Tuesday, 20 December 2011

An education students adventure in Nepal - by Emily Tapper


My Name is Emily Tapper and I am a third year Bachelor of Education student at RMIT in Bundoora. Only a few days ago I returned from a 3 week education placement in Nepal through Antipodeans. It was such an amazing experience! The only thing I can fault is that it wasn’t long enough!

To give you just a snapshot of my time in Nepal I have written some of my memories and a typical day/week in the life of an Aussie gone Nepalese/Tibetan! Despite the flight delays, we made it safe and sound to Kathmandu :) only 12 and a half hours but luckily for me I slept nearly the whole way. From our flight from Bangkok to Kathmandu,

I scored a window seat so had an amazing view of the mountains through the clouds which were really just too surreal for words! When we arrived at the airport it was a bit of a shock. Everything is so different! The airport was a singular building where really all we had to do was show our visa and get pushed through to the exit, where I did get hit with a lot of cages of baby chickens! It was insane, there were like 20-30 different packs of chickens on trolleys.

We were picked up from the airport by Serang, the son of the head man for Antipodeans in Nepal (Sonam). He is extremely nice and speaks amazing English. We then took a bus to our hotel. The streets of Kathmandu are insane, everyone is constantly beeping, people, dogs, cows and all sorts battle for control of the road, and I’m surprised we didn't see any crashes! Our hotel was hidden in some backstreets of the busy Kathmandu markets and was a lot nicer than we were expecting - having a western toilet was defiantly a plus!

When we got to the hotel however, one of the girls realised that she had grabbed the wrong bag at the airport! After ringing the airport, she found out that she had to go to the hotel of the girl whose bag she had, and then back to the airport to collect her bag! As she left with Serang, the rest of us took the opportunity to have a look around. The streets are so busy and you have to dodge the cars not to get run down!

When we got back to the hotel we meet up with Sarah, who had just done the Everest base camp trek and had been stuck at Lukla airport for 6 days! It was so good to hear all about her trek, I'm so jealous!

We all went out for dinner at a Nepalese restaurant, I had fried rice and momos (a spicy dumpling) which was actually extremely hot! After dinner we went back to the hotel and went to the top level where there was a big yoga room were we had some celebratory drinks by candle light. The next morning we left for the bus terminal at 7am to head to Pokhara! We got a take away breakfast which included a juice, 2 hard-boiled eggs, an apple, orange and bread. Safe to say not many people were keen to try the eggs!

The bus ride took 7 hours (most of which I was knocked out with travel sick tablets!), when I wasn't asleep the views were amazing, we were driving along the hillsides (literally tilting on the side of hills!), where beeping indicated ‘GET OUT THE WAY’ as you were heading around corners. It was strange that you never really felt in any danger. Countless clear rivers, hills and small settlements made the ride so much more enjoyable, and the continual mountains in the backdrop just made everything seems so awesome!

A lot of naps later we reached Pokhara! It is kind of like Chang Mai (Thailand) in a way, everything is a lot calmer and the people are all so welcoming, also they all have such amazing English! Although I tried very hard to pick up some Nepali and Tibetan! We stayed one night in a hotel in Lakeside Pokhara, where we were meet by Sonam and told about our home stays and schools, we were all so excited! It was an early night after some exploring of the town :)

The next day we had to get up early as we had a very busy day of language and culture lessons. Our first lesson was about the history and culture of Nepal which was very interesting especially as the presentation was done with amazing photos! Our second lesson was in Nepalese, which was quite funny with us trying to pronounce all the words, and listening to everyone try and say sentences without sounding extremely aussie! Overall I think I got most of the basics, which we all needed for our schools!

Our final lesson was on Tibetan which was extremely hard! For a language that sounds so beautiful, they certainly have to say a lot of words for such short sentences! As our host families are Tibetan we tried to just get some of the basics, but again...I don't think I am very good! After the lesson, our teacher told us a lot about himself, his family, and the history of the Tibetans - being a political activist it was so interesting to listen to him talk about something he was so passionate about.

The rest of the day we spent sight-seeing! We went to an Indian temple which was a little tricky to get to as a big hay truck was stuck under some power lines, amazingly they got out and nothing caught fire! (Luckily missed the sacrifices!) We also went to a gorge and finally the Nepali museum.

We then went on our way to Tashi Ling, the Tibetan settlement in Pokhara where we would meet our host families! When we arrived, our families were all waiting for us, for Emma and I, our home stay mother was Tashi Dolma who has three daughters, one studying in Canada and 2 in India. We were welcomed into her home with sweet tea (which I must admit I love!). We then set up our rooms and Tashi took us for a tour of the village, it is such a tight little community and everyone seems to know each other, many of the locals welcoming us with a smile and friendly hello!

All the houses of our other antipodeans were very close, which was good as it is easy for us to arrange meetings. Emma and my house had three rooms, a kitchen, living room, which was also Tashi's room, and our room. Our shower was a room located in our front yard, for showers, Tashi warms up some water for us in a bucket and we use a smaller bucket to tip it over ourselves, it took a bit of getting used to, but it really does become one of the things you really gain to appreciate (especially when everyone else in the group has to shower with cold water!. Our toilet is a bit of a hike, it is a block that we share with our neighbours, located outside the gate of our front yard and a little walk. To use the toilet, you have to first get the key from the clothes line, making sure to remember to wear shoes and be well equiped with toilet paper. This can be quite a hike at night time! The toilet itself is a traditional Nepalese toilet, so basically a hole in the ground that you squat over. You really do appreciate a good western toilet (our preference were the toilets at moon dance, a local western restaurant just in lakeside). One bonus I must mention is that my legs defiantly do feel stronger! Our first dinner was Dahl Baht, which is rice, a liquid lentil and garlic sauce and vegetables - believe it or not, I loved it! After dinner we watched an Indian movie with English subtitles, it’s funny because every so often they just decide to talk English.

After the movie we headed to bed. Its funny that days feel so long that we were often ready for bed around 8:30. Just before bed we had a visit from Gram (the only male student teacher) and his host father Tamdig, who is luckily good friends with Tashi. The next morning we got up at 7:30 for breakfast, we had Tibetan bread, which somewhat looks like pancakes, with peanut butter and jam, they were soooo good! Then at 8:30 we said goodbye to Tashi and headed off with Tamdig and Gram to go to school!

We took a bus from the main centre (Churbutton) to Lakeside which cost 10 rupee (not even 15 cents!) and only took around 10 minutes. We then walked to the house of a man named Mr Sharma, who is like a local celebrity due to all his work for the community including helping to fund the school that we were headed to. He walked us to the school and told us all about its history. It was founded by an Indian woman who was heartbroken after her visit to Nepal. After seeing all of the orphans, she set up a small community school as a place that they could live and learn. A few years later, a 19 year old girl came from England and fell in love with the school. Unfortunately after a few years she became very sick and passed away. Knowing how much the school had meant to her, Zoes' parents donated lot of money to build the school and to set up a housing block where the orphans could live, this is known as Zoe house.

