Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

Why I wouldn’t go to Peru with The Adventurists

mototaxi

I should add that the below is my opinion, feel free to skip to the end to see various links and comments that give more information for you to make your own mind up.

So my friends and I saw an opportunity to drive something that can only be classed as one of the most unsuitable vehicles on the planet through the challenging terrain of Peru. What was better was that this could be done for charity and it looked like a genuine adventure for us. Even better there’s a company that was organising the trip, called The Adventurists, basically they look after the paperwork and vehicles leaving you to pick your own route between the start and finish of the ‘moto taxi junket

The MotoTaxi Junket

So we went away and did some research, the vehicle it’s self is a moto taxi / tuk tuk. Basically it’s an underpowered knock off motorcycle converted into a trike with a shabby roof on top. We read up on a lot of issues people had had with them, mostly mechanical and due to poor construction but also down to user error and lack of understanding/ training – people not even having used a motorbike before wondering why their chain breaks or why they break spokes in a wheel.

This sounds like an horrific idea to knowingly rely on something that is most certainly going to break down, but being a motorcycle mechanic to me this didn’t seem like any kind of issue that couldn’t be handled without some basic preparation. Next we read up on some horrific injuries and incidents and decided first aid classes would be the way to go along with learning the language along with emergency paperwork, funds and tools to help us avoid these kind of issues. We were getting prepared…

The Adventurists

It should be noted that we had this figured within 3 months of booking with The Adventurists, though you would have thought we’d have had this kind of information from them by now on what we need to do for the mototaxi junket, at least a ‘thanks for giving us your money’ or a ‘here’s a check list’ etc… but nothing arrived (and it never did). So we were left to figure all this out, what did our ‘entry fee’ buy except their lunch? We hunted around on the site and finally found a very poor PDF file called the ‘team handbook’ which promised on one page a cost breakdown but gave nothing, along with very little useful information. What were we paying them for?

This started to spook us somewhat, here are these guys ‘organising’ our trip, vehicles/ mototaxis and paperwork but had failed to organise anything except taking our hard earnt money and leaving anyone on this trip to fend for themselves under the guise of ‘it’s an adventure’ rather than a lack of their organisational/ operative skills. The lack of organisational skills really hit home when we attended one of their afternoon tea’s which considering there was a free brewery involved (Hendriks Gin), they couldn’t organise a piss up and the event soon descended into a big unorganised amateur mess leaving us disappointed. Also turns out that most of the other attendees seemed to be rather richer than us and dare I say it, upper class, it must of seemed like a jolly good hoot to spend mummy and daddys money – from the ones I talked to or overheard, not one of them had any idea of what they were getting in to and the lack of support they would get. I guess for them, they wouldn’t miss the money they paid if they decided later they didn’t want to take part.

The MotoTaxi Junket is an “Adventure”

Did we really want to trust even our own paperwork to The Adventurists let alone our lives? I think not. During this time one of the events already running couldn’t finish on schedule and the routes had to be altered, it was really hitting home that these guys had taken our cash and given nothing in return, not even an email or event information and then left the participants at the mercy of their lack of organisation claiming that this makes it an ‘adventure’. It makes it a nightmare but tally ho, the entry fee is only the average lunch bill for most of them anyway.

At least when you hire a car you get some form of paperwork, we didn’t even get that, just a Google Checkout receipt on email for a cost paid for the mototaxi junket and nothing else. If it was billed as a rally event etc… then yes, you’d expect to do all the planning yourself but you’d still be provided some basic information as well as legislation etc… – you’d also have a pretty big team to manage everything, but as a small team of 2 or 3 people you rely on The Adventurists to organise things a bit more and do some of that work for you.

So it was time to chase these guys up, we’d had nothing, they clearly can’t organise anything so what were we paying them for except our own funeral in a flaming roadside wreck in Peru? What was the fee paying for, if it was passports, visa paperwork, medical insurance, vehicle rental etc… it was leaving it a bit late to sort out and it blatantly wasn’t going to get done by them. If we were doing all the work then why pay them? I can sort out a similar trip, granted not the mototaxi junket, to Peru and not only get the transport but I can get my flights and accommodation sorted out into the bargain as well by the operator with not much extra to pay. Now that’s organisation!

