Duke of Edinburgh Gold Trip: The Meaning of the Journey

IMG_0568“Everyone can touch the top of a mountain, but not everyone can appreciate the journey.” – Flaco

When I signed up for the Duke of Ed gold trip to Colombia, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I knew that I would be completing a five-day hike, along with some service, all in order to reach my final goal of obtaining the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, but I honestly didn’t think that this trip would have much of an impact on my life. I now realize how wrong I was.

This journey began in Bogotá, Colombia, where we spent two days in a poor community building houses for two very special families. The families were renting two small homes but they were having a hard time paying the rent. Both families had recently moved to the area in hope of building a better life for their sons. They explained that by having their own house they would no longer have to worry about paying their rent and would have a stable environment in which they could raise their children. Immediately after meeting these families and hearing their stories, we came to the realization that although building houses might only take us two days, it would change these families’ lives forever.

With that in mind, we mustered up the strength and motivation to work as hard as we possibly could to get the houses finished on time. On the first day of service, we moved all of the extremely heavy materials needed off of a truck and down a dirt road to the construction site. Believe me when I say that this wasn’t easy. Some planks weighed over 100 pounds and there were significantly more than 100 planks to move. Through the pain and hard work, I kept telling myself that our work would change these families’ lives forever.

Throughout the two days, the most incredible thing happened. Family, friends, and people from different parts of the community came to help us in the construction of the houses. Whether they were helping to transport the materials or even just coming out of their houses to offer us water or a place to use the toilet, the entire community was willing to help. This was one of the most special and touching things that I have seen in a very long time. It is rare that you see such genuine kindness from an entire community at once, and it was even more incredible to see this from a community that didn’t have much.

In addition, the families cooked a meal for us both days that we were there in order to show their gratitude and appreciation for what we were doing for them. Once again, I was moved by how these people were willing to give everything that they possibly could to thank us. The strong sense of community was incredible and so beautiful to see and be a part of.

Although we were not able to fully communicate with the families, as they only spoke Spanish, words were not needed for them to express how much all of this meant to them and how important it really was.

It was in the moment where we handed these families the keys to their new houses that we knew for sure that all of our work really was worth it. As they unlocked their houses for the first time and thanked us for making their dreams of having somewhere to raise their children come true, tears of joy ran down their faces and they were overwhelmed with gratitude.  As I was hugging the families goodbye, one of the children ran up to me and jumped into my arms, giving me the biggest hug and a kiss on the cheek. I will never forget that moment because this helped me realize the impact that I was going to have on this child’s life and future.

These families’ lives have now been changed forever and it warms my heart knowing that they can now have a better quality of life and raise their children the way they’d like. This was an incredibly touching and memorable experience that has taught me that even the smallest actions make a big difference. It is so important to be aware of the impact that you can have and take advantage of every opportunity to help others out.


Trek to the Lost City

Being one of the most non-athletic people to ever attend LCC, I was extremely nervous about the hiking component of this trip. The hike began in El Mamey and from there, over the next five days, we made our way to the Lost City, better known as La Ciudad Perdida.

I wasn’t wrong to be nervous about the hike, as it was quite difficult, but it was much more amazing than I ever could have imagined it to be. I was expecting to hike up and hopefully be able to hike back down, but I got much more than just that. From this five-day journey, I was able to make special bonds with some of the most unique people in my grade, and I learned so many life lessons that I will carry with me forever.

When you are in the woods with a small group of people for five days, with nothing but your thoughts and a hiking bag, it is hard to have any boundaries at all. From day one, we had no choice but to let go of any inhibitions and be completely honest and open with the people around us. Personally, I was not able to hike without talking to someone and that was such a gift because it allowed me to form special relationships with all of the incredible people that were on the trip. I spent those five days sharing stories from my life and listening to everyone else’s stories as well. We spoke about our beliefs, our fears, our dreams, and everything in between. Having nothing but each other at the best times and worst times on the hike is what set the foundation for these bonds. I am sincerely hoping that we won’t lose these friendships when we get back home and back into the rhythm of our every day lives. Not having our phones for the five days is the main reason that we were able to create such pure and genuine connections with each other. In addition to this, not having my phone allowed me to appreciate the nature and beautiful world around me. It’s so easy to get consumed by your little rectangular screen without even realizing what is going on. It is so important to put down that screen and appreciate everything  going on around you. Whether it is around nature or simply just to the person sitting next to you, look up once in a while and pay attention to what’s going on. Have a conversation with a real person face to face and create a real connection with a human being or go outside and take a walk and enjoy the beautiful world that we all live in.

As cliché as it may sound, this journey really taught me to believe in myself. It was amazing to see what I could do when I believed in myself and really set my mind to it. At the moments when I was thinking that I couldn’t do it, my body really did start slowing down, and I found myself at my weakest point. It was only once I was able to escape that mindset and start to think that I could do it, that I was able to regain my strength and keep going full force. I found the things that I could do when I believed in myself surprising and amazing and that is something that we all must apply to our lives every day. You can do anything that you set your mind to, as long as you don’t give up, and I was able to learn and experience that first-hand on this trip.

