World Challenge 2016 Updates
12th August - Team 1
We are now at the airport in San Jose, Costa waiting for our 11.25 departure for the first leg of our flight home via New York.
The last two days have been fun - tree planting to offset our carbon footprint and white water rafting yesterday. All members of the team are well - a little sad to be leaving Central America but looking forward to being home with family in a little under 24 hours.
11th August - Team 3
This week has been very busy; from painting to milking cows, the entire team has developed new skills and integrated with the local community. Before we started work on the buildings, the children welcomed us with singing, dancing and games. At the beginning of the week we focused more on painting, however towards the end we employed a local welder to make doors for the latrines as well as making swings and see-saws. We learnt more about Nicaraguan culture through a tortilla workshop, a festival and milking a cow. Whilst the facilities proved challenging at times, the shower room provided an opportunity to interact with the wildlife more intimately. The school community was very tight-knit and we were lucky to join several families for dinner in the evening. The teddy bears and gifts we brought were well received along with the football goals, which were put straight into use with games between the children and challengers. The whole experience has been both humbling and inspiring.
After a short pit stop in Léon we are heading to Granada for our R&R for four days. We are looking forward to zip wiring through a coffee plantation and visiting a blue lagoon. Hasta luego amigos!
10th August - Team 2
Team 2 are now in Leon having left Somoto yesterday following the five day trek.
The trek was completed successfully. The first two days were made more difficult by torrential rain which made the descents more difficult, albeit a little cooler. The remaining days the sun shone and the team were grateful for tree cover when this was available to shade them from temperatures in the early thirties.
On two evenings and two mornings meals were provided by local families - the main item being rice and beans (gallopinto). A number of the team also took time to milk cows and use the resultant milk in their fresh, homemade Nicaraguan coffee. The team also cooked over open fires as well as on trangias.
The views on the trek were at times spectacular and the guides who accompanied us provided a range of information as we passed through each area. The team's skills in speaking 'Spanglish' improved hugely!
On returning to Somoto we spent an enjoyable afternoon visiting a local ecological centre that aims to educate local children in the flora and fauna of the region. Monkeys, deer, raccoons, toucans, turtles, eagles and a wide range of plants were on show.
Yesterday we arrived in Leon for two nights at the El Albergue hostel. Today we are volcano boarding and taking an evening class in Salsa dancing, as well as some local sightseeing.
Tomorrow we head for our final two nights in Granada where we plan to spend some time paddle boarding on Lake Nicaragua and take a trip to see the Massaya volcano, as well as visit the local markets.
We head for the flight home in the early hours of Friday, landing at Heathrow at 6.55am on Saturday. Everyone is looking forward to seeing family and friends soon!
8th August - Team 1
We have been in Costa Rica for the last four days. The journey south from Nicaragua was achieved on public transport - crossing the border was an interesting experience with form-filling, passport checking and stamping, luggage scanning and getting on and off our transport - and fending off all the hawkers testing to sell us hammocks!
We spent two nights at Playa de Coco on the Pacific coast - a simple beach resort with a safe sandy bay. We were lucky to have accommodation on the beach and really enjoyed our time relaxing there. We then headed for Monteverde in the highlands famed for the cloud forest reserves. We did a night walk and saw an armadillo, kinkajou, tarantula, viper, glass frog but the highlight was a sloth! The next day the team went zip wiring, followed by a walk in the cloud forest finishing at a cafe where they feed hummingbirds. Today we transferred to La Fortuna. We took the "jeep-boat-jeep" option (actually a coach not a jeep) that took us across Lake Arenal. The team enjoyed the hostel pool this afternoon while some of us went walking in search of the famous toucans - we were not disappointed.
Costa Rica is very developed compared to Nicaragua - a perfect R and R destination.
Best wishes to friends and family from everyone in Team 1
3rd August - Team 2
We are currently in Somoto, Nicaragua based at the Hotel El Rosario (a hostel) for two nights preparing for our 5 day trek. The luxury of a bathroom with each room is much appreciated.
Following our time in Monteverde we moved for an overnight stop in Liberia before heading up the Pan American Highway to the Costa Rican/Nicaraguan border. We passed through the border in just under two hours and stayed the night at Rivas adjacent to the shore of the freshwater Lake Nicaragua. An early start the following day saw us catch the 0800 ferry for the one hour journey to Ometepe Island. We based ourselves at a hostel in the main town of Moyogalpa.
