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



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



Wednesday 12 December 2012

Venturers' travel update

All the Venturers left Fieldbase yesterday afternoon safe and well if a little emotional.

The HCVs and those travelling on within India were dropped in Mysore. Those flying from Bangalore spent the night in Bangalore and all were seen safely into the airport terminal by PMs this morning.



Monday 10 December 2012

Expedition 12J Draws To A Close With The Golden Mess Tin Awards

Today (Monday) - the last day of Expedition 12J before the Venturers depart - culminated in a slap-up dinner for all, followed by presentation of the end-of-expedition Golden Mess Tin Awards. This highly prestigious event was held in the glittering splendour of the Fieldbase dining hall.

Nominations had been submitted and voted on by the PMs yesterday evening.

The nominations and winners of the four major awards were:

Hardest Worker

Nominations: Jenny K, Kavya, Raja, Rory
Winner:         KAVYA

Kavya - A paragon of hard work and cheerfulness


Biggest Journey of Personal Development

Nominations: Crystal, Fabian, Joris, Sam
Winner:         CRYSTAL

Crystal rising to the challenge - Performing well as day leader


Best Male

Nominations: Ali, Dan, Raja, Stalin
Winner:         RAJA

Raja - A popular all-rounder


Best Female

Nominations: Alice, Amber-Elisa, Frederique, Jocelyn
Winner:         ALICE

Alice - A caring, considerate high performer


Hearty congratulations and commiserations to all concerned!

Even if you don’t see the name of your loved one or friend here, you can rest assured that they too performed very well and you can be proud of them.


By way of a final few words, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog over the past three months as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and editing it. I’d like to express my thanks to all the Venturers and PMs who’ve contributed.

And thanks very much to you, dear friends and relatives, for the comments you’ve posted. I know how much the Venturers and PMs have looked forward to, and enjoyed, reading your comments and words of encouragement.

So, other than brief travel updates over the next few days, to quote the words of not Shakespeare nor Winston Churchill, but Bugs Bunny:


That’s all, folks!


Best wishes for the festive season and 2013.

Graham Wilson

Expedition 12J Communications Officer



Sunday 9 December 2012

All Teams Back at Fieldbase For Final R&R


Just to let you know that everyone has arrived safely back at Fieldbase.

Echo Three even told me that the Gandathur villagers came round to their campsite at 6.30 this morning and served them chai before they set off!

I took these pictures as each team arrived back this morning.

Echo Three - Alex choosing to adopt a low profile
Tango Six - Carrot inevitably dressed in orange
Charlie Two - still raving about Uluvadu
Tango Five - distinctly alive

So, having almost completed their expedition, how do your loved ones look? Happy, certainly. But more mature? Hardened? Wiser? Or just dirtier?

They’re off into Mysore for a few hours, for which Domino’s will doubtless be duly grateful! Then back for a final two days' relaxation and merriment. Tomorrow evening sees the Golden Mess Tin Awards ceremony, described recently by Simon as ‘like the Oscars, only bigger.’

More on that anon …

Saturday 8 December 2012

Charlie Two and Echo Three – A Brief Update


I’m aware that there’s been no news of Charlie Two and Echo Three in the last few days. I haven't been down to see them since the last blog update on them, and the teams have been focusing their efforts on finishing their construction projects. So in the evenings they’ve been relaxing rather than putting pen to paper. The good news is that they’ll be back at Fieldbase tomorrow and so communications will be easier.

Meanwhile I can tell you that Charlie Two have successfully completed their eight toilets in Uluvadu, and are today attending a ceremony given by the villagers.

Echo Three are putting the final touches to the last of their four biogas units in Gandathur today, and will likewise attend a ceremony with the villagers.

Watch out for more news when the teams are back here …

Tango Five - The Final Countdown

As we near the end of Phase 3, here's a third guest blog from Tango Five. This time it was kindly provided by Kana.

6 December 2012

It’s over two weeks since we’ve been on trek, and Tango Five are still staying alive. The past few days have gone so quickly it’s hard to believe that in a few days we will be home.

Right, here’s a recap on what we’ve been doing since our last update. Day 11 was our rest day, and we were very lucky to have a beautiful campsite this time, unlike the last rest day. That was also the day when we all properly washed our clothes after five days. In the afternoon we heard big branches breaking in the woods behind us. The guides told us that it might be elephants, so we had to keep quiet. We all stood still and listened very carefully. Unfortunately it was only a lady looking for firewood! The usual food sorting that night was done in the dark, again, since the food drop arrived pretty late.

Sorting food and supplies in the dark - Kana in the foreground
The next morning we set off at 09.00 for another, 13.7 km, walk. It took us about six hours to get to the new campsite, which was a cricket field by a freezing cold river. Some of us spent the afternoon having a second lunch at a parotta shop five minutes away from the campsite, while the boys played football with thirty local villagers.

On Day 13 we were back on our bikes. Everybody liked the long ascents and descents apart from George, who constantly worried about the possibility of having to do a CASEVAC (casualty evacuation) or INCREP (incident report) every time we raced downhill on the busy tarmac road. We stopped by a restaurant for lunch, and had amazing parotta and curries, which made getting back on the road very difficult. After cycling for 37 kms we reached our next campsite. It was a coffee plantation, surrounded by electric fences to prevent the animals from coming in.

