Sunday, 30 January 2011

Who's heading to Nicaragua?

The air was still and the tension high in fieldbase last night. Why? Well, after hot showers and a gorgeous BBQ (courtesy of our lovely cook Sandra) to pep us up after jungle camp, the project managers found out what projects they'll be working on for what's known as phase 1 - the first of three sets of projects lasting 19 days.

So, drum roll, and in no particular order, give it up for:

Community projects

Quebrada Honda is a small community near to Achuapa in Northern Nicaragua. The Raleigh team will build a gravity feed water system for the various families in this area. The people have small sesame seed harvests which they sell to a cooperative in Achuapa.

Alpha 5 Quebrada Honda: Mo (medic), Amy and Chris

Who: Mo
From: London
Job before Raleigh: Anaesthetist
How did you hear about Raleigh? Through friends
Special skill: Lunging and high fives

Who: Amy
From: London
Job before Raleigh: Digital marketing consultant
How did you hear about Raleigh? Family friend
Special skill: I'm very bendy

Who: Chris
From: London
Job before Raleigh: Corporate lawyer
How did you hear about Raleigh? I knew a past venturer
Special skill: Hugs

La Colmena is in the Miraflor wildlife reserve which is 206sqkm of beautiful mountainous terrain with various different ecosystems such as tropical savannah, dry tropical forest and mountain cloud forest. During this expedition we will be building a multi-use community centre.

Alpha 6 La Colmena: Ben (medic) and Vicky

Who: Ben
From: Shropshire
Job before Raleigh: Paediatrician
How did you hear about Raleigh? A friend mentioned it when I was saying how I wanted to do something fun and a real challenge
Special skill: Instigating phrase of the day on Raleigh (he's a trendsetter is Dr Ben, look out for a future blog about phrase of the day)

From: Oxford
Job before Raleigh: Sales
How did you hear about Raleigh? Through a friend of a friend
Special skill: Coffee-maker extraordinaire

Potosi is a community at the base of the spectacular Cosiguina Volcano with its beautiful surrounding scenery. The community currently has problems with water and the people have to carry water for great distances so a Raleigh team will build a water system.

Delta 5 Potosi: Sheila (medic), Lara and Catherine

Who: Lara
From: London
Job before Raleigh: Marketing and singing
How did you hear about Raleigh? Forum 3 which is a charity exhibition for volunteering opportunities
Special skill: I make a mean energy bomb (having done jungle camp with Lara I can personally vouch for that)

Who: Sheila
From: Dublin
Job before Raleigh: Doctor
How did you hear about Raleigh? Medical conference road show
Special skill: I put up hammocks that stayed up and were waterproof!

Who: Catherine
From: Ambleside
Job before Raleigh: Finance
How did you hear about Raleigh? Careers fair
Special skill: Highly-skilled hummer

El Cebollal: in 2010 the Miraflor area was hit by some heavy rain during a series of tropical storms. Many people were left without access to the outside world and their homes destroyed. On this expedition we aim to work in the communities hit by the devastation to help families rebuild their homes.

Delta 6 El Cebollal: Ali, Natasha and Bernardo

Who: Ali
From: Stratford-upon-Avon
Job before Raleigh: HR manager
How did you hear about Raleigh? We came here on holiday and fell in love with Costa Rica so looked for charity work here
Special skill: I've learnt to live with Ivan (our deputy programme manager) without killing him (Ivan vouches this is a very special skill)

Who: Bernardo
From: Belen, Costa Rica
Job before Raleigh: Tech support
How did you hear about Raleigh?Volunteer mailing list at the University of Costa Rica
Special skill: Slacklining (a way cool type of 'slack' tight-rope walking between trees)

Who: Natasha
From: Malawi then Maidenhead
Job before Raleigh: Pharmaceuticals
How did you hear about Raleigh? I found Raleigh on the internet when I was researching charities who were involved in sustainable projects
Special skill: I'm a real water baby

Adventure projects

Momotombo trek: this is a brand new trek which starts in the Miraflor reserve before heading to the Estanzuela waterfall and wildlife reserve. It passes through remote rural communities.

