Tag Archive for Responsible tourism

Discover the Great Wall – Revamped!

No we haven’t painted it cream, but we have switched up our Great Wall itinerary in order to ensure it’s more challenging, more responsible and even more interesting whilst avoiding the overcrowded tourist areas to showcase the very BEST of the Great Wall!

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To those of you who have been following Charity Challenge for a while, you will know that our Great Wall itinerary is one of our oldest, but most popular, treks. In recent years we have seen many renovations and improvements to the structure of the Wall, as well as the addition of toilets, shops and other modern amenities (of dubious quality it has to be said!!). The knock on effect of these renovations has meant that certain areas of the Wall around Beijing are becoming very touristy, mainly Chinese tourists who want to see their beautiful country. It also means that some days of our current challenge have become a lot easier, with people knocking off as much as 2 hours in their completion… not ideal for a Charity Challenge!

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So for the last 6 months we have been looking into new areas of the Wall that could replace certain days in our current itinerary. This has been an exciting development and research phase, with our Senior Operations Manager, Carmel out in China this month with one of our groups, to inspect some of the amendments that we have already made.
The new areas are just as challenging, but quieter, more remote, and offer a more ‘authentic’ experience of China. So we hope you like them!!
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Huanghuacheng: The Huanghuacheng area of the Wall is new for 2015, and has replaced one of the other areas that was becoming a bit touristy. As one leader said it was like “Disneyland goes to China!” Huanghuacheng is possibly the most remote and rural part of the Wall in our new itinerary – you will find yourself scrambling up to the watchtowers across overgrown paths, crumbling, stony terrain and steep steps.

“It was totally amazing. Each day was so different in terms of scenery and terrain. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but loved every minute.”

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It has received rave reviews as ‘the most exciting day’. With many steep ascents and descents, it’s certainly a challenge but our participants are rewarded by the incredible scenery and the knowledge that you won’t see another soul!

“A truly amazing experience”

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Mutianyu: 2015 challengers are again the first to experience the change to the final day, at Mutianyu. When our 2014 groups trekked up the Heavenly Staircase to celebrate their achievement at the final watchtower, they were surprised to see another watchtower lurking on the horizon… this seemed a bit of a cop out to many of the group, who felt that there was still some of the climb left to do. They then turned around and trekked back down in the same way as they came, which, although an amazing achievement, seemed like a bit of an anticlimax. And that is alongside the rest of the tourists getting the cable car!! Now that the route up to this new watchtower has been repaired and inspected, we have been researching new ways to get there, and we are excited to be launching a complete route, which is set to be a spectacular improvement on the norm.

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The day now begins not at a busy carpark next to Subway, but at a remote village below the wall. You will trek for around 3 hours to reach the Wall itself, up a steep, narrow path amid the overgrowth, through which a watchtower looms about 200m above you in the distance. Comments from this year include ‘we’re not going up there, are we?!’… the watchtower actually represents the final climb and the pinnacle of the day, with a long (2.5 hr) trek down to the original carpark. After 3 hours of trekking amid the overgrowth, the views of the rest of the Wall stretching down in front of participants has provoked some emotional reactions… including a surprise proposal!!

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Carmel also went to discover a brand new section of the Wall in May, but has made the decision, as it stands, NOT to replace any of our current itinerary with that day, although it gives us options in the future when China becomes more and more visited by tourists.

“Life changing, after this trip I now feel there is nothing I cannot conquer. Bring on my next trip”

GreatWall8The itinerary as it stands provides an amazing overview of old and new, renovated and un-renovated, remote and touristed. We hope that this trek is one that will never get old, and to prove it here’s what they thought!

“It was an amazing adventure with an amazing team back in the UK and in China – Charity Challenge has done themselves proud again – Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”

Click here to discover the Great Wall!

 

2012 – a very Responsible year!

I’ve been trying to look back on some of the things that we have achieved over the last year in our efforts to always act sustainably, responsibly and ethically, and give back to the local communities that welcome us so generously on all of our challenges. It was only when I started looking through everything that has happened that I realized what a long year it has been! From our Essex2India cycle ride with Lydia Bright and Denise Van Outen, to launching the business in Canada and landing two Canadian exclusive challenges in 2013 with UNICEF and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, not to mention the team changes with the leaving and hiring of several new staff members… 2012 seems to have passed in a blur!!
Looking back has been useful; because it has given us all a chance to plan forward… we can see what we have achieved, and what there is still left to do. With that in mind, here are my top 5 Responsible Tourism highlights of 2012. Enjoy!

