Sunday, 29 July 2007

And the answer you've all been waiting for...

Friday morning brought the big moment when everyone discovered which project they would be working on for the next three weeks. And at 4.30am on Saturday everyone was up and setting off for their respective project sites to get down to the work which everyone has been looking forward to for so long. Here's the rundown on who's gone where:

Alpha 1 - Nancite



Simon, Chris, Dyala, Tim, Robert B, Kyle, Elizabeth, Kirsty, Harriet, Victoria W-S, Elise and Steven are off to Nancite. Emma S and Ian are the project managers. Set on a stunning beach in the Northwest of Costa Rica in the Guanacaste Province this group will develop the trails and access to a small ranger station used as a base for the monitoring of turtles that nest here. Playa Nancite is famous for the massive arrivals of Olive Ridley turtles that can nest in their thousands from July to December. During dark nights, particularly in the months of September and October, it is possible to see up to 8000 of these magnificent creatures in one night. Working in partnership with national park authorities this project will allow the park rangers and scientists to better protect these remarkable species. The group will be living in a camp behind the beach and have the opportunity to learn about conservation in this beautiful national park.

Alpha 2 - Volcan Tenorio



Will P, Victoria D, Rob Y, Anna, Henry, Charlie W, Jenny B , Charlie S, Claire, Marisol, Rebecca and Nick W have headed off to the second environmental project. Piers and Elsa are the project managers. In this remarkable rainforest environment in the shadow of Tenorio Volcano this group will be building trails up to the hot springs high up into the jungle. Volcan Tenorio National Park is in the northwestern part of Costa Rica and includes a huge variety of species in this tropical forest habitat. El Pilon is the headquarters of the park on the northern slope which is famous for the turquoise river – Rio Celeste – which cascades down a magnificent waterfall a short walk from the ranger station. The trail up to visit the hot springs is currently in a poor state of disrepair and needs a thorough overhaul – an important priority for the national park authorities. The group will live in La Paz, in a community centre, and will get to share in the day to day life of this rural community, at the foot of the sleeping volcano.

Alpha 3 - Salitre



Ruth, Kirsten, Philippa, Ameet, Daniel, William, Roberto, Jenny, Tom Colville, Sally and Nicola have gone to Quetzal. Kiren and Ellie are the project managers. They will be in the South of Costa Rica, building a ‘comedor’ or eating area for a primary school in the community of La Rosa. The eating area is important as it encourages the parents to send their children to school knowing that they will get a meal. This remote community is part of the Salitre Indigenous reserve where Bri Bri people maintain their cultural heritage and mostly live through subsistence farming. The indigenous reserve has been largely forgotten by the local authorities and the community has no electricity, running water or sanitary facilities. During this project we will be working in partnership with a local village association who have applied to Raleigh International for support.

Alpha 4 - Quetzal



Nick, Rachel, Isabel, Tom Coyte, Sarah, Kate, Charlie P, Jonnie, Ian, Jen H, Cameron, Adeline and Ben have gone to Quetzal. Emma P and Nimrat will be joined at different stages by Helen and Euan as the project manager team on this one. They will work in the Chirripo Indigenous Reserve to build a secondary school. This remote community in the foothills of the Caribbean slope of Central Costa Rica is inhabited by the Cabecar indigenous people who maintain their own language and culture. Currently the secondary school is falling down and in a state of poor repair – when it rains the children get wet and the classes are cancelled – so the new facilities planned will be a great improvement allowing the children to receive a higher quality education which in turn is crucial for the development of the indigenous reserve. This group will also have a unique experience where they can learn about the lives of the Cabecar people and understand the challenges that face this indigenous community at the beginning of the 21st century.

All the groups have radioed in to say they have arrived and set up camp successfully. Over the next few days the Field Base team will be off to visit, and will bring back updates for this blog next weekend.

Spectacular visitor at jungle camp

Thursday evening's activities concluded with everyone spending the night in the jungle. We split into four 'delta' groups on arrival in Turrialba, and spent Wednesday and Thursday completing a series of training activities. So on arrival in the jungle the teams were ready to put up their tents, hammocks and bashas ready for the alarmingly rapid nightfall at 6pm, when it feels as though the sun has been switched off.

