Thursday, 25 July 2013

Corrieyairick Complete

I am a big fan of wide open spaces, I enjoy barren, windswept landscapes, cold, rainy days in the fresh air and the isolation of the mountains. I love the pure, clean water that runs off Scottish Hills and the unpredictable, ever-changing weather, the shifting seasons we are so used to.

So the constant heat and intensity of the rainforest seem like an odd choice for me. The idea of so much plant and animal life crammed into every square metre is a terrifying idea. It is almost inevitable that at some points during my year in Guyana, I will loathe the place, I will wish myself to be back home, shivering on a patch of heather instead of sweating in a cloud of insects. Perhaps after a year of living there I won't want to leave. The only thing that I can be sure of, is that it will be completely different to anything I have experienced before, and completely different to how I imagine it might be.

I was reminded of why I love Scotland last weekend, as I crossed the Corrieyairick Pass in glorious sunshine both ways, putting in the final piece of the fundraising jigsaw. Here is the proof!

A slightly concerning headline the day before...

Starting the cycle at 8.30 am, to get the sweaty climb done
in the cooler part of the day

The tandem riders in action

The main obstacles were fords like this one, large drainage
ditches, and the persistent clegs.

The crux of the route, a series of steep hairpin bends on loose rocks. Required a little pushing...

Success at the top of the hairpins

Coming back down was the fun part

After the cycle, Chris and I headed back over the pass in the other direction, on the way enjoying views into the distance some chewy sweets. The tandem was left for us at the start of the road, from where we cycled back to base camp at Balgowan. I was only 20 minutes off making it there and back in 12 hours.
Just for fun, we made it a triathlon the next day by going for a 12km paddle down the Spey. Here Chris attempts to make his inflatable kayak more sturdy by adding in some extra air.

Coming down the shallow rapids in the inflatable was interesting, as little protection was offered from the rocks!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Chenapou and Corrieyairick

The thermometer is reading 28 degrees in the shade. It never gets this hot in Scotland. Here, a hot sunny day is when it reaches the twenty mark. It seems that the climate is kindly allowing me to gradually acclimatise to Guyanese temperatures before I go there. Unfortunately it seems I have some way to go; a quick run down to the shops this morning resulted in me being so soaked in sweat that I had to change clothes and hang up the old ones to dry.

More About Chenapou

The first surprise fact for me about Chenapou when I got to training was that it rhymes with 'cow'.

Although there is a newly built airstrip at Chenapou now (after several attempts at getting it straight) the chances are that I will not fly there directly from Georgetown, the capital of Guyana where I will spend my first week. At least I hope I won't, because the other way to get there is to fly first to Kaieteur Falls. The village used to be situated here, until the Amerindians were bothered by the occasional tourists coming to sightsee, so they simply packed up and moved! A short walk upstream from the iconic waterfall followed by a couple of hours in a speedboat takes you to their new location.

The 500 members of the Patamona tribe who live here are very spread out, however, the centre of the village looks relatively compact in the pictures I have seen. The house in which Ben and I will be living in is just a stone's throw away from the school and the shop. Our accommodation is basic but well-equipped with a gas cooker, flushing toilet and electricity from solar panels. Solar panels are part of a sustainable development effort, funded by Norway in return for protection of Guyana's rainforests. Another project with similar aims is building a large hydro-electric power station in Guyana over the next few years- the Amaila Hydropower Project.

My job for the year will be teaching either grade 5 or grade 6 students in the local primary school, which is housed in one large room, with only blackboards separating the different classes. I am told I will get used to this, although it sounds like it could be a challenge to keep the children focussed, with so much going on
around them. I will be teaching English, Maths, Science and Social Science to the pupils, but also possibly spending evenings teaching the other teachers in the school who will be trying to achieve the qualifications they need to be officially allowed to teach in Guyana.

The neighbouring village  is called Paramakatoi (PK) and is a two day walk through the jungle away, although the Amerindians can manage it in one. I might make this my challenge for the year.

Supplies in Chenapou are very expensive, so we are recommended to buy most of our shopping for each term in Georgetown. There is no postal service, no internet, no telephone, and no mobile signal. The only method of communication is by radio, or finding somebody to take your post to Georgetown with them. Even if you manage this, the Guyanese postal system isn't the most reliable, so I hope you will understand if my blog is not well updated after I leave.

I Haven't Forgotten...

