Welcome to the official blog for Raleigh India 12I | July - August 2012

Welcome to the Official Blog for Raleigh India 12J September - December 2012.

Monday 31 October 2011

New faces and ending phases...

Hannah and I have just got back from visiting Charlie 2 and Echo 3 and finding out what they’ve been up to. It was great to see the groups and see how they’re all doing.
We’ve also got a few new faces around Fieldbase, of both the human and cow variety!

Emma and Lucy arrived on Sunday and they’ll be joining the groups for Phase 2 and 3. After a good night’s sleep they’ve settled into Fieldbase and are being brought up to speed on all the training they’ll need on expedition.
We’ve also been joined by another PM, Ali Parry, who will be going on both treks in Phase 2 and 3. Ali is also part of the Borneo massive and has led three treks over there and can’t wait to get out into the Indian jungle!
Oh, and Majie has had her baby calf! Who is incredibly cute and we’re sure will be a big hit with the venturers when they return.
Welcome to Ali, Emma and Lucy 
Our new arrival! 

Apart from welcoming our new faces, we’re all running around Fieldbase and getting it ready for change-over. We’re really looking forward to seeing everyone and finding out how the last few days of their projects have been.

So back to Charlie 2 and Echo 3.

Hannah and I drove to Tamil Nadu to visit Charlie 2 on their community phase. They’ve been working in Mangode for the past couple of weeks, which is a beautiful village on the borders of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It’s nestled on the side of a mountain, surrounded by coconut and banana trees, and lots of tea plantations. The families who live in the village are all tribal, with a lot of them relocating from Sri Lanka. The village is very poor, with the majority of the families living in mud huts. What they lack in wealth, however, they certainly make up with in smiles and it was lovely to see how the community had welcomed Charlie 2 into their village.

Despite being slowed down by lots of rain earlier on in their phase, Charlie 2 had done really well with their project and we arrived just in time to help them finish their last biogas hole. So, with work gloves on and mampti' (Indian spades) primed, we got stuck in and helped to finish their last ‘hell hole’! Luckily, we arrived a couple of days after Diwali, so were treated to lots of leftover sweets, as well as chai, which definitely helped fuel our digging!
Charlie 2 with the family they're staying with 
Fun in the hole! Getting ready for filming their music video! 
A cow shed with a view

One of the perks of the community phase is that you get cooked for by the local community, so after a morning of chai and sweets it was back to the campsite for a delicious home-cooked curry. Apparently,   spice levels in the food have been increasing during Charlie 2’s stay in Mangode, but so was everyone’s tolerance and I was amazed how easily everyone dealt with the spice (I was quietly crying over a rather large chilli in the corner!) After lunch, PMs Sian and Kath, took us on a tour of the village and then it was back in the hole to finish it off. Sadly we had to leave early doors the next day to head off to Echo 3, so we waved goodbye and jumped back in the Bravo.

We had a long and beautiful journey to Echo 3. We were lucky enough to see a family of wild elephants having a wash and playing in the river which was amazing and certainly made the hours of sitting in the Bravo worth it!

We arrived at Echo 3 around 5ish, so just had enough time before dark to see the beautiful scenery surrounding their campsite. As I’m sure you’re all aware from previous blogs, Echo 3’s campsite is right on the edge of a stunning reservoir. The environment was very different from Charlie 2’s and, although there were still a lot of banana and coconut trees around, everything was a lot flatter, with soft, rolling hills surrounding us. Being right next to such a large expanse of water also added an element of serenity to the area and I found it a very relaxing and calming place to be.
Echo 3 showing off their digging muscles!
Chilling at camp

We got to camp just as Echo 3 was chilling out and it was lovely to see them as a group enjoying their down time. We bumped into Charlie and Jake just as they were finishing painting the local school and they gave us a quick tour of the village - Gandathur.
Some of the lovely paintings done by Echo 3 at their local school 

Back at the campsite, the cooks were preparing a rather unique, but nontheless delicious supper of boiled eggs and potatoes. As the rain set in, we all bundled off to bed, ready for a 6pm start in the morning. Waking up to see sunrise over the reservoir was amazing, and the group headed down to the bank for a couple of early morning energisers. At 7.30am it was off to work to finish their fourth (and final) biogas hole.
An early morning energiser
The last hole! 