As we settled down to a traditional Raleigh dinner of pasta cooked on trangias, a beautiful Blue Morpho butterfly was drawn into the light thrown by our head torches. He was very amiable, and spent some time stuck to Henry's face, as pictured below (thanks to Tom Coyte for capturing the moment and not charging me for the photo).

Earlier in the day we'd practiced river crossing after a bit of map reading to find our way there. Whilst the cool water was very welcome after a few hours sweltering with our packs on, having wet boots for the rest of the day was less exciting.

Below Kirsten and team ably demonstrate 'the huddle' - this approach generally proving more popular than 'the static rope', which leaves you feeling pretty precarious with your pack on. All useful techniques though should a river crossing prove necessary when trekking or on the way to projects. And a bit of a laugh too.


Wednesday, 25 July 2007

And so it begins...

We're really delighted to say that all the participants have arrived and are settled in to their tents at Field Base. They're a great group with a real mix of experiences and perspectives which will make for a great programme.

The host country participants arrived on Monday afternoon, with the rest arriving on Monday evening. They were welcomed by a spectacular rain storm over San Jose, which meant that some of the flights had to be diverted to refuel before finally arriving. So it was pretty late by the time everyone was bedded down in their hostels. However, that didn't stop us from pressing on with our 5.30am start yesterday to bus our way over to Turrialba. We were really lucky to get a perfectly clear day for the journey, displaying the Costa Rican countryside to full effect.

We were greeted enthusiastically on arrival at Field Base, and got straight on with a full Costa Rican breakfast. The rest of the day was spent sorting out admin, doing swimming tests and generally getting to know each other.



Then in the evening we settled down for a presentation by Julian and the project managers of the four projects (see earlier posts on this blog for details). The last act of the day was for each participant to put the projects in their order of preference so that we can try to allocate everyone to one of their preferred projects. Watch this space to find out who will go where!

Saturday, 21 July 2007

P Day - 3 and counting

Well that last week went very quickly! It began with the project managers heading off to do their project planning visits, which involved checking out local facilities, meeting the project partners, getting accustomed to the landscape and sorting out contingency plans for any emergencies that could arise. Taking each project in turn...

Project Alpha 1 at Nancite: Ian and Emma S got the bus all the way up to the northwest tip of Costa Rica, and then trekked along the coast to meet the rangers at the project base. The weather was fantastic, and the insects were hungry for Emma's legs. The beach looks absolutely fantastic, but there will still be plenty of work to be done building the path for visiting scientists to reach the migrant turtle population. Especially after the rangers dropped in that maybe the ranger station could do with some work too.



Project Alpha 2 at Volcan Tenorio: Elsa and Piers had a great time wandering around the national park, checking out the waterfall and hot springs. They had a good look at the path building work, which will be a real challenge and also give plenty of opportunity to meet the local wildlife. But there are natural hot springs available to ease aching muscles.



Project Alpha 3 at Salitre: Kiren and Ellie found a common interest in travel sickness as they travelled out to the remote community of La Rosa. They were able to meet most of the people in the community, who were delighted to show them round and keep them stoked with beans, rice and pasta. Ellie wanted to know how to make the excellent local coffee, better than anything she had tasted before - the answer being to take coffee, and add hot water...


Project Alpha 4 at Chirripo: Nimrat, Helen and Emma P had a pretty arduous journey out to the community who are looking forward to their new classroom being built (the picture below shows the current one, which is barely standing). After evading a highly territorial cow, Helen was instructing her comrades in the art of hill walking shortly before sliding bottom-first down the hill. They then built up the confidence of the locals by setting about cooking dinner, strategically positioned beneath a bee-hive.


The logistics team had an exciting recce of the mystery location for the adventure challenge phase - but I can't tell you about that (or I'd have to kill you). Suffice to say the howler monkeys let them know when it was morning in no uncertain terms.

After all this excitement everyone returned to Field Base to write up plans for each project. We then built a lovely row of tents (don't they look nice?) to house the participants for a few days on your arrival.


This was hot work, but we freshened up with a quick rafting trip yesterday which I can report was truly fantastic.




