Hiking in Snowdonia

I just went on my first UK hiking weekend!

Given how much I enjoy being outdoors and exploring when I’m on holiday, it’s a bit ridiculous that I haven’t done it before. I’ve trekked in the Himalayas and been on walks/hikes in several other countries (Bolivia, Peru and Brazil in the last year alone), but not in the country I’ve lived in all my life.

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t literally my first hike in the UK – I was able to dust off some old walking boots that haven’t left the country (the cobwebs testify to their dormancy over the last decade or more) – but I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve climbed to the top of anything in the UK.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit; the fact that it’s so common to take for granted what’s on your doorstep. I’ve noticed it all over the world, particularly with Australians, and I’ve joked about falling into the same trap when it comes to what the UK has to offer.

So I’m very grateful to my cousin Claire for inviting me to go to Snowdonia for the weekend, so I could start to put that right. She’s preparing to do the Inca trail to Machu Picchu with my Uncle Jim in October, so this was part of their training. We were also joined by another cousin, Jo, and Claire’s friend, Michelle.

The weather played a huge part in our weekend and the two days were extremely different. On Saturday we were hiking to Cadair Idris, but we hadn’t gone far when visibility started to get worse, which meant we basically spent the rest of the hike in the clouds. At the point we decided to turn back, rain was falling, the wind-chill had picked up and visibility was only about 10-20 metres as we “looked” over a cliff edge (we were supposed to bear right to get to the summit, but we weren’t to know). It wasn’t extreme weather, by any means, but bad enough to sap some of the enjoyment out of it.

Sunday, on the other hand, was perfect! Well, almost perfect! We were climbing Snowdon and the day started with a cloudless sky. It stayed bright for most of the day, apart from at the summit which became shrouded in cloud just as we were approaching. It was a good day for photos, as each part of my photo wish-list was catered for (blue sky, water and elevation) – I’ll add a couple, but you can see more of my photos HERE.

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The walking itself was good fun and everyone did really well – especially my uncle, who noticed a huge improvement since his previous hike up Snowdon just a few weeks earlier. You can see some more details of the hikes on Strava:

Saturday at Cadair Idris on Strava

Sunday at Snowdon on Strava

My biggest challenge was actually getting to Snowdonia and back from Cambridge, but I was very fortunate to be picked up and driven door to door – 8 hours each way. My friend Matt did the Cambridge to Manchester journey and my uncle did the rest – a huge thank you to both of you as well.

I wasn’t overly keen on the prospect of camping and in the end we didn’t need to. On Friday night, the five of us squeezed into a 3-man “pod” at Hendre Hall. Since we arrived late and left early the next morning, it did the job and made for a cosy night’s sleep. Saturday night we were in a bunkhouse, which had a very handy “drying room” for all our wet clothes.

I’m sure this weekend will be the first of many, so a big thank you to Claire, Jim, Jo and Michelle for making it such a good trip.

40 Before 40

I‘ve decided to make a list of 40 things to do or achieve before my 40th birthday (6 September 2025).

The list has been inspired by lots of people, but the main inspiration for actually formalising this into a list is Kate Higginbottom who has spent the last year working towards her own 30 by 30 list.

I’d like my family and friends to join in and I’ll post updates with my progress on here and in this Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/michael40/

Taking on Inequalities

On Tuesday 9th May 2017, I attended The University of Manchester for a panel discussion on Taking on Inequalities #TOI17, with the Global Development Institute @GlobalDevInst. I thought I’d write up some of my notes.

It was chaired by Anna Leach, from the Guardian, and she was joined by the following experts:

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The panel started by talking a bit about the work they do and the inequality issue the find most interesting. Then questions were taken from the audience and Twitter using #TOI17.

Carolina Sanchez talked about the impacts of globalisation, specifically the distributional impact. Policies need to be inclusive – need to promote access to opportunity and connect developing countries to the global marketplace.

Dr Rory Horner gave some background to the shifting geography of inequality: at the beginning of the 19th century, 80% of inequality was within countries, the rest was between countries. By 1990 this ratio had reversed, with 80% of inequality between countries. Since 1990 this gap has closed with the rise of India and India.

He also posed a couple of questions for the audience:

Would you rather be poor in a rich country or rich in a poor country?

