Yesterday afternoon we said goodbye to the Deltas and "Hello! / Hola! / Bienvenidos! / Welcome back - hooray, woohoo!" to the Alpha's. That's really no exaggeration.
They arrived back at field base yesterday afternoon and as the coaches convoyed in it was no longer than a few seconds before the venturers piled out and the celebrations began – they were singing, hugging, jumping… dancing, skipping, rolling, flying and bouncing off the walls as they were reunited with Raleigh buddies and old friends. Combine this with big smiles, overwhelming energy and a new found lust for adventure, and you have the start of a cracking Raleigh party.
Tonight the venturers will be celebrating the end of phase one ‘Superhero’ style! Everyone has spent today preparing their superhero outfits for the party, PM’s included. So far on our VIP superhero guest list we have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a variety of DIY Superhero types including 80’s Woman and Glitter Man, and of course Amy Winehouse. It should be fun, more news on this tomorrow.
Our Alpha groups have returned back to field base each having accomplished something very special with their time. So much hard work and effort has been put into these projects; targets have been reached, cultures have been absorbed and new friendships have been made. We’ll finish off today’s blog with a few final thoughts from our venturers as they come to the end of phase one and take a moment to reflect upon their experiences. Pura Vida.
We’ve done it! After more than two weeks of heat, deet, rain and pain, we’ve finally arrived at the beach and journey’s end. The feeling of completing what is widely acknowledged to be the most demanding of Raleigh’s trek phases is virtually indescribable. In fact, I think you’d have to have walked the width of a country on foot in order to comprehend the elation that’s etched on each of our faces; and that shared quality to our happiness is perhaps what makes our achievement all the sweeter; we’ve done this not as individuals, but as a team. Our arduous path, with all its verdant vistas and dark forest paths has led each of us at one time or another into our own personal lows. Yet time and time again, we helped each other to our feet and now we share the sort of bond that perhaps only a quiet and knowing nod can do justice to.And what of the seed bed of all of this, Costa Rica herself? Well, I can only talk of this country’s landscape and its fortunate inhabitants in superlatives. Rest assured that few places I have seen offer the weary trekker such rich sensory feasts or more humbling kindness. Perhaps the character of Costa Rica can be best illustrated by the saint like couple who, having spotted our company lunching by the roadside, slowed their vehicle, stopped, wound down their window and promptly offered us two night’s accommodation in their holiday home – a charming residence with mountain views of such visual power that, on looking at them, I fell into a stunned silence. It seems that on the topic of Costa Rica and Costa Ricans, I have nothing to add. Thank you! Pura vida!
“La vida es cuesta arriba pero la vista es genial!”(Life is uphill but the view is amazing)
With our Guanacaste trek completed it is time to update our blog entry without any help the ever insightful Tim Hales. After successfully completing a thoroughly enjoyable 2 day jaunt in the Jungle, Alpha 2 felt that any further challenges would be tackled with relative ease. Our new found confidence was born on our first day in the Jungle’s treacherous conditions when a few of our party really struggled. In a day long downpour the group really rallied together (if you will pardon the pun) to successfully reach our campsite, which Don Luz created with his machete in what was a seemingly overgrown, impregnable clearing. I feel that Don Luz deserves a special mention for there are very few people in the world who have such a command of any Jungle region as this man. His knowledge and expertise made our two day trek extremely special and definitely forged an enduring team spirit. On the very same day that we finished our expedition into one of the world’s most challenging ecological regions we were joined by K-Dogg (Kadence – Latino co-ordinator for Raleigh). His endless enthusiasm and swimming ability made for a fantastic 5 days! Our much anticipated arrival at the beach made all the sweat, blood and tears completely worthwhile. The sight of the picturesque Junquillal beach made even Tim Hales concede that this definitely replaced Blackpool Pleasure Beach as his favourite seaside destination. Special thanks must go to our project managers, Chava and Tom who were excellent throughout. I feel I speak for the whole of the group when I say that project one was a resounding success and we are all now eagerly awaiting our next phase assignments.
Alpha 3 days
We started day with some nice views from a viewpoint at Estanzuela National Park. We had a tough day ahead of us that included descending a really steep hill and walking on endless mud roads. In the afternoon we had become slightly behind schedule and had to decide whether to keep walking to the next community two to three hours away up steep terrain, or to stay at the community centre nearby where we already were. The vote was unanimous and we made the decision to keep on walking to the planned location. We made it one hour! From that moment on we knew that we could take on any challenge. The next days went by really fast. We got awesome views at Volcano Momotombo. After that we were finished with steep hills, following it up with three days walking through flat terrain. Those were probably the hardest days, it was so hot. It became hot from 7am and at midday it was a real challenge to trek. But group moral was high and we were full of confidence so we were able to power through and overcome the challenge.
We reached the last few days the the rewards were getting closer. On day fifteen we got to climb the magnificent, completely made out of ash Cerro Negro volcano. It was really windy there, you felt as if you were going to be blown away by the wind. The view was really good as well, and the descend was even better. Later on we got to climb El Hoyo volcano. We finally got to taste victory – the view was stunning. You could see three volcanoes from there and Laguna Asosco (our destination) as well. We felt as if we were already there. We had two days of relaxing and chilling and the laguna and sometime to think about what we had achieved together as a team. It feels amazing to know that we could face the physical and mental challenges that we had. The funny thing is that now being back in field base feels as if you are in a fancy hotel! I think that because of the trek we will now truly appreciate the commodities that we have in our daily lives.
