Sunday, 29 August 2010

Romeo round-up: What's happening out there?

Our Romeo groups have now been out on their project sites in Costa Rica and Nicaragua for a few days and we can report they're all making great progress with their final phase on Expedition 10F. Here's a bit of an update:

Romeo 1 (Maribios Trek) have already covered almost 100km and are spending the night in San Rigalio. There's been a lot of rain up in Nicaragua, which has forced some route changes due to uncrossable rivers but Romeo 1 will continue to soldier on. A Fieldbase base team including your truly will be joining them in a couple of days to climb Volcan Casita, so fingers crossed for a clear day to make the most of the stunning views.

Romeo 2 (Guanacaste Trek) enjoyed a visit from Fieldbase in El Pilon last night. Today was a day off from the trail, which they spent visiting a blue lagoon and an amazing waterfall before relaxing in a natural spring, which was very hot by all accounts. Tomorrow they'll be moving on to Zapote.

Romeo 3 (Camaronal) have their jungle camp set up just behind the beautiful beach at Camaronal and have started their nightly beach patrols. Some of the group were lucky enough to see baby turtles on the very first night they went out! During the day they've been doing work to extend the hatchery. Lots more patrols are planned for the next few days, along with a visit to a local art gallery.

Romeo 4 (San Lucas Island) have made a great start to the trail they're building across the island. Tomorrow is their day off so they're going to have some fun on the beach with a series of games and challenges.

Romeo 5 (El Coyolito) have been hard at work on the community centre they're building in Miraflor. They've already finished the first two walls and will begin work on the third tomorrow. Yesterday they visited the local high school and did some salsa dancing. Today was a day off which they enjoyed with a nice walk to a nearby waterfall.

Romeo 6 (Rio Arriba) have finished the holding tank for the new water system and and will soon begin laying pipes to carry the fresh water to the houses of Rio Arriba. Today was too wet to go out for a walk but they had a great day teaching English and singing with the local community.

Things have been busy around Fieldbase with Julian, Ross, Abi and James holding the fort, along with Zoe and Pedro who have just finished managing a bespoke expedition in Nicaragua. Johnny is spending a few days with Romeo 4 on San Lucas and Bravo 1 is ready for another epic Nicaraguan road trip with Sarah and Kala heading up to visit Romeos 1,5 and 6. This correspondent will be hitching a ride to join Romeo 1 for a week of trekking on Los Maribios.

We'll have more updates from all our project sites soon.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Echo 6: A new community centre officially open

Gary Kelly reports on Echo 6's successful phase in La Naranja de Tayacan:

Wow. What a phase. The experience was brilliant for the whole group and it was great for us to finish the new community centre in La Naranja de Tayacan. We arrived two days after leaving Fieldbase, after numerous bus journeys. When we got there we were allocated to our families, who were so welcoming to us all. Then the following day we started work on finishing what was started by Alpha 6 who visited the community during Phase 1.

Our work consisted of collecting rocks, stones and dirt to lay within the foundations so that we could cement the floor. We completed these tasks and finished the community centre fairly quickly. When we had our days off, we travelled to Yali, a small town about an hour bus ride away from La Naranja. The same day, we travelled to Esteli and stayed in the offices of El Foro Miraflor, an organisation that is dedicated to conserving the area and the communities located in the Miraflor Nature Reserve.

One of the best days we had was the second we spent in Esteli. We had a very nice breakfast and then went on a tour of a local cigar factory. There, we managed to see how hand rolled cigars are made and we were shown different areas of the factory, which included a room full to the brim with cigars! Some of the group were even given some free cigars by the factory manager!

During the last days of the phase, we traveled back into Esteli to collect decorations for the community centre opening party. The day of the party was very exciting because we knew that the group had finished the centre and now we were going to open it. The whole community was in attendance and the village priest came along and gave the building a blessing. The party went very smoothly and everyone had such a good time.

Unfortunately, our time in Nicaragua had to come to an end, but the experiences that the group encountered, we will probably never forget.

Echo 6 photo album

Echo 5: No challenge too great in El Coyolito

Christopher Taylor takes us to El Coyolito in the beautiful Miraflor Nature Reserve:

This Venturer had thought that the challenges would end with the trek in Phase 1 but I was undoubtedly wrong!