During our first day we took a short trek to see some of the local forest and its wildlife, including Howler monkeys, and watched the sun set over the mainland from a peninsula. On our second day we were on our way at 0430 for the half hour drive to the base of Volcano Concepcion. It took just over 12 hours to climb and descend. The pathway was steep - between 30-45 degrees all the way - however, the team achieved their objective despite high humidity levels, cloud and strong winds at the top and a rain storm on the descent. Partial breaks in the cloud provided glimpses of the island, lake and mainland from a height of 1610m.
Two days ago we left the island and travelled to Granada. The town on Lake Nicaragua's shore line is famous for Spanish Colonial buildings and we were based not far from the centre in Hostel Hermacas. We managed a brief wander round the centre before heading to ChocoMuseo for a two hour chocolate making workshop. Everyone got involved in roasting the cocoa beans, shelling them and then pounding them to a chocolate paste. With a few additions chosen by individual preference we then poured the resultant mixtures into trays for setting. A short while later we each picked up our own handmade chocolate bar.
Our short stopover in Granada was followed yesterday by two buses to Somoto, a five and half hour trip. Lunch at a local cafe of chicken, rice, beans and salad was followed by a briefing from one of our guides about the trek to come. Today the team have been out buying provisions for the trek and sorting their bags to remove anything they won't use in the period ahead. From our base at Hotel El Rosario we can see our first challenge, Victory mountain, a nine hour ascent and decent beckons at 0600 tomorrow morning.
A further update note will be sent following the trek as we will have no internet access during this period.
Everyone sends their love and best wishes to family and friends.
2nd August - Team 1 - see the SHFGS Twitter feed
We have just returned to Leon after completing a highly successful project at Asuncion, a little village just over 10 km out in the countryside. The village was created in 1988 after a community was moved there after hurricane Mitch wiped out their village. Although the government build the five classroom primary school, there has been no help with repair or redecoration since. The money raised in the Stay-Awake-a-Thon proved to be invaluable as we would never have had the money to buy all the paint and other materials to paint the buildings inside and out.
The team worked incredibly hard in the heat and thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with the local community. Football matches with the locals were keenly contested and we ate local food at three different houses in the evenings. We either camped in the school grounds or put up mosquito nets in the classrooms to sleep.
We are now looking forward to volcano boarding tomorrow before heading south to cross the border into Costa Rica.
Best wishes from everyone in team 1.
1st August - Team 3 - see the photos in the WC Gallery
Today we find ourselves back in León following a fantastic trek through Los Maribios, a mountain range in West Nicaragua. The first volcano, Telica, was a good warm up for the days to come, both physically and in terms of the temperature. The summit was an impressive crater 170m wide and still smoking. Acclimatising to the heat and sulpher was difficult but worth while. After a short sleep , interrupted by many dogs we walked to Santa Clara, a dormant volcano. Whilst the ascent was tricky, the decent kept us on our toes (and in many instances our bums). Day 3, we summited Rota, another dormant volcano, where we enjoyed organic coffee at a farm at the top. The evening gave us the opportunity to play football and other games with the local children. After dinner, dance lessons started with the daughter of a neighbouring lady which led to much hilarity! Cerro Negro, a very active volcano, was our challenge on day 4. The alien landscape of basalt and ash provided the perfect opportunity for us to go volcano boarding down an incredibly steep incline (see the left side of the photo below). El Hoyo, our fifth and final volcano was truly spectacular. We woke at 1.45am in order to enjoy the sunrise overlooking Mombacho. The climb in the dark was challenging, but we were rewarded with a canopy of stars followed by a beautiful sunrise. We were overwhelmed and elated to have completed the five volcanos in five days.
27th July - WC 2016 photo gallery
27th July Team 1
We are delighted to report that we have successfully completed the trekking phase of our expedition. We have spent the last five days in the remote mountains and hill villages near the Honduran border. We had three Nicaraguan guides with us throughout and then each day we gained local guides, at least one of which would be carrying a machete to tidy up the overgrown trees and bushes near to the path.
We camped every night in a different place and then walked up through farmland (maize and bananas mostly) to cloud forest swathed in low mist on the first four days. The vegetation was amazing - every tree covered in epiphytes like Bromeliads. One afternoon we were lucky enough to watch hummingbirds sucking nectar from flowers. Today we were walking through natural mountain pines which was in complete contrast to the rainforest we went through previously.
