In November 2016 we introduced the first of a series of guest blogs from Robert Munns. Robert is involved with the Oceans of Hope Challenge, which is an adventure like no other for people affected by multiple sclerosis. In this series, Robert is taking us on a journey right from his own diagnosis of MS, through to now, when he is sailing and supporting others. So, time for the next installment...
Since being accepted on the Pacific leg on Oceans of Hope, I have really changed my attitude to life again. It’s an opportunity for expanding outside of my comfort zone once more. Since my last year as skipper of MY Big Smile, I've not really been the confident Robert that I used to be. It’s been a real boost to have this goal to look forward to and plan for.
For those of you reading this blog that know me, planning for things is not my strongest attribute. But this trip has been on my mind, right at the front since meeting Mikkel in Brighton marina.
Since having made my mind up last year, I have been more relaxed with life and happier to make decisions. One of these decisions was to go and get another MRI scan to see how my brain was doing. Since seeing the additional scars/lesions I realise life is far too short to waste time not crossing the road for fear of being knocked down. I now appreciate how paralysing this state of mind can be. It's very simple… I can walk, I can talk, I can jump and I can swim. Most importantly, I can still swing a golf club!!!
My family and friends have watched me succeed and fail at life, love and all the other stuff too. For these highs and lows, they have always been there for me. This was most apparent when I had my attack in 2008. I do not know where I would be if they weren't there for support, comfort, strength or just to make me laugh when I thought I could not.
Having this opportunity is amazing for me and is unbelievably timely. I have given up my job for this and have no idea where my path will lead afterwards. I have useful and valuable skills that will still be there when I return, but for the time being, that is not going to worry me.
So I got on a plane from Gatwick to Madrid, stayed over in a budget hotel for an early flight to Equador. This was the first culture shock of landing in South America, a continent that I had never been to before. Equador's Capitol is Quito, where I landed. I had then organised a room in a family B&B somewhere in the city near the airport. I arrived in darkness and got picked up a stranger who took me into his home. To be honest, I forgot his name, but he cooked me some food and we shared a conversation over a beer and I found out quite a lot about the country and its biggest economic concern... The price of oil and how this black gold and its huge reduction in market price was killing the national economy.
I also learnt about the country's relationship with my destination, the Galápagos.
These islands that have been such an important place in the Theory of Evolution and I had no real concept of the Galápagos apart from David Attenborough programs and glossy holiday magazines.
But when I landed, I was hit by the shock and awe of the opposites and contrasts of this unique group of islands.
Whatever the brochures say; whatever the amazing pictures; yes it's all there in it's amazing technicolor magnificence. It really is!
However what we don't see in the brochures is the small and underfunded country struggling to keep up with the ravaging tourism going on there.
I'm not going to show you the glamorous pictures but a couple of images of the crafty islands fighting to keep up with this "progress".
The infra structure was unable to keep up with the thousands of small coaches and mini buses that transfer people from the airport. The main road is a mud track that is constantly in use and constantly being eroded and patched up repaired. It's awful and was truly upsetting.
The place needs a break from tourism. It needs to be left alone for a while to have a chance to responsibly cope with the demand. The country needs to stop chasing the $100 per person tourist tax and come up with some kind of solution. Or they will destroy one of the most
important natural areas of the world.
So upon arrival, I found my way to the main town and sort out the boat. She was safely anchored in the main bay. After 72 hours of travel, by foot, by bus, by train, by plane and now by water taxi, I finally arrive on Oceans of Hope! In retrospect, this yacht has given me and so many people since so much hope; she has changed so many people's lives. Such an amazing, amazing yacht and it was awesome, so incredibly awesome to finally arrive. My aims for the whole 4500 mile trip were purely physical, I feel I needed to be stronger and a good influence on the whole crew; I wanted to fulfill three main ambitions:
- Catch a fish, kill a fish and cook a fish
- Climb up the mast and scream in the middle of the Pacific 1600 miles from land.
- Learn how to use a sextant.
You'll find out next time that none of these happened and my trip became an odyssey. You will also meet my fellow crew mates, our Captain and Bosun. An incredible bunch of people who taught me a lot and helped me put my MS into perspective.