Cadets and Staff from the Squadron have recently completed an overseas expedition , “Exercise Jinn Badiya” (Desert Witch) to The Sultanate of Oman in the Arabian Pensiular. Following on from previously successful expeditions run by the Squadron to Ecuador in 2004 and Chamonix in 2007, the Squadron was in pursuit of a new challenge that would provide an exclusive experience out of the everyday for the Cadets.
Oman was selected as the destination for its majestic natural environment, offering abundant opportunities for varied adventurous activities, as well as the cultural experience of an Arabic Sultanate. In keeping with the spirit of Cadet150, the program was planned to capture the fun, excitement, adventure and challenge intrinsic to the cadet movement.
In the 11-month run up from initial briefing to the expedition date, the team of thirteen cadets aged between 14 and 18 years worked together to raise the necessary funds for the expedition through bag packs organised at local supermarkets, as well as additional fundraising events including a car wash, boot sale, and a family fun day. The cadets also ran regular cake sales at the Squadron to contribute towards their efforts. Pre-expedition training was implemented to prepare participants for the mental and physical challenge ahead, including hiking trips in the Lake District and Wales, a high ropes course at “Go Ape” and regular fitness training sessions.
Upon arrival at Muscat International Airport, the group met their guides from Muscat Diving and Adventure Centre. That day the cadets were given a presentation and Q&A session by the Environment Society of Oman which proved very informative. To allow the cadets to acclimatise to their new environment, the first couple of days were spent in the city and then out at sea on a traditional dhow boat. From the dhow the cadets enjoyed swimming, snorkeling and sea kayaking on the reef. Some were lucky enough to spot sea turtles while snorkeling. Thankfully no-one succumbed to sea-sickness as the group spent the night on the dhow.
After the first couple of nights in the hotel and on the dhow, every other night of the trip was spent in the wild: camping under the brilliant stars and shining moonlight. Everyone opted to sleep outside under the bright stars of the Milky Way, spotting shooting stars streaking overhead.
The intensity of the activities built up starting with a walk and swim through the picturesque pools and the glowing cave at Wadi Shab, and a relaxing and unforgettable experience at the Raz Al-Jinz turtle reserve observing the stages of the life cycle of green turtles. This was followed by two days of hard trekking through the desert dunes of the expansive Wahiba Sands with camels from the Bedouin. The cadets engaged brilliantly with the Omani guides that accompanied them throughout the trip, and made the most of the chance to learn about each other’s cultures. The group even attempted dining on a traditional Bedouin dinner sans cutlery, sharing a platter between 5 people and eating with their hands, to varying degrees of success!
A day was spent at the awe-inspiring Wadi Bani Khaled, walking through the stunning canyon and swimming through (and cliff-jumping into) the crystal clear blue pools of breathtakingly cool freshwater. That was followed by a few hours on-and-off road driving to the wild camp at the top of Jebel Shams, the highest peak in Oman at 3000m.
The next morning yielded an early start for the start of the eagerly-anticipated adrenaline activities in the capable hands of the technical guides. This included the Giant Abseil – a 200m abseil overlooking a 1000m exposure into Oman’s own Grand Canyon, and a Via Ferrata back to the top. Vertigo only claimed 3 individuals who completed the Balcony Walk instead, visiting a local village where a cadet was unwittingly cajoled into buying a rock from a cunning (and apparently entrepreneurial) local!
The last of the adrenaline-junkie activities took place in Snake Canyon, where 6 people were deemed hardy enough to deal with the challenge of the famed Snake Canyon Via Ferrata 100m off the canyon floor, whilst the rest of the group enjoyed canyoning down below. The trip was rounded off with a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, the third largest in the world, before the cadets were reluctantly despatched onto the return flight back to the UK.
Cpl Chris Raj stated “The trip was actually amazing – all the acitivties we did were just immense – things that we’d probably never get the chance to do in our ordinary lives. The expereince itself was epic with the scenic views of wadis, mountains and sand dunes and all the little awesome things like snorkelling with the sea turtles and the general atmosphere of relaxing and sleeping in the vast desert with the stars above our heads.
The guides were great aswell, James was a great guy when he was with us and really intresting, Havan and Khasib were two of the best people I’ve ever met – they became great friends to all of us and it was such a shame to leave the “cheeky” couple. The dinners the Omanis cooked when we camped were great and the restaurants were lovely (seafood ) and when we all ended up eating with our hands aswell which ended up being a great laugh. I’d like to sincerely thank Michelle for organising the trip which was an experience of a lifetime and opened my eyes to the rest of the world. Thanks too to the other members of staff for their help and ‘entertainment!'”
On returning home, Sergeant Michelle Cheah, exercise co-ordinator for the Squadron said:“It was an emotional end to what was a trip of a lifetime. It was a pleasure to see the cadets grow in confidence and the entire group, both cadets and staff, have taken away great memories to treasure forever.”
The Squadron would also like to thank Loughton Van Hire for its generous sponsorship of the expedition and its continued support of the Squadron http://www.loughton-selfdrive.co.uk/