Getting a Refund from the Adventurists

So first contact after the initial 6 months, we enquired about refunds, just stating we needed to pull out and what could we do as to our statutory rights as consumers, nothing nasty. Nothing, a month passes. Chase up again. Nothing. We call a few times. Nothing. Ok, now time to threaten to put it officially in writing with legal advice. Now we get a response, however, they seem upset as to why we’re threatening them and say there’s no chance of a refund since they state there’s the ‘standard’ 28 day refund policy. Standard for who? when you lease a car or plan a trip or event, the refund policy normally works by notice of cancellation prior to the event. They had 6 months notice! Further more, we’d booked via credit card which, in the UK, grants us under section 75 of the consumer credit act financial protection if goods have been paid for and nothing received which seems very apt, since we’d paid and received nothing. So we threatened with taking this to our bank, and lo and behold something could be worked out, relying on another team falling for the con and we recieving our entry fee from this team.

So why couldn’t we get this cash ourselves from The Adventurists, why should we as the consumer wait for another team. If you were getting a refund for services not delivered by a builder, you would be irate that you’d have to wait for them to charge another customer before they could refund you so why is this OK in this context? “We’re only a small company” is the excuse given, which is pathetic. But still we wait for the cash to be nice and give them a chance.

This goes on for months, chasing, chasing, chasing and hearing nothing back. Only recieving the occasional vague reponse and being fobbed off. Time to threaten again and finally we get the refund. So why couldn’t they have done this to start with, seems like their financial as well as organisational skills are flawed. Yes, they maybe a small company, but that doesn’t mean we have to put up with poor customer relations, product and a lack of services. It took 6 months in total for a refund. 6 months!!

Have an Adventure with anyone but The Adventurists

All in all I am very happy to be not using their services, I think I dodged a bullet there. I will admit that perhaps for other people involved this wasn’t a concern for them and I’ll be denounced as being over cautious or being against the ‘spirit’ of an adventure. But hey, I’m weird like that, liking to have a plan for traversing a country I’ve never been to before and getting something for the money I’ve paid in good faith. I’d like to think that I’m one of very few people that had any issue with The Adventurists and perhaps this was a one off experience for me, however the 6 month back and forth and poor communication along with snide remarks from them just made me want to publish my thoughts on the experience for others to learn from.

If anyone is considering booking with them follow these tips:

  • Make sure to read all the information up front and ask the questions before giving your cash away
  • Make the booking on a credit card as you’ll have some level of protection
  • If you receive nothing after paying, contact them in the first instance asking for refund and then go direct to your bank – do not bother to wait for them, just get your bank to do it on your behalf

I would really have liked to have done a diary or write up of the mototaxi junket and taken part in the event but instead I’ll do something similar via another operator – take a look at riding motorbikes through Peru, plenty of operators, they may not have as flashy a site as The Adventurists but I’ll bet you have a far better time.

To all the teams entering, good luck and I hope it’s worth it.

Update: 20/12/11

In the comments below, Richard was kind enough to explain the breakdown of the fees paid – something I never got from The Adventurists but it’s worth reading to help you make up your mind in case you wanted to know. Also it’s good to know that I am probably one of the very few people who had any issue with them and that it may just be down to the company growing in size.

Useful links

Just for the purposes of additional information to follow I’d like to list below various blogs and sites detailing experiences good or bad with the Adventurists so that you can make your own mind up. Feel free to comment and post links and I’ll add more as and when I find them, but I’m specifically looking for sites that talk about dealing with The Adventurists rather than the just the adventure itself, actually, scratch that, I’ll chuck up links to anything that’s worth a read if it helps anyone else out.

Mongol Rally

Good diary/ write up of the Mongol Rally experience:  http://team-mongolian-job.blogspot.com/

“A blog to uncover the truth about how the Adventurists are run. Teams are unhappy, Visa service was a joke, borders didn’t let cars through. What do we get for our entry fee?” http://adventuristswatch.blogspot.com/

“Mongol Rally and the Visa Machine (thank God for The Adventurists)” http://thesocialmediasyndicate.com/visa-machine-mongol-rally

Mototaxi Junket

Detailed write up of the Mototaxi Junket: http://www.trackpete.net/2009/11/motoventure-day-25-to-la-paz-end-of.html

Rickshaw Run

Diary of the Trans India Rickshaw run: http://bircho.co.uk/Trans-India-Rickshaw-challenge.php

Zip lining: Go Ape at Delemere Forest

go ape

Date: 5th July 2009
Where: Go Ape, Delemere Forest, UK
More info: http://www.goape.co.uk/

Sliding down some of the highest and longest zip lines in the UK was great the only trouble was getting around the trees, which to be honest for most able bodied people is fine unless you’re a bit unfit like me. I did have to take ‘a breather’ a few times. But on the plus side I did do most of the harder routes and the Tarzan swings aswell.

