Friday, 29 February 2008

Expedition 08A Blog 10 - End of Phase 1, featuring Alphas 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9

Herein follows the next 5 reports from Alphas 5 - 9!

Alpha 5: Piedras Blancas
By Jimmy Russell
Photos by Gustavo Bolanes

Alpha 5 arrived in Piedras Parque Nacional after a 7 hour bus journey to be met by rangers Arturo, Victor Hugo, Yorlan and Don Carlos, a fine body of men.

We immediately set to cutting down bamboo and constructing our camp. Perfecting this took up most of the first 3 days. The rest of our time was spent shovelling dirt and carrying rocks in the baking heat and stifling humidity. Over the course of 14 days we moved many tonnes of rock downstream to form a wall to protect the ranger’s station from flooding in the wet season. Behind this wall we wheel barrowed many more tonnes of gravel to form an ‘impenetrable’ barricade.

Unfortunately, 2 days before the end of the phase an unheard of volume of rainfall fell on us. Our camp was flooded and rainwater created a metre deep, fast flowing river where the dry river bed was before. This damaged our unfinished wall. Despite crushed spirits we managed to make reparations before our departure. The rangers were impressed with finished barrier, and almost as proud as we are.

In between morning and afternoon shifts we made time to take a dip in the rivers and deeper pools in the National Park. On a number of occasions the rangers kindly took us on walks around the rainforest and along the river, searching for monkeys and snakes. Toucans, cayman crocs, striped anteaters, fer de lance snakes and smelly dogs were among the other wildlife that we encountered. But let’s not forget the wasps and ants!

Midway through our phase we squeezed in a trip to the beach – with a 4 hour trek (read climb!) up and down steep ridges of primary rainforest. An amazing time was had by all in this beautiful, secluded beach paradise, and a breathtaking boat ride brought us back to our camp a day later.

Memories to treasure include Tess and Megan’s musicals, Javier’s pranks, Jack and Duncan’s cooking and of course, Charlie’s muscles. The stories and adventures shared between us, the gorgeous surroundings and fantastic people made our time in Piedras Blancas the ultimate experience for Alpha 5.

Alpha 6: La Cangreja
By Tim Hardie
Photos by Oscar Saboria and Chris Taylor

Alpha 6 had an eventful few weeks deep in the jungle at La Cangreja. Once we had recovered from the shock of finding out that where we were to build a campsite was actually tangled virgin jungle reached by crossing a river, and not the nice open clearing that we had envisaged! ‘Operation Camp’ began with machete work to clear the site, interrupted only by a Chinese naming ceremony and a Chinese lesson to mark Chinese New Year.

Once our river crossing, hammocks and basha beds were erected, the jungle began to feel like home. We split the group into two; half worked on creating the permanent camp structure, and the other half on the building of the trail. We learned the dark art of square lashing bamboo together from Chris T, and quickly became expert.

We had many adventures during the phase: including camouflaging ourselves in mud and leaves so that we could jump out and scare the Field Base staff that visited with our food drop. Unfortunately we were when they were late. After hiding for two whole hours we finally gave up in disgust. Kate lost her soap in the river on day 2 and had to smell for the rest of the phase, and Julian and Rachel from Field Base and Head Office visited us and brought us hungry campers sausages for breakfast!

Another highlight was visiting a jungle waterfall for a swim, despite a major underestimation by Romero the ranger regarding the 30 minutes it would take to get there. Still it was still nice to get there over an hour later…

Our time in the jungle was crowned off by a trip to the beach. Of course this was not without one last adventure! Our van got stuck in a very large ditch after 2 hours on the road. All the boys piled out to push but the van didn’t move.

Luckily, a passer-by in a 4x4 came to our aid. We then realised that a fuse had blown so we had to wait 5 hours for a new one. We finally arrived at the beach at 4pm after a 4.30am start – but it was worth the wait! After 2 nights spent at the beautiful beach, we came back to La Cangreja for our last meal – a barbeque courtesy of our new friends, the La Cangreja rangers who none of us will ever forget.

