Since our last blog post, we have travelled a fair few miles, a lot has happened and we have had the most amazing experience. Our Raleigh Expedition exceeded both of our expectations and we have so much to share with you.
For those of you that have been following our volunteering either on Facebook, Instagram, or the actual Raleigh International blog, then you will have a good idea of what we have been doing. There is so much more than that to try and explain, so we will be writing a few blogs to talk about the work that Raleigh do and what a valuable experience it has been from our own personal points of view.
For now, here are a few highlights and answers to those questions that we have been asked the most so far …
What were your highlights?
Whilst on expedition, I spent phase 1 in La Cangreja National Park, phase 2 on trek in Nicaragua, and finally phase 3 back in the National Park in Costa Rica.
My time in the National Park was amazing. We camped out in this beautiful rainforest with all kinds of local wildlife for company (Insects, reptiles & mammals), and carried out important infrastructure work in the park along with essential liaison with the local communities. The work was extremely hard work but really rewarding, and living within the nature in a small group really enabled us to bond and work together as a unit, and it was amazing to see how the groups develop.
Carrying out the 250km trek in Nicaragua was a personal highlight for me however. I didn’t know what to expect when allocated this on phase 2, but I knew it would be tough …. and I was right! At the same time it was so rewarding pushing myself to the physical limit on this gruelling expedition and seeing myself and the other team members getting through their own personal challenges. We were actually trekking for 17 days, and carried all our kit (clothes, food, tents, equipment, medical supplies etc …… ruc sac’s weighing 20 – 25 kg), so it was really liberating to know that we were self sufficient throughout the trek. We trekked through some amazing landscapes, but my trek highlights were probably climbing Cerro Negro volcano and then arriving later that day at the top of El Hoyo Volcano and watching the sun set over the beautiful lake of La Laguna where we would be trekking down to on our final day! Just Amazing!
The whole experience for me was a highlight, but picking three, it would be going out on road trips, slideshows and La Laguna. By going out on three road trips I was lucky enough to visit all the projects and treks and I even got to drive the Land Rovers across Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The slideshows were a highlight for a personal reason. To have a whole group of people excited to watch your compilation of images being shown every phase was such a thrill. I still laugh at the thought of my name being chanted before each slideshow was played – you made my day guys! The third highlight for me, sums up what Raleigh is about. Arriving in the community of La Laguna and having a man want to take me around the village to photograph people turning their tap on to receive water for the first time was simply unbelievable. We take this for granted every day and to be involved in an expedition that helped create a Gravity Water Feed system, so that they could have water in their homes was very humbling.
What was the food like?
We did eat well and despite the jokes about rice and beans, for many people in Costa Rica and Nicaragua this is a staple diet and for very good reasons. There was a lot of porridge, rice, beans, pasta and refried beans, as this is the cheapest and best food that can be provided for projects that are in the jungle, or on trek.
For me the food was pretty plain and basic! On all phases we cooked for ourselves; in the National park we had a portable gas burner, and on trek we cooked on Trangias. Breakfast would always be porridge, which was a personal challenge for me as I can’t stand the stuff (I would attempt to make it palatable it by adding cinnamon, nuts and raisins). Lunch would be something quick and easy; refried beans, cold canned beans (similar to baked beans) or tuna; all with some form of dried crackers. Dinner would be heavily “carb” based, consisting of either pasta, noodles or instant mash, with this we would combine combinations of pasta sauce, soya mince, or tuna. Food was very basic and simple, and especially on trek ….. tummies rumbled a lot!
For me at Fieldbase, the food was more varied and we got to cook for ourselves. When staying in the homestays on my road trips, meals were beans, cheese and tortillas for every meal usually. This comes from a tradition of ensuring that the men who went out to work in the fields for the day, were fed with lots of beans for energy for the day’s work. I did love Gallo Pinto for breakfast and actually enjoyed the fact that my meals were predominantly vegetarian. The pineapple, mango and avocado out in Costa Rica though are so different to the UK and I will miss them a lot. I got to try as many of the local dishes as possible and I will bring you a blog on this, when I can hopefully find some recipes.
Where did you sleep?
It was a mixture of dormitory bunk-beds at Fieldbase, basic beds in homestays that were in either brick, or mud/wood houses, hammocks, the floor with a rollmat, basha beds, which are stretcher style beds on bamboo stalks and sleeping bags. We slept in tents, dorms, houses, in the jungle and under the stars. Sometimes with insects, but thankfully usually under mosquito nets.
How does it feel to be back?
It feels like we’ve never been away and work has already kicked back in. It does feel like we only just left for Heathrow a few weeks ago for our expedition, but it also feels like we’ve fitted in a whole year’s worth of life. An experience we are still coming to terms with and one we will never forget.
What did you miss?
The obvious is that we both missed family, friends and Quito. What else did we miss …
The dog (Quito), being with Jo, hot showers & clean clothes, having my own choices and variety of food (I especially missed cereal with cold milk!), personal space and comfy beds.
Nothing is the honest answer. I was doing what I love, travelling and photography. I ate great food. I saw stunning landscapes and sunsets. I felt part of a team that cared about all kinds of things and inspired me. I could have happily swapped my stinky travel towel for a white fluffy one and my hair felt like it needed hot water for a change, but I wouldn’t have changed these experiences for anything.
What will you miss?
Excitement and variety of expedition life, constant personal challenges, Fieldbase, and the buzz of all the excited volunteers, companionship, laughter and new friends, a beautiful and diverse country, the sense of achievement, knowing that you are doing something worthwhile for yourself, others and the environment, sunshine and the Caribbean and Pacific coastal resorts.
The sun and heat, those sunsets, friends, bunk-bed laughing, driving a Land Rover, Bon o Bon chocolates, Snickers Almond and all the amazing opportunities I had out there.
Would you do it again?
We both say without hesitation – yes, in a heartbeat!
Well back to work and washing some very smelly sleeping bags is the immediate answer.
For me in the first instance it is back to work before the company gets too used to being without me! Hopefully we can get some exciting architectural projects on the books to get my creative juices flowing again! Being on expedition has made me think differently about many things, and about what is important in life and what isn’t. I want to keep involved with Raleigh work; whether that be merely helping at UK events or further afield in the future. It would be great also to get involved with local charities to make better use of my free time and to feel that I am doing something of importance in the community. I also want to undertake some form of project together with Jo; something that is worthwhile and that we can carry out together as a team …….. Ideas on a postcard please!
On a practical level, I have to buy some new external storage hard drives as I have too many images to try and back up. I would love to create an exhibition, or book from the stunning visuals I have captured and would hope to use these to raise funds for Raleigh. I am keen to do some speaking at networks about my experience from both a photographer’s and personal point of view. What it has taught me about me, how I can use the experience in business and life. I have realised that youth work and mentoring could be an option open to me, so I may pursue something with that. I am keen to make a difference and will definitely look to continue to be involved in helping Raleigh International both here in the UK and even overseas if I was lucky enough to get another opportunity.
Generally we had an unforgettable time and made friends that we already feel we have known for years and were a huge part of our experience. We are going to miss it a lot, but we are glad to be back. Our challenge is to make sure we use this opportunity for every second it was worth.