Thursday, 30 June 2011

Reddam house get stuck into Borneo community project

You wouldn't exactly call it your average holiday. Painting schools for palm oil workers' kids, visiting orangutan sanctuaries, connecting to a part of Australia's history in another country, and time in one of the hottest, most humid places on the equator! That is why we call this no normal holiday, this is OUR adventure!
A ten hour flight or less is considered somewhat decent. For us this wasn't exactly true. Most of us got close to no sleep, and suffered the consequences the next day when we had to concentrate on the task at hand, and really get our heads around the fact that this was not going to be your usual family holiday overseas. No five star resorts, no air conditioning (but the fans are fantastic!) and definitely none of the usual hygiene standards (save a shower i.e bucket and hose, somewhat working toilets and living in a pool of your own sweat 24/7)

The moment we disembarked the plane the gravity of the situation hit us in the face (along with our new found independence and responsibility as a group) Not to mention the wave of hot, muggy air that slapped us.
Our first port of call was Sandakan, where our first "management group" (groups of 4 people who manage food, money, water and accommodation for a certain number of days) were able to book us some accommodation at the Habeeb Lodge, a wonderful little lodge 2 minutes from the beach.

They say the first night is the hardest, and boy was that true. Everybody was having trouble adjusting to the heat and humidity, and many hardly slept that night.
Surprisingly the next day we were all in good spirits, despite our lack of sleep. The intensity of our current situation which put us all so far out of our comfort zone may have provided us with enough curiosity to power on through a day of Australian war memorials and orangutan sanctuaries.

The War Memorial in Sandakan, having so much to do with our homeland really hit home about how little we knew about the events that occurred here in Borneo. With some of us having direct links to the prisoners of war, it was an eye opening and humbling as well as deeply shocking experience for all of us.

The orangutans we managed to catch were incredible to watch, however most of us felt slightly disappointed at the lack of orangutans that came out (especially those photographers among us who had difficulty getting THE shot)

A quick money exchange and a 3 hour air conditioned bus ride later, we found ourselves deep in the middle of H71 palm oil plantation. This is where the all of our hard earned fund raising money would be put to use painting the school amongst other things to benefit the children of the plantation workers. The main highlight of this day (which we all agreed on) was most definitely the most amazing organic food we have ever ever ever tasted. Dragon-fruit, bananas, papaya, pineapple and watermelon was supplied by the bucket load by our superb hosts, Mr Chee and Mr Wong.
The sleeping arrangement, well that's a story by itself. In a nutshell the four BOYS on the management team somehow managed to fit all 16 of us in one room, with 9 mattresses. You could not move in the night without waking someone up, and if someone snored the whole room would erupt in moaning and punches directed in the general vicinity of the snorer(i.e. Evan)

This morning we arose to the charming sound of roosters crowing. After a breakfast of eggs on toast, traditional noodles and a potent chilli eating contest we were ready to go. We started work on the school at 8:30 am. Stopping only for water (and fried bananas) and lunch, we managed to paint the base colours for a good chunk of the school. We were told by our latest addition to the team (Manny our Antips in country agent) that the school was actually compared to a lot of other communities to be a very modern and well supplied school. We were shocked to hear this, as when we arrived we were confronted by crumbling plywood walls, rusty nails sticking out everywhere and half the roof missing. If this school was surveyed by Sydney OHS it would be torn down without question.

After a day of painting the walls (and ourselves) we are now feeling very proud of our work, exhausted, painted and anticipating a fantastic kick off tomorrow with our detailed painting now that our base is done.

To be honest the expectations people had for this trip prior to our departure were so inaccurate. People may have believed that the trip would be easy, hard work or may have not expected anything in particular. Spending with the local kids who helped us to paint their school has opened all of our eyes to reality and how we all really live in a tiny little bubble, and that this is how many people world wide actually live. It's no longer watching the shanty towns from afar on a tv in our comfy homes. We are actually here, experiencing this first hand, and we can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

We're off to play soccer with the local kids and are excited to see what Mr Chee and Mr Wong present us for dinner tonight.

Love to all parents from all children.
We all miss you.
Sophie Bowen-James and Jesse Zlotnick

Sceggs Darlinghurst students settle into Uganda

To the Sceggs Darlinghurst Community, family and friends of all the students in Uganda.

Both teams are having a wonderful experience and being over whelmed with the generosity and friendly nature of the Ugandan People. The students have been very motivated in maximizing their experience. The open day at the school (on Tuesday) was a great day with many people from the school community joining the Sceggs team in celebrating the giving spirit of the Sceggs Community. Lots of dancing/singing and funny moments.

Today Team B is visiting Kampala and have been enlightened by the work being done at Bullrushes Orphanage. This afternoon the girls are getting traditional braides in their hair and having some time out.
Team A is doing project work at Kikandwa School and staying in tents on the school grounds.

We would love to tell you more but the world is waiting outside the door and this is where we all want to be.

The students and teachers are in good health and taking up all the challenges that come their way.

kind regards,
Peter Cross
Team B Antipodeans Leader

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

St Andew's return from Halong Bay 'magical' experience

Hi All,
Just a quick blog to let you know how we are going. Resting in the hotel in Hanoi at the moment while we wait for the bus to take us to the train station. We board at around 11pm and should arrive at Danang at around noon tomorrow. Then we will head to Hoi An.
We arrived back from Halong Bay at about 3pm this arvo and went out shopping. Had a great morning kayaking through caves in the Bay. Still, nothing beats the jumping off the boat which we did yesterday. Almost everyone - even Ms. Sugden - jumped from the top deck of our boat!

Then we had dinner at 'Koto' - a famous restaurant run by street kids. Julia Gillard even has her own plaque in the dining area! Everyone is going well but I am sure we all cant wait to be home! We all got so excited yesterday when we got our clean washing back!

Anyway, better be off - Have to re-pack my bag for the train
Until next time, Claire

Reddam House students use negotiating skills in Borneo

Hey guys,

Today it is A-sigen's birthday, yay!

We started off in the humid heat with an early start and breakfast. We have gained the trust of the Mayalsian locals that work in the restaurant below our hotel and proceeded to eat an excellent breakfast. Afterwards we decided we were going to spend the day at the Sandakan war memorial.

As we proceeded to the bus stop we got directed by a nice bus driver, we were a bit nervous at first but when he agreed with us about the route, and spoke English, then we knew it was alright.

After bargaining with the driver we decided on a 65 Ringet deal and proceeded to the Sandakan memorial.
On the way, we saw a big crocodile statue pointing towards the heavens and some fantastic scenery. Sonya, one of our companions, then began to read out the Dr Suess stories to pass the time until we reached our destination.

The Sandakan memorial was very touching, and it didn't occur to us how shocking the war was. We then got on the bus and went to the Sepilok centre at the feeding times and saw an excellent show. We had lunch at the cafeteria, it was a bit more pricey then the normal shops, but we ordered western and it was cheaper. We then got on the later bus to Sandakan, we could not bargain with the driver because of the flat rate. The bus driver kindly dropped us off at the hotel and our team went to get the place for dinner and a way to get internet to send this very email. This restaurant has very good prices and is run by a local family business.

Until next time, from Jessie.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Tiger spotting in India - 2 month mark for GapBreakers

Wow, how fast have seven weeks gone. It seems like only yesterday
when we arrived here in Udaipur, India. What an epic journey we are
still on! The past two weeks have definitely been adventurous.

Lets start off the story with Day Care. A couple of weeks ago we
warmly welcomed Didi Abi to Bedla Day Care centre. At first all the
children were a bit nervous around her as they are a bit shy around
new people, but after a couple of days the kids really started to warm
up to her and love her. Abi brought new and fresh ideas to the day
care centre which the kids seemed to really love. Unfortunately, her
stay was only a short two weeks and we had to say goodbye to Abi. With
a final goodbye song and lots of photos, she was on her way! We wish
her all the best and will miss her heaps at the day care centre and of
course at the volunteer house!

Orphanage has also been really great the past two weeks and the kids
have loved playing lots of different games and doing craft. A lot of
the older kids get quite competitive with games such as hand ball,
which is the same as netball without the hoop, and soccer. This week
we brought the kids chocolate cake, it was Amy’s idea as she also left
us this week, which was so nice for them as some of them had never had
it before. It was very messy but enjoyable!