The team's highlights included:
- The stunning views from the summits of the mountains
- Grappling with challenging terrains
- Making tortillas with a local family halfway up a mountain
- Eating nutritious and tasty cooked meals (almost always rice, beans, eggs and fried plantain for breakfast, lunch and dinner!) in the villages near to where we were camping
- Drinking freshly ground coffee on a regular basis
- Milking cows at one of our campsites
- Meeting and interacting with locals
- taking over a kitchen at a farm house in order to cook our own evening meal of pasta (a nice change) over an open fire
- Meeting a plethora of local animals including: cows, dogs (including 20 day old puppies!), cats and kittens, geese, pigs and piglets, chickens and chicks, horses, lizards, snake, scorpion, spiders, ants, crabs, hummingbirds, butterflies, frogs, moths, bats, goats, crickets, wasps, 1 deer and just a couple of mosquitos...
4:30am start, plenty of birthday wishes for Gavin's 17th, speedy packing, followed by a long bus journey to Leon in order to meet Memo (world challenge in country agent) and prepare for our community project.
Best wishes to family and friends,
26th July Team 2
Our brief time in the La Fortuna was enjoyable for all. Based in Gringo Pete's Too hostel we spent a couple of hours trekking up to the Catarata Rio La Fortuna and then descending down to the waterfall where we spent time swimming in the pool below the cascading water. In the afternoon we again immersed ourselves - this time in the warm water of a river heated by the Arenal volcano that dominates the area.
The day also provided the opportunity to celebrate Anice's 18th birthday and a large chocolate cake complete with candles was purchased, much to her surprise.
Our base in La Fortuna also provided an unexpected sight for us. Directly opposite, snuggled between branches of a tree was a young sloth.
Yesterday we headed to Monteverde via minibus, boat across Lake Arenal and minibus for the final leg. Two nights at the Santa Maria hostel has provided a base for further activities. This morning was spent in the world famous cloud forest, home to over 3000 plants, trekking two set trails and finished with us watching humming birds close up as they fed. In the afternoon we experienced spectacular zip wiring over forested areas. Tonight we will be partaking in a night trek and will no doubt see some of the tens of thousands of insects that generally appear as night falls! If luck is with us we might also see some of the mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds that the area is known for.
Tomorrow we move onto Liberia for an overnight stop prior to heading to the border with Nicaragua. Everyone is well and send their best wishes and love to family and friends.
26th July Team 1
Team 1 are now back in Somoto having completed five days trekking in the mountains. Everyone well and looking forward to a swim in the town pool - more details to follow.
26th July Team 3
Granada, Nicaragua The beautiful colonial city of Granada has been a true cultural experience for us. After several journeys on chicken busses, we explored the area, looked in art shops and enjoyed a nice meal at Cafe del Arte. Standup paddle boarding was a great experience; a beautiful way to explore the local islets. Most of us stayed up, though we all enjoyed a dip in Lake Nicaragua to cool off. In the evening, some of the group enjoyed live music in the town, whilst the rest of the group had a well earned rest.
On Monday we went to the Cacao Pool Club, at a local hotel where we saw hummingbirds and swam with (quite aggressive) ducks. In the afternoon we took a short trip to the market town of Masaya where the team had the opportunity to haggle with locals over Nicaraguan crafts. The highlight of our time in Granada, however, was seeing the lava from Volcán Masaya. It would be impossible to overstate how mind-blowingly awesome this was, a true spectacle!
We are now preparing to travel to Leon, to prepare for our 5 volcano trek.
23rd July Team 2
After five days spent in Santa Maria de Dotta on project we are now moving on, heading north of San Jose to Fortuna for our first trek.
Our project at Centro Educativo San Rafael, a small primary school has been a delight. The team have continually mixed cement to complete an outdoors playing surface for the children. We have funded this work, including two local workmen, the materials used, and the paint to cover the surface and provide the line markings for various sports.
The project is also, importantly about cultural interaction. We have worked with children every day, specifically on speaking English to prepare two boys for a regional competition, and others with their spelling. Kate Blanchard was one of the judges in a 'spelling bee' competition. Each break time we have joined in with games of football and basketball.
