Duke of Ed Gold Trip Colombia: Day One of the Hike

 

DoEGold_Colombia2016_Hike_DayOneAs soon as we finished our acclimatization hike, I knew that the real hike to the páramo would be the hardest thing that some of us had ever done. For those of you who don’t know what the páramo is (and I can’t imagine that most of you do), the páramo is a mountainous range near Mongui, a small village approximately 4 hours from Bogotá. What makes this place so special is that the páramo’s ecosystem is so delicate that there are only a select number of people permitted to hike in the region, let alone camp there for two nights. According to our guides, most Colombians don’t even visit this remote area of the country.

Almost exclusively uphill, and on rocky terrain, hiking had never been harder. With about 40 pounds on each of our backs, today was the hardest day of our trip to Colombia. As cliché as it sounds, the views were worth the effort of hiking for hours in the ever-changing weather of the mountains. While the hike itself was physically strenuous, it was more of a mental journey. Getting over the next hill and breathing enough to make it was all I could think about.

On a more personal note, this trip was already changing the way I think about a lot of things, but it was really in the middle of hiking at a high altitude with what felt like no oxygen that I realized that I made a good decision to visit Colombia. I have never experienced anything like this trip. The anxiety I felt before starting had almost completely cleared up thanks to our amazing doctor, Esteban. If it weren’t for him, our guides and the teachers on this trip, I don’t think I could’ve made it to our destination. The ache in my back and lungs, the dirt on my face and the altitude-induced headaches will never compare to the feeling of accomplishment after climbing the páramo. – Christina Papageorgakopoulos ’16

Duke of Ed Gold Trip to Colombia: Acclimatization Hike

DoEGold_AccimatizationHike_Mar2016Leaving the small town of Mongui, we all felt quite nervous about what lay ahead. The hike we were about to embark on was not going to be easy and that was made very clear from the beginning. Living at sea level in Montreal and climbing to an outstanding 3,200 meters would bring the expression “physically draining” to a new level. Many of us didn’t know what to expect and I can speak for the majority when I say we were all surprised.

The hike consisted of extensive segments of uphill trekking with minimal flats to regain our energy. Considering the drastic change in altitude, we all felt out of breath very quickly. After the first 15 minutes we knew what was in store for the next three hours.

Having 19 other peers at my side provided a sense of comfort as well as support throughout the hike. In my opinion, the practice hike was the first real bonding experience of the trip. Everyone felt the same way and we knew that all we had to do was keep encouraging one another.

Arriving at the top we were quick to take a seat and enjoy the view. After many pictures, snacks and applications of sunscreen we were ready to head back down and enjoy lunch. Many memories and jokes were formed on our descent. From where we ate lunch it took us around an hour to head back to our hotel in the centre of town. We were overcome with a profound sense of self-accomplishment and excitement when the main square was in site. Having pain in our legs, slight sunburns, and blisters, we had accomplished something we had all been dreading, together. –Viv Tellier ’17

The Reward of Service

2015_2016_DoEGoldTrip_BuildHouses_Mar2016As part of the Duke of Ed Gold Trip to Colombia we had the opportunity to build houses for two families in need. Before arriving at our destination, we had no idea what to expect. We were told that we were going to a very poor area near Bogotá and would even require military escort to bring us there. When we finally arrived, this could not have been further form the truth. Instead of the rundown and dangerous area that we imagined, we discovered simple, sparse homes in the country with beautiful views and great weather.

During the building and painting of the houses, one of the relatives of the families that we were helping invited us into their home for a delicious lunch of sancocho, a Colombian stew. We soon learned that whatever wealth they lacked was made up for with kindness, pride, and happiness.

When we finally finished the houses we received big “thank yous” and even saw some of the members break into tears of gratitude and joy for all that we had done. At the end of the day we felt truly humbled. We saw first hand the impact that an act of charity could bring to others, and we all felt very grateful that we were given the opportunity to do the work and make the difference that we had made. If the opportunity presented itself again, I know that we all would have built the houses a thousand times over.
–Louis de Gaspé Beaubien ’16

Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award: Reaching New Heights in the Atlas Mountains

DoE_Gold_AtlasMtns2015_04Five immensely long and satisfying days went by. There are so many words to describe these last few days, it is virtually impossible. But Mr. Salkeld insisted that this blog be written, so feast away at the concoction of anecdotes.

