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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Pheri Bhetaula Nepal!


COUNTRY: Nepal
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Jess Kellett

Our time in Nepal is coming to an end - it's hard for me to believe, but this is our final update! We have had a pretty incredible last month here, moving from our home in Nursery to the orphanage and then to our final weeks of exploring and adventure!

Our last week at the school was a big one, saying goodbye to the school, village and host family. We used our final day teaching at the school to have a sports day, playing volleyball, badminton, soccer, skipping, throwing and catching games. The kids loved the break from work and it was a great opportunity to spend time with then and have fun together for our last day.

The next day the school held a farewell ceremony for us. It was hard to hold back the tears as the students gave speeches and covered us in garlands of flowers. They danced and sang traditional songs, and the principal gave each of us a certificate, thanking us for our work at the school. We took a big photo with all of the students and teachers, and then it was time to leave. There were lots of hugs and waves goodbye as the kids ran off to enjoy their two-week holiday for Dashain.





It was then time for the saddest day of the placement - saying goodbye to our host family. Here there was no stopping our tears as Leela and Kamal gave each of us tikas and a beautiful bangle as a goodbye present. Saying goodbye to our Nepali family was the hardest thing I've had to do here, but we have all come away from it with incredible memories, knowing that we love and are loved by an amazing family on the other side of the world.

The same day we left our village we arrived at the Oppressed Welfare Orphanage Home to begin our two week placement. We brought with us new clothes for each of the children, as well as kites to celebrate Dashain, craft supplies, sports equipment and over a months worth of groceries.

In the mornings we would help the older kids with their holiday homework and read with them until breakfast. The middle part of the day was the hottest, so we would spend it inside, playing board games, drawing pictures and watching Bollywood movies! Then when it was cooler we could go for walks - sometimes the kids take us to a nearby Hari Krishna temple, where we play soccer and frisbee, fly kites or help out in the vegetable field. Then all too soon it was time for more tikas and scarves as we said goodbye to our new brothers and sisters and finished our placement.



We then began our final two weeks of travelling - the Poon Hill trek, white water rafting, and for Susie, trips back to Chitwan and Pokhara! And now, unbelievably, it's time to pack our suitcases and go back home.

We are so grateful to our family and friends back in Australia, who helped us to raise over $3000 to give back to the Nepali communities who have given us so much. In addition to what we donated to the orphanage, we were able to buy a printer/scanner for the school, sports equipment, office supplies, and a whiteboard for each classroom. We also bought a laptop for our host family's daughter, to assist in her university studies. Finally, the remaining money - around $400 - was donated to a government disaster relief fund, to help with the devastation caused by the landslide near our village and recent flooding.

The three of us have had the most incredible time in Nepal, it is really indescribable. Together we have laughed until we cried with our host mother, been forced to dance in our saris at Teej by the most enthusiastic old woman and eaten dal bhat 97 times! We have visited the monkey temple, Durbar Square and Boudnath in Kathmandu, were taken to a Hare Krishna temple by the kids at the orphanage, the cutest tour guides you could ask for! We rode elephants on safari in Chitwan National Park, have been on a jungle walk, seen rhinos, monkeys and deer, and kayaked down a crocodile infested river. We've played endless games of memory, badminton and skipping. We have gone paragliding in Pokhara, zoomed down the worlds longest zip line, visited the birthplace of Buddha, crawled through the biggest cave in Asia, white water rafted and been trekking in the Annapurnas. And, most importantly, we have taught classes full of the cheekiest, loudest, funniest, sweetest kids. Of course we have been frustrated at times, and have left a few lessons unconvinced the kids learnt anything at all. But every day we were greeted by sixty enthusiastic kids yelling good morning, grinning and holding our hands as we walked up to the school building. Teaching was a challenge for sure, but it is the best feeling to know how much we have grown over the last few months, as well as the impression we were able to leave behind at our school.

We are all so proud of everything we have achieved here, and will all return to Australia a little (or a lot) different from how we left. We have had the most amazing, funny, beautiful adventure together. We know we will leave as lifelong friends. As we pack our bags and get ready to see our families, we leave this beautiful country knowing that we will be back again. So it is not goodbye, but pheri bhetaula.

See you again Nepal!

