Monday 27 April 2009

Vm Expedition from Chile to Bolivia

We started off our first adventure within the jungle sporting our EXTREMELY attractive jungle shirts, with the best shirts definitely going to Emma, and Fred, with Emma´s looking like a grandmothers table cloth and set of curtains, and Fred looking like a 75yr old man attempting to look young and play golf! Rob´s shirt would have been in the running had it not been on him, as it happens, the plad actually suits him (hillbilly). The journey was literally one of the most enjoyable journeys that we have had since being in South America, it was flat and breezy, with lots of sights! what more could you want except maybe Pimms?!

we arrived at the ecolodge, with none of us knowing what to expect, and it has to be said, our expectations werent high when we saw the tiniest little dingy waiting there to take us across to the ecolodge, and the hurrendously deep mud we had to endure to get to the dingy. when we got there and saw our rooms the mood was very much lifted and positive despite the sweltering heat, and the amount of insects flying around! we had an amazing lunch while it poured down with rain. after lunch we went for a "walk" in Robs eyes, definitely not for the rest of us, anything longer than 1 hour classifies as a hike!! it ended up being 3 hours, with many a funny moment seeing a 5ft 3" bolivian man carrying a 6ft 5" LAZY english boy (Fred). i can safely say though we have seen enough trees, and plants to save us a lñife time, and we thought that the rest of the time would be focused on animals, oh how wrong we were....

the second day in the jungle meant that the groups split up and walked on seperate trails and were going to meet up and go swimming afterwards. Emily´s group went further up, whilst Rob´s group stayed lower down. on the way to the jungle, we saw a Jaguar, much to Robs amusement! what made it worse was that the least jungle person ever (me) spotted it! after spotting the jaguar we were on a high, however that soon fell flat on its face with all of the plants and birds being pointed out to us! Robs group also had an eventful time with the quick mud, with Sophie ending up waist deep in it (so knee height for everyone else), and Debbie losing a few inches off her height as well!! all was ok with Alexander swooping in and sweeping them both off their feet, much to all of the other girls amusement! we finally met at the river with both groups exchanging storied whilst enduring the surprising rapids that "just appeared"! some of us also went on an afternoon trek to find the porku-pigs (correct terminology ofcourse), however that wasnt as successful as planned, however it was definitely worth it to see a slightly over cocky quest leader fall in thousands and thousands of pigs poo, and then proceeding to complain about it for a while, mentioning no names... Rob!!!!

the next morning was an early start as we travelled on to the pampas, much to everyones excitement as this meant we could see more animals without actually having to leave the boats!!! the morning boat ride back was really nice and we saw some amazing sights, after that we had a 3 and a 1/2 hour jeep ride to the pampas, and let me tell you, words cannot describe just how rediculously bumpy that "main road" was, even in a 4x4 with questionable suspension! we eventually arrived at the river and got on the boats to be greated by some pink river dolphins in the background! it was an amazing sight! we arrived at the other eco lodge and had lunch and then had an afternoon swim with the dolphins which wasnt as delightful and relaxing as first anticipated! everyone entered the water with anticipation, with emma and i being greated by a soaking from an unsuspecting dolphin behind us! other people swam with dolphins and had a great time, we also had people getting bitten on the feet, and on one occasion the leg! other than that, everyone had an amazing time!

the next day went down river and admired all of the wildlife along the river, which was spectacular! it was extremely hot and some people started to get heat stroke but we saw lots of monkeys and birds, i think its safe to say that the leaders and the guides saw a lot more birds than us but due to our reactions from them pointing out the birds, they decided against showing us anymore than they had to! we also so a capy bara, much to everyones excitement! it was definitely a highlight! in the afternoon we swam with the dolphins again, with no blood being drawn! in the evening it was emmas birthday and she had the nice surprise of a bolivian tradition of an egg and flour cracked and poured over her head! none of us have any idea why, we did get told, but none of us understood! she also had the biggest cake i have seen in a while!

the next day we left bloody early to go anaconda hunting! that was DEFINITELY the most well spent time, we saw 5 anacondas.... NOT! we walked for what seemed like a year without any sightings of any snakes! we did however see more capy bara´s and camen!! we then had lunch and headed back to Rurranabaque... OH JOY! a mutual feeling throughout the group!

