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Leo’s Experience Reconnecting with What Really Matters on Expedition

Before embarking on his seven-week Expedition to South Africa as part of Raleigh’s Cycle 1 groups in February 2024, 18-year-old Leo planned to travel the world on his gap year. Raleigh was the perfect fit for the adventure-fueled year he was chasing and, fortunately for Leo, he had it on good authority that the trip would be worthwhile.

Why I Decided to Do Raleigh

“My mum did a Raleigh Expedition when she was younger. It was a 6-month Expedition in Costa Rica.”

“Then my older brother did a Raleigh Expedition in Nepal, which he really enjoyed… When he came home, we could all feel that he grew in a way.”

Keeping it in the family, Leo decided to follow in his mother and brother’s footsteps and signed up for his Raleigh Expedition.

The vibrant culture of South Africa drew Leo in. He also wanted to incorporate his passion for fitness and long walks into his gap year plans, which made the South Africa Expedition, with a breathtaking trek through Drakensberg, all the more appealing.

“Everyone is just really nice and I wanted to be in that culture. Even though I am only doing Environment, I still feel it every day. The people who are local here, who are working with us, even when we just drive past people on the road, they want to talk to us. Everyone is so cool.”

Leo’s Experience

Leo signed up for a shorter seven-week Expedition to save energy for the rest of his travel plans.

“Our group is amazing… I think a lot of that has to do with the personalities that people come here with. Whenever someone does something a bit silly, we check ourselves and laugh at ourselves. Everyone is very close and that means that everyone wants to be fun and enjoy our time together.”

Seven-week Expeditions include two full phases: a Community or Environmental project and an Adventure Leadership Trek. For Leo’s Expedition, he was assigned the Environmental project.

“They both seemed so cool. I didn’t realise that for Environment there would be animals in the camp. I thought they might be there but didn’t realise we were going to be living with them… I love animals. I feel like coming on the environment cycle has re-ignited the love for them that I had when I was younger.”

“My favourite activity that we have done is tracking. I thought it was so cool… Sometimes it would be animal dung, sometimes literal tracks. I was blown away by how obvious it was once it got explained. But other times, I just completely missed it. We did a full morning of learning and then we did a test in the afternoon. I think tracking is awesome!”

For the Environmental project, Leo and his fellow Venturers worked on revitalising the local ecosystem.

“We are getting rid of the Mumpani Trees, and when you realise which ones are the Mumpani Trees, you see them everywhere! It results in other species of plants and trees not being able to grow – they become an invasive species. They are native, but they are growing everywhere, so you need to get rid of them to encourage biodiversity. There shouldn’t be as many trees here as there are. The main idea is the restoration of balance.”

The team also gathered soil samples to measure its PH and fertility and the impacts of a nearby mine.

“Those results get sent to a university here in South Africa. (It’s) important because the mines are nearby, and that can mess with the soil a lot.”

“It’s sad that the mine is this nearby. There’s an amazing view that you get to see at the top of the Sawong region, and when you look past all the trees, you can see this manmade hill, which is the mine. There are noises that are unnatural coming from the mines. It’s weird because you get used to there being no noises and suddenly, you can hear drilling going on. It’s not fun seeing all the beautiful stuff around us and then knowing there’s a mine nearby.”

My Highlights on Expedition

Leo’s time in South Africa brought him closer to nature and allowed him to have extraordinary encounters with local wildlife, including a bull elephant. The time away from modern distractions also gave Leo time to reflect on what is important to him.

“The craziest thing I’ve seen is an elephant bull in musth… I love being exposed to the elements – it is so different. Taking away all the stuff we don’t need, we are back to basics. Even then, we still have so much, we have running water, we have plenty of food, we can cook the food (I mean it’s beans every day but it’s something!) We don’t have to go hunting! We have cars, tents… even though we are out there we are still so lucky to be able to do this in relative comfort. At the same time being in a new uncomfortable environment.”

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