Gemma and Shafeeque kindly gave us a tour of the other three biogas holes the group had been working on and introduced us to the families who would be using them when they’re finished. Sadly, we had to leave Echo 3 early so we waved them goodbye and headed back to Fieldbase.

Back at Fieldbase the preparations for everyone coming back are in full swing. The venturers and PMs find out their new groups and projects on Wednesday and, as ever, I’ll be updating the blog with where everyone’s going for their next adventure! 

Saturday 29 October 2011

When the going gets tough, the loop gets going!

Helen and I set off for our first visit of four groups; Tango 5, Charlie 2, Echo 3 and Charlie 1; and weren’t disappointed.  All groups are over half way through their first phase and were eager to read all your blog comments and post.

Tango 5

First up were the trekkers in Wayanad who had just completed an arduous trek in Meenmutti. When we met them (the campsite was at the top of their last hill of the day) understandably some were not in the greatest of spirits! But once tents had been erected and the egg-fried noodles (ps amazing!) cooked then everyone perked up.
Tango 5 arrive at camp and make sure their tents go up quickly

Harriet and Will show the loop how to make a cordon-bleu meal on a Trangia (no mean feat!)
On our third attempt the reluctant fire was lit and we chatted away, mesmerised by the flames. Harriet led an excellent review of the day from the beginning to the end in minute-by-minute detail. Hannah (PM) remembered serving porridge while hopping around in the rain, Matt & Will remembered an ever-increasing distance when they asked the guide "how much further", Andy had seen some elephants and Anne had some leech bites as proof of the struggle.

We bid the trekkers farewell the next morning. They have continued on well and we can report that today (Day 15) they are completing one of the last hard days in their programme but one which, if the weather holds, should offer superb views of Karnataka and Kerala!

Tango 5, Tim and Helen ready to face a day of trekking
Charlie 2

We rocked up to our hosts a little bit earlier than expected, so cleaning efforts on site were halted mid flow. But being unfashionably early meant we were just in time for a gorgeous lunch, cooked by the beneficiaries of one of the biogas units the group was building. The warm welcome, washing of our mess tins and offers of drinks made us feel like proper guests too.

The loop arrive at Charlie 2

Straight after lunch we rolled up our sleeves, donned our gloves and work boots and joined the work groups on the digging of Biogas dome hole #2 (affectionately named "The Hell Hole"). Now I can partly understand the name, as the graft was tough going. However we quite enjoyed ourselves: from time-to-time our work was broken by the beneficiary of hole #2 who plied us with quenching chai; Helen also led singing efforts in the hole and we started reliving our teenage years to such great tunes as "Grease Lightning" and Steps!

Sian and Kath (Charlie 2's PMs) and Helen and Tim (the Loop) get to work at Charlie 2

Stewart, Zoe and Shruti take a welcome break from digging (due to the rain) and a great excuse for a chai at a local house

After just a day-and-a-half of the work, it really made us appreciate how much of Charlie 2's sweat and effort had gone in already.  Luckily for the loop they had enough energy to entertain us with a Big Brother episode Charlie 2 style.

Evening entertainment by Charlie 2

Since we have left Charlie 2 have taken a pause in their work for day trips to the nearby village in Ayyankoli and have just returned from the hill station at Ooty, where they celebrated Diwali  and the birthdays of Roz and Lizzie.

Echo 3

After two nights we travelled onwards to Echo 3, picking up some fresh fruit and veg on the way that made us especially popular when we arrived! Our Bravo arrived just as Jake, Shafeeque, Kate and Lizzy were returning with full jerrycans from the local water pump. We followed them down the path to a beautiful vista of their basha beds with a lake backdrop.

Echo 3's absolutely stunning campsite, with (luckily) rain-resistant yellow group shelter

Kate cooked up some yummy baked beans and then the sky thundered. This was our bonding session with Echo 3 as when the lightning flashed and thunder grew closer we huddled up closer and closer inside the group shelter. The rain stopped and gave us all a window to retreat to our bashas for bed.

The next day we had a tour by Gemma of all the biogas sites that Echo 3 are working on and were greeted by silent smiles of the villagers. On our trip from house-to-house Shafeeque pointed out the different plants and their ayurvedic properties to us.

