Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Venturers - Nepal

We have arrived in Kathmandu!

We arrived at Annapurna guest house, safely after a chaotic bus ride. Checked into our rooms and went off to explore Thamel! We were exposed to colour, the loud honking of MANY vehicles and strong rich new smells. For dinner we visited The Four Seasons ( not quite as swanky as it sounds) and had a very traditional Dal Bhat, that was Very Very Spicy! An Early night for all as the crew almost had our heads in the plates at dinner time! Today we're leaving Kathmandu for Pokhara, on a 6/7 hour bus trip, Then we start our strenuous trekking!
Hope everything is going well in down under!
See you all in three weeks
Love Nepal venturers

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Venturers - Nepal

We have made it to Bangkok, now only 5 hrs to wait!

After all meeting successfully in Sydney we got away right on time after a compulsary eating stop! Since then more food on the plane (prawns for breakfast, whats with that) and now we are waiting in the Thai Airways lounge with more food and coke in Thai cans!
That's it for now, more news when we arrive in Kathmandu. Wicked.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

St Catherine's - China

On the train to Chengdu!

Today the team has been to see the Terracotta Warriors in Xian after travelling down on the overnight train from Beijing.

Monte A - Peru

Our last full day in Peru!

Right now we are in the beautiful city of Cusco!
We arrived here on the 23rd and on our first night we were lucky to be able to watch a choir singing Christmas carols in the cathederal. It was spectacular and really reminded us that Christmas was only a few days away!
On the 24th we visited the Christmas Eve markets which are only held once a year so we were very lucky to experience it! Whilst it was very crowded, all the gifts being sold were beautiful im sure we will all be bringing back alot of souvenirs!
Christmas Eve night we caught a bus and a train the Aguas Caliente.
Christmas Day was amazing. We woke up very early and caught the bus to Machu Pichu. Whilst it was a bit overcast, the view was specitacular! We also got a guided tour around the ruins which was very interesting! It was a wonderful way to spend Christmas Day!!
We then all went out for Christmas lunch where we distributed our Kris Kringle presents! Even though we were a bit homesick not being able to spend Christmas with our families, it was still a fantastic day and a really memorable way to spend Christmas!
We hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas!
We are all looking forward to seeing family and friends very soon!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Barker A - Peru

Community Service - Quilla Huata

Quilla Huata is a small town consisting of about 80 families. Our contribution as to the local school which had 2 classrooms for kindy and year 1.

Whilst working at the school we slept in one of the classrooms and worked closely with two local men on our building project, a commadore (eating area).

Throughout the 5 days we worked on making a retaining wall which consisted of hard manual labour to transport several metric tonnes of dirt and stones using wheelbarrows. We also made 4 tables and 8 chairs after spending 2 days hand sanding all the wood.

We managed to do this with 5 food breaks and 3, 3 course meals a day.

Once all the parts were completed we ahd a sheltered area with the tables and chairs with a pebble ground. The idea of the commadore is so that the children do not have to eat their food in their classrooms and potentially mess up the place, making it hard to work.

On our last day we took a trip to the neighbouring village Pumamarca (meaning march of the Puma) There we saw what the future plan was for the community that we had been working in and the difference that Peru's Challange had made to their area.

When the community of Quilla Huata said their farwells we shared a Christmas morning tea and gave presents. it was great to see their gratitude and their happiness in their eyes and hearts.

It was a great experience and we were all exposed to a different way of living.

We lacquered and stained the timber to make furniture for the children.

*What we achieved in community service in 5 Days*

Day 1:
- 150 barrowloads of mud and clay moved
- 24 x 2 metre planks of timber sanded
- Dug 4 trenches for drainage

Day 2:
- Another 24 x 2 metre planks of timber sanded
- Another 150 barrowloads of dirt moved
- 11 trusses (A-frames) added to roof
- 8 supporting beams added

Day 3:
- Roofing added (made of recycles car tyres)
- Completed 13 panels
- Stained and lacquered 24 x 2 metre planks
- Extended play area by 1.5 metres
- More trenches dug for drainage
- 24 holes dug for seating supports
- Table 1 made with legs

Day 4:
- 3 tables completed with legs and rails
- 2 barrels of concrete mixed for securing seats
- Tables stained and lacquered
- Flooring laid with stones and boarders for gravel laid.
- All tables were lined and dug into the floor

Day 5:
- Benches cleaned and completed with lacquer
- 12 supports lacquered
- Cleaned our classroom used for sleeping in

Alex, Sarah, Cam, Jono and James

Monte A - Peru

Yesterday we had a great and beautiful day on Lake Titicaca.

We spent the day on a boat tour and visited a floating island and experienced a reed boat ride. After this we went to taquile island and had a beautiful trout or omelete lunch. It was a very senic boat ride.

Today we rose early to catch a bus to Cuzco. It was a long bus trip, but everyone is well and happy to be here. Just a few hours ago, we had a fantastic dinner (nachos!) and all was happy with a great dinner and lovelly surroundings.

Tomorrow we will have a breakfast at a cafe and go market shopping, before making our way to Machu Picchu.

Cant wait to see everyone

Merry Christmas

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Thailand UniBreakers continue to enjoy

A Christmas Eve note from Paul - our in country agent

We all caught up for dinner again last night and learnt a bit more Thai (counting, shopping and some other basic words last night)

Everyone is good.

What have they been doing?
James - visiting the sick kids in hospital, child care in a village, tutoring English language, riding an elephant and last weekend he went to Chiang Mai.
Jane - research for her university assignment, delivering blankets to the Free Schools project, riding an elephant and last weekend she went to Chiang Mai.
Ashely - Teaching English at school, child care in a village, shopping at the Night Bazaar, riding an elephant and last weekend she explored Chiang Rai.

James loves visiting the kids in hospital and he particularly connected with one very clever girl who is very sick with acute lymphatic leukaemia.  Everyone enjoyed the elephant riding and the Christmas carols sang by some hill tribe kids at Mirror a couple of nights ago.  The volunteers are going to go out Christmas carolling too, but tonight they are going to a house warming at Thellie's.  Jane also really enjoyed the conversations she had whilst visiting the Free Schools project.

Picture attached is a picture of the waterfall they visited last week and also of the elephants at Baan Ruammit.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

UniBreak Thailand update

Update from our in country agent in Thailand

We all had a good night last night.
Kanchana taught some basic Thai to everyone and then we had a discussion on how things were going.  Everyone seems very happy and no problems were raised.
What have they been doing?  Lots, but here are some examples from everyone:
Jane - building walls, making bricks, digging drains, watching cows being butchered and playing with kids.
James - playing with sick kids in hospital, making bricks, working in child care 
Ashley - working in child care, editing English for project, enjoying the Night Bazaar.

They all went on home stay last weekend, although they went on a different style of trip than the run we often run.  We sent them to stay in a guest house near Pu Chee Fah Mountain and early in the morning they trekked to the summit to see the sunrise from the vantage point above the mists.  Here is a picture copied from the internet:
After that they stayed in a Chinese Thai village and also visited Pu Sang waterfall.  

Some of the things they have noticed are different here:
The amount of dogs.
That people make eye contact and warmly smile at you.
That kids run around and play everywhere and it is impossible to tell who they belong to, as they seem quite free and the community cares for them as a whole.
Men are regularly seen taking care of babies.
It feels very safe here, more so than many parts of Australia.

Some things they have been enjoying:
The food
The fish spa (where fish nibble your toes)
The White Temple

Fifth week of antics for Scholarship Interns Claire and Amelia

Santa Claus is coming to India!

We’re looking forward to our Indian Christmas. Parcels have been arriving from our family and friends so we even have wrapped presents under our cardboard tree! We have slowly been putting up Christmas decorations including some extremely cute little reindeer that have proved to be a big hit with the staff at FEGG. Little Nikil had a lot of fun working out where we had hidden each one. Our room looks fabulous. Fulfilling a childhood wish, Claire went a little overboard cutting out angel paperchains to decorate the walls, literally all the walls, so we see them wherever we look. The joy of making a bizzilion paperchains was continued by some of the office ladies who furtively started experimenting with scissors and paper to get the same result. Some of them gave up and asked for instructions, laughing at how simple it was. We have a Christmas window shrine where we have hung photos of our loved ones which we visit every morning to open a window on the Advent calendar (lucky we didn’t leave home without that) and to say hello to the familiar faces in the photos. We told you we were getting a little crazy!

The lead-up to Christmas has been tainted by Amelia’s inconvenient and debilitating flu. However it did provide us the opportunity to visit the local health clinic, an interesting experience. The registration form required Amelia to give details of her father or husband – apparently they needed to know which man was responsible for her before allowing her consultation. She was then ushered over to a nurse who checked her blood pressure, temperature and went through a questionnaire of symptoms, making notes on her card. Next was what we thought was the waiting room, but soon turned out to be where the doctor saw her patients. A number of pregnant women, several coughing children and a few feeble elders formed a crowd around her desk. In a seemingly random order, the doctor took each patient’s health file and gave her advice. Each transaction was accompanied by murmurs of agreement or friendly chuckles from the audience. Amelia was relieved that her health complaint that she had to share with the room was not of a more private nature. The doctor prescribed Amelia with all the fitting drugs as well as a hemogram that surprised us by coming back within minutes of having her blood taken. Capital Pathology, beat that!