5. The Rainforest Alliance conference
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to go to a conference hosted by the Rainforest Alliance, celebrating their 25 years. I wrote about the conference in my blog shortly after, but what impressed me the most (and why it deserves to be in my top 10) is that the conference went right to the heart of what sustainability will mean for future economies, focusing in particular on South American and African countries. It showed the important part that western businesses play in supporting other economies… not through charity, but through buying ethically produced goods and on the understanding that this benefits everyone involved.

4. Building schools in Brazil and Nepal
Little known fact about Charity Challenge – most of our business used to be made up of running Community Challenges for exclusive charity or corporate groups, all with the aim of contributing to schools, homes and other building projects, in the developing world. Sadly the call for these types of challenges decreased as the more adventurous trips to Kili and Everest took over, but this year we sent two groups out to Brazil and Nepal to contribute to building projects in some of the poorest areas of the countries. Significant progress was made, with houses being re-roofed, proper windows put in, ceilings plastered and walls painted, not to mention the houses that were completely started from scratch. Everything is done with the help of a proper construction supervisor, group leader and trained crew – to make sure the houses are well made and sturdy.

3. Climate Care and ‘Carbon for Water’
This year we made a payment to Climate Care of just over £23 000 to offset our carbon emissions. Since 2007 we have offset over 10 000 tonnes of fuel, which is the equivalent of taking more than 3000 cars of the road for a year… hmmm fresh air! The money goes to fund carbon reduction projects like the Kenyan project Carbon for Water. This short video will tell you more in a few minutes than I could explain in the next ten pages, but in short, the project distributes simple gravity fed water filters, providing safe water to 4.5 million people in Kenya. It was recently featured in the Guardian, and we are incredibly proud of having contributed to it.

2. Local project support
For each participant that takes on a challenge with us, we make a donation to a local charity or project that works and concentrates aid in the country that the participant is travelling to. This is a long-term commitment of ours, and one that deserves to be at number two on the hit list! Projects who have thanked us and benefited from the support are as wide ranging as the International Porter Protection Group for our Nepal and Stok Kangri trips (IPPG); a small orphanage in Romania for our Trek Transylvania; Community Projects Africa for all Kili adventures and the Sumatran Orangutan Society for our Sumatran Jungle Trek. To read more about the projects that we support, click here. Needless to say we are pleased and proud to have supported so many this year.

1. The Deepen Rai foundation
A sobering note on which to end the round up, but a fitting end nonetheless. We sadly lost one of our most amazing and talented guides this year, Deepen Rai. He has led many, many of our Stok Kangri and Everest Base Camp challenges, and he sadly died in a plane crash while taking a group of British trekkers from another UK tour operator. We had thought to set up a fund in his name, and by cooperating with the other operator in question we have contributed a great deal, with the help of some extremely kind donations from YOU. We are still in talks with Deepen’s wife regarding where the money should be used. Deepen was the sole earner, and he had a wife and children who depended on his income, as well as helping to support a project in the Himalayan region of Nepal. The money will continue to support them, although it still cannot replace the loss of a husband and father.

So a year of ups and downs, providing lots of food for thought. I haven’t even mentioned World Responsible Tourism day on the 7th November, but that’s another story. It has been, on the whole, a good year, and we are looking forward to some exciting things ahead for 2013 so watch this space!

From all at Charity Challenge we wish you a very Happy, Healthy and RESPONSIBLE Christmas period!!

Supporting our Porters!

So, as Christmas comes upon us and Jack Frost is nipping at Great Britain’s communal nose, I thought a little festive cheer was in order from the outside world. It has long been built into Charity Challenge’s policy on Responsible Tourism, that for each person taking part on a challenge, we will make a donation to a local project or charity, with the aim of contributing and giving back to the communities that have welcomed our trekkers. Of course, Responsible Tourism is about the environment, preserving culture, respecting behavioural norms etc… however I’ve always felt that our kind of adventure tourism owes a debt to the local staff that we employ in country. These are people who take on the challenges that our participants have trained and fundraised so hard for, but the difference is that they do them every day, for a living, working hard to make our challenges as unforgettable experiences as possible. Imagine climbing to Everest Base Camp. Incredible. Now imagine taking on the climb EVERY WEEK. With 20kg strapped to your back. Setting up camp, cooking and looking after a group of adventurers, far away from your family at home.

