The group had been very busy prior to the trip trying to decide which activities to undertake for their Gold award and finding the organisation with the best offer. This is because at Gold level, IA participants have the luxury of choosing their own destiny and to decide what type of sports they would like to do during the trip.
Almost every member of this great group of young people thought it would be best to spend half the trip in a kayak and the other two days on a mountain bike on the beautiful South Chinese Island. This meant they had to practice these two outdoor activities first in and around Shanghai. Mr Hitchings gave them a kayak course aimed at surviving when under water upside down and we travelled to Suzhou to do some serious mountain biking around Taihu lake with the support of Mr Hill.
Unfortunately there were very heavy rains in and around Hainan while we were enjoying lovely weather in Suzhou. Because of the serious rainfall over the previous weeks, all rivers were flooded and they became too wild and dangerous to travel in any boat, let alone a kayak. This forced us to do three days of mountain biking and spend the fourth day in a bay, where kayaking would still be tough but without the fear of getting into extremely dangerous situations.
After the first night camping on a beach and after having been given instructions on navigation for the following day using GPS, Google Maps and a compass for the utmost reliability, the first group set out for their adventure at around 9am, an hour later than planned. That’s when the exciting experiences started, the first being punctured tires! Later that day when we reached mountainous areas the views and villages left an unforgettable impression on us all.
The biggest challenge from the moment we started was definitely the heat. The temperature probably never dropped below thirty degrees, even at night, encouraging some people to sleep outside their tents. To stop ourselves dehydrating we drank plenty of water: the group must have finished about five big water drums a day, including water used to cook, mostly for pasta, but some also treated themselves with a bit of soup or rice. But variety is not the most important thing on these trips: all cooking groups made healthy and nutritious meals to make sure they would build up enough energy to be ready for another 50 to 60km of cycling the next day.
You could easily tell the majority of the group had been on previous IA trips as they had developed all the skills they needed for a successful journey over the past few years. Everything from packing to cooking, taking care of the environment and planning the next day’s trip as a group was well thought out. On top of this, both groups worked together as a team extremely well, one of the most important aspects of the Adventurous Journey. They also learned new skills: fixing punctured inner tubes, talking to locals to point out the right direction and how to properly use the gears on a mountain bike!
After three days of cycling through beautiful Hainan hills and countryside, most of us felt ready for a different activity. The beach and bay of Houhai near Sanya offered a perfect spot to go kayaking. The previous night we slept on the beach once more, but this time there was an unforeseen reveille in the middle of the night. Lightning was all around us, but luckily thunder never came. It did rain though, which made us put our outer tents up that were left off at first because of the heat. The clouds stayed and therefore the last day was not as nice as previous days. It didn’t stop us from kayaking, which turned out to be far more exhausting than the kayaking we had done in our school pool!
After having explored Houhai bay in tandem kayaks we had to get prepared for our voyage back to Shanghai. We all had a nice shower and put on our final set of dry and clean clothes. On the bus back to the airport we realised how lucky we had been with the sunny weather: the streets were now flooding due to heavy rains in the north of the island. Eventually to complete the list of challenges our patience was tested by a delayed flight: thanks to a big fast food chain at the airport this challenge was also easily overcome!
- Job Mager, International Award Co-ordinator