Alpha 2 Momotombo trek: Sarah (medic) and Ivan

Job before Raleigh:IT security specialist
How did you hear about Raleigh? Travel show 
Special skill:Acrobatic rock n' roll

Who: Sarah
Job before Raleigh:Doctor
How did you hear about Raleigh?Friends and family
Special skill: I can curl my tongue into a flowery shape (picture below)

And that's it for Nicaragua folks! Find out who's working where in Costa Rica next time.

In the jungle...

...the mighty jungle, the 11C volunteers managers slept last night:

Well, the night before actually but after an 18 hour day I'm afraid your trusty blogger was too tired to blog last night. I'll make up for it today with two I promise.

So, we spent two nights and three days in the jungle learning how to read maps, cross a river safely, use machetes to chop wood, build jungle camps using bamboo and tarpaulin, deal with medical emergencies by carrying an injured person (who wasn't really injured but pretending) on a stretcher for a mile or two, cook for ourselves using outdoor cooking stoves, and generally be all round jungle heroes able to trek for miles through rainforest, Bear Grylls stylee:

Beds? Pah! Who needs a bed when you can knock up a basha bed or a basha hammock in half an hour. Beds are, like, so last season:

And when you get up at 3.30am it's amazing how much you can fit into a day. Ross, our country programme manager, is our Scottish Yoda, imparting his extensive outdoorsy skills to turn us into superhero volunteer managers. Here he is, looking pleased with us, at the river crossing:

And here's why. We all got across and enjoyed it too:

We were divided into five teams which made for a bit of healthy competition. Whiskey 5 definitely had the best jungle camp which is why everyone came to visit us for a party. We rock! Whiskey 3 were well into their team massages after all that backpack trekking:
A few of us even had close encounters with local wildlife. Pete, in team Whiskey 4, couldn't have been more surprised when he heard a loud snarl and his rucksack was ripped off his back. Thankfully it wasn't a puma but a small dog who'd decided he liked the look of Pete's shorts hanging from the backpack! The dog's mortified owner, a friendly farmer, did his best to rectify the situation by directing them to a shortcut, thus shaving a half hour off their route.

And here's city boy Jonny, from Whiskey 1, befriending a horse:
Not sure what the horse makes of him to be honest.

Yes, we survived jungle camp and we're all the tougher for it. Next up, project allocations!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

We're finally a complete team!

So it’s the project managers’ first full day at Turrialba HQ and we’re all getting stuck in to team building, learning more medical skills, how to set up our radios in the jungle, and what to do in emergencies. It’s been pretty cool wrestling with sugar cane to get our radio antennae fixed and re-enacting various medical scenarios.

Many of us have been killed – but only on the darts board when playing ‘Killer’ so need to worry.

And feliz cumpleaños! to Asha! Shame she was put on breakfast duty at 7am this morning but hopefully the cakes made up for it.

Some of the boys have already displayed drama queen tendencies and we’re not even out in the jungle yet. Cries of ‘earwig in the armpit,’ came from Chris – I think it was a small beetle. Jonny was mad because his black mug (so distinctive!) went missing for all of ten minutes.  Time to toughen up boys as tomorrow we’re all off to jungle camp (gulp) for a few days when we’ll learn Ray Mears type survival skills (let’s hope we don’t have to drink our own wee).

Tune in to the blog on Saturday to get the low-down on our jungle camp adventures.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

11C project managers have landed!

They're here! Yes, our soon to be bessie mates have arrived in a haze of hugs, welcomes, smiles and occasional back slaps.

 This last picture is of project manager Phil, who was in the kitchen within five minutes of arriving yesterday helping our lovely cook Sandra peel the spuds. That's what I call keen!

So without further ado, other than a loud drum roll, here are our 11C project managers:

Left to right: Ivan, Lorna, Chris, Sarah, Asia, and Mo

Left to right: Sabrina, Roberto, Natasha, Amy, Andrew, Jesus

Left to right: JoJo, Sarah, Adriana, Karla, Loreth, Jonny, Phil

Left to right: Mel, Ben, Bernardo, Ali, Christine, Emma, Lara

We're near the end of a very long day (one of those ones that feel like 48 hours). We're all tired but very happy here at fieldbase. I end with a picture of our first breakfast together this morning:

If you're wondering why there are so many of us, it's because we're the largest expedition ever run in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, possibly in Raleigh's history! (tbc). As ever, Pura Vida!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Guess where the world's greenest, happiest country is?

