Sunday, 31 January 2010

Another day in paradise

It’s Sunday morning. By 6am, the swirling white mist that hovers over the dairy farm is starting to lift. The first mellow rays of sun have just crept over the horizon, warming my cheeks as I wander up the dirt track. Its 100 meters from my bed to the office.

I stick the kettle on and make some coffee. Outside the kitchen door, a couple of rickety chairs and a table are the makings of a breakfast room which gazes out over the farm. Chocolate brown cows peacefully munch the grass in a field dotted with vast trees bearing bright orange flowers. Brightly coloured birds flit playfully from tree to tree. The black-and-white cat that sleeps on the terrace lazily lifts his head and gives them a cursory glance before curling back up to sleep. It’s far too early for chasing birds.

A couple of kilometers away, at the edge of the valley floor, the landscape starts to rise. The emerald green grass changes to deep green forest, lights from dwellings twinkle on the hillside and the slumbering giant of Volcan Turrialba looms above, a pillowy plumb of smoke lingering on its summit like caustic cotton wool.

I love this time of the day – the late night owls are still sleeping, the early morning joggers are out pounding the backlanes and here in the office there’s an hour of absolute peace and calm. The start of another fine day at Fieldbase.

Back in Blighty some of you will be waking up to your last wintery day for a while tomorrow as you head to the airport for your early morning flight to Costa Rica. And it doesn’t stop there: all over the world, from Holland to Hong Kong, Venturers will be putting the final touches to their packing as they get ready for Expedition 10B – ten weeks of trekking, building, digging, carrying, cooking, camping, laughing, painting, meeting amazing people and making memories that will last a lifetime. 10B already promises to be the best expedition yet – we’ve got a fantastic team of Project Managers running ten incredible projects from turtle conservation to cross-continental treks. Fieldbase is spick and span, tents are airing in the sunshine and our road teams are doing their final checks before heading to San Jose to meet you all. Good luck everyone – have a safe flight and we’ll see you very soon!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Feliz cumpleaños Ash!

To celebrate his 33rd birthday, rather than sipping champers and spinning around the dance floor like an electric whisk, our dedicated driver Ashley spent today tootling around Costa Rica in his indestructible Landrover. Fondly known as team Bravo One, Ash and photographer Ollie were out doing a reccee on the Corcovado Trek, a 19-day monster that delves into Costa Rica's most enchanting rainforest. In fact, the Corcovado national park comprises eight distinct habitats ranging from mangrove swamp to primary rainforest to low altitude cloud forest, and is widely recognised as the most biologically diverse spot on the whole of planet earth.

Now, it's not all work, work, work for Ash. After a day spotting scarlet macaw, giant anteaters, harpy eagles and maybe even the odd Central American jaguar in this bastion of biodiversity, he got to check out a rather nice aqua caliente (hot spring) and we treated him to a fine supper of tinned pork and beans before a romantic night under canvas. And we even sent him a homemade card from all his Raleigh chums back at Fieldbase. That's feliz cumpleaños, Raleigh Costa Rica-style!

Back at Fieldbase, we tucked into a banoffee pie birthday cake in his honour.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Top Tico-Nica trivia

Did you know...

...that at 7am each morning, all Costa Rican radio stations play the National Anthem?

...that Nicaragua once had an American President. In 1856 William Walker, an American, declared himself President and tried to turn Nicaragua into a slave state for the United States?

...that in 2007 Costa Rica planted more than 5 million new trees – that’s 1.25 for each person!

...that Lake Nicaragua houses the world's only freshwater sharks known as Nicaraguan shark?

...that the traditional breakfast here in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua is Gallo Pinto, which is rice and beans fried with spices? The name means ‘painted rooster’

...that 25% of Costa Rica is designated as National Parks and reserves?

...that there are six active volcanoes in Nicaragua and five in Costa Rica?

...that Costa Rica is home to over 850 species of bird?

...that Nicaragua’s favourite sport is baseball?