The incredible feats performed by our porters inspire our choice to send our Everest Base Camp and Stok Kangri donations to the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG). Just last month we received a letter from them confirming that this has been the right decision. We have sent, over the last 2 financial years, a total of £2613 to the charity, and their letter has iterated exactly how the money has been put to good use, and the incredible importance of donations to the continuance of their work.

In association with Community Action Nepal, IPPG have been building a medical rescue post and porter shelter where porters can have access to cooking facilities, warm blankets and a place to sleep within the shelter. They are in the process of building a similar outpost in a neighbouring valley, and both provide medical treatment to the lowland porters who are generally poorly equipped for high altitude. One of the greatest problems facing porters in Nepal is that they can be abandoned by their trekking group if they are sick, and made to descend alone where they will not be paid for their work. They also often carry a weight that far exceeds the regulations, although IPPG are stamping down hard on this.

It’s always great to get feedback about the projects that we support, so if you have any comments then  do get in touch with us. To read more about what IPPG do, and how this money supports their daily work, visit www.IPPG.com.

To learn more about all our charity challenges, and find out how else we get involved with Responsible Tourism you can read our Responsible Tourism policy here, and you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com . To keep up to date on all our challenge news, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

25 years of the Rainforest Alliance… where will they go from here?

Recently, I was lucky enough to go to a conference celebrating the Rainforest Alliance’s 25th anniversary. I’m not usually the person in the office who looks after our relationship with the organisation, so learning about what they had achieved since their beginnings in 1987, and their visions for a sustainable future, was a welcome learning experience for me. The list of invitees was impressive, including several big shots within the corporate world of Kraft, Nestle, Marks and Spencer and Costa among others, and left me with the impression that I was rather a small fish in a big pond (or a small tree in a large Rainforest…).

To give you a potted history of the Rainforest Alliance’s work through the years, their main aim in the beginning was to conserve biodiversity by transforming land-use practices and changing consumer behavior. Their system of Certification of farms and forests – RA helped to establish the Forest Stewardship Council. Think you don’t know the FSC? Check your orange juice packaging, or the toilet roll you buy. Their logo is instantly recognizable, once you know where to look – has led to tangible benefits for ecosystems and human populations. In the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, the ape population density is significantly higher in FSC certified forests. That’s a win for ecology! Elsewhere, yields in certified cocoa farms are higher than in non-certified farms, which have lead to an improved productivity of 30-40%, and therefore an increased income. This incentivizes farmers, who have better access to healthcare, higher pay and a better quality of life.

I could go on and on. That would, however, mean glossing over the more uncomfortable subject of the work that is left to do. Recently the Rainforest Alliance launched their ‘Follow the Frog’ campaign (watch the below hilarious video for the finer details), which directly targets consumer attitudes towards responsible buying. Ie, what can WE do, actively, and what should we do? Is it reasonable to believe that, instead of buying your usual coffee/tea/chocolate, if you purchase a bag of coffee with a Frog on it the world will suddenly undergo a significant change? I’m not sure about that. But what if 50 people did it? And then 100? These are the kind of large-scale behavior changes that can engender positive repercussions.

If there is one thing that I learned from the conference, it’s that big businesses such as the aforementioned powerhouses have a responsibility to offer the right things, rather than expecting customers to buy them. I rather enjoyed the thoughts of one of the ladies on the panel, who impressed upon her audience that the value of kindness was going to be good business in the future. Consumers are tending towards better products, better service, a better ethos, and going away from the value of ‘more’ that was so predominant in the Noughties. So why not transfer this sentiment to tourism too?

Indeed, surely kindness should be one of the most important values in an industry that connects many millions of people across the world each year, forcing disparate cultures into contact and bringing many tourists into the world’s most fragile ecosystems. As a tour operator, we hold a role of great responsibility within the industry, and it is our duty to ensure that our expeditions benefit the host communities so that these destinations retain their natural and cultural treasures for future generations to enjoy. The tourism section of Rainforest Alliance is small but growing. To be a member of the international community of tour operators, TOPS (Tour Operators Promoting Sustainability), we signed an agreement committing to encourage our suppliers out in country (lodges, hotels, restaurants etc) to become verified and to give priority to certified and verified suppliers always. It is, admittedly, really difficult to police and enforce this, but like the directors and officers at companies such as Costa and Marks & Spencer, we realize that a big change is necessary to get long-term results.