Fieldbase is more hectic than a London rush hour as we make the final preparations for the project managers’ arrival (more on that tomorrow!).

And as today is unofficially known as 'blue Monday' in the UK (short days, long nights, no money after Christmas etc) what better time than to tell you why Costa Rica is officially the happiest country in the world. 

Forget a freezing winter in Europe, Costa Rica is not only gorgeously green, tropical and warm, it’s also been voted the best place on earth. 

Published in 2009, the Happy Planet Index (HPI) measures how much of the world's resources a nation uses against how long and happy a life their citizens enjoy. Costa Rica surpassed Vanuatu (the winner in 2006) in the 2009 HPI. The UK came 74th and the US 114th.

So what makes Costa Ricans so darn happy? Looking out the window from fieldbase, it's not hard to see why the people here are smiling. Costa Rica is a playground of natural beauty and biodiversity. Straddling the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, this Central American jewel is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, occupying an area slightly smaller than Scotland. 

The country's backbone is an avenue of lofty peaks complete with thermal pools, waterfalls and volcanic mud pots, plus the spluttering magma of mighty Volcan Arenal. The capital city San José perches up in these highlands too. From here, you descend into a world of national parks: swathes of cloud forest packed with quetzal and scarlet macaw; deliciously dense rainforest where jaguar prowl among a hundred different shades of vegetation and tropical flowers bloom. Finally the jungle tumbles down to palm-fringed beaches, where the surf is almost as spectacular as the sunrises and sunsets. 

Costa Ricans - or 'Ticos' as they call themselves – report the highest life satisfaction in the world, and also have one of the lowest ecological footprints. Not a bad place to start your 2011, eh?

Life on a Raleigh expedition is  a ten week taste of this brilliant way of life. We’ll be living simply and sharing our resources carefully as a team. We’ll be engaging in a range of sustainable development projects to improve the ‘happiness’ of the communities and the environment around us.  And – by the end of April – we aim to improve the personal happiness of every single member of the 11C team,  project managers and venturers alike. 

Stay tuned to the blog and we’ll do our best to share a bit of that sunshine with you too.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

We're on it!

Hola! By now you have an idea of what the 11C advance team have been up to this week in preparation for the arrival of our project managers very soon and also our young people, known here at Raleigh as venturers, at the beginning of February.

So, just before the chaos begins i.e. 35 volunteer managers fighting for less than half the number of fieldbase beds, here's a quick round up of what the 11C advance team has been doing (it's not all fancy dress and volcano viewing you know!).

First up is Ivan, our deputy programme manager, who has devised an induction plan so detailed in its military precision that we practically know what times we're going to the loo each day when project training begins on Tuesday. Here he is outlining his master plan (at world domination?) to Catherine and Abi in our staff room:
A few minutes in, they realised the complex diagram represented only the first day. Looks like we're in for an intense, but highly organised, two weeks! And no, Ivan didn't insist that I include 'highly organised' but he'll be pleased I did. We also discovered that Ivan's childhood nickname is 'dog bowl'. If you're coming out, ask him about it.

Meanwhile, Catherine, our finance manager... :
... has been busy making sure the numbers add up by visiting the local bank in Turrialba to get money changed, setting up a Bureau de Change here at fieldbase so everyone has enough colónes when they arrive (the colón is the Costa Rican currency), updating our accounts for head office in London, and ensuring we have enough money for project planning visits. Along with Tom, Catherine's also kindly labelled furniture in the staff room with their Spanish names so we can start learning toute suite. Or should that be 'inmediatamente'.

As well as being the font of all knowledge in the office because she's volunteered as the finance manager before, Abi, our administrator,... :
... has been preparing all the project packs, checking everyone's details are up to date, making sure we all have the right visas, ordering stationery, re-learning how to cope with crazy Costa Rican drivers, and a zillion other admin tasks for which we're very grateful. 

Jess, our team coach... :
... has been organising the project manager's skills training sessions which will help them manage groups, as well as being an all round star by helping out other teams, and revealing hidden dancing talents on the salsa floor.

And Dr Sheila is delighted now that she has been joined by Dr Ben:
 ... making lighter work of compiling the static, vehicle, and trek kits; preparing and taking medical one-to-ones; organising medical training for the project manager's induction; and stocktaking, and ordering medical equipment. They've also learnt how to salsa - we have (blurry) photographic evidence!