Last weekend we all went on the Ranthambore national park tiger safari
and to Agra to the Taj Mahal. We started the trip off by catching the
overnight train to Ranthambore, it was 6.5 hours train journey and we
had sleepers. It seemed like it went on forever, the train was very
hot and smelt kind of bad. But we all made it fun for each other and
didn’t really end up sleeping on the train. We arrived at 2am Friday
morning. During the next day we went to a beautiful temple in the
national park and in the afternoon we went on the safari. And guess
what! We saw a tiger!! It was quite exciting and really rewarding to
see one after looking for one all afternoon. It was amazing to see
such a beautiful animal up so close. The next morning we got up really
early and went on another safari, which was a bit of a disappointment
as we didn’t see nearly as many animals as the pervious day. That
afternoon it absolutely bucketed down with rain and it was soo cool!
After our adventures in Ranthambore we headed to Agra via overnight

Again this train was 6.5 hours but everyone was so tired so we all
just crashed and slept well. When we arrived in agra we went straight
to the hotel to put our bags away and have breakfast then we went
straight to the Taj Mahal for our guided tour. Words can’t explain its
beauty and photos don’t do it justice so im just going to tell you a
little bit about its history. The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal
emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is
widely considered as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world
and stands as a symbol of eternal love. Taj Mahal is the finest
example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from
Persian, Islamic and Indian architectural styles.
The guided tour took as all around the Taj Mahal and took about 2
hours. It was soooo Hot in Agra through so we decided not to stay too
much longer. While we were at the Taj Mahal, we were just sitting down
and about 20 Indian people came up and started taking our photos and
taking photos with us, that was a bit annoying but funny. After our
day in Agra we headed back to Udaipur, no surprises, on a train!
13hours later we arrived home with little sleep had and sleep for the
rest of the day.

This week we also we for dinner at the nice lake side restaurant,
Amborai, and did lots of shopping in the city. We also said goodbye to
a few other volunteers, frankie, andrea and ty. Goodbyes are always
emotional as we are one big family at the volunteer house and will
miss them all very much. We are welcoming 4 more volunteers tomorrow
into our family. And as we almost reach the two month mark we are
imbarking on new adventures each week.

Until the next time

Savannahs and grassy plains - Gappers fly into Kenya

Flying to Nairobi was amazing, looking out at the long, barren savannahs, the grassy planes and the odd lone savannah trees reminded us a lot of The Lion King which became a common part of daily conversation over the course of the trip. We had an hour between flights to Mombasa and this leg we had just finished, but at least 40 minutes of this was spent in the immigration line checking visa’s and immigration cards. Once all passing with flying colours, In an Amazing Race style we had to get our bags and get checked in at the domestic terminal across the road. But in mass confusion, it took 20 minutes to find our bags, and during this time, Jasmine especially was a massive stress-bucket and the worry that we were in Africa with nothing but the clothes on our backs didn’t seem inviting at all. However with persistent hope we found all the bags on a lonesome bag carousel on the opposite side of the airport.

All stress aside we made it to our next flight with 5 minutes to spare, before boarding the rear of the plane from the tarmac. Kenya Airways was far from expected the 40 minutes spent sipping apple juice and snacking on nuts was thoroughly enjoyed. Soon enough we were in Mombasa but with the green, dense landscape highly contrasting any initial Lion King feeling, we were yet to be disappointed. The weather, calm, breezy warmth and the smiling faces of the welcoming people made our excitement reach all time high!

Though moods quickly changed, driving through Mombasa city was frightening and different to expectations. It was grey and dusty and so many people from all walks of life filled every inch of uneven road in between old, new, expensive and run down vehicles of all likes. Jane’s tensions grew a little high when she had bad thoughts that this van wasn’t really Camp Kenya and we were being taken to be sold as slaves, and it didn’t help when we drove into this little, unknown hotel where we were unknowingly spending the night.

Darajani Hotel was nice, it was small and compact and all we needed for a night. It was tricky too since we hadn’t changed any money into Kenyan Shillings, so we were left a little helpless and it took some serious persuasion by Leila, who has exceptional skills in this area, to convince the staff that if we were to use anything we would sort it out with Camps International and pay for it all later!!

After a restful night, we got up and packed our stuff and then finally met the Camp Kenya bus again, as well as 22 English students all here for different reasons and began the 3 hour drive to our small piece of paradise in Muhaka. Talking and getting to know everyone we knew this would be the start of great friendships that would last a lot longer that the 1 to 3 months we were here.

Once we arrived we were warmly welcomed by Eustace the camp coordinator and the friendly staff. We also met Gladys who is second in charge and we were told that we were to treat and love Camp Kenya as our home. We were all happily satisfied with our dorm/huts and the facilities, basic but useful that we had for the next three months.

After almost 48 hours we had journeyed from one world to another, and ready to start experience on a whole new scale!

Alexandria Laurance

China and the Forbidden City - Townsville Grammar

Hey! So we haven't lost anybody (yet), passports momentarily lost then found, no serious lasting bouts of illness, and everybody is so excited to be somewhere new and exotic! Good food, less good food, bowing for dead communists (Chairman Mao Mausoleum), walking through prohibited places (Forbidden City), and praying for good harvests (Temple of Heaven).

The group has tried Tai Chi, flute playing, whip cracking and attempting to decipher 'English translations' of menus: do you want a serve of 'The Incense Burns the Cosmological Hoofs'? Language barriers are more like Great Walls with guard turrets every hundred metres but we have mastered the art of pointing and nodding (with the help of Mandarin Steve).
So far, everything is going well. We've enjoyed seeing the Mao Mausoleum, Forbidden City, Chinese Acrobatics show, Temple of Heaven, Lama Temple and Hutongs. We have gone through our first tour guide (Denis the Menace) and have moved onto our second (Alan!). Hope you're all well,
Townsville Grammar team in China

From Moi village to Hanoi - St Andrews team take in the sites of Vietnam

Hi all!

We are back in Hanoi after our stay in Moi village, 5 hours from Hanoi
in the mountains. The group stayed in a traditional White Thai stilt
house with Zhung (the mother), Loi (the father) and Tuan (their 7 year
old son). We slept on mattresses and under mozzie nets upstairs, while
the family stayed downstairs. We ate very well and the group
definitely enjoyed some amazing fresh Vietnamese food and produce from
the Mai Chau region.

The kindergarten was finished the day before we left and the kids were
excited to see a special plaque that honored them for their donation.
The new kindergarten replaces an old small wooden building which was
freezing and damp during the 5 long foggy winter months. The local
kids now have a brand new building that will keep in the warmth and
the damp out. Our homestay mother Zhung is the teacher, and was very
excited with the gifts of toys that the group donated to the kids.

We now have a night in Hanoi and are getting ready for our trip to
Halong Bay tomorrow morning at 7.30am. After a week or so in the
mountains the team is very excited about starting the travel leg of
their journey.

Everyone is happy and healthy and we have had lots of fun.The kids are
planning to blog tonight- so hopefully you'll hear from them very


Townsville Grammar Arrive in China

Townsville Grammar arrive in China!

Our travels from Townsville to Brisbane and then onto Bangkok were smooth and uneventful, though we misplaced two of our "bible" guides to China! Thailand was interesting, especially the "box breakfast" which consisted of a cheese or ham sandwich with what may or may not have been mayonnaise. Also included in the breakfast was a strange green drink that was ridiculously sweet with chunks of coconut in it. At least we think it was coconut : )

The flight to Beijing was good, upon arrival in Beijing we went through temperature scanners that check for fever before we even got to customs and immigration. After clearing customs and immigration we were greeted by Denis, a young Chinese fellow who has been our friendly guide.

After a long bus ride to the hotel, on which many photos of anything slightly Chinese were taken (this got old quickly as we progressed into the city), we arrived at our hotel, King's Joy. The hotel is home to an impressive tank of gargantuan fish!