We were invited to the home of Luis, one of the workman on our penultimate evening. He and his wife made savoury pastries and pancakes, and in return the team made an excellent chicken curry. We all played bingo during the evening, numbers called in Spanish of course, with winners each receiving wrapped prizes of sweets. The welcoming nature of the evening was a reflection of the hospitality we have received in this small town throughout our time here.
Our final day coincided with a national day celebrating the 1824 anniversary of part of Nicaragua joining Costa Rica. The children performed traditional dances in national dress. The team posed for photographs having tried on some adult versions kindly brought into school by the English teacher. For our part the team introduced some aspects of our culture - nursery rhymes, produced a map of the world to illustrate the UK's location, maypole dancing and finally topped of with afternoon cream tea having baked 100 scones the previous day!
Everyone is well and sends their love and best wishes to family and friends.
Please look at the school Twitter account to view photographs from all the teams.
22nd July Team 3
After an adventurous border crossing we reached Nicaragua. Hotel Hamacas exceeded expectations and after hours of card games, a beautiful breakfast and a relaxing morning we crossed Lake Nicaragua to reach Ometepe Island. The intermittent water and electricity has provided challenges but this has been far outweighed by the stunning views of the two volcanos. We spent our first afternoon exploring Reserva Charco Verde, a green lagoon and wildlife sanctuary, where much to our excitement we caught out first glimpse of the native howler monkeys and many beautiful butterflies (mariposas). The next day we completed our first full trek to a waterfall on the side of Volcan Maderas. Whilst there wasn't much water we enjoyed a much needed break which proved a challenging trek. Today the team trekked up Volcan Conceptíon, the tallest volcano on the island p, standing at an impressive 1610m. Thankfully the temperature was slightly cooler, though the gradient was certainly much steeper.
Tomorrow we head to Granada where we look forward to immersing ourselves in the Nicaraguan culture.
22nd July Team 1
We can now give you an update on our Ometepe Island acclimatisation trek; sadly, we did not make it to the top of Volcan Manduras, but we had a really good try and managed to get some beautiful views of the island, especially the other even higher volcano, Conception. The guides were full of interesting information about Ometepe and Nicaraguan culture, and we even managed to share a few of our English turns of phrase. The descent was very slippery as it had been raining all day and the ground was very muddy, but we all made it down the volcano safely in time for a delicious traditional dinner of Gallo Pinto; rice and beans with scrambled egg and fresh home baked bread.
We left Ometepe at 7:35 in the morning and spent a whole day travelling north to Somoto, arriving 12 hours later after taking private minibuses, a ferry across the lake, private coach and an express public bus. Everything went almost to plan apart from the two and a half hour wait in the bus station in Managua where we treated ourselves to fruit and some local cuisine.
We are about to head on our 5 day trek in the Somoto area, and we are all excited to be cooking our dinner over open fires. We will also be eating meals with families in the villages that we will be trekking through, giving us a fantastic opportunity to mix with the local people and experience a different culture.
We won't be able to provide further updates until after our trek, so we will not be able to post anything more until the 26th July, and we anticipate we will have some amazing experiences to share.
Best wishes to family and friends.
19th July - Team 1
We set off from Granada on the morning of Sunday 17th July and headed to the ferry port in San Jorge where we took an hour long boat trip across Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island. We are staying at a hostel called Hacienda Merida. It is in a remote area of the island, surrounded by lots of nature and amazing views of the lake. We all felt very lucky to see a beautiful sunset on Sunday evening and some of the Challengers even said it was the best sunset they had ever seen. We had our first taste of trekking on Monday which helped the Challengers get used to walking in Nicaragua's climate and terrain. We embarked on a 6km walk (3km each way) which took us part of the way up a dormant volcano called Manduras (the smaller of the two on Ometepe). Eventually we reached a stunning 70m waterfall which made the somewhat challenging ascent well worth it! It was definitely very rewarding to come back to the hostel after a long day and have our dinner cooked for us. Today we have our second acclimatisation trek which will involve attempting to reach the summit of Manduras at 1300m - a 5.30am start will be essential to maximise the team's chances of reaching the summit and crater lake.
Do have a look at the school Twitter feed for pictures. Granada was very pleasant.
