By N. Elmôr
On Friday the 26th we (F4s) left for our Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Qualifying Expedition. After three long hours in the bus, we arrived in a small farm in Campos Do Jordão, where we would be spending our first night. It was here that we received our camping equipment: tents, cooking supplies, snake protectors, compasses and maps. As this was our qualifying expedition, we were expected to be quite independent and get things done without the help of teachers or monitors. We set up our tents (with some difficulty but we managed), and as nightfall approached, we began cooking our dinner. On Duke, everyone cooks pretty much the same thing: pasta. This is because it is the easiest, most efficient choice and in addition to that, everyone likes it. Cooking should be quite straight forward: boil the water, put the pasta in, stir and let it cook. However, somehow, we always find a way to mess up, so make sure that: while you stir, hold the pan (as it is very unstable), and when you drain the pasta make sure you don’t let half of it fall on the floor (this happened to the other group). After dinner we had to clean up, and "mysteriously", half of my group was nowhere to be found at this time. So, two or three people ended up having to wash the pan with soap and put the stove away. By the time we were done it was still about 19:30 and we only had to be inside the tents at 21:30, so, we had some free time. To me, personally, going to bed at 22:00 is quite early, but considering we had a long day ahead of us, it was much needed sleep.
At 6am Miss Hunter woke us up. We had a quick breakfast and were taken by two small vans to the start of the trail: there were four walking groups and each group would leave at 20-minute intervals. My group was fairly quick, so we caught up to the group in front of us several times. After experiencing the qualifying trip, I was far better prepared for the hike. I learned from my previous experience to take only the absolute necessary in my backpack to avoid carrying any extra weight. I also knew more or less what to expect in terms of the actual physical hiking part. This trail was very steep, but thankfully we all made it. My motto was: the faster we walk and the less breaks we take, the sooner we'll get there. At a certain point on the trail we stopped, and our monitor instructed us to put our snake protectors on. He told us that on an earlier expedition on this trail they had encountered some snakes; Jararacas. Although, truly, I knew it was very unlikely that we would encounter any snakes (and spoiler: we didn’t).
The first three groups arrived about two hours ahead of schedule, but group four was taking quite a while. We feared that they might have gotten lost, because on the practice expedition, one of the groups did get completely lost due to the rain and had to come back to São Paulo in a different van (but all ended well). To our relief, group four finally arrived and after they were done setting up their tents at the camp site, Miss Hunter took us to see a small waterfall about 5 minutes away. Some of the boys took the opportunity to refresh themselves with the cold water. They encouraged everyone to do the same and every time someone new went in they would shout: “one of us!”. That’s the spirit!
Later on, while I was with my friends in the tent, we saw a shadow above us. We stepped out to investigate and screamed when we saw the huge spider that was on top of the tent. Immediately, Miss Hunter came over and told us to calm down, and without even flinching she took out the spider and we were safe again.
The next morning, we had to wake up at 5:30 so we could get going and arrive in São Paulo as early as possible. The hike wasn’t as steep as the day before, but the trail was very muddy and slippery, hence almost everyone fell. Suddenly, we emerged from the forest onto an open area at the top of one of the mountains. The wind was very aggressive and made it hard to walk, but the view was breath-taking. After about 4 or 5 hours of hiking we finally got to the end of the trail. I assure you that once you get to the end of the trail after an exhausting hike where you were almost certain you were not going to make it, it is the best feeling of accomplishment and gratitude (you’re grateful it’s over and that you survived). We had lunch and headed back to São Paulo.
I’ll be frank if you’ve never gone to Duke: the hike truly is challenging and exhausting, the backpack feels like it weighs a ton, and sleeping in the tent is incredibly uncomfortable. But that's all part of the experience. Thankfully, the landscape is absolutely beautiful, and that alone makes the whole trip worth it. At least so for me, and I whole-heartedly plan to take part in the Silver award, but I know that a lot of people are glad it’s over and don’t plan on doing it again. I’ll admit, I didn't quite like the practice trip, but I actually really enjoyed the qualifying. When you're there it may seem awful, but once your back home, you’ll look back and say, “that wasn’t that bad... it was pretty awesome to be honest”.
Duke is a great opportunity to interact with people in your year group that maybe you don’t really talk to. It’s also always good to get out of your comfort zone. I for one recommend going to duke if you’re up for a challenge! But if you do go and don’t enjoy it, at least you tried!