Dinner was an interesting experience as we were all stressed, hungry and had a hard time picking a restaurant among the busy streets of Beijing. Both cinemas and shops alike had huge fluorescent signs in indecipherable Chinese which was a bit of a distraction.
Today we went to Tianamen (no idea how to spell it) square and saw Chairman Mao's mausoleum. The line was probably 500 billion people long, give or take, and twenty minutes after standing in the shadeless line we started making bets on how much longer it would take.
Our internet is almost out of time so we'll have to tell you about Steve's amusing Chinese pick-up lines and the incorrectly translated menus later!
Also: the hotel lost jack's passport but we found it! S don't worry! Bonus: everyone is well.
Hannah, Calum and Jess.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Pizza party in Argentina

So, we recovered from our trip, rested up and started up our lives in Buenos Aires like we'd never left! The first Thursday in June boasted our second R2A Pizza Party which as always was a whole lot of fun, with even more new faces and new friends! Freshly made Pizza on the Terrace and complementary vino - what a night!

We had Mate and Medialunas as always on Friday and spent Saturday sightseeing. Some of us headed off to the Zoo, where you could hold lion cubs, whilst the rest of us headed out to Tigre, a sleepy riverside town an hour out of the city where we caught catamarans down the river.

There was of course the volcano that erupted in Chile that was supposed to hit Bs As, however the most we saw of it was a light scattering of ash - or dust - on the furniture on the terrace. No panic, no drama, everyone is safe and well!

Other than that, amongst our volunteering this week we've managed to fit in a trip to the Brewery, where exotic cocktails made top of our lists, Club 69 - the notorious gay bar in the city - which was AS ALWAYS an experience if nothing else! We've been to Tango classes where we showed how un co-ordinated we are, and just yesterday went out to Tigre once again - this time to the Theme Park - Parque De La Costa, where we spent the day riding the roller coasters, pirate ship and various other rides whilst soaking up the sunshine, a nice change to the freeeeeezing temperatures we've had here lately!

After returning home from the Theme Park, we attended 'Blanca's (our housekeeper) Benefit' to help her raise money to build sidewalks and put new drainage systems into her neighbourhood! We had an absolute feast - empanadas, chorizo - pan, spinach pie, a quiche type situation, strawberry and cream pie, apple crumble and lemon meringue tart - all of which were delicious with all proceeds going to a good cause.

This coming week Myself, Megan Faulks and Esther McDonald are heading over to Peru to see Macchu Picchu - so wish us luck! Some of the others are planning on a trip to Bolivia in the near future, and this week will mostly be spent crossing activities off our Antips Bucket List - a trip to the estancia, Teatro Colon - you name it and we'll try to get it done!

We've only got 4 weeks left at the Road House and we're trying to fit in as much as we can before we all move onto the next stages of our lives. So the near future is going to be increasingly hectic as we make the most of what time we have left!

Check out the photo attached.

All our Love -


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Group update for our Ghana girls

So we are over halfway now and I am very proud to say that we have left behind the Dora the Explorer/Bindi Irwin look for African goddesses with our beautiful tailor made clothes in bright African colours! I must admit that I feel like I do not stand out as much now as we did before... YES!

Well, most people know Adelaide as the city of churches, well then Ghana is the Country of churches, I am talking everywhere you look there is a church! On wednesday nights we get a service to 10 pm at night, but 2 weekends ago when we stayed home for the weekend, we were so lucky to experience a loud loud LOUD service to 2am in the morning! Apparently we were lucky as Linda, our host sister, says it normally goes to 4 am. what a pity we missed out on 2 hours of "AMEN, AMEN, AMEN"!!

So we all decided to have a weekend in Swedru as the travelling can become too much especially when you are on a so called "big bus" (which is the size of my mums tarago) for 9 hours.

Maja and I decided to take Linda to Winnebea, a 30 min tro-tro ride to the beach. On first site I thought the beach was very nice, with palm trees and no people, until i saw the sand crabs, and they were everywhere, definitely one of my biggest fears. In the water i spent the whole time following Maja's footsteps scared to step on a crab!

Iona and Eliza spent the saturday painting their school. They are making a mural on one of the walls with the children's hand prints over it! Iona also got her hair braided, it really suits her!

Ma and Erin had a very exciting weekend as their host sister, Gloria, finally gave birth after being over due for nearly a month! so they now have a little addition to their family :)

On the sunday, we met the Ghana girls at Seth's house to visit Mickel, Seth's 5 year old son that we spent the first week with in Accra. It was so nice, Paulina the cook had cooked us all a feast for when we arrived, it was our favourite too, Johl of rice!!!! it was so funny, Mickel had shaved his eyebrow off after watching an add on TV, so Seth now called him Mickela :)

Now onto the school update........

We had a very first lesson in our new classroom which was so great, the kids were so excited, jumping up and down yelling "thankyou madame"!!!! when they found out that they had a white board. Just watching how appreciative and excited they were really made walking that 50 km worth while :)

I must admit, I will not miss teaching under the palm tree with chickens running through our classroom and sprinting into a little room to teach when it rains! This time we beat the rain YES! We have painted the classroom rainbow, it looks so amazing, actually like a primary school classroom :) I am so proud of Maja and I that we established a better learning environment for these gorgeous children! It is funny though, even though the classroom is brand new, the doors still do not close and the window locks literally broke straight away...but hey, It's Ghana :)

The biggest achievement happened yesterday, Oscar, the 12 year old kid who could not write past F in the ABC, wrote the whole ABC's yesterday without needing any help. I have been giving him some one on one tutoring while Maja teaches english to the rest of the class, and I am so proud of him, we have seen an improvement!

Iona and Eliza have established a system at their school where they take the children who really need help and give them some one on one time. They said that they are really seeing improvements in the children and that the children are really benefiting from this.

Ma and Erin are taking the kids from the orphanage to the beach today. Yesterday when we were there, they were so excited, and could not stop saying "we are going to the beach, we are going to the beach". Their classrooms that they are building are coming along really well and should be finished soon so they can teach in an enclosed area. Erin told me yesterday that when she was teaching body parts, she drew a cartoon on the board and the kids started yelling, "you drew Ebbinesa, it looks exactly like him" ( he is one of the boys in the orphanage) the kids could not seriously stop laughing!

So that is basically it for the groups update!
Me and Maja have also been practicing walking with water etc on our head! She is a gun, walked up stairs with a whole bag of water on her head, but i definitely think i will not master it before i come back :(

Love Shan x

Monday, 20 June 2011

We made it! Tanzania Gappers relish their first two weeks in Africa

We've been in Tanzania for 2 weeks now and absolutely love it! After nearly 2 days of flying and waiting in airports Paul and I arrived in Kili alive and well, and went straight to a small town called Mboku which is right near Moshi. We stayed there for a couple of days and were met with seven other volunteers from the UK and Europe. After that it was a 6 hour bus ride to the town of Tanga, and from there more of a bus bounce to our camp just outside a small village. Camp Tanzania is located right on the coast, so every morning we wake up to the sea and a picturesque landscape. Our camp staff are absolutely lovely, and the food is AMAZING.

Our main project for our time here is to build one of the Mama's a new house, as her's was destroyed in the rains about a month ago. So on our first day of project we cleared away the remainder of her house and flattened out the ground. Together with Mama's son-in-law Ali, we dug holes as deep as our arms along where the walls need to go, and then placed in wooden poles. From here we added supports and more sticks and tied everything together with twine. After a week we had the base of our house! The next step pushed a lot of us to our limits; we walked to the next village and shovelled sand into bags and then carted it in a big wheelbarrow back to the site. Several blisters and sore backs later we are ready to start making the mud walls.

Another of our projects while we are here is to help the Mama's with seaweed harvesting, and yesterday we tried it out for the first time. At low tide we waded out in our crocs (yes, we wore crocs) dodged many sea urchins and then tied bits of seaweed along ropes which we then attached to poles in the water. When the tide turned we gathered up seaweed that was ready to be harvested and loaded it into the boat that antipodeans built on the last placement. Next week we will continue with the house, and after that we will get to help villagers with everyday tasks such as herding and milking cows, and harvesting crops.

We've had so much fun already, and have even had a taste of African nightlife! Tomorrow we are venturing out to the reef, and then its off to Ngorogoro crater for safari next weekend.