Alpha 7: Achuapa, Nicaragua
By Emily Coward
Photos by Delphine Tomes

Over the last three weeks, Alpha 7 made new homes with the families of Los Loros. Our project was to help install a system of pipes to bring fresh water down from the spring to the community.

The fist week of the project was spent clearing the access track since it was impossible for the truck carrying the materials for the project to get into the community. As we shifted rocks and boulders we started building our relationship with the locals.

This relationship went from strength to strength as the next week we started digging the trenches for the pipes. In 8 days we managed to dig 1.6km of trenches, approximately 30cm wide and 50cm deep. It was a 20 minute trek uphill from the nearest house to the worksite each morning, every morning – so we can all safely say that we are all a lot fitter than we were before!

We quickly integrated into the community, attending the birthday party of twins living locally, teaching English (and Geography) in the primary school, and going down to the river with the locals on Sundays after the traditional rice pudding.

Food quickly became a frequent topic of conversation, as our diet consisted mainly of rice, beans and tortilla; rice, egg and tortilla; egg, beans and tortilla; soup; rice, pasta and tortilla… and so on. We also kept ourselves amused through Katie S’s trips and falls, Emily G and Mike’s film conversations, Michael E’s ability to fix anything, Del’s hatred of the hundreds of chickens and Harry’s constant commentary on his life at that moment.

All in all, Alpha 7 had an amazing time, and will never forget their experience of Los Loros – especially Reggae Tor – one of Nicaragua’s best breakdancers. We’re lucky enough to feel part of the family of our hosts in Los Loros as well as friends.

Alpha 8: Miraflor, Nicaragua
By Ralph Giles
Photos by Tom Dearie and Alicia Hockless

Over the past 3 weeks, Alpha 8 as a group have all learnt a lot about each other and the community we have been temporary residents of.

Right at the beginning of the project, we spent our first afternoon getting to grips with the tools we’d be using for the next two weeks and found some rather innovative uses for a few of them. For example, we learnt that gaffer tape is rubbish for leg waxing, a screwdriver is not just a drink, and that when naming an unfamiliar tool, the hint “it starts with a P” may not result in the answer you were hoping for.

The next job at hand was to set up the radio, as even before we’d left Field Base we’d got a reputation for being particularly bad at it following a collapsing antenna during jungle camp. After a morning of fruitless attempts at contacting Field Base, we were forced to move to higher ground. Unfortunately this prime radio location on top of a small hill was protected by a fairly impressive barbed wire fence. This was not enough to deter Alpha 8, and a few ripped t-shirts later we were through… into a field full of ankle high cacti! Still, we persevered and soon enough we managed to finally contact a somewhat crackly Field Base.

The next day we met the foremen in charge of us on the work site. They were men of few words and changeable minds, but kind hearted and appreciative of the work we were doing. We had lots of help from the community right from day one, with children helping us to collect rocks or water for cement mixing.

The families we stayed with too were amazing, all so kind and welcoming. They provided us with delicious food and drink to keep our energy up on the work site. We worked solidly from digging the foundations in dry dusty earth, until all four walls were up and we even made a start on the flooring.

We did have some time off, including a morning trip to nearby Estali for the Friday market and a whole day trip to Miraflor National Park – a huge and beautiful are of untouched nature reserve that San Pedros is on the very edge of. We walked for two hours to a waterfall for a cold swim and a wash. This walk left some of the group rather puffed out and a bit worried about the 19 day trekking phase ahead!

We all have had such an amazing and rewarding time in San Pedro and were all sad to leave, having formed such strong bonds with the local people. But we’re equally looking forward to the next phase and the challenges and rewards it will bring.

Alpha 9: Conte Burika
By Tamara Astor
Photos by Alex Bull

In this day and age it is difficult to find a place undiscovered by a McDonald’s Drive-thru, let alone somewhere accessible only by foot and hoof. After a six hour hike along the spectacular Pacific shore, our journey was topped off by a steep uphill scramble into the most stunningly dramatic scenery any of us had ever seen.

Fatigue-induced grumblings were immediately silenced as the peace of the place took its effect. Snuggled into the valley was our first sighting of our home for the phase. Our first glimpses of the village of Carona and its people were quite simply awe-inspiring. We were welcomed by a beaming, Raleigh T-shirt clad Patricio. He hugged each one of us warmly – very brave considering our sweaty state!

