Monday, 24 October 2011

Kenya mangrove project and school opening ceremony

Our stay in Camp Kaya ended with a local dance group's unexpected arrival at camp, who did a farewell dance for us and then invited us to join. That night we packed our things and headed to Makongeni, another new campsite on the coast.

On our first day we took a walk around the project site, a large plain of sand surrounded by beautiful mangroves stretching to the horizon. We worked on a half-built boardwalk leading into the swamp and as the tide rose thousands of crabs swarmed past us. The locals told us that eventually the boardwalk will lead to a restaurant in the middle of the mangroves which will attract tourists to the area. One thing we could all agree on was that crab would definitely be on the menu!

We spent the next few days digging out pools for fish farming, a major source of income for the local community, collecting and planting mangrove seeds, fishing and continuing the boardwalk. At around four in the afternoon we finished work and enjoyed a relaxing swim along winding paths through the breathtakingly beautiful mangrove forest.

On Wednesday night we went out to dinner with George, the owner of a local beach bar called Forty Thieves, at a restaurant he owns called Ali Baba's. The whole restaurant is built within a massive natural cave with a beautiful twenty meter blue gum tree rising from the center... and (more importantly) the food was amazing!

The following week we returned home to Muhaka where we greeted the staff like old friends. It felt great to return to our original projects at the Muhaka school and the vocational center, especially when the last week's torrential rain finally came to an end. The locals also seemed very relieved: some of the mud huts had lost whole sections of wall or ceiling. The kids at school were also very pleased to see us and came along to help us flatten the recycled bottles into meter by meter squares which form the roof of the vocational center.

On Thursday we finished the school, cementing in its brand new water tank, and held an opening ceremony with the teachers and elders. A real highlight for all of us was the kids presenting us with a thank-you plaque and necklaces of flowers.

Next week we head to Tsavo, and the lions!

Are you interested in volunteering in Kenya? What about teaching English in Africa? Antipodeans Abroad are specialists in gap year programs and gap year ideas. Check out our brand new website here.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Swimming with whale sharks at Tofo, Mozambique


Imagine being surrounded by hundreds of palm trees, kilometers of white sandy beaches and crystal clear ocean, which hides some of the most amazing animals such as whale sharks and manta ray. We antipodeans were fortune enough to spend a week living in this heaven best known as Tofo in Mozambique. We would fall asleep to the sounds of the waves crashing against the sand dunes only metres away, everyday was cloudless and optimal weather for those sun hungry tanners.

Our second day was spent snorkeling with whale sharks amongst other things. By far snorkeling only centimeters away from the world’s biggest fish was a major highlight in Mozambique. At every opportunity when a dark shadow was seen in the water we would dive in and stalk the beautiful creature for as long as we could, fortunately whale sharks hover just under the surface of the water making it easy to get close to them. Dearest parents don’t worry they are perfectly harmless to humans their teeth are minuscule to even the human size tooth (so we were told anyway).

Also during our stay in Tofo, we kayaked to a nearby island which homes roughly 300 locals. Meeting some of the locals on the island we discovered that they are self sufficient, living off their own produce and what the ocean surrounding them has to offer. We were welcomed with a very large feast of seafood for most we felt like we were having Christmas lunch, for non-seafood eaters the potatoes chips was as exciting as it got.

Our week was filled with many other adventures, some diving at a nearby coral reef, others took a picturesque horse ride along the beach. For Joni and I battling the mosquitoes was as hard as is got on this holiday. We all truly relaxed here in Tofo. The beach was very enthralling at every opportunity we would lounge about reading, tanning or swimming along this amazing coastline.

Tofo was a perfect break but we were happy to get back to mosquito free, sand free beds in the beautiful Kingdom of Swaziland. We have two weeks left here in Swaziland, where we will continue to work in our Neighborhood Care Points, hospital and doing home visits. I can say for everyone that this trip so far has been an incredible experience and has really opened up our eyes to how others live. The satisfaction of teaching these kids is amazing especially when you’ve made progress and they can understand something they hadn’t before.

Many of us have used a bit of our fundraised money and bought toothbrushes and toothpaste for the child at our NCPs. Most of the children had never seen or used a toothbrush before, after a little bit of perseverance the children learnt to brush their teeth without eating the toothpaste off first. Even though we will be leaving Swaziland some of us will continue to be attached to the projects by choosing to sponsor a number of children to go to school other the next 7years. I guess every little bit counts.

Interested in volunteering in Southern Africa? What about teaching English overseas? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in volunteer travel and has plenty of gap year ideas. Find out more here.

Tiger spotting in India

Last weekend the 6 of us girls (and Ravi of course), all boarded our first Indian train out to Ranthambhore. The train was a lot of fun and a very interesting experience, with little sleep had.

Our first expedition in Ranthambhore was to a small temple up in the mountains. It had spectacular views, with a very spiritual feel. The place was packed with monkeys, which were a lot of fun. This trip was a lot more relaxed than our last (the camel safari) and we had lots of free time to relax and enjoy our small break, there was even a pool to swim in.

That afternoon we ventured into the depths of Ranthambhore National Park, for our first tiger safari. We all went in with very low expectations, as we were told tiger spottings are not too common. So we were absolutely thrilled to find one resting under a tree… where he unfortunately decided to stay (we were told if we did see one they would curiously come up to the truck). But still, we were very lucky and it was amazing to see one in the flesh! It was also Hannah’s 18th birthday on this day so we had a delicious cake after dinner with crazy, extravagant candles, which dominated the whole cake.