the next day saw a rude and unusual awakening for one member of the group as it was his birthday (Freddie), he was greated by Emma and I cracking egg and pouring flour over his head! after that, a few of us, Rob, Emily,Tom, Fred, Sarah, Sophie and I, went to the animal enclosure on the otherside of the river where the Bolivia group had been helping out. when we arrived there we went straight away to see the most adorable baby spider monkey everywhere! we all got a chance to hold her, a DEFINITE birthday highlight for one, and a highlight for he rest of us! after that we trekked around the enclosure, admiring the work of the bolivian group, with all of us realising that we definitely chose the best project as it hadthe least manual labour! in the afternoon we went out onto the road, ready to hitch hike a ride back to Rurranabaque, 3hours went by with about 2 full cars going past, and us passing the time playing the name game! by about 4 or 5 hours of waiting we resorted to Ceibo (96% alcohol) to relieve the pain of waiting and to celebrate Freddie´s birthday! not to worry parents it was "watered down"! it got to 11:30 with no sign of any cars coming past or any way of us getting back that night so we called it a night and stayed in the house. the others however did manage to celebrate fred´s birthday without him, or us! apparently they had an amazing time, with a few people enjoying themselves slightly too much!

the next morning those of us who were stranded in the jungle got up at 5 to go and wait by the road for hopefully a car or anything to take us back as we had a flight to catch! ourt waiting paid off and we hitched a road on the back of a log lorry, the funniest sight was definitely us all trying to climb up the back of this lorry! once on the lorry, and EXTREMELY slowly, but surely making our way back in poured with rain, in true jungle style! we made it back to find a relieved bunch of people and that our flight had been delayed, much to everyones dismay! this meant we celebrated freddie´s birthday in rurranabaque, its quite the experience! everyone had a great night, especially the birthday boy!!!

the next morning we were up bright and breezy to catch our plain back to La Paz, it turns out that the rain saved us, because otherwise we would have missed our flight! we turned up to the "airport" which was a shack in the middle of this field, and then flew back to La Paz, i can safely say that we have never been so relieved to be back in La Paz!

Vm expedition From Peru into Chile

Arrived in Chile and decided that Arica was the Chilean equivalent of Slough. Sat around being shat on by birds and eating lots of icecream..things got worse (!) when we were rudely awoken by Chilean border control deciding it was necessary for us to take our bags off and back on the bus at 2 am for no apparent reason!
Some of us did horse-riding in San Pedro. Having decided that the Spanish names for the horses were rubbish, we renamed them Walter, Kevin, Chuck, Daisy (which turned out to be a bloke - nice one Debbie!), Arnold and Jeremy. We all headed off to watch the sunset, where a random German lady knew about the sunset than Rob. Crossed the border into Bolivia, which was a wooden hut. After Rob's hilarious April Fool's, pretending the bus had broken down we headed to our jeeps. Tom, with an oscar-winning performance, convinced Emily that due to his financial situation would have to leave Quest - even managing to shed a few tears!
The first few days were spent checking out the Dali rocks, lakes, flamingoes and Rob falling off rocks. All American Climbing Team, my arse! On the first day we bathed in the hot springs. Although we consider ourselves pretty offensive tourists, we were put to shame by a guy in pink sunglasses who is now called the pink penis (three guesse why!). On the second day we saw the geizers (hot spots in the earth) and a volcano. It was such a nice change to have people cooking for us after the hot chocolate debacle in the Colca Canyon. We also renamed our group Qwestside..and so began Qwestside Story...
Girls and boys became two warring factions as to who would ride in the nice jeep to the salt flats the next morning. The boys concocted a plan of pure genius (Fred's opinion, not Emma's of course!) to get to the jeeps first, by locking the girls in their rooms with gaffer tape (thank you Quest budget!). With Rob as ring-leader and Soph and Emily joining forces, there could only be one result. Spent the day taking piccies on the Salt Flats, and enjoying the good weather and a pancake and beer breakfast (ironically suggested by the most responsible adult). We also enjoyed hearing a Bolivian myth about a lactating mountain creating the Salt Flats!
After seeing the Salt Hotel, we headed to the train graveyard, which turned out to be much less exciting than anticipated, except for Rob and Tom.
Returned to Uyuni to have the best pizza in Bolivia, and then to the night bus of hell to La Paz!