I have had many things to think about after the conference, as both an employee of an organization whose mantra is to be responsible, and also as a consumer whose duty it should be to buy responsibly. Perhaps the best thing I learned was the phrase ‘Net Positive’ (never heard that before). It means that we are striving not to be ‘less bad’, not just to dilute negatives with one positive action, but to strive to produce 0 carbon; 0 waste; to buy food that you know has come from sustainable sources, whether from Waitrose or from your local butcher; to research your holidays and ensure that they are being operated responsibly; to try and make real, verifiable changes to human life with your actions.

No pressure then!

To learn more about all our charity challenges, and find out how else we get involved with responsible tourism you can read our Responsible Tourism policy here, and you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com . To keep up to date on all our challenge news, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Carbon Offsetting… It’s only fair

 It’s only fair…

As you psyche yourself up for the challenge you have set yourself, focussed on achieving your goals and raising much needed funds for your selected charity, we think it’s only fair we ensure that you can rest easy with regard to your impact on the environment.

So, five years ago we made a decision to offset carbon emissions from all our staff and customer flights, helping to protect the environment and improve the lives of millions of people across the world. We are delighted to report that we have now offset over 10,000 tonnes of CO2, that’s like taking more than 3000 cars off the road for a year.

I hear the sceptics amongst you ask – does carbon offsetting really help the environment?

We are convinced that it does. Even with the most determined efforts to cut emissions, we are all still responsible for carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. We can choose to ignore this and take no action. Or we can take responsibility and ensure that an equivalent amount of carbon is reduced elsewhere by carbon reduction projects.

And, as renowned environmentalist Jonathan Porritt recently said:

“If we are serious about tackling climate change – and the latest evidence from the Arctic underlines the urgency of doing so – then sound, science-based offsets should be a vital part of our toolkit. We simply cannot achieve the scale and speed of carbon reductions required by curbing our own emissions alone. But by investing in best quality offsets, we can start to make the sweeping cuts needed – while at the same time helping improve people’s quality of life in the here and now. It honestly should be a ‘no brainer’!” 

We work with industry experts ClimateCare to support projects that not only cut carbon emissions but save lives. How is that possible? Through offsetting emissions with world first, award winning projects like Carbon for Water.

This short video will tell you more in a few minutes than I could explain in the next ten pages, but in short, the project distributes simple gravity fed water filters, providing safe water to 4.5 million people in Kenya.

The filters mean women and girls no longer need to spend hours every day, collecting firewood to boil water and making it safe to drink. In this way the project cuts more than 2 million tonnes of CO2 a year. It also reduces waterborne diseases and reduces health problems caused by exposure to smoky fires.

Projects like this are made possible by money generated through sale of the carbon reductions to companies like us. And we are proud to support them on your behalf.

To learn more about all our charity challenges, and find out how else we get involved with responsible tourism you can read our Responsible Tourism policy here, and you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com . To keep up to date on all our challenge news, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Climate Care helps us beat the audit blues!

It’s audit time again, and our financial team are having end of financial year blues! I’m sure many of you out there can appreciate this feeling… it’s something that comes around once a year. Rather than experiencing the infamous post-Christmas depression, it’s that time of year when spreadsheets and number crunching starts to take over our lives, and the office turns into a frenzy of paperwork and reports…

That’s the bad news. The good news is that each year, around this time, we at Charity Challenge make our annual carbon offset payment to climate and development experts, ClimateCare, the excellent organization with which we work to offset the emissions produced from each flight, for every participant and staff member who has travelled with us the last year.

To put it briefly, over the last year we sent over 1500 participants on challenges around the world. For each person, we use ClimateCare’s calculator to calculate how many tons of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere on each overseas flight. We then make a payment at the end of each year, which goes towards ClimateCare’s projects which  not only reduce carbon emissions, but also deliver wider social, health and environmental benefits, making a real,  difference to people in some of the poorest areas of the world.

