn’t live up to the expectations I had in my head.

Photo: Box Office Image

 

To My Chiropractor

To My Chiropractor,

You’re not part of an NHS service, but you’re worth every penny. I was running out of options for my ‘unusual’ pain before I came to you, and thought chiropractic was ‘worth a try’. It’s made such a difference to my pain and how I function.

You see me as a whole person with pain, as opposed to pain attached to a person- you don’t just treat my pain, you treat me. Which sounds obvious, but lots of Healthcare Professionals seem to forget that they deal with people and just focus on what patients are presenting with. You look at the bigger picture and try to figure out why something might not be working quite so well. Everything is clearly explained: I know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

I feel like we work together, it’s given me a bit of ownership over my condition. You listen to the ways I manage my pain myself and tailor your treatments to take that into account or you give me physio to do at home. Even when things don’t make sense, you don’t dismiss me like other HCPs have done, saying that I need to just get on with it. You still say ‘that doesn’t make sense, it shouldn’t be like that’, just like they do, but you follow this up with ‘let’s try this instead’.

I like coming to the practice, everyone is really friendly. Which, again, you’d think would be an obvious thing, but I don’t often get that at my GP practice. You respond to my mood- so we laugh on good days and are more quiet on difficult days. You also celebrate my minor achievements with me. When seeing some medical professionals, I occasionally change my language and the way I speak because I worry they’ll find my descriptions and words I use to describe what’s going on trivial, and dismiss what I’m saying. I like the fact that I can use whatever words I like and you’ll understand, because you think outside the box.

Thank you for helping me with my pain, but also thank you for making my sessions with you a bright spot in my calendar of appointments.

Photo: Elevationhealth.com 

Me Before You

I liked this film. I hadn’t read the book by JoJo Moyes beforehand, but it was pretty obvious how the storyline would go. Here’s the gist: Lou lives in a small town and finds herself out of work and needing to help support her family financially. She finds a job as a carer to Will, who needs round the clock care following a motorbike accident. Will feels he’s lost everything, including his desire to continue living, and feels he’s a burden. Despite both characters being stubborn in their ways, (Lou as an eternal optimist, Will the opposite), they form a close relationship. It’s not enough to change Will’s mind, but the end outcome is still ultimately love.

Will comments at one point that you can literally see Lou’s emotions on her face as they cross her mind, and you really could. It was never going to be a happy storyline, but, actually, there was a lot of humour in it and I think the theme of assisted suicide was well handled. I really liked seeing Matthew Lewis (who played Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter) in a different context, even if he was playing a self-absorbed character. I also loved Lou’s shoe collection!

Here’s where I was a bit surprised. I usually over empathise with films, in that I really hate films where people die or are ‘sacrificed’ for the greater good of others (pretty much all sci-fi ones). It’s not the violence or death itself, it’s the fact that I feel what the person dying/being killed must feel like right before they die. So I tend to shut my eyes so I can’t see their facial expressions. I didn’t feel that way about this film. I didn’t feel upset and I didn’t cry. I actually came away feeling positive, which was really bizarre, and I’ve been trying to work out why.

Firstly, Will made a decision to end his life because he found it difficult to bear. He wasn’t saying he didn’t appreciate everything that was being done for him, but that he missed his old life, didn’t want to be remembered as being disabled and didn’t want to feel a burden. This is the bit I did feel angry at- it’s still Lou’s decision as to whether she wants to be involved with Will. He shouldn’t have made the choice for her. But that was only a fraction of his reasoning, and, in a twisted way, he still did it out of love.

Secondly, Lou fought against the decision but still was ultimately there to support him at the end. She had fond memories of their time together. So, again, an act of love.

Thirdly, in a way, Will got back the control over the decisions in his life. He’d been dealt a terrible hand in so many ways, and had all the elements of choice taken away from him. He was getting more ill and didn’t want to fade away into nothing. So, he made, for him, a positive choice as to how he ended his life. This might not work for everyone, but it worked for him.

There’s been a bit of backlash on social media because some people say that the film suggests that people who are in Will’s situation should opt for assisted suicide so as ‘not to burden their families’, and there’s concern that it may influence those who are vulnerable. I didn’t really get that impression- Will didn’t want to be a burden, but that was only part of the decision. He didn’t feel he was ‘living’ was his main reason. The other point raised is that the film is somehow suggesting that disabled people can’t live fulfilling lives. Again, I didn’t get that impression- I saw it more as this was one person making a decision for himself.