The show of hands seemed to roughly coincide with previous studies in which 70% of people would rather be rich in a poor country. Dr Rory then revealed that a Norwegian in the 95th percentile has 5x more purchasing power than someone from the 5% percentile in Niger.

Will a child born today have a better life than us or a worse life?

The results here surprised me a little, with about three quarters responding that today’s child would have a worse life. I don’t know what this majority would have factored in, but that pessimism was reasonably consistent across the countries polled, with France being the most pessimistic at 92%!

Rebecca Gowland works on Oxfam’s UK campaign regarding public engagement in inequality. This involves how to communicate the problems and, more importantly, the solutions in an accessible and tangible way. She argued that we should measure a nation’s wealth and prosperity beyond merely GDP and take into account things such as their impact on the environment, e.g. use of CO2 or land. Rebecca referred to a report that states just 8 men own the same wealth as half of the world population (down from 62 people the previous year). She also talked about growing the voice of developing countries and there was a prepared video, featuring Jane in Kenya, here:

Oxfam video

Here are some of the discussion points from the questions I remember:

Should a living wage be a human right? Rebecca gave a couple of examples from DRC and Vietnam, which highlight the fact that this is a huge problem for some of the working population. Carolina answered that wages are only part of the story and there should also be a focus on the type of jobs available, people’s access to those jobs and the opportunities for people to gain skills.

The term political will was mentioned several times, once after it was summed up that inequality is a political choice. A related question was posed regarding how to redistribute the concentration of wealth/power, when this is inherently going against the interests of the currently wealthy and powerful. I think this is a huge issue in countless situations across the world. One of Rebecca’s proposals was a Global Tax Body, which could promote tax transparency and fiscal justice.

A member of the audience stated that globalisation is often seen is inherently good and something to strive for, even though there’s now a large body of evidence that shows “it doesn’t work”, i.e. globalisation increases inequality by encouraging a race to the bottom on price. He continued and suggested that the World Bank and IMF should be restructured or even abolished. A follow-up question asked whether the World Bank would ever consider a policy of degrowth as a solution.

The panel’s closing remarks were interrupted by an emergency evacuation of the building, but we’d already overrun and had a good night.

And then there were two Higgis on tour

My blog has taken a back seat in recent weeks (and I’m too busy to do anything about that now), but I thought I’d post an update now that I’m no longer travelling solo!

My sister Kate has just arrived in La Paz after an epic 36 hour journey from London. We’re only going to spend the next couple of days here in Bolivia, just long enough for me to show her where I spent most of my time as a volunteer: outside of La Paz in Jupapina and Mallasa.

After that we’ll be bussing it to Peru to cram in as many touristy things as we can before Christmas, including Machu Picchu on 20th December. Hopefully the rainy season is kind to us. Then we’re spending Christmas in Buenos Aires, New Year in Rio de Janeiro, with a stop at Iguazu Falls in between. It’s going to be a fun four weeks!

Cusco Round Up

I wasn’t able to keep my blog going in real-time whilst I was volunteering, so here’s a round‑up of my last six weeks in Peru.


When I reached the half-way point of my 12-week stay, I was at a crossroads. The microfinance project I went to South America to volunteer on hadn’t worked out, so I had to decide how to make the most of the rest of my time in Cusco. Fortunately, I wasn’t short of options.

In my previous posts, I mentioned that I’d met an Australian guy called Steve who had decided to embark on a very ambitious and exciting project in Cusco. When he first told me about it, I didn’t hesitate to say “let me know how I can help!” and from that moment I was part of the project that has come to be called Home for Hope.

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The idea was born within a week of me introducing Steve to the existing home, Juana de Aza, where I had been volunteering. It wasn’t just the experience of spending time in the Hogar, but also learning about the extent of the problem in Peru (and Cusco in particular).

To start with, we tried to work out the details and whether we could pull this off. Juana de Aza was our starting point, but we want to do it better. The more we thought about it, the bigger the task became, but one thing in particular gave us belief and that was the overwhelmingly positive reaction we got from everyone we mentioned it to – several people even offered to support the project straight away.

Hope for Hope is an NGO that will operate in Cusco, Peru. Its mission is to provide a safe home for teenage mothers who have been victims of abuse, where they can raise their children, rehabilitate, receive an education and develop skills.

Home for Hope will support these young mothers and their children as they transcend past traumas and embrace bright futures. The girls will range from 13 to 18 years old, each having fallen pregnant with a child while still a child themselves.

