Dervla Murphy at 80: Living at full tilt

Irish cycle tourer, author of 23 books and one of the great travellers of our age turns 80 today. Hilary Bradt celebrates a feisty and freewheeling life in Wanderlust Magazine

I vividly remember my first meeting with Dervla Murphy in 1979. Husband George and I had just arrived at a hostal in Otavalo, Ecuador, while researching our guide to Backpacking in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. I emerged from our room to find George chatting to a tough-looking woman with an Irish accent. She was telling him where to buy good yoghurt. As she returned to one of the basic rooms that faced the central quadrangle, we held a hushed conversation.

“Do you think that’s Dervla Murphy?” George asked (we had heard that she was mule-trekking in Peru with her nine-year-old daughter, researching a book).

“Oh no,” I said, “she’s a proper writer; she wouldn’t stay in a place like this!”

But later that day George asked her anyway. Her face conveyed a mixture of surprise and dismay. “I’ll get some rum,” she said.