The rain the next morning meant that Day 14 started later, because Joris insisted that we had to wait for the wet rubbish bag to be completely burnt. We had to walk, if not drag ourselves, for 13.7 kms that day. We crossed three bridges, passed a school that seemed to have a hundred kids out of lessons, and strolled around paddy fields. Our hard work that day was rewarded with a rather luxurious campsite. We stayed at a dormitory owned by the Kerala Forestry Department - and, yes, we had beds, showers and western toilets! Carlene was very excited about the showers, as this meant that she could have a naked shower. Simon joined us in the evening, and to celebrate his recent birthday we played koekhappen, a really fun Dutch game.

The fifth of December was Sinterklaas day in Holland, and so the Dutchies initiated the tradition on trek. In the morning our shoes were filled with sweets and chocolate and carrots, and during the night we read the poems we’d written for each other. It was a very lovely evening, and reminded us how close we actually are to Christmas. Having explored the area, seen tiger footprints and climbed up a massive rock that day, which was 1,700 metres above sea level, we all had a very good night’s sleep. Oh, we also saw a small group of elephants. It felt really surreal. Although we couldn’t get near them like in a zoo, we could hear them very clearly and we could see them very, very clearly. 

Today was our last cycling day, on which we cycled for 45.3 kms along the edge of a tiger reserve. We saw some monkeys and deer, and passed an ancient Christian church. When we stopped for lunch we’d left Kerala and entered Karnataka. Just when we thought we could make use of our limited Kannada knowledge again, we crossed a river that actually took us back to Kerala. 

We honestly do not want the next two days to be over so quickly. On the other hand we’re all very excited to see everyone back home. I guess this will be the last time you hear from us virtually. I wish everyone a very happy December.


Phase 3 ends tomorrow (Sunday), when all teams will be back at Fieldbase for final wash-up.

More anon ...

Tango Six - The Story Continues

As promised yesterday, here's the second and final part of Fabian's impressions of life on Tango Six. Thanks again, Fabian.

I've interspersed a few photos taken by David when he was with Tango Six on phase 1.

Within five minutes of our leaving the bus, the rain started. But Tango Six would not be disheartened, largely down to the unwaveringly chilled leadership of our resident guitar player, Chris. Shepherded by our new guide Mr Manesh, we embarked on our 200 km voyage.

Twisting and turning up the mountain path we raced, anxious to find our first campsite, an hour faster than the previous Tango Six. There we found the most luxurious campsite of the entire trek, with huge shelter, fire pit, chairs and bucket shower. However I could not rest. The daunting realisation of climbing the second-highest mountain in India outside the Himalayas was at the forefront of my mind.

Not exactly a 'walk in the park'

At four o’clock the next morning the sound of rain beating against our tent tested my resolve. I’m terrible at getting up and, as day leader, also had to force the rest of the troops to get going. Braving the storm we packed everything, ate the fiftieth porridge of our expedition, and set out into the rain wearing our 20kg backpacks.

Pauline led the most ridiculous look list, combining the three-bowl system on her back and a massive poncho to appear like Quasimodo’s slightly more hunched wife. It was bitterly cold, my boots were sodden and my hands burned in the fierce wind, but we trudged on. Our only respite was a derelict shack with no windows, only half the walls and graffiti from previous Tango Sixes. 

Soon the sunlight came into view and the beast we had come to tame became tangible. Its peaks blanketed by cloud seemed so close. We battled on, the hills acting as giant steps up to the top, stopping only to be stunned by the dramatic valleys below. The gradients increased but our team struggled on, encouraged by Jess’s appalling singing and Stalin’s comic genius. Carrot brought us up from the rear with shouts of ‘Super!’ and Sarah played her medical role to perfection. 

Where the chai comes from - tea plantations

Before we knew it we were atop the tamed animal, triumphantly eating crackers and cheese in celebration of the incredible challenge we’d overcome. However, only half the battle was won. As we quickly found out, the descent can be just as fierce as the climb. 

The new bane of our existence turned up in force – leeches, literally biting at our heels and waiting to sink their suckers into our legs to try to bleed us dry.

The mist seemed to descend with us and the clouds drifted over the undulating tea plantations like thick smoke. Out of the mist we came, and a glorious sight came into view – three pristine jeeps. After nearly eight hours of walking, we bounced down to the town to the tune of Akon and once again devoured parotta and chai, this time fully earned. 

Above the clouds

The next week and a half has flown past, helped immensely by the unblinking sunshine. The terrain has ranged from deep jungle to open plains, cowboy grass to cardamom plantations, with unimaginable views. Once I could see the whole of Tamil Nadu stretching away like an ocean beneath a line of mountains.

Not your everyday views

Each campsite has come with its unique selling point. Some lie submerged under a green sea of canopied trees, the leaves parting for a moment to show the blue sky above only to drift back into place. Others gaze on sunken lakes or endless landscapes. Sometimes our severely dirty and smelly selves even enjoy the use of a bucket shower or lazy river.