19th July - Team 3
La Fortuna has been good to us so far. This morning we took a short bus ride to a nearby waterfall. It took about 20 minutes to descend the steep paths of the forest enjoying the stunning scenery, including areal roots from some of the local fauna. The 75 metre waterfall was breathtaking, both in the view, and the temperature of the water. We spent several hours enjoying the nearby pools, as well as some competitive races.
Following the bracing temperatures of the waterfall we travelled to a local hot spring recommended by our bus driver. The 35°C water was incredibly relaxing and made us question whether the day could truly be classed as an acclimatisation trek. Along the way we have seen: beautiful butterflies, spiders, a relative of the coati, a toucan and many other birds.
Tomorrow we have a 4.30am start to take a bus across the border where we will start the Nicaraguan phase of our trip. The whole team is well, and we are looking forward to exploring a different culture.
17th July - Team 3
After a smooth flight, the team touched down in San José, and arranged taxis to our accommodation at Hostel Aldea, right in the heart of this bustling city. After a short nights sleep we awoke to explore the sights, sounds and smells of the areas. We started with a generous breakfast of rice, beans, plantain and scrambled egg with the option of chilli sauce that could blow your socks off. The rest is the day allowed us to exchange money, book accommodation and transport and buy a beautiful lunch including delicious papaya and pineapples. It has been a great cultural immersion and we have enjoyed communicating with the locals, with a relatively good degree of success!
Today we woke at 4am to take a bus to Santa María de Dota. After a 2 hour bus journey we arrived in Tapanti-macizo Cerro De La Muerte, a national park south east of San José. We calculated the carbon footprint of our entire expedition and planted 50 sapling trees and other plants to attract butterflies, embracing Costa Rica's 'Pura Vida'. Rafa and his family were incredibly enthusiastic conservationists. We spent the afternoon playing football with the locals and enjoying the rain.
The whole team are in good spirits and look forward to heading north west tomorrow to La Fortuna to commence our acclimatisation trek.
17th July - Team 2
Saturday saw us rise at Gaudy's Backpackers hostel for a 7.30am departure for a day of white water rafting. Two hours later, and just over an hours drive from the Caribbean Sea we arrived and tucked into a good breakfast at the rafting centre of pineapple, papaya, yoghurt, eggs, toast and of course, rice and beans.
A further 20 minute drive took us to the river where we received a safety briefing and were knitted out with life vest, helmet and a paddle each. One or two of the team were a little nervous as we got into two inflatable boats however, this was quickly replaced by wide smiles as we headed down stream and rose and fell at rapids with the relatively warm water soaking us all. In the calmer stretches of the river everyone jumped in the water and then clamoured back on board before heading to the next set of rapids. We finished this trip with an excellent lunch at the rafting centre - a day out that everyone agreed was a great experience.
Our final evening in San Jose was spent packing up ready for an early departure on Sunday morning. We are on a 7.15am bus for a 3 hour journey that will take us south, initially to Santa Maria de Dota to plant trees as a way of offsetting our carbon footprint. Following this we head to our project base, San Rafael School for the next five days.
Everyone is well and sends their love and best wishes to family and friends.
16th July - Team 2
The team are all well having arrived in San Jose after over 24 hours of travelling. Our first full day in the capital of Costa Rica was spent organising ourselves into teams to carry out a range of task in preparation for our time here - exchanging Dollars for Colones, purchasing bus tickets for various journeys to come, buying fuel for trangias, booking accommodation, etc.
Our second full day is to be spent white water rafting before heading south to our project. More on that in the next update.
16th July - Team 1
We arrived in Nicaragua last night somewhat tired after two long flights and an in transit stop-over in Houston. We were picked up from the airport by our private transport arranged by our in country agent Memo and dropped off at our hostel in Granada.
First priority was to rig up our mosquito nets and then sleep!
Today we have been doing our planning and team tasks, splitting up into groups sorting out food, accommodation, transport, money etc. The town itself is really interesting and my food group explored the daily local market for provisions - thank goodness for a few challengers with GCSE Spanish as there is no English spoken by the local people.
We are all taking it easy acclimatising to the heat (30 plus degrees) and over 50 % humidity - no air con in the hostel just a fan if you are lucky.
Tomorrow we have booked to go stand up paddle boarding around the little islands on Lake Nicaragua - our first R and R activity. Then the day after we move to Omotempe Island.
Do keep an eye on our school Twitter feed accessible through the school website - Pete has been posting pictures of the team.
Best wishes to everyone, Team 1