Friday, 30 September 2011

Project allocations

Cue drum rolls, whooping, cheering and general excitement….the PMs for phase one have been allocated their projects.

Heading off on the Turrisantos trek, our very own Little and Large, Will and Ken (pictured below with phase one fieldbase medic James). An amazing trek that takes in two active volcanoes – Irazu and Turrialba – and climbs to nearly 3,000 meters before finishing at the stunning Playa Matopalo on the Indian Ocean.

Tackling the challenging Guanacaste trek will be Randy and Lucy. The setting for this trek covers a huge variety of different ecosystems from cloud forest above 3,000 metres down to one of the last remaining stands of primary dry tropical forest left in the Americas. It also finishes at the Pacific Ocean at at Playa Junquillal.

A team of three PMs (Duncan, Matt and Rachel) will head up to the heights of Chirripo National Park, where their group will work near the peak of Cerro Chirripo  - at 3,820 metres Costa Rica’s highest mountain. The team will be working to repair the trails for the many thousands of visitors who who undertake to climb in this stunning national park.

Gemma and Owen will be heading to Playa Hermosa on the Pacific coast, where thousands of turtles come each year to lay their eggs. This unique project will also get to take part in nightly turtle patrols to collect the eggs of the turtles and put in them in a hatchery.

Heading to Achuapa in Nicaragua are Julie, Kunmi and Barney where their group will be working on a gravity-fed water project to bring clean and safe drinking water to 50 families in the community of El Carrizo. The group will be working with the local population to dam small streams, build tanks to collect the water from where it can run through pipes to all the local houses.

And, last but not least, heading to El Cebollal in Miraflor, Nicaragua are Bruce, Kelly and Vic. Their group will be building a community centre within the Miraflor reserve where there are a number of communities living through subsistence farming and gaining income from coffee growing, cattle farming and some small tourism initiatives.

So there you have it, project planning visits are next up and with some teams heading off tomorrow morning (Saturday), there’s some serious packing and planning going on.

Pura vida!

In the jungle. the mighty jungle....

There are some very tired, muddy, bedraggled and, dare I say it, smelly people wandering around fieldbase at the moment.

Yes, we have made it back from jungle camp, the kit has been cleaned and returned (in pristine condition) to the store room, boots washed, bags unpacked….and now we get to clean ourselves and enjoy Sandra’s amazing cooking once again!!

Four groups (call signs Whiskey 1-4) set off on Wednesday lunchtime with bags fully loaded, ready for…well anything really! Navigation skills training with our group leaders was followed by a risk assessment session with Ross. It was then a hot walk with heavy bags up steep hills to the various camps for the night. Who knew a football field would make such a excellent campsite!!

With a good night’s rest under their belts, the VMs were ready for the first activity of the day…river crossing. Heavy rain in the previous few days had raised the river level enough to give people the wash they probably needed by this stage. With sound advice from Ross ringing in their ears, all groups made it safely across without a proper dunking.

It was then back on the road and on to the jungle for our next training session and to build that night’s accommodation. Thankfully the rain held off long enough for a basher/hammock building session and for the Whisky teams to build their own beds…and what fine beds they were, structurally sound basher beds, carefully hung hammocks, and even hand-made shelving!

Camp set, the rain arrived on cue and a fine dinner was taken under shelter, with the added bonus of energy bombs (Raleigh’s favorite energizer; a combination of porridge oats, condensed milk, chocolate powder, nuts and raisins).

Now, with one rain storm done and dusted, confidence was high that a dry night lay ahead. Alas, the heavens opened for 2 or 3 hours during the night and despite all best efforts at keeping dry the VMs were swapping stories the next morning of quite how much water their supposedly water- tight shelters had let in during the night! A few lessons to be learned then!

With alarm call at the perfectly sensible time of 3.30am, the VMs had camp packed, breakfast eaten, and were ready for tools training at 6am. This was followed by the walk home, during which an amazing number of medics suffered from snake bites...yes it was indeed CASEVAC training.

Casualties treated and reports radioed in, the teams were back at fieldbase by 9am. It is amazing how much you can get done in a day when you get up before sunrise!! And when you get sunrises like this it really is worth it!

Back at fieldbase, the tension is building as we await the announcement of the project teams for phase 1...update to come tomorrow!

Until then Pura vida!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Ready or not here we come...time for jungle camp!!

Before I get into today’s blog report proper, I’d like to set a little competition for all the venturers gearing up for the most amazing 10 weeks of their lives.

You will see some amazing wildlife out here from iguanas to multi-coloured birds but you may not be lucky enough to see one of these (see below). Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to identify this amazing creature. Answers on a postcard…or a scrap of paper when you arrive…and there will be an awesome prize for the first person to give me the correct answer in 12 days time!!