The next morning we did a second tiger safari. We weren’t as lucky this time in regards to tigers, but we had a much more scenic route this time and saw loads of other animals. As a nice end to the day we visited a 1,000 year old fort deep in the park. This one was very interesting as we were able to walk in and around the ruins.

At 12:30am we hopped back onto a train for another uncomfortable, but fun night and arrived home at 7:30 in the morning.

Interested in volunteering in India? What about teaching English overseas? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in volunteer travel and has plenty of gap year ideas to keep you interested. Find out more here.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

A gap year in France

Bonjour friends and family back home! I’m sorry the second edition of my blog is late but what can I say, Andrew and I were too busy living it up at Euro Disney and in the South of France! We have been in France for over a month now? WHAT! I guess it is true what they say, time really does fly when you are having fun!

We are all becoming bus and train competent which makes life easy! Well except when a train is delayed resulting in missing your next train so you have to go to some random city that you cant even pronounce in the hope to get on a train that takes you were you want to go. Yeah, that happened to me! I’m not going to lie, I was just a bit stressed about whether I would even make it haha! Basically a three and a half hour ride turned into about seven hours. I made it back in the end and my host family greeted me with a seafood feast!

Days are spent doing a variety of things such as visiting cinemas, finding cute clothing boutiques, eating baguettes ( I personally don’t know how I’m going to survive when I get back to Australia without the incredibly fresh and crunchy French baguette) and going cycling. Cycling is by far the most popular method of transportation for the French, its cheap, fun and environmentally friendly. There's almost no point owning a car here.

I have arranged to visit the local high school in Vannes to take part in a few lessons and talk about my home town and Australia. Rebecca and myself have organised with our lovely in country agent to assist with doing volunteer work for various charities etc.

About two weeks ago Rebecca, Samuel and myself caught a ferry to the most beautiful Island called 'Ile Aux Moines' which translates to Island of the Monks. It is the largest Island in the Golf of Morbihan. We hired some bikes including a tandem because hey you cant go to France without hiring a tandem bike! The weather was glorious, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping and the sky was clear. It is safe to say that mother nature treated us well that day. Conleau, a little Island approximately a 45 minute walk from Vannes is another place close to where our little group lives. Conleau is one of our favourite hang out spots, it is just so peaceful and secluded! You are able forget about the rest of the world by going for a swim, hiding your head into a book, having a feast under the trees or having a crepe overlooking the water.

I spent a weekend camping in Carnac with my host family, its such a beautiful spot there! Its located between Vannes and Quiberon. It is one of my host families favourite spots to spend the weekend. Carnac is famous for its standing stones, there are more than three thousand! Its pretty interesting. I learnt that the locals believe that the stones stand in such a perfectly straight line because of a Roman legion turned to stone by Merlin or something like that. One of my the highlights of Carnac was the Ice cream store, there were over a hundred flavours to chose from, some were quite bizarre! I mean, who would of thought that Curry or Soup flavoured ice cream existed?

Rebecca's host father took her for a spin in his private airplane, she saw a birds eye view of the whole of Brittany. What a great experience! Samuel's host family own a boat and take him sailing on a regular basis. In Le Mans, Anna has been spending her nights going to her host brothers music gigs and making friends with members of the band.

It is safe to say on behalf of the other gappers and myself that we have all completely adapted into our new homes, we feel just like part of the family. Thanks for reading, I’ll be sure to keep you posted again in a week or so,


Interested in travelling to France? What about teaching English overseas? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in volunteer travel and gap year ideas. Find out more here.

Laughter and tears as our Nepal volutneers make their final goodbye

Is with a stubborn disbelief that I write this, in the knowledge that it is our final blog entry and thus attests to our placement having indeed concluded. Our final weeks in the village were hugely memorable and characteristically filled with enjoyment, but remained tainted with the nagging awareness of the rapidly approaching date in which we needed to leave our host family and school students, something that saddened us all immensely.

The first real expression of our diminishing amount of time came in our (myself, Virgina, Michael) school’s farewell day. We were assailed with generous bequeaths of flower necklaces, red ceremonial powder and innumerable handshakes as we sat before the 200 odd children of Shree Sapeneswor School, watching dance demonstrations and listening to Nepali speeches, picking out recognisable words here and there, before being asked to also give a few words of our own.

Unknown to me, Virginia with her fluent English speaking host brother, had prepared an in-depth, epic two page speech translated into perfect phoenetic Nepali, which aroused great laughter from the crowds during moments of humour (such as the mention of Michael’s legendary noodle challenge) and immense applause at the end when she declared how much she would never forget them, articulated in complex eloquence.

I sat listening to the impressive recital thinking how hard an act it would be to follow, then noticing that upon her completion the crowd had turned an expecting stare towards me, realised I would indeed be following it. Eep. We presented each of the children later on with their school stationary packages and after an impromptu teeth brushing lesson, handed out dental kits, both of which they each held proudly, beaming up at us. All too soon it was time to say goodbye and as we walked along the dusty path leading out from the school, we were accompanied by a large mass of our students, many teary eyed (including some of us), which made for the final valediction especially difficult.

Our teaching duties finished a few days before we were to leave the village, giving us more time to allocate to our host families. On our last day, we hiked down to a local shop and stocking up on donuts, fruit, biscuits and soft drinks, proceeded up to a local lookout point for a picnic lunch with the children from both of our families, where we gorged ourselves and took turns playing Elliot’s guitar, before the onset of rain forced a hasty retreat back home. That night, realizing Michael’s vast supply of stickers still hadn’t been fully depleted, we used the remainders to decorate Puspa and Angeli’s bedroom with a colourful mosaic of stars and smiley faces, then filled up the small space with 90-odd balloons, prompting squeals of delight as they trotted in later that night unexpectedly.

That night we also handed out the gifts we had brought from Australia and also purchased in Kathmandu based on the needs we had observed around the household. Among other presents, Akrete absolutely adored her new teddy, our grandfather, Potamba seemed very taken with his gold topi (Nepali cap), the kids all appreciated the large collection of toys and school supplies we gave, our grandmother and mother seemed very appreciative of the Australian honey and large rechargeable lamp (to provide illumination in the kitchen during nightly power-outs) while our host father, Rajib, wore his Australia baseball hat with a long-enduring grin.

The next day came the final and saddest of all farewells – that with our families. A delicious chicken curry was prepared for our final breakfast, which I can happily say left a far better last impression of culinary life in the village than the anticipated dahl bat would have, before we grouped outside for a parting ceremony and to take photographs together. Later in the morning, we walked down to Shree Mahankal for Meg, Elliot and Will’s school’s farewell.
The ceremony was beautiful, yet heartbreaking. Speeches in Nepali were given then translated into English, expressing gratitude for our time spent there and also predicting great sadness in our absense.
Meg and Virginia had been crying almost all morning, and such displays of sadness extended to the rest of the group and to the children as the day progressed. Finally, the unavoidable departure suddenly arrived and as the familiar scenery drifted by, we sat in the jeep in silent contemplation, reflecting on just what our experiences there had meant to us and considering what the transition out from this lifestyle will be like.

Since the village, we’ve spent time in Pokhara together as a group (the highlight was the morning of paragliding off the foothills), but following this, many of us have gone our separate ways, embracing the freedom for travel our gap year has entitled us. Meg, Virginia and Will hiked a 6 day trek in the lower Annapurna region, before taking a 2 day rafting trip, while Elliot, Michael and myself have just returned from a 14 day hiking of the entire Annapurna circuit, summiting at the world’s highest overland pass – Thorong-La (5416m above sea level). From here, Meg and Virginia hope to see more of Western Nepal before returning home in a few weeks, Elliot and Michael are preparing for the challenges of an Everest Base Camp trek in the next few weeks, and Will and I prepare for long string of voyages into Tibet, China, followed by South East Asia.

Here ends the blogging of our placement then, but thank you very much to Antipodeans for their organization of the three months, to our in-country agents for their ongoing support and to the other members of our group, for sharing this life changing experience with me.

- Aidan.

Are you interested in volunteering in Nepal? What about teaching English overseas? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in volunteer travel and gap year ideas. Find out more here.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Heartbreak and happiness for our Ghana GapBreak volunteers

It's so hard to believe another two weeks has gone by! Since I last spoke we've had another two weekends of travel and two weeks of teaching with our classes. I think I speak for everyone here when I say that things are getting easier, like we knew that they would. Once you get an idea of your class's rhythms and capacities for learning, it's much easier to make lesson plans and construct your day.

On our first weekend after Cape Coast (where I last left ye jolly blog-followers) we set off to Winneba (the beach town) for a nice chilled weekend. Hari, Gina and I didn't join the others until Saturday (we braved another church service), so the word we got from the others was that "Winneba is a bit random". And it was exactly that.. as soon as we pulled up in the taxi he let us out and instructed us to walk through some grassyland.. at which point we found a man playing trumpet on a roof (?) who couldn't quite hit the high notes of his scales. But that didn't stop him from trying... until late at night... for two days... it was a nice relaxing chillout because really there's not much to do at Winneba. It was nice to have a cheap weekend after the money guzzles of Cape Coast!

After some ukulele strummin' and a good sleep on a makeshift bed out of couch cushions (I lost scissors paper rock on that one) we headed off to yet another beach. There are so many beaches in Ghana but unfortunately it's quite difficult to swim in a lot of them - either full of rips, or plastic everywhere, or very shallow rocks. Good times.

After working hard we decided to travel far to the Western regions of Ghana. It literally took all of Friday to reach our destination - Appilona Beach Resort. Even after twp applications of sunscreen I still got a tro-tro burn! You never really know what you're in for when you book accommodation but this one was really one of those special little finds. There were 4 huts right on the beach front, all made of bamboo and palm fronds. All throughout the night/day we were startled by each other's swearing as we whacked our heads on stray bamboo slats that hang low from the rooves. We were so well looked after by Steve, who cooked us all an amazing dinner of spaghetti and rice for the tiny price of 3 cedi each!! What a dear!

The next day good old Stevo helped us to organise our trip to Nzulezo, the village on the water. Much to Renee and Maddie's dismay, we set off in tiny boats of three that were pretty much at water level.. lucky they had their sexy fluoro orange life jackets to keep them company. It took us about 45 minutes to row there with our awesome guide called Charles that entertained us with his rapping about his "four strong ladies". I'm quite pleased that Hari got some of his golden lyrics on film. The village itself was quite remarkable, although quiet. When the only way to get somewhere is 45 minutes by boat, you can imagine it's a bit secluded. There were about 50 house all on stilts above the water. We had an awkward chat to the "chief" and then got a nice group photo with him before departing our way across the water again. It was really nice singing along to Mary Poppins, Disney and Annie, with the rhythmic stroke of the paddles and emptying water out of the boat with tomato soup cans.

After another long tro-tro sesh (with an unforgettable plantain sandwich), we arrived at Green Turtle lodge - the cutest little eco village near Akwiida beach. The lodge itself was incredible - so much amazing food and tasty drinks (Jesus Loves Cocktails! If it's raining - it's Happy Hour!), right on the beach front with a trusty dog called 'John Rambo Fufu' by our sides. You kind of forgot the fact that the toilets were drop toilets and you didn't have any electricity because the place was kept so well. Unfortunately everyone got a bit sick that weekend. But I suppose that's just a part of it all. Gotta remember the gastro-tro stop. Overall I think it was one of those weekends where we really got close to one another. Two days with the place to ourselves and a whole head of Lauren's braids to remove lead to a lot of interesting conversations.

On the way home we stopped off in Takoradi which had an amazing supermarket... it was fabulous to finally buy some cheese and chocolate and olives and yoghurt.. wow. But I think we can all safely say we're addicted to Creamos (these impossibly tasty biscuits) and Fan Ice (icecream in a sachet.. a sachet of glory). It was quite refreshing to spend the weekend without electricity or toilets or water, but I admit it was good to home to a fan and a little light in your room. Our host families are really beginning to feel like home. Sorry, Australia. This is it!

As great as the weekends are, it's nice to be in a routine of work. I'm finding it hard to believe how fast it's going, and am not sure I'm ready to leave our orphans or host families just yet. Everybody is so different, but Hari and I are making small progresses with our kids. All the other volunteers are teaching in schools where most of the kids can read, so sometimes it's frustrating comparing stories when some of our kids can barely talk. Even though we can never say "one of my kids got 100% on his exam!" we can still say "Esther recognised a 'b' today!" or "Richmond spelt pig!". These small achievements are what remind us why we're here. Our community projects are well under way - my classroom that I'm building should be completed by the end of next week, so we will finally be able to bring the children inside. Maddie has also paid the money to furnish the room - so the kids will be able to have tables and chairs and a nice whiteboard out the front just like all the other children!! Lauren and Bardie have donated a huge amount of textbooks to their school which were received with such heartwarming gratitude.

This week has been really rough at the orphanage, because on Monday we were given the news that Kwabi - one of our orphans - died on the weekend. We had all watched his condition deteriorate into more severe sickness over the past week, but were expecting him to bounce back like all the other kids tend to do. Obviously, this sort of thing is bound to happen but it's just so shocking and heart wrenching when it's a gorgeous two year old boy that you've put to bed, and dressed, and fed a million times, only to have his folder in your classroom a reminder of what he used to be. But life goes on at the orphanage, even after hearing the news, we still took assembly and somehow managed to conduct class as though nothing had happened.

So after contacting back home, Gina, Hari and Maddie are hoping to raise some money to do something about the health standards at the orphanage. I also still have a fair bit of money leftover after the classroom, so we are hoping to use this, and the money raised from the girls at home to get them all to a hospital for a check-up, or a round of vaccinations amongst the kids. With Kwabi - we weren't even sure what he had. We were told he was being treated for malaria, even though after his death Measles was another diagnosis thrown in the air. So many of the children have open wounds, rashes, fungal infections and strange eye infections that just need some sort of medical attention.

It's these challenges that we will remember for a long time, but will shape our experience here for the better. It's always so good to have our friends and family at the other end of the phone.

Well that's blog 3! What the hedge! Halfway through the blogs... it's so hard to believe how quickly this is all going.

WE SEND OUR LOVE FROM GHANA! Until next blog, Anna.

Are you interested in volunteering in Ghana? What about teaching English overseas? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in volunteer travel, gap year ideas and much more.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Igazu Falls adventure for our Brazil volunteers

It’s been hard to find the time to sit down and write this blog because life has been non-stop in Brazil. We are no longer at ‘Criadoura Oncapindata’, since we caught the very comfortable bus back to our host families in Florianopolis. The past few days have been spent getting to know the city a bit more, and getting more settled in with our families. Our Portuguese is coming along slowly, but surely, as we become more immersed in the culture and spend more and more time in situations where we need to whip something out purely for survival’s sake. For instance, my host family’s dog left a poo on the lounge room floor one day. If it weren’t for my Portuguese the poor maid would have had to deal with an awful surprise the next day.

Oh, and something I haven’t mentioned yet… we all have maids! It is very typical of upper-class brazilian families to have a maid that cooks and cleans all day, Monday to Friday. Many families even have two!  

The last weekend before leaving Curitiba was spent at the beautiful Igazu Falls. Everyone decided to go, except Hugo who wanted to spend some more time in Curitiba city, playing his guitar and meeting people. It took us 10 hours by bus to get to the border of Brazil and Argentina, where the falls are situated. Lucas booked a hostel for us, which was absolutely perfect for our needs. The staff there helped us organise the whole weekend. We spent the Saturday on the Brazilian side, which takes about 3 hours to explore. We were blown away by the beauty, but after about 30 minutes we were also blown away by torrential rain. Despite my attempts to keep dry, what was once a perfectly new passport of mine now shows an identification picture of ‘Two Face’ from Batman ‘the dark night.’ I foresee having a bit trouble getting back into Australia with that.  

The worries the rain caused were all whisked away with the perfect weather that the next day brought. This day was spent on the Argentinean side, which was what we called ‘the real deal.’ We even took a boat ride that went directly under the falls, which we have some great photos and videos of. This was most likely the biggest thrill of the trip so far, for all of us, especially considering we found it rather hard to breath under the gushing streams. It’s this sort of thing that would be considered breaching some sort of ‘health and safety’ contract in Australia. This is the beauty of visiting a country that likes to live on the edge.

Arriving back at the wildlife sanctuary after another 10 hour bus trip was really relieving. We had an amazing weekend, but coming home felt surprisingly like coming ‘home.’ The animals even kindly put together some welcome home gifts- many fallen faeces and half-eaten rotten fruit to clean up. By the last week we were very used to getting ‘down and dirty.’ I miss the smell of anteaters on my clothes.  

Last week I realised that ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone,’ or rather ‘’till it’s going.’ When saying goodbye to all the staff at Criadoura it became clear how close they were to our hearts. Some people, whose names I will not mention, even cried. Driving down the torturous long dirt road had me in deep thought. It isn’t every day that you have to say goodbye to people that have changed your life forever. People that care more about Brazil’s environment than themselves, people that have a bustling world of pointless technology around them but decide to focus on what’s important. I’m not sure whether Florianopolis has people like that. I think we may have met some more today.  

Today was our very first day working with the kids at ‘Cidade da crianca,’ which means ‘Children’s city.’ This program was created to keep kids that go to school for only half of the day off the streets. It comprises many different activities such as arts, dancing, sports (they’re obsessed with soccer) and general games. At the moment they don’t have English classes, but everyone there is so excited for that to change with our contribution. We have also learnt that the kids are fearless. Within twenty minutes of meeting them all they were jumping all over our backs and tugging at our jumpers. Apparently they didn’t have many kids today because it was raining so much. I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of ruckus the sunshine brings. The coordinator there has organised all sorts of jobs for us already. We are going to start taking English conversation classes next week, Lucas is going to help with sport, Hugo with the arts, and I with the dance classes. I’m sure the others will be very well occupied as well.

The dog just did another poo on the floor, so here goes another awkward explanation of events. I can’t believe that even the Brazilian pets like to live life on the edge. Have a great couple of weeks until the next blog post.

Bejos (Kisses). xo Interested in volunteering in Brazil? What about teaching English overseas, or working on building projects? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in gap year ideas and volunteer travel - find out more here.

GapBreak volunteers elated to finish biulding project in Kenya

As our first month in Kenya came to a close we said goodbye to some of our friends and welcomed several new faces to Muhaka. It was immensely satisfying to see our school project finally come together as the doors we made from scratch were cemented into the building, and some of us who raised money in Australia put it to excellent use paying for paint and for the instalment of a water tank adjacent to the school.

Fresh from the thrill of seeing something constructed from start to finish, we turned enthusiastically to demolishing an old ruin with sledgehammers!

Our fifth week in Kenya was spent in Camp Kaya, outside the sacred forest where the people of the region lived thousands of years ago. After a lengthy prayer to the spirits of the forest, we were taken on a walk through the forest. We caught a glimpse of a Sykes monkey, one of the many species in the forest, and at sunset we watched 50 or so Baboons make their way past the camp.

We cleared the area outside the camp for casaurina planting, and the following day we planted the trees with the students of Muhaka secondary. It felt really great to add to the number of areas used to teach the local people farming skills, especially when working alongside the community.

We also cleared areas of the forest, culling invasive and unwanted plants and hacking down trees the Kenyan way - with machetes! The arrival of new people meant another trip to the zoo in Mombasa and this time we were accompanied by the children from the local school who were very welcome company on the long bus ride. This time we watched a large group of Nile Crocodiles leaping out of the water for meat - the photos are amazing!!!

However the highlight of this week was our visit to one of the local houses. It was eye-opening to step inside the heartrendingly small bedroom, shared by 8 children and their grandmother. We all agreed to buy them mattresses and were relieved to know that Camp Kenya is already in the process of building a new house for them.

We played another soccer match against the local team and lost, however after the match everyone was smiling and joking around - the teams are getting to know each other quite well and both sides enjoy screaming Taka taka (meaning 'rubbish') whenever the other team makes the slightest mistake. Now we are moving to a new campsite, closer to the sea, and we are looking forward to the next week's work there! Interested in becoming a volunteer in Kenya? What about teaching English overseas? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in gap year program and volunteer travel. Find out more here.

Monday, 17 October 2011

GapBreak volunteers celebrate Navarathri: the Indian festival of worship and dance

We are now at the end of our 9th week in Udaipur, which means only 3 left to go in India! We have been very busy in the past few weeks. The Monsoon season is officially over now and it ended very suddenly. One day the rain just decided to stop and ever since, we’ve had perfect, blue sky days… every day. So needless to say, we’ve been back to the roof top pool at Udai Kothi again which is such a treat.

We went bowling at the local shopping centre which was a lot of fun. We attracted a crowd of Indians who were all watching the games eagerly and were cheering for us. After the game we all let our inner child run free when we found some dodgem cars as well!

The next day we visited the City Palace which is huge – and looks over the whole city of Udaipur. It was so majestic and amazing to think that royals once lived there. We also took a cable car up to another look out point over the city and then had drinks at the Sunset Terrace.
Because of the preparations taking place for Diwali (India’s largest festival) in 2 weeks time, we’ve been having numerous power shortages. Every morning from 7:30 to 9 the power goes which makes trying to sleep very hot and restless. The internet has also been on and off (mostly off) for the past 2 weeks, which makes life very frustrating some times. On a more positive note, this week we celebrated Navarathri , which is a festival of worship and dance. There have been huge roofs of tinsel set up all over town because at night time the locals celebrate by dancing. They use ‘clapping sticks’ to perform the dance and we were lucky enough to be able to join in one night! Not many tourists can say they were invited to join in and actually dance in a festival – so we were extremely grateful and very lucky. It was such a fun night, we learnt the moves at home first, and then wandered down to the festival, where we joined in and danced with the locals. It was defiantly one of the highlights of the trip so far.
The next day we drove and hour and a half away to visit one of Asia’s largest lakes called Rajasmand Lake where we had a picnic. We then did a quick boat tour of the 90km lake, which was so beautiful and serene. That night Lauren and Sophie cooked a delicious dinner of peanut masala followed by peanut butter slice, which we ate on the roof by candle light, which was beautiful!
Teaching is going great and we are all making great progress with our kids, at school, day care, and the orphanage. They are so much fun to be around and we love them all so much!
Until next time, Carla, GapBreak Volunteer India Are you interested in volunteering in India? What about teaching English overseas, or simply looking for gap year ideas? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in unique volunteer travel experience. Find out more info here.

James Cook University land in Cambodia

We are fine here and our In-Country-Agents are fantastic. We have been finding the teaching challenging but are settling into it as we establish a routine in the classroom and as the children get used to us. The library is coming along well. We are painting a mural on the wall and have selected and painted some furniture for the children to have a place to read and enjoy their new space.

The playground hasn’t begun yet, there have been some communication issues in the planning stages but the library is certainly keeping us busy. On the weekend we went and saw the temples and went to the museum in Siem Reap. This weekend I think we’re doing the floating village and then next weekend we will venture to Phnom Penh! We have also been invited us to learn to cook local dishes next week which will be fantastic. Until next time! Ericka Croker

Friday, 14 October 2011

Borneo volunteers build kindergarten on stunning Mantanani Island

Hello everyone! 'Team Borneo' have just come back from 10 days of pure bliss - Mantanani Island! Surrounded by sparkling blue water and soft white sands felt like absolute paradise, and it can be agreed that this location has been the most amazing so far. We spent our days working on building a kindergarten at the local school. With the help of the camp staff and student engineer Nick, we managed to successfully erect a large portion of the structure. This was very tiresome work in the sun, but was equally rewarding with breaks to swim on the beach, lie back in a hammock and work on our tans.

Another highlight of our time on Mantanani Island was learning about marine conservation, and teaching afternoon lessons to the children about caring for marine life and its environment. This included drawing sessions, beach clean-ups and several games of 'turtle, turtle, plastic bag' (like duck duck goose). To help us prepare lessons for the school children, we had sessions with camp leader Aida in the Marine Conservation Shelter by the ocean. This building is made from all recycled materials and driftwood, and we were lucky enough to help in making shell, coral and bottle decorations for the building in our free time.

Whilst on Manatani there was a lot of free time for exploring the island and soaking up the sights. We did a bush walk to the tsunami gathering point at the peak of the island, which allowed us to get an amazing view of our surroundings. We also spent our day-off snorkeling amongst the magnificent coral reefs spotting blue starfish, sea cucumbers and an abundance of tropical fish. We also explored the local village, watched some amazing sunsets and the few of us who woke early enough, some magnificent sunrises.

Another memorable day was spent preparing traditional food for a feast lunch with all the 900 residents of the island invited. This involved wrapping tray after tray of pastry for the curry puffs, a skill which requires technique that few of us could grasp! Of course, tasting the food along the way was mandatory to make sure it was good. That afternoon, we were told to dress in traditional Malaysian clothes and serve the food for the arrival of all our guests This feast was done in an aim to explain to the local children and their parents our plan to build the new kindergarten. We also made posters and decorations of the children's ocean drawings to stress the importance of not polluting the environment. This was a joyous occasion for us and a great success in getting our message across.

We all left Mantanani Island with a beautiful view of the island itself and the sun rising over a clear sight of the enormous Mt Kinabalu behind us. Our minds full with memories and our suitcases full of sand, we are now looking forward to our arrival at the final camp, BongKud. That's it for now, we're all eager to soak up the remainder of our time in beautiful Borneo!

Ruby, Borneo GapBreak Volunteer 2011

Are you interested in becoming a Volunteer in Borneo or Volunteering in Cambodia? We offer an additional one month stay in Cambodia to complete your Borneo experience. Antipodeans Abroad specialises in educational and volunteer travel overseas – find out more here.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

White water rafting for Peru volutneers + first week of home stays

It´s all happening here in Peru. For the past two weeks there is a lot to report, from moving into our new homes, starting teaching and construction at Corao and on top of that taken two incredible weekend trips away. We've ridden horses through the Sacred Valley, white water rafted the Apurimac river rapids and thrown ourselves off a bridge for a 20m swing.

We are now situated in San Jeronimo, Cusco living with our friendly host families. At first separating from our share house of the first week was a little daunting, beginning our new lives for the next 3 months with a Spanish speaking family. Meal times and general conversations have been aided with wild gestures and speaking in broken Spanglish, the families are incredibly welcoming and very caring.

What is most comforting about our new homes is just how close we all live from one another! Three families live on the same street with only a few minutes walk between all of our houses. Two weeks in and we are all living much more comfortably and settled into our new routine of work at Corao and twice weekly Spanish lessons.

Our introduction to the Corao School has been one of the most memorable experiences of the trip so far. We arrived at the rural school greeted by smiling students, grateful teachers and traditional cechuan women. Our welcoming was very special, we sat, sprinkled in confetti and pinned with a handmade broach, on tiny chairs facing the classes of scruffy and excited students. Each year group sang a welcoming song to us then hugged us all individually, a very appreciated gesture. So far teaching has been a challenging but rewarding experience. Each week we take 2 to 3 classes of two subjects each 45 minutes in length. These range from English, Art, Sport and Computers and has proved at times very testing.

