Safely returned from our first trip to the mountains a few days ago. Our jeep driver told us about the bombs in London when he picked us up, not a pleasant way to end the trip. Hope everyone this goes out to was not too severely affected.

Highlight of the week in the mountains was a luxury dinner prepared in a restaurant about 10 minutes walk from base camp. The local people have formed a co-operative that services the camp, providing mules to carry equipment up and down, a relatively clean supply of running water, stone toilets and a guard to watch tents during the day. The next obvious step was to branch out into catering, and I suspect that we were their first customers.

The head chef of the restaurant had spent several days touting for business, wielding trout like clubs, in the apparent hope that if her prospective clientelle did not appreciate the fishes culinary potential she could bludgeon them into making a reservation. This worked well with us, although the other groups at the camp seemed to be made of sterner stuff. This may have been connected with the fact that they had chefs to prepare their meals, and seemed to receive a fairly varied diet. In contrast we had us to prepare our meals, and they were not varied. Pasta or rice with tinned meat (unidentifiable origin) or tinned fish (fairly certainly fish in origin. Species uncertain, probably mixed). Needless to say the Saturday at 5 dinner reservation was eagerly awaited, not least as we had arranged potatoes as the carbohydrate part of the meal.

Saturday was a day of rest, time we spent scrubbing the detritus of the mountain from our skin and tailoring our climbing garments into apparel suited to the establishment in which we were to dine. As the sun dropped behind the peaks we set off for the restaurant, the last flashes of light on the lake appearing as trout mourning the loss of their brothers.

The skill of the restaurateurs was apparent the minute we arrived. By not opening, or even being present, at the building, they ensured that our appetites would have a keen edge by the time the food arrived. This delay also gave us some time to explore the building. The majority of houses outside urban centres are adobe (mud brick) buildings, but in keeping with the classy restaurant theme this was a more substantial concrete building. Peering through the windows we were a little concerned by the lack of mood lighting, or indeed furniture. In the corner was what appeared to be flour sacks stuffed with hay. “No doubt to feed any weary horses that should arrive” we thought. Further investigation was halted by the arrival of our hosts, who obviously mistook us for horses as they showed us into the room piled with sacks. Our Spanish doesn’t yet stretch to “I’m sorry, you seem to have mistaken us for horses. We are actually distinguished gentleman mountaineers in search of a break from the rigours of the mountains and a reminder of our estates in distant England”. So we pulled out the flour sacks and used them as seats.

Shortly after arriving we were offered a choice of entrees. The choice was between various types of biscuit, and after much deliberation we chose a pack of chocolate creams and a pack of strawberry creams. Obviously selected to contrast with the fish. It was now becoming apparent that the head chef was a multi-talented woman, able to fulfill all the normal catering roles from dish pig up. This included sommelier, and although lacking wine to bring us, she did briefly open the door of the dining area, and place two bottles of soft drink on the floor (at the far end of the room from where we were sat), for us to inspect. From a distance one appeared to be cheap generic cola, the other a vibrantly coloured red number. Probably fizzy strawberry.

We fought hard to resist the lure of those drinks sat in the corner of the room, but the chef was too smart for us. After about ten minutes she peeped round the door and saw the bottles remained untouched. A master of pschology, the door shut yet seconds later a hand darted through and placed two upturned cups on top of one of the bottles (there were four of us). How could we resist. Shortly after we were drinking the finest strawberry fizzy drink, tasted a bit like red laces.

By now we were pretty much into the swing of the restaurant, and it came as no surprise when our trout arrived with fried potatoes. And rice. Nothing against rice in general, but having had two lengthy conversations with the lady about how we didn’t want rice, we were a bit surprised to see it on our plates.

The food was actually really good, and a welcome change to our camp food diet. Funny what seems a luxury when you haven’t washed for a week.

We’re off into the mountains again tomorrow, the start of the expedition proper. No maps, no route descriptions, no idea what we’re going to find. Promises some real adventure. Plan is to stay up for three weeks, so will be in touch then

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