The Seven Waterfalls! Weekend trip for Gappers in Peru

Antips girls with the Peruvian locals
So, what has been news these last few weeks? Well the most obvious observation is how quickly time is going. Each one of us cannot understand where the weeks are disappearing to and cannot believe we only have a month left on our Antipodeans placement. However saying all of this we still manage to continuously fit so many things into our time. Since our interesting weekend in Arequipa we were all worn out a bit by our various adventures and so had a (semi) relaxing week teaching our wonderful children some slightly more difficult English concepts such as weather, questions and also having fun painting rocks in art. We have also been working very steadily on our Greenhouse. Along with Riccardo we have now finished building the adobe mud brick wall which is very exciting and will hopefully add the roof on this week. The other greenhouse's plants are sprouting their little hearts out and growing up big and strong.. but I wouldn't risk eating a carrot yet, a few more weeks until they're ready.
Green house under construction

We were also blessed by being able to go and finally deliver the material objects we bought for our house visit. Feeling like little fairies we went into the house/ yard and gave beds, blankets, pots and pans, a kitchen table and chairs as well as some shoes and food. Carmen, the mum was so appreciative that she came to the school this week with coke and biscuits to say thank you.

That week we all enjoyed a movie night watching Love Actually. Everyone I think left thinking about the airport scene and imagining what we will be greeted to when we arrive home... note to families please make it a lovely arrival! Harry then left us for the weekend to visit family in Lima and returned home to us the next week with a slightly interesting haircut and many stories about what a wonderful time he'd had catching up with family.

Rupert, Nick and Bec spent the weekend catching up on some much needed sleep whilst the rest of us girls went off on another adventure somewhere hotter. We had the most amazing drive over snow covered mountains, driving above the clouds to descend along a road lined with fruit trees to a place near the jungle. Sophie, Charlie, Liv and I then had an interesting taxi ride to get from a tiny village called Santa Maria to another small place called Santa Teresa. Along the road we got bogged and after 5 times trying to get out of the situation he told us that this always happens to him and there was no need to worry. The next day after a beautiful tropical breakfast of passion fruit juice and tropical berry jam we got filmed by the equivalent of our Australian Getaway doing a Zip line across jungle trees and the river. It felt like we were flying... especially when I flew at 50km/hr into Charlie, Liv, the guide and a rock after forgetting how to stop! We had amazing views over the surrounding area which we will revisit on the Salkantay trek later in the placement.

Crowded Peruvian taxi!

Then we left to meet Louisa and Carissa in Quillumbamba which is a town Lonely Planet describes by saying 'Welcome to the Jungle!' We loved being able to put our cozzies on as well as our summer dresses and walk around in the sun eating fruity ice-cream! Then, as us Antipodes can't stay still for too long we headed of to a place known as The Seven Waterfalls where we camped the night. The waterfall was amazing with seven separate pools forming one larger waterfall. We enjoyed showering under its cascade and Charlie and I even managed to find our own waterside! We feasted on tropical fruits whilst dodging the scary, highly protective geese that loved chasing us. The tent was a tad squishy with 6 of us but like always we made the most of all available space! Sorry Lou and Sophie...

The next day we discovered that Lonely Planet does lie and that a 3km walk to the right was infact a much longer walk the opposite way so we decided that we were content with our private secluded waterfall. In the afternoon we checked out the local 50m pool which had a lovely relaxed atmosphere to it and was also home to some delicious banana pancakes. That night we decided to stay in Ollantaytambo which is a beautiful town known for its Inca ruins. It is also located at altitude and so getting out of the combi at 7.30pm in wet cozzies and light cotton dresses was rather chilly!

Like Quillumbamba, Ollantaytambo had a festival on in the main square where we could see lots of traditional dancing and hear lots of loud Peruvian music... not the first we'd heard this weekend! I think it is an acquired taste. We found a wonderful hostel with really really warm showers and also a little restaurant with a fireman's pole between the two levels.. too awesome! The next day to propel us forward into our day of teaching we enjoyed a lovely breakfast (including homemade bread) at the Hearts Cafe where all profits go to a local NGO that also works like Peru Challenge in the Sacred Valley.

This week a few of us also went to a local animal sanctuary and were lucky enough to see Condors, Pumas and other Andean animals at a very close distance. However the highlight of the 'zoo' was definitely the black, hairless dog with two tuffs of red hair on its head and tail that has a skin temp of 40 degrees. We are all looking forward to the coming week of more festivals in Cusco and it's surrounds where dancing, costumes and music are in abundance! Until then... Emma

Friday, 17 June 2011

St Andrew's Anglican take in the sites of Hanoi

Hey everyone!
We are here, in Hanoi safe and sound. We got into Bangkok last night at 11pm and went straight to the hotel. After settling in, we soon discovered we need to buy some water and India was the only one with any Thai Baht!

At 4am we were woken by the sound of our VERY loud wake up calls. We left for the airport at 5am and got into Hanoi by 9am. After we all organized our transport and accommodation we arrived at the Hanoi Phoenix; our hotel for the next two nights.

As I write this, have just gotten back from a couple of hours out, exploring the bussling city of Hanoi. It did not take us long to realize the Vietnamese culture is very relaxed according to road rules!

We had lunch at a little restaurant which served us some delicious noodles, spring rolls and other Vietnamese delicacies.

In a couple of hours we will be heading back out to shop and go for dinner. However, currently is is pouring down with rain.

Looking forward to a wonderful day of sightseeing tomorrow, including the water puppets!

Speak to you all soon.
India, Lauren and all.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Whale and the Amazon - Mitch's blog from Ecuador

Hola Everyone! And welcome back to the fortnightly Ecuadorian blog, issue numero quatro!

The past two weeks have been great, specifically last weekend when we travelled to the Amazon, but first I shall tell you about the weekend before....

Two weekends ago saw us travel back to the coast to our beloved town of Montañita. We departed Quito thursday night, and while Sam, Mich, and Kakelin (Kate´s nickname for the duration of the trip has been Kake, as our tour guide at the Rio Muchacho Organic Farm thought her name was Cake, which was hilarious and has been ever since) spent the day and night in Guyaquil, Asta and I continued onto Montañita with a nice French-Canadian lad named Julien whom we randomly met... Our day was spent chilling out on the beach and wondering the streets at night.

The following day the three musketeers met us in Montañita and we carried out pretty much the same actitivies as we did the previous day.

Sunday morning saw us arise bright and early, and hop on a bus to the Ecuadorian favourite town of Puerto Lopez - home to the, well not home, it is the nearest city to, Machalilla National Park, which is subsequently home to Isla de la Plata, which roughly translates to "The Backpackers Galapagos" in gringo tongue. Whilst Sam and Mich tried and failed to get a tour to the Isla de la Plata, Asta, Kate, Julien and myself jumped off the bus 15mins later at the entrance of a long dusty dirt road, which was said to take us to a beautiful beach. After 2 minutes of walking, a little motorbikequadbike sorta thingo with a compartment in the back drove by, we waved it down and the kind young man took us 30mins along the extremely bumpy road (asta and kate had the seat, me and julien gentlemanly manned it out on the ground feeling every single little bump on our backsides to the entrance to the beach.

If any of you reading have been to Australia´s Wineglass Bay, it is just like it, except a little bit worse. Hot and sweaty and craving to feel the refreshing touch of the pacific ocean on our skin, we resisted the temptation to drop our stuff and haul ourselves in to the clear blue water, and we walked to the rim of the glass chasing superfast crabs on the way. We applied sunscreen, and whilst we waited for it to sink in, we ventured around a bend where Jules and I climbed an 8metre peak which blessed us with a terrific view.

Nevertheless we didn´t think it through, and whilst i quite casually survived the much steeper-than-we-thought-descent down, Julien on the other hand foolishly obtained a thorn into his foot which bled profusely (well not really), but not to worry he´s all good. We all swam back around the bend taking pictures with Kate´s underwater and shockproof camera, snapping away, and relaxed in the ocean for a good 40minutes till we went back to the entrance of the beach, and caught the little transportation thingy back to Purto Lopez.

Lunch was had at a joint named "The Whale" (i think) owned by a nice American couple who have been living there for 23 years, we all had pizza (apart from Kate), which was without doubt the best pizza we have had in Ecuador thus far. Waiting to meet the other two for our 4pm bus trip to the godforsesaken town of Manta, we left our bags at the Whale, and took another transportation thingy (which i will now call PuertaPort - Puerto Lopez + Transport), well actually it was the same, this guy ferried us around all day, to a massive whale on the beach. The whale had been found on the beach and it took them over 20 years to assemble it. And we also saw a massive post with signs pointing to everywhere in the world along with the distance, Darwin and Sydney were on it.