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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Black Leopard Tracking in South Africa


COUNTRY: South Africa
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Black Leopard Tracking & Conservation
WRITTEN BY: Izzy Green Moore

What an experience we've had so far in South Africa! We've endured early starts to battle the blue gums, stayed in an incredible lodge, and seen antelopes, jackals and porcupines. After our game drive last week we undertook sensory deprivation under Becky's supervision. We were blindfolded, had our ears blocked and had our sense of touch taken away. After ten minutes you get your sense of touch back, ten minutes later you get your hearing back and finally you get your sight back. Afterwards, all your senses are on hyper alert and you can hear, see and feel so much more. And boy did it pay off- Jordan and Jess heard a leopard! A very cool and rare experience. On another occasion, Becky and Jordon were lucky enough to hear lions!

We've been working hard on the leopard tracking, which involves a fair amount of computer work to ID the leopards, sort through carnivore pictures and input data into spreadsheets. We also do experiments for Tara to test our skills and see how much we improve over our time here. The experiment itself is simple - a 50m stretch of road is laid out and we each walk along separately trying to find and identify spoor. After an initial guess we then check against the sheets which have all the carnivore spoor and see if we are right or try again. We were okay at it, much better when we had the sheets but hopefully we will improve. After that we went to Luan's, a neighbouring farmer whose property has some camera trap which we went to change. We arrived at the first one to find that some animal had ripped it out of place (later we saw it was a baboon on the camera trap opposite).

We entered our last three weeks in South Africa with a mixture of surprise and sadness. Surprise that we had already been here for more than a month and sadness that we were leaving so soon.

We started the week with another trip to the school. We were put in to teach the kindergarten class. Our intention had been to tell them about Australia but it mostly involved a discussion of different animals. Nevertheless, it was very fun. Most of the kids had only just started learning English that year but were already speaking it very well. On Thursday we went to a local pig farmer who had lost some cattle to what he believed was a leopard. We went to set up cameras on the carcasses to try and see what was eating them in the hopes that it wasn't a leopard (apparently there were talks of getting a permit, not something we want to happen).

Recent days have been spent visiting the blue gums, walking out to the lodge to tackle some prickly pears, doing some camp maintenance, as well as some more experimental tracking and computer work. We also went out to two of our neighbouring properties to change over their camera traps and then made a trip to the pub to celebrate the recent work we've done as well as our time here coming to a close.

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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Peru update: Machu Picchu and Lake Titikaka


COUNTRY: Peru
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Construction
WRITTEN BY: Stephanie Rainbow

Hola,

The beginning of Week 6 of our trip in Peru finds our group returning from the magnificent sights and experiences of Machu Picchu. Duringthe three-day hike up the huge snow-capped mountain Salkantay, I might as well have been one of the pack horses due to the slow, plodding pace I was doing. The view was breathtaking, however, and I was blown away by how huge the Andes were. They were made even more beautiful by the fog that constantly curls around their peaks.

Arriving at Aguas Calientes on the third day was quite a relief for my poor feet, which were not at all happy with me. The town was not at all what I expected, nestled amidst the rainforest and accompanied by the constant soundtrack of the swirling river that flowed in its midst. We were also lucky enough to arrive the night they were doing work on the power plant and so the town was without power for most of our stay. Nevertheless we were relieved to be sleeping in a real bed with access to hot showers. The next day we woke bright and early to catch the bus up to Machu Picchu, joining the thronging crowds who had exactly the same idea. Luckily our guide Juri had told us to bring plastic ponchos because as soon as we hopped off the bus it began to rain. Despite not exactly matching the sunny postcard pictures, Machu Picchu is absolutely stunning, and much bigger than I had thought it would be. And a lot more stairs too!



We were told by the guide about how Machu Picchu (which translates to Old Mountain) was built, eventually discovered and the theories about what it was used for, which was all very interesting. We were then left to our own devices and explored the many nooks and crannies that the sight possesses, before ascending to the point where you can capture the world famous picture that is seen on the postcards, which we now have lots of. Exhausted, we descended and explored Aguas Calientes, experienced having lunch with no power, took a dip in the famous hot springs and spent all our money in the markets. Returning to our home stays in Cuzco was a strange experience after that adventure and we are once again having to turn our minds towards lesson planning and construction.