Echo 3 building a bio-gas unit at one of their four sites

Now in India you have to learn to go with the rough and the smooth of delays on construction sites. There’s no point getting frustrated when something scuppers your plans. It turned out that not as many people were needed that day on site and so Echo 3 found other positive things to do instead. The group decided to finish off some unfinished tasks at camp, some completed a raft Gemma was working on and others got ready for the evening’s festivities.

While the boys played cricket with the locals in the school, the girls chaperoned Kate who was chosen to be dressed from head-to-foot in Indian dress. A local family styled her hair, loaned a saree and showed her how to wear it. It drew attention from inquisitive locals who thought Kate may be on her way to her wedding!

Kate all dressed up!

The locals helped us to kick off Divali celebrations with some home-cooked lentil curry that even my spice-averse mum would love! Nearly 50 of us: Echo 3, locals and their children crowded underneath the group shelter and when the evening rain came the cooks shielded the open fire with a tarpaulin. The meal was cooked and we got out our mess tins, were served and started eating – however we noticed the locals were still waiting. We found out that the banana leaves they normally eat off hadn’t been brought so we offered clean mess tins to them so they could also get the delicious tucker. Shafeeque became self-appointed feeder and made sure that everyone was well fed with firsts, seconds and thirds!

Charlie being given a chai making lesson

Charlie 1

Last but not least was the eco-sanitation project in Malligali – Charlie 1. We turned up at the school where they were staying and only saw half the group, where was everyone else? Jules and Anna promptly showed us on a tour that took in the many toilet sites they were working on around the town, all within 5 minutes walk.
The loop being shown an almost completed eco-sanitation unit where Jamie and Suthakar  took a break for a photo

The toilets have entered the plastering stage when the cement is made up, transported to the toilet and then thrown on and smoothed out. The pace of work has slowed to everyone’s relief: they pulled out the stops in the early days of foundation digging and transporting the materials. Now everybody has more time to interact with the locals and get all the riches a community project in India has to offer.

Just before 7 we got our mess tins and headed down to the cook’s house for a tasty curry with poppadums. We were so surprised with how friendly the locals were and enjoyed a chai afterwards in a neighbour’s house. He introduced us to his family and a beautiful saree that interested the female PMs no end! As a result the female members of Charlie 1 bought some sarees yesterday and are having them fitted today.

The PMs returned to the school for a surprise production of “Charlie 1” by Charlie 1 Productions. Lavinia got Ed’s accent to a tea and highlighted his tendency to comment on the good quality of the porridge EVERY morning! Anna wore a wig to match Johnnie’s dreds. We all whooped and shouted “Encore!”. We’re hoping they’ll be able to incorporate it into their skit when they return at changeover.

Charlie 1 by Charlie 1 Productions

What about Tango 6?

If you were wondering how Tango 6 are getting on, they're doing fine. As Tango 6 is a few days away we were unable to make a second visit to them this phase. You can find out what Hannah and Sarahgot up to with them at the start of their trek. Despite day in and day out of heavy rain they are battling on through. Day Leader on Thursday, Maya, was upbeat and found creative ways to dry clothes in their evening shelter.

We're looking forward to seeing the groups back on Tuesday 1st when one group will be crowned Loop Champions of Phase One. And that makes this blog title make sense too, as Hannah, our Videographer, will start work on the editing of the groups' music video to Billy Ocean's "When the going gets tough". Watch this space for the final cut!

Tim and Helen.

Thursday 27 October 2011

A big hello from Charlie 1

We’ve just been to visit Charlie 1 to see how they’ve been doing in Malligalli. It was lovely to see them and find out how they’ve been getting on. Today’s blog comes from the whole team!

“A big hello from Charlie 1, all the way from Malligalli, somewhere in the middle of South India.

“Malligalli is a sleepy little town with friendly locals, but with atrocious timekeeping! We have a sweet deal here, we’re currently staying in the local school and being catered for by the talented Ganesh, he struggles with variety in his food, but it tastes amazing nonetheless. Our staple diet consists of porridge, rice, vegetable curry, chai...and that’s it. Occasionally we cook for ourselves, imitating the food we get at home with modest success. Our best creation so far, mac and (soy) cheese.

Charlie 1 outside their new home
Making breakfast - fruit salad for a treat!