Our project was to build a community centre, approximately 7m x 8m and our building site presented us with a mammoth task. We had to dig down nearly two metres and then some, before we could begin to level out the area; we shifted stones weighing forty kilograms; we moved tons of earth to several different locations but perhaps our crowning victory over nature was the felling of a large tree. Destructive, satisfying and enjoyable, it was a massive moral boost after what had been a grinding time of picking and spading. On our last day I looked on the cleared site with the foundations starting to be laid and despite being just a little disappointed with not being able to lay a breeze block, I realized we had accomplished one hell of a feat.

Working and living with the local community was no easy ride, but an unforgettable experience that was thoroughly enjoyable: Amenities – forget it. Utilities – think again. Steak and chips – in your dreams. The long drop latrine became normality, it's the flushing loo that baffles this Venturer now! Who needs a washing machine and a tumble dryer when soap and a concrete washboard do the job just as easily? And steak and chips could only be acquired with immense powers of imagination transforming the usual rice and beans. But on the other hand, it was a happy, simple and really pleasurable way of living. My family, Madie and Jose Maria were amazing. From the food they cooked, and the freedom of living with them to conversation and tolerance in teaching us to make tortillas. They, at some point, must have thought we were crazy as my roommate and I created a new meal: tortillas with sugar. They were delicious!

Outside of community work and life we managed, with the help of an ex-Venturer, to see a coffee plantation and a baseball game. The coffee plantation was really interesting as I don’t think anyone had a clue where coffee really comes from, or how it is processed. The baseball was different. No one understood the rules but joined in the yipping and whooping whenever something exciting happened. Our last treat was a waterfall, barely thirty minutes walk away. Cool and refreshing, I don’t think there is a better feeling than having tens of litres a second crashing down on your head and shoulders from fifty feet up.

No phase I think is without its challenges, but together as a group and with the help of the families and community, Phase 2 went by quickly, smoothly and entertainingly. 

Echo 5 photo album

Echo 4 photo album

Echo 4: Going nocturnal on Echo Beach

Tina Ambrose writes from Playa Hermosa:

When we first arrived at Playa Hermosa we were thrown straight into it with two beach patrols on the first night. Unfortunately we didn't see any turtles on the first patrol but since then we've rarely had a night without a sighting. We collect anything up to 15 nests each night, each nest containing 70-120 eggs. Once collected we recreate their original nest in the beachside hatchery where they are incubated for 45 days. Once hatched they are released into the ocean and hopefully they will return in 30 years time when they're ready to breed.

On many of our patrols, which can last most of the night, we are lucky to be joined by Ricardo, a local ecology expert who has volunteered at the Playa Hermosa ranger station for four years. He is very passionate about his work with the turtles and has taught us a lot about the coastal wildlife we've encountered.

He told us that most of the work they currently do wouldn't be possible without volunteers like us (Raleigh groups make up about 60% of the volunteers at Playa Hermosa). The presence of the volunteers and rangers on the beach also deters poachers. During our stay a poacher was caught by the police and will now serve three years in jail.

There is quite a lot to look out for on Playa Hermosa - not just turtles! We have seen scarlet macaws, white ibis, hundreds of lizards, thousands of hermit crabs and the odd crocodile. One of the rangers also informed us that behind the ranger station is a big nest of crocodile eggs. So we hoped we didn't come across one on patrol or even worse on the way to the long drop!

When we find a nest, information on the number of eggs and the time is recorded. In order to make this data more accurate we have measured out 100 metre sectors and marked each one with posts, which will later be numbered.

Following up Delta 4's hard work building the hatchery in Phase 1, we improved the sand bag wall and dug a trench around the hatchery. The sand bags provide a barrier against the sea and the trench allows rain water to run off easily. The group enjoyed this task but were surprised how heavy the sand bags were.

When we arrived the team were horrified at all the plastic washed up on the beach. We set to work clearing it, filling many, many bin liners over the four mornings it took. Looking down to see a plastic free area was such a sense of achievement. On reflection we all felt ashamed that people can allow all this litter to pollute the ocean and we all pledged to recycle more and spread the word.

Echo 4 also worked hard to create Echo Fortress! The best beach camp there has ever been. We boast a glam long drop, 12 sturdy basher beds, two hammocks and most importantly the radio bench. Along with some landscape gardening anyone in Chelsea would be jealous of.

But it hasn't been all hard work though. We've enjoyed beach olympics, volleyball, capoeira and a whole lot more.

During our time at Playa Hermosa, Echo 4 have found 161 nests and collected 15,678 eggs. Ricardo hopes that around 55,000 baby turtles will be hatched and released in the area this year.

