Joanne & Damian do Raleigh

Exploring life from a different perspective

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La Iguana Chocolate Farm

Signs of the town Mastatal

During my week long stay in the community of Mastatal, I had the tough job of visiting a chocolate farm with Damian and his team of volunteers. Seeing the fruits grow in the sunshine, tasting the beans and coming away with organic truffles was brilliant if the truth be told. Let me introduce you to La Iguana.

On a more serious level, La Iguana is an example of just one of the farms local to the Costa Rican area of Mastatal, near La Cangreja National Park, that run their business aimed at sustainability and eco-tourism. The farm has volunteers working and living there as part of their travels and Mastatal has gained its own group of tourists with businesses like this. From Eco Lodges to La Iguana Chocolate Farm, Mastatal is looking to grow the community by encouraging like-minded travellers to take a stay in their town and learn about their sustainable ways of life.

The couple that run the farm were amazingly welcoming, with Cacao drinks and chocolate brownies being served to all of us, along with a tour of how they create those delicious truffles. Why not look them up on Facebook and consider a different kind of holiday.

Joanne x

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Fairtrade Coffee. A sustainable plantation.

Roasted coffee beans

Damian and I do love our coffee and I remember my brother buying me a coffee bean grinder when I was a skint student and I still love using it today. There is nothing nicer than the smell of fresh coffee beans and when they are covered in chocolate – even better!

So when we got the chance to visit a Costa Rican coffee plantation in Monteverde, we knew it would be a fab experience and as it is Fairtrade Fortnight, it seems an appropriate time to inspire you to buy Fairtrade coffee next time you do your shop.

Cafe Monteverde is a co-operative run by several families and the highlight of this coffee farm is the sustainability of it. The pigs supply gas, an exercise bike supplies power and the coffee pickers are paid a much higher wage than the base level.







As part of the tour we got to blind taste 5 different coffee varieties. First by smell and then by taste. There was a whole science to this and we were amazed how different the roasting could affect the taste. We thankfully ranked the ‘supermarket’ coffee blend as the worst and came home with our very own Cafe Monteverde coffee beans for our Sunday morning treat.

Jo x







Food memories of Central America

Gallo Pinto in a mess tin

I would not call myself a ‘Foodie’ at all, but when I am somewhere new, I do like to try as much of the local food as possible and Central America gave me so much to have fond memories of. I was lucky in that I got to travel around more than Damian, which meant I did not have to live off porridge and pasta. I tried everything apart from the Chicharron and the Tres Leches Cake and ate all over the place from in the jungle, from a mess tin, by the amazing Costa Rican & Nicaraguan coast and even in the homes of the local communities. I have my favourites and I am blogging this to remind me to get cooking some of them now I’m back in the UK. Enjoy, Jo x

Gallo Pinto

A breakfast favourite

Gallo Pinto

Salsa Lizano

The sauce that Costa Ricans can’t live without. Think Worcester sauce … kind of.

Rice & Beans

Rice & Beans cooking on a stove




I loved these and will have to hunt them out





This is a speciality as a Christmas tradition


Huevos Rancheros

I think this is the breakfast Damian would prefer at home









I tried these in Argentina, but I actually learned how to make them in Costa Rica




This was in the news whilst I was there about an issue of ownership. So can you copyright a recipe? It was intriguing.


I miss these as the taste over there is delicious. I’m not a fine of Pineapples here in the UK. So strange that they can be so different.

Tres Leches Cake

Rosquilla Biscuits

I got to eat these fresh and warm from the wood burning stove. Delicious!

Rosquilla Biscuits


Coffee (With sugar)

The coffee is worth the reputation over there and in Nicaragua it is served with lots of sugar whether you like it or not. You get used to it very quickly though. Not good for the arteries.

cup of coffee

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Fifteen for Fifteen


When we were training to be a part of the Raleigh International team of volunteers you realise how even small changes you make can make a difference across the world. When you are staying in National Parks and living in communities, you understand what changes mean to people around the world. There is so much I could write about what I have learned about development and what I now think about the meaning of being poor and how they are not what you would probably expect me to say, but how do you sum it all up in a blog post.

On our return, I have said to many of you that it feels like I’ve never been away and with that comes the danger of forgetting how I felt when I was part of a team that cared so passionately about the environment and society. It is so easy for me to already think, how can pledging to make a change in my life here, affect anything as big as the global issues we have. The point is, without going in to lots of details, they can make a difference. Even if that difference is simply to inspire someone else to volunteer in their own community, or across the world. To inspire someone to look at what they eat, which does actually have an impact on the world. To inspire someone to realise how lucky they are in life and to be happy.

With this in mind and to avoid all my passionate momentum draining away with modern life, I am setting out my Fifteen for Fifteen. Fifteen goals that myself and also Damian are pledging to aim for in 2015.

1 Eat less meat.

To have more vegetarian meals and learn to cook more with seasonal vegetables.

2 Bags for life.

So many times, these are not in the car and I simply want to make sure I’ve always got a bag with me that means I can refuse the plastic, or paper carrier bags.

3 Local fruit & vegetables

With an amazing market in Leicester and a fruit & vegetable stall in local town, we want to aim to buy our fruit & vegetables from one of these local sources at least once every month, rather than taking the easy trip to the supermarket.

4 Recycle more

We do recycle, but we could do this so much better.

5 Less mileage

Can I aim to cycle more in to the local area, or plan my trips so that I do them all on one day, rather than across several? I do hope so.

6 Water savings

We already have a water butt in the garden, but could we have more units in the garden, which means we never have to turn the tap on in the summer. Can we use the dish washer less – of course we could. I also adore our bath, but it takes so much water. I am going to restrict myself to only one bath every 2 months and spend less time in the shower.