Meanwhile it’s been a busy few days at fieldbase as the volunteer managers (VMs) have gone through some pretty intense training. Our awesome team of medics have led highly informative first aid sessions, the fount of all knowledge Ross has shown us how to efficiently pack our rucksacks, and Julian has added to the growing excitement by talking us through the projects lined up for this expedition.

There’s been a lot of information to take on board but now the talking stops as the VMs go on jungle camp. As I type, bags are being packed (light bulky stuff at the bottom, heavy stuff at the top) motivational speeches are being given by the team leaders, and water bottles are being filled up.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are ready for three days of basher building, trangia cooking, navigation, river crossings, jungle trekking and team-building.

The blog will go quiet for the next few days (internet connections are notoriously bad in the jungle) but we will be back on Friday with a full report on jungle camp. Until then Pura Vida!!

Monday, 26 September 2011

The PMs have arrived!!

After a week of intense preparations and building excitement, expedition 11L is now truly up and running as the project managers have arrived at fieldbase and the team of volunteer managers is complete and raring to go.

Welcomed to Costa Rica by a spectacular rainstorm on Sunday evening, the travel-weary PMS enjoyed a comfortable night on a school gymnasium floor (don’t tell me Raleigh doesn’t do luxury) before heading to fieldbase on Monday morning, where they enjoyed an excellent breakfast of gallo pinto (a traditional Costa Rican rice dish) and egg, prepared by our wonderful, indispensable cook Sandra.

Tired but raring to go, PMs in San Jose before heading to fieldbase

Our wonderful breakfast was a great chance to catch up before training began in earnest.

Fuelling complete (humans need it as much as cars!) along with motivational welcoming speeches from Julian and Ross, it was onto admin and the obligatory fieldbase tour before heading to the pool for the swim test and some highly competitive races.

The next two weeks will see all the volunteer manager undergoing some intense training and project planning so that everything is set up and ready to go for the venturers’ arrival in two weeks time.

In the spirit of starting as we mean to go on, it was straight into radio training as the VMs learnt about our various means of communicating with fieldbase. It was then onto a session with Radio maestro Ross on setting up and using the HF radios that will keep the project teams in contact with fieldbase, But before that, Ross highlighted the importance of sun safety!!!

How many PMs does it take to set up a radio!

In amongst the training, there was time for mess tin decorating, a highly informative introduction to the three-bowl cleaning system by logs manager Reggie, and a general catch-up for what is going to be an awesome team!!

Still to come this week: the medics tell us how to keep them out of a job (be safe people!), we learn more about sustainable development, the VMs take to the jungle for a spot of camping, and the PMS learn their project allocations for the first week.

All in all, it’s going to be a pretty hectic, exciting seven days. Pura vida!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Fieldbase antics and exploring!

Something you may or may not know is that there is quite a lot of jungle in Costa Rica! So it only seemed appropriate for Friday evening’s entertainment at fieldbase to be Sabrina’s (deputy project manager) own version of ‘I’m a celebrity….get me out of here!’.

Don’t worry, it didn’t quite come down to eating bugs and tackling snakes but Owen certainly won’t be wanting to see cinnamon for a while and Jed took on a pretty feisty chilli and came out on top….just!!

In other jungle challenges, Bruce (a new arrival and Costa Rican project manager) broke all kinds of records in putting on 32 different pieces of clothing, Daz was one of the many objects to be found in a treasure hunt, and the team members’ flexibility was tested to the limit in trying to pick up a cereal box with their teeth.
An entertaining evening all in all and I think we called it a draw!



Saturday brought a wonderful opportunity to escape fieldbase for a few hours and visit some stunning waterfalls. A 30 minute, somewhat sweaty, walk through thick forest was rewarded with the sight of a torrent of water and an inviting plunge pool. Suffice to say we all took the opportunity to cool off before heading further up to the top of the waterfall and…yes another quick dip!

Not satisfied with swimming under waterfalls, some of the more intrepid members of the team went to visit the self-titled ‘Snake man of Costa Rica’. Despite an under-developed sense of self preservation, this man did seem to know an awful lot about snakes and was kind enough to introduce us to the three most poisonous snakes in Costa Rica - one of which had a particularly evil glint in his eye. The snake man warned us not use flash photography around this one!! And we certainly kept our distance when we were introduced to the jumping viper!

All in all, a great day seeing more of Costa Rica’s stunning scenery and meeting some of its less friendly inhabitants.