We then got to our school and met our principal Amin, who has only been the principal for 3 years. He is very well spoken and the children are just amazing. The school caters for ages 3-16. It currently has 450 students and has just recently adopted 3 new orphans into Zoe house. The school itself has 30 teachers. The class sizes are a lot smaller than I thought, ranging from 5-40 children per class. The first day was spent observing, as we sat in on a lesson with the principal on a comprehension lesson for ages 11-12. It was hard for us as the poem that they were reading from didn't make much sense, ever though it was in English! But the students are so good at English comprehension and are very, very friendly! We then went to the library and spent a session with children aged 9-10 who found it hilarious reading books with us and hearing all about where we live. It is very very easy to fall in love with all of them. The school itself has 4 levels and the classrooms are quite small, although they do have some of the work up on the walls, especially from the younger children. Again, words cannot describe it, or the children - photos don’t even seem to do it justice!

We then met with the principal to discuss what we would teach and when. As it turns out, since we were leaving halfway through our third week, we would only really have 10 days of teaching. With the school hours being from 10-3, we were assigned 11-1 for our teaching, as the first hour is always devoted to prayer and assembly, and the hours after 1 are very short and mostly devoted to exam study.

The next day was our first real day of school. Unfortunately that night Emma, my roommate, got quite sick, we think it was probably from using tap water to rinse out her mouth! Determined not to miss our first day, Emma, myself and Gram left for school (only getting a little bit lost!) to teach our first class. Because of exams, we were only teaching 2 classes a day 45minutes each. Our first class was of grade 5's with about 15 kids in the class. But since their classrooms are quite small, it always feels like more. In a way it was lucky for us to have older kids for our first lesson, as their English was surprisingly good. Being excited to use our big inflatable globe (I scored job of inflating!) we taught a lesson about ourselves, our country and our way of life. As we are there to learn about the kids, we got them to write us a letter telling us about their lives and their favourite things about Nepal. Not anticipating that they would be quite so fluent in English. Our lesson went quite quickly and at the request of the kids, we ended the class with a big group singalong of 'Tie me kangaroo down sport". It was so adorable and they all did so well! I was a little embarrassed though, not realising that the words were 'tie me kangaroo down sport', and not 'tiny kangaroo down' - which I wrote in big words on the blackboard, whoops!

Our second lesson was a bigger group - 30 students of grade 4's who we had met in the library before (there may have been a little bit of favouritism because of this!). It is amazing how efficient they all are - not like back home! They are so disciplined. There is no pack up time, or mucking around or talking (except for the older boys, trying to show off I think!). I am so excited to read all of their letters as they are so cute! After School, Emma went straight home to rest while Gram and I went with our tour leader Serang to the gorge behind our settlement for a hike. The view was simply amazing - surrounded by hills, GOATS!! Lots of babies :) and water so clear it really does look blue. There is also a big suspension bridge which joins two islands together, where a few days before we had met many of the local kids walking on their way home from school. We ventured down to the bottom of the gorge for a relax and watched the many hawks fly overhead and people doing their washing and fishing in the streams (not sure how much they would catch!).

After trekking back, it was dinner time. Unfortunately Emma was still sick, so I stayed up to watch the Tibetan news with Tashi. It was so interesting and a lot less censored than back home. The news is only available once a week to the locals in Pokhara, so it is a big deal to have access to the Tibetan news. Luckily for me, Tashi translated a lot of the stories to me. It really did make me feel so naive about the world around me, learning so much about the Chinese occupation in Tibet and limited freedoms they have in terms of schools, and even basic freedom of speech. They also showed footage of some of the monks who burned themselves in protest last month which was quite confronting. It really did make me appreciate the freedoms I have at home, but at the same time I can't help but feel somewhat helpless. Getting to know the culture and a lot of the Tibetan people, it’s so unfair to know what is happening, I feel so sorry for them too as many of them, like Tashi, have family back in Tibet who they cannot contact. Tashi was separated from her Mum and Dad at age 2, and she has only just come back into contact with them. Tashi is now 50 years old, with 3 children. It really is just unbelievable, I really do feel so lucky to be able to contract and see all my loved ones so easily, I really could not imagine how she does it!

On Thursday Emma was feeling a lot better, and considering our lessons went so well, we taught the same one as the previous day, but it went a lot smoother! As Thursday is also our end of the week, we all went out as a big group to Moon dance, a popular western cafe in lakeside. It was so good to see everyone and hear all about their schools. It seems we are very lucky to have such a caring and friendly school environment, everyone else's schools seem almost militaristic in their disciplines, in that learning was basically say and repeat. Unfortunately, our celebratory drinks didn't end well for many, as even only 2 drinks led many to vomiting (yours truly included!).

On Friday we headed over to a small island located in the middle of the lake where a small Hindi temple is, and where we would see fire most days! It was very busy and very loud! Very nice though. It's one of the places you really feel like a celebrity as you are constantly having your photo taken and being filmed! We had an early night as on the following day (Saturday) we had planned to go paragliding!!!!!!!!

Our flight was at 11:30, with 3 other girls at 9:30 (unluckily for them it was a bit foggy!). One of the most adventurous parts of the paragliding was actually the truck ride up the hill - the roads are basically rock and seatbelts don't really exist in Nepal so it was basically, DON'T LET GO! - But it was great fun!

Once we got to the top of the mountain, you could already feel the thin air. We all separated and got to meet out pilots - mine was a man named Graham who had been a pilot for 15 years in Pokhara - actually a co-inventor of the ever so famous Para-hawking, which was unfortunately booked out. After suiting up in all of our gear and strapping together our parachute, we were of. I must admit I was a little nervous about running off a cliff that high, but it was amazing! It really is the one moment I have literally felt like I was on top of the world. Everything looked so small and the view was just stunning and we were able to see all of the Pokhara valley at the snowy mountains that surrounded it. I really wish I could put it into words better, but I really cannot do it justice - it was simply breathtaking (even though being myself, I spent most of the time in the air talking dorkily saying wwwwwoooooowwwwww). Half an hour has never drifted by so quickly. Unfortunately a lot of people felt quite sick after we landed (somehow I felt fine!) so took the time to lie on the grass. We were laying with a dog named Scooby who became quite alert when a little monkey on a lead came over and then jumped on his back - unfortunately the monkey then attacked our friend Shev! Luckily she was ok, and hopefully doesn't have rabies!

I really could write for days about my experiences in Nepal. It was truly the best, and most life challenging experience of my life, and I found that it really put many things into perspective. I really do encourage people to get involved as it is far too good an opportunity to pass up – and this coming from someone who was terrified before they left - I have never been happier I went. For me, one thing that really made the experience all the more amazing was the fact that I had done some fundraising before I left and was able to buy a lot of supplies for the school and donate money. Prior to me leaving, my cousin also did fundraising for me through school which included things such as pens, pencils, rubbers, sharpeners etc. Together, Emma and I raised $3,000 dollars for our school. I did my fundraising through a trivia night held at my local hall (with the questions compiled by my sister), as well as auctions and prizes given throughout the night from things people had donated. Emma did her fundraising through a BBQ with family and friends. We were both so overwhelmed by how much people are willing to give to a worthy cause.