7 Composting

I like the idea of composting our raw food items, peelings etc so would like to research if this is possible to do in our garden.

8 Less food waste

We are so guilty of this and having cooked to a budget as part of a team, I’ve realised how much better I could be at using every little ingredient and save a lot of money

9 Dry October

We gave up alcohol for 10 weeks and it was easy. If we calculated how much we spend on alcohol as an average every month, then we could go dry for October and donate that money saved to a charity.

10 Grow your own

We usually try to grow some of our own vegetables, but I would like to look at doing this with more success this year. Maybe even give up more of our garden space to it.

11 Community spirit

I am going to actively look at how I may be able to help with some organisations in Leicester. I also keen to see if I can get involved in some kind of mentoring with the Prince’s Trust. Look at helping local charities with their photography.

12 Raleigh alumni

As part of a huge alumni now across the world, I want to stay involved in what they do and help when and where I can.

13 Fairtrade & Free Range

Having visited a coffee plantation and understanding how much more they pay their employees, I am going to look to buy produce with more ethical responsibility, be it Fairtrade, or any other sustainable organisation. We also always buy free range eggs, but could they come from a local farm source instead? Can all the things we buy be sourced more ethically?

14 Raise awareness

I hope to use my images and our blog to help people understand so many of the things we have learned so they can make up their own mind on what goes on at home and overseas.

15 Live below the line

This annual charity event is something I would like to challenge us to achieve this year. Can we live for £1 a day for a week for all our food and drink. No easy task.

These may seem like little changes and so many of you will already do this, but I thought we also did and realised we don’t try hard enough at this. With little steps to commitment, I hope we can make bigger changes. When everyone makes a little change to one cause, the impact it has is phenomenal so I hope this inspires you.

What would you challenge yourself to change in 2015.

Joanne x

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Raleigh Costa Rica & Nicaragua Blog

Group photo of Raleigh International 14K Expedition

I was very privileged to have been involved in 52 blog posts for the Costa Rica & Nicaragua 14K Expedition, written by the very talented Amy McCallum. I was honoured to share a lot of photography taken by myself and also from the Venturers taking part in the expedition. Before a new expedition starts on the Raleigh International website blog, I thought I would document the links for anyone wishing to go back and read about the success of 14K. An experience I will not forget. Joanne x


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Our Raleigh Expedition Highlights

2015-01-15_0001Since 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!

What next?

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.






Inspiration and Motivation

For me, it is a week today till I step on the plane at Heathrow and step off at San Jose, Costa Rica. A simple journey that marks the start of what I believe will be an amazing journey. This is such an opportunity for Damian and I to do this as a couple and as individuals and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to take this on. Our various assessment and training weekends with Raleigh have made me realise that, unlike others, I have had a huge amount of support and love that have led me to this point in my life that I could achieve this opportunity. I don’t ever underestimate the inspiration and motivation that surrounds me and thought I would send a virtual hug to these people as they go about their day.

My Family

My dad unknowingly gave me my strongest belief that life is too short and my mum is my highest role model, in everything from appreciating what you have, to partying the night away. My older brother and sister gave me unconditional love throughout my childhood and showed me what a work ethic was. As my nephew hits freshers week at University this week, I am filled with pride that he got there and reminded of how fortunate I was to go into higher education and make the friends I did. My wider family, from my aunties to cousins, all show me how to preserver as they go through the highs and lows that is life. I was brought up with a strong family value and although I rarely see everyone, the childhood memories have a massive influence.

My Career

So many people I’ve met through employed work and networking inspire me to continue in business when it is tough and this is a valuable lesson in life. Success, however you value success, comes from a mixture of achievements and failures, but it is how you deal with those elements that makes the difference. Observing other people’s strengths and how they run their businesses and working alongside them is always inspiring. A mention to Jo Cameron’s Achievers Academy for Women, as these ladies give it their all and more. My Loughborough group have been wonderful this past year, so thanks ladies.

Aspire Photography Training

So many of you know how this photography training company in Cumbria built my confidence back up just when I could have easily stepped away from my photography business. Catherine and Jane are simply awesome! The team they have built around them are so welcoming and the push I get, from the photographers I trained with, is always the kick I need to just get on with it. Big hug to all of you.

Be Fitter

I am probably the fittest I’ve been in so many years and this is the first fitness team that have motivated me enough to stick at it for over two years. The directors of Be Fitter have created a community of friends simply by pushing us to exercise exhaustion a few times a week. It fascinates me how good they are at motivating every single person in that class, regardless of weight, size, strength, or gender to keep going and want to improve. Then I remember how between them, they are a British Powerlifting Champion and European Powerlifting Champion,  a selected finalist for the CrossFit Thorium Throwdown Competition and came in the top percentage position in a gruelling 69 mile ultra marathon. They challenged and supported us through our mile of burpees and this fundraising challenge raised the majority of our money to enable Raleigh to do what they do. I am going to miss you guys and already laughing at the thought of me trying to lift that 16kg kettlebell on my return in January!


Some people were surprised that we had to go through a proper selection process to volunteer for Raleigh, rather than just go for where the money is and this is what makes me think so much more of Raleigh as an organisation. From a CV, personal statement, references and assessment weekend, they do consider carefully if you are going to be at the right stage in life to take on their work and motivate young adults on the expedition to make a change. Not everyone is accepted in their first application and I was very humbled to receive a yes. Their training weekend was something else and so powerful.


Not enough words to say how my husband makes my life easy and amazing, even if he does make me climb mountains on holiday! Getting on the plane without him will be strange, as I haven’t done this for years. Being apart quite a bit while over there is going to be different from day to day here, but I can’t wait to talk about our adventure together from our own points of view when we return and share this with you all.

I am one very lucky lady and hope you will enjoy my sharing of this adventure with you.

Joanne x

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