The logistics team (left to right) of Pete, Tom, Laura, Bob and Mark have had a frazzled few days:
... learning how to negotiate the chaotic Costa Rican roads in the landys; repairing and ordering new equipment; stocktaking maps, vehicles and radio kits, and planning menus to work out food rations (286 toilet rolls, 384 tins of tuna, 90 kilos of oats, 1,700 packets of tomato sauce, and 85 kilos of pasta arrived yesterday with all sorts of other goodies - no sign of the famous expedition food staple of pork and beans yet!).

And on to the media team. Julie, our photographer... :
... has been taking lots of pictures (no surprises there) not to mention making slideshows and our blog introduction video, learning to drive, helping other teams out, and sending everyone nuts by singing 'Do you know the way to San Jose' every five minutes. Hopefully she'll have got bored of it by the time everyone else arrives.

And here's me, your blogger, Gerry... :
... I've been setting up the blog, flat-planning the magazine which will be ready for everyone by the end of expedition, and devising a 3 month plan involving lots of other communications stuff which I won't mention in case I spoil the surprise for the volunteer managers and venturers. Oh, and I've been fretting about my shoe to T-shirt ratio (roughly 3:1) which means I'm short on tops but I'm probably the Imelda Marcos (lady who owned lots of shoes) of Raleigh in Costa Rica and Nicaragua (I haven't brought my hair straighteners so I had to make up for it somehow).

Ross, our country programme manager who lives here... :
 ... has been teaching drivers how to drive safely in country, taking one to ones, answering our ridiculous questions, playing darts while following Andy Murray at the Australian Open, and crying over Hibs football club (yup, he's Scottish).

And, last but absolutely by no means least, Julian, our country director who also lives here... :
 ... has been finalising trek routes; making sure all the project plans are in order, and laughing at Ross crying over Hibs (he's not Scottish).

So all in all, we're ready for the project managers' arrival... (almost). ¡Pura vida!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Hola! Volcán Irazú

Welcome again to Expedition 11C where the advance team is in situ and ready for action. After a bonza barbie from barbeque kings Tom (pictured) and Pete last night (they're both in the logistics team so it was super organised)...

... our treat this morning was an early jaunt up a volcano.  At 3432m above sea level, Volcan Irazu (pronounced a bit like 'Oovavu' from Shooting Stars') is pretty high. So we hopped in the landys, which we parked in reverse when we arrived. This was just in case the volcano decided to get active on us (in fact our deputy programme manager Ivan's safety brief included the immortal lines 'if anyone spots an eruption please let everyone else know'). Gulp.

With that we set off for an hour to meander round the beautiful turquoise crater lake of an active volcano, a first for many of us:

The guys decided a boyband shot was in order along the way:

Left to right: Keiner - our host venturer co-ordinator; Tom, Mark and Pete -all logistics; Ben our newest arrival - a medic project manager, and Ivan - our deputy programme manager.

Move over Take That! 

As we walked up to the lookout point we had a totally awesome view of the smoke plume coming from Volcan Turrialba which we can also see from fieldbase on a good day:

And here's the obligatory group shot but with the added twist of us trying to kill each other (not really):

With that we headed down to say hello to a friendly furry thing which had bounded up to us on arrival. However, the adorable creature known as a Koatimundi in English ('Pizote' in Spanish) displayed its Jekyll and Hyde nature when it ran off with Tom and Julie's cake. They weren't happy.

After so much excitement, most of us headed back to fieldbase. But a small number took a detour to visit a project site from the last expedition, 10L, in Volcan Irazu national park. One of last year's teams helped to develop a trail system with paths and drainage. Here's Laura our logistics manager returning rakes to a happy Horacio, one of the park rangers:

And Keiner was chuffed because he was able to run up and down the path at top speed which his little brother had helped to build last year:

Laura and me (Gerry, the comms officer) huffed and puffed our way up before realising that altitude sickness was potentially kicking in. So Mark from logistics and our driver for the day, did a sterling job of negotiating hairpin bends, giant potholes, crazy cars overtaking, cows in the road, and hills so steep they would be black runs if they had snow on them, to get us back in one piece. Phew!