The next couple of days give us space for a few final hours of preparation before the first wave of participants from Costa Rica arrive. Then the remaining participants land on Monday and arrive here on Tuesday. Bring it on!

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Staff survive trek and jungle camp

Thursday morning saw nearly all of us setting off for a day of trekking, to be followed by a night spent in the jungle. Each of us had our full trekking compliment of kit - weighing in at around 20kg to carry each, which you can take it from me is plenty. It was a blazing hot day, and after the initial ascent of some 400m up the hill side most of us were reflecting on the 'it is a good idea to get in shape before you come out' advice provided in the staff briefing packs. However, we all made it to the top and were relieved to then find the rest of it was down hill.


A few hot hours later, and after a bit of 'micro navigation' (stumbling around in the jungle) we happened upon the forest clearing that was to be our home for the night, shortly before darkness fell and as the heavens opened for one of the now familiar deluges of the Costa Rican rainy season. Thankfully the Logs team had already provided a tarp shelter - which provided an extraordinary amount of comfort for something so simple. This was our first opportunity to cook on trangia stoves, and to become acquainted with the 'long drop', and after all that excitement we were ready to hit our slightly damp beds by about 8pm.

Dawn broke several minutes later, and we were drawn like idiots from our beds by Ross shouting 'coffee and bacon sandwiches are ready' - only for the harsh reality of trangia cooked porridge and jam to be revealed in all its horror. However, any food tastes amazing when you're hungry. As the sun started to appear through the tree canopy and the mozzies awoke for breakfast Marco taught us some bush skills he'd learnt during his time in the Nam, before we set off for some more trekking.

The next challenge laid down for us was crossing a river with all our kit. Ross had pre-selected a good spot but we were all a bit surprised to be seeing the river visibly rising when we got there. A quick chat with the local water authority established the damn cleaning would be over soon, by which time we were ready for a rope crossing one way, and a huddle crossing back.


To finish the day off Elsa and Emma P made very convincing jobs of pretending to have severe asthma and a broken leg respectively, testing out our CASEVAC (that's casualty evacuation), radio training, stretcher building and team-working skills. Rest assured it all ran smoothly (though I have no photos to prove it, as this didn't seem like a good point to be taking pictures) and both casualties were whisked to safety without mishap.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

We're all here and raring to go!

Yesterday the remaining contingent of volunteer staff members arrived. After an early start in San Jose they were whisked to Raleigh Field Base and greeted by the advance staff, who've now settled in after their first week.

Despite their raging jetlag and general disorientation, we all cracked on with the first day of training - radio voice theory, the mystery of three bowl cleaning, medical interviews and swimming tests.
















Today we've moved on to how to use HF radios, health and safety (made even more exciting through some skits on the various subjects covered...can you guess what they are from the photos?...possibly not)
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Tomorrow we're off on a practice trek before spending the night in the jungle, so the DEET and mozzie nets will be out in force. Not to mention the first test of some shiny new rucksacks in some very unshiny mud and rivers.

Monday, 9 July 2007

What’s Spanish for Tractor? (The Final 07M Project Recce)

As you will have read below, there are four exciting and extremely worthwhile projects waiting to be completed by the staff and participants of Raleigh International’s summer programme in Costa Rica. These projects were all identified by Julian Olivier (Country Director) and all needed to be visited and planned in great detail. So over the last few months the Raleigh vehicle has toured the country doing exactly that. Three weeks ago, Julian, Marco (Logistics Manger) and I (Ross McKenzie - Country Programme Manager) headed out for the final recce of the last three projects (Julian and I had completed one visit the week before), and we had quite an adventure.


Julian likes to make an early start, so we left San Jose at five in the morning. I used to think this was to make the most of the clear roads and then arrive at the destination in plenty of time, but it is clearly just an excuse to visit all of the good cafes on the long road north. Two breakfasts, one lunch, a milkshake from the world famous Dinosaur Soda and an ongoing game of the genius Raleigh road trip game known as ‘iPod Rules’ later we were in Liberia, the last big town before the border to Nicaragua. From here we continued off the highway and onto out first destination – Volcan Tenorio. Julian had agreed the work we were going to do a while ago with the MINAE (Ministerio Ambiente y Energia) Administrator for this National Park, but we still needed to agree on the exact area, the accommodation, and meet Danillo, the community representative from La Paz. He was kind enough to give us a tour of the park - it’s an incredible place with all sorts of wildlife and spectacular landscapes. There is obviously a lot of minor volcanic activity in this area, so the rivers, streams and waterfalls are a brilliant shade of blue. Julian and I took full advantage of the natural, steaming hot-springs – a great way for the groups to bathe at the end of a hard day’s work. After a few hours of talking it was decided that the group will set up a camp in La Paz, making the project an interesting mix of community and environmental.