The money that we raised is going to go into an emergency school fund where it will be used to help send both orphans and poorer students to school, provide school supplies and uniforms to students in need, and a safety net for any student that may need it. For example, a few days before I left, there was a 6 year old girl, who was sexually abused. The money that we have raised is going to help relocate her, and send her to Good Will Activity School (the school I was volunteering at) and also provide a spot for her in Zoe House (the orphanage created by the school) where she will be cared for. The most powerful thing that we were told by the school council was that through this money we had saved and given life and opportunity to children who would otherwise never have had the chance. The school council were grateful beyond words and we could not be happier to know that it is going to such an amazing cause. The people, the sights, the children and landscape could have kept me there for years - I’m already planning when I’m going back! Thank you to Antipodeans for giving me the opportunity.

Emily Tapper RMIT Bundoora - Third Year Bachelor of Education

Barker College update from the heart of Tanzania

Having a blast! We arrived back to Arusha from the Trek yesterday. Everybody reached the summit, 4560m above sea level after 3 days & 1 night of solid walking (over 30 hours of walking).

On the Wednesday morning we got picked up by Maasai Wanderings (the group organising the trek) and all squished in to a 12-seater bus. The drive there was amazing and we got our first glimpse of African wildlife seeing Zebras, Giraffes, Buffalo and 'Pumbas' (warthogs). We started the trek after a deliciously fried lunch and began our initial 6 hour climb to Miriakamba hut at 2500m above sea level. To keep ourselves entertained while we walked we sang, learnt African songs from our guides Ozzy & Buster and told stories whilst enjoying the scenery. After climbing 1000m we reached the hut being greeted with a platter of warm popcorn and hot chocolate whilst playing a competitive game of UNO. We had a delicious dinner of soup, potatoes and vegetable stew with the Tanzanian staple of stale, sugary bread. We slept in a comfortable wooden hut with bunk beds. Everybody slept like a baby after a hard day of walking.

We woke up early on Thursday to warm peanut butter, sloppy porridge and some more stale bread. The hike began with lots of steep stairs that seemed to go on forever. This tested our endurance. During the walk we noticed we were higher than the clouds and saw the beautiful view of the tip of Kilimanjaro. We arrived at Saddle Hut after another 7 hours of walking, reaching 3500m. After a short break of popcorn & UNO we tackled Little Meru peak at 3800m, to help us acclimatize for the next day. At the peak we saw a breathtaking view of the Meru summit which we would reach the next day. We were also treated to an African rhyme & dance from our guide Buster. We descended to Saddle Hut taking our total walking time up to 15 hours. We had an early dinner and rushed to bed to get as much sleep as we could.

After 3 hours sleep we woke up at 11pm, 2 hours more than Jen (Redknap) who left early to allow for her her ankle & knee injuries. We followed our head torch lights up the mountain for hours. Unfortunately, not everyone was feeling 100% so we had constant breaks throughout to ensure everyone made it to the top. The walk consisted of rock-climbing, sheer cliff faces, and steep, slippery volcanic ash mounds. Many people questioned why we were doing this at 2am in the morning. We got our hopes up everytime we saw one of the billion false summits, that we were all hoping would be the top. At 6:30am as the sun slowly began to rise we got our first glimpse of the real Mt Meru summit. This was accompanied by a spectacular view of Mt Kilimanjaro with the sunset which made for a good pic.

Eventually we gathered below the summit where everyone was feeling tired & sore. We all touched the flag together and took a well deserved rest at the top. The summit was freezing but nobody cared and everyone was scrambling for a good picture. We also enjoyed probably the highest game of UNO being played in Africa. The descent from the summit began at 8:15 am when most people would still be in their beds. The descent tested our knees & quads & calf muscles & ankles & backs & will power. Even after arriving at Saddle Hut we had to continue our walk down to Miriakamba to stay the night.

We began our final descent at 8: 20am and walked for about 4 hours to reach the base of the mountain, where we were greeted by buffalo with certificates and flags and had a group photo and a nice coke. We then had a little ceremony where we thanked all the porters (24), cooks, guides, leaders etc. and gave them all tips to show our immense gratitude for their hard work & support in getting us up the mountain. They performed an African song and we sung the song Buster had taught us in reply. We then crammed back into a bus and returned to Arusha, for a well-deserved and highly demanded rest where the smell quickly dispersed into the shower. After a really good group debrief we went out for an early Indian dinner at Big Bite - a group favourite. On the way we saw two lots of wedding cars being accompanied by a loud African band on the back of a ute. The Indian well & truly cleared our system and everyone enjoyed a really good sleep.

Jess & Max cutely versed each other in an alphabet memory game to entertain themselves. In true style, they tied. Elise became besties with Buster discussing the widest range of topics including politics, tax systems, schooling subjects etc. Will & Rach led the group in a range of African and Barker and Australian chants & songs to lift the spirits and spread a bit of Red Fever in Africa. Alec took spectacular sunrise photos of Kili. Zoe showed her true determination and fighting spirit to summit the mountain. Tracey showed her huge mental strength to reach the summit (which made up for her physical strength). Mel acted like as a caring mother as we strode to the summit, ensuring we were constantly drinking and happy. Sara took out the award for falling over the most, much to the amusement of the rest of the group.

Steph had extreme blisters but pushed through without complaint. Bri maintained her bubbly self and was dubbed female Bear Grylls due to her spider-man like climbing abilities. Courtney proved her athletic ability in racing down the mountain. Sally wasn't so keen to make friends with the giant ravens at Saddle Hut. Stu won UNO at the summit and was crowned UNO alititude king. Sally Collins is an excellent leader and pushed us up the mountain. Papa (Rob Schulz) inspired us and provided light-hearted humour depsite suffering knee issues on the way down. Jen was a true inspiration to everyone with her determination.

Today we are having a relaxing day in Arusha, planning on returning to the markets and having a nice lunch. Tomorrow morning we are saying goodbye to Arusha and being picked up by our Safari leader Godwin for 4 days of exploring African wildlife which everyone is really really really excited for.

Next update will come in Moshi, following the Safari. Hope all is well in Sydney. Until next time,

Love from everybody. Jess B, Zoe D, Alec N, Sara R & Stu C.

Friday, 16 December 2011

First Aid Volunteers from St John's Ambulance reflect on their time in Cambodia

From January 8th-29th 2011 a team of 7 St John Volunteer First Aiders attended a joint project with Antipodeans Abroad based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. During our time we ran different health workshops which included; oral hygiene, hand washing, basic hygiene, nutrition, manual handling, kitchen safety and a series of first aid sessions in burns, fractures, snake bites, wound care and bleeds.

We visited several additional schools in and around Siem Reap during our time. During this time we taught over 1 000 staff, students and community members. In the course of three weeks we distributed over 350 toothbrushes and toothpastes, books, beginners English books, whiteboards, poster, charts, flyers, sports equipment and several water filtration systems for the water pumps.

Thanks to the Australian Youth Council for their hard work and organisation of this project. Everyone on the trip thoroughly enjoyed the experience and skills in which we gained. The trip was truly a worthwhile trip and I would recommend it to any-one and everyone. From Aaron del Pino.

