Thursday, 31 May 2012

ABC International Award Ends in Triumph!

The International Award Bronze and Silver teams triumphed last weekend in a successful Final Expedition to Perquin. Our students navigated a three day triangular route, taking in the river valleys to the North of Perquin town, the amazingly open country underneath Cerro la Crucita and then plunging down into the Rio Sapo valley. The last section involved winding back up around the stunning Pericon mountain peak before descending into Perquin.

The guide spoke of a wild puma spotted with cubs three years ago near our first campsite, where the rain tested the teams ability to act as a team in difficult circumstances - all hands acted together to try and keep equipment and bodies dry through the night. Rachel Keslake demonstrating considerable engineering talent, using squares of plastic sheets cut to size with a pen-knife to boost the 'rain and wind resistance' of the bronze team tent. As the team was carrying all of their own food for the three days, the packing skills of Fernando Chahin came into the light as an inexhaustible supply of snacks sustained his team through the difficulty of putting a tent up in the rain. As the storm lashed heavy rain down on our party in the afternoon, the muddy bank we were climbing began slowly to collapse and we relied upon the combined muscle power of Jonathan Keslake, Guilhermo Chavez and Roberto Diez de Pinal (the human chain) to pull us to safety.

In the morning we awoke to find we had a 12th party member, this one had four legs. A small brown and intensely likable dog watched over our breakfast proceedings with great approval and before long had acquired numerous names from the team including Bingo, Dingo, Window, Gringo and less appealingly - Bimbo. There is no rule against dogs doing the international award, and after eating several pancakes (only one of which was meant for him), Bingo evidently decided to cast his lot in with us and remained by our side, day and night, for the rest of the expedition. On this day the navigational skills of both teams were tested severely as they used a map and compass to cross the high plateau stretching from Cerro de Crucita down to the cliff which marks the edge of the Rio Sapo valley. Isavel McGough and Rose Guilano showed remarkable tenacity in finding a way through the endless criss-crossing animal trails and the party celebrated a noisy reunion at the edge - with much barking from Bingo. At the end of the day the urgency of a second rainstorm approaching accelerated our fording of the Rio Sapo. The river was understandably high and it took us quite a long time to find a safe place to cross. In the process we disturbed an iguana who ran past us at terrific speed. The crossing necessitated Jonathan, Roberto, Fernando, Raul and Guilhermo to form a human chain on stepping stones across the breadth of the river and they showed great team-work, courage and fortitude as they guided each item of equipment and human body to safety and then helped each other to shore. Only Bingo remained on the far bank, crying piteously and refusing help. In the end we made to leave him behind but with a sudden dash he leapt to the first rock and somehow skittered across the channel in a display of 'doggie-gymnastics' which was almost Olympic in standard.

At night the crew celebrated by huddling round a small fire and cooking an Australian outback delicacy called 'Damper Bread', which has been a tradition of this year's crew. Songs were sung of variable quality and everyone warmed up after a very satisfying swim in the Rio Sapo. The hike up to Pericon involved some serious jungle bashing and the boys used their machetes to help clear a way. Several times the party crossed fences of barbed wire, trusting in each other to avoid injury and guiding others as they crossed over, under and through the gaps. At one point a rest stop was interrupted by an angry group of wasps who attacked the group but because of our tough walking gear and Raul's early warning they were unable to sting a single person. At one point the trail became a steep mudslide and the group had no option but to sit down and enjoy the ride. The views at the top of Pericon hushed us all to silence, and then the teams yodeling skills were employed to communicate to the world that the ABC team had nearly made it, Bingo was inseparable to the end, as we said our goodbyes at the bus he whimpered and refused to leave. We waved goodbye to Perquin Lenka and then realized that the bus was being followed by a running dog.I am not sure what happened next but the next time I looked around while Bingo was sat on the back seat with the boys eating sausages. (Does anyone want to adopt an exceptional dog? Guilhermo Chavez (11) is looking after him for now). A very well done to the ABC International Award teams for Bronze and Silver this year!

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