Making a break for it

Making a break for it

Daring teams travel from university, begging money off strangers

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Xu Zhuoer and Arvin Lim got up to all sorts, including fancy dress, on their trip.
Xu Zhuoer and Arvin Lim got up to all sorts, including fancy dress, on their trip.
Photos: Xu Zhuoer and Arvin Lim
If you had 36 hours to get as far away from Hong Kong as possible, where would you go? There's just one condition: you only have HK$2,500 to get you there.

University of Cambridge student Xu Zhuoer did something similar in January, and she sat down with Young Post to talk about her "jailbreak" adventure to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

The term "jailbreak" has nothing to do with the two being physically locked up in jail, or having to flee. Here's the concept: the university is the "prison", and students who take part in the Cambridge Jailbreak fundraising competition have to get as far away from the university as possible, with the least amount of money.

Adventurous travelling isn't always about bungee jumping or swimming with sharks. What Xu and her travelling companion, Arvin Lim, did was also pretty crazy and challenging.

The duo spent less than GBP200 - about HK$2,500 - on their one-way flight tickets to the ninth largest Spanish city, Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, an isolated island near the Western Sahara in Africa.

The race is hosted by Cambridge University's largest charity fundraising society, RAG. To draw sponsorship and raise money for charities including the British Heart Foundation, Action Against Hunger, and Teenage Cancer Trust, Singaporeans Xu and Lim asked their friends to donate money.

In return, they completed a task for each sponsor while they were on their travels. These varied from buying postcards at the then-unknown destination to dressing up as Star Wars characters for part of their journey. The money they raised through these "dares" - GBP907 - went directly to charity.

While travelling to their destination, the pair had to use a separate pot of money. But it wasn't their own, as this was against the rules of the competition. All travelling expenses had to come from strangers on the street. They basically had to beg to scrape together what they could for their trip.

The pair went to London, and held up posters in the street asking people to donate money. But, says Xu, "People in London weren't very nice. We got less than GBP200."

With this money in their pockets, the explorers bought two budget flight tickets to the furthest place they could get - Las Palmas.

"We didn't know where we were going until we got to the airport," Xu says.

They spent a night at the airport before the flight took off, arriving in Las Palmas the next afternoon. Straight off the plane, they dashed to the closest souvenir shop to get postcards for their friends as promised.

The next thing on the list was to find a place to stay, which proved difficult because they hadn't booked a room in advance. Trying to communicate with the town's Spanish-speaking people was also challenging. Thank goodness for Google Translate!

Every night at 9pm, each team participating in the challenge was required to text an update of their trip. "They just want to know you're alive," says Xu.

Once at their destinations, teams were allowed to use their own money to pay for their return flight.

Las Palmas, with its subtropical climate, laid-back vibe and very friendly people, was "a stark contrast to London," says Xu, who particularly enjoyed the scenery and the sand dunes.

Even though jailbreaking to Las Palmas was a challenge, Xu was pleased she and Lim had done it. She says: "We learned that there is so much out there in the world for us to experience, if only we are willing to step out of our comfort zones and connect with people."


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