Bolivia Training Weekend 1

I think the first training weekend for the 2017 Bolivia expedition could fundamentally be described in a few short words: wet, cold and great fun.
A wrath of storm clouds drew in over St Mary’s Loch as the newly selected and somewhat apprehensive venturers (and leaders) gathered at Cappercleuch Village Hall on Friday evening. Dragging rucksacks half our body weight we were welcomed warmly as friendships were instantaneously established and bonds made.
Firstly: a quick briefing on what to expect over the coming days and then to kick off events with ‘pub’ quiz. Following this everyone was given the opportunity to show off their artistic abilities in the task of designing the team’s expedition logo to be voted on at a later date. Then set into small groups to combine our perhaps shaky knowledge on Bolivia (slightly aided by a few travel guides and manuals).
Several cups of tea and hot chocolates later we started to get ready for bed, setting up camp in the hall, we all squashed in quite nicely for lights out at 11 o’clock.
6.30 Saturday morning and the lucky breakfast team begin to peel themselves away from the lukewarm comfort of their sleeping bags, by 7.00 we are all up, getting dressed and packing/squashing sleeping bags back into rucksacks. The smell of bacon pouring out of the kitchen in barrel loads. Though there was a slight problem; we’d ran out of water. The hall wasn’t connected to the mains and so was reliant on a small stream feeding the loch that supplies the building in mere feeble doses, our ablutions ran it dry.

Beautiful views, lulling us into false security about the weekend weather…

Anyway, after a lovely breakfast we were divided into three groups to partake in three different activities. One of which was related to fitness and involved measuring our heart rates across various different exercises and considering the steps to be taken for improving our individual physical health before the final expedition. Another involved awareness of health and safety for when finally in Bolivia, giving us a briefing on our well-being and personal hygiene. And the third gave us some extremely beneficial advice on packing and equipment.
Then, in our groups we were given a map, a compass and a final destination and with much trepidation we set out along the route to make it to base camp. True to Scottish tradition, as soon as we left the hall it started raining and it didn’t stop. Along the way we encountered some breath taking views of the hills and loch(if not slightly obscured by clouds) and the picture postcard Dryhope Tower some miles down the line. As we pressed on up into the hills the rain became heavier and a thick mist set in. On the final stretch we found ourselves lost in the fog of the Heather, as if from the pages of a Bronte novel, the trying conditions only brought us together as a team and we persevered on towards camp.
As we neared we were all greeted with warm smiles and cheers from the teams already there. What came next was possibly the most challenging aspect of the entire experience: putting up tents in the rain…Some time later we have managed to have assembled what loosely resembled a base camp.
Running for the shelter of the trees we get out the tranjias and cooking equipment and threw together a fairly decent three course meal (cuppa soup,  vegetable pasta and fruit pie and custard-can’t complain really!). On our way back to the tents we battled not on the elements but also an army of midges(who were out in full force and were in no way remorseful!) The weather had us defeated, we’d given up on the hope of a camp fire and any form of group activity and so retired to our tents desperately trying to keep dry.
Some time later from outside the tents we hear the best news we’ve heard all day;
“ The rain is getting to 0much, cars are coming, we are going back to the hall, be ready in 10 minutes”.
Suddenly the energy in camp was immense and the excitement almost tangible. Throwing anything and everything into our rucksacks we left camp and thundered on up the road, racing to be the first to meet the cars. The rain continued to besiege the landscape though it was unable to dampen the spirits of the now united B.E.G team. We continued along the road showcasing our fantastic vocals and musical talent until at last we met the cars, the leaders taking sympathy for a select few who were seemingly under dressed and under prepared for the conditions and chose us to pile into the back of the first land rover and return us safely back to the hall.
As everyone, soaking, arrived back at the hall it was evident that the washout had some how brought us all together as a team, something had changed, the rain almost seemed to have a catalytic effect on our morale and on our relationships, everyone was laughing and getting on as one unit and the atmosphere of the evening was simply great.
Hanging our saturated belongings on chairs at the back of the hall we all warmed up around mugs of tea and coffee and headed to bed for one final night in the hall.
Sunday morning, we woke up astonished to see a million bright ambassadors pouring in through the windows on sunlight wings. To combat the scarcity of water, a few of us ventured down to the loch side to collect some in buckets.

St Mary’s Loch giving us a great backdrop to the first training weekend.

After breakfast the team divided, half of us travelling back to Saturday’s ‘base camp’ to collect the tents and the rest of us remaining at the hall to prepare lunch for everyone with the left over ingredients from last night’s feast. Those of us who remained at the hall took part in a small scavenger hunt around the site and a competition to come up with a poem either about our experiences of the training weekend or about Bolivia. After that we got lunch going and began to tidy up the hall. The other half of the team arrived back with all the equipment that had been abandoned in the rain and we all sat down to our final meal of vegetable pasta.
Packed up and tidied away, there was a final discussion on fundraising, the expedition, future training weekends , highs and lows an all that’s to come.
So that’s it. We headed home, many of us sad to leave our new friends, all of us looking forward to the next time and all of us that little bit more uplifted and in some way all of us a little bit more self assured.
It was a fantastic experience for all of us and precisely what the team needed-it certainly kicked things off with a bang!

(Almost) all of the 2017 expedition team!

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