Monday, 23 August 2010

The food of champions

I'm almost halfway through The Longest Walk, George Meegan's account of his epic journey on foot from the bottom of South America to the top of Alaska. After a frustrating start (there were so many typos on the first few pages I almost felt like giving up), I'm now thoroughly enjoying it. Here's a brief extract which should give you a good idea of Meegan's slightly eccentric personality and endearing sense of humour.
On the approach to Puerto Supe I attained another milestone, completing 8,000 km, and by the time I reached town I was famished.
"Got any food?" I shouted up the single step of a waterfront hut, a makeshift restaurant.
"No. Have you?" came the reply from inside.
"Well, actually... yes. I have a coconut and a tomato."
"Fantastico!" And with that I was ushered inside, the great nut was cracked open with the help of a hammer, and all the family reached in. To the accompaniment of squeals of astonishment I then fried the tomato; for these people, it was like frying an orange. I assured them that all Britons do the same, which elicited further gasps. And thus the patron fed the restaurant.
The average restaurant I passed in the desert can only be described as ghastly. To keep things on the up and up, the floors are given a daily washdown with gasoline. A common story in these parts is that some hapless traveler once stubbed his cigarette out on one of these floors and everyone was lucky to escape with his life from the ensuing fire.
Cafe children were kept busy separating the good grains of rice from pebbles and other rubbish that comes in the same sack - time-wasting work that makes car washing interesting by comparison.
Meegan doesn't subscribe to what Alan Booth calls the "Protestant Walk Ethic" (i.e. eschewing all forms of road transport while on a long walk), but as he is out to establish a new record for the longest unbroken walk, whenever he does take a ride he is very careful to resume walking exactly where he left off. On one occasion he'd walked 14 km after a break of a few days in a town in Ecuador when the thought struck him that he may not have walked one four-block section in the town. Any gap in the journey would have robbed him of the record, so he went back and walked this few hundred metres.

Finally, another quote for those people wondering what (apart from coconuts and tomatoes) fueled the man who still retains the record for the world's longest walk:
I was hungry, and so after reaching the center of town, I spent a frustrating hour trying to get an onion. Of all the passions and food cravings I had in South America, the humble onion remained the king. For me a raw onion with salt on bread made a meal and provided a good vehicle for salt, which, after water, was my greatest need and desire in hot climates.
Distance walked since last post: 27.6km
Total distance walked since Koshu Kaido training began: 215.9km
Days left until departure: 24

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