Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Peru welcomes Nathasa

Written by Natasha Jones - GapBreak 2009 Peru

Hola amigos! Have had almost two weeks in beautiful Peru now, its so unique - unlike anything i have ever seen! It´s hard to comprehend that i am actually here!

The first week we stayed in a hostel and did lots of sightseeing and Spanish classes everyday! The Spanish is coming along slowly but surely! It is very tiring sometimes to constantly be figuring out what is being said, but is also very rewarding when you have a conversation in Spanish!

The shops and markets are everywhere and all the clothing is so cool - I bought an alpaca poncho the other day! Bargaining with the shop and market keepers is very fun!

We are now with our families in a suburb just outside of Cusco named San Jeronimo - still quite cityish but quite poor and dirty. I have a mother named Rosa, a 23 year old brother named Ferdinand (who can thankfully speak quite good english!) and a 9 year old sister named Astrid - very cute but very shy. They live out the back of the grocery shop which Rosa owns, and didnt have enough room for us (me and my two housemates - clare and katie) so have rented an apartment close by for us and will be moving in tomorrow! The food Rosa cooks is amazing and very healthy! Despite what some people said, we have started up a jogging group this morning and plan to stay motivated to get fit for treks such as Chocequiero and Machu Pichu which are coming up very quickly!

We have been to a few Inca ruins and museums, it is so intereresting to learn about the Inca people, they were so amazing We will be visiting some more museums in our free time tomorrow. Yesterday we went to the Sacred Valley and a little place called Ollayantaytambo which was so so darling. This weekend is paragliding in the Sacred Valley!
We visited the school that we will be teaching at today - school of about 150 kids in a little village, they had a beautiful welcome for us with balloons and flowers and singing and dancing and the sprinkling of the welcome flowers, and i got up and made a thankyou speech on behalf of the Antipodeans group - unfortunately my spanish is not good enough yet so it had to be translated for the kids! We start school tomorrow, and the lessons we will be teaching over the next 3 months are art, english and sport and our fundraising money is going towards construction around the school - helping to rebuild classrooms, painting, electricity, hygiene lessons for the kids etc.

Lastly, a few little interesting facts - there are stray dogs everywhere and no one seems to mind, the drivers here are crazy and there dont seem to be any strict road rules.

First experience of Kathmandu and Traveller's Diahorrea

Written by Amanda Hudy - GapBreak 2009 Nepal

Things have been interesting over here. Yesterday for example, I came down with a bout of Traveller's Diahorrea, which I suspect I picked up from this cafe we ate dinner at on Friday night. Now the food at this cafe was delicious, but it took them more than an hour to give us our meals - I believe this was because of all the variety we ordered. I ordered a Tibetan dish called Thenduk which is basically a vegetarian soup with flat pasta pieces and spices - really good, but ultimately deadly. For those who don't know, TD involves the obvious as well as belching, cause your stomach is making all this gas and because I just so happened to have had goat as an appetiser on Friday night - I couldn't say no to their invitation to try some - I ended up burping up goat as well.

Today I am feeling much better however, and I look forward to going to the monkey temple in Kathmandu. For those who are wondering, the hotel I am staying at provides free internet access to those staying here, so that's why you are hearing from me so soon. Tomorrow we leave for the remote village, so you will find that I will probably not write again for a while.

As for the past four days, life for me has consisted of language lessons, getting to know Nepal from speakers and looking around the various districts of Nepal. On Friday we went to several areas with a tour guide in the Patan region. Here we visited the old palace and went into a hidden Buddhist temple. After this we went to Boudha temple which is an amazing buddhist temple that I'm sure many of you will recognise. Its white at the top and has prayer flags hanging from it. Here we visited a Thanka art school, which is basically a school where people create art works centred on Buddha. This place was amazing especially when we were talked through the meanings behind some of them. After we had had a good look at the temple, visited a buddhist prayer temple and spun those prayer thingys we took a taxi back to Thamel - the place where we have our orientation. Those taxi rides are insane. There are no seatbelts, you literally pile in as many people as you can - forget about the number of seats. The roads are really bad so its a really bumpy ride and you don't have lane marking - none of you will complain about traffic again.

The smell of Kathmandu is also really unique. Depending on where you are - there are good smells and bad smells. Good smells include spices and this lemony soap smell that many people use to clean things with, whilst bad smells include the obvious - i.e.: human waste. I'm finding that as time goes on, the constant smell of people cooking is starting to make me nautious, I don't know why - probably because of my TD yesterday, but its so overpowering. You can't really escape it, not even when you need fresh air.

So that's all I can really say about the past 4 days. The food has been nice, but I'm still getting the hang of eating with my hands. The markets are nice as well, but I still have to build up some courage to bargain properly - what I wouldn't give for just a regular store. I also have to get used to people spitting on the road - just spitting you know like right in front of you, and of course the beggers and the child beggers, and the intersections with no rules and the many many many tiny Szusukis - I swear, the traffic of Kathmandu can be summed up in one word - SZUSUKI!

Being on the other side of the world really makes you appreciate the treasures you have at home.

Love from Amanda

Orientation in chaotic Kathmandu

Written by Steph Rae - GapBreak 2009 Nepal

Tomorrow we're off to the village so just a summary email of Kathmandu for now. We've been in Kathmanduy 5 days now and its pretty sweet except im over all the noise and pollution and can't wait to get to the village.

Arriving on Wednesday was so funny. We met our in-country agents and as we were heading over to the car it was as if a million people surrounded us trying to offer us a taxi etc. On the plane to Kathmandu I was starting to get a bit but as soon as we got out of the airport I was completely relaxed. We were dropped off at our hotel for a couple of hours to 'rest' but we went for a wonder around Thamel, the touristy part of the city, which was funny. A million people come up and try and sell you stuff and if you show any interest at all, even just look at them they dont leave you alone , especially when you stop (which we did, to take heaps of photos) so we were like permanetly surrounded by people. It was heaps hard bartering on the first day but it is getting better now that we speak aliali (a little) Nepali.

We had a 3 day orientation which was good. Everyone is really nice and helpful! We learnt more about Nepal - TEA you get tea everywhere!! Its so addictive, especially the chaya -milk tea with heaps of spices, its unbelievably good as is the food. During the orientation we were provided with lunch and taught how to eat with our hands properly. After a total of 6hrs of Nepali lessons we have covered a lot of ground, but there is just so much to remember. Got the basics though which is useful. We went on a little tour, visiting 3 different places with our in-country agent and a tour guide. Firstly we visited the old palace in Patan, a buddhist town just outside Kathmandu. Then we went to Boudha (bodanath stupa) which was probably my favorite for the day. We also went into a small monastry where monks were doing a ritual which was also interesting and we also went to a thangka school there - which is where they learn to make thangka (buddhist paintings) which are the most detailed/intricut paintings ever! The third place we visited was Pashupatinath where the 'holy' river flows. On the banks of this river is where Hindu people get cremated. Out of respect, I stopped watching before they took the body to the water.

Off to the village tomorrow, which I am really excited about.

Weekend Adventures in Ecuador

Written by Benita Bruce - Ecuador 2009 GapBreak

Hello all,
Sorry I have been so slack with the news. We seem to have been really busy lately!
In the week after Easter, we began looking at possible placements. For a couple of days, I worked at a disabled centre, which I thought I would enjoy, but it ended up being quite disappointing as I didn´t feel like they needed a lot of help and there was about 6 volunteers there so on Friday I went to have a look at a school, and really loved it. It´s quite poor and only takes about 20 mins to get to on the bus, so much better than the hour or more to the disabled centre. I started work there on Monday, and I´m really enjoying it. I am there with another guy in our group, Max, and we are assisstant teachers most of the time, but I think they need the help because the teacher we are with speaks only very basic English. We teach English or help out with the computers, which can get interesting when its all in Spanish! The work is difficult but also pretty rewarding, and the children are all so cute and friendly.

My Spanish is improving a lot to. I managed to talk to a couple of girls for about 20 mins today, in very broken Spanish with them repeating a lot, but I was quite proud of myself! We are continuing with lessons and it is getting harder now, meaning I need to do some actual study, but I really think it´s worth it.

Last weekend we headed to a place called Baños, about 3 hours by bus, and it was absolutely incredible! The town was really small, nestled in a valley, so surrounded by massive green, rolling hills. There was even a waterfall about 2 mins walk from our hostel! We hired bikes for the day and went for a ride for about 3 hours along the road, through some gorgeous countryside- made even better by the fact that most of the way was downhill! It was such a spectacular ride. Went for a bit of a wander around the town that night, which was really interesting. Saturday morning was spent white water rafting, which was so much fun. Went to the hot springs in the afternoon to soak away the soreness from the two days of physical activity and spent the afternoon playing cards on the terrace of our hostel. A few of us got up early on Sunday morning to head to the baths again at about 6, but they were STILL packed so we didn´t stay for too long. Left Baños after lunch, all very tired but having loved the weekend.

This week has been spent basically working and doing Spanish, but this weekend we are heading off to a place called the Quilotoa Loop, which is meant to have some gorgeous scenery, and we will visit a volcanic crater lake on Saturday, where you can hike round and also walk down the side of the volcano to. Should be a good weekend!

This is the rest of the post

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

A word from our In-Country Agent in India

Written by Antipodeans Abroad IN-Country Agent – India

I am writing to update you on how the new Antipodean Group have settled in. I am pleased to let you know that Emily and Charlotte are embracing the program wholeheartedly. Both have now completed their orientation and have begun their work in a local aanganbari (day care centre), which they are enjoying greatly. In addition the girls are working in our local evening school project with the street children from our immediate community.

Both have settled in well with the other volunteers and in particular have made friends with 2 other girls who commenced the program at around the same time. Currently the girls are working hard and in their free time are enjoying exploring Udaipur City.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the comprehensive pre-departure work that you have undertaken. It is evident that the girls had been excellently briefed in advance of their arrival and consequently were very well prepared for all aspects of the program. This pre-work has really assisted them to settle in.

Kind regards

Five Indian experiences in four days

Written by Emily Clarke - GapBreak India 2009

We've been here for four days and have experienced quite a few things.
Firstly: Auto-rickshaws.
Auto-rickshaws are how we get places. The drivers also like to see how many people they can fit on one. At a time. So far we've had about 12 people piled into one. It's like a giant version of human Tetris sometimes!

Secondly: School.
Charlotte & I are teaching the Preschool kids, so kids about 2 -5 in age. They can't speak much English, or Hindi either. So it's going to be a tough job trying to teach them anything. In our first lesson today, we scrapped most of our lesson plan for colouring. We also have to wash their hands for them & our newly created Hygiene song is constantly being sung over that time.

Thirdly: Marble stairs.
These hurt to fall down. I am bruised.

Fourthly: Food.
The food here is brilliant. Our cook is wonderful and being vegetarian is nice. Everything tastes so good! The Danish girls we have here don't like spice, so two versions of whatever we eat are cooked. One for us with spice and one for them that is mild. But there is always a big bowl of chili on the table. It's very good.

Fifthly: Udaipur.
The city is beautiful. Crazy, but beautiful. Elephants, cows, goats & kids roam everywhere! But once you hit the lake, it's different. It's a pretty place to be. Even has a supermarket. Very useful!

That's all I have to report for the moment.
All my love, Emily

From markets to the Amazon

Written by Benita Bruce - GapBreak Ecuador 2009

We have been having Spanish classes for the last week which has been a great help and I feel like I have learnt a lot. I think I will continue doing about 4 hours a week so I can learn even more. I can generally undertand what people are saying but it takes a lot of concentration to be able to reply sufficiently, and I am always really tired after Spanish lessons!

We are currently in Otavalo, a town about a 2.5 hr bus trip north of Quito. It is a gorgeous little town, more indigenous than the area of Quito we are living in, and I feel more like I am in Ecuador now I have seen the tiny South American women rushing around with huge parcels tied to their stooped backs. The town is famous for their Saturday morning market, which is why we came here, so that was this morning's expedition. The market is amazingly huge and everything is so cheap, so it was a lot of fun wandering around the various little streets. The bus trip was also really interesting. Although it was dark by the time we got to the outskirts of Quito, we had to go through the Old Town (which we haven't visited yet) which is a really pretty place, with tiny houses perched on the edge of huge hills and a lot of really nice architecture. It will be great to go there soon and explore it a little bit more.

Because of Easter at the end of this week, we are unable to start our placements until next week, so we decided to go on a trip to the Amazon! This means getting back to Quito tomorrow after lunch, then catching a bus for the 8hr trip to La Agria, where we start our tour on Monday morning. It sounds really interesting and it will be good to get out of the city for a while, as I am already starting to get a little claustrophobic! We will get home on Thursday night, in time for the Easter festivities in Quito, which are meant to be really good. I am looking forward to starting our placement in the following week as well, it should be really interesting.
I think that is about all the news I have for now.
Lots of love,
Benita xx

First experience of Ecuador

Written by Benita Bruce - Ecuador 2009

Just thought I would let you know that I arrived safely and everything is going well here! My host mum, Anita, met us at the airport. She is Chinese but her family has been in Ecuador for 5 generations. She speaks fairly good english. My host Dad, William, is from England so speaks perfect English! They are both extremely nice and hospitable. Their house is really nice, and there are paintings of the family all over the place. They have a gorgeous 5-year-old grandson called Harry who stays with them during the day while his parents are at work. I am sharing a room with a girl called Claire, who I get on really well with. The whole group gets on really well actually, which is a bonus.

This morning we went to Marcelo´s house, who is our in-country-agent, for a group talk. We then went to the stadium near our house and bought tickets to see Brazil play Ecuador in soccer on Sunday, which will be really good. Afterwards we went home for lunch, which is the main meal of the day. My host mum is an excellent cook, and I think I will be eating a lot over the next few months! After equipping ourselves with mobile phones we headed to this internet cafe, where I was able to ring home. It was good to talk to them and know that everything at home is going well! Thank you everyone for all your good wishes.

Next week we start Spanish lessons, for 4 hours per day, and then the following week we are introduced to our possible placements, which I am looking forward to.
Quito is a crazy place. Driving is scary (home from the airport and then in a taxi today), as the road rules don´t seem to be very well established and there is basically a constant chorus of horns - people aren´t very patient here. Near our house there is a massive roundabout with no lane lines so it seems to be free reign for all to go wherever they want, and the drivers seem to drive waaay too fast for the numbers of cars on the road! I´m hoping that the taxi drivers know what they are doing!
We are going out for tea tonight, as it was one girl´s birthday today and another´s yesterday. Tomorrow we might go and visit the Old Town, which I´m looking forward to. Will be in contact soon, this internet cafe is right near our house and with insanely cheap rates. Hope everything is ok with you!

Love Benita