My reasons for signing up to Raleigh International are still a mystery to me. Before this expedition my entire experience of camping was sleeping in my tent in the back garden with duvet and cuddly toys as a 9 year old or a not particularly taxing two days walking and camping around the Surrey Hampshire dog-walking countryside for my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh. What convinced me that jumping from this straight to trekking up glacial valleys in Patagonian autumn time carrying 20kg, digging long drops, with only ponchos for shelter hundreds of kilometres from civilisation is, as I said, a mystery. Sign up I did and despite the tears, frozen underwear, blisters, earwigs in my ears, bleach-cracked fingers, hammer bruised thumbs, incessant farting and total lack of fresh food for 3 months it was undoubtedly one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Things I learnt on Raleigh…
- How to body surf down rapids
- How to climb up waterfalls and rivers in your underwear
- How to make alpha bites
- How to start a fire with shoe polish
- How to dig the ultimate long drop
- Always hoard toilet paper, as the group will always run out
- Never refuse food – you can use it as a valuable bargaining tool
- How an abattoir smells after several cows have been killed in it
- How to build a basic football stadium
- How to creosote logs
- How to use a hammer and nails
- How to kill a sheep
- That whatever happens keep your sleeping bag dry
- That if you’ve been in the water then technically you’re clean
- The clothes you were wearing in the water are also technically clean
- If they won’t dry don’t wash them
- That the G.O.P.E. (Chilean mountain rescue police) rule
- That you can carry more than you think
- How to cover blisters
- How to stay dry in the rain with a log, a poncho and some tent pegs
- That you can see by starlight
- That Glacial lakes are bloody freezing!
- How to avoid your underwear freezing as it dries overnight
Alpha dos in the Nef Valley
My first phase was trekking up the stunning beautiful and very remote Nef valley in the wonderful company of the 16 that will forever be alpha dos. We invented the unparalleled alpha bites through a secret combination of porridge oats, mars bars, snickers, Milo, manjar & sugar! We climbed waterfalls, got woken up by Lucy getting scared by wild horses in the middle of the night, got rained on, bathed in rivers, jumped of bridges, body-surfed down rapids, climbed over rocks, dug long drops, built shelters with our ponchos, ran out of loo roll, ate peanut butter and sardines on biscuits brown, huddled round the camp fire doing ‘high point and low point’ of the day with Daddy Paul, got chased by horse flies, looked after Chunk and his broken ankle, nearly ran out of food, got saved by the GOPE, reached the glacier, ate Belgian chocolate spread on the terminal moraine, bathed in icy waters, helped to kill a sheep and all made it back in one piece…except for maybe Ben’s Dad’s shorts which I totally ripped whilst bending over!
Banging nails and avoiding floods in Villa O’Higgins
Villa O’Higgins, a small hamlet of 500 people on the border with Argentina where a group of us attempted to build a third of a wooden football stadium and teach English classes to the population. We watched a rodeo, perfected our card playing skills, banged nails, dug holes, creosoted tree trunks, tried to build a shower in the camp, chopped down a tree (ssssshhhhh!!!!!), concocted culinary delights, heralded the weekly place that brought mail, got rained on, flooded out and took refuge in the town abattoir shed for a week. We stopped our midday photo shoots in the abattoir after the weekly slaughter started to make the place smell a little too strongly of blood!
Searching for the elusive Huemul in Tamango
My final phase was in the national park of Tamango in what passes for a luxury campsite on Raleigh. We had a sheltered area with a long dining table, benches, a rack for our mess tins, two gas burners under shelter and a fridge. Okay, I’m lying about the fridge, it was a big plastic tub we kept submerged in the cold river. It worked pretty well as a fridge. We spent our days doing some serious building work constructing a visitor’s centre for the park, curved walls, zig zag walls, a roof and all. When we weren’t doing that we were trekking deep into the park with large radio antennas looking for tagged Huemul deer, an endangered species of deer found only around Chile and Argentina in Patagonia. Hard to find and once you find them, hard to spot!