After 9 days braving the dangers of Volcano Turrialba, Alpha 4 descended to the more equable, yet equally perilous climes of the rainforest at Braulio Carrillio. The group’s previous foray had not been without event, the creeks and groans of falling deadwood continued to strike fear into some members, but accommodation under a corrugated roof went some way to alleviate this fear. The project itself was straightforward – the gravelling of a scenic path through the jungle, which in its present condition converted into something of a mud bath in the adverse conditions of Costa Rica’s rainy season. Rucksacks were loaded with gravel and the brave warriors of A4 ascended and descended the 1.4km return journey, maintaining high spirits in a variety of manners. Whilst no-one can now be in any doubt as to their top 5 films, favourite holiday destination or home cooked meal, it was Keith’s morning and lunch time energizers which stole the show. Displaying an energy and enthusiasm comparable to a Lee Evans stand up routine, on several occasions it was this good humour which kept the team going in the rain.
One luxury which assuaged the fatigue of the weariest worker was that of the watering hole. Located just a 2 minute walk from camp, many a pleasant afternoon was enjoyed wallowing in the waters and showering under the cascade. Throw in the forward thinking purchase of a beach ball from the Maxi Bodega (Walmart/Tesco equivalent) in addition to Keith’s aforementioned activities, and it could have been a Club Med resort – minus the all inclusive option. This was not the only way A4 were spoilt – the wildlife on display was breathtaking. Toucans, Spider monkeys, Coral snakes and Fer-de-lances, ‘Jeremy’ the ever present sloth, all could be viewed as we toiled on the trail… as could numerous spiders as w made our way to bed! One day we had the fortune to chat with Jaime Arango, a local guide whose knowledge of the rainforest was simply astounding. From bird calls, anesthetic plants and edible berries, even a leaf suitable for use as toilet paper, Jaime’s lessons were a useful reminder of the beauty and power held within the rainforest, and the continuing need for the preservation, conservation and further exploration of these fascinating biomes. It was certainly a wonderful experience and gratitude should be extended to our superb project managers – Carmen and Niall, who were faultless throughout, as well as Andres and Rodolfo our insightful park rangers.
Alpha 5 are still alive after 19 days in the jungle in La Cangreja National Park. As the original plan to construct a wheelchair trail fell through we worked with the Park Ranger, Paulino, to repair and maintain some of the existing trails in the 2700 hectares of La Cangreja. The work mostly involved digging trenches and drains along the paths to prevent them from getting flooded and eroding. Towards the end of phase we also helped with some re-planting. Paulino, a ranger for 32 years explained that it’s important to have good trails to allow the park to develop. Our jungle camp was based down a rocky hill by the River Negro. Although it rained frequently and we lived in constant fear of mosquitoes and Bot flies (which bury their eggs under you skin!), waking up to the sounds of the jungle made it all worth while. With massive cockroaches by the girls longdrop, lizards in our communal area and scorpions creeping into our mozzy nets (fyi, no harm was done here and everyone is still alive and kicking) we were very close to wildlife!
For the last few days at La Cangreja we were particularly spoilt. The rangers were very friendly and generous and treated us to fresh bread and coffee. We also had a piñata which was thoroughly enjoyable. On our day off we were guided through the park trails and shown what previous Raleigh groups had done. By the end of phase we were sad to leave the jungle and La Cangreja.
If you'd ask Alpha 6 what they'd expected from this project three weeks ago, you'd probably have recieved a reply containing the words 'tortilla', 'spanglish' and 'building a bit of a community centre.' We wouldn't have been wrong, but absolutely nothing could have prepared us for the intense manual labour, cultural learnings, largely weather-induced lows and epic highs we've soldiered through in the past 19 days. Worksite-wise, we've spent 8 hour days carrying sand and gravel over a hill, digging out trenches for the foundations, mixing infinite cement, stacking bricks, sawing, twisting, complaining and high-fiving to complete definately way more than half a community centre! The boys struggled to maintain an average of one shower a week. Meals consisted of the same five ingredients, squished and fried into new delicacies of impressive imagination. But our time in Miraflor was awesome and unforgettable. From perks like a quick dip in a waterfall to a trip to a cigar factory in Esteli, cheering fashion moments (Alfie's skirt and Cam's ginger tashe') and watching Claire struggle to discourage various Nicaraguan admirers. There was hardly a dry eye in the entire group when we waved goodbye to our Nicaraguan families. Was it all worth the forty hours on the bus? Would we do it again? The answer to all that readers is "Yes yes yes!"
This week in the adventures of Alpha 7, we’ve been hard at work building the tank which will hold water for the community – also digging trenches and moving rocks! We’re also delighted to have had the opportunities that we did – giving English lessons to the children, visiting the town of Achuapa and learning of the co-operative’s hard work and even having a little love story thrown into the mix! Our last day was a teary exchange of farewells, and a rousing recital of ‘God Save the Queen’. We will miss our families greatly (and they are like family to us now), as well as their simple but amazing way of life. On the other hand it will be good to be free of beans, rice and tortillas for a while! Thank you Quebrada Honda! Alpha 7 out.
*Blog written by Dawn Tennant and photos by Kat Mammone, unless otherwise stated.