Trekking an average of 16 kms a day has united us further, helped by the tendency to share stories of our ‘long drop’ experiences and hygiene-related proclivities. When one member struggles, we all struggle. We walk at one pace for all, caring for each individual.

We’ve just completed a 27 km trek in unbelievable heat, with only the dream of parotta and chai to fuel us as motivation. The fact that we finished the distance in about eight hours with a break is a testament to our work ethic and sheer determination.

Before I finish, I must mention the most momentous part of the trip. Just after we had rowed across a reservoir on our self-made raft, a fully-grown elephant appeared in the shadows of the trees a hundred metres away across a small body of water. Just as we began to pack away our bags, it emerged from the forest. Its sheer white tusks shimmering in the sun, trunk swinging and swirling, it padded down to the water’s edge. The scene was mesmerising, a perfect coincidence and awesome in the purest sense of the word. A magnificent wild beast with a natural beauty worthy of God.


News from Tango Five coming up very shortly...

Friday 7 December 2012

Lost Tribe Discovered - Tango Six Resurfaces!

Tango Six have been elusive from the blog this phase until now.  Not really surprising, as their trek is about a day and a half's drive from Fieldbase and the Loop has only recently gone out to visit them. However, I'm happy to rectify the situation now. Fabian, a Venturer on Tango Six, has kindly taken the time to write up his impressions and dictate them over the phone.

Fabian during trek training - learning useful skills for Tango Six

Here's the first half of his guest blog. It covers Tango Six's journey from Fieldbase to their trek start point and an unexpected day trip en route. Their intended journey had been delayed due to one of the water-related disputes that happen periodically and disrupt traffic between states.

Over to Fabian:

The final frontier of our Raleigh expedition began as routinely as the other phases. An absurdly early wake-up call, combined with whip-cracking desire to get on the road, crashed my intention of grabbing a few minutes’ extra sleep on the bare wooden board at the front of the boys’ dorm.

Having boarded the bus we were met by the usual send-off party, with everyone craning their necks out of the bus window, in the hope of Dave snapping a photograph of them, and waving blindly to Fieldbase and the people we wouldn’t see for three weeks.

The heaviness of the night before was soon felt as I collapsed on one of the few double seats available at the back of the bus and quickly appreciated the mystical music of Adele and Chris round the bonfire and the amusing antics of Joris the night before. 

The road trip slowly passed in a wave of snapshots as I crashed my head into the metal bars at random intervals and happened to open my eyes. We interchanged constantly between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and experienced many of the familiar sights that India has to offer and I have become accustomed to over the last six weeks. The spires atop buildings that vaguely resembled Christian churches and white tombstones in graveyards were a novelty. I’d already come to expect bizarrely coloured houses lining the streets – for me a continuous rainbow as Kallam burned up the roads minus the wing mirror I had broken getting on the bus. 

We stopped early to indulge in the famed parotta that I thought could only be anticlimactic due to the extravagant explanations imposed on me by Gilles. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised that they lived up to their name. Perfectly thick, lightly crisp on the outside, simple and coupled with anything spicy, the power of the parotta lived on in all who had been fortunate enough to devour them.

We travelled on, pausing only to wait for a border check, where we were quickly entertained by a young girl with a tambourine and her gymnastic performance. Despite her unwavering smile my eyes were drawn to her ragged clothes and I couldn’t help being reminded of Slumdog Millionaire.

Our hotel provided somewhere to collapse and catch the first bit of Premiership football in seven weeks – something I sorely miss. The next morning we had to rise at 4.45. Chris, Angus and I came downstairs only to find out that the curse of the road strike had struck once more and we wouldn’t be able to make the journey that day.

Instead we had a new town to look forward to and a trip to the Murugan Temple. On we went to the town of Palani, too dazed and confused to consider what was going on. Palani in fact was one of the most bizarre places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. 

While waiting for a train to take us up to the mountain, far more appealing than the dodgy-looking winch, we sat on stone benches between prison-like bars while Indian women pushed their hand through and mischievous, venomous-looking monkeys came down from above, their chubby mothers looking on suspiciously, as their children danced around us, scouring the floor for scraps of food and shooting us the odd searching look or snarl. Despite these terrors Carrot still found a way to fall asleep, mouth open, prey for opportunistic photographers.

The temple itself was wonderfully preserved - a magnificent example of Hindu symbolism and historic Indian architecture, placed at the centre of a sensational panoramic view stretching for miles over the plains. Half-robed pilgrims flitted about the place, and yet more monkeys swung from its lofty heights.

The rest of the town brimmed like a circus, with old street performers reciting their acts, a particularly well-trained elephant who took a tourist’s money and placed it dutifully into the palm of its owner, and traditional Indian shops selling anything from a range of rustic saucepans to the latest trends in watches. The air filled with the noise of tuk tuks and drivers’ over-indulgent use of their horns and, bizarrely, an overwhelming sense of orange – presumably a religious dedication. But before we could stop to take this all in, we were filled once more with parotta.