On the way back to the Whale in the PuertaPort we passed Sam and Mich, and then met them at the Whale where we farewelled the American couple, jumped on a bus, arrived in Manta, had dinner, and got to Panamericana to wait for the bus to take us back home. However due to Sam, Kate, and Mich, there was some last minute panic due to the fact that they purchased a ticket from Quito to manta instead of Manta to Quito before we left for this weekend. So we hurriedly bought another ticket, got on the bus, and tried to get some sleep.

Twas around 12:30am-1:00am when i awoke with the bus at a stop. Thinking nothing of it, probably just getting petrol, i went back to sleep. Waking 30minutes later still we were stopped. After another 30mintues i decided to get off the bus and query what was going on. I approached a group of people standing on the road who were from the bus, speaking in Spanglish i was laughed at, but got my message across nonetheless and recieved an answer, with them all pointing at the bus and angrily shouting "Mal mal mal!!!", which means bad. So with a broken down bus we were stuck in a random town for 4 and a half hours in the middle of the night. After watching the brilliant movie that is Troy twice, the police finally arrived and had organised a replacement bus, which eventually arrived thirty minutes later and took us back home. We arrived in Quito at 11am, unfortunatley and annoyingly missing school.

Three days of teaching past, and it was 2pm, and we were on our way to the AMAZON!

With our favourite tour guide, Wilson, at the wheel, Asta, Kate, Sam, Mich, the random Canadian Julien and myself squashed ourselves into the seats of his four wheel drive. Two hours past and we arrived at a hot spring - lying at the base of an active volcano, locals swam and relaxed in the 8 or so natural hot springs. We spent a good hour and a half spring-hopping until we drove 45mins to where we were staying for the night.

The following morning we arose early and began our 5 hour drive to the Amazon. Arriving at Lago Agrio deep in the rainforest we threw our bags onto the canoe and motored down the river making many twists and turns until we reached our destination and calling point for the next 3 nights, Cuyabeno River Lodge. Situated right on the river, Cuyabeno river lodge had little huts spread out along the river. We were each assigned rooms which had no walls or doors and infested with insects. We were then introduced to the resident boa constricter in the lodge, and dead hairy tarantula the size of our hands, and continued on back into the canoe and were taken on a tour of the river, only stopping to fish for piranha´s, with no luck. Later that night following dinner, we donned our gumboots and covered ourselves in insect repellent, and ventured into the rainforest in search for "snakes, tarantula´s, bugs and what not". On numerous occasions Wilson stopped us and told us to stay where we were, but on no occasion was a snake seen, by us anyway. We saw numerous bugs and insects and many tarantula´s, and eventually we made it back to the lodge and slept.

Saturday morning after breaky, in the pouring rain, we again went into the rainforest. Trekking through we saw a little pig, one frog the size of a thumbnail, a freaky looking spider, and heard the whistle of a toucan. On our way back a mutiny arose within the group and numerous bodies were flung and pushed into a little river crossing, me and asta managed to escape dirt and soaked free. On our way back we all swang off a rope the lodge had set up which was tied to a tree 4metres high into the river infested with anacondas, caimans, and piranhas, which was heaps of fun.

After lunch we canoed down the river ourselves with oars. Before beginning our little trip, me and Julien opted to take a 3 metre canoe made out of a tree. We were warned by Wilson that it was extremely hard to manouvre and operate, and needless to say we were up for the challenge, in our big heads... We both sat down in the canoe, rowed straight into the bank, resulting in the back of the boat being flooded, and we quite quickly capsized and began to drift down the river thanks to the strong Amazonian current.

Wilson was shouting leave the boat as it was very heavy, we did not hear this due to everyone´s laughter so we rescued the boat, and ourselves. Anyways, after Julien and I´s mini fiasco, we all got in the one boat and thanks to Wilson´s steering at the back we were bashing into everything possible. Following yet another unsuccessful piranha fishing attempt, we rowed half the way back, and due to the plethora of spiders which now inhabited the canoe due to Wilson purposely crashing us into trees, bushes, and whatever you can think of, Kate jumped out of the boat and swam back to the lodge. That night before dinner, we all jumped back into the canoe and searched for caiman´s - a species of alligator which inhabit Amazonian waters that can reach up to 7metres in length. The largest one we saw was about 2-3 metres, and the smallest about just under a metre which our guide caught with his bare hands in pitch black.

Sunday marked our last day in the Amazon, and it was amazing. In the pouring rain, we jumped in the motorised canoe and spent 3 hours weaving around corners until finally reaching our destination - the great lake. A spectacle to see after spending three hours on a river, spanning as far as we could see. Within 10minutres of entering we saw pink dolphins, a species of dolphin only in the Amazon, and then searched for anacondas on the borders of the lake with no luck. We then visited the last indigenous village in the area, were greeted by the resident friendly monkey named "Nacho", and were shown how they make bread from yucca. The bread was delicious, however we were pestered by Nacho the whole time we were eating, which subsequently resulted in him getting hit by a spiky plant which really hurt him by the sounds of his scream. Kate and I also got hit by it on the leg by Wilson, needless to say we understood his pain. After this we began the journey home seeing three different species of monkeys hopping from branch to branch, numerous birds including a TOUCAN, and monkey thing with green dreadlocks hanging from a tree, and many insects and bugs.

An 11hours drive back home, including a stop at a massive spectacular waterfall on the way, we sadly farewelled Wilson. He had been our tour guide for three weekends.

And that´s what´s been goin on the past two weeks. I hope you enjoyed this edition of the ecuador blog and see you again in two weeks time!


Weekend explorations for our India Gappers

India Volunteer House
Wow, how three weeks have gone by so fast! What an adventure India has been so far! Both George and I started our second week with sickness. Lets just say that was not fun at all! But after a few days of rest we were back on our feet and ready to take on what ever was to come our way.
Traditional Indian Dancing

Our second week in Udaipur was just filled with our teaching and orphanage work with the occasional trip into town. Over the past two weeks, At the day care centre we have had a few more kids than the
first week, ranging from about 10 kids to 32 kids at one time! They can be a bit of a hand full sometimes but they are good all the same! We have been teaching the number, letters, transport, colours and fruit! We have also been doing lots of craft activities, which they all seem to love, we have made paper chains, crowns and lots of colouring. The kids LOVE to sing and play games also! It can get a bit repetitive at the day care centre but it is worth it when the one who wouldn’t even talk to you during the first week starts to say my name is…

At the orphanage we have been doing games with them Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. They really seem to love to play soccer and cricket! They know all of the Australian cricket team! On Tuesdays and Thursdays we do craft with them! And they just go nuts over stickers!!! Didi Sticker, one sticker say about 10 kids at once! It gets a bit crazy!!

On our second weekend here, we both fended for ourselves! George headed off to Jaipur with one of the other volunteers Amy and I headed out to explore the city of Udaipur! On my discoveries I found Udai Kothi! Which for those of you who don’t know it’s a hotel in Udaipur which has the best pool. We all made another trip into town during the week for a visit!

This week, our third amazing week, as well as our daily school trips we made the trip to monsoon palace. The view from Monsoon palace was amazing!!! Words can’t describe it! You could see the whole city from there as well as the beautiful country side! After our trip to monsoon palace we went to see some traditional Indian dancing and puppet show! It was so awesome! They are soooo talented! Then we went for dinner at an amazing restaurant by the lake! The food was to die for!

We also welcomed four new volunteers into the house this week, Becca and Frankie from the UK and Douglas and Andrea from the USA

But however we did end the week on a sadish note when we said goodbye to two of the other volunteers Jo and Jei! We hope that they both had safe trips home and we will never forget them!
Take Care.
Rebecca Bull.

Friday, 10 June 2011

A Bakery in Nimes - It's been one month already?

Two days ago I was looking through a plethora of collected bus, plane and attraction tickets to lazily compile into a travel journal in the coming weeks. My eyes caught the Malaysia Air ticket which read Kuala Lumpur - Paris, and below it, our collected date of arrival in France: May 1st. It was now June 1st. So we had been in France for one month already. And though it had passed quicker than we could pronounce all the myriad cities and villages we had visited, what a month it had been.