This year we are making a huge payment of just over £23 000! And in fact, the reductions made from 2008 to now have been enough to ground the equivalent of about 20 full flights (assumed 348 passengers) from London Heathrow to New York JFK.

We are amazingly proud and pleased to be affiliated with ClimateCare. As a company, ClimateCare develops emission reduction projects throughout some of the world’s less-developed countries[SB1] , with a particular emphasis on sustainable development. The offsets we purchase help to fund a portfolio of projects in many cases  situated in countries where we have challenges, such as Brazil and Indonesia. An example is the Wayang Windu Geothermal plant in Indonesia.  Carbon finance is funding the second phase of this power plant, which uses heat from under the earth’s surface, displacing fossil-fuelled grid electricity.

Responsibility in tourism is becoming more and more pressing, as scientists, environmentalists and experts within the travel industry continue to discover how detrimental a poorly operated travel expedition can be to the environment, societies and communities visited. Think about all the waste created by fast food; vast amounts of packaging; electricity and air conditioning left on in rooms; excessive use of water to rehydrate and cool down, and, obviously, the emissions given off in international flights. Added up this sounds difficult to combat. Why not just give up travelling abroad altogether? The fact is that tourism plays a huge role in creating jobs and bringing in money to local economies. Being responsible is a duty of all tour operators, in order to help to create better places to visit, as well as a positive experience for the local people by engaging them in our activities as much as possible.

At Charity Challenge this responsibility begins in transit, by helping to fund projects which fund clean renewable energy sources and improve energy efficiency in some of the countries we visit. More importantly, it helps us to repair some of the damage that we cause to the atmosphere when arranging international flights for our participants.

To read about the projects you can visit ClimateCare’s website, and to find out more about Charity Challenge’s dedication and commitment to making our operations more ‘responsible’, check out our Responsible Tourism pages and download our RT policy. These are soon to be revamped, so watch this space!

Into the Jungle! – Leading the Sumatran Jungle Trek, part 3

Seeing the orangutans is an incredible experience. In Bukit Lawang, you can usually see them near the world famous orangutan rehabilitation centre, however we were extremely lucky to spot ‘wild’ orangutans on Day 5 of our Jungle Trek.

The semi wild orangutans will not stray too far from the feeding platform so you are pretty much guaranteed to spot them there. When it comes to truly wild orangutans however, you will be lucky to catch a glimpse of one in the distance while you trek deeper into the jungle. You will have to be careful to be very quiet and not scare them away! Wild orangutans will stay high in the tree tops, so spotting them takes a lot of patience and a very good eye from your guides!

Into the Jungle we go! Bags packed, re packed and packed again and the three teams with their respective guides Eddy, Iwan and Kinol set off within 15 minutes of each other on their epic journey into the depths of the jungle! An initial tough climb with a surprising amount of steps greets us as we approached the entrance to the Gunung Leuser National Park. It was an extremely humid morning, so the start was tough going, but we were all in great spirits, and rearing to go!

After a morning of trekking we soon discovered this was definitely not a stroll in the park!  Flat ground in the jungle is something of a rarity and for every steep climb there was an equally steep descent. We now understand exactly why Tarzan chose to swing through the trees – it’s a much more efficient way of getting through the jungle, there are far less obstacles up there!

After clambering up and over fallen trees, untangling a foot or two from the cunning and craftily hidden jungle vines,  taking a skip and a hop over the abnormally large tree roots, we finish by swinging from tree to tree as we manoeuvre our way down the extremely steep descent. The jungle was soon testing our mental awareness and strength to the extreme!

Our first experience of lunch in the jungle was a delight for all. A blanket of fern displayed juicy pineapple and passion fruit and ‘nasi goreng’(fried rice with omelette) wrapped in a banana leaf. It was delicious! However, we soon found ourselves ambushed by a gang of ‘Thomas Leaf Monkeys’ or ‘funky monkeys’ as our guides liked to call them. They took a fancy to our lunch and I have to say I can’t blame them, I’d much rather have Nasi Goreng over leaves any day!! The Thomas Leaf Monkeys are very distinctive with their black mohawk hairstyle, they live in female groups of around 6 with one male ringleader. Their population, like most species in the rainforest, is decreasing due to their primary habitat being taken by logging and conversion to oil palm plantations. They are however, protected by Indonesian Law and are incredibly fun to watch!