As part of my fundraising campaign to go to Guyana, I promised that I would mountain-bike over the Corrieyairick pass, then turn around and hike the whole 26 miles back over again. As a sponsored event, this became surplus when I exceeded my target, so absolutely nobody is sponsoring me for this challenge, however, I won't let that put me off, and it would be on my conscience forever if I just skipped it out. It was always a part of the fundraising, written in the leaflets, so it will be done.

This weekend, I hope to complete the Corrieyairick challenge, with the help of my family, despite the sweltering Scottish heat. I'll let you know how it goes...

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Foghorns and Frisbees


There is always something special about being above the clouds. Looking out at the view from the patch of long grass where I had pitched my tent, it would be easy to assume you were in the middle of nowhere, a blanket of cloud beneath, hiding what could be a vast wilderness. Above, there is a wide, blue sky, and within, just you, in your own little world.

But what this picture cannot convey is the sound. If you could hear the traffic, the music, the dockyard, you would quickly work out that you were not more than a few hundred metres away from a busy coastal town. This is the bizarre situation I find myself in, the night before my Project Trust training course.

I shouldn’t have worn flip flops in the long grass; it takes a good twenty minutes to remove all the ticks that have begun crawling up my legs, in search of a nice warm patch of skin to dig into. Once complete, I shut out the never-ending summer evening light with a blindfold and curl up, aiming to get a nice early night in preparation for catching the ferry at half five the next morning.

That is when it begins. Faintly, in the distance to begin with, then I gradually became more and more aware of it as it draws closer, eventually there is no ignoring it, and certainly no getting to sleep. Yet still it gets louder. Almost ear-splitting. Every few minutes, just as I am starting to nod off, somebody outside the tent takes a huge breath of air and funnels it through their vuvuzela for a full five seconds. My early night didn’t go to plan.

Quarter past four, flips flops on, stuff tent away, march down the road through the thick mist which now envelopes the hill, catch the ferry with about 50 other Project Trust Volunteers. It makes a similar noise to last night’s vuvuzela all the way to Coll. CalMac redeem themselves for keeping me awake by providing a fantastic hot shower on the boat.

“Where in Guyana is it you’re going?” asks somebody a few seats away.

“Chenapou” I reply, still unaware of how to pronounce it.

“You’re my partner. Nice to meet you, I’m Ben. Where have you been?”

Ben and I are going to spend a whole year of our lives together.


Throughout the week I experienced every possible feeling about going to Guyana, from “help, am I actually going to get back alive?” to “this is going to be the best thing ever!”  I realised that we will never be fully prepared for what we are about to do, but that is exactly the point. Mistakes and disasters are a necessary part of the learning experience.

Chris, the desk officer for Guyana, barely stopped for breath. From 9am till 11pm every day for four days he talked passionately about Guyana, about teaching there, living there, the people, the places, what to take, what to do, what not to do… Even if our brains could not work fast enough to remember anything he told us, the important things were his amazing enthusiasm and commitment, bringing us together as Team Guyana and setting a standard for us to aspire to.

Perhaps the most memorable thing on Coll was simply meeting the other brave volunteers who had signed 12 months of their life away to the mosquito infested rainforests and savannahs of Guyana, sharing our excitement and fear, playing Frisbee on the beach, swimming in the sea with the dolphins and seals, and of course ceilidh dancing into the night.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Fundraising Tips

One more post about fundraising…

I wouldn't call myself an expert fundraiser. I still feel lucky to have been able to raise all the money I did for Project Trust, it really took me by surprise how quickly the total shot up. Nevertheless, as requested, I am going to attempt to give some inspiration to future fundraisers, Project Trust Volunteers or otherwise, through a few top tips that I have learnt during my short money raising adventure.

Don’t Delay

At the beginning, I panicked. £5400 was about tenfold the amount of money I had ever dealt with in my life, and I felt like I had to pluck it out of thin air. Or I’d be in serious debt to my parents, or stuck at home with no plans for a whole year. What had I got myself into? I thought it was impossible.
It turned out that a certain amount of urgency was a very good thing. If you get the ball rolling as soon as possible, then by the middle of your fundraising it will have picked up considerable speed. The first thing to do is to tell everybody about it, then clear plenty of space in your timetable.

I started getting the word out about my fundraising in October. Notice how the results are not immediate- it’s only after about a month and a half that the money really starts to come in. If you have limited time to raise your money, you can’t waste that month and half.