...that Costa Ricans call themselves 'Ticos' and Nicaraguans 'Nicas'

Saturday, 23 January 2010


From the baker to the bus stop, local folk here are likely to greet you with a friendly wave and a cheerful chirrup of “pura vida!”. Ubiquitous, uplifting and ultimately Costa Rican, this high energy expression is always accompanied with a huge grin, possibly a thumbs up and, if you’re really lucky, a nice big hug. But what on earth does it mean?

The literal translation is pure life, but it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. In fact, you can use pura vida! to say all sorts of things… Click on the video below where our lovely local VMs – Oscar, Nacho, Ale, Adri and Sofi - explain what this pura vida! malarkey is all about…

Oscar, Nacho, Ale, Adri and Sofi give us the low down on the local lingo

Friday, 22 January 2010

Jungle camp

The mighty jungle...

Ruth slings her hammock with the help of Mike and Richard

Jungle bunny Becca

Hanging out with the locals...

Dave and Tara tackle the river crossing

Ale takes an al fresco shower

Team Whiskey2 - Alex, Ben, Sofi, Richard, The Logger, Christine and Oli

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The full monty

At last, the full crew here at fieldbase - 40 folk in all including our wonderful cook Sandra and the all-knowing, always smiling Don Martin, two Costa Rican legends that we simply couldn't do without.

Pura Vida!

VMs go bush

The VM team (that's Volunteer Managers for those that are wondering - comprising the PMs, or Project Mangers, and the Fieldbase staff) have been brushing up their camping skills before setting off for three days of extreme bushcraft. Fully laden with expedition kit, they'll be testing their radio technique and map reading skills, crossing rivers, building basha shelters in the jungle and rustling up some delectable camp cuisine. And they'll be no showers, pillowy mattresses or escape from the elements. Or the bugs...

Good luck everyone!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Look north!

While our intrepid PMs unpack their rucksacks and catch their breath, I’m going to tell you about the other bit of our Central American odyssey. All our expeditions start from fieldbase in Costa Rica but Raleigh’s intrepid tentacles stretch beyond the borders of this green paradise, up, up and away into a lost land of lakes and volcanoes. Welcome to Nicaragua!

Costa Rica’s northern neighbour is less developed and less visited but is often a highlight for Venturers and PMs alike. It’s a more rugged experience but this place has serious soul – it gets under your skin quicker than a botfly larva and is twice as hard to forget. Gaze out from the silvery shores of Lago de Nicaragua to Ometepe Island - the largest freshwater island in the world - and home to the smoking cone of Volcán Concepción and its sleepy sidekick Maderas; head up to Granada and León, colonial cities packed with incredible architecture, churches and culture. Beyond this you enter a hinterland of crater lakes and cloudforests, lofty peaks and frothing waterfalls down which Central America's mightiest rivers tumble. Did I mention the sun-soaked beaches, Spanish fortresses and pirate havens? And the colourful communities that inhabit some of the remotest outposts in the north? Well, that’s exactly where we’ll be heading…

What will Expedition 10B be doing in Nicaragua?

High in the hills above Achuapa, in one of the poorest most remote areas of Nicaragua, Expedition 10B will be working on a series of small projects to bring clean and safe drinking water over 500 people in the community of Los Tololos. The group be living directly with families in the village and will help out with their day to day tasks, as well as damming small streams and digging trenches to pipe fresh water into local houses.

We’ll also be running a project in the Miraflor nature reserve – 206 sq km of beautiful mountainous terrain with various different ecosystems such as tropical savannah, dry tropical forest and mountain cloud forest. Communities here live through subsistence farming and gain income from coffee growing, cattle farming and some small tourism initiatives. People have few resources and lack access to basic services such as health and education, so we’ll be building two community centers in the villages of Cana Florida and El Terrero. These buildings will form a social hub, acting as pre-schools for young children and a meeting point for both farmers and women’s cooperatives.