I think I didn’t feel upset about it because Will himself was at peace with it. He’d clearly thought it out. It was almost a relief for him, but he’d had a great 6 months prior with Lou. I’m still not sure why I came away feeling positive about it. Maybe because it proves to us that even when you think you’ve lost everything, you can still make some of your own choices and are ultimately still in control of something in life. Everybody left the cinema feeling reflective- the film definitely gives everyone something to think about, whichever way you view it.

Phrases I Wish People Wouldn’t Say.

I’m finding that conversations I have with people who aren’t close friends are falling into a pattern. The same phrases keep coming up. Having said that, I was really impressed that none of the following came up when I went to a band reunion last week (thank you). I’m not doubting the good intentions of the person saying them, it’s often because they don’t actually know what to say. But when you hear the same things over and over, it’s hard to ‘let it go’ and not to get upset by it. I’m not unreasonable, sometimes things are said without thinking and that’s fine. And I’d also like to make the point that I’m not writing about anyone in particular- it’s partly my responsibility for not having explained why I don’t like hearing specific phrases. So here’s what usually happens:

I’ll nearly always reply ‘fine thanks, you?’ if you ask me ‘how are you?’. Which usually leads to:

Feeling better? Or When will you get better?

It doesn’t work like that. I don’t have something people suddenly ‘get better’ from. There are two reasons I dread hearing this:
a) it implies that people are waiting for me to rejoin the realm of ‘the healthy people’, sometimes with good intentions, sometimes not.
b) people tend to get upset when I say that it might not/is unlikely to ‘get better’.

Thinking about scenario a) does that make my life worse than someone’s who is healthy because I’m ‘not better’ yet? Even if you’re saying it with good intentions, it still feels a bit like that- like I’m different or ‘missing out’. Some people even say it because they ‘can’t be bothered’ with the unhealthy version of me. I’m not even going to respond to that.

Looking at scenario b) is more tricky. I feel that I have to somehow protect the other person when I’m explaining this to them. They tell me how upset they are, how frustrated I must be, how unfair it is etc (all nice sentiments) and I find myself consoling them. Some people have cried. Which is really weird- it’s me that’s ill, but I’m trying to make the other person feel better??? Most of the time, it’s because they’re genuinely upset for me, which I appreciate, but when I’m having this conversation on a weekly (and more) basis, it’s really emotionally draining and upsetting.

So then the other person tries to find something positive to say:

At least it’s not cancer.

Can we just pause and think about this for a second: Would you like it if I said to you ‘at least it’s not pneumonia’ when you have a cold? Or would you say to a person with cancer ‘well at least you’re not dying from it’? I don’t want to have cancer, nor am I comparing my illness to cancer. Because it’s different, and that’s part of my point. Sometimes this is said with a ‘I need to find something positive to say’ attitude, sometimes with an ‘other people have it worse than you’ outlook. I don’t actually need either, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Or

That’s life.

No, it’s not. It’s the same as comparing a homeless person’s life to a millionaire’s life- you can’t put them in the same bracket. Illness is a part of life, yes. Being ill without an end date, having to radically change how you live, losing your ‘old’ life and finding every day tough is not. It sucks, and it should be ok to say that sometimes without it being followed with a shrug and a ‘that’s life’ comment. But, most of the time, I haven’t actually said anything negative about being ill- it’s usually said by the person asking me, because they’re trying to justify what’s happening to me in their own minds. So why do I need to hear it?

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Photo: Pinterest 

Then people tend to catch themselves and try to say something humorous:

It must be great staying at home all day…

I’m all for a joke, I joke a lot with my close friends. We laugh about how it’s a perk to stay at home all day in my PJs. But from anyone else, it sounds really dismissive and I will not find it funny. I’d love to have a job, to be able to go out without having to meticulously plan and to not have to ask myself questions like ‘if I shower now, will I have enough energy to make lunch?’ If you’d like to swap, let me know!

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Photo: Pinterest 

People often get a sudden ‘lightning bolt’ moment at this point. And suddenly start trying to ‘cure’ me:

Have you tried…?