It was a tough days trek, feeling the effects of jet lag, acclimatising to the humidity and realising that maybe a bit more training, scrambling and step climbing shoud have been in order. The steep climb into camp felt like it lasted forever, with every step seeking for that next branch,  roots or jungle vine to hold onto to ease us down. Part shuffle, part scramble, I think I can safely say we all had a couple of slips and bumps, with a struggle to get back on our feet with the weight of the backpack. I was anxiously scanning the trail hoping that there was enough low lying forest to ease the falls. We were exhausted and just about to throw our toys out the pram at our ‘oh so lovely guides’ through sheer exhaustion when we suddenly see smoke from our camp. We were very pleased to be greeted with hot tea and coffee and biscuits. and quietly welcomed by the sight of a mother orangutan with her baby watching us from across the river. A prefect end to a very tough day!

Next, we bathe in the river and the guides once again triumph with an amazing spread of dishes for our evening meal. Later, whilst sitting under a bamboo frame covered tarp listening to the pouring rain, someone shines their torch through the darkness across the river and into the jungle and for a split second we think we see a pair of shining eyes starring back at us! We turn off our headtorchs, huddle down into our sleeping bags and watch the fireflies go by. We sit in silence listening to the noises of the night and ponder over the days trek, realisation hits that we are here, in the prime jungle, just the 6 of us (and the other two groups maybe just 10 minutes downstream but you would never know!) and our team of guides. I know we are all thinking ‘how do we share this – how can we possibly describe living in the jungle? An experience as Barbara later said to me ’’ hard enough to sort it in my own head and finding almost impossible to explain to others’’.

The silence was soon broken by screams of  ‘blood’!. The Leeches had arrived. The trees were wet from the rain and the Leeches were in their haven – fresh blood had arrived!!

If Jo’s experience in Sumatra has inspired you, check out our Sumatran Jungle Trek here, and subscribe to this blog to hear about what happened next. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, both jungle and not, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Leading the Sumatra Orangutan Jungle Challenge – Part 2 – At the Orangutan Feeding Platform:

The day begins with an early morning rise and a short walk, followed by a canoe crossing to the orangutan feeding platform at 8.30am. Everyone’s doing well to acclimatise to the heat and humidity today, rehydration sachets have quickly become everyone’s best friend!!

The Gunung Leuser National Park is one of the orangutan’s last remaining strongholds, with more than 5000 animals thought to be living in the wild, and our first encounter with the Pongo abelii, ‘the Sumatran Orangutan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumatran_orangutan) was certainly something to remember! The orangutan, the world’s largest arboreal mammal, means “people of the forest” (Orang – people, Hutan – forest) in Indonesian. We’re all tired from climbing the steep slope up to the orangutan feeding platform and paying too much attention to our feet, when suddenly the group comes to an abrupt halt. Being the last one in the group I later discovered  that our path was blocked by a female Orangutan  standing 3ft tall, fists clenched and refusing to move to let us through.

The Sumatran Orangutan Society have devised a set of regulations when visiting the Orangutans in the Gunung Leuser National Park and our first encounter showed us just how important these are. There are many guides who will try to entice the Orangutans with food so they come close to tourists. This actually teaches them to be aggressive if they don’t get what they want!

 It is important to follow the guidelines and listen to the licensed guides at all times. (for more info see our Sumatra Jungle Challenge Q&A’s). All of our guides follow a strict code of no contact with the Orangutans. Some of our guides are also involved with research and conservation projects based in the area and are fully aware of the importance of following conservation guidelines, both to protect the jungle and the indigenous wildlife, but also to set an example to other guides and visitors.

It’s really a memorable experience to watch the orangutans in the tropical rainforest of Gunung Leuser National Park, but these animals need to be protected with care. The Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) are rarer and smaller than their Bornean relatives, who have lighter hair and a longer beard. Today there are approximately only around 6,600 left in the wild, most of them in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. The expansion of oil palm plantations into fragile Eco-systems is the most acute threat to their survival. But also illegal logging and the pet trade add to their declining population.