The night passed and we were on the road again, strike-free. Having weathered the turbulent journey and witnessed some truly unimaginable landscapes embracing tea plantations and giant rolling mountains, we stepped off the bus ready for action…

I'll publish the second half of Fabian's blog, covering Tango Six's time on trek until very recently, tomorrow.

Also, more news shortly from at least one of the other teams...

Monday 3 December 2012

Tango Five - The Journey Continues

Here's an update on the progress of the intrepid Tango 5. It comes to you in the form of a guest blog kindly written and dictated over the phone by Hinesh.

The first few paragraphs provide greater insight into the two days that Ruth and I spent with them last week, as described in my recent blog, whilst most of it covers completely new ground, to use a trekking term. Enjoy!

2 December 2012

Hello, world! I am delighted to inform you that Tango Five are staying alive out here on trek.

The last time you heard from us we were on our survival day on a leech-infested patch of land. To call it a campsite would be bending the truth way out of proportion. Having put up our tarpaulin shelter we went to sleep in very close proximity to one another, though Mangesh snuck off and slept in the bag tent.

Despite the dew forming puddles on our sleeping bags during the night, we did survive and moved on to rafting and kayaking. After a rare cup of chai we proceeded to build rafts out of bamboo and rope. However, three quarters of the way through, the guide saw that our raft probably wouldn’t make it ten metres down the river, and so promptly took over and made a much sturdier structure that could actually carry the weight of seven people.

Our journey down the river was a beautiful, serene and tranquil experience until the person steering the vessel, namely myself, decided to crash into the bank of the river. After two kilometres of rafting we swapped into kayaks and went ten kilometres downstream until we reached our campsite, a rubber plantation.

Once the sun had set and the moon had risen it was an extraordinarily peaceful and beautiful place to spend the night. The calm was shattered, however, once our first food drop was delivered. Among the rest of our supplies there were two tins of condensed milk. This long-anticipated sugar-filled treat caused great consternation and excitement among the group, none more so than Hannah, who actually began doing a rather bizarre dance while eating the condensed milk with her biscuits. 

The next day was our first cycling day, and we were also informed that it would be the hardest one of the three. We had to cycle 38 kilometres over undulating terrain, which was more often than not rocky Indian mud tracks. However, 23 kilometres down after lunch and being re-energized by a lunch of Parle G biscuits and Nutella, we made it to camp by the deadline given to us by the guide. This was despite an extremely steep last kilometre where even Jenny had to get off her bike and wheel it up the slope.

The reward was a rather small rocky campsite, but with a breathtaking view of the surrounding lakes and mountains. This was not all. Our designated bathing area of one section of the Meenmutti waterfall really did provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The view on the walk down was stunning, and the water was crystal clear if not absolutely freezing. A truly unforgettable experience.

Day 8 brought with it a new day of trekking, which sadly meant putting our backpacks on for the first time in four days. It was a tough day, embarking on the Demon mountain trail, scaling two peaks. We arrived at camp early that day in order to prepare for the next day’s night trek. For this we awoke at 1.30 a.m., an experience made much more pleasant by Kavya’s warm voice and Joris’s incessant but hilarious cursing.

Trekking at night was actually a pleasant experience, and possibly easier than day trekking due to the colder conditions. It did mean that we were treated to a spectacular sunrise over the mountains as we ate our morning porridge. Not the ideal choice of breakfast food for such an idyllic setting, but it certainly tasted better for a while. The post-breakfast trekking was another tricky ascent, made all the more difficult by barbed wire brambles, but once again it was all worthwhile as we were treated to yet another amazing panoramic view that stretched to the horizon. The rest of the daylight was spent recovering from that early start, with a three-hour nap following our arrival at the campsite and an early night for all.

On the tenth day of Tango Five we had to trek our longest distance to date, 15.5 kms. We did this in surprisingly good time, however, partly because we were told that we would only be able to lunch in a restaurant if we reached there by midday. This didn’t stop us having a wonderful snack break sat on top of a small waterfall. The progress to our rest day campsite was fairly speedy as well, and we had even bought ourselves a pineapple as a treat for reaching the halfway stage in one piece. 

Well that’s all, folks, and it really isn’t very long until we’re back at home with you all. Can’t wait to see you all, and all our love to everyone at home. Tango Five, out. 


Just in case you were wondering why you've seen nothing from Tango Six this phase, fear not. They're all alive and well, and I hope to be able to update you on what they've been doing soon.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow - Goodbye to ‘Movember’


As November has moved into December, it’s time to bring down the curtain – and in most cases the razor - on Expedition 12J’s Movember moustacherie.

A big ‘thank you’ goes to our benefactors who helped us to raise USD 500 in support of men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and testicular cancer.

We’ll post the final pictures of the guys’ efforts on our Movember website as and when we receive them. Meanwhile here are the sproutings of the Fieldbase team – me, Simon and David.

The Good, the Bad and The Ugly (not necessarily in that order, although I’m sure the first one’s correct!):

Me (Graham)
Simon
David

More news from the teams in due course …

Saturday 1 December 2012

Echo Three in Gandathur - The Infatuation Continues

Simon and David each spent a couple of days at Echo Three last week, helping to dig the large holes needed for the biogas units. Both said the work had been hard but satisfying!