Again, said usually with good intentions. And, soon after diagnosis, I would probably have been grateful for the suggestions. But I’m 2 years in now, I’ve tried most things and done lots of research. It’s also not simple- I’ve seen some very senior HCPs who are sometimes/still baffled. Unless you’re one of my really close friends or know anyone else with the condition (or similar), I’m unlikely to find these comments helpful, so please don’t take offence when I haven’t followed up on your suggestion the next time we meet.

After I’ve smiled and said ‘thank you, I’ll have a look’ at whatever has been suggested, thoughts usually turn to my husband:

At least you’ve got your husband to look after you.

This makes me feel guilty. I rely on him and my close friends to help me do stuff, and I’ve only just gotten good at asking for help rather than struggling. I hate having to rely on people, and the fact that I might be ‘inadequate’ or a ‘burden’. Aside from making me feel guilty, it also makes me feel like the only positive thing you’ve got from our conversation is the fact that I have a husband- so it also makes me feel like I don’t exist as a human being in my own right. Again, it’s another ‘positive’ comment people say when they don’t know what else to say.

The next phrase doesn’t necessarily have a ‘place’ in the conversation, it sometimes comes later on, but comes up quite a lot. Some people say it because they think I’m over exaggerating my condition, others say it as a type of joke.

Yeah, I’m tired too or When you have kids you can complain about being tired!

I’m not diminishing people’s tiredness- it’s not very often I turn around in a conversation and say ‘tired? you want to try having what I have!’ unless you’ve really annoyed me or you’re my close friend and we’re joking. So I find it difficult when people do the same to me. My tiredness doesn’t go away with copious amounts of caffeine. My tiredness has the potential to kill me (not an exaggeration), and not in the ‘I’m so tired I nearly burnt the house down’ kind of way. I understand that people will be tired after having children and in meeting their demands, but it’s different.

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Photo: Pinterest 

I’m not an ogre, I know it’s sometimes hard to know what to say. I appreciate when people are genuinely asking after me. It’s a big part of my life at the moment, so of course it’ll come up in conversation, in the same way that people talk about their jobs/children/pregnancies, for example. To people other than my close friends, I try to be practical about it and don’t want to feel negative about it. If you have questions about it or are interested, ask. But if you just want ‘general chat’, please accept my ‘I’m fine thanks’ response and try to avoid these phrases. 🙂

Gut Feeling

I let a Doctor knock my confidence in how I manage my Adrenal Insufficiency recently. I’ve since realised that actually, I do a pretty good job considering it’s complicated. My GP looks panicked whenever I appear at her surgery, so it’s ok that I feel unsure sometimes- she has medical training and I don’t. I can measure my BP, my HR, Blood Glucose and temperature and make some kind of assessment myself, but I mostly manage myself based on gut feelings and check with HCPs if I’m not sure. I have 5 ‘feelings’:

  1. I can ‘ignore’ this. Which means: I’ve got lots of things going on symptom wise, but I’m going to try and get on with it. A ‘normal’ day.
  2. I need to do something or this will end badly. Eg take some tablets, lie down, sleep, eat.
  3. I need to seek medical advice.
  4. I need to go to A&E.
  5. I need to call an ambulance.

Most days revolve around feelings 1 and 2. There aren’t many people I can reliably ask for medical advice from (number 3). A lot of the time when I hit number 3, I know what I need, but I either want to run my plan past someone who can back up my ‘feelings’ with science, or I need them to prescribe me something.

The last time I went to A&E, I went because I had my number 4 feeling. I couldn’t say why, my BP, HR, temperature etc were all ‘fine’ when I did them at home. But I had my number 4 feeling, so I went to hospital. I didn’t have a specific symptom just a general overall ‘not well, this will end badly’ feeling. I was admitted for 4 days- my feeling was right.

I haven’t had my number 5 one for a while (thankfully). Most paramedics are great- I’ve had the same one come out to me a couple of times. The last time he said ‘her feelings are usually right, we’re taking her in’ when his co-woker wasn’t sure. My feeling was right- I was admitted for 2 days.

I know how ridiculous I sound saying to a medical professional ‘I have a feeling I need to be here’. If you are a medical professional reading this, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re thinking ‘who is this idiot?’. It depends on who I get as to whether they ‘believe’ me. It’s stressful being ill let alone when you think you might have to convince someone that you need help.