Update from Brisbane Girls Grammar School in Borneo

Hi all, Its been a while since our last update and we have had a very busy week and a half with the project and the climb. We set off for the project not knowing what to expect however were very pleased at the end of the five days, The work was gruelling - lugging wood and concrete bags of up to 25kg's up a massive hill, sawing, hammering, shovelling, you name it. At the time we were all very tired and the heat didnt help but the experience was so rewarding as we could physcially see our progress as the walls of the pre-school appeared and the area of concrete floor expanded.

The people at the project were warm, welcoming and lovely. They made every effort to make sure we were comfortable and the food was divine. On the first and last day the villagers threw ceremonys for us, the first of which was a welcoming and "stay safe" ceremony and the latter a goodbye ceremony. On the last night all of us dressed up in traditional clothing and learnt the Iban dances and then followed to teach the children some "traditional" western dance including the macarina, twist, chicken dance and krumping. This was a particularly special night as we later learnt that the adult villagers, who got up to dance with us as the night progressed, are typically very modest and would normally never get up and get their groove on.

On the last day the chiefs son and Gary - the spiritual leader - said a farewell speech and we gave the villagers small presents which they were delighted to recieve. Upon leaving the chief's son and Gary hugged us which is also something they have never done before and the women of the tribe wept whilst the children held our hands down to the longboat and waved us off. It was amazing to experience this minimalist lifestyle and heartwarming to see the impact we made on the tribe. We hope they will be hugging all day long and dancing to western beats for as long as they live.

From here we went to embark on the dreaded ascent up Mt Kinabalu. We began the day at 6.30 with a buffet breakfast to ensure we hd enough energy for the day. We only climbed the first 6 kilometers to Laban Rata - a halfway resthouse. It took the group between 6 and 8 torturous hourse to make it here and at around 3.00 it began to rain cats and dogs and girls found themselves clambering up rocky hills which turned into waterfalls in desperation to get to shelter or Laban Rata. All girls and teachers made it to Laban Rata which was a fantastic and admirable effort however not everyone summited due to illness and injury. The next morning was a very early start indeed at 2.00 for the girls to begin the summit. The girls found this particularly challenging however made it up to the summit in around 4 hours, just in time for sunrise.

Two days later and many of us cannot sit down without groaning and walking down stairs is a particulary funny site - 19 robust individuals grappling for the railing to or slowly lowering themselves down one set at a time moeaning the whole way. Today we have been exploring Sepilok and will be travelling Sandakan tomorrow to see the War Memorial and other sites before beginning our trip home.

Hope everyone is well and we are counting down the days till we can see you all again. If we don't speak again then we will see you on monday night at the airport. Miss and Love you all,

Team Kebersamaan Brisbane Girls Grammar School

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Finding our Oasis - UniBreak in Ghana Week 3

After a challenging week at our respective placements, there was nothing better than the prospect of a beach-side oasis all weekend long.

Many of us travelled to Cape Coast on Thursday evening to wine and dine by candlelight listening to the waves crash upon the shore from a tropical hut. Romantic as it sounds, the candlelight was solely because Oasis hotel had lost power which meant even the kitchen staff had to work by candlelight. Not that it mattered, we had escaped the hustle and bustle of our towns and had arrived at a place that seemed a little closer to home.

In full swing, we set off for some monkey business the next morning. Run by a Dutch couple, the Monkey Sanctuary felt like we were on tour with George of the jungle (or is this case it was Dennis). We saw monkeys, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, frogs, antelope, a relative of the elephant that looked remarkably like a badger and a number of cat family creatures, all of whom 'spoke Dutch'. The couple adopts, raises, protects and releases a number of animals and hope to have a bar and accommodation ready in full swing in a few years.

If eating breakfast whilst being surrounded by a number of hungry crocodiles sounds like your every day routine, you must be a regular at Hans Cottage. Reuniting with all the Unibreak antips, we enjoyed a meal together before the 13 Australians and two adopted Australians (one New Zealander and one German) returned to Cape Coast for a quick shop before heading to Green Turtle Lodge.

I'm not going to pretend I know much about cars but one thing I do know a little about is suspension, or in Ghana's case, the tro tro's complete lack of suspension caused by the continual assault of the poor roads in Ghana. The road to Green Turtle Lodge was the worst yet. After a drive reminiscent of a washing machine cycle (sweat and all), Green Turtle Lodge's white sand, palm trees, bar and western style meals went down a treat. At last, we had absolutely no plans for the next day.

Countless swims in the ocean, walks along the beach, reading books in the hammocks, playing a good game of pool and enjoying some good company was all that filled the weekend. Run by an English chap, Green Turtle Lodge brings that little feeling of home back while taking advantage of the beautiful white sandy beach front in Ghana.

We reluctantly left on Sunday morning, walking along the beach to the fishing village where we could catch a tro tro to Takoradi and then home to Swedru (and the surrounds). Even FuFu (the owner's dog) was sad we were leaving, accompanying us all the way to the tro tro door. Compared to our Volta transport weekend, the weekend could only be deemed a wild success.

Today we're taking the plunge for our last weekend together and travelling the long road to the North. We're planning to visit Mole National Park and go on safari! Wish us luck, I can hear the Lion King soundtrack starting already...

Are you interested volunteering in Ghana? Antipodeans Abroad offer programs in Ghana for both gap year and university aged students. To find out more go to www.antipodeans.com.au.

Friday, 9 December 2011

UniBreak volunteers kick start health work in Nepal

Nepal; a vibrant, eclectic mix of religions and cultures, set amongst topography so diverse and so incredible.

If you were looking for a definition of Nepal the one above might go someway in do doing it. Yet, after our first week together as part of the Nepal November Antipododeans group, it is obvious to all of us that no one definition describes Nepal. It's personality and beauty are simply impossible to describe. My name is John Polson and I am a Physiotherapy Student from Bond University on the Gold Coast. Along with 18 other fine young people, I have come to Nepal to chase a different experience, a different outlook on life. An experience I will look back on in retired life and say to the grandkids, "I did that". My intention in these coming blogs is to not just provide a journal of some of our experiences. I want to go a little deeper, I want to give you a taste of Nepal that not only highlights what makes it so special, but also the situations and circumstances that see it crying out for need of international aid and the assistance of people such as ourselves.

Many of our journeys started at different times. Some, like myself, were fortunate to have the time to come to Nepal a little earlier and complete a trek or do some sightseeing. For others, November brings with it end-of-year exams, assignment deadlines, graduations, or even the stresses of misreading a departure time that was actually in a few hours and not the next day. I'll try not to name names! This all made arrival in Kathmandu on the 26th somewhat eventful. Everyone made it safely, and the majority met at the Eco Thamel Resort to meet with all the other nervous faces, sharing travel stories, and finally getting out and experiencing a bit of Nepal. Without going into too much detail about Kathmandu, the place is crazy. And then Thamel, where the Antipodeans hotel is located, is basically the heart of all this craziness. It's the shopping, clubbing, business, and religious centre of Kathmandu. The old adage of seeing it is believing may not be quiet fitting. Ther were times in Thamel when I was not quiet believing what I was seeing.