Project recces can be a very exciting time. It’s the first time we see the locations, agree upon projects and make new partnerships. Sometimes we will stay in hotels or cabins, but when out and about in more remote areas, you never know where you might end up. The hospitality in Costa Rica never fails to amaze me, so when we were offered a bed in a local surfer’s house we were delighted. Even more so when he decided to invite all of his friends that kept us up to the ´wee´ hours regaling us with stories of stings, bites, impalements and broken limbs experienced while riding the waves.

Another early rise saw us on our way to our most remote project, Playa Nancite on the North West coast. We arrived at Santa Rosa National Park just as the rangers were beginning their working day. With us in the Land Rover, the ranger led us on his quad bike along some of the boggiest tracks in Costa Rica – although as we would discover later that week, not the boggiest. Eventually the roads ran out and we set off to cover the last section on foot. Even though it was early, the heat was already incredibly oppressive. The walk from road to beach is a dry, open and rocky track, with some of the most stunning views in the country. We didn’t see another soul for the rest of the day, and that is how it will be for group that are there. We visited the work site and the ranger station where the group will be living, and made work plans with Jose our friendly guide. I tried my best to make friends with the large lizards that are in abundance, but unfortunately they were not interested. With everything in place, we made the journey back down the coast where Julian and Marco decided we were going to go upmarket and stay in a $15 a night hotel - sheer luxury!


Day three was to be a very long day of driving….and then walking. The aim was to fully recce an area of Costa Rica where we may or may not be as part of the mystery adventure challenge! In the knowledge that Costa Rican maps are not the most reliable in the world, we wanted to know exactly which roads and tracks actually existed, and what new ones have been created – this particular section of maps dated back to 1976 and has ´nubes´ (clouds) on top of a large blank background over the areas that were covered by clouds when the original aerial shots were taken! The first half of the day had been excellent. We had made great progress and our updated sketch map was looking good. However, we were soon to discover that one of the major tracks was indeed no longer in use. By this time, it was too late to turn back so we continued in the hope that we would come out at the road on the other side. This area had had a LOT of rain recently, so the roads were exceptionally muddy – added to the fact that they were on very steep hills, and it produced some very challenging off-road driving. Eventually we got to a part where the road had been completely destroyed by the recent weather, so we attempted to turn round - of course there was no way we were getting back up the hill. At that moment the skies opened and we were in the middle of a huge storm. To cut a long story short, we ended up hiking a long way until we picked up a lift to the nearest town. Soaking wet, we were dropped off at the town pub, which was in the middle of a power cut. To highlight the Costa Rican hospitality yet again, within five minutes the owner of the local soda (café) had opened his shop, was cooking us dinner and had arranged with his tractor-owning friend to tow us out of the quagmire first thing in the morning. If that wasn’t enough, he also put us up in his spare room for the night.



The next day we returned to find the Land Rover stuck in the mud. However, the skill of the tractor driver astounded the three of us and by mid-morning we were back on the road. Track recce complete, we dropped Julian off at the bus station to send him on his way back to San Jose. Marco and I were offered a pool hall to sleep in that night and we took no time to accept. The next morning we put our packs on and headed into the hills to establish some trekking routes for this summer. The sun was scorching and the hills were steep, but the views more than compensated. Having decided that we would try to get back the time lost the previous day, we did a 12 hour dusk to dawn yomp, taking no more than half an hour break all day. We must have looked pretty exhausted on arrival at our destination, because before we even had a chance to take the tents out of our bags, a local farmer had invited us to sleep in his spare room - unbelievable! We had been carrying our tent for five nights now and still hadn’t used it!

