I‘m the first to admit I’m not good with nature. I can’t stand dirt, bugs or sweat – and just the thought of building a tent or a campfire has, on occasion, had me in hysterics. The great outdoors is nail-bitingly intimidating for a self confessed, lazy couch potato like myself, so, when Ecoventure invite me on an outdoor adventure with Greenfield Community School, failures from my past camping ventures spring to mind.
I recall the awful time I was spat on by a grumpy camel, who didn’t appreciate me pitching up in his grazing spot, and the painful heel blisters from brand new (never to be used again) hiking boots; not to
mention the horrors of prickly heat and sunburn (I’m a natural redhead). ‘Pull yerself together, Pedder,’ I tell myself bravely. ‘Suck it up in the line of duty.’ Perhaps – just perhaps – this outdoor adventure lark would actually be fun.
Thankfully, when the day dawns, I discover I’m not the only student on the trip whose nature-loving side is nonexistent. As Carla Addink, the camp’s general manager and our team leader, explains, ‘the best comment I’ve heard on one of these trips is, “We have mountains in the UAE?”’ I, at least, know that. In fact, I have on occasion appreciated those majestic landscapes, if only from the comforts of an air-conditioned car.
I’m accompanying classes from Years 6-10, so it’s a noisy two-and-a-half-hour drive to Fujairah where we arrive at the Ecoventure adventure camp in the magically isolated coastal town of Kalba. First up, we’re all introduced to the Ecoventure instructors who chant the mantra ‘It’s great to hydrate!’ and insist, sensibly, we all slap on the factor 100 and sunhats. Divided into groups (the Sausages, the Bacons and the Kittens), we’re then shipped off to different activities, which include beach games, kayaking, fishing, abseiling, trekking and a whole lot more. I tag along with the Bacons for a bit of first-timer kayaking in the mangroves.
Before we fling ourselves into the water, Allard and Daisy (the instructors) give us a short lecture on the mangroves as well as the almost extinct White-Collar King Fisher birds that make their homes here.
Not surprisingly, we don’t come across any, but then, only around 55 exist in the whole world, so we’re not holding our breath. After a few warm-up exercises we select our kayaks and glide into the water, where Allard and Daisy show us the ways of an oar-master and get us all involved in a round of ‘The Swapping Kayaks Game’ (the name says it all). I surprise myself by finding it all pretty easy – unlike some of the others, who seem to have about as much balance between them as a blind, overweight tightrope walker. (Sorry guys – but you know it’s true.) After the hour, we’ve all made considerable improvements – even if it’s just how well we capsize. Tracy Kylao, 14, reckons her favourite part was falling off the kayak. while her friend, Kiwi Olgamorathy, laughs, ‘Even though we didn’t master it, we still had fun!’ I later discover I’ve developed a huge blister on my thumb from all the paddling we’ve done – and proceed to show off my war wound with pride.
We’re all worn out after our tough water workout, so our glorious three-course lunch – chunky homemade vegetable soup, sandwiches and delicious fresh fruits for dessert – can’t come quick enough. I take the opportunity to probe Carla about the motivation behind Ecoventure. ‘Our motto, which we share with all the students who attend our courses, is Plus est en Vous,’ she says, reliably informing me this means ‘there’s more in you than you think’.
‘By the end of the camp, students agree with us after they have successfully conquered the many challenges and have a great sense of achievement,’ she says.
Set up to provide outdoor adventure and field study opportunities for students all across the Gulf region, the outdoor adventure element helps develop key life skills such as communication, teamwork, and self reliance. It’s certainly a lot of fun, not least because of the enthusiastic, passionate and obviously well-qualified instructors who seem to know how to bring out the best in all sorts of kids. I see for myself that the experience is a huge confidence booster. Just half a day into their adventure, some of the quieter students are definitely poking their heads out of their shells and getting stuck in along with the more outgoing characters, which is pleasing to see.
The field study element (the new study centre – the first of its kind in the region – opens this month) is ideal for schools looking to bring their biology, geography and environmental sciences lessons to life, outside the confines of the classroom. ‘Both elements are underpinned by a strong environmental ethos that promotes awareness, conservation, sustainability and energy efficiency,’ says Carla.
After lunch, we fling ourselves into some of the other activities on offer before splitting again into two groups. Some of the hunter-gatherers go off fishing – delighted at the prospect of catching their own supper, while the rest of us enjoy a session of beach games.
Exhausted, we’re transferred to the campsite. ‘I can’t wait to sleep,’ says a weary Zack Lilly. ‘These activities are tiring me out big time. I’d rather be here though than at home with my sister or stuck at school. This is way more fun,’ he adds.
Basic, yet practical, the campsite has a few cabins for teachers and instructors (softies!) which are covered with palm tree leaves and wood to give them that ‘at-one-with-nature look’. There’s also a large Arabic style tent that provides a shaded meeting place for groups to get together.
The students are given only the basic essentials in order to help them explore a different lifestyle – without technology and modern-day comforts. And, unlike their sissy teachers, they sleep in safari tents. Thick, homely mattresses are provided, as well as showers (thank goodness) and that’s about it. But nobody seems to mind the rather rustic setup. ‘It’s the first time that some of these kids have been away from family, so it’s important to ensure they have settled in at the campsite. But besides that we let them do their own thing and putting up their own tents is all part of the experience,’ says Carla.
The camp is bursting with character, helped by regular visits from roaming camels and greedy ostriches which are owned by the Sheikh and happily roam the swamps at leisure. Curious about us human visitors, they’ll come so close that you can actually reach out and touch them. The sheer peace and quiet – and lack of traffic fumes – is captivating. The moody, evening skies and rocky, rural scenery really make you appreciate the beauty of the desert landscape. And without televisions and iPods to plug into, we all get down to some proper socialising. There are lots of impromptu football matches, while others just group together and chill out. After dusk, we gather around campfires and toast our own marshmallows. Heaven!
All in all, my experience in the wilds of Dhaid and Kalba has been positive. I feel I’ve accomplished something and spent my time more productively than usual. I’ve got out in the open and I’ve tried and learned new things in places I never knew existed. I may have broken a few nails, but I’ve certainly gained a new perspective.
Are you interested in an outdoor adventure? Ask your school to contact Ecoventure directly on 04 372 1222 or check the website for more details: www.ecoventureme.com.