So our week rolled on with Amelia stacking up snotty tissues and Claire getting blisters from overuse of scissors making decorations. Now we anticipate a big adventure over the Christmas break and a busy return to FEGG in January.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Jimmy in Thaialnd - UniBreak Volunteer

Fun lead up to Christmas

On Monday I was scheduled to spend the day at a school for children with learning difficulties (down syndrome, autism etc). Myself and two other volunteers got dropped off at the local petrol station where teachers from the school we were teaching were to pick us up and drive us. We've been told that Thai people are either very early or extremely late, and after two hours of waiting for a teacher to turn up, we got a phone call saying that school had been cancelled because of an election of some sorts. None of us really understood what that meant, but it did mean that we didn't get a chance to teach that day which was a shame. Instead when we came back, we helped sort out a LOT of second hand clothing to send out to the local hill tribes as its getting extremely cold here at night. Also that afternoon I had a go at making mud bricks for some of the construction projects the organisation are working on. I think if I can't make a career out of teaching, construction work is right up my alley!! (No need to laugh, I was being extremely sarcastic!) It was surprisingly interesting and pretty tiring work, but we made a lot of bricks that afternoon and a cold shower was the best remedy for a hard afternoon!

On Tuesday morning I went to spend some time at the local village of Baan Jalae and help out in the local child care centre. There were about 20 kids and they were really well behaved. It's good fun teaching the little kids between 3 and 5; we sung some great classic tunes like 10 little fingers, old mcdonald, jingle bells. Then we just spent the morning colouring in fish, then we played their favorite game: whats the time mr. wolf? They went crazy, it's a real hit! That afternoon I spent some time at the Chiang Rai public hospital. Our aim at the hospital is to spend about three hours with the kids who are there for a really long time (around 3 - 6 months) and just take their mind off their treatments etc. We brought along a big craft box and just coloured in, played ten pin bowling and had a good laugh! It was really sad seeing these kids so sick but their enthusiasm and big, warm smiles honestly really touched me.

There are about 10 or so women who make authentic goods like scarves, braclets, clay figurines that are in the style of the local hill tribes. You can purchase some of these goods online (but the website is in thai!). I spent Wednesday morning teaching these women really basic english like the alphabet, how to write the letters and some basic phonics. On Wednesday night there was a big big farewell party for a few of the Thai interns who had been working at Chiang Rai for about 3 - 4 months. It was a great excuse to eat some really good fun, have a few beers and have a good laugh! There was a karaoke machine and a group of about four of us kept getting asked to sing. We agreed to sing after we had a beer under our belt which certainly helped! We did a great injustice to some songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Stayin' Alive and Have you ever seen the rain? We still keep getting asked to sing Staying Alive at any given time and for some odd reason, we keep saying no..

On Thursday morning, myself and two others went to go spend the morning at another child care centre and play with the children there. We learnt all about fruit and they seemed to understand it which was good. Once we started colouring in they went crazy and were quite hard to control - no wonder why the other volunteers wished me luck when going there for the first time! On Thursday night I went out for dinner with myself and the two other volunteers from Antipodeans Abroad with our in country agent. We went to Paul's house just to catch up and have a quick lesson in the basics of thai with his wife which was great. We went out for dinner to a local restaurant which was off the main streets of the city and it was so good! We had some great authentic thai seafood, twas delish!

This afternoon I'm off to explore the city of Chiang Mai (a three hour bus ride south of Chiang Rai) to explore some ancient ruins, temples and enjoy the night markets and local cuisine!

I'm still not sure what we're up to for Christmas and NYE. I think we have to teach on Christmas Day and then we celebrate an early NYE with all of the staff herer on the 29th. We start preparing for the party on the 27th or 28th at some crazy time like 2am for some odd reason - it's all a big vague at the moment! I might be going to Bangkok with another Aussie volunteer during this time as well, decisions decisions!!

Roseville B - China

Hey everyone,

Here are some more photos to keep you going until we get home. Not long now!!

Love Team B. (B is for Bubbly)

This is the summary

I hope all's well. It has been another busy week but I am much more relaxed.
The temples I got to see were very good and the children trying to sell you things very impressive. For $1 they could tell me the prime minister, capital and population of Australia.
I have had a couple of lunches at teachers' houses in the village. I enjoyed the morning glory, rice and fried duck eggs.
I have visited the silk farm and decided that silk should be at least $1000 per metre for the hand made silk.
The anniversary party at school was astounding. They had games and 8 huge speakers on the back of a truck blaring out music. The party food was soup and two baguette type rolls. The volunteers presented each child with these. It was a very moving experience to see the humble acceptance and thanks given for the food. Later the dancing started and we were literally dragged on to the dance floor (dusty volleyball court). The locals were not keen to let us go and we were given powder to rub on to absorb the sweat. The atmosphere was incredible.
I met up with a Khmer lady who is a friend of an Aussie friend. This was a real treat as I discovered clean air (air conditioning) and a real cup of coffee. She speaks good English and we spent a lovely time together.
Lunch was spent at Tonle Sap Lake and we picked up a new Aussie volunteer who will be at the same school.
We then went to the Sangheum Centre for Children to join in their Christmas party. It was a great afternoon of singing and dancing performances from the orphans there. Santa Claus (alias Tom) was a real hit.
I'm having a quiet morning and then off to the Cultural Village this afternoon.
I still haven't got used to riding in the traffic. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera at the ready when I was passed by a urinating pig lying on its back across a board on the back of a motorbike!!!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Stuartholme B - India

Namaste from Team B!! Here is our blog for the trek...

We have completed our trek on the Singalilia Ridge. We all had heaps of fun living as adventures for 5 days. The views were amazing but it was very cold! As well as enjoying the trek we loved the food!

We are now in Darjeeling and taking advantage of the rich culture and great shopping! We head off to Kolkata tomorrow on the night train where we hope to see more interesting characters!

We are all excited to get home but will greatly miss India.

Love Team B

St Catherine's - China

St Catherine's are at their Community Project.

Since leaving Beijing to go to the Great Wall we have all trekked along the wall together and are now working on the 2nd day of the project. We will update more when we are back in Beijing!
St Catherine's - China

Monte A - Peru

Hi everyone,

Yesterday we arrived in Arequipa at around midday after travelling by plane from lima. We are all really happy with Arequipa - it is a very developed area with a lot more tourism and beautiful buildings than what we have previously encountered in other cities. The markets are amazing and everything is really busy and up beat. We went out to dinner last night at a restaurant in the Plaza D´Armas which was really nice because there were carols being sung below us!

Everybody is safe and happy and we are all looking foward to seeing you all upon our return on the 29th!!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

PLC - India

Hey guys

Sorry bout the absence of writing ... we have been stuck in da mountains
Starting from when we left off ... we were still in Dharamsala .
We woke up on the 7th at 5 00 to catch the taxi's that would take us on our 7 hour drive to Manali. We came across some beautiful views on the way but the windy roads werent exactly pleasant. A few felt sick with some Dehli belly and carsickness but we got there in the end. Manali is beautiful!!! Snow capped mountains in every direction. Amy and Ruth had booked us the 'mount view hotel'. Little did they know it was very dodgy. Creaking and steep stairs, little electricity, no flush in the toilet and stains on the pillows. It was very funny, but a bit of a shock. Not exactly what we had expected. It alll worked out in the end. It turned out there had been a double booking, and we had previous arrangements that had been booked for us that we did not know about. The Hotel Mayflower was very different to the Mount View Hotel. Beautiful wooden furnishings, massive comfortable rooms and comfy beds. we were all very pleased and relieved. In Manali we played some cricket in the middle of the road with some locals, a very cultural experience. We met our trekking team who briefed us about our trek. We were very excited!!! The next day we were taken around Manali sightseeing to get to know the beautiful town. We visited many temples, and sights and took many pictures. We packed that night for our trek and had our final showers.

The next day we were transported to the start of the trek and met our guide, the much loved Gupta- Ji. The first day of trekking was all uphill, but quite short and we reached Pujan village at around lunchtime. We were welcomed by the locals and our trekking team, served some chai and had chilled out by the campfire. That night we had our first amaazzziinnggg meal by the cooking team. One of many to come. We were waited on hand and foot by the very attentive team.

The next day we trekked along with similar scenery, winding higher and higher into the snowline. There were very beautiful views, but it rained a lot. We were very excited to see our village and slowly inch closer and closer. We were welcomed by the locals and shown the school we were to be working on. It was in pretty bad shape but we were very eager to get to work on making it look ammmazzinnggg. The majority of the kids had never seen a tourist before and they were very interested in our appearance. They were shy at first. Our accommodation was a small room where we fitted 8 girls and another room for the teachers.

The next day we met the children, wearing the uniforms that we had provided and sang the national anthem in two straight lines. We got to work teaching and playing right away. We taught them the alphabet, animals and numbers, and they were very eager to learn. One game in particular was very well liked. We called it cat cat dog (duck duck goose). They couldnt get enough of it. They started to warm to us and surprisingly, the language barrier was not such a big deal. We couldnt start painting on that day unfortunately because it was raining. That night Amy took a trip and cut her hand on a rock. That was a very long night. Amy is fine and her hand is recovering nicely. We got to work the next day painting and teaching. We painted the rails blue and the walls white. It started looking better immediately. The next day also, we worked very hard painting and cementing up some holes in the walls. It helped to have some handymen on board to help us. The last day, we were treated to a great celebration, where the men and women wore their traditional mountain dress and danced for us. We all joined in and it was a very exciting expeirence. Most of the village was there and it was then we officially presented our gifts to the school. We bought beanies, gloves, socks and hats for them in Manali, but also our fundraising money was able to provide stationery, chairs, books, uniforms, tables, school shoes and all the supplies to build and paint. A sign was put up on the school dedicated to us which was awesome. That night we were invited to an indian wedding where we ate with the locals and got to experience the culture. We were serenaded that night by the cooks who sang and danced to indian music. HAHA.

The next day we trekked out in SNOW! which was very exciting for some who had never seen snow fall before. It receeded as we descended the mountain. The trek that day was very challenging and uphill but we got there in the end in a very tired state. It was very cold, but beautiful views. The next day, the final day of the trek, we walked for 5 hours downhill to 3 taxis that were waiting for us to take us to our hotel. This would be the last night with the trekking team and we were very sad to see them go. That night we found out tht the trek that we had just finished, had never been trekked before and was to be named after us. We were all stoked!! We had a nice shower after a long time away and slept as long as we could before a very long bus ride to Dehli. We drove for 16 hours on very bumpy, windy road that had us all very tired and bothered by the time we pulled in at Dehli at 11:00 at Cottage Yes please. the next day we caught the train to Agra, a 2 hour trip that many slept through, checked into the hotel, and started the sightseeing for the day. We saw the Agra fort, a massive red structure, full of history. We also had our first taste of crazy indian bazaars. All senses were attacked at the Kinari Bazaar, busy, loud, smelly, crowded. A very overwhelming but unforgettable experience. We then went to a less busy market where most of us bought many prezzies for home.

Tomorrow we visit the Taj Mahal. We will keep in touch. Missing you all.


Monte B - Peru

Hey everyone!

Just an update on the community project. A few days ago we modified and painted two soup kitchens as well as participating in another Choclotada with the peruvian day care kids also supported by the sisters. We visited the health care center and presented them with many toothpaste and toothbrushes that were donated by the monte community. The workers in the health center are mainly volunteers with an exception of a professional doctor and dentist. They were all extremely happy for our visit and were stoked about our donations. Sr Joan took us on a tour of Cerra Candela, where we got to personally visit the women from the houses in their own homes. This was an eye opening experience and we were all touched by it. Yesterday we visited many tourist sites in central Lima, churches and museums. Today we are visiting the Consule for Australia in Tres de Mayo and we are putting on a show for the guests.
Everybody is well, and having a fabulous time. Tomorrow we are heading to Cusco bright and early, so speak to you from there.
Lots of love, Monte B

Friday, 18 December 2009

Kincoppal - Vietnam

Yes, unfortunately it's us again. We are just updating the blog of our adventures in Vietnam.

We are currently having the time of our lives and shopping all you parents bankrupt - and there's plenty more to come. The culture of Vietnam is interesting and really cool (minus the squat toilets).

So we won the struggle for survival against mother nature during our three day hike except when Maddy rolled down the hill and Alice, Rabia, and Bridget got lost. But don't fear Dr Chang was here to keep us safe from the disasters. The beds we have slept in were like rock. Literally. They are rock hard. After our hike we went to our project in Thuy An and pumped our guns through our physical labour as well as looking after the children and mentally disabled children. It was really fun but at first confronting and we've decided to continue our fundraising on our return to the Motherland. Besides coming home to a rock hard bed, covered in head to toe in cement, paint, vomit, dirt, baby-saliva, and rubble it was a great 5 days at the centre. Everyone there was really lovely despite the terrible situation they were in and we made lots of friends like T-Rex and Monkey-man and Blue Steel (real names lost in translation).

After a hard week we had a relaxing time on our boat in Ha Long Bay. It was absolutely gorgeous despite the first rain we've had on our trip. We raced our kayaks with Michaela and Savannah as champions. In between our sunbaking and exploring caves we squeezed in some swimming time jumping off the boat, with Domi bravely attempting a backflip. The seafood was brilliant and Emma was not afraid to try new things which were delicious.

Alice and Kira did an amazing job finding this luxurious hotel in Hoi An (which we are now staying in) which include real mattresses that sink on our beds. The hotel is fabulous, where we are all getting manicures, massages, tailored clothes, time to swim and possibly time to work out in the gym.

We are missing you all terribly and we will inform you on our expedition.
Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of love.

Team Tractor.

Roseville B - China

Just in case you can't hold on, we'll let you know now that we survived our first overnight train. You'll have to read below to find out more...

We've had loads of fun since our last email, so we'll start from our last day in Beijing....

A sleep in was much desired after our non-stop activity, so the plan was to meet in the hotel lobby at 10am. When everyone fessed up, we realised that 11am would be a more appropriate time because most of us were struggling to fit all our shopping in. Seriously, if you saw us, you'd think about 10 members of our group were missing and we were just holding their luggage for them. No joke.

Anyway, we hadn't been for a walk through any of the Hutongs. These are the more traditional back streets of Beijing, where reminders of past times hang in the architecture and design of the buildings. Cars don't fit down most of the alleys, and there are gorgeous door knobs and windows in what would otherwise be a very bleak and boring street.

Knowing we only had about 3 hours to spare until we needed to get back to the hotel to grab our stuff and go to the train station, we started to walk, hopefully in the general direction of the post office. The lanes were very narrow, in the cold winter morning, everything looked grey, but every so often we'd get a glimpse into Chinese life when a door would be open and we could see into their courtyards full of bicycles, fruit and vegetables hanging out to dry along with the washing, and men smoking cigarettes as they solve the mysteries of the world.

Before long, we were hugely distracted though. We'd seen bits of ancient Beijing with the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven etc, and had absorbed the atmosphere of modern China with Tiannenmen Square and our trip to the Olympic sites, but nothing prepared us for the Beijing of the future.

Stepping out of the cold, dark Hutong alley, we found ourselves in what can only be described as being just like a movie set. It was a large plaza stretching for about 3 blocks, with beautiful shops decorated for Christmas on both sides. Christmas carols floated through the air to us, and at one end there was a huge Christmas tree. It felt like we'd stepped out of China and into Europe or the North Pole. There was nothing else to do but start twirling and dancing right there in the street!

The shops weren't "our" sort of shops, in that they were up-market, full-priced places. However, the magic of this plaza engulfed us, and we set off to look at everything. Trams would come down from time to time, with the gentle clanging of the bell asking us to move over so it could pass, and everything just felt so happy.

We decided to spice things up a little and have some fun, so we carefully planned "freezes" to see what would happen. For those of you who don't know what these are, it's when a group of relatively normal looking people walk through a crowded place, and then without any warning, they all stop, frozen in whatever position it was. After some time, they all start moving again. If you haven't seen this sort of thing on YouTube before, it can be quite puzzling, but most people find it rather amusing.

The Christmas carols (which were in English) really helped us achieve our goal. We worked out certain words of a song we would freeze to, and others to unfreeze us. We mixed it up a bit by having our unfreeze happen as us breaking into dance at times, and overall it was rather successful. We had some people follow us down the street, just to see what we might do next. We felt like celebrities. I think China will be glad to see the end of us though.

This seems to have become our thing though, and we broke out the moves in the streets of Xian last night too. More on that later.

So our last day in Beijing was spent looking at this new side we hadn't experienced before. There were people promoting stores dressed as traditional Chinese statues, and really expensive ice cream stores where you could pay up to $AUD10 for one scoop!!! Some of us simply had to sample this ice cream, so see what was so special, and it was confirmed to be pretty good, but the price was still a bit high.

All too soon, we had to return to the hotel via another Hutong to get to the station. It was a little embarrassing to walk into the lobby and see a massive net thrown over our bags. Apparently our stuff couldn't fit in their storage location, so this was the alternative. Please bring empty cars when you pick us up from the airport. Some of us are more guilty than others.

Excitement filled the air as we piled into taxis, wondering what it would be like on the overnight train. Would it be just like the Hogwart's Express from Harry Potter? It was hard to imagine that it could be anything less.

Arriving at the station was a quick reality hit. There were a zillion entrances, and two taxis ended up on one side, and two on the other. After about half an hour, we managed to reunite (don't worry, there were teachers with each group) and then we found our way to our platform.

The stations here are very different to Australian ones. For example, it was about 1km from one side to the other (hence the half hour delay in meeting up with each other), and there are just people everywhere. We know we told you that we found all the population of China on our metro the other week, but they obviously relocated to the train station just to be with us, but it seemed like this time they'd trebled. It was chaos!

We followed the long line to board the train (it was about 50km long, no joke. we should have just walked to Xian!) and were grateful that we had allocated seating, or else we would have been spread out all over the place. It was disappointing to find out that the Hogwart's Express really is a figment of JK Rowling's imagination, and that the Chinese government didn't use her model in designing their trains. There were 6 people to a section, with top, middle and bottom bunks. The squat toilet at the end of the train was a bit daunting, but we all survived with more sleep than we thought. The train rattled past big towns and small towns. One place even looked like Las Vegas, with the Eiffel Tower in Neon lights on top of a building, and lasers beaming everywhere. Not sure where it was, but it looked pretty exciting.

None of us enjoyed the 4am wake up when all the lights were switched on to let people off at a major station, but 7am came around pretty quickly after that and we arrived in Xian.

We didn't really know what to expect, but as the "town" people go to in order to see the Terracotta Warriors, none of us really expected to be hit with a city of 8 million! It's huge!! The station was almost as big as the Beijing one, and walking outside was like coming out of an airport with people everywhere waiting for loved ones. There was even someone waiting for us! We could hardly believe our luck!

This man approached us, identifying us as a school group, and offered us free transfers to any Youth Hostel of our choice. We, being diligent travellers, already had an idea of where to go, and although he said it was good, he told us about a new, nicer one. It all seemed too good to be true, but we thought we'd try our luck.

We arrived at a wonderfully cosy, beautifully set out hostel, and bargained our way into what are probably the most comfortable beds and rooms we've had this whole trip. It was an excellent find!

We set to work finding ways to get to the Terracotta Warriors, and discovered that with all the money we saved on accommodation and transfers, we could afford a private tour with an English guide and everything included. Again, it all seemed to have worked out perfectly.

We set off on the bus at 11am, and visited some workshops showing us how they made the Terracotta Warriors. It was quite interesting to find out that the larger ones had to be fired for 7 days to make them strong enough, and that they've got solid legs for balance. We then had a buffet lunch, in true "tour" style, and boarded the bus again for our last leg before reaching our intended destination.

It was a little disconcerting to drive out of the lunch parking lot, where there were hundreds of buses just like ours, to see dry land all around, and then a massive Pyramid and Sphinx popping up from the landscape. We were confused at first, wondering how on earth we'd manage to miss the fact that the Great Pyramids of Giza were in Xian, when the guide told us that it was a replica (thank goodness!) and it was actually a factory. The Chinese really do go over the top sometimes!!!

We finally arrived at the Terracotta Warriors, and had a long walk to actually get to where they are. It was pretty magnificent to see the three different pits of soldiers, some more excavated than others, and archaeologists at working digging, classifying and reassembling the finds.

The warriors weren't actually found completely intact. Archaeologists have worked meticulously to piece them together, before putting them back in their original location. There are 1087 warriors restored, but between 8000-10000 in total which the Chinese government will get to eventually.

Some of us were disappointed that we couldn't actually walk amongst them, but instead had to walk around them, but it was great to see the work of a crazy emperor.

We returned to Xian and found a noodle bar for dinner, which probably wasn't ranked alongside our favourite food in China so far. We'll do better today.

After dinner, most of us went for a walk through the brightly lit streets. The Chinese really do know how to do their Neon lights, and we were obviously staying close to a nightlife district as the music was blaring too. There were lots of young Chinese people around, curious as to why a bunch of western girls would be there (decked out in our glorious tracksuit pants and boots) in such a trendy area, so we made a few friends. Feeling in good spirits, we put our freezes to work again, and got cheers and applauds. It's amazing what you can get away with in other countries!!! In Australia, we'd be social outcasts for that sort of behaviour!

We tumbled into our comfy beds, and had a great night's sleep. We're all set to check out the Bell Tower, Drum Tower and Muslim Quarter of Xian today.

Knowing that we've only got 5 days (approximately) left, we're starting to get a bit sentimental. We can't believe how quickly the time has passed, even if there have been challenges along the way. We've learned so much and had so many new experiences. Even if our shopping habits don't indicate it, we've all grown up in so many ways, and come to appreciate home more and more. In summary we've learned:

1. We have amazing friends. This trip would not have been possible without our friends here with us for love and support. It's been tough at times, especially when kidneys rock up in your fried rice and it tastes nothing like fried rice back home, and having such a supportive group has made it bearable.

2. Home is an amazing place. Even if we don't appear to appreciate it all the time, China has particularly made us realise that our families are such wonderful people. We wouldn't have had this opportunity without you guys, so thanks. And, we do love you more than we let on.

3. We're pretty lucky individuals. We have so many opportunities back home, many we've taken for granted. We've all decided to make better use of our time and really take advantage of what's on offer. Therefore, please disregard our School Certificate results and wait for our HSC ones!

That's enough mushy stuff for now. Except for maybe this.....

We recently heard a little poem thing that goes as follows:

When you have come to the edge of the light you have known,
And are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown,
Faith is knowing one of two things can happen,
There will be something solid for you to stand on,
Or you will be taught how to fly.

Coming on this trip, you parents probably believed we'd have something solid to stand on. We have the guarantee of Antipodeans, great travel insurance, a leader and teachers, and of course, each other. Arriving in China, everything we knew had disappeared. We had no parents there to pick up the pieces for us, nobody to get us from A to B, we had to be independent, we had to do it ourselves. For us, there wasn't anything solid to stand on, we were flung into the middle of the unknown. Looking back now, we can say we didn't only survive, we thrived. We learned how to fly.

Thank you.

Love always,

Team B. (B is for bold)

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Monte A - Peru

It has been a busy past few days as we settled in to the Womens House in Huandoy.

On Monday we began our community work which consisted of painting a mural for a local milk program. This program provides up to 200 children a week with milk that has fruit in it. The mural which was to be located outside of the kitchen had to encourage the children to drink milk. Izzy (our art captian) was in charge of designing, painting and figuring out a slogan in spanish. We all assisted to her to the best of our ability and rewarded our hard work with many trips to the local shops to get supplies of oreos and inca cola. We manged to complete the painting in one day and Ben and Mr McHugh hung up the mural for all to see.

The next day we were able to visit a local private high school that had assisted in the Chocolatada on Sunday. It was a great experience to be able to "mingle" with kids our own age and learn about their lives. Getting to know each other games were played, Inca Cola was served and facebooks and email adresses were exhanges. In the afternoon we had another Chocolatada this time with only 80 children. We managed to entertain them by playing with balloons and teaching the children the"Hokey Pokey". After that we changed houses to our new residence which is the House in Tres de Maio. We all ready miss Huandoy and its hot water showers and spacious sleeping area but we are sure we will come to love Tres de Maio as much as we Huandoy.

Today we went to Cerro Candala the third womens house. In the same area as this womens house was a medical center and a childrens house. At the childrens house we were treated to songs and dance and in return we feed more hot chocolate and sang them a few of our own christmas carrols. Before visiting the medical center we had lunch at the womens house. Here we had an amazing lunch and watched many dancing performances. Best of all for desert we had jelly and ice cream. Visiting the medical center inspired us to continue a fund raising efforts next year as we see the need for the money and plan to raise money to buy and ultrasound machine. Afterwards we had a walk around the local area were meet the local people and saw a glimpse into their homes. It was an eye-opening experience and one we will never forget. We have much planned for our last few days at the house and we are sure we will enjoy it.

Stuartholme A - India

Stuartholme A are now hard at work at their community project.

They are continuing to build the basket ball court (begun by Team B) and are looking forward to their final days in India.

Teaching, Kids and RICE in Nepal

Helen's latest update from Pokhara and the orphanage

After our very first exciting week of being lost and not knowing much about anything, things are now settling down. This week after our exciting Saturday trekking to the peace pagoda and boating across lake phewa, our work week began again on Sunday at 7.15am. We were thrown straight into teaching. This week some of the other volunteers have gone on a trek to Poon Hill which takes about 5 days so Leanne, Anoushka and I ,plus Harvey from the UK and Maggie from the USA are the only teachers meaning we have a class each, every lesson period. It's great to have our own set classes every time because now there is a bit more structure and we can plan better which in the end will be more beneficial for the kids.

The kids seem quite bright but they have been taught little bits of everything and there are huge gaps in what they can do. Most of them can read really well but ask them what it was about/summarise what they read most of them do not even know where to begin. Reading comprehension is now a very big part of most english lessons. Maths is another case altogether. The Nursery class are about 4 years old and can do Timetables! Leanne is teaching them. Anoushka is teaching the first floor class who are about eight years old and are just as impressive. They are well into fractions, BODMAS and advanced multiplication sums. And anyone that knows me (Helen) knows that I wasn't very confident with my Maths. However, I have had to get over that pretty quick because I am teaching the living room kids who are almost 11 or 12 but they are up to Algebra! This week I have managed to teach them to rearrange equations . On Friday we have testing so hopefully all our hard work and lesson planning will have helped the kids to some extent.

They continue to be very cheeky and do not have alot of discipline. Next week the plan is to do Manners in our social classes. But despite us telling them off occasionally they never stay mad and always try to do their best for us.

Our daily routine is now quite set. We wake up at 6:50 am and eat breakfast at 7:15am. After a week where we thought our stomachs would pop ,proper breakfast portion sizes have been negotiated so it no longer takes us about 30 minutes to eat. Breakfast consists of really yummy tibetan bread which Sonam our host Mother showed us how to make yesterday. At around 7:40 am we set off on our bikes to work and get to the Orphanage around 8.15am. Class begins at 8:30 am and concludes at 11:30. Lunch at 12:30 which I do not particularly like...I am really getting over rice. A free 2 hours till 2:30pm. Then homework help and playtime till 5.00pm. At 5.15pm we set off for home again. We always are greeted at home with our host family insisting we take a cup of tea. Dinner around 7/7.30pm which is when the power goes out and then we have been in bed before 9.00pm almost every night.

This weekend we plan to hike up to Sarangot. We will leave Friday after lunch because it is a half day so the kids have no classes after 11.30am. We will hike up and spend the night then get up early on saturday morning to see the sunrise over the Annapurna mountain range and Mt Fishtail. I am not sure if you heard but on Monday there was a very tragic bus crash on the way up to Sarangot. 6 died at the scene and 9 later in hospital. So we are walking. But due to that crash today after the lunch the WHOLE COUNTRY OF NEPAL is going on strike because the government did not pay one family that had someone injured or killed the correct compensation...go figure. Its really odd why they have so many strikes and how everyone just knows there is a strike. People just seem to find out by word of mouth. We got told to check the street before we left on our bike because sometimes a strike even means no bicycles. If we rode our bikes when that is the case, people can apparently push us off and let the air out of our tyres...??? :S

So there is still much to learn. We are starting to plan some activities to do next week for Christmas. We have also been invited by some American volunteers to the Christmas party they are hosting for the kids at the orphanage which sounds like lots of fun! Apparently the americans are doing the cooking which means there will be Christmas Cookies and NO RICE!!!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

India keeps surprising us......Claire and Amelia's FEGG Internship adventures Part four

Somehow we knew we had stumbled into somewhere very special which stirred a sense of wonder in us.

India keeps surprising us. The last week has held a very special experience for us: the sort of experience where we both get delighted shivers and exchange a look that says it all.
After an exhausting but rewarding couple of days working to meet a deadline we found ourselves whisked off to the Tribal Belt. Not knowing where we were going we enjoyed rumbling along in the bus accompanied by a few goats, young men in tight jeans, old guys in turbans and leather Aladdin shoes, and tribal woman in all their finery with heavy jewellery, bare midriffs and gypsy skirts. We found ourselves envious of their style although we are not so sure about the chunky plastic bracelets they stack all the way up their arms to their shoulders - surely it can’t be comfortable!
We were dropped in a little village and with the wind whipping through our hair we motorbiked through rocky desert splashed with greenery, palms, bright yellow blossoms and trees with leaves dripping from the branches. It was by far the poorest and most foreign place we have ever seen. Somehow we knew we had stumbled into somewhere very special which stirred a sense of wonder in us. We were taken aback by this incredible effect.
Babies cried in fear of our white faces and women stopped to watch us pass with mouths open, seemingly oblivious to the massive loads balanced on their heads. This area is home to many of India’s diverse ethnic minority groups, often amongst the most marginalised in society. We arrived in schools to find children studying in dusty school yards or packed together with other classes in small rooms, having to share one teacher between eight grades. Despite the poor conditions the schoolchildren displayed an eagerness to come to school and learn. They proudly showed off their maths skills, doing sums in their heads to calculate which number we had picked from the magic number square. We were very impressed! In one school a confident but humble Bal Sabha (girls’ council) leader lead a group of girls in a traditional song which stayed in our minds for hours afterwards.
We were inspired by the sheer perseverance and resourcefulness of these teachers. It was obvious they really believed in the potential of their students and the importance of education. Whilst sitting with Gafendea he told us that he wanted the children to learn how to learn. Talking to him, a city man and a scholar of Sanskrit, we realised the reality of his everyday struggle and his willingness to take it on. We began to grasp the significance of a relationship between FEGG and this one small school. The exchange deepened our appreciation of FEGG’s mission and their role in building on local networks and supporting these communities. We could see how our work writing website content, documenting FEGG’s activities and creating training materials is connected to the everyday reality of people living in this area. Our visit to the Tribal Belt was yet another important experience that enriches our work and adds to our understanding of FEGG. Beyond our placement we know that we will continually draw on what we are learning here.

Stuartholme A - India

Team A, Stuartholme,

After two long, eventful flights and one not so eventful stop-over, Stuartholme girls Team A finally landed in an airport and a world not quite like our own… Kolkata, India. With cats in the airport, dogs on the streets and school-boys banging nonstop on our windows, the teachers certainly had their hands full, and us girls were loving every minute of it. Kolkata was an experience that was filled with a lot of firsts. Our first time roaming the busy streets, our first one on one with a begging mother, our first squat toilet and our first attempt at bartering. The Indian food was memorable, but perhaps not as spectacular as our meal at Gaylords, with brownies and ice-cream for dinner…

We moved out of Kolkata and on to our next destination, Darjeeling, by the overnight train The Darjeeling Mail. After expecting Harry Potter style sleeping carriages, or at least something not unlike Darjeeling Limited, we were a bit dazed to be greeted with transvestites, beggars and eight people/bags crammed into a 12 meter cubed compartment. All in all the train ride was a spectacular experience and one that neither the girls or Mr. Ulcoq will forget in a hurry.
After fearing for our lives, and writing final letters to loved ones we made it through the 6 hour jeep ride along the mountain ridge to Darjeeling unscathed. The 2 days we spent in Darjeeling were some of the most magnificent of our lives, from the amazing shopping to the friendly people and the immense amount of peace flags draped across Observatory Hill. We were greeted at our Hogwarts-style hotel with hot tea, a lit fireplace, and best of all, the comforting shoulder of Mama Norbu. Aside from Toy-Train trips, zoo visits and shopping-frenzies, the most memorable of mornings was spent on Tiger Hill, watching the sun rise and taking millions of photos with countless Indian men.
The hike, the most daunting part of the trip was soon upon us, however we managed to trek the hills of the Himalayas without anyone dying, mainly due to the help of Mr. D-Dawa, who was a definite favorite amongst the girls. With a few minor injuries, the trek was one of the most rewarding and magical experiences of our lives. It’s doubtful that we’ll ever fully be able to explain watching the sunrise over Mt. Everest on a sea of clouds, or attempting to shower out of a bucket in -30 degrees; nonetheless, the hike was worth every minute of pain, cold and bush-peeing.
After the completion of our trek, we spent the night in festivities with the cooks and crew who accompanied us for the 5 days. We spent Harriet’s birthday on a 12 hour bus trip through the mountains, one she won’t be forgetting quickly. Currently we are in Ravangla, working long and hard on our basketball court, picking up the slack from Team B and all sleeping in one room. It’s a party and we’re excited.

UniBreak India - Safe and enjoying life in Pen

Jax's medical placement

Charad is awesome and sandhya will be coming in every friday for our meetings and we can contact her anytime... we all feel very safe and like there is help there if we ever need it.
Loving India and having many great experiences- observed a surgery today and we all almost fainted haha! but it was ok. I'd love to watch more - its fascinating!
Rowan is teaching like she wanted and we're working in the medical vans and at the private hospital and we went to the Leprosy clinic today and just observed the doctor and her checkups- very good to see.
we're planning on going to Goa for christmas... still to sort it out here but might take the thursday off too from work to travel there and spend friday and sat seeing the place, coming home sunday. we get fri off anyways because its christmas.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Monte B - Peru


We arrived in Tres de Mayo 2 days ago and started the project today. We split into 2 groups, going to two different soup kitchens. One group was kept busy sanding down the outside walls and window frames while the other group painted the inside and outside of the kitchen. Tres de Mayo is a very interesting place, particularly with the Chocolatada yesterday - there were so many children! We all had lots of fun making friends and trying out our Spanish on the kids.

We've been taken on walks around Tres de Mayo by the sisters and one of the women from the house, which has been very interesting for us all. It's fascinating to see life in Peru. We leave tomorrow so go to another of the sisters' houses, and will continue working on the project tomorrow morning.

Hope everyone at home is well,

Love Team B

St Catherine's - China

Ni Hao from China!

Yes we have made it safely to China after many hours of sitting and sleeping in Bangkok Airport and numerous bus rides to get to our hotel. Everyone has made it here fit and well and we are preparing to leave for a 2-3 hour hike on the great wall of China in half an hour!
Beijing is overwhelming with the enormous size and the contrast between the new and old buildings. Lying at the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City, was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. This was the exciting journey we experienced yesterday. Lizzi's birthday was celebrated on the plane where the leaders organised i nice suprise and she got the privilege of calling home to talk to her family.
We are all very excited and have just enjoyed a yummy buffet breakfast and have enjoyed the last two dinners in Beijing which have consisted of rice, noodles, dumpling, duck and chicken (and yes Lucy ate a chickens head).
After our trek to the Great Wall we will definately post pictures of our experiences so far.
Bye for now (leaving in 10 minutes)
Kendall and Hannah

Monday, 14 December 2009

Barker B- Peru

An Update from Cuzco.

Day 3

This morning we rose to our first full day in Peru. We had brekky before going about some important chores such as organinsing finances and booking accomodation for Arequipa. We then ventured out into the streets of Cuzco to explore the foreign city. Our first stop was Qorikancha, a Spanish church built over Incan ruins. Next we made our way to Chez Maggy, a pizza restaurant. We then visited La Catedral, a Spanish cathedral overlooking Plaza de Armas, built in 1559, taking more than 100 years to build. We then had chance to look around and browse the city markets. We then had an afternoon rest in our hotel before making our way to Jack´s Cafe. We managed to take the long way even though the cafe was right around the corner from our hostel. We then had a final opportunity to visit the markets where we practised our barganing skills. After a big day out in Cuzco we went back to our hostel for a good night's sleep.

Josh Briggs

Day 4

We woke up to a chilly overcast day but pumped for what was to come. The group hit the breakfast table at 8am sharp and devoured a fruit salad, scrambled eggs and bread with jam. We then had a group meeting and decided who was going to book what. Split into two groups, one went to book the restaurant for the two teams on christmas eve and the other to buy the train ticket for the trip to Machu Pichu. We then met for a Peruvian lunch in a local restaurant which constituted of a 3 course menu. For starters we had a potato salad filled tomato. Unfortunately we couldn't eat the tomato because it had been washed in the local water. Then we waited a solid hour for some authentic salted cornchip soup. Another hour passed and the Alpaca arrived which was suprisingly tasty. Towards the end of the meal we learnt some Spanish compliments for the chef. In the afternoon we split up into smaller groups to explore the Cuzco shops. For dinner we went to a fabulous restaurant down an alley which Dougy and Ailsa had found for us. We dined on guinea pig which was "interesting" and balled our eyes out on chillies. We also listened to a fantastic local band that played throughout the evening. To top it off we bought ice-cream and cake to celebrate Will's 16th birthday.

Angus Murray

Roseville B - China

So, back to Day 3......... (then the days blur together until Day 9)

We caught a private coach from our hotel in Bejing to Huangyagoun where we were to complete our community service project. Our local guide, James, taught us the ways of Beijing, explaining that when you get a car registered, it is only registered for 6 days a week, meaning that each car has a week day where it is not permitted on the roads. This is to try to keep traffic to a managable level, but the response from the Chinese people is to just buy another car, and ensure it has a different "day off" on its registration. Interesting.

The road leading us there went up and down and all around the mountains, and we even passed a ski resort at one point. It looked very inviting, but we had to press on. Also, we're not quite sure travel insurance would cover us for any incidents. We got off the bus on the outskirts of the village at a beautiful summer guesthouse. Apparently in summer it's a thriving place, with many Chinese people seeking refuge from the chaos of the cities. Eager to relieve ourselves, we asked about toilets, only to discover that they weren't in action because the pipes were frozen. Of course, this made us a little apprehensive about the week ahead of us if we were going to be minus toilets!! However, we walked to the smaller winter guesthouse to find that it had heated pipes so we had a flushing toilet!! Yes, that's right, one flushing toilet for 21 people! We must admit, we were excellent about sharing the bathroom, even if there were a few close calls.

In Beijing we were a little disgruntled about the hard mattresses, but they seemed like heaven once we jumped onto our beds, only to discover that we were sleeping on a plank of hard wood. It seems to be the Chinese way. There were a few initial bruises that night, but we got used to them after that and they were almost comfortable.

I guess we should mention the view. Standing in the little courtyard at the front of the house, all that could be seen was cement. The Chinese have a real fascination with that stuff. It signifies wealth or something like that. the more cement, the better you are. They perhaps don't realise the strain it puts on your eyes in the sunlight!! Or maybe it's just that the sun doesn't seem to penetrate the clouds there, so they don't really need to worry about it. Anyway, if you lift your eyes from the cement, the surrounding view shows the most magnificent hills. When the fog lifts (around 11am, get in quick before it settles again for the night at 12noon) the Great Wall of China, in all its glory, can be seen traversing the ridge. It was truly spectacular.

We went for a walk around the village that afternoon, and came to a section of the Great Wall that was reconstructed. It came right down into the valley, so we were able to touch it for the first time. It was simply breathtaking. There were trays and trays of a strange red fruit, just sitting out in the daylight to dry out. We found out they were called Haws, and are often made into a type of tea. We can now honestly saw that we tried a haw in China. I guess it's not a line we should use when telling our grandparents what we got up to over here.

Our community service had two elements - visit the local school and revovate the house of a 92 year old lady. We started at the lady's house, and were given an insight into what it looked like before the professionals emptied it, by glancing at the house next door. The poor man who lives there lives in absolute squalor. His walls are black from the smoke of the fire, the same fire that is used for heating and cooking. His windows are completely covered with empty water bottles, some of which stay there permanently for added insulation, others which he trades for a few cents to supplement his income from the government. Everything was dirty, the house was tiny, and yet he greeted us with an enormous, toothless smile. He also had the most adorable puppy dog, which of course we stayed away from just in case it had rabies.

We were given our jobs for the day, which for some included sanding back a grubby chest with all the old lady's treasures in it, and for others they had to take apart a bookshelf so it could be rebuilt properly. The chest turned out to be one of those gorgeous antique style Chinese chests, and we could have easily taken it home with us. It looked beautiful with the wood restored, but being in China, we had to paint it their lucky colour for her - red. The first coat looked fabulous, with the dark wood still showing through in glimpses, but we had to make it thick and shiny, so it ended up looking like something from Ikea. She simply loved it.

The bookself was beautifully restored, with some girls being more proficient with the use of a nail gun than others, and then it was painted white. it was hard work, but well worth it.

We also put up new curtains, assisted the professionals in rendering the walls (we weren't very good at that at all), stripped all the plastic off the new windows, and layed a new covering over her cement bed (yes, cement!). The little old lady was so proud and extremely happy with all we'd done for her. Just wait 'til you see photos of her and you'll fall in love too!!

We visited the local school on two occasions, and were able to see the classrooms. They were cramped and smelly, completely lacking in oxygen because the fires were sucking it all out, but the children were exceptionally well behaved and wanted to learn. their English words of the day when we were there were hamburger, french fries and Coke, so they obviously knew Roseville College was coming to visit!

We played outside with them, skipping and hoola hooping, as well as teaching them ball games. They were very fit and all seemed to have excellent technique with skipping. We weren't so bad, but it was hard for the chinese to take us seriously, especially when Hayley's pants fell down while she was having a jump through a rope.

The food at community service was quite nice, although we're completely sick of rice and pork. Every meal was a buffet of gourmet Chinese dishes, and our favourites were a beef and potato dish, as well as these little pork things that nobody was really sure about at first. Please parents, don't surprise us with dinner at a lovely chinese restaurant when we return, we've had enough for a while!!!!

Immediately after our community service, we started our trek. the first day was a 20km hike (yes, really) and the first two hours were completely uphill. There were steps, steps, steps and more steps as we climbed the Great Wall, and finally we had to take 300 steps up a "ladder" on the side of a cliff to reach what we thought was the top. However, once up there, we faced "soft ups and downs" which was actually the steepest path upwards we've ever walked on. At times, we had to scramble on all fours. It was well worth it when we got to the top though, and looked out over what felt like all of China.

We followed an ancient narrow section of the Great Wall, stumbling over the crumbling ruins, and twisting and winding through beautiful scenery. We were delighted when we suddenly crossed into what looked like Narnia - untouched snow completely covering a beautiful forest. It was simply magical.

We ended up that night in a simple guesthouse in what felt like the coldest place on earth. There were more wooden beds, but this time we had tv!

We would like to point out that there is a significant lack of hot chocolate in this country, and we can't wait to get some when we get back.

Anyway, that's what we've been up to of late. In a couple of days time we'll update you on the last bit of the trek and also fill you in on our growing collection of "memorable moments".

Desperately have to get off here now or we'll miss the bus to join up with the group!!

Love to you all,

Team B. B is for the Best!

Barker A - Peru

Hey all back at home,

This is the blog from yesterday (Sat 12th)

This is just a quick update on what we did today. It was an aclimitisation day, which ment that we had a very late wake up (about 10 oclock) to account for some of the jetlag. The day was largely spent shopping around for various gifts, with part of the group booking the bus trip for tomorrow. The afternoon was a trip to the museum to see some of the pre-incan civilisations. The night ended with a very nice dinner to an italian restraunt, and a nice early night for us all.

From Barker group A

Hola from today (Sun 13th)

Hey everyone from the Barker A group.

Today was a very interesting day for us, we began with an early morning in Huaraz going to the Chiva ruins. This required a 3.5 hour trip through rough mountain terrains to reach the place. It was amazing and so many pictures on the trip, and the ruins were an awsome sight, we had fun crawling through some of the undergrond tunnels around the ruins.

Anyway, we're off on our 5 day trek tomorrow, on the third day we hit 4, 700m so it will be a real challange for us all. But we will pull though and look back on it with good memories.

From Barker A group

Roseville - Nepal

Hi from Nepal!

Just thought we would let you know how we are going.

We have just finished a 6 day trek in the Annapurna region and it has been a great cultural experience.

All the group is doing really well and no major health concerns to speak of.

Sarah told us honey comes from bees.

Kind regards,


St Catherine's - China

St Catherine's have arrived safely in Beijing.

They are now preparing to enjoy their first full day sightseeing in Beijing after a well earned rest.

Venturers - Peru

The Venturers team have arrived safely in Cuzco.

After the teams long flights and transit they are now resting up in Cuzco.

Barker B- Peru

Hola everyone
Sorry for lack of blogs we´re out having fun in the markets!

The local sellers are so golly gosh darn diddly arn persistent its funny. No gracias  has been the most used comment so far. The hostel is awesome with friendly staff. The food we´re eating is spiffy and the view is eccentric. Jimmy Moore left his passport on the plane but found it again (sorry mum), Bardwell continues to misplace 50 soles but happy birthday to him tomorow! Tim cant get his  face out of the DS at the hostel  (his pokemon are at epic levels).
Point being we are all having a once of a life time experience and missing you all.

Lots of love from Barker B.

SCEGGS Darlinghurst - Uganda and Kenya

SCEGGS have now finished their community project.

Both teams are now trekking on Mt Elgon before their Safari in Kenya.Above are photos from the Open Day at Kikandwa School.

UniBreak Nepal - Helen and Leanne on their time so far

Survived our first week!

Things have been pretty crazy here but we have survived our first week. When we arrived finally, our first day in the country there was a strike that means that everything is closed and no cars or buses or bike are allowed on the road. So we slept in the hotel then visited the monkey temple!!

We then had an interesting 5hr (7and 1/2 hr) bus trip through the hills to Pokhara to where we are living. On our first day there we went sight seeing to a few temples, a cave, a gorge, underground waterfall and a gurkha museum. We were also lucky to see 3 bollywood movie scenes being filmed. Then we moved in with our family. Helen, Anouskha and I have taken over one whole room of the two room house, our family is lovely!! We are staying in a tibetan refugee camp called Tashiling. We are very well fed, it took us a few days to negotiate appropriate portion sizes. We mainly eat Dahl Baht and vegetables but we have tried a few other Tibetan traditional dishes, sooo tasty!!

On Thursday we were lucky enough to be part of a national Tibetan holiday celebrating the Dalai Lama winning the Nobel Peace prize way back... We sat through alot of speaking and chanting (3hrs) but then we played musical chairs, western vs tibetan women tug-o-war (we won!!) and in the evening we partied to 8pm (which here is quite late!!) Helen and I are now known in the village as "hello, dancing, you good".

The orphange where we are is aweswome, all the children are happy and healthy. We teach the unsponsored kids who dont go to school, social studies, maths and english. There are also around 7 other volunteers here from all over the world so it been awesome to hangout and get shown around the city.

We get around here on bikes, which are something resembling ones out of the sound of music. We will have very powerful legs when we get home as the roads here have many potholes if they are sealed at all, traffic too is very exciting. Though sadly only the other day a girl got hit outside out village and did not make it!

Yesterday we hiked to the World Peace Pagoda, from there we could see a clear view on Annapurna, Fishtail and Annapurna 2 (Very large mountains). Best view I have seen in a very long time. We then paddle back across the lake and walked home, altogether we were walking about 6-7 hours yesterday!!

Life here is pretty relaxed. No one is ever on time and the power goes out each night for atleast two hours, but that is just normal for us now though make emailing difficult at times. Only thing we are both missing is a hot shower, currently we have an ice shower most days.

Next weekend we are hoping to go paragliding and the following white water rafting, but there is soo much to do that we are already planning to come back, especially to bring some supplies for the orphanage.

Stuartholme B - India

Stuartholme B having completed their work at Ravangla.

They are now on their way to start their trek on the Singalila Ridge.

UniBreak Ash back in Pen

Wonderful to be back!

Well, I have made it in one piece to wonderful Pen. It is truly fantastic to be back here again. Not much has changed - people still stare at me wherever I go, the ground is still dusty and the roads are just as crazy - I absolutely love it!

After a very long trip from Sydney (Via Hong Kong AND Bangkok!!) I touched down in Mumbai. It was great to have some familiar faces to pick me up from the madness that is Mumbai international Airport - even at 4 in the morning. No time was wasted as I was desperate to get to Pen. Buses are apparently not the way to go at that time in the morning, so between the four of us (myself and the three people who came to pick me up) we made the decision to hire a cab all the way to Pen - a three hour journey set us back 25 dollars - I was prepared to pay the price for an air conditioned car after my long trip half way around the world. In true Indian fashion, a taxi ride would no be complete without getting lost a couple of times, nearly missing buses and bikes as we pass a truck on the wrong side of the road, or a stop for breakfast. Half way to Pen, the guys and taxi driver felt it was a good time for food, so we pulled up to a road cafe for brekki and fantastic masala chai (I have been on cloud 9 ever since). Nothing like discussing politics with a girl from Aus, three Hindu guys and a Muslim cab driver at 7 in the morning - fantastic. I could simply not wipe the smile off my face - welcome back to India, Ash!

Now, this in its self should have been enough craziness for one day, but not here in India - the trip to Pen was just the beginning. Turns out I arrived on the day that there was a huge yoga competition happening between the villages in the Raigard district, which I of course had to attend. So off I set with my mates to the nearby village to see what all the fuss what about. Well, you thought that yoga was tough in Australia - you have seen nothing yet! Turns out 16 year old boys really don't have back bones, or any bones for that matter. It was completely normal to stand on your hands and your legs to flip backwards so that the bottom of your feet can touch the top of your head - and this was only the beginning. I wasn't sure whether to clap or call an ambulance! One thing I know for sure, that is not something I will be trying while in India! In all of my amazement, I didn't realise the old man that came to sit down next to me, but when he caught my eye and gave me a huge smile, I figured I was in for something. Before I even had enough time to whip out a Hindi sentence I learnt, he started talking to me in English (really I don't know why I spent all my Saturdays at lessons if I am not going to be able to put it into practice). I got a twenty minute lesson on how to breath properly, because apparently, the way I have been breathing for the last 20 years is not correct - funny that, I thought I was doing quite alright getting oxygen into my bloodstream and the CO2 out. Quite a challenge to learn to breath differently, I reckon its only a matter of time that I can keep this up, but for what its worth, I hope my health will improve... haha.

The finishing touch to this crazy day was when we moved from the site of the competition to where the awards ceremony was to take place - outside a temple next to a lake, during sunset. In itself, that was enough to make it worthwhile. Word soon got around that a white Aussie was in town and of course I needed to be mentioned. Now just a mention would have been fine, but before I knew it, I was being called up on stage to set with the executive panel, have my picture taken and give out prices. Needless to say, I started to tune out whilst looking into the distance (which after 30minutes of sitting in a ceremony that you don't understand, is totally normal). Little did I realise that i was being formally introduced and called up to the microphone - to give a speech! Well, that just topped it off. 600 people staring at me, thinking i am some yoga expert from Syndey, visiting on behalf of Australia, only to share some words of wisdom with them. Words I shared, wisdom not so much. Turns out i am alright at thinking on the spot. I did steal the show, to my horror when the local press pushed his wide angle lens in my face announcing I was to be in the paper tomorrow - not sure whether to be shocked or flattered! Mobile phone cameras where going off and as I got up to leave the stage, I had 400 children rushing towards me to get my autograph - me, the yoga expert from Sydney wishes you good luck on your quest to become a yogi, slightly entertaining. It got to the point that the guys had to pull me away because the children and adults alike would not have let me leave otherwise. And this all on my first day - I am in for a fantastic time.

In regards to the actual house, it has changed a little. A coat of shocking bright pink paint now gives the dining room a whole new look. There is a proper dining table, with enough chairs for all (when I was here last, we sat on the floor to eat - added to the charm but not all volunteers felt the same as I did about that). A tv has been installed as has a music system and a telephone - which can make and receive calls. A fridge has been put in the kitchen and one of the two bathrooms has a hot shower - the other is still cold. A massive charger/generator has been installed as well, so the house now has electricity 24/7, which is a bonus as well.

On that note, I am off to find a newspaper. Take care and I will keep you all posted with more 'news'.

Love from wonderfully crazy and chaotic Pen!

Monte A - Peru

Monte A here in Lima, Peru.

After a few full days of travelling and very little sleep we finally arrived in Peru and were onto our first destination, Huaraz. Our accomodation was fantastic and it was lovley to sit on the roof of the building eating our breakfast of bread, jam and tea and looking out over the beautiful town surrounded by snow-capped mountains. As we acclimatised in Huaraz, it gave us a good oppourtunity to explore the town and try some of the local cusine which was fantastic!
Then we began our four nights of trekking. Many of us were pushed to our limits on the trek, however being accompanied by the wonderful trekking team, who set up all of our tents and who cooked all the delicious meals for us certainley made it worthwhile!
The second full day of trekking we climbed the Punta Union Pass. It was certainley challenging reaching the top however the feeling was incredible standing at 4750m above sea level, staring out across all the beautiful lakes and mountains. The scenary throughout the entire trek was truley breath taking and lots of photos were taken across the four days! What a relief it was to finish the trek! Yet sad at the same time to say goodbye to Christian, Marco and the rest of the team! After the trek we all got on the bus and headed back to the Huaraz!
We spent another half a day in Huaraz buying some more gifts and having our last meal in a nice bistro overlooking the Plaza de Arms before we got on a bus and headed to Lima. We arrived quite late so that night we stayed in a hotel, however we got picked up and taken to the Womens house by bus in the morning ready to begin our community project (where we currently are now). As soon as we arrived, Sister Joan introduced us all to the women, making us feel very welcome and at home, giving us a little brief about what we would be doing and giving us a tour of the house and the sort of classes they run. We then made our way to the other womens house, Tres de Maio, where Father Noel Kerins gave us a very interesting talk about the history of Peru and the current political and economic hardships the country and its citizens face today. Having an understanding of the background of Peru certainley gave us good understanding of some of the hardships people face in the country.
Today we had the Chocolatada!! Over 500 children gathered participated in the event which consisted of games, activities and the handing out of bread, chocolate milk and presents (which were so generously donated by the Monte community). We were all assigned to help in anyway we could whether it be by talking and playing with the children, handing out tickets, distributing the milk and presents, preparing everything or dressing up as Santa and entertaining the children, all help was greatly appreciated by everyone and we all felt a great sense of joy in helping out during such a special time in the year!
We continue at the community project all week and then we are off to see some of the sites of Peru!
We are all well and safe and having a fantastic time! Adios!