I had to fight for a long time with various HCPs. I was made to think that I was going mad and the problem was psychological. I was told I was wrong so many times. But I had my gut feeling that I was right, and it had always been right in the past, so I kept arguing, with support from friends. I found one senior consultant who ‘believed’ me and it made such a difference because people couldn’t tell him he was wrong and that it was psychological. My feeling was right.

I’m not a scientist, I was hopeless at Biology. And I know that tests are useful indicators, providing you’re looking in the right place. But the best doctors/paramedics/nurses I’ve had since diagnosis of Adrenal Insufficiency have been the ones who have said ‘everything seems fine, but you have your feeling. Tell me about it.’ They’ve listened to me and treated me as a person with an illness, rather than looking solely at the numbers on the page/machine and treating me like a condition attached to a person. If they then still say everything’s fine, I mentally take note of the situation, reevaluate the ‘feeling’ and use it as a benchmark for next time.

What would have happened if I’d have ignored my gut feelings and given up? I probably would have died. So if as someone treating me, you instantly dismiss me when I say ‘I have a feeling’, I will struggle to trust you. Many of my doctors and nurses have been proved wrong in the last few years, but my gut feeling has been pretty damn accurate.

 

The Short Synacthen Test

A couple of weeks ago, I had a repeat Short Synacthen Test. A few people have asked what it involved, but I probably wasn’t very good at explaining it verbally, so I thought I’d write about my experience of it.

What is a Short Synacthen Test?

It tests adrenal gland production of cortisol and helps diagnose Primary (Addison’s Disease) or Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency. It can also check for other things, but not in my case. Cortisol is a hormone, and plays a part in pretty much everything: from how you respond in a stressful situation (fight or flight) to digesting your food. You need it to survive.

 

What does the test involve?

The Short Synacthen Test lasts about an hour. A baseline blood test is taken first, followed by an injection of synthetic ACTH. After 30 minutes, another blood sample is taken, followed by a final blood sample at 60 minutes. You have to go to hospital on the day of the test, usually first thing in the morning (although before 11am is fine), and are supervised by an endocrine nurse for the time you’re there. Once it’s over, you can go home and resume normal routine.

How does it work?

The pituitary gland is responsible for sending ACTH (another hormone) to the adrenal gland, telling it to make cortisol. The injection mimics this. A normal response would be that cortisol production would increase between the baseline and 30 minute blood sample, and increase further between the 30 minute and 60 minute sample. In someone who has Adrenal Insufficiency, the cortisol level would not move at all or would move very little.

What preparation do you have to do beforehand?

The test won’t be accurate if steroids are taken prior to the test, as it would show a higher level of cortisol in the blood. This means I had to stop some of my medications beforehand- I had to stop taking my steroid inhaler for 3 days and my Hydrocortisone for 24 hours prior to the test.

I found this a scary prospect. I’ve been on my inhaler for 12 years and have been on some kind of steroid tablet consistently for 2 years. It wouldn’t be safe for me to maintain normal activities during this period, so I didn’t leave the house for the 3 days when I wasn’t taking my inhaler and made sure I had a friend to help me for the 24 hours before the test while my husband was at work.

What does the test feel like?

The test itself was fine- the injection makes your arm feel stiff and the blood draws are just the normal ‘sharp scratches’ you have with any other blood test. Some people feel ‘better’ after the injection, but I felt no different. The day before, once I’d stopped Hydrocortisone, I felt more tired, sick, dizzy and foggy than usual, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I was expecting. However, I was expecting to feel ‘ok again’ once I’d started my Hydrocortisone at midday after the test. This wasn’t the case and I slept for the rest of the afternoon, and really struggled with my mood and maintaining normal activities for the days after the test. It took about a week for me to feel back to normal.

What do the results show?

The test was to determine if my production of cortisol had improved. The results came back saying I’m still not making any/enough cortisol myself to survive, so my treatment plan is still the same as before the test.

 

 

My First Attempt at Sewing

I’ve been knitting for a couple of years and, after failing at crochet, I decided to try sewing. Miss Dobson banned me from using the sewing machines forever in Year 7 Textiles, so I just assumed I was hopeless, but after helping a friend sew 100 red owls for his primary class, I decided maybe I wasn’t as bad as she made out and decided to give it another go.

