Hopefulness to How Come You Never Go There?

Day 15 of the blog post a day in May and it is back to some sort of normality – with a touch of righteous indignation.

FOR much of the last few months, a large chunk of the journey from A-Z on my iPod has taken place in the gym which looms large on the opposite corner of the square from my flat.

And probably the biggest chunk of that took place building up my running from scratch on a treadmill, right until my right calf decided that was not such a good idea.

The osteopath agreed with my calf and eventually put a ban on me going near a treadmill, even to walk. Never mind the rather scary looking step machine next to it which was part of the plan to get my legs used to going up endless stairs before tackling the Inca Trail.

Not wanting to lose the groundwork put in to my fitness levels, we agreed on a compromise of hitting the exercise bike which provides just as good a workout (if not more, given the now customary stagger out of the saddle) while taxing a few different leg muscles to protect the calf.

The back is not quite so protected, judging by how difficult it is to get comfortable, while other parts of the body have also had their complaints about proximity with a saddle.

All this work in the gym is part of building that fitness, an added push to the weight loss and that added target of building up to the assault on the Inca Trail.

And having made the decision to forego the easy ride via train and bus to Machu Picchu in favour of the four-day Classic trek, it was slightly disconcerting to read an article about which could have huge repercussions for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps.

Machu Picchu: Fury over plans for new multi-billion pound airport next to ancient Inca citadel

The Independent article jumped out of my Twitter feed, outlining plans to build an airport in the nearest major settlement to Machu Picchu and the fears of the damage it could cause to the great attraction, the Inca Trail and the whole civilisation around the surrounding Sacred Valley.

In 2017, Unesco warned it could add Machu Picchu to its list of endangered world heritage sites such was the strain 1.5 million visitors a year – double Unesco’s recommended figure – was having on the citadel and associated sites.

Peru has responded with limited daily permits on the trail, time slots and controls on visitors at the ruins, but an airport has the potential to go well beyond Unesco’s initial concerns.

Justin Francis, chief executive of Responsible Travel, told The Telegraph: “When we look back at what went wrong with tourism, this will be the story that sums it all up.”

Strong words but it is difficult to disagree with him and the thought that an airport appears some way on the wrong side of the very narrow line between the benefits and drawbacks of tourism.

It is easy to get angry at such an idea, pointing the finger at the Peruvian government and anyone who will benefit financially from the airport.

But they have a valuable resource and how many governments and economies are far-sighted and secure enough to avoid exploiting such a lucrative opportunity? No matter the long-term impact.

And what about those of us who are helping to swell those tourism numbers? Are we not equally to blame for helping to create the need for the airport, no matter how much we can claim to be doing it properly?

This is an issue, rather like all environmental concerns, that we all have a stake in.

It falls on us travellers to look careful about where we are leaving our footsteps and how much of a lasting print they will have, just as it falls on the Peruvian government and surrounding communities to look beyond the short term and not milk the cash cow irreversibly dry.

And the global community has its share of the responsibility.

It may be over another border, but Machu Picchu is a global treasure – like so many, physically and culturally, threatened by rampant tourism – and we need to be working with whatever country is affected to help keep them as such.

Not just with aid, but providing help, understanding and an ability to build economic strength to look after itself and its people to avoid the need to take such steps.

We need these places, these cultures, this enrichment of life beyond what we know – far better than pulling down the shutters and trying to block the flow of ideas and influences across borders.

To quote Rudyard Kipling (well, Billy Bragg who used it in The Few): “What do they know of England, who only England know?”

And hey, if I can walk to Machu Picchu, do people really need to fly right to its front door?

Which is all rather more serious than was intended on a post designed to steer us through the 60 tracks from Courtney Barnett to Feist.

One of the annoyances of listening to the A-Z on the bike is a long song making it difficult to break down a session into bite-size tracks, as happened again with seven-plus minutes of The House Song by The Beta Band.

This stretch had two outings for Horsin’ Around from Prefab Sprout’s masterful Steve Macqueen album, a couple of versions of Hounds of Love (Kate Bush and The Futureheads’ cover) and two visits from The Be Good Tanyas (Horses and a House of the Rising Sun cover which had me drumming on the bike console).

Initially stumbled across The Be Good Tanyas via an iTunes freebie and investigated further to the point hearing them takes me back to a mosquito-infected early evening chilling with a few beers under the midnight sun on the banks of the Yukon at Dawson City, Canada.

The Hold Steady also popped up twice with Hostile, Mass and Hot Soft Light, which also brings back travel memories after making it on to the African playlist (largely due to seeing them in Bristol the week before the off).