Up to 10 girls and their children will be taken in by Home for Hope at any one time and, with the help of the local community and donations from abroad, they will have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and forge new futures for themselves.

In my last few weeks in Cusco, we were able to complete a lot of the paperwork to become a registered NGO in Peru and I am actually on the Board of Directors as Vice-President. I addition to Steve as President, the other Board members are Maria and Laura (my Spanish teachers in Cusco) and Ursula (a local lawyer who specialises in cases involving domestic abuse). We also have three committed team members who each volunteered in Cusco but weren’t in Peru to sign the paperwork: Loretta from Australia, Michaela from England and Shalomy from New Zealand.

This project is probably the biggest challenge I’ve taken on in my life and I/we will need as much support as possible. Fundraising is absolutely key to the success of Home for Hope, so you can expect to hear plenty more from us – especially once our website is up and running later this month.


Working with Steve took up a fair amount of my time, but I still volunteered on a number of other projects:

Juana de Aza

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I continued to help out at the existing Hogar whenever I could and I continued to enjoy my time there. When I returned with my sister in the week before Christmas, we visited Juana de Aza and the reactions of the children were really nice. Once inside we noticed that there were actually lots of people, as well as boxes full of stuff everywhere. It turns out that they had actually been featured in the local press that week and received a huge number of donations as a result.


Helping Audrey

Although Home for Hope was the most important thing I worked on, I did actually spend a couple of weeks working on another project in November. In a Cusco café at 9pm on a Thursday night, I was unexpectedly swept up into the world of Audrey Evans and it was virtually non-stop for the next two weeks. As an example, that first evening Audrey took me and Paula from the café to meet with a biology professor/entrepreneur at his house and we talked about the project into the early hours.

Audrey has big plans in Cusco and, as she’s been part of the community for the last decade, she’s very well-connected. I quickly learned that there was an important upcoming event: the inauguration of the Mercado Tipico de San Blas as an organic market (featuring the mayor and local press).

My role was never particularly well-defined, but I chipped in where I could and did my best to help make that event a success. Paula and I tagged along to numerous meeting all over the city, with government officials, local business people and even the head chef from one of Cusco’s most exclusive hotels. Audrey’s no stranger to dealing with the media and she also made TV and radio appearances to promote the event.

We were working right up until the last minute to get everything ready – I was at the printers for our banners until 11:30pm the night before and the inside of the market was still being painted the next morning. Nonetheless, the event went well after the mayor eventually turned up and hopefully it is the start of great things to come for Audrey, the organic markets and much more.

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Everything else

The other project I was volunteered on was with Genesis, the microfinance organisation, but although it was a much better fit than Arariwa, I wasn’t able to get stuck into anything meaningful as the other projects required more of my time. It was still a worthwhile experience as I made some good friends and I think I impressed on the one occasion I joined the guys to play football.

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In addition to playing football, I discovered an athletics track that only cost 2 soles (50p) a time, so I tried to get down there in the mornings when I could. I also left my mark on Cusco by setting some Strava records on the streets.

At the end of October, Mila welcomed a group of a dozen Australian biology students. They were due to spend a month in the Amazon, but their induction was in Cusco and Mila asked if I could come along to support her. In addition to the free meals, it was actually pretty interesting as I joined them at the local university to learn about the history of Cusco as well as the jungle and what they could expect from their project.

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The last touristy thing on my list was to visit the salineras in Maras and I was accompanied by my friend Lizie. We got a great day for it and not only did we enjoy seeing the unique salt terraces, we walked through the beautiful and peaceful Sacred Valley.

We got the bus back to Cusco from Urubamba via the scenic route and the driver took the opportunity to ask me whether or not I was interested in buying a 70-odd acre plot of land outside the city – the main selling point being that it had a waterfall!

The long bus journey meant I was late to the stadium for Cienciano’s final game of the season. Unfortunately their previous results meant that they started the day in 4th place, but there was still a small chance of winning the league so crowd was really up for the game. Despite beating the league leaders on the day (making it 3 wins out of 3 when I attended), they finished the season 3rd and there was an air of what-could -have-been after the game.

Finally – and I know you’ve all been wondering – my Spanish didn’t improve as much as I’d hoped. I wasn’t able to have as many lessons as I would have liked, but mainly it was that I didn’t put in the time outside of the classroom. That just means there’s more work for me to do back home – no giving up now!