Back at fieldbase, we got stuck into a full day of health and safety training to make sure our adventures are exciting for all the right reasons. Speaking of which, we’re off to Jungle Camp tomorrow - so check back soon for Ray Mears-style action as the Expedition 10B VM team takes on Mother Nature.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Project Managers touch down in Costa Rica

After seven days of intense training and a quick jaunt up a volcano, the ten fieldbase staff were all ready for a weekend off. But yesterday our Turrialba HQ was an absolute hive of activity: delivery drivers pounded the door, electricians fiddled with the wiring, tents were spring cleaned, food was cooked and computers whirred. So what was all the commotion about?

Well, while we've been scrubbing floors, scouring surfaces and slinging hammocks between trees to create extra beds, 26 Raleigh Project Managers (PMs) have been winging their way across the Atlantic. These guys are the real deal - intrepid, energetic and resourceful. Come February, while we sip our lattes at fieldbase and tuck into the latest edition of Cosmo, they'll be leading squadrons of Venturers out into the wilds of Costa Rica and Nicaragua to tackle amazing projects, armed with only a few tins of beans and their own quick wits. And they arrived at fieldbase very early this morning...

Introducing... the PMs!

Katie (adv logs), Jenny, Nacho, Alexandra, David,
Elizabeth, Steve, Adri and Susan (adv medic)

Phil, Becca, Emma, Mike, Jude, Sophie and Sofia

Richard, Vanessa, Simon, Ruth, Joseph and Oscar

Heather, Alice, Alejandra, John, Ben and Tara

Answers please!

Hang on - we set you a quiz on Thursday. If you're still pondering who did what before joining Raleigh, then here are your answers:

Our Christine is a published poet.

Action girl Annie has completed four marathons. Go girl!!!

Special K is a hopeless romantic. We're talking roses, love songs and serious smooching

Lovely Laura was an extra in a Bollywood film during her travels round the Indian subcontinent

Ash can ride a unicycle, but he's more often found zipping about on his mountain bike

Sarah (AKA blogger) once interviewed Michael Palin while working as a journalist for Wanderlust magazine

Racy Ross appeared topless in the Times newspaper - he was actually busy digging a hole during a Raleigh project phase in Costa Rica!

Sarah (AKA logger) achieved fame with her local choir, singing live on breakfast TV, aged seven.

Katie often rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous during her stint working in the luxury holiday business, including spending a night at the residence of Francis Ford Coppola

Got your heads round the fieldbase staff now? Good! Because it's about to get very busy here at Raleigh's Costa Rican HQ. Find out more later today as we welcome some very special guests...

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Team day out - Volcan Irazu

Our main man… and more

Behind the scenes, squirreled away in a secret corner of fieldbase, our revered leader is hard at work. So far, we’ve introduced all the busy bees who have been working on the nuts and bolts of running the expedition. But before all this can happen, before there is an expedition at all, our Country Director has to work his magic…

Julian, or Walter as he is affectionately known around fieldbase, is a proper Central American guru. He knows the region inside out. He counts Óscar Arias - Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of Costa Rica - as a friend. He can spot a quetzal at 100 meters, and he can probably engage it in polite conversation too. Julian can even salsa. An expert in the field of International Development, our top dawg manages all the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan project partners, overseeing the wonderful work we do in these countries. In his spare time, he loves bird watching and can often be found wandering round fieldbase mumbling the Latin names of winged beasties…

We’ve had some more new arrivals at fieldbase! A big Raleigh welcome to Susan, our advance medic. She’s been busy organising our medical supplies for the expedition, and making sure we all know how to stay healthy in these tropical climes. In fact, she’s a bit of an expert on the tropics as she was born on the balmy isle of Java, Indonesia!

And our expedition photographer Oliver arrived this morning! Armed with his trusty Nikon and all manner of lenses and tripods, he’ll be documenting our adventures here at fieldbase over the next two weeks, then heading out to visit each of the projects in early February. Ollie’s work has been published in a smashing book about Hastings, his home town. You can check it out by clicking here

Next time: Advanced team bonding, Costa Rican style...

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Guess who?

Take a look at this photo of the fieldbase folk and the fast facts beneath them – can you match facts to faces??? Answers via the comments section please!