“After our morning porridge, we’re collected by the infamous Mr. Puterage. A man who typifies the Indian mentality, we affectionately call him ‘boss’. He escorts us to our separate building sites, where we learn the craftsmanship of building eco-sanitation units. This includes laying bricks, mixing cement and plastering. We work under the supervision of local builders. Our communication with them is improving daily, from the occasional shout of “brick” “brick” and “fast” “fast” to discussions about family, culture and, of course, relationships.

“At the moment we’re all proudly sporting the farmers tan. Working in 35 degrees without shade is a challenge. However, as we found out yesterday, working in the torrential rain is even harder.
 Working hard

 Carrying cement
 Taking a break
Mixing cement 

“We have discovered the builder’s passion for music, which they blast constantly through their phones. A particular favourite is ‘rickshavala’ which we can now all sing along to. The builders turned into real party animals outside work hours and entertained us with their crazy dancing during a trip to Malligalli’s world famous waterfalls. During the day, they introduced us to some typical Indian music and a Bollywood film, featuring an Indian styled Zoro in blue camouflage. They also tried to make us feel at home by buying us an Akon CD and playing it at full volume, in our pimped up bus, which even came with its own blue disco light!

“During our stay, we have had many other interesting experiences and visits. The most bizarre was a surprise visit from the Minister of Agriculture with police escorts and accompanied by, what felt like, the whole village. The Minister unexpectedly popped by for no more than five minutes to express his gratitude and wish us the best of luck.

“At the moment, we are putting the finishing touches to our eco-sanitation units and preparing for the opening ceremony. We are also really excited about the festival of Diwalli and have been invited to the generous Mr Lingerage’s house for celebrations. The locals have already started their preparations and it has been a challenge dodging their frequent firework frenzies.

“Anything can happen in Malligalli – we can’t wait to see what’s round the corner and looking forward to Phase Two!”

Messages from the loop!

Here are a few messages from the projects that Helen and Tim picked up while they were on the loop. We'll be handing out more messages when everyone is back on Tuesday so keep them coming - they really do make everyone's day! 

From Julie Scheek
Lief gezin enzo: India is geweldig en wolledig bizer teqelgk. Alles is zo endeis en waag, wat redelyk waak tot hilarische situzties leidt: als re eon pakje voekjes wilt kopan. Vlyg re gelyk zo bananen in re handen gedrukt. Verder gaat het goed met me en heb ‘t gezellig met een paar wit myn greep. Mis jullre wel super weel.
Julie. P.S: Myn favour diacht is sokken in sandalen.

Maggie – PM/Medic
Happy Birthday Oli! Xx

Lavinia de Haseth Mother.
Lieve iedereen in Nederland, hier gaat het top met de Jezus sandalen en de afrits broek. Elke dug doe ik de bouuvakkers outfit aan (zonder decoll ete) en probeerelke avond een douch te nemen (niet dat dat lukt). Super-gezelliga met wat mensen vit de groep. Maar ik mis Julie echt heel veel. Alvast gefeliciteerd. Helga, ik how heel veel van je. Hoop dat het feest superlevkis. Vast wel!

Ameila Ayliffe
Hi all,
Thanks for the messages, it makes me so happy to read them so please write more. I miss you all so much. Mum, Dad, Jelly, Harrie and Joy. I have written you all a couple of letters but it may take a while for them to reach you. I would write letters to everyone but I forgot to note down addresses. Everything is good and they are feeding me loads so don’t worry! I am going to get my phone when I get back to Fieldbase so I will hopefully speak to you then.
Joy – say hi to little Chris for me.
Harrymoo – stay out of my room!
Lish – ayooo
Ali – keep planning Australia, I am getting excited!
Can’t wait to tell you all my stories.
Lots of love, Amelia xxx
P.S Joy, I literally lost my glasses

Hi all,
Thank you for my lovely messages. Just to say I’m really enjoying it in India. I’ve managed the 12km trek training with no problems, which is amazing! I was quite chuffed about it...hehehe! We had plenty of rain in the first week but also lots of sunshine. Hope everyone is well and hope to hear from you soon! Oh, I also would like to say Happy Birthday to my Dad, Auntie Ruth and my Cousin Carey!
Take care, Meg xxxx

