For the third year, students at Nobel International School Algarve in Year 10 completed the Journey of Discovery – an adventure that is fast becoming a rite of passage at the school in Lagoa. Aged just 14 and 15, many of these students had never hiked, trekked or camped before – or spent time away from digital devices. Led by Head of Adventure and Geography teacher Matt Harris, and Head of School Mike Farrer, the group of 32 teenagers completed the 100km trek from Porches to Foia, Monchique, and back.
On this journey, a mental and physical challenge, the average student walked more than 200,000 steps. The group learnt to cook on stoves and developed their competence in camp craft skills, some coming from a complete beginner level. They forged rivers, toasted marshmallow and Nutella cookie sandwiches on the barbecue and they cooked spaghetti bolognaise! Most importantly, many overcame some of their worst fears, whether that was a week without their parents, their phone, TV, solitude, walking 100km, sore feet and muscles. During the penultimate day, the entire group had four hours of complete solitude, when they each read a letter written by their parents and had the chance to respond.
Group leader Matt Harris said: “Each year group handles the journey differently because of the different relationships and dynamics and this year I would say that the biggest part of the journey was how we saw the students manage to communicate with each other on a much deeper level with people that they had previously never spoken to. The absence of mobile phones had a profound effect on them all that was very visible to everyone. What we were hearing was students saying how much they were enjoying just spending time running around with friends, skimming stones, things they hadn´t done since they were little children.
“One of the most rewarding things I overheard was one student talking to another, saying, “At school I thought I really did not like you but on the journey I have found out that you are funny and kind, and now I consider you a true friend.”
Head of School Mike Farrer said, “This particular trip is planned quite carefully to be almost physically and mentally impossible, and we encourage the whole form group to go; many of whom might not be keen on this kind of challenge and many who have very little experience, so you can´t go to that place, near the impossible, without finding things out about yourself. Children come back determined, motivated, clearer about their future ideas and plans – we see immediate positive change. It is also a huge opportunity for the Head of School to get to know some of the students on a much deeper level.”
What happens on the Journey?
Before beginning the journey, students are all trained in First Aid. On the first day, parents and other students wave the group off from school and they walk to the school boarding house for lunch, equipment presentation, team-building activities and camp craft. On Day 2, they walk to Silves to camp by the river and complete problem-solving activities and games. On Day 3, they face the 34km trek with 800 of ascent to the highest point of the Algarve, where they will camp with views of where they have come from and where they are going. They also enjoy a star-gazing period. Day 4 sees the group take down tents, trek off the mountain with some navigation training, and later in the day, at their new camp, they spend time alone writing their diary. On Day 5, they set off for the Barragem and, after more navigation training, have time to swim, skim stones, just relax. On Day 6, they each have time in solitude after breakfast, to read a letter sent to them by their parents. After lunch, they complete an activity in reflection and then sleep under the stars, depending on the weather. The final day sees them take down the tents for the last time, walk to our school in Espiche, and camp in the sports hall and enjoy a pizza night with presentations and a review. They arrive at school the next day to be greeted by their parents, fellow students and teachers – all clapping them back into school.