Once the hike was completed we talked with our incredible guides, Natalia and Flaco, about the journey. Flaco said something that really stuck with me, and I don’t think that I will ever be able to let go of what he said. As he was talking about the hike, he said, “Anyone can touch the top of a mountain, but not everyone can appreciate the journey.”  It was not reaching the Lost City at the top of the mountain that made this trip so special, but it was the journey that has had such an impact on my life. The memorable conversations, the bonds formed, the way that I am now able to see the world, have all come from the journey and not from the destination. This does not only apply to the journey of actually hiking a mountain, but it applies to the journey that is our lives. We can’t only focus on whatever it is that we are trying to achieve or whatever goal we are trying to reach, we must focus on the path that takes us there. We must focus on the people that we meet on the way, and appreciate the experiences that we encounter. Our lives are a journey and in order to appreciate them, we all have to stop focusing solely on the destination and start appreciating what is bringing us there. – Isabelle Shtern ’17



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 2012: Peru Expedition Update

March 8, 2012

Upon my return to Peru, I did not know what to expect. I would soon find out that, although many landmarks were familiar to me, I was seeing everything in a completely new light. I was wiser and the shantytowns of Lima didn’t shock me. Rather they incited me to want to get to work immediately!

We spent four days in Las Palmas completing our community service project, which included a new set of stairs, a new fence, a fresh coat of paint and a new roof. By the fourth day, every student had mixed feelings about leaving Las Palmas. Although we may have been filled with excitement with the prospects of beginning the hike in Cusco, we would be leaving behind a community to which we had grown very close.– Emily Tiberi ’12

Five days ago, eighteen LCC students who would work on the service project in Las Palmas flew into the desert city, Lima. With last years experience doing the service project and the Salkantay Trek, I didn’t feel nervous. I was rather excited to see how things had changed over a year.

Every morning, when driving to Las Palmas, I noticed that the poverty levels hadn’t changed. The chaotic way of life and the number of shantytowns stacked on the desert was the same. It seemed as if I had not left Peru last March. When working at the community, the locals treated us with the same respect and warmth they had shown us in 2011. I remembered their names and faces and so did they. Under the scorching heat, we worked on the concrete roof until the very last minute. Today, we fly to Cusco. We are anxious about the hike, but at the same time, excited to walk the same path where Incas and adventurers explored.– Kenya Shatani (Pre-U ’12)

Duke of Edinburgh Adventurous Journey: An Aussie’s POV

November 2, 2011

DukeofEdNominingueCamp Nominingue was the perfect place for this four-day journey filled with hiking, canoeing and an abundance of memories. The beginning of the trip saw a night filled with star gazing and chatting around the campfire. It was agreed that the next four days would be a lovely break from the city and its demanding lifestyle. After a cold night’s sleep, rising to discover the ground covered completely in frost, the layers of clothing began to pile on. Three canoes filled with eight students singing against each other with the winner remaining unclear. Making it to the beach, we had a short hike to the top of a hill, which had a picture quality view of the lake. We later discovered that the group’s weakness manifested itself in the form of Swedish Berries and therefore an impromptu game of “ninja” was always around the corner. Returning back to ‘base’ we proceeded to sit around the campfire, pass the football and really get to know those we were sharing this experience with.

We spent the night playing an enthusiastic game of “spot,” that was nothing less than ridiculously challenging and managed to engage everyone in the student versus teacher style. From there we celebrated Victor’s 15th birthday in a classic campfire style with brownies, marshmallows and hot chocolate around the fire. By now, we had all realized that without our knowledge of “what the present time was,” how irrelevant knowing it at all really was.

Sunday morning, not too long until we would all have to venture back to Montreal, it dawned on all of us how sad leaving this experience would really be. This aside, the next activity on our agenda was hiking, where we hiked to yet another picture-perfect place. This place was different to most with its vegetation being one of a kind.

On returning, we played a whole group football game before heading out on an orienteering course. The orienteering course was difficult, but was enjoyable to say the least. By having infinite time on a skill, we developed abilities that will hopefully develop further and assist us in the future. By this time the group had managed to form a tight bond.

It was sad to realize that the trip was coming to an end, even though by this point a shower seemed pretty attractive. We continued on with a rather unappealing odour; mixed with a brilliant attitude to finish off our last night with what seemed a late bush walk, star gaze and our intense game of spotlight. As Monday came we all packed our bags filled with dirty clothes, packed up our tents, said goodbye to our beloved fire pit and cleaned up our site. We finished with a few team activities that tested our ability to communicate verbally and physically, with a race to the ultimate finish line.

I’d like to thank Mr. Weiland, Mr. Hirtle, Daniel and Ms. Wall for making the trip possible. Finally I’d also like to thank all that were on the trip for making it an extremely enjoyable and a memorable Canadian experience.– Anna Brouwers, New England School for Girls in Armidale, Australia (Anna is an exchange student spending twelve weeks with LCC )