To all,
Thank you for the messages. They help loads! All is good, and the usual unlucky things has happened to me – but they are just adding to my funny stories...Plus I can sort of officially brick lay and make cement! That does not mean I’m good at it! Basically I look like a tramp, seem to have the most bites and random reactions and get the dirtiest after work. The universe is still against me in India. Hah!
Much love, Anna Roberts xxx

Lukas Klauthe,
Hi Mama und Papa,
Hoffenlich geht es euch all en gut. Wir haben tolles Wetter, gutes Essen und viel spass. Wir haben schon fast alle eco-toillen fertis gestellt und in 6 tagen reisen wir zue Fieldbase.
Viele grusse an alle,

Albertine Potter van Loon
Hee Man en pap, Hopelyk gaat Jullie alles goed meir gexone en aan het werk en natuurlyk ook zp nu en dan een tripje en vaak veel gelach. Jk heb samen met een paar team leden de blog geschreven en nodig Jullie vooral mit die te lezen! Dikke kus en kruffel aan Eric en veel liefs voor Jullie en de rest van de familie en net thusifront.
Albertientje xxx

Dearest famalams,
Having a fabulous time, I’m experiencing some truly great things and working seriously hard. I miss you all and love you all and hope to hear from you soon. Look after each other. All of my love, Steph xxx
And to Miche, Happy 25th birthday! Have an amazing time in Amsterdam xxx
Lot of love, Steph (Echo 3)

Alrite Jon, all’s good. The environmental phase is fabulous, the reservoir is out of this world and the biogas domes are nearly completed. Oh yeah, my bet came in for New Zealand. Canny wait till the surprise holiday in December, it best be sunny and hot! Love you lots like chocolate drops but not as much as vodka shots (5 lira haha)
Alrite Mam, Leanne, Jenny, Maria, Gareth, Dad and the rest of the Waltons. Having a fabulous time on the environmental project. Mam you would be scared of this thunder and lightning, however the reservoir is absolutely beautiful. The biogas project is almost completed so we will have a go at painting the school. Hope you are keeping up with the blog, will send another message soon. 

Love you loads, Charlie (Ali)

Hey guys,
Just a quickie to let you know everything is going great down here. The work is hard but the locals and the fellow venturers are AWESOME! Missing you all hugely. Rob and mum and dad, expect letters in around two weeks and they shall tell you more about my time out here. But yeah, missing you all massively and I love you all hugely, some more than others (Rob) hehehe. Talk soon, byeeee! Xxx
Dan Rose

Hi all,
Kate here (Echo 3). Having an amazing time, India is breathtakingly beautiful and the people are really welcoming. I’m so happy to be here. It’s great getting your comments and I look forward to your letters. Love and smiles x

Message to everyone from Jenni Codd (Echo 3)
Thank you everyone for your messages. Ayla and Isaac; miss you all and hope that the boys are OK. Katie love and miss you, thank you for your message. I am having the time of my life. Truly the most amazing place I have ever been to. Mummy; have been leading yoga lessons by the resevior where we are sleeping and cooking lots for everyone one! Jake, miss you and I am so excited for when you come out and have sent you a letter. India is truly incredible. Have been so busy so can’t send many messages  but will try to get to a computer soon to send emails. Sat Nam, Jenni x

Gemma Bennet (Echo 3)
Hey guys, thanks for the blog messages, who wrote the first one? It’s really good out here, I miss you all, love to all. Gem x

Valerie (Echo 3)
He pop, mam, Q! Miss Julie heel elg! Maor het is hier suger leuk. Ben net klaer met al het graven was heel vetnoerend maer ben er doorheen gekonan doordat ik hele leuke groep hets en hele leuke vroenchinneys zaterdag begonnen met cement en steneen bouusen was super lack was de enige von de grupe die mocht helpen net de locals zondog naar grotte stad geweest super leuk. Tuk tuk gezefen en leuke drgetjes gekocht. Den alleen vondacy zrek 38 degrees koats en last net adenen maer ze helpen ne heel good dus komt vast goed (teen is genezen!) Ly miss you lad (je I nav of 2 Nov)

Monday 24 October 2011

The M&E team hit the road…

Guest bloggers Marian and Louise here!

Throughout this expedition, we’ll be looking after the Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) of past Raleigh India projects, looking in particular at bio-gas and eco-sanitation.  The information we collect will help us understand the impact that our projects are having on communities. It will also give some of the venturers the opportunity to meet local beneficiaries and see first-hand how their efforts will affect peoples’ lives long after they’ve returned home.