Monte B - Peru

Hola parents and friends!

Since we spoke to you last, we have travelled 8 hours by bus from Huaraz to Lima. We arrived at 1:00 am and were all keen to get to bed, however were slightly amazed to be staying in an old mansion. We all agreed the next morning that this budget hotel was by far the most unique of its kind, with old statues and chandaliers lining the halls.

After what seems like years of fundraising, we have finally arrived at Catherine McAuley House in Lima. Yesterday we arrived at around 11:00am and were greeted by Sister Jackie and Joanne, as well as the women of the house. Group A arrived to help us sort clothes for today´s Chocolatada. At this point, we´d like to say a big thank you to all those who generously donated items. Group A left at dinner time but we continued sorting until it was time for us to tuck up in our sleeping bags for a huge slumber party.

Today we woke up bright and early in order to prepare the Chocolatada. For those who are unaware – Chocolatada is an annual Christmas celebration in which the little children are all given a sweet bun and hot chocolate. All Monte girls enjoyed spending time and practicing our Spanish skills with the kids. In typical Monte style, we were all keen to clear up the left over buns and drinks. Following the rush of kids, the Monte students sat down and spoke to a few of the local school kids, of our age, also helping out with the preparation of the Chocolatada. Our afternoon also consisted of some traditional Spanish dancing with the women of the house as well as practicing our tunes for the upcoming Chocolatada which will be held at the other women´s house.

We look forward to continuing the rest of the project which will involve painting a mural outside the local soup kitchen and more mingling with the local kids.
We hope that everyone´s safe and well in sunny Sydney.

All our love,
Group B

UniBreak India - Jax Kotzur

A day in the life of Jax- India style......

Wake up from the thin straw-stuffed mattress on the floor because our chaiwalla (see slumdog millionaire!!!) is at the door with THE BEST WAKE UP TEA IN THE WORLD!! Lauren gets up to get it because she's the only one with respectable-enough-to-be-seen-in-public (in India) pyjamas on. Lauren and I chat, take medicine (i am officially now a pill popper... about 5 a day at least! this morning it was cold and flu- (praying the fever type thing I have is NOT dengue fever), malaria and vitamin c... and I forgot my inner health stuff which counteracts the antibiotics ive just stopped taking), drink our tea, then Rowan wakes up with a start (every single morning- its hilarious!) and we all get dressed, do some more planning for the lesson we are going to teach today and slip our thongs on ready for breakfast at 8am. Breakfast is a rice-type dish, couscous, or omelette (although we haven't got one of them since the first day... we are going to ask for it again as soon as the guy who can speak english and hindi gets back!). We then sit around and discuss what the hell we're going to teach our boys... hmm.... they can all copy english and read it aloud, but alot of them dont understand what they're reading. They are doing alright and the lesson ideas everyone has given will be put to good use, dont you worry!!
9.30 we leave our room, collect our packed lunch in metal bowls and containers and say sukreeya (with a rolling r) to the chef (its our in joke.. it means thankyou but we cant pronounce it!). we walk the 1.5km to the train station, buy a banana each on the way (5 rupee for 3 of them). Then buy the 4 rupee train ticket (10c) to Kamshet, wait till 10.15 and the train comes! We sit on the ground with the older women, which I'm not too sure is culturally relevant but that's ok, we get stared at regardless because we're white. The community we're in, and the ones surrounding it, are not tourist places so in the 3 days we've been here we have seen 3 other white tourists and a white guy in a wheelchair who did not look happy. We've seen thousands of indians though! We hop off an Kamshet station 4km away and cross the tracks behind the train (we're in the all female carriage right at the back). But we don't cross all the way, because there's a rock wall. You make your way along the track for about 200m (the grass soon appears on the side of the track but its long. its not a deathtrap all the way!) then follow the goat track to the road. Follow the road for about another km, past the little slum community where the little children all run out of their homes and scream out hi! hi! hi! a thousand times to us as we wave back, we end up at the gates of the orphanage. it is simple, but not neat. Clean for the most part, but dilapidated. We walk into Mr Ali's office (the principal) and talk to him for about 15mins. He heads the conversation, we just talk about whatever he talks about. Then, when he's done socialising with us, we wait in the library (full of koran-type books and karl marx and science through islamic eyes... all too hard for the children to read in english!). The school is fully islamic, they all pray for about 3 hrs a day and one whole row of boys started praying in class yesterday, which was distracting bacuse its a low chant with their heads bowed. I was reading a story.
Anyway,s after the library Lauren is our first at 11.15 to her class of little munchkins- 5 to 12 yr olds. at 11.30 Rowan and i are off to our classes, her the older guys and me the 12-14yr olds. They all chant goooooddmoooorrrnniiinnnggggggg Mmmiiissssssssssssssss to me while half standing and i say goodmorning back, and lessons begin. I sound like a pro but I have no idea what I'm doing! I've figured out that if I act confident, they think I am and listen. They are very attentive and want to learn. No behaviour problems whatsoever. I start the lesson with them each spelling a word on the board (they love using the chalk) and then I'll get one grade (its 5 and 6) to read aloud a story from their english textbook (they only have 2 between 8) while giving a past-present-future tense exercise to the other grade (or something similar). I keep checking the clock, knowing I have an hour and 20mins to keep them working. They then answer questions about the story they read from the textbook, but they dont really understand what theyre doing. Then they swap. Usually this leaves 20mins at the end to come up with something to do, so I've played charades but with words like writing and cricket and sleeping and running. I took my photo album in today and they all crowded around and loved it! they thought the pic of Jaydon buried in sand was in the snow and it took awhile to explain it, but they all asked broken questions and all said thankyou miss at the end so it was good! They clap after I read them a story in English too- they love it! I'm meant to give them homework, so I just give them words to spell out 3 times and I'll check it the next day. Then Mr Ali arrives at my door and says Alright, you finished now'. So I wave goodbye and follow him to the library. I'm writing a mini novel here! oh well. Yesterday we thought that was it, and we'd go and catch the train with the other muslim teacher back to Malavli (thats how you spell it i've discovered) but today Mr Ali says 'ok, eat lunch here and at 2.30-4.30 you will teach again'. ok! had no idea about that! so we spend the next hour frantically coming up with ideas of what to teach! we pulled it off, but were buggered afterwards. Today we asked not to teach in the afternoon because we have a report to write on the school and its repairs also, so Lauren is currently typing that up while I write this novel. Im going to do the photo uploads in a minute, when she's done. Ok, so after that we walk back to the train station and catch the train home to Malavli or to Lonavla like today (which is 4km the other direction from Malavli) and buy FUDGE!! and go on the internet like right now. This is a central place, so there are banks and random horses eating rubbish and stuff everywhere.
Once we're finished the train goes home, we walk the 1.5km back to our guesthouse and 15min after getting home are served tea by our lovely chaiwalla and a snack (something that resembles ritz biscuits, or just plain cooked pastry.. interesting! good with vegemite haha!)
Dinner is served promptly at 7.30 by our request (other wise it would be later) but we tried going down at 7 yesterday, to see if they'd get the hint. they didnt. we might ask tonight for it earlir because we get hungry! and tired. After dinner and chatting for awhile we basically have a shower or just go to bed. We sleep for a long time at night (10, 10.5 hrs) but we really need it. we're all tired today.
Did the head wobble to some guys sitting on the other platform of the train station yesterday and they did it back. and laughed and we laughed. then they tapped their noses and I have no idea what that means! so we just ignored it. was a funny interaction though!!
We wore the same outfits again today, because everyone around us seems to only have one outfit anyway. so we'll try to fit in all we can, which is not much considering we know zero hindi. and are glaringly white.
Im having fun, wishing I wasnt sick (should probably take more meds right now) and am happy with Rowan and Lauren, theyre really good to work and hang with.
I hope you like my mini novel, it has taken me an hour and 20 rupees to write (50c). Don't expect too many of them but you never know, they are like the best debrief for myself. I love hearing from all of my friends, because there are not too many things that are normal to me around. Vegemite this morning was like stepping back in to my kitchen (without burning the toast and setting the fire alarm off...). I'm wearing harry-high pants like the rest of the indian women and its comfortable, but sooooooo good to change into my normal clothing at night!
Food is gradually getting more spice, which is good because theyre weaning us on to it haha! I wonder if we'll ever eat it like they eat it.. hmm...
We get beeped at by 4 out of 5 cars that drive past, i think because we're white and we think they are just saying hello.. we dont know..
this weekend we've planned to climb to some caves (with a guide) that are 2500yrs old. theyre buddhist caves, should be interesting. Theres also a fort somewhere but its a full day's hike. would be awesome but no thanks! we all decided we dont want to go in to pune, becuase we dont really feel like doing city stuff right now. We desperately all want to see the Taj Mahal, but thatd be a full long weekend, a plane flight and a completely new part of India. We'll see.
Leave for Pen on Sunday, midday. Hopefully no more teaching! It is relatively easy, but I really want to do medical work!!
I hope this helps anyone who's coming to India with Antips, and feel free to email any of us who are here and we'll answer any questions :)