This years practice International Award expedition happened last weekend, in Morazan. Thirteen grade nine candidates left Perquin Lenca in fine spirits on Saturday morning, looking clean and shiney for the last time in three days. They had a lot of walking to do, they were determined to get it out of the way before the main heat of the day; so the weekend began at 6am.
The route followed was different from last year in the group planned to wild camp near a previously observed river in the shadow of the cliff-edged Cerro Crucita, and a solid mornings hike was required in order to get there in good time. The candidates struggled to get used to making all the decisions on their own while operating as a team. Early mistakes included some students marching off in differing directions, or stopping to painstakingly re-calculate their position every 5 metres. Team alpha arrived at the lunch spot early and had a full hour long lunch which included a 25 minute nap, which was regrettably cut short by the discovery of a large spider in the middle of the picnic circle. This was later identified to be a horse spider, a kind of tarantula which according to El Salvador legend spins deadly webs which can harm horses hooves.
A marvelous campsite was found in a shady valley full of pine trees where two small rivers broadened into rock pools into which students and some teachers plunged into with delight once the camp was made ready. The threatened rains never arrived that day and in the evening a de-briefing was held around a flickering camp fire, undisturbed by the last flights of parrots, and the whispering wind in the pine needles. Our guides spoke to us of many things pertaining to the area, including the history of the lenca people, whose language and culture is almost totally lost. Candidates reflected on what they had learned that day, including the importance of packing only what you need, and then remembering how hard it can be to carry it.
In the morning the groups began the descent to the Rio Sapo, determined to learn from their experiences on the first day and the two teams pulled together in a way that impressed all of the teachers greatly. Candidates discovered in themselves new resources and energy for actions of leadership, improvisation and on-the-spot judgement. Team bravo marched to the rallying cry of “Adventure!” and team alpha made record time. The difficult part was finding a safe way down, and dealing with the rising heat of the river valley which took its sweaty toll as the sun hovered around it’s zenith. Finally Team bravo reunited with Team alpha after crossing the Rio Guaco and camp began in earnest. Great relief was expressed all around. In the words of one smiling but damp candidate, ‘he was so happy that he slipped on a rock and face-planted in the Rio Sapo’.
Once tents were safely up and the comfort of the night guaranteed, a river swimming party began in earnest and this was enjoyed so enthusiastically that a 1.5 hr hike to a waterfall was voted for, culminating in a second swim of the day in a plunging pool which was described by one candidate as ‘one of the most beautiful things that she had ever seen’. In the evening our luck wavered as the rains came down and candidates took to their tents, relying on their survival skills, resourcefulness and the all-important rock 3 north face mountain tents to see them through the night. The night was tempestuous and alternated between oppressive heat, wild lashing rains, and batterings of flying insects which bounced off of heads and even invaded cooking pots. Everyone agreed that the wild campsite on the lonely Cerro Crucita had been more favourable, but noone complained too much.
In the morning the group reflected sadly on the lack of awareness in El Salvador about the aesthetic and ecological implications of dropping litter and an effort was made to clean up the campsite and leave the trails clearer of plastic items dropped by other walkers. The groups marched in perfect unison, feeling confident that they were almost through and that they knew how to handle anything the morning could throw at them. When the bus was seen waiting at the Rio Sapo bridge emotions were stirred and a ragged cheer was heard at the front. This was obviously too much for one of the teachers who fell onto the rocky shore and was later seen boarding the bus in a handsome set of fresh bandages.
The trip was a huge success and thanks to all involved. Several candidates expressed that it had been the ‘best trip ever!’ What’s next for the international award team? The final expedition, at the end of this month...Watch this space!