On our first day, we drove at the crack of dawn to the Atlas Mountains. What was once an ominous outline in the horizon reminding us of our faith was now getting closer on the Marrakech road. On the drive through the mountains to our starting point, we were all full of anticipation; for most of us this would be our first hiking trip. After we unloaded from our vans, we met the people who would be accompanying us, as well as our furry friends, the mules. While at first the guides insisted that we let the mules carry our packs, a firm head-shaking from Mr. Salkeld was all that was needed to let us know that we would be the mules on this trip. At the starting point, we were greeted with refreshing Moroccan mint tea and cookies. We began our hike going uphill, through a small village, and were greeted with waves and smiles from the Berber children. The hospitality encountered at the beginning of the trek continued throughout the excursion.

Walking uphill on the first path was quite a shock to some people. I was personally and particularly affected by it and started getting nervous that the entire hike would be as demanding as the beginning. But after some words of wisdom from Mr. Maurice on pacing myself and finding a rhythm to walk to, I found that with each day it took much more to make me tired. As we made it to the top of the mountain, we got a chance to see the diverse terrain of Morocco. Spread throughout the Atlas Mountains, we saw everything from snow patches to green forests and red mineral soil.

At the arrival of our first meal in the mountain, there was a carpet and long, thin cushions laid out for us to sit on, as well as some mint tea. The Berber men accompanying us on our hike had prepared a feast for us. An assortment of Moroccan salads, fresh baked bread, and the meatball tagine they prepared for us was greatly appreciated and devoured by everyone. For dessert, there was a plate of fruit with the sweetest oranges most of us had ever tasted. After this meal and rest, I had a newfound love for hiking. No meal and momentary rest had ever felt so satisfying.

For our first night, we stayed at a simple Berber house equipped with mostly just the essentials. We ate couscous with chicken and vegetables that the Berber men prepared for us. They then entertained us with some traditional Berber music, filled with drums and their Berber chants. We listened and clapped along to the first song, but were then quickly ushered to the dance floor. We learned the traditional dances and this little party helped warm us up for the cold Atlas night.

In the morning, we woke to the sounds of roosters and prayer calls. We had our breakfast consisting of Moroccan breads, M’semn (Moroccan crepes), jams and honey, and fresh omelettes. The second day of the hike was the longest and the most demanding. We hiked uphill through hot mountain forests and over slippery trails of snow and ice, with the blazing sun keeping us warm.

Although it was the most demanding day, we saw incredible views of the villages in the valleys, as well as the fields with intricate irrigation systems similar to that of Machu Picchu. In addition, we saw a half-frozen waterfall in the mountains and walked through the village in the valley, seeing all of the barns where the goats and sheep are kept.

After lunch, we looked in the distance and one of our hiking guides, Hassan, pointed out where our final destination was; a small village in the distance at the bottom of the mountain we had just trekked. As we were walking towards the village, the downhill trek seemed never ending and the village appeared to be getting smaller, which was alarming to many of us. It took us the entire afternoon until nightfall to reach the village. We walked the streets of the valley village at night hearing the sounds of families in their homes, as they were preparing meals and watching Arabic television.

We arrived at a Riad, which was an immense improvement over the simple Berber house. The decoration in the Riad was intricate and more extravagant. We sat in the Moroccan salon, drank tea, and rested before going to our rooms. Our rooms had warm beds and we had proper showers as well (although it took a couple of hours to fix the hot water). It was very fitting to have our most comfortable sleeping arrangements after our hardest hike.