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Sewing the owls was more to do with speed than technique. Plus they were supposed to look like primary children had made them, so it was a good opportunity to practise!

Anyway, I’m not counting that as my ‘first attempt’. I looked up some beginner projects online and found one on Hobbycraft for bunting. I went to the market and bought some polkadot contrasting material and the bias binding needed for the band.

Tip #1: Sewing is just as much about being able to cut in a straight line as it is sewing in a straight line. Not a strength of mine. It’s best to use a ruler and a pen rather than eyeballing it. The fabric also didn’t have lines in it, which meant drawing my own. I’d bought a disappearing ink fabric pen, which was great, except if I was too slow, the ink faded too quickly! I’ve since bought a rotary cutter (they use them on the Great British Sewing Bee, so they must be good) and that will hopefully help. Failing that, I can always persuade my husband to help… I found that lining the edge of the ruler up against the edge of the table made it more difficult for me to draw a wonky line.

Tip #2: Pinning things is also important, particularly if you’ve cut things out wonkily. Because my sides were sometimes misshapen, it made it a bit like a jigsaw puzzle (which I’m terrible at) pinning the sides together to make sure the triangles were proportionate.

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Tip #3: A knitting needle makes a good ‘poking’ device when trying to turn the sewed pieces inside out (or right side in). 

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Tip #4: Ironing is pretty important. Sewing seems to be spending an awful lot of time doing everything else besides sewing! Ironing did make the triangles look better. So don’t skip that step.

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Tip #5: It’s easier to sew in a straight line if you don’t look directly at the needle. And if you find something on either side to concentrate on. I sewed the above pile of flags before I worked out that if I lined the foot up with the edge of the fabric then I could sew straighter.

Tip #6: If you have to put pins in, don’t sew over them (obvious) but be careful not to stab yourself with them while sewing (happened a lot). I didn’t coordinate this well- I didn’t sew over any pins, but I did stab myself with them a lot. It would have been easier if I had sewed the top of the bias together first before attaching the flags.

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Tip #7: Correct slowly. A bit like driving a car. If you go wonky and drift a bit, it’s not as obvious if you correct it gradually rather than suddenly swerving back.

Tip #8: You have a bit more control over your sewing if you go at a reasonable speed. 

Tip #9: Don’t forget to breathe while sewing– I realised I was holding my breath, which isn’t a good idea!

Tip #10: As obvious as it sounds, take your foot completely away from the pedal when you’re threading your machine or checking something under the foot! Otherwise you might get your fingers trapped!

Overall, apart from a few wonky sections where I overcorrected, I don’t think it turned out too badly!

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Brazil: Phase 4 – R&R

When I was 16, I travelled to Brazil as part of a World Challenge Expedition through school with 13 other pupils and 2 of our teachers. I found my diary I wrote at the time recently, so have decided to edit it, remove some of the 16-year old me random thoughts, and write it up. To travel there, we had to fundraise the £2770 per person in the 2 years leading up to the trip and then plan and organise everything ourselves while we were there, supervised by our 2 teachers.

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After finishing our Main Trek, we were a bit annoyed that we had to get up early to get the bus to Rio de Janeiro. At least we could sleep on the bus. Somehow, we managed to forget to pay the hotel so they ran after us and caught us before we got on the bus.

Rio de Janeiro definitely beats São Paulo. São Paulo reminds be a bit of Berlin- even when the sun shines on it, it still appears a bit grey and dull. Once in Rio, we caught a public bus to our hostel in Ipanema. We’d had a lot of people tell us that Rio is dangerous, but it was hard to think that when it looks so friendly. The only hassle we had was from people selling us things, which we’d had everywhere.

We arrived at the hostel and first impressions were good. Until we found out that we would be sharing rooms with strangers and that it wasn’t R$40 per room, but per person. Which was still quite cheap, but not what we’d been expecting! A few of us rang around some other hotels to see if we could change the next night, but we couldn’t.

Everybody’s morale was a bit low because we only had R$1500 (£300) left of our budget. Jane got permission to cash in the airport tax, which we didn’t need anymore. Mike and Jane (teachers) decided we needed cheering up so booked us into a posh restaurant- an all you can eat meat place for R$17.50 PP (£3.50)- a huge amount per person compared with our usual standards! Some people tried to persuade the bouncer on the bar next door that we were all over 18, but it didn’t work so we went back to the hostel.