From left to right - Ash, Ross, Annie, Laura (in the jeep), Christine, Sarah (logger), Katie (kneeling), K, Sarah (blogger)

Guess who…

…was an extra in a Bollywood film

…interviewed Michael Palin

…can ride a unicycle

…appeared topless in the Times newspaper

…has sung live on TV (aged seven)

… stayed in a hotel with Francis Ford Coppola

… is a published poet

…has completed four marathons

…is a hopeless romantic

Next time: the answers! Plus meet the medics, media and our main man...

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Fieldbase and the advance team

Yesterday we told you a bit about Costa Rica - but where exactly are we in this bountiful biosphere?

Once your wheels touch the tarmac in San Jose, it’s just two hours by road to the gorgeous mountain town of Turrialba. There are three things you need to know about Turrialba. Firstly, it has some of the best white water rafting on the planet. Secondly, it produces fantastic coffee. Thirdly - and most importantly - it’s the epicenter of Raleigh’s Central America expeditions! A couple of kilometers out of town, on the edge of a beautiful dairy farm, a collection of spick-and-span buildings known as FIELDBASE house the operations team. All the planning and organizing for food, equipment and transport for all the projects across Costa Rica and Nicaragua happens here. It’s a bustling hub of activity and communications – and it’s where everybody comes for their training at the beginning of the expedition, and for each changeover between projects.

Who are the fieldbase team?

Early in January, the first members of the 10B expedition arrived in Costa Rica to set the wheels in motion. This advance party has been beavering away getting everything ready for 10B to kick off on the 1st February. Meet the team below as they brush up their on- and off-road skills…

Ross: Country Programme Manager. Ross is our man of the people – he manages all the incoming Venturers and VMs, including training and development on fieldbase and all our project camps. He hails from Scotland and is an avid Hibs football supporter so head his way for a bit of footie banter.

Laura: Deputy Programme Manager. Lovely Laura runs the day-to-day events and entertainment for the whole expedition. She’s like a bouncy ball of positivity, spreading enthusiasm around the Raleigh camp and drawing up timetables of fun stuff like rafting, salsa and whatnot. She was a Project Manager on the last expedition so this lady really knows her onions.

Sarah: Logistics Manager. AKA The Logger. An organizer extraordinaire, The Logger loves counting things and making really long lists. She manages a team of two, Ashley and Katie, and between them they keep the expedition stocked up with everything it could possibly need. She first went on expedition with Raleigh to Ghana in 1999, then to Namibia in 2004 so she’s a proper expedition pro.

Katie: Logistics coordinator. Shopping in the name of the game for Katie – she scours the land for tasty edible options to keep us hale and hearty. Then she organises all the food and drink drops on projects. She’s lovely and friendly and fair and kind, but remember – she’s ultimately in charge of who gets what to eat. Cross her at your peril.

Ashley: Driver and expedition engineer. Ash pootles about all over Costa Rica and Nicaragua in a big Landrover, distributing all the kit, messages and mail to our project sites. He’s a brilliant engineer so can fix all sorts of things using only an old toothbrush and a bit of dental floss. His motto is “Make it happen!”

Annie: Administrator. This lady loves spreadsheets. She’s fastidiously organized and keeps everyone in order, reminding us about all the things we’ve forgotten, or never even thought about to start with. If there’s something you don’t know, ask Annie. She also runs the fieldbase shop and she’s pretty good at jump-starting jeeps too.

Christine: Finance Manager. Our financial wizard holds the purse strings of the expedition and makes sure we don’t spend too much money on sweets. She loves calculators and is very precise and careful. She came to Costa Rica on expedition at the end of 2009 as a Venturer but loved it so much that she stayed on to be a VM.

Keiner: Host Country Venturer Manager. Keiner is so infamous that we refer to him using a single letter – K. He comes from Costa Rica and manages all the local Venturers. Like the breakfast cereal, Special K is a great way to start the day – he’s full of local knowledge and stories, and you can practice your Spanish on him. He’s done lots of Raleigh stuff before so actually he’s a great person to quiz about pretty much anything.

Safety first at Raleigh - the VM team get stuck into a spot of mechanics...