If you’re a teenager of middle class stock from the suburbs of London, it’s fair to say that you wouldn’t have much of an idea of what a three week expedition, on a tight budget, in a third world country, entails. So to that end, a bit of training to prepare the girls we’re taking out there next summer was very much in order!
As last time we went out there, we’re heading to Tanzania with a company called Wilderness Expertise. A company that specialises in organising overseas expeditions for young people, their tagline ‘developing potential’ sums up their ethos. Their trips are so much more than taking kids out on a jaunt. It’s also about their personal growth and development too, and a ‘mini expedition’ training weekend is very much part of the process.
Now, it goes without saying that we were never going to be able to replicate the conditions we’ll experience out in Tanzania in the brief time frame of three days and two nights in a UK National Park. But it was possible to structure things so as to give them all something of a dry run, and learn some of the skills they would need to employ out there.
Given that their collective travel experiences involved them being chaperoned everywhere by their parents/a tour company/similar, with no need to book, budget, plan, check details or any other number of things that your average traveller does, and you can see already that it’s a learning experience for them. Throw in a need to do things such as learn navigation, camp craft and cooking meals on stoves for not just themselves but 18 others…and well, let’s just say comfort zones were very much left behind!
Part of being stretched and pushed to your limits is to allow mistakes to be made (so long as they never got dangerous). The first major one was their managing to overspend on the food budget for the weekend when we did a ‘food challenge’ supermarket run. Not only that, but definite mistakes were made with the quantity and variety of foodstuffs too.
Once we arrived at the campsite, after a journey in which I did my best to teach the girls some of my native Welsh, we got down to business. Teamwork is key during sessions such as these, and I’m pleased to say that the girls were very good at organising this, pulling together to ensure things got done and that all tasks were divided fairly.
Case in point…the food. With quantity being a little on the thin side, they showed great maturity and responsibility in ensuring that everyone had a fair share, and that dietary requirements and allergies were catered for. Selfishness was nowhere to be seen; selflessness was, and that was heartening indeed.
Perhaps a little less successful was the washing up aspect. Not because of laziness, more because of disorganisation and inexperience. Whilst there was a ‘washing up’ team, their system wasn’t quite as on point as the cooks, and the same seemed to apply when we rotated the teams around to see if other girls could do better. Another thing to learn from!
Tastier than it may look, trust me…
Of course, one big part of the weekend as a whole is the physical challenge of trekking. Our leader from Wilderness Expertise really pushed them by getting them to do back to back treks on each day, with the longest being on the middle day.
Now the Brecon Beacons are renowned for their lush beauty, but they’re equally renowned for the rugged conditions underfoot and the unpredictable weather patterns. There’s a reason why the SAS do training exercises here; and there’s a reason you take teenage girls who are embarking on an expedition to Tanzania out there as well!
They have the natural fitness of youth on their side, yes, but whereas I, for example, have done the UK Three Peaks Challenge, climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and completed the Inca Trail in very wet conditions, their trekking experience is considerably more limited. So when the fog descended and we could barely see in front of us, halfway up the mountainside, the whinging and self-doubt set in.
But, again to their credit, they knuckled down and pulled through, by turns using humour, encouragement and logic puzzles (yes, really) to take their minds off the adversity and make it to the top. It was very cold and blustery at the summit, so the girls gratefully huddled under the emergency blankets we’d brought along. Not an emergency situation, sure, but if it made them happy…
Then, on the way down, the sun came out and we had some glorious views at last!
Before it was time to pack up and go, we did some scenario training – lost person, medical emergencies and, my personal favourite, we acted out a scenario in which our bus had broken down and we had to transfer all our bags on to one that was about to depart in five minutes…and in the middle of it, someone steals one of our bags – and finished up with some reflection.
As expected, they acknowledged that there was room for improvement with budget management, the food shopping and overall organisation. But everyone said they were looking forward to the trip, and when asked what they enjoyed most about the weekend, the most common theme was that they enjoyed getting to know each other better.
Which all bodes well. With camaraderie in place already, the nuts and bolts skills can be developed as we go along, and they will teach themselves and one another this as we go along. There’s still some work to do, but they’re off to a good start.