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I was leader again today and the plan was to go to Sugarloaf Mountain and then Christ Redeemer. We saw a place which sold football shirts on the way to the bus, so we dived in there for a look. They wouldn’t budge on price though, and they were expensive, so we left it.

We got to Sugarloaf at around lunchtime, so caught the cable car part way up, ate lunch and then carried on to the top. The view was brilliant- you could see all the islands in the sea and could see for miles.

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Photo: View from Sugarloaf Mountain, looking towards Christ Redeemer.

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Photo: Copacabana Beach.

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Photo: View from Sugarloaf Mountain

Back at the bottom, we got the bus to Christ Redeemer and paid for the train up rather than walking. This view was even better than Sugarloaf. You could see right along the coast. We had to walk up some stairs to see the actual statue, which were steep, but it was so worth it.

It was huge. The view from the bit with the statue of Christ Redeemer is pretty much 360 degrees, and you could see the Serra dos Órgãos National Park, where we did our acclimatisation trek a month ago, about 1.5 hours drive away. We stopped there until it was dark and the lights came out, which made the whole city look like it was moving. IMG_5472

Photo: View from Christ Redeemer

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Photo: Team Photo at Christ Redeemer.

Johnny managed to lose his train ticket, but Becky persuaded the guard that he’d already been through and had come back to look for someone else who had gone to get food. Which wasn’t a complete lie, someone who looked like Johnny had gone back through the barrier, but it was actually Dave (his identical twin).

We ended up having an expensive Italian meal for dinner, with really nice puddings. I have to say, I’ve missed pudding and chocolate! We found somewhere on the way back to the hostel to buy football shirts.

13/08/2003

Our last full day in Rio, and Brazil! It didn’t feel like we were going to go home though. A few of us went to the Rio Sul Shopping Centre on the very edge of Copacabana. There were 4 levels of shopping, which we definitely don’t get back home. We spent loads of our own money because we had a lot left, and it’s not easy to change back into pounds. Then we walked back along Copacabana beach. We wanted to go swimming but we’re not allowed to without Mike or Jane there.

We were told that Mike and Jane would be cooking for us this evening but no-one seemed to be around. At 5, Jane appeared and told us to get ready and took us out for dinner, which was really nice of her. After that, we went to a football match in the Maracanã- São Paulo v Rio. We decided to support Rio. They won 2-0. They had samba drums which was great to listen to.

14/08/2003

We woke up quite early and packed while some of the others were still asleep. Andrea and I went for a walk along the beach- I paddled a bit and Andrea sunbathed. Then we had to check out of the hostel and get to the airport. Now we knew we were going home, we just wanted to get home. We flew from Rio to Madrid, where we had quite a long lay over. It was early in the morning in Madrid when we got there, but the middle of the night for us. So we were shattered but couldn’t really sleep. Jane and Mike made us do video diaries while we were waiting, where, looking back, we all look pretty knackered. Our next flight was to Heathrow, where we had one last team photo before some of us were picked up and the rest flew back to Manchester. I slept for about a day when I got back, but I found it hard to sleep alone, since the last 5 weeks I’d been sharing a room with at least 2 other room mates! It was also weird having more clothes to choose from- we’d taken 2 pairs of trousers, 2 vests, 2 t-shirts and a pair of shorts for the 5 weeks away and that was pretty much it! I loved my time away and definitely want to go back to Brazil at some point in the future.

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Banner Photo: Getyourguide.com

Brazil: Phase 3- Main Trek

When I was 16, I travelled to Brazil as part of a World Challenge Expedition through school with 13 other pupils and 2 of our teachers. I found my diary I wrote at the time recently, so have decided to edit it, remove some of the 16-year old me random thoughts, and write it up. To travel there, we had to fundraise the £2770 per person in the 2 years leading up to the trip and then plan and organise everything ourselves while we were there, supervised by our 2 teachers.