The group left Kathmandu the following day (with a sigh), heading off on a seven hour bus ride to Pokhara. This bus ride is regarded as one of the most scenic in Nepal, yet one of the most dangerous as well. The majority of the trip winds itself along cliff sides. However this is not the most dangerous part. You quickly discover that Nepal does not discriminate sides of the road and over taking is based more on how much you use your horn rather than if there is any oncoming traffic. Thankfully, the group made it to Pokhara and to lakeside, a beautiful part of the town situated next to a large lake with the Himalayas forming a very surreal backdrop. For the rest of the day we got to know each other over a few local Guerka beers, Majitos, Long Island Ice Teas, and the odd Shisha.

Following our first day in Pokhara, the majority of us were introduced to our Tibetan host families at the Tashi Ling Tibetan settlement. Unfortunately for myself and Crystal, we had to delay our introduction due to a rather inconvenient and embarrassing case of food poisoning. Without getting into too much detail, I was unaware of how much of a pleasure having food poisoning is, and the amount of time you are forced to lie in bed, predominately in the fetal position. Anyway, that's a story for another day. I think we would all agree that our initial experiences with our host families have been fabulous, and have given us a very unique opportunity to learn more about the plight of the Tibetan people and the circumstances surrounding their fleeing of their own country from Chinese rule. It's also a very refreshing feeling going "home" to a family rather than a hotel room in the tourist strip that is Lakeside.

So skipping to the end of the first week. Everyone is settling in, finding their way in each of their placements. Just to give a brief idea of who we are and what we are doing over here; we are a group of university students doing Medical, Dental, Optometry, Speech Therapy, Occupational therapy, Physiotherapy, and Nursing placements, all located throughout greater Pokhara. Placements are mainly observational of nature, however these experiences have already included opportunities such as attending surgeries, participating in remote camps, visiting special education schools, and conducting home visits. We are therefore provided a unique exposure to not just the Nepalese Health system, but also a greater insight into the people, their culture, and their traditions.

I know I speak for all of us to say how excited we are about the next few weeks. Yes, it's full-on and an immense social, cultural, and gastrointestinal shock. However, that is exactly what we are here for; to see a developing country in its rawest form without the glorification. Stay tuned.


If you are interested in seeing some more photos that Crystal has taken from our trip, I have put them all on my blog at www.johnpolson.com.au/blog

Thursday, 8 December 2011

UniBreak Thailand volunteers work on refugee safe house

It has now been almost a week since I started my placement as a development volunteer in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand. So much has happened that it’s hard to describe the whirlwind of experiences I’m having right now, but I’ll give it a go. I am with two other development volunteers, Anita and Bree, and we are helping a local contractor to build a path and several drains at the Safe House rehabilitation home in Huay Malai, which is a small town 20 mins from the town of Sangkhlaburi and very close to the border with Burma (Myanmar).
The residents at the Safe House are Burmese refugees with a variety of mental health, emotional and physical problems. They are also members of ethnic minorities such as the Karen and Mon, which are persecuted by the Burmese military.

So far, the work has mostly involved hard labour like mixing concrete and digging out drains. I won’t lie: it’s been pretty hard, especially for someone like me who is only 156cm tall and 50 kilos! In Australia, I’m a law student, which is a lot of mental work, but at least you can sit at a desk with a coffee while you do it! But for all the sore muscles and complaining I’ve been doing, it’s been so rewarding to see the improvements slowly take shape. We are building a path to make it easier for patients with physical disabilities, and for staff to respond to emergencies more quickly. When I first started, I couldn’t have imagined how rewarding it would be to see people use a path that we helped to lay. Today, a patient with a deformed foot walked from his bed in the male quarters down to the main house. A trip that used to be quite dangerous and set over broken ground now takes him half the time and is a lot safer. I’m really proud that I could help make that happen.

We are in Sangkhlaburi with six ‘medical’ volunteers, who are also at the Safe House with us. While their daily schedule is different to ours, on weekends we are planning to travel together. So far we have an elephant trek and the King’s Birthday celebrations planned for tomorrow. The Elephant Trek is pretty self-explanatory, but the King’s Birthday is one of the most important holidays in Thailand, where the King is revered by almost everyone. At the moment, royal yellow and Thai national flags are everywhere on the streets, and the King and Queen’s portraits are set up outside nearly every government building and at major intersections. It will be interesting to see what celebrations they have planned for an ethnically diverse town such as Sangkhla.

Other than that, the only thing I will mention is the food, and how delicious it is! I definitely loved my Thai food in Australia, so it’s been a special treat getting to eat it for every meal, but there are also pretty good Western meals here because Sangkhlaburi is a major destination for volunteers from developed countries. I’m happy eating my way through everything Thai that’s on offer, but some of the other volunteers are pretty well-obsessed with the vegetarian bakery, which does awesome breakfast bagels. We definitely need to keep our energy up to get the path finished!

Until next time, Lauren

Argentina GapBreak wrap up

As we pack our bags and get ready for our journey home we can only think of how much we are going to miss Argentina.

For the last 3 months we have had some outstanding times. We have all had many amazing experiences such as working with the underprivileged youth in the villas, travelling through the breathtaking landmarks Argentina has to offer and hitting the town in some of Buenos Aires coolest bars and clubs. It has been a long time since we have seen the faces of our loved ones. To hear their voices again, to feel the arms around us and to be there for the special days will be such a reward to have again. Thinking where we will be this time next week or even this time next month is scary. For some of us we will never see each other again, only the tagged photo’s that pop up on our Facebook news feed with the familiar faces from Argentina will be left. For the few of us who have been fortunate enough to have a homestay family it will be hard to say goodbye. It’s going to be just as hard as it was when we said goodbye to our parents and family back home. The families we have been blessed with here have only been welcoming, loving and have left quite an impact on our lives. They have been there when we’ve had a harsh day at volunteering, when we’ve need someone to talk to, and when we’ve just needed someone to be that parent figure. They have done an exceptional job at opening their homes and hearts to us and they will not be forgotten. As we were jetlagged during our first two weeks again we will most likely be jetlagged when we arrive back home. It’s time we prepare our bodies for the shock they are about to receive and squeeze everything back into our suitcases... for some this will be a very difficult task as we have all accumulated so much since being in Argentina. All the best to those who are heading straight back home and to those who are either hanging around for a few weeks or continuing their travels around South America.

GapBreak France 2011 come to an end

At the moment I am waiting to board the plane at the Charles de Gaulle airport which will take me to Kuala Lumpur where I have a 12 hour wait until I finally fly from Kuala Lumpur to Adelaide. Oh well, plenty of time to reflect on the fantastic overseas adventures that the five of us shared. It goes without saying, I am extremely sad to leave my French family and the beautiful Brittany that has been home for the past 3 months.

Today I felt a great amount of sadness saying my final goodbyes to my lovely Bretagne host family. It is safe to say on behalf of Rebecca, Samuel, Anna and Andrew that we had an absolutely incredible three months in France. We will miss the people, the architecture, French food and yep the entire experience! The experiences we shared with our host families and our new friends will be remembered for many years. It is remarkable to think that just three months ago, we were all extremely nervous about being sent to an unknown family in a foreign country with a completely different language. Looking back now we had the time of our lives. It was not always easy. Some of the foods took a little bit of getting used to, the language barrier could be frustrating and let’s be honest not knowing our way around at the beginning was a little nerve-racking. We wouldn’t change those things for anything! We overcome all barriers and grew more open to trying new things and being independent.

Watching the children that we were tutoring progress with English was extremely rewarding. At first most of them were too shy to talk to us but as the days and weeks progressed, some of them could even have a flowing conversation in English! It was so cool to watch! I was lucky to enough to have two host families and I was able to keep going back to visit my first family, it was so nice that my little host sister remembered all of what I taught her such as the names and spelling of Australian animals. With both families, tutoring was fun! Activities included cooking and eating in English, arts and crafts such as Aboriginal dot painting, board and video games and if the kids were older having a conversation and helping with homework.

The Antipodeans placement has come to an end but the Gapper’s overseas adventures are not over! Andrew is spending another weekend in the city of lights visiting night clubs and eating quality French food. He is also heading to Rome and London to visit friends and family! Rebecca and Samuel are exploring London and a little bit of Eastern Europe and then returning home just before Christmas! Anna’s European adventures are not even close to finishing, the lucky thing! She is meeting her mum this weekend in Paris and will be spending the week soaking up some France and London culture. Anna will enjoy the rich European lifestyle until the end of March 2012! Her itinerary includes England, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and Amsterdam.

So yes, having a GapBreak in France was such a great idea, I know I can speak for the entire group when saying this too.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The final weeks in Ghana for Anna and the Gapbreak volunteers

We’ve come so far! Since I last wrote and also since the beginning. We’ve all been thinking about the beginning a lot lately because right now we’re all at Felcare Hostel, the place where we spent our first few days in Ghana. It was three months ago that we walked down these same dusty streets, bought our SIM cards and spent some valuable time chilling in the lady’s house that developed passport photos. We’ve come a long way in these past three months! Our two weeks travel was absolutely amazing. We were very fortunate, everything ran quite smoothly and went off without a hitch. Our exciting journey started at the ridiculous hour of 3am when we woke up, packed those last minute things (like the toothbrush and the pyjamas), said goodbye to our host families and boarded the first bus to Kumasi.

It was actually quite cold, there was a smashed window a few seats in front of us so Harriet had to whip out her sunnies (in the dark) to save her eyeballs from the wind! I thought she looked pretty cool. This is where we started our donut trend… and ended our ‘let’s-get-skinny-on-travel’ trend. Hot donuts make for an amazing early bus breakfast. We arrived into Kumasi at about 10am, which felt strange because we had to travel for about 5 or 6 hours. We were too exhausted to do anything much but the rest of the day was spent planning, walking and taking advantage of the cheap and yummy street food (strefoo). Our days in Kumasi were fairly touristy!

We checked out the Museum (mainly a room of the various Ashanti Kings’ possessions) and also the cultural centre, where we saw some traditional kente cloth being woven, and also a disabled man who produced amazing artwork by painting with the brush in his mouth. We also visited the Komfo Anokye Sword Site, a sword that was planted in a stone some 300 years ago, and cannot be removed (otherwise the Ashanti kingdom will collapse). This was less spectacular than it sounds, more a small sword handle in a hole in the ground surrounded by strange bottles, but cool all the same!

Then it was time to up and go again – this time off to Kintampo in the Brong Ahafo region. The ride was about 3 hours, and we had to awkwardly stop the bus on the side of the road because it had driven straight through the town. It was even more difficult to find our accommodation… after clearly stating the “Prince of Peace Guest House” our taxi took us down a random dirt road and dropped us off at a sign that said ‘GUEST HOUSE’. This lead us to another leg of the journey in a private trotro, that took us to the ‘Prince of Peace Maternity Ward’.

Luckily the other taxi had arrived safely at the correct hostel, so we could give directions to the driver (which turned out to be walking distance from our original position anyway). Good times! We had a beautiful waterfall experience at the Kintampo Falls, and even got to go swimming in the 3rd falls. It was such a cool experience… wearing bikinis and closed in shoes with a waterfall hammering down on my back… I could hardly keep my eyes open. Probs the coolest shower I’ve had in Ghana.

The next leg of the journey saw us on a nice cramped and sweaty trotro ride to Tamale! We were so lucky to have Moses to look after us : ) When we arrived in the bus station, he was there to pick us up and take us to our accommodation. Or should I say donkcommodation! (There was an awesome donkey there!) As soon as we came in he ambled over and nuzzled for our attention. Wheeee. This was the night that Kristen and I were supposed to spend bonding, but instead spent picking bugs out of our hair and clothes and skin. It was a mistake to take off the sheet and find an infestation of ants, crawling up the sides of the beds and having a party in our sheets. This was when we knew it was time to shimmy in on other people’s rooms and do some pencil sleeping. (Pencil Sleeping: when you are cramped in a bed, i.e. three in a double, and the only sleeping position available is the classic pencil).

But all of this was okay, because after an awesome breakfast of pancakes and super tasty jam (Kristen will confirm) Moses gave us the news that he had found 6 other backpackers heading our way (to Mole National Park) so it was actually cheaper to hire a private air-conditioned bus to take us directly to the park! Yabadabadooo! ;) This was such a relief after the horror stories of 16 hour waits we’ve heard about trips to Mole.

For me, Mole National Park was the highlight of the two weeks travel. There was just so much wildlife! Even in the living quarters, warthogs were shuffling just outside on the grass. There were monkeys by the pool to steal your biscuits, strange scorpions in the pool (I’ve never seen Gina move so fast), deer poking their heads out of the trees and countless stick insects and spiders to keep you company. Mole was hot – so the pool was a blessing. On the first night we all sat around it and watched the sun set over the savannah. It was gorgeous, and unlike any other sunset I’ve ever seen!
The sun was huge, and looked kind of fake.. like a huge orange ping pong ball suspended in the sky, lighting up the lakes with flocks of birds flying around.
It looked like something out of the Lion King.

As far as activities go – we got to do this cool as driving safari along some dirt roads through the park. This was especially cool because we all got to sit on the roof, and spy the various baboons and antelope (Cob) and pray for an elephant. When our guide got the news that one was in the trees, we set off at such a pace that we nearly fell off the roof. But it was all worth it to see these 3 beautiful creatures walking through the trees not 50m away. This was nothing compared to the waking safari, when we got even closer because “the elephants are in a good mood”. We circled around and got so close that we could see the wrinkles around their eyes. Mole had a very relaxed atmosphere, so when we weren’t out with the animals we just got to chill by the pool, sleep, read and play scattergories.

