?? Life-changing experiences on the World Challenge tour to India

On July 24th, 2017, posted in: Culture, Featured, Hiking, Leadership, News, Service by

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World Challenge June 27World Challenge was everything that it promised and more. The tangible excitement from the build-up day just continued to grow until it was barely containable, bubbling inside us all at the airport on our departure day for India.

The group used the long day of flying and travel to continue to become even more comfortable around each other and our leaders, and by the time we arrived at our first destination and accommodation in Fort Kochi, we had an easy and open air around us. Once we were settled, we set out to find a place to eat and of course celebrate Ciara Wray’s 17th birthday that had happened to fall on our first day in India. What a way to spend your birthday! The next days were spent planning and finalising our itinerary and just exploring and getting as much of a feel for the country and its people as we could. We visited beautiful chapels and temples and managed to get some shopping in as well.

On our third day there, we travelled by bus through winding mountain roads (that left most of us feeling a bit ill) to Munnar to begin our 4-day trek through the Western Ghats of Kerala.

Our guides – who really did an amazing job over the course of our trek – frequently stopped throughout our daily hikes to educate us on the different plants, spices and animals that surrounded us as we walked. We were extremely fortunate to have great weather during our trek. World Challenge June 27 1The days were warm and the cloud cover and occasional drizzle helped keep us cool.  The nights were colder, especially because we slept in the tents we learned to pitch ourselves. The group used the trek to bond and by the end of it we felt that we’d been this close-knit for years. It also challenged us physically and mentally to push ourselves and keep going, even when we were tired or thought we weren’t going to be able to continue. We managed to stay strong and got through it at a good pace but unfortunately one of our girls twisted her ankle and only managed to complete the first 2 days of our trek. We had to bid her and Ms Van Wyk farewell as we hiked, but would see them during breaks and, of course, back at camp. She also happened to get a cold sore that wouldn’t quit and got stung by a bee – that had truly come out nowhere- on her cheek. But that didn’t stop Jess from cracking jokes and keeping everyone in good spirits. Nothing could get her down.

The trek also allowed us to see how people in the more rural villages lived and worked and our surroundings gave us the opportunity to reflect on our own lives quietly and discover more about ourselves. Some of the highlights of our hike include hiking to a peak of one of the hills and screaming into the wind that threatened to blow us over, linking arms to stop that from happening, as well as stopping at various village tea shops that we happened to pass. The only real complaint any of us had was the leeches, that quite frankly were more of a nuisance than a true problem. On the last day of our hike, we cooked for our guides and made a proudly South African dish: bunny chow and pancakes. I’m proud to say we were a group of good cooks and the final meal before we left for our project phase went down well with all.

The project phase was just as fun and fulfilling as the trek had been. Our project phase was spent at Aroor Lower Primary School in Haripad. We spent our days levelling the floors, mixing, laying and carrying cement and playing and interacting with the local school children. The work was hard and tiring but we carried on without complaint. We also managed to buy the school a laptop, memory stick, speakers, stationery, posters, tiles for their newly laid floor, and treats for party packs in celebration of Jess Hall’s 16th birthday. The funding for these things was raised by us as a group in the weeks leading up to our trip and I know all our hearts were filled with joy and pride when we saw our finished work and the positive impact it would have on the children. Playing and interacting with the kids was truly humbling and each of us took something different away from the experience.

After the project phase, it was time for us to unwind in Alleppey and after cleverly budgeting during the first 2 phases we had enough money to go kayaking through the Kerala Backwaters. The next day was spent relaxing on a 6-hour trip on a houseboat that picked us up from our beautiful resort that overlooked the backwaters. After the houseboat, we found our Zen with a complimentary yoga class from the resort and swam in the warm pool just a short distance from our rooms before indulging in the hotel buffet. We spent our last day as true tourists would and spent the day shopping in the markets before returning to the resort to pack up and enjoy our final moments in India before our bus would take us back to the airport. The final day of travel was exhausting and we took all available opportunities to make ourselves comfortable enough to fit in a quick snooze, often on the shoulder of another group member.

The trip went by too quickly and in that short period of time we had learnt a lot about ourselves, each other and the people of the South of India. However, none of it would have been possible without Alex Burgin – the expedition leader assigned to us by World Challenge – and our very own Ms. Van Wyk, so a huge thanks to them is in order. As our expedition leaders, they gave us the power to make our own decisions and were the support we needed to properly put our plans into action. They were also just incredibly funny and insightful and made our trip that much better.

We couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to experience this life changing journey with. It was a trip like no other was or ever will be and we were all so lucky to be part of it.

Malikah Gaibi