Simon brought back with him the following guest blog from Mel. Thanks again, Mel.

Thanks to David for the photos.

29 November 2012

It’s completely and utterly insane to think that we’ve less than two weeks left of Raleigh India. It feels like we’ve only just arrived in this colourful country and adventures are finally beginning. But, alas, it’s Phase 3 and time is flying here in beautiful Gandathur.

I understand that Gandathur has already been hyped up by the other Echo groups to be this ethereal village where everyone is so forever welcoming and kind. The kind of place where everyone is smiling and continuously feeding you (even when you physically can’t stomach any more). The previous groups immortalized Gandathur as this hospitable heaven to the point of being unbelievable. I am unable to stress to you how right they were. I am completely in love with this place.

Our group has been blessed with a lush, stunning campsite facing the famous Gandathur reservoir, and for our first week we’ve been fortunate enough to have a glowing (almost full) moon to light up our nights.

With some creativity involving bamboo and a lot of rope, we’ve been able to build an extremely comfortable camp and ten very snuggly bashas. It’s a very cool place to be, especially because we are constantly reminded of all the hard work we’ve put in to make this place as homely as possible. I think we all agree that we’ve achieved it.


Chilling in the early evening - Ali, Lennard, Gilles and Mel
Raja on food duty

Oh, and we’ve been digging. In just over a week we’ve dug three complete biogas holes and have even started cementing. It’s been very tough work and the heat has been insane (and that’s coming from an Aussie). Thankfully the chai and second breakfasts / lunches help a lot. Dosas, chapatti, sambar, rice, it never stops coming – to the point where returning to camp for lunch seems redundant.


'Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go' - with the reservoir in the background

Our four beneficiaries all treat us like family, and everyday we girls leave with flowers in our hair and bindis on our foreheads. It’s so lovely. The boys, on the other hand, get force-fed fourth servings of every dish, which they’re not complaining about. Everyone here really has been so beautiful and kind, right from our first day.


Raja, Lennard and Alex bonding with beneficiaries

Hopefully time will slow down just a little bit for us to savour this place. I’m sure it won’t though. Soon enough it’ll be Christmas and we’ll all be having nostalgic thoughts about that endearing village of Gandathur.

It's not time for snow or sleighbells yet! The Movember final update will follow very shortly and I hope to have news from Tango Six soon.




Charlie Two – Far From The Madding Crowd Among The Tea Plantations

After visiting Tango 5, Ruth and I rounded off our 'Loop' visit by spending a couple of days with Charlie Two. They're helping to build toilets for eight families in the small, remote village of Uluvadu in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Uluvadu is set among stunning scenery and lush vegetation, the campsite among the best that Expedition 12J has encountered, and the host family and villagers hospitable and welcoming.

Caroline has kindly summed this up in her guest blog below, in which I’ve interspersed a few pictures by way of illustration.

28 November 2012

Bored from hours of sitting still, reading and staring at passing vehicles, we descended the steps of our bus. Immediately we found ourselves in a whole new world. We had entered the idyllic village of Uluvadu. As little girls draped flowers around our necks, the welcoming committee proudly showed us the village centre consisting of a handful of brightly coloured houses centred around a sweet little church.
The village church. Around 6% of Tamil Nadu's population is thought to be Christian

As the committee led us up to our host family, we had time to take in the beautiful scenery. We were surrounded by sun-kissed hills covered with tea fields as far as the eye could see.


'Anyone for tea?'

Our sense of satisfaction continued when we met our host family. We have the pleasure of staying with Jaien, Usha and their 14-year old daughter Davida. Jaien is the owner of the tea fields around his house and is always busy carrying bags of tea leaves on his head or climbing up trees to provide food for his goats. His dream is that one day he will be able to build a second storey on his house so he can grow old healthily by living higher up in the even fresher air. His wife Usha is equally hard-working and does the commendable job of being head of the village women’s self-help group.


Camping among the banana trees

Now, after a few days of work, we have settled into a routine in this lovely village. 

Every morning starts with our private karate class from Jaien, which includes some serious muscle control and pointed-toe ballet-like kicks. 


Sam and Appu being taught karate by Jaien, watched by the goats

With our new-found inner peace we set off to the village centre. Just like children doing a scavenger hunt, we try to discover the location of the mason, the quantity of bricks delivered and the work we’ll be doing for the day. We like to think of ourselves as professionals - making human chains for moving bricks, lifting bandoles of cement and drinking as much chai as possible.


Not just man's work - Appu and Caroline moving bricks assisted by women beneficiaries
Crystal doing a fine job of bricklaying
Blair, trowel in hand, prepares to help the mason

At one o’clock precisely we down tools and head towards the ‘lunch house’, where Lisi, Rada and their daughter are waiting to serve us their local speciality – fluffy white rice, two different vegetable sauces and our great favourites cold cabbage and papadoms.


Quinten and Seth enjoying a quiet after-lunch chat at the 'lunch house'

But the moment I cherish most is at the end of the day. Like one big family we sit on the porch with Jaien and Usha as we eagerly exchange stories about our day.