Expedition Start - Peru Team

Having endured a month in Villa Maria where Beer, a miscellaneous vodka & orange drink and bottles of rum had been the only alcohol available (except when Family Leechman supplied Smirnoff-always appreciated), a night of debauchary was definitely in need when we got to Miraflores. The group didn´t fail to step up. The night started early with mixes supplied by Vivanda (supermarket extraudinaire)..and ended early for some (special mention to Vicks who manager to drunkenly fallover the “uneven” cobblestones and was rendered too injured to walk let alone dance). However, those of us who did make it out hit the bars with some gusto, especially those who spent the entire night chatting to the group of English guys who were staying at our hostel. Special mention to Zoe....

Next stop was Pisco, which we arrived at after a mere 5 hour stint in the bus: the groups favourite mode of transport. However, our hardship was duly rewarded when we arrived at the hostel we were staying at. Marble floors and sofas in the lobby have never instigated so much excitement before, and that was prior to the discovery of fluffy (well kind of) towels and HOT showers! Fred, Sarah and I stepped up and christened the town with Pisco Sours…it had to be done!
Next morning we left heaven hostel early to set off to the Ballestas islands ( or poor mans galapagos). The boat ride took us round to see the Candelabra imprint in the sand, seals and penguins, but it has to be said what REALLY made the tour was the guide whose voice had an uncanny resemblance to Borat. His instinence that there was to be •no smohkin on board” being one of the most enjoyed of his warnings.
After the Ballestas we headed off to Huaccachina where we were set to go Sand boarding and Dune buggying. However, excitement started even before we made it on the buggys as Fred during the few hours we had unsupervised managed to break the key for our room in half. No easy feat. A slighltly bashful Fred came stumbling towards us while we were relaxing by the pool only to produce the now useless half key and mumble about poor craftmanship as he made a comparison to tin foil. The metal key was CLEARLY not strong enough…hmmm. However, after Freds mishap was solved we trundled off in the sand buggys to give sand boarding a go. Perhaps trundled is not the most accurate word to use in fact, considering that the buggys reached speeds of around 120mph! It was amazing how fast those wheeled cages can go and an incredible experience to literally dive off massive sand dunes at such high speeds! After whizzing around for a while we stopped and got our boards ready for our first go, most people went down on their stomachs at great speeds a few others choosing the wimpier option to dig their feet in the sand as they go down to break (including myself). By the end though the majority of people tried going down standing-we were pretty much pros at the end of it...almost. After going down a couple more dunes we zoomed off in the buggys to catch the sunset over the chicken farms. Not both buggys actually made it to the sunset but apparantly the view was amazing (bar the chicken farms which didn't quite create atmosphere).