Once we had set up camp in ‘El Centro de Communidad’ – the impressive result of Raleigh’s efforts last year – the importance of our project began to sink in. The very committed committee set our challenge for the phase. Making the fiendishly neat network of dots and lines gracing Don Sebastian’s paper blueprint a reality looked to be a very daunting task. However, thanks to excellent and consistent teamwork, we ended up completing it two days early.

Our most physically challenging job was to lug wood from mountainous heights. The trips to each small plot of chopped wood were well worth the effort as they were proof of the community’s determination to manage the jungle sustainably… we also built up invaluable strength for our imminent treks. The rest of our work passed in a steep learning curve of sawing, hammering, levelling, digging, planning and laying. The locals really appreciated our constant high spirits and enthusiasm. They also found our ‘technical terms’ and improvisation techniques very amusing… especially when we whipped out our mess tins to use as soil scoopers!

We learnt so much about each others’ cultures, particularly with evening English, Spanish, Guaimi, Dutch, Chinese and even New-Yorkian classes. The boys from all cultures were united by the worldwide language of football! Frisbees, too, featured highly. Playing all sorts of games with the children was inspirational. Several of us spent an extremely rewarding morning or two teaching in the existing schoolroom. At the moment, several age groups from pre-school to adult learners are taught together. The school for the younger ones we are building will be hugely beneficial. It is very fulfilling to think of learning beginning in such an idyllic situation.

It was truly humbling how grateful the villagers were for our efforts. They took such a lot of care over our comfort, especially where food was concerned. Their attention to this area was rewarded by the continual chorus of ‘un poco mas por favor!’ We all feel so privileged to have genuinely felt part of such a uniquely joyful community. Khanaki, the leader, assured us that there would always be a ‘casa’ for us in Carona and we are all determined never to forget his generous offer or the time we spent in the community.
That's all for now. Stay tuned to find out where the venturers have been deployed next for their second phase of our expedition in Costa Rica and Nicaragua...

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Expedition 08A Blog 9 - End of Phase 1, featuring Alphas 1, 2, 3 and 4

Hello again from Turriabla. The silence is deafening here as we have just sucessfully completed our first changeover. All our partipants arrived back from their project sites on Saturday. Yesterday, Field Base belched and discharged them all off onto their next phase. But before they headed off, each Alpha group filed the following reports to update you on the progress of their projects. Here are the first 4 updates - the remainder will follow tomorrow so you don't read it all at once!

Alpha 1: The Corcovado Trek
By Phoebe Strawson
Photos by Floris Baas

The united Alpha 1 arrived at Progresso eager and willing to begin the 250km trek stretching from the Panama boarder across mountain ranges, treacherous jungle and tropical beaches to reach the breathtaking Corcovado National Park.

The trek began in high spirits whilst the enormity the challenge had yet to dawn on them. The group would be confronted with numerous challenges along the way that would test them all both physically and emotionally. Over the first few days Alpha 1 struggled to acclimatise to the high temperatures, walking with heavy backpacks and treating blistered feet. Relieved and rewarded upon arriving at Aguas Calientes we enjoyed lunch and relaxing in the hot springs – despite a thundering rain storm!

Over the next few days the progress of the group became evident with each individual day leader tackling the difficulties of navigating with outdated Costa Rican ‘maps’ which showed neither roads, paths or towns. As we entered the mountain phase of the trek the group morale was high. Unfortunately falling a day behind we seemed to run into problems. Ranging from the guides useless directions, resulting in us being lost in the jungle, to various injuries and illnesses and mysterious disappearing paths. Despite all the odds being against us, a big team effort involving back bearings, recce groups and just pure guess work enabled the entire team to summit at 1000m and conquer Cerra Pelon.

After almost two weeks of tackling mountains, rivers, jungles, waterfalls and mosquito bites we made it to Los Patos – the gate way to Corcovado National Park!

From this point we knew the end was in sight and were eager to reach the irresistible beaches of Corcovado. Spotting some fantastic wildlife on the way including spider monkeys, anteaters and racoons we reached our final destination of Porto Carbanara enjoying our well earned rest on the beach. Bring on the next phase!