Caroline - Happy to be back at the campsite for the evening


Lastly, here are the team members saying hi as they set off to work yesterday (Thursday) morning.




News from Echo Three coming up shortly ...

Friday 30 November 2012

Tango Five - Still Alive (And Kicking)


Ruth and I paid a quick visit to Tango Five and Charlie Two this week, while David and Simon each spent a couple of days digging with Echo Three.

So here’s the first of three blogs covering our visits.

Ruth and I joined Tango Five late last Sunday afternoon towards the end of their survival day. They’d spent the day building themselves a shelter for the night (tents having been temporarily confiscated), preparing a meal from locally sourced ingredients and – joy of joys – listening to Radio Raleigh.

Their campsite was certainly bijou, but, following an application of salt along the ground around the shelter, almost leech-free.

Just to be on the safe side - Carline in leech socks
As tends to be the case on trek, the night was an early one, which meant that we were up nice and early on Monday morning for a hearty breakfast of (fill in the gaps) p……e.

Preparing breakfast and packing at the bijou campsite
Monday was a fun and easy day. An hour spent building a bamboo raft was rewarded with a 2km raft trip along a river, followed by the rest of the day spent in kayaks and a dinghy completing a 10 km stretch, with stops for refreshments along the bank. (Sorry but I didn't take any pictures for fear of my camera drowning!)

The new campsite was a field in the middle of a rubber plantation. Dinner was fairly late in trek terms, as we awaited the arrival of the supply drop to replenish the supplies consumed during previous days.

Late dinner and sorting out the supply drop. Joris looking 'smooth'  after his recent haircut

The next morning brought the arrival of a man in a balaclava wielding a machete. Happily he’d only come to empty the rubber cups and re-strip the trees!

Man clad in  balaclava tending the rubber trees Who said it was hot in India?

We left the team on Tuesday morning just after breakfast. They were all in great spirits and looking forward – albeit some with a little trepidation - to their 40 km cycle adventure.

Before we left, Carline and Joris kindly provided the following guest blog:

Tuesday morning, 27 November 2012

From the first moment we left the bus after a five-hour drive it was hot and our bags were already too heavy. The first 700 metres were the most challenging, but step by step we became more and more used to walking with twenty kilogrammes on our backs. As soon as we arrived at our first campsite three and a half hours later, we all forgot how tough our first walk had been when we saw the beautiful view of mountains and a waterfall in the distance.

After taking advantage of an unexpectedly good shower facility, we cooked our first group meal and then all enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

The next morning we left our first campsite. Day 2 was an incredible day, on which we walked 8 km with backpacks and 4 km without. These 4 kms were straight uphill and we had to climb over two peaks. After this extremely hard walk we arrived at a lovely cooling lake, where we all sat down and relaxed. Overnight we slept on top of a water tower with the most amazing view.

On the next trekking days the walking distances became longer (12 and 14 kms), but our bags became slightly lighter as we ate all the meals we were carrying. Even on the hardest moments of trekking we kept our spirits up because of the beautiful views we had. We walked through tea plantations, jungle, high grasslands and over mountains.

But … it wasn’t only sunny! On day 4 the rain suddenly came pouring down for an hour and a half. We were forced to wear our ponchos over our backpacks and we got soaking wet! And if that wasn’t enough… Arriving at our wet new campsite, we were eaten alive by leeches, our biggest enemies on this trek (after our backpacks and some blisters!)

Day 5 was all about surviving. We ate local chicken, which was lovely, and we slept under a self-made shelter.

All things considered, these first five days have been absolutely fantastic, and we are all looking forward to everything which is coming. We are laughing, sweating, walking, struggling and chilling – enjoying everything at the same time!

Big kisses to all our loved ones at home!

Last but not least, here’s a short video of your loved ones saying hello from the rubber plantation.

video


News from Charlie Two will follow very soon …

Saturday 24 November 2012

All Four Projects On Track - More News Later This Week

This is a quick update to confirm that all four project teams are now well established on Phase 3.

David, Ruth and I will be out and about visiting some of them during the next few days, and so I hope to bring you news from at least three teams by the end of the week.

Call back then ...

Thursday 22 November 2012

Phase 2 Slideshow and Movember Update


Now that the groups are all deployed on Phase 3, here’s a chance to enjoy looking back on some of the things they did during Phase 2.

This slideshow was collated and shown by David a couple of evenings ago during second changeover.

video



Also, I promised an update on our Movember challenge around now. None of our brave heroes has yet achieved ‘moustachio supremo’ status. In fact ‘moustachio visibilo’ has been stretching one or two! However, we still have a few days to go.

To see how some of us were looking at second changeover, and also to see an interloper putting us all to shame, please do take a look at our Movember website.

We’ve raised USD 450 so far, mainly thanks to three very generous benefactors. We’d much appreciate further donations to this good cause of men’s health – no amount is too large or too small – before 30 November. Thanks!

More news from the teams in due course…

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Phase 3 Allocations Are Announced


The Venturers and PMs have been having a relaxing time at Fieldbase, culminating yesterday evening in a splendid barbecue that they themselves prepared. They spent much of the afternoon happily peeling vegetables and preparing the food while they chatted and exchanged stories. Thoroughly therapeutic, it seemed to me.