Next day we headed off to catch our flights over the Nazca lines in the smallest planes Ive ever seen-planes of three plus the pilot- definitely an experience. The actual plane journeys were pretty cool though and we all appreciated the massive pilot headphone look..always atttractive. We saw the lines about four times each, tipping and swerving as necessary but this was not without some of the group contracting flight sickness. It was a little concerning as being so wrapped in taking photos outside the window Alex and I turned around to see Anya in the back sweating profusely, and a worrying shade of was clear she wasnt feeling her best. However, the pilot got a TAD too concerned and insisted immediately after landing that she be wheeled off into the distance in a wheelchair. Clearly to the others watching it was a somewhat worrying scene. Charlie Girl in a slightly less dramatic landing also started feeling a little worse for wear and insisted that it was the worst flight of her life. Have to say though the rest of us enjoyed it, even Charlie Boy who with a slight fear of heights and small planes had been marginally concerned about the combination before.
After the flights we headed straight to Nazca lines to get supplies for the camping that night and then went to the beach to set up camp. The campsite was right next to a hotel (perfect for loo facilities and secret coffees and teas) and absolutely stunning. It was completely secluded except for us and was an amazing setting for a BBQ with the sound of the sea in the background. The romance of the setting however was slightly marred by the fact we were all donning the head torches and eating out of tupperware. However, the fact we were eating steak off a BBQ in the middle of a beach was pretty cool (always an advantage that Rob used to be a chef). The night ended with marshmallows over the camp fire and a classic game of werewolf.
The next day was really relaxed, mostly involving paddling in the sea and sunbathing. Except of course for the boys who decided to go on a walk and track down bones and ruins. Clearly the idea of relaxing on the beach was just not masculine enough for them..After packing up our tents we then embarked on a 1.8km HIKE up the hill to catch our bus to Arequipa. All except for a rather smug Charlie Boy who having felt a little worse for wear all weekend got his ticket out of Jail free card with a truck ride up the hill with all the bags. He claimed later he felt guilty passing us sweating like beasts as we hiked up but to the rest of us it looked a little bit too much like the cat that got the cream...When we reached the summit of the mountain (despite what Rob/Emily may claim it was DEFINITELY a mountain) we ended up waiting for the bus for a while. The potential of Rob and Emilys children was much discussed (with some concern it would spend its life trekking) along with some harmless day dreaming about the bus that was arriving. Why shouldnt the bus have a trolley with food and snacks passed out lavishly? Rob was clearly not impressed as he insisted we were being a little optimistic...The bus was worth the wait....comfy reclining seats, english films (including 7 pounds, just like heaven and The Mummy 3 (the latter two not quite so well recieved)) and to our delight A TROLLEY! In fact the food we got was pretty amazing bearing in mind it was on a bus...however Sarahs claim it was some of the best beef she had had on the trip was still highly concerning.....Even after seven hours though the sleepy group was a little reluctant to get off...a successful bus ride you could say, especially as we had now arrived in Arequipa: which even by night you could tell was really beautiful.

Villa Maria Expedition Update part 2

Sunday was a fairly early start for a day of ice climbing. Feelings were mixed about it in the group, many people apprehensive about what was to come. When we arrived we were immediately hit by the altitude, and so the idea of an hour walking uphill to get to the start wasn´t appreciated. We made it to the glacier however, and after a quick lunch of the old favourite chicken milanesa we were shown the technique of how to scale the ice. Most of us then began to attempt to climb to the top of the 10m high wall of ice, but Vicky, Lucy, Laura and Debbie went for a small glacier walk. Sarah, Bart, Fred and Tom made it right to the top, but everyone put in good efforts. Sarah, Alex, Sophie and Tom then tried the glacier walk whilst Vicky also succeeded in reaching the top. We headed back to La Paz with various headaches and coughing filling the bus for the journey back. That evening many of us took early nights in preparation for the mountain biking the next day.

Not everyone fancied taking on the worlds most dangerous road, some of the group fancied a day of rest (and shopping!) in La Paz which was surprisingly successful. Meanwhile, Alex, Fred, Bart, Sarah, Debbie, Emma and Tom headed off with the leaders to the start of the mountain biking, where our Swedish guide gave us a very frank briefing on what to expect. In order to appease the Bolivian deities we had a sip of revolting alcohol before starting our descent, a relatively easy stretch of tarmac to get used to the bikes. Tom still managed to fall in embarrasing fashion however on a gravelly bit. The boys tried to take on the uphill, Bart and Fred conceding defeat whilst Tom tried to continue, but he was forced to stop by Rob. After a snack we were given an even more terrifying talk by the guide, before we set off, the 400m drop a matter of feet away. Further falls (but fortunately not too serious) were incurred by Fred (possibly more retarded than Tom´s), Sarah and Debbie. We arrived at the bottom a little disappointed it had ended, but delighted to have made it all in one piece. After returning we order the biggest pizza any of us had ever seen, a worthy reward after a entertaining day.