Echo 3: An unforgettable phase in the jungle

Rosalyn Brown fills us in on Echo 3's time in La Cangreja National Park:

"Echo Three spent Phase 2 in the park.Working ‘til midday, chilling out ‘til dark".

The opening lines of our skit song (sung sweetly to the tune of Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again) do a pretty good job of summing up our time in the beautiful La Cangreja National Park. After waking up in our basher beds to beautiful sunrises, we spent our mornings helping the lovely rangers Don Bolivar, Guido and co around the park – our jobs were varied, ranging from painting corrugated iron roofs, planting trees and widening the tourist trails, to washing and then carrying pipes to install along the Water Trail (‘Sendero Agua’), improving the water supply to the ranger station.

Spending time with the rangers was great fun and although though there were sometimes communication difficulties, we all learned lots of environmental-specific Spanish vocab (‘Reticula’ = root; ‘Rama’ = tree and ‘Resbaladizo’ = slippery - generally a reference to the very muddy paths we spent our mornings slipping and sliding along).

The rest of our days consisted of ‘chilling out’ - we had Spanish and English lessons aplenty, our entire Echo 3 group became pros at eight card blackjack and ‘Deal’ (a highly addictive Spanish card game based on Monopoly), we furnished our camp with home improvements (including Azam’s coffee table, Sarah’s spice rack and a magnificent albeit slightly lopsided deckchair built by Robbie!) and produced a wide range of culinary delights – as well as our super Tico cooking duo ‘Joni and Toni’, Amy and Tori whipped up a pretty fantastic papaya cake!

One afternoon, our lovely PMs Matt and Gitti organized an epic scavenger hunt which had us all racing red-faced around the entire park taking photographs of abandoned long drops and various people hugging trees! 

Another particularly memorable day was our ‘four hour round-trip’ up to the summit of nearby Cerro Cangreja  which evolved into an 11 hour trek through the pouring rain. Needless to say we returned to jungle camp soaked through, exhausted and proceeded to eat our body weight in noodles and rice pudding!

I am sure that we will all look back on our time at La Cangreja with extremely fond memories. It is certainly not very often that you can list among your weekly activities ‘I climbed a waterfall and splashed around in some natural jacuzzis’ or ‘I saw five scarlet macaws, a snake and two toucans’! For me at least, it was an unforgettable three weeks living in a beautiful jungle with such an enthusiastic, diverse and genuinely lovely group of people that I am proud to have been part of a team with. Go Echo Three!

Echo 3 photo album

We've collected stacks of photos from the Echo 3 Venturers and PMs - here are some of the best:

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Echo 2: Awesome creatures and beautiful views in Guanacaste

Ryan Buchanan gives us an insight into life on the amazing Guanacaste Trek:

Three weeks ago, ten anxious and excited Venturers and their project managers embarked on the Guanacaste Trek across northern Costa Rica. The trek began gently with a five kilometre walk from San Domingo to the small town of Pataste Arriba, and ended with a 34 kilometre hike to finish on the beautiful Playa Junquillal.

Along the way Echo 2 met many kind people who offered them a place to stay and some even filled the gap in our bellies left by the Raleigh rations. As each day unfolded, a new challenge arose. From river crossings to steep climbs, we were often challenged physically. These challenges, however, merely brought the sweet rewards of pride and joy - and maybe a few sore feet!

As the days continued the group grew closer and became tighter as a unit. We were spoiled with amazing views of Lake Nicaragua, Volcán Arenal, waterfalls and hot springs. Echo 2 also got a taste of what Costa Rica’s flora and fauna has to offer, from the national Guanacaste tree, to spiders, white-faced and Congo monkeys, iguanas, racoons, snakes and tarantulas. These awesome creatures and the breathtakingly beautiful views made the trekkers realise how lucky they were.

On completing the trek, we were were all proud of our achievements, amazed by the kindness shown to us by the locals and moved by the stunning natural scenery. The team spirit of Echo 2 was so strong that few complaints were voiced when on the last day we had to walk an extra 4 kilometres to dig out our bus from a muddy road - twice.

With the trek now over all the Venturers and PMs leave with a new set of friends and a fresh outlook on life. The 230km journey was truly amazing and will provide all of us with many stories to tell the grandchildren in the years to come.

Pura Vida!

Echo 2 photo album

We've collected stacks of photos from the Echo 2 Venturers and PMs - here are some of the best: