We noticed some movement and heard voices to our left.
Next thing two fully combat camouflaged figures with camouflage painted faces and armed with state of the art automatic assault rifles stepped out to intercept us!
Out of the corner of my eye I could see a number of camouflage tarpaulin shelters and more figures amongst the trees.
I said, “Morning guys, are you out on an overnight exercise?”
I could see one of the camouflaged figures checking the position of the safety catch on his weapon with his right index finger.
Wasn’t quite sure what to make of that! Either way, our walking poles wouldn’t be much of a defense!
Scanned their fatigues and felt a bit relieved when I saw small Irish Tricolour insignias on the left shoulder of the two figures in front of us.
One figure who looked more like a moving bush and only whose eyes were really distinguishable replied, “Yes, we have been out for three days now, and you gave us quite a surprise!”
I replied “Oh! sorry about that, we’re just out for a nice morning hike!” – choosing not the mention the change of underwear I would need later! “That looks like a lot of fun you guys are involved in. All the best then!” All the while we just kept moving up the track and away from them and they just let us past. He replied, “Cheerio!” and the two figures made their way back to whatever they were doing.
After another fifty metres or so, just as we were breaking into the open again from the track through the trees, I noticed a pair of military boots, toes down, at the end of a pair of camouflaged legs coming out from under a clump of undergrowth! I reckoned the body attached to this lot would be facing in the direction we were heading. Not an everyday encounter, I wasn’t quite sure of the protocol in such circumstances so I said, “Friendly forces coming through!”.
A gruff “Ok!” came back, which we took at face value and carried on past.
As we passed by I noticed a prone camouflaged figure behind what looked like a heavy calibre machine gun pointing up the trail we planned to walk up, and a long belt of what looked like extremely lethal ammunition trailing along the ground feeding into this ferocious looking weapon!
Not the sort of guy we wanted to take by surprise or startle, so I said, “We will be coming back this way in about an hour or so, is that ok?”.
He replied, “That’s ok!” Obviously a man of few words, but you would definitely take on board what he had to say without arguing too much!
Shortly after we passed this ‘sentry’ position I looked back and this gunner and his deadly equipment were completely invisible!
Quite exciting we thought, it’s not often one finds themselves, unintentionally or otherwise, in the middle of a military exercise!
So onwards we hiked and frankly I had no intention of returning on this track with ‘Rambo’ looking down the barrel of a big machine gun at us as we approached!
Which brought us to our next surprise, this one perhaps a little less ‘gung-ho!’ but very pleasant and great fun!
We came across the support group encampment for the military exercise we had obviously stumbled upon earlier. There was quite a collection of military personnel, vehicles and equipment.
So we greeted them on our way past and I said to one of them that we were just going to ‘sit over there for a rest and a bite of lunch’. He said that would be no problem. So we settled down near this encampment to have our tea and sandwiches.
Then one of the soldiers came over to us and invited us to join them for something to eat. He said they had just received a shipment of hot chicken curry for the whole group and there was plenty for everyone!
“Wonderful!”, we said, “we’d be delighted!”.
So we had a delicious, and large, chicken curry lunch with them. They were super guys and most gracious hosts for lunch!. We had a great chat about what it was like to be in the Irish Army, where they had been on military tours of duty, etc. They explained how they trained and it was really interesting to find out in detail what their daily rations consist of when they are out on military exercises or operations. They explained that a soldier can operate independently of any support or assistance for up to 3 days. The pack of equipment and provisions they carry on operations can weigh up to 45kg! Lots of great tips and advice for people like myself who enjoy distance hiking, and particularly on how to make sure water from mountain streams is safe to drink! Very useful!
We also had very interesting demonstrations and explanations of the big troop carrier vehicles and the radio comms vehicle and equipment. Their professionalism and enthusiasm for what they were doing were wonderful!
These young people are a credit to our Armed Forces and to Ireland. Their services in peacekeeping and other operational roles are invaluable to many people in global ‘hot-spots’.
And we just went out for a nice hike! Turned out to be a real adventure, thanks to the Irish Army and these great young people!
What unexpected hiking adventures have you had? Let us know!