We left Mole on the 4am bus back to Tamale. The bus was cramped, and smelly, (buckets of mud?) but luckily we found a donut lady to carry over our tradition and tide us over until arrival at about 8.30am. Even though we got on the bus to Bolgatanga fairly promptly, we didn’t set off on our journey until about 11am. Bolgatanga was the place that we stayed so we could do a day trip to Paga – the crocodile sanctuary right on the border of Burkina Faso. The crocodiles were huge, and didn’t seem too happy to be coaxed out of the swamp. We payed our money to lift up his tail, and then skedaddled out of there before he could munch on any of our ankles. It was very incredible though, to be so close to such a powerful creature. There wasn’t a huge amount of stuff to do in Bolgatanga so that meant there were a lot of rounds of scattergories to be enjoyed under the trees and in our stuffy hotel room.

From here we started our journey back down to the South of Ghana. Baaaaack to Kumasi! I think we were all very happy to be back in that sunny town. It felt nice to arrive (after 6 hours especially) in somewhere familiar, and a place that we had already explored at the start of our travel. We had two days there, so on our second day we decided to visit Lake Bolgatanga, the largest natural lake in Ghana, (formed by a meteorite – just a fun fact). The lake was beautiful, and we spent the time sitting on logs and taking photos on the jetty! Pick your pose – titanic, praise to the gods (a Maddie invention) or the classic tree pose. This was when I discovered the funky settings on my camera (yes, a week from the end) so when our batteries died we thought it time to head back. This all happened on a Sunday, so it was impossible to find something to eat because everyone goes to church. That night we went to the petrol station and bought cold soup, bread and chocolate bars, which actually turned out to be rather amazing.

We decided to end our journey with a trip to our treasured Big Milly’s Backyard, so it was only fitting to continue the tradition of getting the 4.30am bus from Kumasi to Accra. This didn’t really work out as planned, as although we boarded at the correct time, I woke up about 2 hours later to find that we hadn’t actually left the station yet, and the bus was going to leave at 7.30am instead. We ended up spending about 10 hours on that bus… I think we were all grateful that we hadn’t slept the night before so we good just pass the time with our heads on our backpacks, snoozing the potholes away. We arrived at Big Milly’s at about 3.30pm, nearly a 12 hour travel day. As you can imagine, it was pretty much pizza and bed. But not just any pizza… I will remember this pizza until the day I die. It was thin and crispy and juicy… and followed by half a slice of chocolate cake. Perfection.

Our final days were spent in the sun (Bardie’s red skin can vouch for that) swimming, eating and reflecting on our months in Ghana. Lauren, Hari and I had this huge sentimental chat about growth, challenges and culture shock… it made me realise how far we’ve come since we arrived, and even though it may be difficult to tell, how much we all would have grown.

I think everyone will agree with me when I say that this experience has been the best thing that had ever happened to me. Living in a different culture is just such an eye-opening experience, and we’re so lucky to have that sort of opportunity. As it’s all ending I suppose there’s nothing left to do but say goodbye, board planes and greet our families with a million memories, photographs, presents, and journals full of 3 months of emotion. Ghana is such a beautiful country and we’ll be so sad to leave!

As for Maddie, Kristen and Harriet – they shall see you all soon, and the rest of us will be with you in the New Year. Not long now!

We send our love, our smiles and our gratitude. See you in Australia!

Are you interested in working as a GapBreak volunteer in Ghana? Find out more about the Ghana GapBreak program here.

Snow falls on China Gappers

SNOW! At long, freezing last. The first snowfall of the season came last Friday, and brought with it chaos. The graduating classes of the middle school ganged up on the third story walkway and pelted the unsuspecting younger classes (my classes) from above. There were kids diving and sliding everywhere, but the third floor was too high to retaliate. The steps became treacherous and many fell victim to their icy edges, and the ramps alongside were transformed into ski slopes. Inside the classrooms, there was little attention to be payed to anything other then the falling snow, and a student even put a lump of the stuff on my desk and told me it was a present. How thoughtful.

Hayley had the good fortune of finishing early on that day, and so she caught an earlier bus with her students. Due to the horrible conditions it took her a good two hours, instead of the usual one, to return to our home. I had the misfortune of having the last three classes of the day, and so, finishing at 4:05, I waited inside until the bus would arrive before braving the elements (this being the 4th or 5th hour of the snowfall). When I arrived at the location, amidst the glistening snow, I joined a group of other teachers who were also waiting.

My black coat went completely white with snowflakes, my teeth had begun to chatter, and I was starting to doubt whether this bus would come or not, when a group of the teachers began walking down the road towards the gate. Figuring they had better intel than I did (having none) I followed, but alas, five minutes later we all turned back again. I decided that, since I had not yet seen the American teacher, I would go to his office and see if he was still there. If he was not, I was in trouble.

He was, and the first thing he said was “Didn’t anyone tell you? The bus is going to be late.” No, no-one did tell me, so I stood in the snow for half an hour. Eventually the bus did come but, due to an accident somewhere, we did not arrive home until seven o’clock. On the way I was finding it hard to tell between piles of snow ploughed onto the side of the road, and most of the cars. Many had at least three inches of snow clinging to every surface but the front windscreen, giving them the appearance of a lump of snow on wheels. This was indeed an experience.

In light of the snow, Hayley and I returned to the famous Wuai market, to find that we had actually never been there before. The first time, when we asked the cab driver to take us there, we had found ourselves in a large, cramped, grimy and foul smelling store that we could not bare because of the heat. It was still summer back then, and we had not seen any need to return to that place, but had we known just how great the REAL Wuai was, we would probably have been there every day. Hayley bought some blindfolds for the class she is teaching on sight, and some amazingly warm snow boots.

I was caught with a beanie in my hand when the lights went out the shop-keeper said “guan men” (which means the shops are closing). Feeling the need for something warmer on my head, I bought it in a heartbeat and we were out the door. Needless to say, with the biggest indoor market in China closing, a very large mob exited and blocked the street. Taxi’s immediately became scarce and the busses were, as one of my students put it, like a can of fish. Faces squashed against the windows. We stood on the street for quite a while before a taxi was actually willing to stop for us.

It snowed again on Tuesday, and a few classes were cancelled while the kids put muscle to snow and shifted a hell of a lot of it. Even at “the best school in Liaoning”, the students study comes second to the life lessons of manual labour. When all the snow is moved, they still have to chip away the ice and move that too. It’s a miracle we don’t lose them by the hundreds. This week the temperature dropped below the -20 mark, and the snow is above the ankles. For those of you who complain about Australia’s winter, you have seen nothing. I don’t believe I will ever truly feel cold in Australia again.

At least it’s not raining. Touch wood.

Are you interested in teaching English in China? What about volunteering with Antipodeans Abroad in over 18 other destinations such as Argentina, Borneo, Tanzania or Brazil? Find out more at www.antipodeans.com.au

Magical Cuzco and the llama - Roseville College

Dear Loved Ones, On Saturday (Peru time) we had a long day of travel. We'd arranged to get bus transportation from our hotel in Puno to Cuzco. We'd also made a reservation at a beautiful looking hostel, which was right within our budget. All was perfect.

We set off on the 7 hour bus ride with much enthusiasm, and pumped music from the portable speakers we'd brought along just for occasions like this. We sounded fabulous, but are glad there aren't any videos to prove otherwise.

At first the scenery was rather boring. Everything was dry, brown and repetitive. But then, as we started to climb higher in the Andes (just had to throw that in there - did you know we're in Peru????!!!! So exciting!) things became greener, the corners on the road became tighter, and sitting in the same seat for an extended period became a little more bearable.