After the end of our second week in France, most of the risk of inadvertent faux pas or language mix-ups has been shrugged off. There were still the odd one or two though – for instance, it is against traditional customs here to let anyone other than the head of the table take the first slice of bread, and the noun baiser (kiss) means a much more extreme display of affection when used as a verb – though on the whole, we were all settling in smoothly.

With this newfound homeliness came newfound confidence. The group of us were now bus and train competent, and spent our days exploring the likes of Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Vannes, Avignon, Montpellier and Nîmes, all of which are bustling metropolises whose streets are lined with galleries, brasseries, clothing stores and market stalls, as well as the odd tourist attraction, which are often found in the very heart of these cities. The countryside is also as delightful as when we first arrived, and many of us spend hours at a time in the afternoon riding nowhere in particular, but instead being guided by whichever path looks the most appealing (which is a good plan until you get lost for four hours and end up riding forty kilometres, as I did a few weeks ago).

Several of us have also been offered the exciting opportunity to visit local junior high schools and answer questions on life in Australia. “There are like, crocodiles and snakes and spiders just living in your backyard, right?” I was asked by the American teacher who is taking me to be interviewed by her English class in the nearby town of Vauvert. I think all of us are looking forward to answering such questions in front of the prying eyes of thirty or more French students.

Last Monday the group of us (minus Sarah, whose placement is hundreds and hundreds of kilometres to the North of France until the middle of June) met up in the heart of Nîmes to share our experiences to date. We stopped at a local bakery – where we saw the dozens of flavours of intricately decorated, freshly baked macaroons, tarts, slices, breads and baguettes on offer – here stocking up on culinary delights before eating lunch under the shade in the sunny Jardin de la Fontaine. Afterwards we made the steep journey to the top of the nearby Tour Magne, which stood as a Roman age lookout at the peak of the gardens. Here, the entire city of Nîmes stretched out before us. It was a sight like no other.

The following Saturday I also had the opportunity to witness one of the traditional cultural activities of my region: bull running. Before we left to watch the spectacle, which would take place a mere three kilometres from the outskirts of my village, my host mother warned me of how dangerous the activity could be not only for those competing to catch the furious bulls, but also for spectators.
“In fact, three years ago,” she explained, “two tourists were killed during the running when they tried to take a photo of the activity”.
“But that won’t affect me, right?” I asked, my camera and two lenses strapped over my shoulder.

A half hour later I was standing with my host sister and several family friends in the middle of an intersection in the countryside, waiting for the spectacle to being, though not quite knowing what to do when it did. It took but one cry from a spectator further down the road to thrust everyone into action; within three seconds everyone had fled from the intersection and scrambled up a concrete landing or jumped across to the other side of a ditch, whichever might protect them from the aggravated bulls. And within ten seconds a pack of four furious bulls ran through the intersection, flanked by professional horse riders, though nearly smashing into nearby cars all the same. Being but three metres away from all this action caused an adrenaline rush unlike any other.

At home, we were still sharing cultures with our families, who we all got along with more and more. On the whole, we weren’t just visiting France; we were living in France. And we were becoming more and more absorbed in their culture; their language, their food, their customs, and so on. No complaints here though. No, none at all

Greenhouse a success in Cusco

All is great over here! ... Like always. Before I get side tracked on another blog with what amazing experiences we have been having I would like to say what a fantastic effort us 10 little Australian´s have made on our greenhouses. With the greenhouse that was already there when we arrived we are pleased to announce that it is complete as much as it could be in our power. Now we only await the irrigation man coming.

We finished planting last week and are now watching our darling little sprouts make their way into the warmest location this side of Lima. We (the guinea pigs included) eagerly await the first harvest of our vegetables and grass. Each year has been allocated a plot of land to whihch they will become more and more responsible for. Eg Year 6B is in charge of monitoring the beetroot. The 2nd greenhouse is coming along very nicely now that we understand how to make foundations. However it is very important to note that none of this could have been achieved without the tireless help of Riccardo who powers along with his Peruvian guns all day along, aided by Harry´s delivery of a bread roll at ´elevenese´. This week we will begin mud brick laying as well as continuing to sand and paint the school the ´happy´ blue it is. Charlie is also bevering away on designing an ´Under the Sea Mural´ which will dominate the school´s front wall.

In between lessons and construciton we are also continuing on our more needed house visits. Last week we returned to visit the first house we went to and talk with the mum. She was the most lovely lady who couldn´t have possibly said thankyou any more often. We have made a deal with the family that now as they have more time (the potato harvest is over) they will clean up their yard and in return we will provide some more beds, a window, a door, some shoes, blankets and a kitchen table so they are not eating off the floor. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like having only 2 single beds for 7 people, only sandles on your feet to block out the cold and nothing apart from the cooking pot to eat form. We are all extremley greatful and happy that we can use some of our fundraising money to go to people that really need it and will appreciate it.

These last 2 weeks we have had many ´brushes with locals´as i´d like to put it. Not only has Nick had the obvious with getting a needed he claimed, but slightly uneven haircut we have got very up close and personal with many differnet locals on a number of occasions. On venturing into the Plaza de Arms in Arequipa and finding themselves in the middle of Ollanta celebrations (after he was announced to have won the Presidential election) Bec got brushed by a theif who carefully extracted her wallet. Without much further ado she kicked up a mighty good fuss and was issued it back rather promptly. Personally I don´t think he knew what he had got himself into and when he saw Carissa´s pleading face begging ´por favor´ he gave into his goodwill. What luck.... we all can´t believe it! The same weekend we had our first cultural outing to the Ice Maiden museum and got to get as close as ice will allow to the Ice Maiden herself. It was an incredible story of a child sacrifice who knowingly was going to die had to walk from Cusco to Arequipa a 4 month journey and then up a mountain only to be hit on the head. The Inca´s aim in this?? to stop a volcano errupting. Louisa despite asking the good question of did the sacrifice work (no) was still compared in size to this tiny girl by another Australian on the tour. Not the best thing you want to be compared to especially after she has shrunk in size after 400 years in the ice. This same weekend I got to live with another Peruvian family due to unpleasent circumstances but this family were the nicest, most generous people I have ever met. They looked after me while Peru´s food took its toll and even in hospital sat next to me and a Peruvian lady who was having labour pains. This was too much for Liv and I to bear and we opted out by sharing the hospital bed and going to sleep. Thankyou a million times to God for this wonderful most pleasent brush with locals!

The adventureous group we are ventrued past many tourist hotspots to the Lares hot springs. In doing so though we first had to navigate a lying decietful bus driver. To put it in perspective it was pitch black outside, freezing cold and the road we were on was a very narrow path with one side droping into the canyon below us and he wouldn´t stop the bus even at the pleads of Sophie´s to ´stop the bus´ after she felt a bump. He was convinced nothing happened but after 10minutes of begging he finally stopped and surprise surprise... Sophie´s pack had fallen off the roof racks 11mins earlier. Thankfully a nice bus driver behind us brought it up the mountain and delievered it. On arriving into the springs at 10pm and bathing under the stars with one or 2 other locals we all forgot about being charged extra and concentrated on enjoying the special moment we were apart of. Transport wise always gives us reason to get up close and personal with the locals but this week Sophie and Lousia drew the short straw and were smugled onto a bus up to the Colca Canyon. They were placed not ontop of chickens or potato bags which now is considered normal but they were literally stuffed behind a curtain with a Frenchman until they passed the officials. The size of the space need not be described further expect to say that our 2 smallest were too big for this little box.

Overall we have had a very interesting 2 weeks filled with work and play, old friends and making new ones.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Mitch & Esta's last week at Quito School

Hola all! Welcome to the second last issue of the Ecuadorian blog for 2011.

The past two weeks here in Sudamerica have been quite eventful, we travelled to a town named after a toilet called "Baños", however the most noteworthy being our last week of school.

Unfortunelty it wasn´t what we hoped, as we had been previously told the town maintainted a tropical climate all year round - ÿeah just bring shorts and t shirts and a light jumper¨- and of course within half an hour of our arrival it starting pouring with rain, and barely stopped the whole time we were there. Due to the unfortunate circumstances weatherwise, we were not able to tick all the things off on our Baños list, actually none. Instead we rented go karts and hooned our way around the small little town in thundering rain, subsequently becoming completely drenched with no change of clothes.