Today, ladies and gentleman, is a hugely significant day in the early stages of expedition 11L as the project managers arrive in Costa Rica and will be brought to fieldbase on Monday morning. Like ourselves last week, they will no doubt be a little bleary-eyed but the enthusiasm and excitement will be bubbling away just waiting to burst out. And they will, of course, have Daz and Splatches to welcome them to fieldbase!

Until then Pura Vida!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Know your destination!

So not long until you head out for your Raleigh adventure. To help you feel even more prepared, here’s some key facts about these amazing countries so you can impress you friends and family with your in-depth knowledge!

Costa Rica

Statistics show that Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world!

Has a territory of 51,000 km2 and a population of 4,578,945

This peaceful country has been ruled since 1949 by democratically elected presidents

The Costa Rican democracy is considered to be the oldest still in existence in the Third World.

Education is very important in Costa Rica and 95% of the population is literate

The constitution prohibits any army, to maintain peace and order, the Civil Guard serves as a police

Costa Rica has one of the richest ecosystems in the world. It contains 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity

23% of the country is protected forests and reserves

Over 35,000 species of insects has been recorded in Costa Rica, with thousands more still undiscovered

It is estimated that 10% of the world’s butterfly species reside in Costa Rica making it a lepidopterists paradise


Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America

It has a population of 5,666,301

Lake Nicaragua, home of Ometepe Island, is the home of the only freshwater sharks in the world

At 130,370 square kilometers, Nicaragua is the 97th largest country (out of 251) according to the CIA Factbook

In most Latin American countries Soccer (Futbol) is the most popular national sport. In Nicaragua, however, the most popular athletic pass-time is Baseball

Nicaragua gained independence from Spain after the Mexican revolution ended in September 15, 1821. September 15th is celebrated as Independence Day and is a national holiday in Nicaragua.

The name Nicaragua comes from a combination of two words, “nicarao” and “agua”. The Nicarao were the Indian tribe who occupied the shores of Lake Nicaragua when the Spaniards arrived in the 1500’s. “Agua” is the Spanish word for water.

Fieldbase update!
Meanwhile, in amongst all the hard work at fieldbase, there have been some tragedies as certain members of the team have met a grisly end.

Tom was the first to go, stabbed with a marker pen in the staff room, Jed followed him to an early grave…death by pork and beans by the fridge! His killer, Alex, was then lured to the venturers’ tents where a bottle put an end to his murdering ways. Brie was unfortunately suffocated by a bin bag when doing the cleaning, while only this morning a trangia (a simple cooking device used on trek) put out the light of Reggie’s life.

There have been some survivors though; Julian fought off a vicious attack from Daz the dog, instigated by Owen and Nadia narrowly avoided death by a glove carelessly left on the ground by Barney..

Yes ladies and gentleman, a highly competitive game of human cluedo is keeping us all entertained and on our toes!

Warning! some readers may find the following pictures disturbing!


Thursday, 22 September 2011

A truly beautiful country

Yesterday I gave you a taster of what to expect when you come out here but I don’t think I highlighted strongly enough the sheer beauty of this country. Even just stepping out of the office at fieldbase gives you views like this (photos courtesy of our logs team member Jed). So you can only imagine what the rest of Costa Rica and Nicaragua offers.

While a stroll further up the hill presents you with this as a reward.

The wildlife is abundant as well.

Meanwhile, in these stunning surroundings, the excitement is building at fieldbase as work continues to prepare for the arrival first of the project managers this weekend and then the venturers.

The logs team habitually disappear to their second home the bodega (store) to sort out all the supplies and ensure that everything is in place for the forthcoming expedition.

The medics are only occasionally allowed out of the medics room where they are doing some pretty serious stock-taking.

Don’t worry though, some of us are allowed outside as the driver training continues in earnest. Yesterday, familiarization trips to Turrialba were followed by taking the Land Rover into its favourite habitat…off-road! Where, I’m pleased to report, under Ross’s calm guidance some fairly challenging terrain was safely negotiated. Before any driving happened though, the vehicle was carefully checked over.

Hasta luego and please keep signing in for more updates.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

What can you expect...

Buenas dias! When I told you yesterday that our advance fieldbase team was now complete I lied a little bit. We were missing one person, quite an important person as it turns out! Our Country Director Julian was away being spoilt by ambassadors and meeting with project partners; he arrived back in fieldbase yesterday afternoon in time to cook our dinner and show us his impressive pool skills!

Like the rest of us he had dreams when he was a child….

Despite all the practice, he never made it as an architect

Now, part of the excitement and attraction of Raleigh is heading into the unknown and taking on challenges that you would not normally have the opportunity to tackle. I am sure that the anticipation is building for our venturers as d-day approaches and, while we like to maintain an element of mystery, here is a little taster of the projects that you will be working on when you arrive in Costa Rica….to help fuel that excitement!!