We´ve all had to be very prepared with our lessons plans and be ready for anything, particularly with the unexpected energy levels of our students. We've acted as mediators, disciplines, new friends and of course the teacher figure. To see the joy from simple pleasures in art and craft, the love of football and the interest in English makes the lessons all worthwhile.

When we aren´t teaching we have been working on the first construction project; a mud brick wall. From the initial breaking down of the wall, a trench has been built, enormous stones lugged into the trench and now in the cementing and mud brick laying phase. This type of physical work for some has been a first time experience as we dig, scrape, pull and push the earth, haul rocks from A to B and find ourselves covered in dust by the end of the day.

Our first adventure of horse riding was a very eventful day and night for the group who camped overnight on ancient Incan Ruins. For some a fear of horses was conquered as we rode 30km through the Sacred Valley. The views were incredible and the path taken was one of the most beautiful routes we could have chosen. When the path could not cater for the horses any longer we were told a 45 minute walk would lead us to a bus back home. Five hours later and after scaling the mountain down to the nearest town we finally boarded a cramped bus home. For those who stayed behind to camp the time spent over night was a favourite memory, sleeping on ancient ruins and waking up to the scenic Peruvian mountains.

Our latest weekend trip was a 3 day white water rafting trip. After a four hour bus ride we began our rafting, starting on level 1 rapids that built up to level 5! Travelling with very experienced guides they made our trip very safe but incredibly entertaining. Everyone was in the water at least once being hurled down the river as we bounced over some adrenaline pumping rapids. At night we camped by the river with a fire and played some hilarious rafting games. It was trip well worth taking, finished off by a 20m bridge swing jump followed by a night in Cusco city with our guides watching the film made over the weekend.

What´s next? Almost one month into our placement the time has seemed to pass so quickly. This week we begin our house visits, however there is still so much more to achieve and so much more to see! Adios for now.

Are you interested in becoming a Volunteer in Peru or Teaching English in South America? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in educational and volunteer travel overseas – find out more here

China volunteers settle into Shenyang life

A few weeks have past since we arrived in Shenyang, China and we have well and truly settled in for the long haul. Our apartment is now somewhat better equipped, with a new mattress (which can only be called a mattress when compared to the other thing we were sleeping on previously) a doona and a mop. The upgrade has come at a price, as we now have a fluctuating water supply and the complete lose of power to the only light in the bedroom. Oh well!

A couple of weeks ago we had Teacher’s Day. Not only did we get a long weekend, but also a ¥300 bonus. Yay! On our extra day off we went to the Wuai market, famous for being the largest inside market in China, just for a squiz. It just keeps going up and up and up and up. On our way home we were unwittingly involved in another of China’s subtle traditions: the taxi crash. Our cab was rear-ended by a very nice black car (why anyone drives very nice cars here is beyond me, as all cars will sooner or later be turned into a post-modern art piece by a bus) and, of course, our drivers first reaction was to yell at the little old lady on her bike that caused the whole thing. Then he yelled at the driver of the other car. Then he told us to leave. And leave we did. On the school front, things are going well. My classes are mostly relaxing to the idea of the colour of my skin and aren’t constantly showing off. Hayley tells me that the songs she has been using have the kids dancing and singing and altogether excited. How these kids muster the energy for anything I have no idea considering the number of hours they study. Even the grade 1s (6 year olds) start their day at 6:10 and finish off a couple of classes after dinner. We recently had the sports day, and one of the students was excited because she got to go to bed an hour earlier. I’d like to see you try to make an Aussie kid spend that much time at school.

This past week, both the primary school and the high school had their sports days. The weather was brilliant for the primary school, but turned a nasty shade of freezing the following day. I was unprepared and under dressed. On several occasions I retreated indoors for a hot cup of tea, and on one occasion I encountered a couple of the teachers locked in my office, hiding from the director. I joined them for a good portion of the afternoon, as I, and my camera, were exhausted from the morning. Having got that out of the way, we have received our first pay and are currently enjoying the Chinese National Day, and the Golden Week holiday to come.

Are you interested in Teaching English in China Antipodeans Abroad specialises in educational and volunteer travel overseas – find out more here

Borneo home stay & jungle adventure for GapBreak volunteers

Selamat Pagi! Everything is going fine and dandy with the Borneo group! Over the past week 'Team Borneo' have been very busy. Each day being thrown into new situations and facing different and exciting challenges. The beginning of last week was spent soaking up the last of our time at camp Tinangol.

We completed our aims in construction work at the kindergarten and enjoyed our last days teaching at the existing kindergarten, saying our farewells to the beautiful children. We organised a 'sports day' for the children of Tinangol village - but, with a turn-out of 40 kids and a lack of sporting equipment, we had to be creative. This led to games of tug-of-war, several races and the invention of both coconut shot put and coconut bowling!
Our last day at this camp was definitely a great one: chilling out in the long-house, beading and enjoying one of Rokiah's famous dinners; chips, potato salad and milo coated donuts. We were lucky enough to have a farewell party thrown by the camp staff. Styling our outrageous 'party clothes' (purchased at the night markets) we said farewell to Zul, our friends at camp and to rice wine!

In the morning, straight back on the bus and ready for an 8-hour journey to our next destination, Batu Puteh! On arrival, we were all amazed by the beauty of the Kalibatan River, the magnificent divider between the village and the lush jungle. We were introduced to our camp leaders Braun and Yahya, who welcomed us to Batu Puteh and told us to pair up for our home stay. The next four nightswere spent in a traditional home stay; eating, sleeping and interacting in a new and exciting way. Whilst in home stay, we definitely had to adapt quickly to our new environments; having bucket showers, eating with our hands and performing a dance in traditional dress. For all of us this proved to be a tough, but a very worthwhile experience and opened our eyes to the way of life of everyday people.