Machu Picchu isn't the only thing we have done since the last blog, however, as the previous weekend we travelled to the town of Puno and the floating islands that inhabit Lake Titicaca. We set out on the Saturday on a coach which stopped off at several sights along the way before arriving at Puno where we celebrated my birthday at a restaurant that was eloquently named 'Pizza and Pasta'.

The next day we embarked out onto the Lake and visited the richly cultured, very colourful and yes, quite touristy floating islands, where everyone bought a lot more than they should have. We then went to one of the main islands in Lake Titicaca for lunch. There you could look out on the vast expanse that is the lake, though from the view we had it looked more like an ocean. It was breathtaking. The island did however mark the end of the tour and we took the long trip back to Puno. Despite everyone dreading the overnight bus ride back to Cuzco, the bus was pure luxury, something you'd expect on a business class flight.

Our trip in Peru is drawing to a close with only three weeks left until we part ways, which is somewhat hard to believe. Our last big trip to Arequipa is coming up for Halloween, but until then....

Adios!

Steph

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Sunday, 26 October 2014

6 border crossings, 3 new countries and a whole lot of memories


COUNTRY: Argentina
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Clem Rocks

We have officially hit the two-month mark on our trip, leaving us with the scary realisation that we only have one month left in Buenos Aires. It has been our craziest few weeks yet, with six border crossings, three new countries to add to the passport and a whole lot of memories to last.

We spent the last week in the Misiones region of Northern Argentina on a trip organised by our Antipodeans partners. The trip included two days of volunteering before heading further north to do some sightseeing at Iguazu Falls and the Jesuit town of San Ignacio.

It's hard to compare the volunteering in the slums and our work in the Peruti Village - both equally rewarding but incredibly different. We spent the weekend working with an Indigenous community whose lives to us seemed very basic - the work we did was not so much simply playing with the children but cooking nutritious meals, lice treatment, collecting clean water from the creek and donating clothes and basic sanitary items to the community. We were also given a tour of the village by the local children, who were keen to lead us through overgrown jungle, over rocks and up very steep hills to the river where the kids and some of the group cooled down and got to relax before facing the 8km walk back to the school.



After our exhausting yet rewarding weekend in Montecarlo we were keen to head to Puerto Iguazu for some sightseeing. Our first day was spent crossing borders on a local bus bound for Ciudad de Este, Paraguay - it was definitely an authentic South American experience sitting on the floor of an overcrowded bus surrounded by boxes of illegal goods being smuggled out of Argentina! Torrential rain and long bus waits mixed with our tiredness made our day… interesting- to put it nicely. We all likened Paraguay to Southeast Asia, with many of us asking the question "what is Paraguay?" To be honest, even after a day there I'm still confused.

Overnight the sun cleared in time for our day at the incredible Iguazu Falls. Going to one of the Seven Wonders of the World was on everyone's bucket list and as always, our photos do not do the beautiful place justice. We experienced the falls in all their glory on a boat ride that took us right underneath and explored the parklands all day before heading home to relax by the pool.



Our final two days in Misiones were spent in the town of San Ignacio, where we experienced a local Asado, visited the Jesuit ruins and lay in the sun in the wonderful 35 degree heat. Although our week in Iguazu had a few hiccups - thousands of mozzie bites, standing in front of a bus to prevent it from leaving with our luggage, lunch being stolen by possum-like creatures, a scary border crossing, headlice and some definite cases of heatstroke, the Misiones trip was once in a lifetime. Throughout our travels, we have definitely learnt that even though on paper many of our plans didn't work out, sometimes that's just the way it is. All in all, I absolutely loved our Northern Argentina trip.

Speaking of border crossings, a few weekends ago we took a trip to Colonia Del Sacramento in Uruguay, a small coastal town two hours from Buenos Aires by ferry. It had been raining all morning so our trip initially felt a little glum but the sun came out just in time for us to see the most amazing sunset over the water (see picture right at the top).

Back in Buenos Aires life is going swimmingly. Our volunteering is as fun as ever and we now know most of the children in the villas by name. Last week we finally ventured to La Boca - the famous colourful streets, home to the worshipped soccer team Boca Juniors. We also attended Mundo Lingo - a bilingual speed dating-esque event to practice our Spanish- somewhat successfully too! Some of the group also went to see the All Blacks beat Argentina (before Argentina beat the Aussies, so we hear).

Plans are being made to take a trip to Patagonia to see every corner of this beautiful country and we are filling up our weekends with as much sightseeing as possible. As summer looms and the days get warmer the city is beginning to liven up as we make the most of our final month here. We are two months in and I continue to fall in love with Buenos Aires more and more each day.

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Saturday, 25 October 2014

GapBreakers take 'action-packed' to a whole new level



COUNTRY: Southern Africa (Swaziland, Mozambique & South Africa)
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Emily Forbes

Greetings!

There's quite a bit to fill you in with since my last blog. As signified by the title, we haven't wasted any time! We were lucky enough to have a week off our volunteer work to visit the stunning palm fringed beaches of Tofo Bay. Our accommodation at Fatima's backpackers had direct access to the beach, and we spent much of the week swimming, tanning and doing a whole bunch of activities.

Tofo was an undiscovered paradise and the highlight of the week was without a doubt the ocean safari. We all hopped into a speedboat and ventured out into the ocean with the hope of spotting a whale shark or humpback. We didn't have to wait long, within five minutes of being out on the water a baby humpback swam right alongside our boat, a sight that was rare even for our experienced guides! Things only got better from here on in as we ventured further out into the ocean, when we finally discovered a whale shark! We all hurried to jump in and swim alongside this majestic creature, and were blown away by just how big they were! As we made our way back to shore dolphins swam alongside the boat which topped off a perfect day.

The fun didn't stop there as we went on an island kayak to a remote island. After two hours of paddling over pristine waters we arrived on the coast of this island and walked underneath a canopy of tall palm trees through our tour of the island. After kayaking for two hours we were absolutely starving and were presented with a seafood feast that was enjoyed by everyone.

Other highlights of our time in Mozambique included quad biking, bartering at the local markets and enjoying breakfast on the beach.

Feeling refreshed after a week in Mozambique we headed back to our placement work at our home in Ezulwini. Our last two weeks of volunteer work were a flurry of activity as many of us had plans for our children. Our projects included building a new playground for the children in Lobamba, an excursion to Hlane game park for the Mlindazwe kids and purchasing toothbrushes and toothpaste for our children.

For our last day at our NCPs we all planned parties as a special treat for the kids. This included face paint, musical chairs, treasure hunts and pass-the-parcel to name a few. By the end of the day there were definitely a few tears as we realised we were saying goodbye to our beautiful children for good. We all promised to write and stay in touch, and hopefully return one day.



With our first volunteer placement behind us, we headed off on a road trip to the famous Victoria Falls. After travelling for two days through Swaziland, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe we arrived at the tourist town of Vic Falls.

Our first activity planned was a day trip over the Zambian border to experience the falls from the top by going for a swim at the Devil's Pool, right at the edge of the top of the falls. We were greeted by absolutely breathtaking sights of the cascading falls and rainbows.

We also got to experience the might and majesty of the Zambezi river through white water rafting. This is said to be the best in the world, with the highest commercial rapid drop and it certainly did not disappoint! With rapids graded up to a 5 it was certainly hard work but thoroughly enjoyed by all, even when the raft capsized and we found ourselves being carried along the rapids.

On our last day in Vic Falls we visited the viewing platforms to see the falls in action. We were all blown away by these stunning views! In the afternoon two of us were game enough to test out the Vic Falls big air experience, which incorporated a zipline, gorge swing and bungee jump.

Out next adventure begins on Tuesday when we embark on our two-week road trip to Cape Town.

Until next time,

Usale Kahle!

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Friday, 24 October 2014

Project work continues as Kilimanjaro draws closer


COUNTRY: Tanzania
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Building, renovation & construction
WRITTEN BY: Sybilla Galvin

Jambo mambo?! (Hi how are you?!)

Life in Tanga these days is moving very smoothly and very fast-we can't believe it's been more than a month since we arrived. This week saw our first actual bout of rain, which on most days began early in the morning and cleared by the time we arrived at work.

After handing over our first house we immediately began work on a new piece of land. We started on Monday, using machetes and an axe to cut down trees, shrubs and anything that covered the new land. By Wednesday morning we were ready to begin digging holes for the foundations, only to find out that we had cleared the wrong land and had to begin again from scratch. Luckily for us, a handful of generous locals offered their hands and muscle to help us get to the same stage. As of now, we have completed tying together the foundations with string and are using the mud we dug up last week to make the walls.



The current group obsession is the vibrant, patterned material sold at the town market, which we have enough of to now start our own shop. A local tailor woman has already done 3 trips to visit us, (expecting our latest orders back this weekend!) making various items for us with our purchased goods. The stack of materials we handed over this week was too heavy for her to carry out.

The pressure is now on for the team to finish the house before we head off to climb Killi and go to Kenya! We have been staying an extra half hour in the morning and almost an extra hour in the afternoons to get the job done in time. We definitely don't want to leave without finishing as this will mean the house remains unused until camps reopens in Jan. This added work has got our heads hitting our pillows before 9:30 most nights!

Xo Sybilla

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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Ghana update: We're living in dreamland


COUNTRY: Ghana
PROGRAM: GapBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Etta Napier

Every morning when I wake up, for the first few seconds of consciousness, I forget where I am. I forget that I'm halfway across the world, in a place most people would only dream of visiting. I listen to the early morning sounds of neighbours frying plantain, gossiping in fantè (the local dialect) and sweeping with makeshift reed-brooms, and for a moment I could be back in my room in Sydney. But then, as I walk to my window and add sights and faces to the sounds, it becomes real and I realise just how extraordinary it is to be on this adventure. How truly lucky we are. How much we all adore this country, warts and all.

These past few weeks in Ghana have become less like a dream and more like a lifestyle. We no longer are guests in our school, homes or town, but are accepted as just another - albeit paler - part of the community. We know our kids and how each one of them tick, and in return they all seem to know precisely what annoys us the most. Oh, do they use this to their advantage! We have begun to swap songs and nursery rhymes with the students, and in doing so have realised they have their own versions of 'Old MacDonald' and 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' that put ours to shame. We have also begun to use the money we have fundraised to improve the learning environments we are working in, much to the kids' excitement and appreciation (we are greeted with "God bless you, Madame" on an almost daily basis). So far, we have plastered and painted the walls, painted murals, bought two large whiteboards and are planning to install ceiling fans. It's amazing how far just a little Australian money goes in a developing country like Ghana.

We have also been spending a fair amount of time with the beautiful kids at the orphanage, which is both uplifting and depressing. Last Friday we took all 40 of them on an excursion to Winneba beach, and they absolutely loved it! The memory of children screaming with delight while running from a tiny wave is one that will stay with me for a while.




Our host families have been incredible, to say the absolute least. James and Tom (lucky boys) have been lucky enough to live with a bunch of little kids, who give them endless cuddles and love 24 hours a day. Nicole and Phoebe have Kelvin, a best friend in the form of a host-brother, who has been an irreplaceable source of support and guidance. Georgia, Sophie and I have a host-mother and father that are truly the kindest people on earth. This weekend we were invited to the family church to experience a Sunday service, and wow was it an eye-opener. Such energy and passion! It was one of the most fascinating (and at times even frightening) experiences of my life.



Our weekends have been the best way to relax after the exhausting week of volunteering. A few weekends ago, we travelled to Kakum National Park, about a three hour tro-tro ride out of our home town, Swedru. There, we hiked for two hours through the rainforest in pitch-blackness, to arrive at the secluded tree house we were to stay in. Our sleep that night was punctuated with the rustlings of native nocturnal animals, and, according to our, let's say 'interesting' tour guide, the spirit of the antichrist! We took that one with a grain of salt...

We began the next day with a canopy walk- a rope and ladder walkway suspended 100 meters above the floor of the canopy- which was undoubtedly incredible. As you can see from the photo above, it was pretty scary too!

Despite the amazing time we're having here, we do really miss home. We could spend an hour at a time talking about how we 'could so go for a cheeseburger' or are just wanting a cuddle from mum. This is to be expected though. We wouldn't give this opportunity up for the world.

That's all for now,
Hope you enjoyed!
Etta

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