Alpha 2: The Dragon Trek
By Alison Toczek
Photos by Loué Hamami

Descending through ethereal cloud forest, battling our way through dense jungle and climbing mountains under the scorching sun, the Dragon trek certainly pushed us to our limits.

Along with sweat, tears and blisters, there were some fantastic highs on the trek. Finally conquering ‘The Dragon’ peak (2,506 metres), climbing our final mammoth hill and ultimately reaching our gorgeous deserted paradise, the beach at El Rey, being just a few. The sense of achievement from having from travelled on foot across Costa Rica to the Pacific Ocean was enough to take our breath away, especially when watching a stunning sunset across the waves.

At the end of this epic 275km trek, our team had climbed the height of Everest from sea level, seeing crocodiles, monkeys and more insects than we’d ever imagined. Despite the exquisite scenery, we were most struck by the generosity and kindness of the local communities, who regularly welcomed us into their homes, giving us a real insight into the Costa Rican way of life.

Alpha 3: The Rio Macho Trek
Words and photos by Thomas Beelaerts van Blokland and Charlie James

Alpha 3 have completed their epic adventure, crossing across the majority of Costa Rica. High spirits were maintained throughout, despite all the testing scenarios that were faced. Our team have bonded and become a close knit family.

The first five days proved the most challenging; with fitness levels not at their highest. We all had to deal with the shock of the enormity of the task at hand - trekking with large loads on our backs for eight to ten hours a day.

Alpha 3 – renamed ‘The Party Trek’ - did well to stay positive during the middle section of the trek, when the route was not exactly known (euphemism for “we were completely lost”). Mountains were unnecessarily climbed and camps had to be pitched in gale force winds, but nonetheless our morale stayed high.

Despite our dishevelled appearance and less than sweet smell, our group enjoyed the generous nature of the Costa Rican villagers on many occasions, who often found a roof for the travellers to sleep under and even provided us with food on one occasion.

With the beach in sight, ‘The Party Trek’ marched on, finishing with an intense 26km day. This meant that we arrived at our destination a day early with our bodies just about holding together. Collapsing into hammocks and on the sand, we enjoyed our well earned two days on the picturesque, deserted beach at Punta Judas.

The trek was tough, traumatic and testing. However, the suffering seems like a distant memory now and every member of Alpha 3 looks back with pride on their achievement. We know that we would be lucky to ever have such an amazing experience again.

Alpha 4: Barra Honda
By Eleanor Chalmers
Photos by George Naylor and Anna Meikle

This is the first time that a Raleigh expedition has been to the stunning Barra Honda National Park. It’s 2,295 hectares of wild vegetation which sees virtually no rain from September to April and then torrential downpours for the rest of the year.

After 2 days of setting up camp and meeting the park’s rangers we started to dig a 70cm by 70 cm trench. This is to prevent flooding during the we season which can prove a great danger to the park, washing away buildings, roads and fauna.

Our next project foused on refurbishments to the school room and volunteers room. Our sanding, sealing and varnishing techniques are now well honed, but our clothes, hair and various body parts have paid the price!

As Barra Honda is usually rain free in February we enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in hammocks under the stars. The part was teeming with wildlife including scorpians and giarobos, but some members of the team were not too happy about being woken up by the cries of howler monkeys every morning.

Our multicultural group consisted of one lazy Frenchman who can’t cook, two hottie Scotties (known as dirty Scots to the rest), one ultra-competitive northerner, a nicer than nice Dutch girl, a crazy Hong Kong dude, some chilled out Central Americans and the remaining Brits completed the Adam’s Family of Alpha 4. We were met with huge warmth by all the park rangers, but primarily Prima. She expressed her thanks as follows: “A huge thank you to Raleigh for their wonderful work, which is very important for Barra Honda National Park”.
Check back in tomorrow to find out the progress of Alpha 5: Piedras Blancas, Alpha 6: La Cangreja, Alpha 7: Achuapa, Nicaragua, Alpha 8: Miraflor Pre-schools project, Nicaragua and Alpha 9: Conte Burika.