There were also appearances for a couple of Hotel tracks – Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes and, controversially for some, Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes – while Let’s Eat Grandma still sound fresh as they popped up with Hot Pink.

But best song title of this section – and many others – goes to American Music Club with The Hopes and Dreams of Heaven’s 10,000 Whores.

Doubt if those hopes and dreams include a gym bike or an airport at Machu Picchu.

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Come To Dust to Contort Yourself

IN comparison with the ground to be covered across the next nine months or so, the last week has not covered too much distance.

What’s a couple of trips to Bristol, one to Cardiff, a couple of nights out, more shopping (and spending) than you’d normally get me doing in many months compared to 39 weeks travelling overland around Africa?

And what is the relatively short sprint (albeit a considerable distance between musical styles) from Boards of Canada to James White and the Blacks in comparison to the inroads that trip will make into the A-Z rattle through my iPod?

But both musically and elsewhere, it has been a week of covering an awful lot of ground as two journeys – or, at least, sections of them – have neared their conclusion.

For the A-Z, we are entering the final stretch of the C section, almost to the point where D is looming into view and the desire to get through the final 100 or so tracks forms a type of “are we nearly there yet?” mentality – especially as number 2,000 heralds the entry into the home straight ahead of the new letter.

Away from the music, the journey has been through a success of daily to-do lists as the road to heading off to Africa has seen the miles clocked up at an alarming rate.

The final leg of that journey kicked off after leaving work and – once the effects of a later than planned finish to my leaving do had worn off – has seen a lot of jobs ahead of departure chalked off the lists where they have been sitting for some time, waiting for the short spell before the off when getting ready for it has become my full-time occupation.

Those preparations will be covered in more detail in another post (this one coming first purely by chance), but they have now reached the point where, if the call came through saying the trip had been moved forward a week, it would not be a major problem.

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady

One last shopping trip in the morning for a final few essentials (socks, pants, toothbrush, you know the sort of thing) and all that is really left for the trip is to work out how to cram what currently covers my bed and the best part of two shelves in a cupboard into my newly-repaired rucksack and newly-delivered shoulder bag.

Packing out of the way (and the plan is to pair that with working out how to use my new GoPro camera, so look out for a video on how – or how not – to pack for an overland journey and, if in a charitable mood, you might also get to see my attempts to work out how to tie my new bandana) and the final few days before departure will be given off to packing up my flat.

All of which will be done to the soundtrack of my iPod as the race is on to get through those pesky Cs before leaving (the daily chunks of listening to them on the drive to and from work having to be replaced by other methods).

There’s also a chunk of newly-downloaded ABC tracks to catch up on after an afternoon spent getting my iTunes up to date with new albums, books and, courtesy of the vouchers which made up my leaving present, all five series of The Wire downloaded for re-watching on the road.

Weezer and Half Man Half Biscuit’s new albums will play a major role in that chunk, after The War On Drugs lead the way through the last batch of C songs, courtesy of four tracks starting with Come or Comin’.

But musically, this week has belonged to The Hold Steady.

They may have only cropped up once on this leg of the journey, with Constructive Summer, but they were responsible for one of those trips to Bristol to catch them at the Academy.

Not my favourite venue and, to be honest, the evening had started with a touch of “can we really bothered?” syndrome, but well worth the trip it was as they played a storming set mixing up new stuff with a healthy sprinkling of their back catalogue.

Where White Denim, also in Bristol, felt the need to add any number of flourishes to each track and stretch them almost to – and sometimes beyond – breaking point, The Hold Steady trimmed away any unnecessary flourishes and raced through tracks at a healthy clip, building as they went and heading off before outstaying their welcome.

They wrapped things up joined by support band The So So Glos – who were so-so – for a cover of American Music by The Violent Femmes, who popped up again on my iPod with Confessions, just as the second trip to Bristol (another spot of pre-journey shopping) merged into a sprint along the M4 to Wales to make a meeting with my account manager at the bank on time(ish). Thought it might be a good idea to go through some of the more bizarre transactions that lie ahead in the next nine months.

Elsewhere, The Beatles contributed three versions of Come Together – Primal Scream and Spiritualized chipping in with songs of the same name – while there were two versions of Elastica’s Connection, The Concept by Teenage Fanclub (from their excellent, fairly recently rediscovered Bandwagonesque album), Company In My Back by Wilco and Coming Home from Richard Hawley, someone who has never truly grabbed my attention but is making his mark whenever he appears on this trip.

Shack contributed Comedy, Pulp added Common People and regulars The Lemonheads (Confetti) and New Order (Confusion) popped up again.

As did Complete Control by The Clash, with which my brother in law kicks off his birthday each year.

There’s worse ways to mark getting older.

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