4/08/2003

The nearest town to Itatiaia National Park, where our main trek was starting, was Resende. We’d persuaded a bus driver from The Pantanal to let us off here rather than Campo Grande, but he wasn’t happy about it. Karen and I went to the Tourist Information to see if we could get a hotel. We managed to, but the woman spoke no English and seemed to talk as fast as she physically could, which made it tricky. We got taxis to the hotel and then sorted out rooms. The rest of the day was spent shopping and making sure we had enough supplies for our trek.

For dinner, we went out to a pizza place and then were allowed to split up. I went with the other girls, but some older lads kept following us about, which we didn’t like. It turned out their English teacher had seen us earlier and had told them to try to practise their English with us. We said we didn’t think that meant stalking us… so they brought their teacher to meet us and she apologised. She showed us their school. When it got dark we went back to the hotel and they still hung around for ages outside.

5/08/2003

We got up at an almost normal time in comparison to in The Pantanal- 8.15! We had breakfast and I was sent with some others to talk to the Tourist Information about getting transport to the National Park. After an hour and a half of trying to get our point across and get all of the millions of bits of information sorted, a tour guide company came to talk to us in English and tried to sell us their tour. Which we didn’t want. So we went back to the hotel.

We had lunch in a burger bar (not actually fast food), which had really nice burgers and ice cream. Then the lads from the night before appeared and handed us a note. We ignored them because it felt weird and they left us alone.

Jane and Mike (teachers) decided we should actually go to the start of the National Park to check it out. So Johnny, Jen and I went. Once we’d got back, we went to a really posh (for us anyway) restaurant where the most expensive thing they had was R$25, which is about £5. After tea we went to a karaoke bar. They loved us because of our English accents and kept making us sing Elton John. They had a playback device so whenever we finished, they’d play parts of what we’d sung back and clap and cheer. Was a bit strange!

6/08/2003

Today was not a normal get up time. Very early. But we were doing a day walk today, which was exciting. We got the bus to close to the National Park and got to the right place pretty quickly. Then we had to get the bus to the actual park entrance. Except we still didn’t really know where we were going, so a couple of us got on a bus to ask questions. After about half an hour of asking questions, we got some bus times and eventually the right bus came.

We were doing a 5km walk today up a road to the visitors’ centre, except when we got there it was just a building with no windows and no information. Very useful. Katie told us a story about Beckalina and Andrelina, two fairies, to try and keep us occupied and from getting grumpy.

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Photo: Day Walk

We decided to keep walking and we eventually came to a waterfall and river, which was the most gorgeous blue colour. Ruth  and I set up the trangiers (we were cooks that day) and made lunch, which was pretty good for mine and Ruth’s usual standards! We carried on walking further round to see more of the waterfall, which was the same colour but really cold.

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Photo: Lunch by the waterfall

We were able to catch a bus from a hotel near the waterfall back to Resende, where me and a few others went back to see our friend in the tourist info about minibuses to where we wanted our main trek to start- this seemed like the best option since public buses don’t seem to go very far into the park, if at all. She wasn’t very useful, but we got there. We decided to make the most of the MacDonalds over the road.

7/08/2003

Me and Ruth had stayed up late chatting about stuff (I think we were worried about the main trek) and only went to bed because Mike had basically made us. But we hadn’t had time to sort our kit out, so we decided to get up at 5am to repack. Argh!

We got on a bus at 6.30 and were at the start of the National Park for 7.30. Except the service bus we needed to catch left at 7.20 and the next bus didn’t leave until 1.30- not good! We asked a fat man sat on a bench at the bus stop and he happened to be the owner of a minibus company. We were a bit dubious so Mike and Jane checked it out. So in the end we were able to get a minibus to the starting point of our main trek rather than walking, which was so much better!

It was cold at our base so we got all our warm clothes out for the first time and set up our tents. We had to improvise with Katie’s tent because she had the wrong poles. I’m not sure how she managed on the acclimatisation trek when we camped, but we made it work with a stick and some gaffe tape! We had tuna and mayo sandwiches for lunch.

We decided to explore the site a bit, even though it was cloudy and gloomy. We wanted to do some walking! We went to the next entrance to the bit of the park which didn’t have campsites and hotels in, but they were going to charge R$3 per person, so we found a different path and had to hide when rangers came down the road! I think they were worried about us getting lost, but Jane is actually a mountain guide so it would have been ok. We did some steep walks up grassy bits of the mountain. Later we met our guides for the main trek.