The next day was spent preparing for the Choro trail. Wednesday morning we got the bus up to the start - well, not exactly the start, we had to walk up for an hour through the snow to actually get to the top, and moods were not good! We started our descent quickly, trying to get out of the snow. The checkpoint brought about lunch, but Rob told us that thanks to the bus driver we were well behind schedule and had something of a race to the campsite. Driven on by the prospect of rest and not wanting to walk in the dark we managed to arrive at the campsite at around 5pm, well before sunset to everyone´s relief. The second day we set off early, and were making what we thought was good progress, until Charlie boy sustained a bad injury to his knee. We therefore slowed our pace after lunch, but we did not mind as Rob told us we were only 2 hours from camp. Unfortunately he was mistaken. We were about 4 hours from camp. This soured moods further, particularly at the back where we did not know what was going on. The sight of the campsite was a massive relief after we had been walking for almost 8 hours. Even better there were chips! The third day was blissfully short in comparison to the first two. We had lunch at the top of the toughest slope of the trail, disgustingly sweaty, but in good spirits, although Charlie girl was also now carrying a knee injury. We arrived surprisingly early at the Japanese man´s campsite, and had our tents up just after 2pm. The rest of the day was relaxing in the campsite, some of us even treating ourselves to beer. A night filled with a mild fear of being trampled by horses followed, before the final day of the trail. This passed quickly, although Anya and Debbie seemed keen to continue the walk, walking straight past the rest of us while we tried to sort out buses. The journey to Coroico was eventful. The first minibus almost had a head on collision with a car, while the driver also risked taking out several children in his haste to get to Coroico and back. Meanwhile in the other driver refused to take the other group up to the hostal, and left them in the square after a 10 minute argument with El Dark Horse, where the driver tried to secure a camera as payment. We were glad to get into the hostal and hit the sauna, our second trek at an end.

Pantanal - Rio team takes on the Jungle

On our 83rd day of being in Brazil we arrivewd in the national park famous for its wildlife in the South West of Brazil known as the Pantanal. We slept in hammocks in a wooden lodge beside a crocodile infested river, where tge most regular visitor was a toucan who kept us company over breakfast.

During our three days we went on walks through the surrounding area spotting all manner of creatures, from armadillos to macaws, and found a fruit which was used to paint ourselves in tribal designs. Piranha fishing was a highlight due to much success for the team despite the efforts of the local crocodiles we still managed to fill our plates for supper. Horse riding filled one of our mornings as we gallopped through the forest that was buzzing with animal activity.

A cracking few days in a ideallic setting with great fresh food and a dazzling aray of wildlife that was like nowhere we had been before.

By Edmund and James

Rio team update

Lencois/ Diamantina

After a long, but eventful bus journey from the surfing town of Itacare we arrived in the scenic town of Lencois. Having checked into the hostel we met Puma, our guide, who briefed us on the plan for the forthcoming trek. Our 4x4 dropped us in what was the ´middle of nowhere´ and our trek had begun.

Our first challenge was a steep climb which woke us all up and gave us an impression of what to expect for the next four days. AFter a hard first mornings walk we paused for lunch a the top of a stunning waterfall overlooking one of the many luch green valleys of the Chapada Diamante. Under head-torch light we arrived at our first camping spot, tents were pitched, food was cooked and eaten and everyone crashed out for a well earned rest.

The second day involved a strenuous climb through caves and over rivers to one of the highest points in the area, known as the ´Castle´ where the views did not dissapoint. We wound our back to camp via a refreshing waterfall, and despite snakes in the bed and tarantulas in boots we all made it to day three of trek.

We kicked the day off with a massive ascent, but the view was well worth the hard work. A fabulous day walking through the stunning valleys and rivers of the national park with many a waterfall to be swam in. Night was spent camping in the bush under an extremely starry sky, with not a sign of man to be found.

The final day was a long trek back to Lencois to complete our 100 km trip, with a great sense of achievement all round on arriving at the hostel where everyone appreciated a bed, warm water and food that wasn´t cooked on a camp fire!

Monday 20 April 2009

Malawi GAP Team 1st Project Update - arrival and starting work

After a somewhat arduous 24hr journey, we finally arrived at the cowshed reminiscent Blantyre airport to begin our three month extravaganza! As we drove over all the bumps and potholes (many the width of the road itself!) into Pen Sulo, our village, we were greeted by a group of people singing and dancing to celebrate our arrival – one boy getting a little too overexcited and running smack into a tree…oops. On Saturday we had the big official welcoming ceremony complete with speeches, songs, plays and traditional dancers in rather scary feathered masks – our cultural contribution was to do the hokey kokey with the kids…Everyone is so friendly and welcoming here, we have kids with us wherever we go, we’re like Madonna without the court order. Saturday night was spent at our project partner Sylvia’s house, all of us very excited to able to use a real toilet! She very kindly invited us for dinner and drinks. This would be the first of no doubt many times to see one of our local contacts, Mary, a little bit sozzled!
Easter Sunday gave us our first taste of African religion and we all walked proudly to church in our new chitengas (sarongs) bought especially for us by our leaders Sarah and Charlie. We were shown round the secondary school by the Pastor and Smart, who told Sarah off for paying more attention to two mating bugs than the pastor! During the service we had to give a performance of Amazing Grace that we’d prepared but two minutes before. Unfortunately the church choir sang just before us and also sang Amazing Grace, putting our version slightly to shame. However, Becky Mole signing the visitor’s book “you can’t O.D on G.O.D.” went down as well as Jesus himself.