Adventure - The Turrisantos Trek

A new trek for this expedition but every bit as challenging and rewarding as those tackled by previous venturers. This trek has an incredible start climbing between two active volcanoes – Irazu and Turrialba to over 3000 metres. On a good day from the top you will be able to see the Caribbean Sea. From the top you pass by the Guayabo National Monument – the ruins of an ancient settlement in the jungle before passing close to Fieldbase and then on to the Tapantí National Park. After climbing up to nearly 3,000 metres you will then follow the ridges of the Fila de Bustamante towards Cerro Dragon, before heading down to the Pacific Ocean at Playa Matapalo – a stunning finish to an awesome trek. This and the other trek truly will be an unforgettable experience that will test you physically and mentally but reward in ways you can only imagine.

Environmental - Chirripo National Park – trails

Cerro Chirripó is the highest mountain in Costa Rica, with an altitude of 3,820 meters. It is located in the Chirripó National Park and is noted for its ecological wealth. The high peaks in this and La Amistad International Park host important areas of Talamancan montane forest and Costa Rican Páramo with high endemism and an extremely high biodiversity. Due to the height of these mountains, its peaks are sky islands for many species of plants and animals, snowfall happens from time to time in the peak. From the summit it is possible (only on clear days) to see across the entire continent, from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. For the first time Raleigh will be working right at the top of the mountain to repair the trails for the many thousands of visitors who undertake to climb in this stunning national park. Working in these stunning surroundings will truly be a once in a lifetime experience.

Community - Achuapa, El Carrizo and La Brisa, Nicaragua

Close to the town of Achuapa, in one of the poorest most remote areas of Nicaragua, you will be working on a gravity-fed water project to bring clean and safe drinking water to 50 families in the community of El Carrizo. At present the local people get their water from the river which often dries up in summer or comes from polluted water sources.

You will be working with the local population to dam small streams, build tanks to collect the water from where it can run through pipes to all the local houses. The benefits of clean water will be felt by many generations to come. During this phase, you will be living directly with families in the village and will help out with their day to day tasks. Be ready for lots hard of work but an amazing welcome from these friendly, compassionate people.

So, there you have it an amazing experience awaits you all and believe me, the other projects will be just as excellent!

Adios for now and watch out for a fieldbase update in our next blog.

Pura vida!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Meet the team

Buenas dias! It’s time to introduce you to the advance fieldbase team and tell you a little bit about their roles:

Julian is our Country Programme Director, a man who first came on Raleigh in 2001 and hasn’t looked back since. He works closely with our project partners, focusing on our external relationships; project planning, funding and business development.

Our Country Programme Manager Ross has worked his way through the ranks since 2006, previously working as Logistics Manager, Expeditions Leader and Accounts. His main responsibility lies in the delivery of the expedition programmes and management of our volunteer managers; running and organizing all expeditions.

Deputy Manager Sabrina is responsible for the day-to-day running of all expeditions, and ensures that everything here at HQ runs smoothly. She spends her days making sure that all project managers are fully trained, knowing exactly where to go and what to do at what time.

Our three-man logistics team of Tom, Reggie and Jed ensure that our venturers are properly fed, they have all the equipment they need with them on expedition, and that all Raleigh vehicles are roadworthy before being taken out on expedition. They are our Raleigh lifeline…no pressure guys!!
Our Finance star/team photographer Nadia deals with the finance details to make sure we're not overspending and the expedition accounts are all in order! She's also helping to document the expedition with some awesome photos!

Our advanced fieldbase medics (advanced because they arrived early but they also seem to be very bright) are Owen and Barney. They are busy checking all the medical stock and putting together medical kit for project groups. When not doing this, they are putting the Scots in the group to shame with their advanced porridge making skills.

Quite possibly the most important person on expedition is Alex (that’s me) the Communications Officer. Amongst other things, I’ll be keeping the blog up to date to let you know how everyone’s getting on and all about the amazing work being done on project sites.

Completing the team are our four-legged friends Daz and Splatches.

Like most people, our team members all had dreams when they were kids. And while some may say working with Raleigh in Costa Rica and Nicaragua is 'living the dream', some of these snap shots of the team may suggest that their lives are tinged with regret!!!!

Ross - wannabe rockstar!!

cowboy Reggie out on the range
Jed - another wannabe rocker

Nadia..reliving her dreams of acting stardom.

Sabrina the ballerina!

Tom (with his co-driver Abi) - well he always wanted to be a 'Raleigh' driver


Owen..well he always wanted to be a doctor!!

Barney...astronaut..or ace porridge maker can see why he never became an international rugby player!!!