If we weren’t challenged enough by the home stay though, the one night jungle stay was definitely a challenge. We were lead into the jungle by our leader, Braun. Everyday, taking a power-boat down the magnificent river, spotting various types of wildlife along the way. Proboscis monkeys, gibons and various species of insect and bird. We experienced a 3 hour jungle trek, a foot spa from the river fish and had to assemble our very own hammock beds for a long and exciting night.

Surrounded by the sights and sounds of the jungle and accompanied by heavy rains and an abundance of insects, we all managed to get a sound sleep. Whilst in Batu Puteh, we also were given the opportunity to assist with reforestation- attending to seedlings in the nursery, slashing land for the use of planting trees and planting over 90 trees which are expected to help with reforesting an important area of jungle.

One of the definite highlights of our time at this camp, was our trip to Sandakan - visiting a Buddhist temple, learning about the death-marches at memorial park and visiting Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. These were all experiences that allowed us to learn about different aspects of the culture and to see some amazing creatures up-close.

Today, we are awaiting a bus and boat ride to Mantani island! We're eager to soak up some sunrays, enjoy the sights and put our skills to good use in conserving the marine environment. We look forward to this stage of the trip and excited for what the next few weeks will bring!!

Are you interested in becoming a volunteer and doing Gap Year Work in Borneo? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in educational and volunteer travel overseas – find out more here

Goat races in Swaziland: Gappers begin their volutneer work

Two weeks have passed in a flash. We have all settled into the Swazi life style like a breeze. The atmosphere here is very laid back and easy going. These past two weeks were spent at our Neighbourhood Care Points (NCPs) best explained as schools for orphaned and vulnerable children between the ages of 3-5. In the morning we catch a Kombie (Swaziland version of public transport) to our NCPs and again at lunch back to the lodge, without fail marriage proposals and men asking to paint our portraits.

We were split into groups and placed at different NCPs. These care points are all run and funded by volunteers such as ourselves, most of the NCPs were well developed with buildings as classrooms making it easy for us to teach. Katie and Joni on the other hand weren’t so lucky and were placed at Elangeni NCP where they had to take their class under an Avocado tree. Wherever we were positioned it is fair to say we loved our children and we were never seen without a child in our arms, most of the time these children were simply after a hug. Nonetheless some were after a bit of fun and found it humorous to constantly pull down Maddy’s pants.

Just before we started our placement, World Vision the provided of food for our NCPs, pulled out of their contract to supply due to East Africa’s food crisis leaving us scrambling to get money together for these children to be able to eat. Luckily we are able to provide food for these children in the short term, we are still working on a long term solution. Our afternoons here in Swaziland were spent either doing home visits or visiting children in the hospital. At both visits we always brought balloons and some toys in hand for the children to play with. During one home visit we met a 25yr old man Mandla, who is disabled and suffers from epilepsy, Mandla has never walked and as a result doesn’t leave the house since he can’t afford a wheelchair either. As a group we decided to pay for his rehabilitation and to his family’s and our disbelief he may be able to walk again after a lifetime house ridden.

During our stay here in Swaziland we visited a cultural village where we were an audience to cultural Swazi dancing and singing. A group of us even had a shot at the local dance. Later that day we visited the water fall where some braved the cold water and went for a dip. One highlight to our cultural events this week involves getting dressed up for the races… goat races! Our goat named Go Piggy Piggy Piggy was in the lead for a while but came second last, nevertheless we did come home with Best Named Goat Award.

All in all we have been having a wonderful time here in the beautiful Kingdom of Swaziland. Our next adventure is a week in Mozambique spent kayaking, snorkeling with whale sharks and tanning on the serene Mozambique coastline. Till then, Sala Kahle.

Are you interested in becoming a Teaching English Overseas or Volunteering in Africa? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in educational and volunteer travel overseas – find out more here.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Jambo! - update from GapBreak volunteers in Tanzania

Jambo! Jambo! Habari? Four weeks in Tanga, Tanzania and we're fluent in speaking Swahili (if you can call asking someone's name and age a fluent conversation). We are taught Swahili two hours every week by one of our team leaders. The beginning of this week was quite sad, due to the fact we had to say goodbye to three English girls. The girls had stayed at Camp Tanzania with us for one month and as a result, many close friendships were made. After saying goodbye to them, the rest of Sunday was spent relaxing in order to prepare for the big week ahead. Monday-Thursday we spent our time at the primary school scraping the old paint off the outside walls. Although it was at times tiresome and repetitive, it was satisfying to finally have it done. Now we can begin to brighten and paint the school walls! We were rewarded for all our hard work on Thursday night when we watched the Sound of Music. The whole of Tanzania could probably hear us singing our lungs out!

We woke up on Friday morning to rain so it was decided we would simply have work off for that day and have an early start to the weekend (not a hard decision). Today, (Saturday 01/10/2011) we are welcoming four new people into our camp! Two are from England and the other two are from the Netherlands. It will be nice to add some cultural diversity to the group as currently there are 9 Australians out of the 11 here. We are all very excited to meet the newbies, and of course we have a few friendly pranks to play, to initiate them into our Camp Tanzanian Group!

Signing off! Kwaheri

Are you interested in becoming a Volunteer in Africa or Teaching English in Africa? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in educational and volunteer travel overseas – find out more here.