Edit: the problem I’ve realised with it being 2003 and raining, is that the cameras/films we had with us really couldn’t cope with any kind of rain, so we locked them away in the ranger’s lodge to stop them from getting damaged. We wouldn’t have that problem in 2016!

8/08/2003

It was really sunny! So our guides took us up a huge peak. We had to walk through grass which kept getting taller and eventually was taller than us, and then we started scrambling on rock. There was one bit where Pedro and Milton (our tour guides) had to get ropes and harnesses out because it was a bit dangerous without. David slipped and grazed his arm. It was really dangerous near the top but quite fun. If you slipped off the rope, you’d had it and would die basically. But the view at the top was good- we were above the clouds. Coming down was a bit scary- you could see how high you were for one thing, but also because it’s harder to control your speed, or to grab onto things with your hands. You have to kind of sit back on your heels, but not too much because otherwise the weight from your pack would topple you over. It also was made more difficult by the fact that it was starting to get dark, so all the shadows made the rocks look different sizes to what they were. We were told we had to be careful but do it reasonably quickly so that we could make it back before it properly got dark. Obviously the bits where we needed to have harnesses and rope took longer because we had to go one by one.

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Photo: Main Trek

When we got back, we made dinner on the trangiers. We tried to make curry (from the dry packets) and rice, but something weird happened to the rice so we had curry by itself (argh) and rice pudding. The rice pudding was good though. It was dark and rainy which didn’t help!

9/08/2003

We woke up to rain, so Pedro and Milton said it was too dangerous to go up the second peak, which was a bit disappointing. Instead we went on a circular route on the lower down bits like we did on the first day here. Except we got soaked and wet and cold and it was really misty – you could barely see in front of you. Becky started feeling really sick from the altitude after an hour, so Jane took her back with Ruth, because Ruth’s foot was still hurting. I kind of wanted to go back too, but I didn’t at the same time because I wanted to do the walk. It was so tiring and wet- I should have worn shorts because even though it would be colder to start off with, it would have made my legs less wet and cold in the long run. At one point, I stopped to change my water in my bag so I could keep using my platypus, and I’d lost where everyone else went because of the mist. Pedro found me though.

When we got back everything we had was wet. There were showers at the campsite, but because we were so high and the showers were in a hut, you had to decide if you wanted to put up with the cold of taking your clothes off to get in the shower and wait for the water to heat up or just be muddy. We got in our sleeping bags to try to warm up because it was so cold. The campsite owners said it hadn’t been this bad weather for a long time, even though the weather changes quite a lot because it is so high up.

Jane and Mike decided we should arrange for transport back to Resende tonight rather than in the morning. I was so cold I put my sleeping bag liner over my head while we were waiting in the owner’s cabin, which he found funny. Eventually the bus came so we headed back down to Resende at about midnight.

10/08/2003

Realising that we had another minibus booked from our base camp in the National Park (which we’d left early), Karen and I went to cancel it. Which meant that we left at 8.30 to try and find the fat minibus man, while everyone else was having a lie-in. Maybe it was because it was Sunday, or because it was raining, but he wasn’t there, so we turned around and came back. As soon as we got back, we had to help with sorting out our wet, grassy kit. Ergh.

We ended up in Bob’s Burgers for lunch again (because it’s Sunday), which most people were fine with. It’s just not very filling so most people had 2 meals. There was a woman in the queue who heard us talking English so asked us where we were from. We said she probably hadn’t heard of it, but she kept pushing. Turns out her son emigrated from Brazil to UK and happened to work in the factory that’s in our town- she knew its name! People in the UK don’t even know where we live, but a random Brazilian woman did! We went for a short walk around Resende before going back and finishing packing. Whoever was on accounts the last few days did a terrible job and they were all ‘out’ so we had to sort them too.

A few of us were watching the Curitiba v Flamengo match on TV in our room, when the bus driver we’d tried to find earlier appeared at our door. He looked really upset so we asked him if he wanted paying anyway and he agreed on R$150. Jen tried to bargain him down but we stopped her because it was totally our fault he hadn’t got payment, because we’d left a day early.

We didn’t want Bob’s Burgers for tea again, so we had sushi as there was nothing else open! We were looking forward to heading to Rio de Janeiro the next day for the final stage of our trip.

Banner Photo: thousandwonders.net