Which considering my fear of heights the day wasn’t too bad and of Allans advice during the Tarzan swing of ‘looking down makes it easier’ oh ho ho ho!

So Dev, Jude and I travelled up to Allan’s in Crewe and stopped over the night so we could get up bright and early and travel just down the road to Delemere Forest. There are plenty of locations for Go Ape in the UK so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one near by, but the Delemere location had some of the best zip lines. I have heard that there is now one over Woburn Safari Park which must give great views (I would hope).

Anyway during the day the weather wasn’t great as it decided to lash it down but even the heavy rain didn’t spoil the day for us as we all clambered around  the trees on the 5 courses set up there. At first the introduction and first 2 courses seemed a bit of a jaunt and then I got to the hard routes where by I relied on my amazing sense of stupidity to counteract my vertigo. My fear of heights didn’t stop me in the end, nope, it was my lack of fitness and bodily control as I sweated my way across the second course. Note to self, must do more exercise.

Despite the fact that I know I’m clipped on to a safety harness and to the trees and various cables I still don’t want to fall off, so I have to try and do my best while clinging on for dear life trying to make it look as effortless and manly as possible. Still the zip line at the end of the course was worth it.

If you are faced with ‘the fear’ either on the Tarzan swing or on the zip line, the best thing is to first double check that you are attached, then just jump off – but do it the macho action star way with a yell that wouldn’t be amiss from Rambo “UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” Throw a few poses and don’t worry about the landing, it is inevitable that you will land safely in the nice soft wood chips or on the cargo nets. Just don’t listen to anyone telling you to look down.

During the latter courses the scenary and views get more impressive as you are afforded panoramic views from up in the trees. And after the struggle of the earlier courses, now it doesn’t seem like much of a struggle to clamber around, even after the rain i am still having immense fun and I can see that despite her fear of falling, Jude is also having a great time. Allan and Dev are already clambering their way up and over to get to the last zip line, which when we get there the slight wind is enough to unnerve all of us as the platform gently sways with what feels like 100 metres distance above the ground.

I know it’s only swinging from trees but you can’t overlook the sense of achievement you get from doing it. Its fun and for £25 each, its good value too.

Anything but sit at home. Sitting and relaxing is for work time.

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A day with the birds of prey: Falconry in the UK

birds of prey Biggleswade

Date of visit: 25th July 2009
Where: The English School of Falconry, Old Warden Park, Nr Biggleswade, UK
More info: http://www.birdsofpreycentre.co.uk/

Spent a day up at the birds of prey centre near Biggleswade and during the day got to handle, feed and fly a variety of the birds there and learned a few things in the process.

Finding the bird of prey centre can be a bit tricky, its just next to a small airstrip in the middle of the countryside – you can follow signs to it from the A1M roundabouts near Peterborough. But I’ll bet you’ll still end up getting lost! Other than that the day was great, we had good weather and the staff were really friendly and helpful.

We turned up in the morning and had a quick look around the bird sanctuary featuring alot of birds that had been abandoned or couldn’t be re-introduced to the wild. What struck me the most was the sheer volume both in terms of species and the amount of work. Around 300 birds that were kept and cared for with most able birds were used in demonstrations and Hawking – hunting using hawks, most of the birds being endangered are also registered on the breeding programs.

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While most birds were kept in large cages/aviaries or on perches, throughout the day they were flown either by ourselves, in demonstrations or by the keepers. So the animals welfare was well looked after – since these birds generally wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild.

After a quick look round we went straight out and begun working with the birds, rather than simply get close to the birds and take photos etc… the emphasise was on helping to train the birds. So we begun with the Owls, what struck me most was their lack of weight given their size – also unlike the other birds you couldn’t hear them flying at all, trouble was they were quite happy to give themselves away by squawking – I know you think I mean ‘hoot’ but not many of the Owls actually do that.

We had the Owls fly off in to the trees or on perches and then held out bits of dead chickens in our gloved hand for them to fly towards. When the owls landed on your glove you really couldn’t feel them land. The biggest Owl we flew was the Bengal Eagle Owl one of the smallest Eagle Owls and at just over 1kg with a wingspan of around 1 metre even then we couldn’t feel land on our glove. Although after a while with your arm out stretched you begun to feel their weight when they decided to perch on your arm for a while.

Afterwards we brought out the Harris Hawks, which are the one of the only raptors that actively hunt in groups and are very gregarious. Generally its these birds that you would use to hunt with. However, this Harris Hawk spotted what looked like a green woodpecker and went after it, and that was that – our lumps of baby chicks didn’t seem tempting to him, so he had to go back when he finally had had enough.

