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Alex’s Kwazulu Adventure was a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity.’

September 12th, 2016

Congratulations to Alex, a member of Monmouth School’s Combined Cadet Force, as he has now completed ‘Exercise Kwazulu – Natal Venturer 2016’. Here is his report on this exciting adventure, which took place in the Summer holidays and, as you will read, this was definitely a once in a lifetime trip;

‘During the summer holidays I, along with 24 other army cadets from across the UK, took part in an expedition in Kwazulu-Natal, an area of North-East South Africa. Our time in South Africa lasted three weeks, between the 3rd and the 23rd of August. In addition to this, there was a predeployment package at Hammersmith Barracks, which began on the 1st of August, and three training events, which each lasted about a week: the initial selection event during the summer half-term last year; the first training exercise later that year in the autumn half-term and the final during the Easter holidays earlier this year. These three training courses all took place in the Lake District.

These training events helped us improve both our individual mountain and leadership skills as well as bringing us closer together as a team. We learnt more advanced first aid and casevac (casualty evacuation) procedures, in addition to general theory on AMS (altitude mountain sickness) and expedition hygiene. These skills were invaluable during our time in South Africa and earnt us a summer mountaineering foundation qualification.

kwazuluip2Our first week in South Africa was spent on Zingela farm in James camp. We were in large two-man tents, with a stone kitchen and canteen. The views were amazing, but not quite on the same level as we would get used to on the mountain trek. This week served as our acclimatisation not only to the weather in South Africa, but more so to the food, which consisted predominantly of maize with lots of spices. We took part in several activities during our stay, including tracking and a game walk. However, the highlight of the week came when we spent a night in a Zulu kraal (homestead). This one night gave us an invaluable insight into the way the Zulu people live and maintain their traditions and way of life while still accepting modern western culture. I found this an incredible experience that will stay with me forever and has given me a new perspective on life.

Our second week was our mountain trek through the Drakensberg. There were also two other groups: one did a walk between Zulu villages, staying in them overnight, while the other did a canoe expedition down the Tugela river. Due to adverse climatic conditions, our expedition covered around 50km at altitudes between 1700m and 3050m above sea level. The main issue we faced was therefore altitude sickness (AMS), which meant that we couldn’t cover the distances we’d previously hoped to. In addition to this, we were unsupported, carrying all of our kit for the 5 days. This included spare clothing, tents, stoves and food, which came to just over 20kg. However, we still managed to reach the peak of the highest of the Devil’s Knuckles on our third day, which was quite an achievement. While temperatures were hot during the day (25°C) it dropped to -12°C at night. We survived though, in my case thanks to support from the Old Monmothians, CCFA and the Welsh Reserves and Cadet Force Organisation who helped fund my vital kit.

From the expedition, we travelled for a few hours up to Elandsheim, where we stayed for several days during our battlefields tour. This mainly centred on Rorke’s Drift and the battle of Isandlwana, which were the first of the major battles in the Anglo-Zulu war. While many people have heard of Rorke’s Drift, the battle of Isandlwana, which preceded and in some ways contributed to the occurrence of the battle at Rorke’s Drift, remains a mystery to many. There was enormous loss of life on both sides at the Battle of Isandlwana and it became the first occasion on which Victoria Crosses were awarded posthumously.

kwazuluip1The final part of our trip focused on the wildlife in that part of South Africa, most of which is endangered. This involved an eight hour safari and an insight into wildlife conservation. The safari brought four of the big five; we saw wildebeest, lion, elephant and white rhino, but couldn’t find any leopard unfortunately. This was a tremendous experience as many of the species we saw in the wild are highly endangered and under threat from poaching, so may only exist in zoos in the near future. Following this, we visited a crocodile centre and took a river trip to see wild hippo, as well as giant heron, giant kingfisher and wild crocodiles.

Overall, I feel as though this has been a once in a lifetime opportunity: the experience of the trek and the Zulu culture in particular. It was an extremely well organised trip and was also made possible through the very generous support of:

The Old Monmothians
Welsh Reserves and Cadet Force Organisation

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