I should include that that morning, me and Asta were waiting for Sam, Mich and Kate outside of Cafe Hood, a nice little joint we had eaten at the previous night, when we were approached by a rather in-your-face quite loud woman. She constantly asked questions about why we were eating at this cafe instead of hers directly next door, along with talking up her own menu. Soley because of fear for our lives we decided to eat at her cafe, which needless to say, and i speak for all of us, was the scariest breakfast of our lives. I will say no more.

So back to Quito we came and began our last week of school...

After about ten or so weeks at our respected schools, arriving at 8 in the morning and leaving after midday for lunch, we have grown quite close to them and we were all very sad to be leaving. The students´ responses when we told them all contained a general jist of ¨nooooooo, teeeeaachheeer¨, and ¨por que? (why? in spanish), and crying.

Our past 10 weeks at our schools were amazing. Every single day was a challenge, and every single one of those days were worth it. It was a truly rewarding experience, just seeing you walk through the gates or walking into the classroom, the kids´ faces light up just because you´re there.

Coming from quite poor backgrounds and areas, to be honest i didn't expect the kids to pay that much attention when we were teaching English. Of course, like in any school in any country, there are trouble makers and kids who just don´t care, but I was amazed within the first few weeks up until the very last with the amount of attention that the majority of the kids gave us when we were teaching.

At both of our schools, our last day there was really special. Unfortunately, I asked one of the other girls to write something about their school but they haven´t found time to do so, so hopefully they will do it later.

Me and Asta´s school is very small, only catering for one class for each year level ranging from two through till seven. We felt like we knew most if not all the students at the school.

Being a very small and poor school, Asta and I spent a couple of days before the last day at school mustering up supplies that we thought the school may find useful - from the money we raised at home before we came thanks to the generosity from our friends and family, we managed to buy soccer balls, basketballs, skipping ropes (they just have one big rope), nets for the soccer goals, stationary for every class such as colouring pencils, whiteboard markers and erasers, writing and graph paper, arts and crafts materials, stickers, bubbles, balloons, and some more stuff we can´t remember right now.

On our last day, one of the teacher´s named Louis, rang the bell half an hour before school finishes, and all the students from each year level lined up within their years on the gravel soccer/basketball court. Each of them holding a hand crafted card in their hands. Louis gave a speech about us, and then following they all simultaneously shouted "THANKYOU ASTA, THANKYOU MITCH". Then, starting from grade two, each of them came up the stairs, gave us a hug and a kiss and handed us their cards they made for us. This went on for over half an hour, until finally the very last year seven handed us their thanks. Most of the students went home, and a select few stayed behind who we were particularly close with to give us extra hugs and to say another goodbye. The teachers then thanked us and gave us a gift of their appreciation.

It was extremely sad to leave after 10 weeks of spending all our time there. The whole purpose of us coming to this foreign country we barely knew anything about, was to make a difference, and even though it was challenging, even though it was nothing like we had ever imagined it to be, we wouldn´t change the experience for anything.

We now have two weeks left of our time in Ecuador before having to sadly leave what has become our (i know the parents won´t like me saying this but......) home the past three months.

I hope you enjoyed the second last blog.


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Language Immersion Launches to Full House

Last month we launched both the French and German Immersion programs for 2011. Parents and students were encouraged to attend to find out more about the immersion program, and get to know more about Antipodeans Abroad. Both nights were a great success, with over 260 people attending either the French or German evenings. The students were able to hear directly from other language immersion participants who travelled to Europe over Christmas last year. Thank you to everyone who attended, and we look forward to working with you in the future!

What is the program all about?

Students in Years 10 and 11 tend to biggest year groups we take away, although we will take some Year 9's each year. Students have 3 options to choose their length of stay and all live with a host family for anything from 5 weeks to 3 months from November through to the end of January.

The program is a great way to learn spoken French or German, make new friends in another country and learn about school and family life on the other side of the world. The German students are based in Heidelberg and the French students are based in a number of cities across France. All have a number of visits and outings as a group during their stay, the French students spend the first four days in Paris and the German students spend a week in Munich and Berlin.

If you know students at school who would like to improve their spoken French or German, here's a fun and exciting way to do so over the Christmas holidays. For more information, please visit the Antipodeans Abroad website clicking here.

Ready, Set, Go! Training Camp prepares Gappers for their adventure abroad

On the 4th of June a bunch of young, enthusiastic teenagers came from all over Australia (literally) to hear of the exciting experiences they will be having when they venture off to do their placements to all kinds of countries around the world; from the Savannah grasslands in Africa to the monumental Eiffel Tower in France! Here students recount their experience of their own GapBreak training camp. We came thinking our placement was a long three months away...we left counting down the sleeps until we leave! To begin the weekend we were told to move into our country groups. It was here when we saw who we would be in close quarters with during our placement. Shy hellos were exchanged-however by dinner that night, you could count on it that we were all friends...on facebook! After three hours of four girls chatting away, it was surprising to see that the one male in our group, hadn't been sent running for the hills- we did console him however, that there would other male company at our placement he would be able to “reconnect” with.

Later that day, we were given basic tips on how to teach English to young children. We were given details of what to expect when we walk into the classroom, as well as what we would be teaching. After an hour of colouring in, 'Simon Says' and differentiating between the primary colours, I think we all walked out of the classroom feeling more confident in teaching a class of 30 young children; I know I did.

After staying up to all hours, gossiping with the girls I had just met from Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra we were awoken at 7.30 for breakfast. Over breakfast our group sat together and talked excitedly about our “guest speaker” coming to speak to us about our specific country we were headed; Tanzania. It was great to hear from someone first hand, who had undergone what we were about to encounter, only a mere 12 months before. Our speaker told us to what to expect, what we would be doing and the meaningful friendships we would make over our 3 months in Tanzania. Over a delicious Fish and Chips for lunch, there were many...many exclamations of “I’m so excited! I can't wait!”

The weekend was drawing to an end. Everyone was given one last activity (which involved a lot of yelling) leading to a volunteer feeling “violated!” I think that from this activity, everyone in that room learned a valuable lesson: Compromising is the key!

After a very informative, yet fun weekend, it was time to say goodbye. We parted with exclaims of “Next time I see you...we’ll be in Africa!”

The weekend to me was enjoyable and made me understand the reality of where I was going. I know that I will have lots of fun, make many new friendships and above all, overcome challenges that most people would never dream of encountering.

Only 86 sleeps left... and counting!
By Bridget McKinn - TANZANIA 2011
Check out the more information on Tanzania here.

When my alarm went off at 4am I was convinced that nothing in the world was worth being up at this hour of the morning. But I’m so glad I rolled out of bed to greet one of the most eye-opening weekends of my life! We had facebook-stalked each other for months, but now was the time to finally meet the girls I’d be spending the most challenging 3 months of my life, volunteering in Ghana.

I have never been so grateful for the ease of face-to-face contact. Suddenly worries, and questions and travel arrangements were just a matter of throwing an idea over the dinner table, instead of typing out endless messages and patiently waiting for replies. The back to back lessons were draining, but counteracted by the sheer amount of food that kept popping up in the dining quarters.

After two intensive days, I left the course with a book full of furiously scribbled notes, and my heart pounding with anticipation and excitement for the months to come. There’s paperwork, there’s online researching, there are deposits and bookings made – but nothing made it so real as physically seeing Sophie Lander (the elusive email phantom) and proudly pulling on an antipodeans t-shirt that would soon become a staple of my wardrobe.

Nothing will quite compare to the experience of teaching a class of 18 year olds what an apple is. Well, we will have to wait and see.

“See you in Ghana”
Check out more information on Ghana here.

Josh visits students in South America

When the opportunity arose to visit Peru and Argentina I was stoked that it came my way, it’s funny how quickly you can make everyone jealous when you mention you are off on a quick trip to South America! Fortunately I’d travelled through both Peru and Argentina before but that was nearly 10 years ago so I was excited by the prospect of returning to see how things had changed, to meet some of the Antips travellers on the ground (in their natural habitat) and to see if my Spanish was still functional!

So after a few long flights I arrived with a UniBreak team into Cusco, Peru (the former heart of the Incan empire and gateway to Macchu Piccu.) We touched down on a clear and crisp morning where we were met by our in country partner and whisked away to meet the locals and try some of the famous tea. Sadly, I couldn’t linger and had only a few days in the area but it was time well spent with visits to some of the local communities we have worked with in the past and will in the future, scattered in and around Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The locals are amazing, incredibly welcoming and thoroughly embrace the Antips travellers and the energy and skills that they bring. It was lovely to have the chance to meet with our GapBreak and UniBreak students on the ground in Peru. I was very impressed by the strong level of Spanish amongst many of our volunteers and the great work ethic and enthusiasm that they showed.

