20/07/2019 – Day 1
As I awoke at 3 am to my alarm, I came down to everybody awake (or still awake) and kit being fiercely packed up as a sense of urgency was in the air. The participants were at two extremes, either hyper and buzzing or in a zombie state. As we departed for the coach, trying to as quiet as possible, anyone asleep nearby surely was awoken by 40 wheelie bags on the road, which sounded like a heard of elephants!!
After a short coach ride and kit offload, we had to do an obligatory photo outside of departures, dodging the 2 other Jamboree units doing the same. We passed quickly through check-in and security before letting the participants loose in the departure lounge. It was the first quiet time the leaders had, so just time to visit Wetherspoons, just for breakfast of course.
Everyone found their way through Gatwick to the departure gate to join the 3 other units and patrol on the same flight, making it 170 Scouts on a plane of 250. It must have been a shock for the other passengers who were dotted amongst the sea of Scouts on board.
We did have a delay of 45 minutes before we could take off due to the great British weather, something we couldn’t wait to leave behind, or we thought we would anyway! As we ascended into the clouds and clear skies and sunshine, there was no going back now. It was an event-free seven-hour flight filled with songs, music, laughter and lots of sleepy heads (with some great photos being captured).
As we were coming into JFK airport, I could see New York in the distance, the reality hit, it was happening, it was America!! As we departed the aircraft, that was when it hit us, the heat. At the time New York was suffering from a heatwave, we arrived into a humid, 38 degrees something we would feel later in the day.
When I had heard about American Passport control from other people, I’d heard of mammoth three-hour queues, but what happened surprised me. It was a pretty empty hall which went speedy with friendly staff. There were even a few high fives from the staff who were so welcoming and happy to see us. Everyone still had their passports on them so passed through without any issues to all our bags, which certainly was a relief.
As we left the baggage hall, a Contingent Management Team (CMT) member waving furiously at us. We got some information from them before hopping onto an air-conditioned coach to our accommodation, Kean University in New Jersey. The bus driver was very welcoming, told us about New York and we explained some idiosyncrasies of British language, culture and customs. We drove through the centre of New York and out the other side before reaching the university.
We departed the coach with bags in tow, to welcoming smiley CMT members. They directed us to our rooms and helped with the complex room changes and switches, which I still can’t get my head around! After a quick chance to change out of our uniform, we got on to our transport to the City.
We were welcomed by a yellow school bus which at first, we thought was great. But after boarding and finding no air conditioning and not enough legroom for big people, it wasn’t as good. As soon as we started driving everyone was sweating and some participants didn’t feel too great. We had originally planned a bit of a tour of New York, but due to the delayed flight and the fact, the participants were hot, dehydrated, tired and hungry our plans changed.
When we did arrive at the city it was about 5 pm, we arrived at Bryant’s Park to join a load of other UK units and school buses that had arrived before us. We wandered to Schnipper’s for food, which is a burger restaurant. We were able to just about squeeze everyone into the restaurant, spread right across the whole thing taking any free table we could from the locals. When the food arrived, it was the best burger I’d had for a while and all the participants agreed. It was great to be out of the muggy heat, in air conditioning with tasty food and unlimited refills of soft drinks, it made them very happy!!
We left there and had just enough time to let them loose around the lights and screens of Times square. It was littered with many other Scouts from the UK and world all taking in the bright lights. It was a chance to explorer and I’m sure some brought souvenirs for parents too. As the day drew to an end and the screens became clearer in the darkness, we headed back to Bryant Park to be picked up by our school bus again. It must have been at about 9 pm but it was still about 35 degrees.
We arrived back to Kean University, the unit got back to their rooms for a shower and some well-needed sleep. At this stage, they had been up for about 24 hrs so needed it. We were rudely awoken by a fire alarm test at 10:30 pm, but after we could finally head off for some zzz’s.
Tip of the day: It does not matter how old you are, you start to lose it if you don’t eat and drink!
21/07/2019 – Day 2
Our 2nd day in New York started with some rude awaking‘s for some of the unit who forgot how an alarm worked. We were greeted by another sweltering, sunny, 38-degree day. After we were all packed up and checked out, we got on another rather warm school bus back into the city. We were dropped off at Bryant’s park before splitting into 2 groups to explore Central Park. As we walked through the concrete jungle and hustle and bustle of New York, it was a great surprise entering the park. There is such a difference in Central Park; it’s tranquil beauty, wildlife around and a lot quieter. This was all spoiled when we entered with many UK units wandering through the park. Lots of Hellos, we’re unit blah from this place and waves and high fives shared.
We caught the subway from Central Park to the south of Manhattan island, the peace of the park was switched to tourists and cars again. We walked down to the 9/11 memorial, something that took me back. It was the scale and seeing all the names around the reflection pools. On some names, there were white roses marking someone birthday. It made me think about what they had gone through and the number of loved ones that they left behind in the tragedy.
We stopped for lunch at a market square which had food from around the world the participants tried. Some ventured for some exotic cuisine, but many enjoyed that American favourite of pizza! At this stage, I was watching my clock to be ready for our ferry ride at 2 pm. After a speedy walk across the city via a quick unintended detour, we arrived at the ferry port just in time to hop on a ferry to New Jersey. On the ferry were another 7 UK units, all looking hot and sweaty, we weren’t the only ones! There was just enough time to grab some photos of the city skyline as we sailed away from it and capture the Statue of Liberty across the bag too.
We got directed to a car park that was filled with 100 coaches and 4000 bags laid out, which was an impressive operation to see. At this time the car park was certainly the hottest place of the day, the black tarmac in the mid-afternoon sun made sure of that. I felt for the CMT that were there all afternoon seeing everybody across there. The relief of getting in an air-conditioned coach was amazing. Our coach driver was a super kind and friendly man called Stan, he couldn’t be more helpful and chatty. As we left the parking lot, we had to turn around again as we realised, we had a flat tire. After a quick tire change, we were on the road again. We were heading to our overnight accommodation at James Maddison, Harrisonburg university which was 6 hours away.
On the journey, it was a chance for the participants to catch up on some sleep and cool down. We stopped after a couple of hours at services for some water and a break. But of course, everyone used it as a chance to get some food and drink too, stocking up on 1.5 litres of soft drink for under $2!! Everything is so big and cheap. That much sugar and fluid aren’t good for anyone, especially on a coach journey! As we left the sugar kicked in and some of the participants had certainly perked up.
We continued for another couple of hours before we stopped for dinner at other services. Fast food was the order of the day and again more drinks and snacks too. We eventually arrived at the university at 10:30 pm. After picking up the room keys, we all went off to bed, this time with no fire alarms.
Tip of the day: America has a lot of sugar and loves drinks the size of your head!