This was followed by a couple of hours around a bamboo campfire, being serenaded by Adele, Raja and Chris on guitar.

Around the campfire or burning the barbecue?
Adele and Chris - practising for Glastonbury?

This morning brought Expedition 12J's final allocations. The teams and projects for Phase 3 are:

CHARLIE TWO
PMs: Blair, Harry
Venturers: Appu, Caroline, Crystal, Fiona, Quinten, Sam, Seth, Sridhar



ECHO THREE
PMs: Alex, Jenny, Laura
Venturers: Alice, Alstair, Gilles, Lennard, Mel, Raja, Shahid



TANGO FIVE
PMs: Emma, George, Hannah
Venturers: Carline, Frederique, Hinesh, Jenny K, Joris, Kana, Kavya, Mangesh, Rory



TANGO SIX
PMs: Jess, Lou, Sarah
Venturers: Amber Elisa, Angus, Chris, Carrot, Fabian, Jocelyn, Pauline, Shivam, Stalin



I'll update the team and project locations on the map you can reach by clicking under PHASE MAPS on the right within the next day or so.

Adele and Dan are bowing out at this stage, as they’re both ‘7-weekers’ who joined 12J for the first two phases only. We wish them all the best for the future.

The new teams are spending today on a combination of packing, relaxing and jollity, before deploying tomorrow morning.

More anon …

Sunday 18 November 2012

Echo Three - Through The Eyes of 12J’s Youngest Venturer


Expedition 12J’s youngest Venturer is Joris, one of our ‘Dutchies’. Recently turned seventeen, Joris combines a youthful enthusiasm, mischievousness and sense of humour in a way that has been a constant source of fun for us all – and occasionally challenge for his PMs!

Joris - Lost in India or wearing the wrong T-shirt?

Immediately on arrival back at Fieldbase today, Joris came bounding up to me and said, ‘Graham, I have a guest blog for you. It’s excellent!’

So here it is. It gives his personal impressions of his time with Echo Three. I hope you like it as much as Joris (and I) did.

As soon as we left the bus, it was raining for twenty-four hours. But we could see how marvellous it would be when the sun shone. And then it did – waking up in the morning, looking at the sun while eating breakfast, amazing! 

Our days have involved waking up at six, breakfast, work, lunch, work until five, dinner, relaxing and bed. Sleeping in bashas has been a wonderful experience.

We worked with the masons every day. The work was really hard, but realizing who you were doing it for kept us going right until the last day.

Swimming in the reservoir after work was the most relaxing part of the day. Realizing how good life is at home is very strange – waking up, showering as long as you want, eating as much as you want, drinking clean water.

Getting to know the group better and better during the phase so that you will never forget them, sitting around the campfire at night having meetings, it has all been so good. The things I will miss are the people, the environment, the work, all the sweet children, the way of life here, and working so hard as one big team – Echo Three.

More news of the teams very soon ...

Two Phases Down, One To Go – All Projects Back At Fieldbase


This morning brought the return of all four project groups, safe and smiling, to Fieldbase for second changeover. This marks the completion of Phase 2.

As I write, they’ve all unpacked their kit and gone into Mysore for an afternoon’s sightseeing and shopping. Probably much to the delight of the local Domino’s pizza house!

They’ll spend an entertaining and relaxing three days here at Fieldbase before they deploy on to Phase 3 on Wednesday.

Coming very shortly -  more news, a Movember moustache and donations update, and the new team and project allocations for Phase 3 ...


Tuesday 13 November 2012

Intrigue And Mudslinging At Charlie Two!


It’s all happening down in Chapanthodu!

This news is brought to you thanks to our special guest correspondent, Hinesh.

12 November 2012

Hello again, real world. I must apologize for the timing of this long overdue update of Charlie Two’s adventures, but time is, quite frankly, flying out here, and it’s somehow it’s already been thirteen days since we left our comrades at Fieldbase.

I’m happy to inform you that all of our Venturers and lovely PMs are happy and healthy, albeit a little frustrated at the progress of our work to date. Since we last wrote to you, we have completed the digging of the foundations and cesspits of all eight houses, and cemented seven of these foundations. In addition, we have built the walls and bricked the cesspits for five of the toilets with two sets semi-constructed.

However, a serious unfortunate incident regarding the delivery of the materials (i.e. they haven’t shown up yet) has meant that our progress has slowed considerably. Regardless, the ever optimistic Charlie Two team are still hopeful that, with the addition of a second mason and some more materials, we will still complete the work in time for the inauguration ceremony this coming Saturday.

Luckily we have plenty to keep us occupied during this lull in doing toilet building we have had. We’ve received two visits from the lovely Loop, for whom we laid on an elaborate murder mystery event. This was based on the tragic demise of the fictitious ninth Venturer Gertrude Jones, from Bangor in Wales at the hands of one guilty member of Charlie Two.

Gertrude seemed to be a very abrasive character, with the investigation unearthing potential motives from nearly every member of the group. In her short time with Charlie Two, Gertrude apparently managed to get embroiled in a love triangle, break up a ‘bromance’, and drive PM Jenny to supposedly scream profanities and expletives at her for all to hear. Also involved were a pair of high-heeled flip-flops and a broken mirror.

