When people think of Ireland, they might think of Guinness, music or even Leprechauns, but did you know that Ireland has a King?
Click here to read more.

 
 

A 280-mile solo hike across Ireland.

Click here for more info.

 
Book Excerpts
Prologue - Never Laugh at Sniffer Dogs

Getting up in the early hours of the morning is not my speciality. But when it means you have to or else miss that plane, then the only fear is that you will sleep through the alarm. This was possibly the reason for my light sleep. I hauled on my backpack, followed by the daypack then the extra bag I'd needed for all the things I had bought here in La Paz. Each bag was packed to bursting point. I pictured myself hauling this lot through customs in England.

'Anything to declare?'

'No!'

Would they believe me?

The hotel was a very dark place at four-thirty in the morning. I felt like a blind man attempting an army assault course as I fumbled my way along the landing and tried to find where the stairs began. When I reached the toilet that signified the start of the steps, I switched on its light in order for me to walk down and not fall. The main doors of the hotel were closed, so I tried the door to reception. That was locked also. Who ever heard of getting locked in a hotel? I banged on the door in the hope of rousing someone. A minute or so later it opened to reveal a bleary-eyed youngster with a crooked baseball cap on his head.

'Buenos dias!' I announced, trying to sound cheerful.

'Have you paid?' he grunted.

'Yes.'

With this he allowed me through, proceeding to unlock the front door so that I could leave and he could get back to sleep.

'Is my taxi outside yet?' I asked.

He shrugged and followed me out. The street was devoid of life. We both stood there awkwardly for a moment, me wondering if the receptionist the night before had remembered to book me that taxi, and him possibly wishing he hadn't agreed to do the nightshift.

He flagged down the first taxi that shot around the corner and I got in that. My driver was extremely jolly, given the time of morning. At four-thirty in the morning speaking in Spanish was not something I found easy. In fact speaking at all was not something I found easy. But as the airport was a good half-hour ride away, I felt it would have been rude not to. We talked of my trip and of Bolivia.

'Do you like Bolivia?' he asked.

'Oh yes,' I replied, truthfully, 'it's a beautiful country. The people are so friendly, and the indigenous people are fascinating.'

'Where have you been?'

'I entered via Chile, on a tour that ended in Uyuni, then went to Potosí, Sucre and Lake Titicaca. I stayed there for ten days.'

'Did you go to Tiwanaku?' he asked, a sparkle appearing in his eyes.

Tiwanaku is Bolivia's most significant archaeological site. Very little remains of it now and it's not all that impressive. The pyramid is all but gone. All that remains are a few walls and a couple of ugly statues. If this was the best in Bolivia, then I dread to think what the others were like.

When I told the driver this, his smile fell off his face and rolled onto the floor.

'Perhaps it's because I've been spoiled by the pyramids of Mexico,' I continued, trying to counteract the bad effect this seemed to be having on our friendship.

'And what are they like?' he asked.

'Oh they're fantastic!' I exclaimed, and proceeded to waffle on about the size of their pyramids and the number of ruined cities in the Yucatan.

'Hmm!' he grunted, and drove on in silence. Any attempt at conversation after that was met with indifference. At the airport I gave him an extra ten bolivianos and told him to keep the change. 'Right!' he replied, without so much as a smile, hopped in the car and sped off.

Guess he was proud of those ruins.

Once I had checked in I made my way to the departure lounge. At security the officer pointed behind me. I turned to see a suspicious-looking character beckoning me into a room the size of a changing compartment. Once inside he pulled the curtain across and stared at me.

I didn't like the look of this.

'Narcotics!' he said, quite frankly.

I shouldn't really, I thought, I'm just about to get on a plane.

He then performed a rapid body search and nodded for me to leave.

Back outside I plonked my bag on the conveyor and started to remove my belt.

'Don't worry about that,' said the security officer, without actually removing his eyes from the screen.

'But it always sets off the metal detector,' I protested.

'It's okay,' he replied, motioning me through with his hand.

I stepped through. The alarm went off. I turned and gave a 'told you' look to the officer. He waved me on again. Their relaxed attitude to security was a bit daunting to say the least.

As I stood in the queue waiting to board the plane, I watched the sniffer dog run up and down the conveyor belt as they loaded the luggage on the plane. On occasion his back legs would fall off the side. I found this highly amusing. However this time the smile was to fall off my face and hit the floor at the sudden realisation that I had forgotten to take that bag of coca leaves out of my backpack.

My heart rate increased by double and my bowels suddenly went into spasm. For those who are unaware, the coca leaf is the substance from which cocaine is derived. It grows in Bolivia and is widely sold in the markets. The Bolivians use it for tea and for chewing. When placed in water it makes a great herbal tea. When chewed it helps combat fatigue and hunger. However in Bolivia they are legal. In other countries they are not.

As I took my seat on the plane I chided myself for forgetting such an important thing. I had constantly said to myself,

'Don't forget to get rid of those coca leaves!' but in the last minute rush to get everything and then try to fit it all into my bags, I had quite obviously neglected to do this.

So after three months of safe and relatively trouble-free travel in South America, it looked as though I could be arrested when I arrived in England, or even before I left. Although given the carefree attitude at security I doubted if this would be the case. Even so I nervously waited for take off and hoped I wouldn't hear the following announcement:

'Would Mr Ian Middleton please come to the front of the plane.'

more excerpts...