If you are raising money for a charity, on behalf of a charity or to do something educational or charitable, then the next step should be to start researching charitable trusts and writing letters to them. You will be amazed by the number of these organisations out there, but will find it difficult to find any sort of detailed information about any of them. I have three main tips to do with trusts.

  1. Research as thoroughly as possible and cross-check everything. Only write letters once you are sure that the trust’s aims match what you are doing and that you are eligible to be given a grant from them. Sometimes the information from one source is vague, but a quick Google search will shed more light. You should expect to spend most of your time saying “No, no, no, no, maybe…. actually no, no, no…” Treat it as a great success when you come across a trust that is worth writing to. It will take several days of research to come up with a good list, but keep reminding yourself that there is no other way you could earn £4000 from a few days’ work.
  2. Focus on local trusts. 94% of the money I raised from trusts came from Scotland, and almost half of it was from within my home town. Location is a way for trusts to see you as connected and relevant to them.
  3. Personalise letters. Once again this will take a lot of time, but if you write a couple of sentences in each letter to show that you understand the aims of the trust you are writing to, and how what you are doing is relevant to them, your success rate should be a lot higher than if you send exactly the same letter to every trust.
My pie chart shows quite how substantial the portion raised from charitable trust can be.


  1. Think about what you are good at, and think about what your friends and family are good at, as you will need their help. As a keen musician it made sense for me to go busking, and hold a fundraising gig. However due to my atrocious marketing skills, I left the ticket selling for the gig to other, more persuasive people. Don’t be afraid to show off what you can do, and ask for lots of help in holding events. Every helper will probably spread the word to other people, and the chances are they will donate some money too.
  2. Target different groups of people each time you hold an event. I held dinner parties for my parents’ friends, which raised lots of money without putting any more strain on my own friends. Busking in Perth, Dundee, Edinburgh and even Surrey spread the cost over hundreds of members of the public, just giving a couple of coins each.
  3. Timing is important. Look back up at the line graph and notice how steep the gradient is over December- Christmas is prime time for all fundraisers. Hitch on to other celebrations too- Bonfire Night, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Easter… If you are putting on events for your own age group, think about catching people at the end of term or just after exam periods.

I think the most important thing about any fundraising mission is to make it your own. Give it your unique style; see if you can come up with something that hasn't been done before. Take other people’s ideas and turn them on their head or combine them in new ways. There are endless lists of ways to fundraise, but the best one for you is the one that you design or tweak yourself.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Starting to Count Down

With school finished forever, it is time to start preparing for the next adventure.

In about 45 days from now, I will be starting the 4500 mile journey across the Atlantic to my new home, somewhere deep in the Guyanese Rainforest. This rainforest is said to be one of the most unexplored and unspoilt in the world, with thousands of unknown species of plants and animals; vast areas of uncharted land, broken up by countless rivers, creeks and waterfalls; and virtually no sign of human inhabitance.

I have started watching a BBC series called "Lost Land of the Jaguar", about an expedition to Guyana to explore its wildlife, from army ants and enormous spiders to giant otters and 8-foot anacondas. It has taught me what not to do, such as put your hand inside rotten trees or holes in the ground, swim too far away from the bank (in case of caiman or piranha), abseil down Kaieteur Falls, or leave your food out at night for the crickets. Despite the nasty looking insect bites I can't wait to be there myself. It is an alien world to me, with endless new things to discover and learn.

 We had to buy the DVD to watch the program (from 2008) but you can still read about it here or see a few clips from it here.

The Guyanese rainforest is not only important to the few people who live in it, it is of course a vital part of the world's ecosystem, a major influence of the world's climate, and one of the world's few resources yet to be fully exploited. For a poor country such as Guyana, the temptation to bring in much needed money through logging is high, and very little of the forest is protected. Despite some attempts by western countries to invest in sustainable development in Guyana in return for limiting carbon emissions from deforestation, the rate at which the country's 18.5 million hectares of forest is being destroyed continues to increase.

It is worrying to think that time is running out, if you want to see the world's great wildernesses, that sooner or later mankind may have sawed and drilled and dug its way into every corner of the globe, on its constant search for wealth to feed its growing consumer population. I truly hope that there is some way we can learn to live more sustainably, therefore making it possible to leave some parts of the globe to themselves, giving other species room to breathe.

I am excited to count down the days until I go to Guyana, because of the wilderness of its forest and the remoteness of the people within it. It would be unfair for the next generation if they had to count down the days until these things were destroyed.