The teams on the Loop had to question, or interrogate, the individuals to try to find the killer, location and the weapon used, in true Cluedo fashion. Points were given to the teams for the style and depth of the investigation, and the winner will be announced at the next changeover.


Is the 'assailant' one of these suspicious-looking people?
Loop detectives Anna and Ruth think they've found the culprit
(with the help of super sleuth Graham - that's me - behind the camera)
We have also been filming for the expedition music video. This has involved dancing in tea plantations, skipping down hills, and a memorable scene where the Venturers had the chance to get back at PMs, which led to Sarah, Jenny and Lou being covered head to toe in mud. A full-scale mud fight followed, with even the CTRD rep, Shree, getting his rather smart clothing splattered with mud. We’ve all paid dearly for our five minutes of fun though. There’s a large pile of laundry to do, and I think there’s still mud in my hair.

Well that’s about it so far. Tomorrow (Tuesday) being Divali means no work, and so it seems to be the ideal time for our day trip. We’re off to explore some caves in the morning and then are going to spend the afternoon in Sultan Bathery to try and buy some extra supplies for the final phase and some souvenirs for a lucky few at home.

We send all our love to everyone at home, and especially to Becky who didn’t actually make it on to phase. We hope you’re recovering quickly and I’m personally very jealous of your business class flight home. Till the next time …

Note: CTRD (Centre for Tribal and Rural Development Trust) is an NGO working to develop tribal communities on the borders of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  It is Raleigh’s local partner on this project.

Watch out for more news for the other teams as it comes in...

Monday 12 November 2012

News from Charlie One – Immersed in Gandanahalli

On this last of four blogs from Anna’s and my recent trip around the projects, I’m posting some photos I took that I hope will give you a flavour of Gandanahalli. This is the village where Charlie One are living (in a school) and working (building eco sanitation toilets). It’s by far Expedition 12J's largest village, with a population of around 7,000 people.

You’ll also see a very short video of your loved ones waving hello as they set off for an afternoon’s work.

But first and foremost, here’s a guest blog kindly written by Jocelyn, giving her impressions of living and working in this fascinating, tightly packed rural community.

We’ve been having bandales of fun here, while working hard of course. This community phase has placed our banter-filled group in the village of Gandanahalli, with the task of building ten eco sanitation toilets. Although this may sound like quite a simple task, I shall quickly share with you some of the daily challenges that Gilles may even describe as hair-raising, that we are faced with. 

Obviously there is the constant language barrier, which is a day-to-day struggle, especially when mixing with cultures so different from your own. Yes, Dan’s northern ways have been difficult for us all to adapt to.

The northern tongue is not the only difficulty our group of twelve has had to overcome. There is also the constant threat of vicious and exotic animals, such as the charging cows, bands of rampant roosters and grizzly goats which have been fought quite bravely by the likes of Ali, Fabian and Pauline. And forced us always to walk in pairs wearing our PPE or protective equipment with Raleigh pride.

Although by now I’m sure you’ll all be aware just how tough this project has been and will continue to be, I will share with you the worst of our struggles brought to us by the naivest and most innocent of the community. A simple question which brought our group near to despair: ‘ What is your name?’ And even when our weary and tired selves succumb to answering the children who surround us at every opportunity, we do not always get the response we may have hoped for - as Miaow, formerly known as Mel, has discovered.

However, our time here at Gandanahalli has not all been trial and tribulation. After a hard day’s work alongside the fast-paced masons, the ‘top lad’ with the simple ring of his bicycle bell can lift our spirits, as he brings delicious meals to our mess tins. He has become our hero of the night, and afternoon, although he has yet to win the battle against Ali’s forever rumbling stomach. We’re planning a special treat for Harry’s birthday, but it won’t be anything too rich out of respect for Laura’s keen sense of smell!

With an Indian Sean Connery who looks uncannily like Shivam by our side, and Raja’s persistent hard work and constant smile, alongside Emma’s musical talents, the ecosan toilets are standing proud through the rubble of bricks and scaffolding. And as we retire to our classrooms each night, with Pauline blushing a crimson red, after numerous winks and kisses have been thrown at her, and Fabian is settled into his sleeping bag listening to Stephen Fry uttering the sweet words of Harry Potter, we can rest easy, knowing that our hard work is paying off.


To complement the picture already in your mind's eye, here are some of the sights:

The daily commute to work - by vehicle ...
... or on foot
Accommodation can be quite basic ...
... or more sophisticated
Life revolves around animals and farming
Everywhere the children - these smartly dressed kids are on their way to Charlie One's host school
School lunchtime

Meanwhile, back at some of the worksites ...
Jocelyn proving she can handle a trowel as well pen a blog
Ali and the person formerly known as Mel
The actor, the singer and the blusher
Birthday girl

If you haven't seen the person you care about yet, fear not! Here's everyone saying a quick hello.

video


Difficult to believe, but it's less than a week now until the teams return to Fieldbase for Second Changeover. Meanwhile I'll update you on any news as and when I receive it.