Yesterday I said goodbye to Kay for a month. She is off on an expedition to Central America - a month-long trek through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico - struggling up live volcanoes with a 20 kilogram backpack, trekking through tropical rainforests, clambering over Mayan ruins.
She is going with fifteen schoolfriends, two teachers and the expedition leader (who is employed by the organisation they are travelling with). It is a bit like the Duke of Edinburgh award only more demanding. The "rules" of the project have dictated that Kay has had to finance some of the trip herself, so for part of this exam-stressed year she has also been holding down a part-time supermarket job to earn the money- with what it cost, I reckon it would have been enough instead to buy a set of driving lessons and a second-hand car thrown in. I have also been beavering away, selling superfluous household stuff (old toys, clothes too small, ornaments never used) on ebay to help raise the funds. There has been babysitting, cake sales at school, sponsored fun runs and car-washing done by all the girls involved to raise more for the group fund. Kay has collaborated with her friends to work out the route, the sort of community work they will undertake once there (choices ranging from painting an orphanage or school to preserving dwindling numbers of loggerhead turtles) and how to manage the budget that they will need to live on. The teachers are purely there to ensure safety but will otherwise take a back seat. All decisions on the route, the transport, the food and the guides they take on along the way are down to the girls who will take it in turn daily to lead the group or be part of the team. It will be exciting, but full of risk and often exhausting. They will sleep in their quickly assembled tents in the jungle or in hostels when in towns. In an emergency they have a special piece of equipment that will alert an RAF station in the North of Scotland, so that arrangements can be made for helicopters to be scrambled.
She has looked forward to it for months, but just this last week she has been getting increasingly nervous and tearful, dreading the fact that she will be away from me for a whole month and more importantly out of mobile phone contact too ( they were told not to take mobile phones as there is nowhere to charge the phone up in the jungle and that is assuming you even get a signal at all). As yesterday drew nearer, she became paler and sicker, unable to swallow anything but the smallest glass of water. She was just worried she might get homesick and be all those hundreds of miles from home and away from civilisation, with only tarantulas and leeches to comfort her. Yet she still wanted to go as it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She has only just turned 17 and is the baby of the group, whereas most of her friends are soon to turn 18 in a month or two. I had to harden my heart, put on a big smile from ear to ear and tell her she would be fine.... once she was out there, she would have a great time with her friends and either be so tired (from all the daily trekking carting their homes on their back) or ecstatic from what they were seeing, that she would not have time to even think of home. Once we had hugged our tearful goodbye, I stole back to the car alone and blubbered all the way home.