The purpose of the centre we visited was to rehabilitate orangutans in captivity so they can be released in to the wild again. Rangers teach the orangutans all the necessary skills to survive in the wild. After an intense period of quarantine, readjustment to the natural habitat and reintegration into the (semi-wild) population, the orangutan is released back into the jungle. All orangutans released are still monitored by the rangers and they still provide them with supplementary food at the feeding platform until they become fully self reliant. The Gunung Leuser national Park is also a life support for the people of Bukit Lawang. All Charity Challenge guides are employed by Expedition Jungle who is fully inclusive of the local population. Their viability depends on the knowledge of the people of Bukit Lawang as well as the natural and cultural environment. They also hope that by exposing tourists to the beauty of the rain forest and the current issues they can generate outside support and contribute towards highlighting the plight of Sumatra ‘s rainforests before it is too late!

Part 3 coming soon!

If Jo’s experience in Sumatra has inspired you, check out our Sumatran Jungle Trek here, and subscribe to this blog to hear about what happened next. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, both jungle and not, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Earth Day – Why not make it every day?

I saw a funny picture on the Internet yesterday. It was an immense tornado circling over Kansas just last week. The caption read ‘A new poll suggests the public feels Global Warming is real’.

Considering that fears about drastic climate change due to the overheating of the planet were first expounded by scientists over 100 years ago, how is it possible that ‘The Public’ have only just realised that this theory is very much a reality? Sunday the 22nd of April 2012 (yesterday)  marked the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day, a celebration designed to educate the world’s population (using the catchy slogan ‘Mobilise the Earth) on the catastrophic effects of climate change and global warming. It is now the biggest civic observance in the world, working hard to convince ‘The Public’ to take their heads out of the sand.

The crew at Earth Day are mobilising billions of people across the world to participate in activities and contribute to their ‘Billion Acts of Green’, which is an amazing way for a regular Joe Bloggs to do anything, something, to make a change. But how far does this go? Are people using Earth Day to make themselves feel better about the rest of the year when they don’t cycle to work, don’t eat locally sourced produce and leave the tap running while washing up?

Perhaps instead of assuaging our guilty consciences by recycling for one day, we should take the time to think about the civic attitudes and environmental concerns that sparked off this global movement in the first place. It isn’t enough simply to say that we will ‘take shorter showers’, or, as I saw in one of the Acts of Green, ‘I will not flush the toilet for a day’. Fair enough, the water saved by doing this is pretty good, particularly if you live in a family of 3 or 4 people. But how sustainable is it? Wouldn’t it be better to, say, install a water-efficient showerhead as a more permanent measure, or instead of shortening your shower by 10 minutes for one day, make the conscious effort to shorten it for a minute or two permanently, saving you up to 150 gallons per month. Good for the water bill as well as the earth!

It’s just too easy to see Earth Day as a day where we can say that we are ‘environmentally conscious’. If you can walk to the shops instead of driving for one day, then why not do it every Sunday? Or every day? We can’t get complacent about this. This is especially true within the travel sector, where long-haul flights are massively detrimental to the environment. These flights are, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of running a tour operating business – this is why at Charity Challenge we have linked up with Climate Care to offset the emissions of the international flights of all our participants. By investing in development projects in areas like energy efficiency, renewable energy sources and forest restoration, we at least know that we are contributing something to the damaging effects that flying has on the environment. For more information on Climate Care and carbon offsetting, please click here.

To help foster understanding on the connection between Earth Day and the Charity Challenge mentality, we need to make all of our clients, charity partners and participants see that responsible tourism is not just a marketing fad for us. A good sustainability program can make a real difference to the planet, and most importantly, it really isn’t difficult to do. We source local guides and use locally produced food, which brings jobs and money into the economy in more than just a fleeting way. We strive to ensure that all the local accommodation used is ‘green’ and not wasteful of water, gas or electricity, and for each and every participant travelling with us, we make a donation to a local project or charity in the country they are visiting. These are just some of the things that we do – to read more on how Charity Challenge support Earth Day every day, and what you can do on your travels to contribute, please read the Responsible Tourism section of our website.

So to summarise, the crux of the matter is this – remember those cute but deadly Polar Bear babies in Frozen Planet? Imagine that the Polar ice melts and takes out Greenland in a deluge of water. No more fluffy bears, or Santa Claus for that matter. The weather in the UK turns weird… no wait, that’s happening already… and the price of fuel goes up. Oh, that one did too. All of these things realistically could and in some cases are happening! It may be too late to prevent it, but we need to try.

Join the global movement by visiting www.earthday.org/2012. And don’t stop there. Try to make Earth Day last EVERY day.