With that in mind, our first stop was Echo 3 to collect eager venturers, Dan and Shafeeque, who had both kindly volunteered to get involved with the data collection. Our first evaluation visit was to Kandegala village, where Raleigh had installed 16 eco-san units in 2008. After picking up our MYKAPS project partner, Mr. Mahadevaiah, who doubled up as our guide and translator, we went straight into a community focus group meeting on the floor of the village nursery!

The group was made up of agricultural workers and we caught them just before they left for a hard days graft working the land. It was interesting to hear how their lives had changed since the installation of the composting toilets and how the fertiliser had made a positive impact on the quality of their crops.

Once the session had finished, we visited each household, where the venturers went through our questionnaires with the locals. Again this was very informative, we heard all about the feelings and perceptions of the villagers towards their eco sanitation toilets, and we also got to see the toilets for ourselves. 

But it wasn’t all work for the M&E team, we drank lots of chai, indulged in some tasty traditional nibbles and socialised with the locals along the way!

Sunday 23 October 2011

Hot off the press from Echo 3

Today’s blog comes from Echo 3 thanks to Valerie, our lovely project communications officer.

Our guest blogger Valerie 

“Echo 3 has been in our village for over a week and the time has flown by. Just one week ago we arrived on an empty grassy land.

“Our campsite has a beautiful view of the reservoir and in only two days we have built a shelter, toilets, slops pit, shower and 11 amazing bashas. Sadly the heavy rain came on the first day so we were only able to build two bashas then. However, this didn’t dampen Echo 3’s spirits as we were able to sleep in the local school. Since then we have given our campsite a lot of homely touches and, with the local children playing on site, we have created a lovely home.

“Once the camp was finished we started on digging lots of holes and dug non-stop for five days. Yesterday was our last day of digging.  We have completed a circle with a radius of 11ft, 4ft down at all four houses. Sometimes if felt like it was 6ft down!

“On Friday, the engineers told us that the holes needed an extra box on the side and, in the centre, it needed to go down an extra 1 ½ ft. Although the digging started to annoy people, Shafeeque’s songs and Dan’s stories kept us going.

Lots of digging!

“The families where we are building the biogas are amazing. They give us the best rice dishes in India for lunch and also get us awake in the morning with their spicy rice breakfast. During the day they keep our energy up by giving us lots of chai. All the food they give us comes from their land and animals. We get milk from their cows, eggs from the chickens and fish from the reservoir.
Some of the local children

“Back at camp we have a regular visitor called Dewi. She is about 4ft tall and very sweet and always offers us chai. Earlier this week she helped me with my washing and I helped her with hers.

“A lot of women from the village wash their clothes in the reservoir in front of our camp so they pass by us with huge pots of clothes on their heads and their beautiful saris. The children from the village love to play cricket with us and watch us have our daily swim in our life jackets.

“Echo 3 has lots of fun in the evening. We make delicious meals, play games and have long chats around the fire. We have a great vibe in the group and a weird sense of humour we are all enjoy. Yesterday we had a Pooja to bless our camp, with flowers, incense and candles.”

Thursday 20 October 2011

So what’s everyone been up to?

Helen and Tim are off on loop today to visit all of the projects. They’ll be taking the shop with them, so everyone can stock up on chocolate and other goodies, as well with all your lovely blog messages!
They’ll be back on Wednesday 26th October and updating the blog with what everyone’s been up to and, of course, lots of pictures.

In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of what's been going on at the projects in the last few days.

Charlie 1
Everyone is doing really well and they’ve settled into their new home in Malligalli. They’re staying in the local school and have made it nice and cosy already. They’re cracking on with their work and already have laid the foundations on seven eco-sanitation units, which is pretty impressive! But it’s not all work and no play, the group have been to visit a local coconut farm and on Sunday are having a day off to visit some nearby waterfalls.

Charlie 2
Elephants, scorpions and chocolate biscuits seem to be the main news from Charlie 2! The guys saw four elephants on their way to their project, which they were very excited about. They’ve made great progress with their work, and so far have finished the foundations for a cow shed, finished digging the first hole, and started digging the second. They’ve also visited their local town, Ayyankolly, to buy chocolate biscuits and spotted a scorpion near their campsite!