As I began my voyage home I had a half day in Lima (the capital and largest city in Peru) to visit a project on the outskirts of the city for an Expedition team that is visiting in September. Although my visit to Lima was only brief I really enjoyed my time there – I understand why it has earned a reputation as a city of contradictions. From the poor indigenous communities who are flocking to the dusty outskirts of Lima in search of work (where even taxi drivers are afraid to travel) to the incredibly wealthy and opulent suburbs along the Pacific coastline where people jog along the beach with their poodles and paraglide in the afternoons. Lima certainly is an interesting place.

My next, and final visit, was to Buenos Aries the capital and largest city in Argentina. BA is an incredibly beautiful city – a European city in the heart of South America and an incredible place to spend a couple of days on the way back to Australia. The GapBreak students I met with in BA were in fine spirits and thoroughly enjoying their time in Argentina. I travelled with a number of them to the villas (shanty towns of sorts - on the outer limits of Buenos Aries) to work with some of the local children in an after school care program that looks to be making a real difference and is such an incredible and unique experience for our travellers. It was a humbling afternoon - as I was helping a few of the young kids with their homework (as best I could in Spanish) I was afforded some perspective on life and just how good many of us have it in Australia ... I also realised that my Spanish (and math skills) were not as polished as I remember! Something thankfully which I had a chance to change with a few Spanish language films and Sudoku on my short 15 hour return flight to Sydney.

By Josh Owen - GapBreak Operations Manager

Hard word pays off for Adelaide Uni

A group of ten education students from the University of Adelaide are now in their third week working on a community education placement high up in the mountains of Peru.

Students have had their work cut out for them, teaching for four hours in the morning and then getting their hands dirty with some construction work in the afternoon.

However, it looks like the hard work is paying off. Project supervisor, Jane Gavel, has already noticed a positive change in how the students are teaching.

“They are really improving with their lessons, how they plan and their confidence and methods with the local kids.”

The local teachers have also been very impressed with the quality of the lessons and the subjects students are teaching.

Adelaide University students have also learned a lot from the local Peruvian teachers.

“Local staff have been providing students with some great advice as to how to work more closely with the kids and gain their respect so they are all concentrating throughout the whole lesson.”

As well as teaching, students are working on a construction project to build a greenhouse for the local community.

The project was originally supposed to take five weeks. However, the group has been working so well, it may be finished one or two weeks ahead of schedule. 

This has left the group plenty of extra time to make the most the surrounding area.

Four members of the group went paragliding over the Sacred Valley last week and they are all off to Machu Picchu for two days over next weekend. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A Spectacular Week in Argentina

Buen Dia! This week all 13 of us hoped on a 16hour bus north to MonteCarlo - Peruti Village, Iguazu Falls and San Ignacio. I don't think words can convey how spectacular the experience really was.

We started off in Monte Carlo - a small town seemingly in the middle of nowhere, surrounded solely by red dirt - which turned to mud as it began to rain as we arrived. We found our way to our bungalow hostels, settled into our rooms and got ourselves ready to visit the village we would be volunteering in for the following days.

Some background on the village: Peruti is a small village located outside of Montecarlo in Misiones. The indigenous people of Peruti once relied on the jungle and rivers to survive, however, as trees are logged and dams are built, their resources have changed and can no longer sustain the community. This leaves them in a tragic position between two worlds. They cannot live off the land anymore, but they lack the education and awareness to enter modern society.

And so, we set off in the mud and the rain and into the jungle. We found a community full of happy and bubbly and adorable young kids who just wanted to be played with. Over the three days we:

- Deloused the majority of littlies, washed their faces and hands (only to have them jumping in the mud within minutes)
- Collected water, picked up rubbish, cooked, cleaned,
- Played big soccer games in the dirt - (boys vs. girls)
- Trekked through the jungle to find the toilet
- Ate copious amounts of Mandarins straight off the tree, distributed clean clothes, taught some of the older children basic English and honestly spent the majority of our time playing with our new found friends.

We celebrated 'Patriot Day' with face painting, balloon animals and were invited to a special assembly at the local school. By the end of this part of our trip we were all absolutely exhausted, covered in red mud and sporting various bug bites, and could not have been happier. These children were amazing, and we were truly lucky to meet them the ways we did...

Come Thursday we were on our way to Iguazu Falls. Our hostel, Peter Pan - very aptly named was located conveniently close to the Retiro making it super easy to actually get to the falls. By lunchtime we were in the National Park, and awestruck by the beauty of nature. There were butterflies everywhere, rainbows and the sight of the falls, it was like a fairytale... We saw Devils Throat first. The sound of the water rushing over the cliffs and the slight of the spray flying high into the sky was positively brilliant. We stood awestruck for I don't know how long, it was so peaceful and calming. There really aren't any words that can describe it properly. After some time, we tore ourselves away from Devils Throat, and made our way over to the Upper and Lower falls, all of which took our breath away.

Every time we turned around we found ourselves gasping, and "oohing" and "aahing" at how amazing this place we were truly was. We stood in the spray of the waterfall, soaking up all we could for as long as possible! We just watched the water rushing over the cliffs, knowing there was perhaps nothing quite as spectacular in the entire world. Then came the boat ride! The majority of us got took the jetboat across the lower river, taking in a full frontal view of the falls, and then, straight into them. Screaming and rejoicing were all that could be heard under the water, the excitement was incomparable and the looks of genuine happiness on everyone's faces summed up our whole day in the most wonderful and magical places in the world!

The following day should be defended, as no matter what, it was never going to compare to the previous. We crossed the boarder into Paraguay, to see the 'real' South America. Rosie had forgotten her passport at the boarder, and rushed back to Peter Pan to pick it up, and somehow, to everyone's relief, navigated all on her own and found us amongst the streets of Paraguay!

Every cliche of South America you can think of was probably epitomised in Paraguay. We strolled, apprehensively through the 'Black Market' clutching our things, looking for the oasis of an apparent manicure and massage place. It was of course another experience!

Then by Saturday it was back on the bus! This time to San Ignacio, we arrived at about 2 in the afternoon. Our hostel was like a big kids playground! Big swings and slides and seesaws! Pool and table tennis and naturally a playstation! Half of us went to the Ruins during the afternoon, soaking up the afternoon sun and how brilliant the setting sun looked over the Ruins... We walked around for hours listening to information about various buildings. It was amazing. The other half enjoyed the night light show as lights played across the ruins in the dark, and enjoyed fiddling with the slow shutter speed settings on cameras. We all met up for a group dinner, before the following day that would prove to be the perfect end to an amazing trip!

Sunday! We were picked up in utes, and taken to our guides home in the jungle, on the second largest river in South America (second only to the Amazon). We climbed rocks and made a fire before splitting into two groups for the trek. We jumped into our guides speedboat and cruised over to the reservation where we would trek for the morning. We climbed the mountain, and saw the most beautiful view of the river at the top. We walked through the jungle, climbed vicariously placed boulders, swung on 'Tarzan' vines, saw WWII ruins and searched for any sign of wildlife. After a few hours we were back on the boat, and stopped to jump off a cliff into the water. What an adrenalin rush! We swam in the water that was warm like a bath, assured that we would not be eater by sea snakes or piranhas, and soaked up the sun! Then it was back to the house for a barbecue of 'Chorizo Pan' or sausage sandwiches and fruit! The groups swapped, and the second group made their way our to the island, having a similar experience, coming back equally as roughed up by the jungle! It was an absolutely wonderful adventure of a day, and I'm sure none of us would change it for the world!

By late afternoon we piled back into one ute - 10 in the tray - it was certainly a squash, and headed back to the Retiro to be bought back to Buenos Aires! Despite having various superficial injuries, cuts, scrapes, bumps and bruises, big kids let loose in the jungle, what would you expect, we all arrived home safe and sound, and blissfully happy with ourselves and the experiences we'd just had. It was an absolutely spectacular week that will in every sense of the word be treasured by everyone for a long time to come...

All our love, Sarah!