After topping up our spiritual reserves we headed to Mary’s house where she and the local youth group performed some skits, songs and a rap for us. A small child farting next to us half way through Mary’s seemingly made-up-on-the-spot song did knock our concentration slightly! We taught the youth group Splat and Wink Murder which went down a treat although a few people (i.e. Sophie!) got a bit too into it and scared all of us with her splat tenacity!

During the week we’ve been hard at work on the doctors accommodation that we’re building – it’s pretty darn tough although helping out at the orphan feeding centre seems to be tougher! By Friday we had built all the walls and everyone is surprised at how fast it’s going. We are all brick laying pros now although there have been a few frog-shaped causalities when we’ve been wielding our cement mixing shovels!

Other events in our first week include building a massive sofa out of ladders and mattresses for Amber’s birthday, replacing Amber’s deceased mug Humphrey with the aid of gaffa tape and Becky Mole’s dual stream…Alas a lot of people have been struck down in their prime with a wee vomming bug this week, nowhere has been safe and at the time of writing Sarah and Charlie are the only ones that have remained unscathed! Don’t go worrying though, everyone was back on form to enjoy the local cuisine.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Yachana update minus a photo!!! Tim sort it out!

We arrived at the airport at 4 am. Tired. After several games of Uno, we finally found Sophie wandering around the airport looking lost. Four of us got upgraded to business plus due to good looks and charm. The two ugly ones remained in economy surrounded by screaming children. Wondered out into Quito. Met some American dude wearing a skirt who happened to be our guide Tim. We got aquatinted with the city which was to be our home for the next few weeks.

After a couple days of lessons we headed to Quito Colonial for Good Friday. We witnessed a procession, Cucuruchos, of thousands of people dressed in purple and the occasional white KKK outfits all carrying crosses on their backs. Quito crime scene: Kat’s bag got slashed possibly in a church. Hacks birthday too, so we made him a wonderful Llama card.

Headed of to Otavalo with Fernando. After a spectacular two hour trip through the Ecuadorian countryside, we arrived at the famous animal market - much to Kat and Sophie’s delight. After being very close to buying several animals we headed off the to main market where Gabi suprised us all by not buying the most ridiculous llama jumper in the world.

Tim sent us through a very dodgy house. We passed through a sickly family all curled up in one bed then we were lead into a very small blue room with religious artifacts and a man armed with a spear, Marlborough Lights and candles. Gabi awaited being cleansed. After recovering from the initial shock of being told he was "going to be blown" he was pleasantly relieved to be merely spat on, set alight, and caressed with eggs. Ironically this process was a cleansing.

Later that day we arrived at hostal La Luna. Really lovely; we were surrounded by Mt Cotopaxi, horses, llamas, hammocks, and massive dogs. Had a very relaxing evening. Tim cried to Sicko. The next day proved to be a challenge for us all. We headed off to Cuicocha, a volcano Crater Lake, so called due to the two guinea pig islands in the middle. We trekked around the whole 14Km of the lake, up steep hills at 3500m. The girls entertained Tim with moans and groans. Despite being at the back complaining the whole time they managed to beat Spam the cross county champion. Finally we gave up and hitched a ride back with the locals.

Monday: it hailed

Tuesday we headed of to the Equator, Mitad Del Mundo, and were suprised to not find a beam of light coming out of the sky. Had an amazing day and insightful tour. The girls loved weighing less.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Mamma Mia - Quest style!

Our Peru gap team on the Villa Maria project last month. If only they'd seen this before making the film, Piers Brosnan wouldn't have stood a chance!