Echo 3
Echo 3 has enjoyed the best weather so far, with lovely hot and sunny days. They’ve finished their campsite and dug two holes. They’ve had lunch with the locals and had a visit from our Monitoring and Evaluation girls, Lou and Maz. Lou brought a touch of luxury to their campsite and cooked chips for everyone which went down very well!  The group have also been enjoying their local environment and been for plenty of dips in the reservoir. Oh yes, and they’ve been drinking lots of chai and even had chai making lessons from the locals!

Tango 5
The Demon trek guys are also having a great time. They haven’t had as much rain as Tango 6 and have been doing a lot of trekking – 36km in fact! They climbed to Heaven Lake and also had a great day mountain biking, covering 20km! As well as this they’ve been rafting and swimming in a lake. At the moment they’re looking forward to the loop visit and planning some exciting entertainment to keep Helen and Tim amused. 

Back at Fieldbase we’ve been pretty busy as well. Tim and Lee have been busy in Logs getting all the food ready for Echo 4. As the turtle project is so remote we have to send up all the food and kit they’ll need for both phases on a truck.
The Logs boys making sure everything is ready for Echo 4

The most exciting news from us, however, is that we’ve got a cow! Majie arrived today and we welcomed her with a traditional Pooja blessing ceremony.
Majie will be living in a cow shed behind Fieldbase and, hopefully, giving us lots of milk. She’s also pregnant and due next week. We’re all very excited to have her and I have a feeling both mother and calf may be the most spoilt cows in India! 
Our new Fieldbase pet

Wednesday 19 October 2011

A tale of Tango 6

Hannah and I are back at Fieldbase after joining Tango 6 on the beginning of their trek and we’ve got lots of stories for you. We were lucky enough to spend the first three days with them and now I know why the treks are called the Adventure phase!

We all left Fieldbase at 6am last Friday, and settled in for a day and a half drive down to Kerala, where the trek started. The drive took us through three states: Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Each state was absolutely beautiful but also increasingly different. The further south we travelled, the lusher the scenery got; with the greens of the countryside getting brighter and richer the closer we got to Kerala. As we travelled down the dusty roads, the vegetation became more tropical with the palm trees and banana groves becoming more common than we were used to around Mysore.
We drove through national parks on our journey and saw lots of monkeys which everyone loved - although we did all get a bit concerned when they climbed onto the roof of the bus!

We stayed the night in a small town called Udumalpetti and then continued our journey to the Silent Valley Tea Estate to begin our trek.
We started the trek in a beautiful mountain village. As we walked past the huts the locals where playing music, which soon became our trek soundtrack! After a quick lunch stop, and of course a cup of chai, our packs were on our backs and we were ready to start. And then it happened, the heavens opened and we started our trek in a complete monsoon! Apparently, this time of year, Kerala gets a second monsoon – which would probably account for all the lush green vegetation surrounding us!
Along with the rain came a chorus of leeches, all rearing their heads and trying to jump onto us with every step. The village music was still playing in the background and it seemed as if they were all singing along with it...as they crawled up our legs! After a few squeals, mainly from me, we all had our ‘finger flicking’ action perfected and it was heads down, fingers ready and a quick march for 4km until we reached our camp for the night.

Tango 6 starting out

Now, although they’re pretty gross, leeches can’t actually hurt you; so after we had all got used to the fact that, whatever we did, we were pretty certain to get leeched, everyone started to see the funny side. I think quote of the day had to go to Aaron who started the leech songs with ‘I want to have sex with a leech’ (a 90’s pop classic). This started the ball rolling with all manner of bad puns coming out...everyone agreed however that ‘Can you feel the leech tonight’ was not something we aspired to!  
When we reached our camp for the night, our lovely guides set about making us a fire. The boys did the manly thing and battled with the elements to put the tents up, while the girls set about making a delicious supper of pasta, baked beans and tinned cheese – just what we needed!
After a couple of hours, the rain subsided and we were all able to venture out from our shelter and see where we were spending the night -it was breathtaking.
We were nestled on the side of a mountain surrounded by peaks wrapped in swirling mists. The mountain tops looked like the white cotton candy machines you get at fairs, surrounding each peak with a delicate mist. The campsite had a lilly pond and crystal clear waterfall to gentle lull you to sleep – it was stunning.
After supper, and a lot of sock drying around the fire, it was an early night for all in preparation for our 5am start the next morning.
Warming up by the fire 
The view from the first campsite 