Day six and we headed back to Turrialba to collect Julian again, before heading to Quetzal to meet representatives from the Chirripo Indigenous Reserve. The committee here are highly organised and passionate about improving the education of the local population. They showed us their designs for their new school and we were very impressed. After a few hours of finalising the plans, we said goodbye in our best Cabecar (indigenous language) and drove back to Field Base to catch up on some well deserved kip!

So now you have some insight into just a tiny bit of the preparation that goes into organising Raleigh projects. Included are some pictures from our trip.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Up Volcan Turrialba

Yesterday the Field Base team had a trip up Volcan Turrialba, a slightly active volcano about an hour's drive from Field Base. At 3500m or so it provides fantastic views down over the fields and forest of our bit of Costa Rica, which this shot doesn't really do justice.

It was pretty cold at the top, but was a good opportunity for our new medic, Kiren to meet everyone once we picked her up in Turrialba town on the way there.

We drove up in two 4x4s, and on the way back Ross's group decided to take a more scenic route than Marco's. We got some more great views, and an opportunity to test out our map reading skills and finest spanish.
It was a bumpy ride!

Friday, 6 July 2007

Giant caterpillar attacks field base!

This morning's field base team meeting was disrupted by an attack by a giant prehistoric caterpillar! Here's the photo to prove it:

Thursday, 5 July 2007

About project A4: Chirripo

For the first time Raleigh International will work in the Chirripo Indigenous Reserve to build a primary school in the community of Tkanyaka. This remote community in the foothills of the Caribbean slope of Central Costa Rica is inhabited by the Cabecar indigenous people who maintain their own language and culture. Currently the primary school is falling down and in a state of poor repair – when it rains the children get wet and the classes are cancelled – so the new facilities planned will be a great improvement allowing the children to receive a higher quality education which in turn is crucial for the development of the indigenous reserve. This group will also have a unique experience where they can learn about the lives of the Cabecar people and understand the challenges that face this indigenous community at the beginning of the 21st century.

About project A3: Salitre

In the South of Costa Rica in the Salitre Indigenous reserve Raleigh International will be building a ‘comedor’ or eating area for a primary school in the community of La Rosa. The eating area is important as it encourages the parents to send their children to school knowing that they will get a meal. This remote community is part of the Salitre Indigenous reserve where Bri Bri people maintain their cultural heritage and mostly live through subsistence farming. The indigenous reserve has been largely forgotten by the local authorities and the community has no electricity, running water or sanitary facilities. During this project we will be working in partnership with a local village association who have applied to Raleigh International for support. This is a unique project where the volunteers will be able to gain a unique experience of living with an indigenous community as well as undertaking a much needed project.

About project A2: Tenorio

In this remarkable rainforest environment in the shadow of Tenorio Volcano this group will be building trails up to the hot springs high up into the jungle. Volcan Tenorio National Park is in the northwestern part of Costa Rica and includes a huge variety of species in this tropical forest habitat. El Pilon is the headquarters of the park on the northern slope which is famous for the turquoise river – Rio Celeste – which cascades down a magnificent waterfall a short walk from the ranger station. The trail up to visit the hot springs is currently in a poor state of disrepair and need a thorough overhaul – an important priority for the national park authorities. The group will live at the ranger station and will get an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in a tropical rainforest.

About project A1: Nancite

Set on a stunning beach in the Northwest of Costa Rica in the Guanacaste Province this group will develop the trails and access to a small ranger station used as a base for the monitoring of turtles that nest here. Playa Nancite is famous for the massive arrivals of Olive Ridley turtles that can nest in their thousands from July to December. During dark nights, particularly in the months of September and October, it is possible to see up to 8000 of these magnificent creatures in one night. Working in partnership with national park authorities this project will allow the park rangers and scientists to better protect these remarkable species. The group will be living in a camp behind the beach and have the opportunity to learn about conservation in this beautiful national park.

Chris tests out video

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Day 3 for Fieldbase staff

So far we have Helen, Yvette, Amanda, Hugh and Chris on site, getting everything set up for when the project staff arrive next week. It's a bit overcast today, but with luck we'll get some sun later (and no doubt a bit of rain - it's not called the 'rainy season' for nothing...)