Peru, Week Six

I’ve now reached the half-way point of my stay in Cusco and this week marked a bit of a turning point (which will become clear later!)

I started the week at the Hogar on Monday morning and was immediately thrown in at the deep end. The mothers had an art class, so I was left in the toy room with eight babies. For an hour!

It went surprising well, but there were some frustrating moments. For example, I got one of the babies to go to sleep, but five minutes later the Señora woke him up to give him some banana and he just cried for the next ten minutes instead. Giving all the babies banana wasn’t ideal either – a lot ended up on the floor or their hands/faces.

It was André’s first birthday, so we sang happy birthday and had cake and jelly and then I didn’t leave until 3pm because of some torrential rain.

Feliz cumpleaños André!

After a quick lunch I went to the Arariwa office and helped my colleagues by printing out Experian credit reports for them. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the last time I worked with Arariwa.

On Tuesday I was back in my Spanish school before going back to the Hogar. This time I was accompanied by a fellow Spanish student, an Australian guy called Steve. This will become more significant later…

In the afternoon, I went to Mila’s office with Paula to discuss the other prospective projects. She told us that one of the new microfinance places had fallen through, but one was still on the table, plus another opportunity had come up – an agriculture project run by an American woman (which sounded perfect for Paula).

We went to meet with Genesis, the microfinance company, and we were immediately impressed. They were professional and seemed interested in our skills, plus one of their staff (Jimmy) speaks English. I agreed to start the next day. 

On Wednesday morning all of the staff arrived promptly for 8:30am – already a welcome change from Arariwa – and everyone gathered in the upstairs meeting room. Héctor, the boss, introduced me to the room and then said a few words in honour of Jimmy’s birthday. We had cake and some other snacks and there was a tight-knit, family feel between the staff (something which they talk about often).

When it was time to get to work, I was paired with Samantha to promote the company’s loan products in San Sebastián, a community a couple of miles out of the centre. Jimmy joined us (even though he works for the consultancy part of the Genesis Finance Group, and not the microfinance business) and, as well as help me pick up what was required in the task at hand, he asked a lot of questions in a friendly interview style. Far more engaging than Arariwa.

After only an hour or so, it was my turn to approach a street vendor and explain who we were and what products we offered. I was a little reluctant but it was fine and overall it was a very positive first morning.

Lunchtime was perfectly timed so that I could watch Manchester City play Barcelona, but the less said about the match the better. I was back in the office for 4pm, but was basically just left on my own whilst the others dealt with clients downstairs. At least this place has wi-fi for those times.

On Thursday I had a Spanish lesson before going back to the Hogar with Steve. After lunch I went to the Genesis office, but it was another quiet afternoon – although we did make a quick trip to another market to visit some prospective clients. As we were leaving, the guys asked if I had my football kit with me, but unfortunately that would have to wait for another day.

Friday morning’s work was the same as the first morning, although Samantha and I split up to hand out the leaflets. We finished a little early so I went for a run in the long lunch period. I ran around the airport, which wasn’t the nicest route and was also a few kilometres longer than I had anticipated. I did manage to take a couple of nice pictures though. 

Saturday morning’s work followed an already familiar pattern as we went out to the market to hand out more leaflets.

In the evening, there was a party at the house for Guillermo’s birthday. Friends and family came round, we had a meal and drinks (including homemade pisco sours), and the birthday boy got the traditional cake-in-the-face.  

Later on, Guillermo and his friends went into the city to go dancing but I was extremely tired so I stayed home.

I was having a lie-in on Sunday until I got a message from Steve, the Australian from my Spanish school. It was quite a bombshell, as he’d attached a dozen page document outlining his plan to set up an organisation in Cusco! I’m not going to go into detail here – it deserves a post of its own – but suffice to say, a fair bit of my remaining time in Cusco will be taken up helping Steve on this project.

That afternoon we braved the rain to watch Cienciano take on Willy Serrato. The interesting thing about the away side is that they have copied the club crest and kit of my own side, Manchester City.

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The game was even more one-sides than the previous one I went to. Cienciano hit the woodwork three times in the first 15 minutes and cruised to a 4-0 win. The three points gave them a cushion at them top of the league with five games left and the city’s hopes are high.