The hikes for the following three days were mostly downhill and much more pleasurable. We walked on the tight roads on the mountains, and occasionally a truck or a motorcycle would drive by and would always wave and yell greetings to our hiking guides. It made me a little envious to know that they grew up in such small villages. Everyone was so nice to each other and there was always a sense of community. We saw women share the workload, while listening to some traditional Berber music on their phones or radios. They took turns bringing firewood, washing clothing, and cooking. Some did all of this while having a child on her back, wrapped with a scarf.

We listened to more enthusiastic drumming and chants the other nights and danced after eating delicious homemade Moroccan food. Hassan and Mohammed (our hiking guides) took us to visit a Berber home. The home was very simply designed, containing mostly the essentials. There were light bulbs, a kitchen, television, and Moroccan-style seating area. These areas are made to accommodate many guests at a time because hospitality is a very important part of the culture. We sat in the living room with a long sofa outlining the room leaving the centre an open area for coffee tables and walking.

On the last evening, Ms. Owen and a handful of us got a chance to play with the village children outside. They had just finished school and we saw all of them run to their homes to throw down their backpacks so that they could play outside (something I found very relatable). This was one of the most rewarding things we got to do because we learned many Berber children songs and got close with many of the kids. They taught us some of their games and we showed them some of ours. They were very enthusiastic, cute, and respectful. At around 7:30 pm their mothers stood outside their homes and called the children in one at a time for supper. The village streets, which were full of laughter and shouts, quickly became empty. This was our cue to go back inside to eat our own supper. (Shout out to Loubna and Hakim and the other Berber kids). It was very difficult saying goodbye to them the next morning, but we said farewell with tight hugs and smiles.

Although the trip was physically demanding, the hospitality and kindness of the Berber people made it worthwhile. It even felt like the Atlas Mountains themselves were welcoming us into their vast scenery. (Shout out to Hassan and Mohammed for being amazing hiking guides and the whole hiking crew and the family who let us visit their Berber home.)

Choukran to you all,

Nora Althani ’15 on behalf of the Duke of Edinburgh Crew 2015

Duke of Ed Gold Trip 2014: Camaraderie, Collaboration and Cooperation

2013_14_DukeEdGold_CostaRica_092I can honestly say that the Duke of Ed Gold trip to Costa Rica was one of the best experiences of my life. I got to push my limits, I learned how much I was capable of leaving my comfort zone, I made some awesome new friends and participated in so many incredible activities that I never dreamed I could really do.

 

After a very early start, I mean a 4:00 am start; we arrived in San Jose in the early afternoon, I was quite tired. I perked up though that evening, when I discovered a scorpion in my hotel room, an unnerving intro to Costa Rica!

 

Our adventure began in earnest the next day with a five day hike. This was grueling and intense. We hiked for a couple of hours a day in various degrees of difficulty. We climbed over massive rocks, hiked up monster hills all in the unbearable heat. While the hike was difficult, we got to enjoy the fantastic and beautiful landscape and scenery. There were waterfalls; the sky was as blue as can be, and we were surrounded by incredible and unspoiled nature. During the duration of the hike, we stayed in tents, which was an interesting experience. We really got to embrace nature.

 

Once the hike was over, I felt relief but I was also proud that I persevered and endured the trek. After the hike, it was time for adventurous activities. We stayed at a lodge for a few days where I learned that life could be simple, uncomplicated but happy. The lodge didn’t have any doors or windows, and any insect and animal was free to come in, and they did! We learned to make chocolate out of coco beans and we got to live among turkeys and roosters that would wake us up at 5 am every morning.

 

I even mustered the courage to rappel down an 85-foot cliff. As well, during our time at the lodge, we helped to build a special garden shelter. We cut bamboo from the forest, and we had to transport it down a hill and across a river back to the lodge. That in itself was an adventure. But I think what made this trip extraordinarily special was the camaraderie, collaboration and cooperation within our group and the great support with and encouragement from the teachers who accompanied us.

 

 

It was an amazing journey, where I got to discover a lot about myself. I shelved my comfort zone and I took risks, and I ended up having experiences that I will never, ever forget. – Jennifer Ben-Menashe ’14

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