On the 25th May 2013, 15 Ulstermen and women set off from Belfast City to Malaga to partake in Exercise Green Finn. Some of us had just finished our Recruits course or returned from Afghanistan. The activities consisted of a combination of hill walking and mountain biking. We didn’t really know what to expect, just felt lucky that we were off to Spain with a group of friends and had the chance to do things that we don’t normally get to do.
We arrived about 8 o’clock at Olivas Villa and I have to say the place was not the usual military bunkhouse – there were sheets on the bed and a pool. The advance party even had the dinner ready, with enough chilli to feed the whole town. We were split into our 2 teams and then got a good sleep to be ready for sun up the next morning.
Day 1 was a good introduction to both activities, allowing us to stretch our legs and get used to the heat. In my opinion it was more like an intro to all the vertical hills we would be getting to know over the next few days. Having not been on a bike since I nearly lost my two front teeth at 11 years old, I got the courage to take on some of the hills, or as Capt Ian Baxter would say, “nursery slops”.
On day two, I was faced with heartbreak hill which was bad enough until day 3 when cardiac hill loomed straight up in front of me. It was hard work but the surrounding landscape was absolutely beautiful. The towns were really quaint and we were able to stop for refreshment a few times. There was a place that made their own crisps and I haven’t tasted any as nice anywhere.
The hill walking routes got gradually tougher and longer but it was worth the effort to see spectacular views and learn a bit of navigation in the process. Some of the boys showed true grit, Recruit Greg Thompson started the toughest day with two skinless heels and still made it to the top without any complaint.
Back at the ranch and the boys naturally wanted to keep in touch with the folks and so were sussing out the internet…. Recruit Darren McDowell thought he had it cracked but unfortunately for him it was the alarm system code he was using to try to connect to the wi-fi.
The two groups took turns cooking every night but the chef among us was definitely LCpl William (Rambo) Curry who surpassed our expectations with his culinary delights every night. He did get in a bit of stick though when he bought pudding rice for the curry! The prize for most improved student definitely goes to Pte Robert Simpson – at the start of the week he fell off the bike, he then fell on the hills and lastly but incredibly he even fell off the sun lounger.
It was good giving the legs a break mid-week to go rafting. We had two boats of 5 people and went down a good 8km stretch of the river with a few rapids and enough calm in between to allow for a bit of play time. We thought Pte Gregg Thompson should have got his money back because he spent more time in the water than he did on the boat.
Kind thanks to Ulysses Trust for supporting the Exercise and also Capt Ian Baxter for showing us parts of Malaga most tourists don’t get to see – like all the Repsol garages in a 3-mile radius.
The week is up there as one of the best training packages I’ve experienced so far – I’ve made great friends, have sore sides from laughing and have discovered different sports that I will definitely do more of. It’s hard to believe how much you can achieve in the space of one week – a brilliant trip!
Quotes of the week:Ian leading us on the bikes: “Follow me – do as I do” and then he promptly fell off.Sgt Alan Chambers getting to the peak of the mountain “The best thing about hill-walking, it’s not sore on the backside” – reference the bike seats.