Two worlds apart

(Posted on 17/10/14)

When I touched down at Manchester airport on a (unusually) sunny Tuesday morning in September, the realisation that my Raleigh journey was now over hit me all at once. I had spent the last 10 weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua volunteering and it came as quite a culture shock to be back in the UK, where it seems that time had just stood still and nothing had changed. 

The experience started over a year ago when I first took the plunge and decided to sign up to volunteer for the expedition. It took many months to fundraise the £3,000 needed to take part and as the date drew closer, the anticipation grew.

Early morning on the 1 July 2014, the day had finally arrived and it was time to go. I said my goodbyes to friends and family and boarded the first of several flights that would take me to my final destination – Costa Rica. My journey had officially begun. By the afternoon on the following day, I had arrived in Costa Rica and was greeted at the airport by other volunteers and Raleigh staff. We were all anxious and eager to see what the next 10 weeks would bring. 

My first 19-day phase was a trek across the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica. I was part of the (very nervous) ‘Alpha 1’ team. We donned our 25kg back packs and walking boots and began the 250km trek through the remote countryside of Costa Rica. The heat was extreme, pushing us all to our limits, but the views were incredible and the satisfaction of finishing each day drove everyone on.

I, unfortunately, sprained my ankle on day eight of the trek. Despite trying to soldier on through the pain, the decision was made by the medics that I should return to field base to rest and recover, ahead of the next phase. The remainder of ‘Alpha 1’ completed the trek on schedule, ending at a beautiful Costa Rican beach. I was disappointed not to have been able to complete the whole trek, but part of me hopes that one day I can return to Costa Rica and see for myself the beautiful beach that I heard so much about.

My next 19-day phase was spent in La Cangreja, a National Park within Costa Rica. The aim of our project was to clear and re-build trails in the park, enabling it to be reopened for public use in 2015. The whole group enjoyed working on the trails. We put in steps, dug water drainage trenches and (amazingly) discovered a new trail which we also managed to clear.

We camped in the depths of a rainforest, sleeping in basher beds and bathing in waterfalls. The experience was incredible, even though the spiders were big and scary. The humidity was intense. The beautiful sunshine in the morning was a stark contrast to the electrifying thunderstorms we witnessed most afternoons. Living out in the rainforest and open to the elements is a feeling that I will never forget! I am also really happy that the local village, Mastatal, will now no doubt benefit from a tourism boost, thanks to the reopening of the park next year.

My third and final phase was spent in Nicaragua, working on the installation of a solar powered water system for a small community called La Laguna, which is situated in Miraflor, Estelli. The group split into pairs and each pair stayed with a different family. They provided us with food and a place to sleep. Although they had little to spare, the families were very generous, and despite the language barrier, I became very close to them.

Working alongside community members, the job of digging trenches and installing water pipes was amazing. The work was hard in the heat, but knowing how much the community needed the water supply spurred us all on.  At the end of our three weeks in La Laguna we completed the project. I am thrilled that the villagers now have a clean water supply, which goes directly to their community, and I’m proud of our group (and previous groups) for working so hard to get it finished.

Adapting to their way of life was a big culture shock, and it has definitely made me appreciate how lucky we are back here in Britain. The experience will always be very close to my heart.

After spending an amazing 10 weeks out in Costa Rica and Nicaragua I was sad to leave, but also ready to come home and share my journey with everyone. I had some incredible experiences that I will never forget – some good, some not so good... I had enough cold showers, rice and beans, and encounters with big spiders to last me a lifetime! All in all it was fantastic and I am so glad that I can now say “I did it. I helped make a change”.

Written by Angharad Stead 15/10/2014