We then went off to handle a few of the owls and get them used to perching on a glove, I had the pleasure of holding a very inquisitive American Barn Owl who seemed facsinated with everything happening around her and seemed quite happy to sit perched on my glove.

And why not visit a few more of the birds before lunch? Starting with some baby Barn Owls and because of their age and their feathers were yet to come through we could handle them and touch them – well I say touch, more like let them nibble at our fingers. The Owls head whilst it looks large is actually just a big bundle of fluff. We then met some bigger baby Owls – Turkmenistan Eagle Owls, these were big with wingspans already near over a metre again but because they were still juvenile we could get up close and watch them play. I have to say that with all Owls their beaks didn’t hurt too much when they nipped you, but get anywhere near their claws and they will shred you to pieces without any effort.

We then got to my favourites, the Eagles, whilst due to their size and our complete lack of experience we couldn’t work with the Golden and Bald Eagles, we did get to say hello to Levi, an adult Chilean Blue Eagle.  Although not the biggest of Eagles their wingspans reach up to 2 metres and can weigh over 2kg. After a while you could really feel him on the end of your arm but because he had worked most of his life in demonstrations he certainly knew how to pose and didn’t misbehave or try to nip me with his razor sharp beak.

So it was lunchtime and handily demonstration time, so we sat and ate and watched the fantastic demonstrations take place showing the birds hunting, catching food and their impressive acrobatics abilities.

Afterwards we continued looking at more of the Owls, I really didn’t know there were so many species. We started with saying hello to one of the biggest European Eagle Owls, a Tawny Owl and then one of the smallest the White Faced Scops Owls.

Then it was time to move on to the Buzzards, Falcons and Hawks starting this time with a more well behaved Harris Hawk but who was still very nervous around people and being handled, so the object here was to just get him more familiar with being handled. Next we had a Lanner-Peregrine Falcon which is actually a Man-made bird combining the Lanner’s amazing agility with the Pergrines phenomal speed – Its the fastest animal on the planet with speeds of over 200mph! Apparently people have sky dived with a head start and the Peregrine will still catch up.

It was time for another demonstration, this time we learnt about Vultures and their incredible sense of smell – they can smell a corpse from miles away. Also how just how important these birds are to the environment, what was most amazing was their resilience to infection and disease. We then saw the larger Eagles fly and the Peregrine Falcons were brought out to show off their speed which after seeing it was astounding.

We thought it odd that there were a pair of Secretary birds at a bird of prey centre BUT you just need to watch them in action to understand why, a bird of prey generally kills with its feet and normally from pouncing or diving on to its prey. How the Secretary bird kills its main source of prey, the snake, is something that you all need to witness. It will run up to the snake and then begin kicking the snakes head (a rubber toy one in this case) until it kills the snake. To protect it from snake bites it has heavy scales on its feet and legs and all the blood vessels are no where near the surface of the leg to reduce the risk of poison – Further evidence to Darwins theory of evolution!

So now we begin to end the day with feeding the birds – starting with the Vultures! And the biggest pair at that. These were huge, I didn’t stand a chance, but I did attempt to feed them as they clawed my arms and dribbled chicken guts down me. These Ruppell Griffin Vultures weighed over 20lb/9Kg! with wingspans of well over 3 metres and body lengths of up to 1 metre and just try telling them no! During the feeding of these and other Vultures I couldn’t help but remember, as they clawed my arms, that in order to avoid infection to their legs, they urinate on themselves as an anti-septic. Nice!

Could we find a bigger bird to feed – sure! It was time to say hello to the Pelicans and feed them some fish. I always thought of pelicans as rather small. Think of the biggest Swan you’ve seen then stick on a mouth of the same size and a wingspan well over 3 metres, despite all the other birds this is the only one that made me nervous when feeding them!

To finish the day we flew a Ferruginous Buzzard, similar in weight and size to the Eagle Owls we flew earlier, with wingspans up to 1.5 metres and weighing upto 2kg/4.4lb’s. However unlike the grace of the Owls, these things really meant it when they landed on your glove with such brute force and such sharp claws. It was really quite shocking after handling and flying the Owls to feel how much force this Buzzard could hit you with.

The finale was to the fly Levi, the Chilean Blue Eagle, similar size to the Buzzard but a bit more graceful – however he had the habit of building nests at this time of the year so he had to be tethered to a long line to stop him flying off into the trees, killing the other birds and building a nest. Again he was much more noticeable than the Owls when striking but still nothing compared to the force of the Ferruginous Buzzard or the voraciousness of the Vultures.

