As ever my reports will include more photos than words, but this will still probably need to be split over a number of posts……. I apologise in advance!Preamble:
I have never really done much other than sports caving and so this was a completely new experience for me.
Fortunately Cookie took a ton of the pressure off by sorting all of the travel arrangements and so all I had to arrange were the dozen injections I would need, and to sort out my packing. A fantastic deal saw us with a whopping 40kg allowance on our international flights and so after packing, re-packing and re-packing again I eventually managed to get my kit down to 42kg. As those of you who know me would expect this was proportioned as follows:
Camping gear including tent etc: 8kg
Caving gear including SRT kit: 8kg
3 changes of clothes for a month: 2kg
Photographic equipment and spare batteries: 22kg
Chris Howes and I had been in contact in the preceding weeks as we tried to sort out potential battery issues at the airports, particularly in Dubai and after I told him how my packing was going he suggested if I took out some clothing I'd probably manage to fit in a extra flash gun
‘helpful hint, at security when quizzed about them always refer to them as 'Strobes' rather than Guns!
I would be flying with Chris Smart (Blitz), David Cooke (Cookie), and Mark Tringham. The outward flights went without any problems and even the dreaded issues at the transfer in Dubai didn't materialise. We were all in good spirits, Cookie even found a caving game to play on the inflight entertainment so time passed pretty quickly through to Calcutta. Here the luggage allowance dropped from our 40kg allowance to just 15kg, so after packing as much weight as possible in to the hand luggage, Mark went first and the first thing they did was weigh his hand luggage. A manic repack was orchestrated and the excess fees were paid. The Internal flight was on a small prop plane, I've actually seen newer planes in museums and was glad there wasn't more turbulence than there was! Thankfully Shillong airport was only a couple of hours flight.
The taxi to the hotel would be my first, but not last, taste of the Meghalaya style of driving. This isn't particularly fast, but as a rule they drive on the wrong side of the road overtaking everything possible, mostly on blind bends with their horns blaring. This style of driving is very similar to dodgems at a funfair!
Happy to have arrived in one piece we signed in at the hotel and begun ferrying kit to the expedition HQ. The rest of the group arrived in dribs and drabs over the next 12 hours and kit was sorted, beer drank and plans made.
Monday was our travel day and if I thought the taxi journey had been an experience then I was in for a treat! A days journey in a 2 wheel drive vehicle with little to no suspension on 'roads' that make the SWCC track look positively smooth, driven by a guy who was ever so slightly high for the entire journey on Beetlenut (A local mild narcotic). Eventually after several hours even our intrepid driver decided that the track was too bad even for him and so we unloaded the vehicles and completed the last hour to the village of Sakwa on foot down the steep slopes of the ridge. At least we would not have to negotiate this again, or so we thought.
An hour later, bruised and battered, Simon and Barry appeared. The infamous expedition truck, ‘Marissa’, had become too unwieldy and bucked itself off the track and in to the jungle below.
Fortunately aside from the odd bruise and minor cut the two were OK, but the beer, personal luggage and the beer were stranded at the top of the track!!!
This meant we would have another few hours trekking, up and down collecting kit, a chore which combined with stomach bugs, would take its toll on a few expedition members over the coming days.
The ground crew at Shillong airport congratulate the pilot on landing on the runway this time!
Shillong airport, a thriving metropolis
The beer supplies being loaded
A buzzing Shillong
Chris and Cookie stretch their legs on the ridge half way through our journey
Marisa is a little worse for wear!
Fortunately most of the beer survived!
Home sweet home for the next couple of weeks.