Sunday was our big day. We were going to climb Misapullimala Peak, South India’s second highest peak at 2,637m. One thing was for sure, it was definitely going to be a challenge!  
Fuelled by energy bombs, Tango 6 started out on what was to be their toughest day of trek. We were told by our guides that we had three ‘hills’ to climb before we reached the top. Now, I’m quite a fan of mountain climbing but these ‘hills’ were certainly not the sort of hills you might take a stroll up after a big Sunday lunch...in my view, they were mountains in their own right!
We trekked through open fields surrounded by mountains, across make-shift bridges and up some pretty steep paths! 
Helping hands across the river crossings

After our second ‘hill’ we stopped for a rest and then we saw it... Misapullimala Peak. Everyone was feeling pretty shattered by then, but seeing the top gave us all the spurt of energy we needed to keep going.
After a quick break and a few snacks, it was rucksacks on and best foot forward. We could see the top and we were going to get there, every single one of us, as Tango 6!
Before we knew it we were in the cotton candy that we were looking at the night before. The mist surrounded us, sometimes it was so thick that we could barely see in front of us, sometimes it cleared and we got a peak of what was around us. It was like the mountain was showing us a window into the world; we were literally on top of South India.
 Almost at the top

The last 200m to the top was along a narrow ridge. By this time the mist was so thick we couldn’t see either side. It felt like if you took one wrong step you would fall into a never-ending abyss. Now trek isn’t called an ‘Adventure challenge’ for nothing and this bit was certainly a challenge! Some of the group loved it, spurred on by the adrenaline rush of being up in the sky. The rest of the group, me included, were petrified! However, we all did it – the group came together, encouraged each other, gave words of support and offered welcoming hands to help people up over the tricky bits.
Soon enough we were all at the top. For many, it wasn’t just the mountain they’d conquered, but their fears as well. They had proved to themselves just what they could do when they put their mind to it – just the way Raleigh likes it!
Made it! Tango 6 - at the top of the world!

As they say, what goes up must come down and in our case it was time to get going. Next stop was the Silent Valley Tea factory for a very much needed cup of chai. As we headed down the mountain, the scenery changed from the rolling green hills that we saw on the way up, to perfectly manicured tea plantations. I’d never seen tea grow and was surprised at how flat the plants were – they looked like Bonsai trees.
Starting the descent
We can see you Tango 6!
Almost there...just as the rain set in!
Battling through the jungle!
Finally at the tea plantation!

As we got to the final stretch the heavens opened again and it was a quick march through the tea plantations to our final stop. The Silent Valley Tea Estate is the highest organic tea plantation in the world and proved the perfect end to our trek. As I’m sure you can imagine, the tea was delicious, especially as by this stage we were all soaked to the skin! After warming ourselves up with multiple cups of tea, we jumped into some jeeps which took us to our campsite for the night.
Huddled around the fire, spirits were lifted as we had a much-needed meal of noodles, sweetcorn and tuna (a Raleigh special). Everyone agreed that although it had been a very tough day, the highs definitely outweighed the lows and, as we curled up in our sleeping bags with full tummies, there were smiles all around (and a few sore feet!).

The next morning the rain subsided and we were treated to some more spectacular views before heading off to our next camp for survival day! Just as we got to the campsite we saw Little Manju waiting in the Bravo to take Hannah and me back to Fieldbase so, unfortunately, we left this part of the trek. However, I can tell you that Tango 6 were about to have all their kit taken away from them and, under the watchful eye of the guide, were going to be taught how to survive a night in the mountains without any of their kit! Exciting!
View from the second campsite 
Off to survival day!

After a long journey back to Fieldbase, I’m happy to report that Tango 6 survived their night on the mountain and had a fantastic time, building shelters, fires and even having a shower in the rain! For the next part of their trek they’ll be building bamboo rafts so they can cross the Anaerangal Lake to continue through the Western Ghats.
One thing’s for sure for Tango 6 – no day will be the same!

Back at Fieldbase, I’m catching up on what the other groups have been up to while I’ve been away, and will be posting a blog tomorrow letting you all know how they’re doing. So far everyone seems to be having a great time and making great progress with all their projects...more to come tomorrow!