So as you can see that was a very full packed day, well worth the money and you certainly get the value out of it as well as learn alot about the birds and help out with training them.

Tandem skydiving

parachuting

Date: 22 august 2009
Where: Langar Airfield, Langar, Nottingham, UK.
With: http://www.bpslangar.co.uk/

My body is still in denial that I leapt out of a plane at 13,000 ft without a parachute. Although by ‘leapt’ I of course mean I edged towards the exit shitting my pants and by ‘without a parachute’ I mean I was attached to the front of an instructor edging towards the exit against my will who was hoping that I didn’t really shit my pants.

I am scared of heights and but I have no problem flying in planes and as such there were only three ‘bad’ moments that I would advise any would be first timers, the wait/ buildup, hanging outside the plane exit and some slight nausea after the parachute opened. Other than that it is a surreal experience and one that I would happily repeat, it’s odd how safe you feel attached to another human who is only held up by some strings, a sheet and the laws of physics. I feel far more fear from climbing a ladder or giving blood (needles).

Anyone can do a tandem parachute jump as long as you’re medically sound and no more than 15 stone in weight – I think over a certain age and you need sign off from a doctor. You turn up on the day have a 30 minute briefing and then you sit and wait to be called once called then you buddy up with your instructor who runs through the gear, free fall and landing positions and another quick briefing. After that then you’re taken to the plane and you get a ride up to 13,000 feet.

Its very reassuring and supportive having a friend with you doing their first jump as well during the periods of waiting, more so on the plane and I have to say that the instructors that I jumped with were excellent at making me feel at ease throughout.

So you’re in the plane, always climbing and you get to see the landscape below and any landmarks to try and look out for on the way down. With any luck you get nice clear blue skies with a few clouds and good wind speeds.

13,000 feet and the time has come, I have to sit up on my instructors lap as he tightens the straps and clips me on to his harness, I have my hat placed on, the door slides opens, I pull my goggles down and my instructor, in this case Dave, starts to edge us towards the exit…

I’m sitting on the edge for no more than 5 seconds with my feet outside behind me nearly touching the bottom of the plane, I am scared, my hands griping each opposite shoulder and as I tilt my head as far back as possible before I can even think about ‘hold on how is the instructor hanging on’ we fall out of the plane.

Now apparently you kind of black out as the brain can’t process what’s happening to you so what seems like only a few seconds is around 20-30 seconds of free fall as you reach terminal velocity and speeds of up to 160mph. There is no fear, it is impossible to be scared at this moment, it seems like a dream. I can not explain this to anyone who has not jumped, it is incomparable, you are weightless, my thoughts are lucid.

We do a few spins, I stick my arms out and I hear a russle and the parachute deploys… I really can’t remember any more than that but is one of the most awesome experiences of my life so far. The harness straps now really dig into my groin cutting out the blood supply a bit, I start to feel some nausea and admit to the instructor I may disgrace his canopy, there is nothing but to wait the nausea out by moving my legs to keep blood supply moving. I have a mild headache and confusion as my brain catches up with what just happened in the free fall. I remove my goggles and start to try and look around at places and landmarks to take my mind off of the nausea, I try to focus on the horizon but instead feel more comfort oddly looking directly at the ground below which is the exact opposite of what you do when scared of heights. I hang in the harness making the instructor look like he’s jumping with a shop dummy attached to him. But still I am really enjoying myself…

I can see where to land, I bring my feet up in front of me and prepare to be dragged along the floor or to mess up the landing in some other way, instead my feet touch the ground and we stop perfectly, people come to help un-clip the parachute and it’s all over.

I wait for my friend Allan to land just behind me and we are both more than happy to be alive right now both having just jumped from a plane for the first time. That’s it, it’s over and to be honest my nausea had worn off and I wish I could have had more time up there – apparently Allan even got to steer his parachute and had I not been like a shop dummy I would have liked to have a go at this as well.

Whilst we decided against paying the extra and getting the video and stills of the jumps Jude managed to take photos of each of us as we floated down. The whole experience took about 3 hours in terms of briefing, waiting and recovering and was well worth the £260 – when you land you are full of adrenaline and are quite euphoric, it is an amazing high to be on.

I think what made the day a bit easier as well was driving up to a near by hotel/ travelodge and staying the night ensuring we had a decent nights sleep. Also not having a raging hangover was definitely a sound idea.

And as I write this, I know that I will shortly go to sleep and relive the free fall moments from earlier on today. Do not ever say you can’t see the appeal of skydiving until you have tried it, everyone should try it at least once, it is one of the most amazing things that you can do.