We stopped for a toilet break at a pretty spectacular lookout. It probably seems like we go on and on about toilets, but it's pretty exciting when one appears in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, it was here that we had a chance to get a photo with a real llama! (See attached - hope you like 'em). It was extremely smelly, nowhere near as cute as they look in The Emperor's New Groove, but everyone back home will be hearing about just how cute and cuddly they were - please don't spoil it with reality.

You'll notice from the picture too that we were at an elevation of 4,335m. For those of you who don't know what that means, it means that basically there was no oxygen in the air and we're superheroes for surviving it! However, we did manage to shop, get excited about the llamas, run around taking photos of the magnificent vistas and all that before we realised, so perhaps we'll be ok for the trek after all. Still, it was the highest we've been so far, and there were a few headaches afterwards. Needless to say, the party bus pumped the tunes a litre lower after this, and some even settled in for a nap.

Lunch ended up being in a buffet restaurant, with full glass walls so you can see the rise of the mountains above. It was such a chillaxing (combination of relaxing and chilling out) moment to be able to guzzle gourmet dishes whilst taking in the view. We've been pretty lucky with our food finds on this trip, but we're not sure it can continue being this good.

Among the things we got to try were this scrumptious chicken curry that seems to be all over the place in Peru, steamed veggies (these taste so good after such a carb high diet!), really yummy rice with some sort of yellow stuff on it (sorry, can't give you much more than that), a zillion other chicken varieties, beef salt ado (sort of like a stir fry but way way better), and that's before talking about the soups, noodles, creme caramels, purple corn jelly (yes, that's the truth!) and a really delicious rice pudding. The highlight was perhaps the real live bananas that we could peel ourselves so they were safe to eat. Fruit is the one thing we're missing a bit on this trip. Please have fruit bowls stocked for when we get home. (Thanks).

Anyway, we had to get back on the bus and the last few hours seemed to drag on forever. Trivial pursuit challenges were had, singing continued a little, but sleeping seemed to be the most popular activity.

Driving into Cuzco was such a disappointment. We'd read so much about it and were so excited about the cobblestone streets, so when we could only see dirty, dilapidated buildings on scruffy, ordinary streets, we thought we'd got it all wrong. However, once we got to the main square, the Plaza de Armas, all our dreams came true.

Cuzco is magnificent! There are stunning churches and cathedrals everywhere. The streets really are lined with cobblestones. At one point, we thought our bus wasn't even going to make it up one of the steep inclines, but he got there in the end by zig-zagging across the road. Everything was perfect, until our bus driver asked us where our hotel was.

This is a good lesson we've learned, and we'll never repeat it. We all assumed the bus driver knew where the hotel was. We thought he was with the lady who had organised it for us. Turns out they were different companies, even though we'd dealt with them together (how does that work??!!) so there was no way of finding out where our super cheap, super cute, super convenient, home for 20 people was. We had thought we were so organised that we hadn't even brought the brochure with us. It's ok though, we're tough and independent and know how to put a roof over our heads, so we did just that.

Some of us minded the bags in the main square, watching all the people hanging out on a Saturday afternoon. While this was happening, the leaders for the day went off to find accommodation. Luck had us find a gorgeous Hospedaje (hostel style accommodation), perfectly located, with availability. However, it was out of our price range. It was too good to be true... or was it?

We've learned how to bargain, so worked out a deal with the hotel owner. We got it down to the price we needed, and even got breakfast included! Score! The group then had to carry their oversized packs through the streets of Cuzco, where we then dumped our stuff at the hostel, before hitting the town to see what was on offer.

We started by walking uphill from our hostel. Dinner was on the menu and we found a great little place that closed its doors once we were all safely inside, and even put up the closed sign. It was so exciting to have a whole restaurant to ourselves!

The budget people had bargained an excellent deal which would see us eat a huge meal of entree and main, well within our budget. We're becoming pros at this. It's a shame we can't do this sort of thing in Australia!

Seeing a lively, bustling place, many tourists stuck their heads in, made comments that clearly it must be a wonderful restaurant if it is so full, so they said they'd go back the next night. The truth is, we hadn't even eaten the food yet! It's funny how congregating in a place makes things popular, often for no good reason at all. Second element of the truth - we wouldn't go back there. We've been spoilt with some amazing food in Peru, and unfortunately they just didn't make the cut. There was nothing wrong with it, but we've had better.

After this, we went down to the main square and had a look around. The first thing we all found was McDonalds, so of course had to buy a McFlurry for dessert. When in other countries, it's crucial to experience all of the cultural elements, including pop culture and fast food, so we immersed ourselves for a learning experience and will most likely do so again.

The Snickers McFlurry was a winner (chocolate fudge, Snickers chunks), as was the M&Ms McFlurry (caramel fudge, mini M&Ms). It seems the ultimate champion was the Oreo McFlurry (chocolate fudge, Oreo pieces), so we'll have to experience it for ourselves if it wasn't our choice on this night. Plenty of time for that.

We returned to the hotel happy but tired. A team meeting was held to work out what the plan of action would be for our first day in Cuzco, and you'll read all about that in the next email.

We hope you're all well and can't wait to see you!

Love Team B. Today B is for Bus-lagged.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Roseville College take a trip to Lake Titicaca in Peru

Hola Amigos! Today we went to Lake Titicaca... it's hardly a lake, it is a sea. It is the most ridiculously large lake in the whole world.

But first off today, we woke up in PUNO and began to truly discover the impacts of altitude sickness. After yesterday afternoon, where Kate, Emma and Yianna spent dinner about to vomit in the bathroom (with Yianna being the only successful one!) we slowly discovered more effects of altitude. Walking up stairs caused us all to puff for air, and some to have headaches and tingly feet. If the PE Department could hear us breathing, they'd be sending us off on massive fitness programs thinking we're in danger of heart attacks. But, it's just because the air up so high has less oxygen, and nothing to do with fitness, so we'll be fine once we adjust.

After breakfast, which consisted of eggs, bread and pineapple juice, we were picked up by a bus and taken down to the port of Puno. Gorgeous ladies in traditional dress (called a bollera) were selling all sorts of trinkets, and the water looked so inviting. As we got closer, the stench was a bit much, but we boarded our boat and off we went.

We are sure that the tour guide would have been both informative and interesting had we understood a word he was saying, but from what we could make out (he was speaking English!), Lake Titicaca is named from a combination of local languages and it means Grey Puma. We were shown a map of the lake, and we could vaguely make it out. Hopefully when we get home we'll remember still and be able to show you.

About an hour after boarding, we arrived at the first of the islands we were to visit. The Uros floating villages are completely man-made islands, that are built up year after year to house small villages. There are a number of steps to creating and then maintaining such an island, and once reeds are put down, layer after layer, the village celebrates with a game of volleyball. This actually has a purpose too - the running and jumping compacts the reeds so the island remains stable.

We were greeted by woman of the village, along with the president. He then took the time to explain their lifestyle, and we even ate some of their staple diet - the Lake Reed. It tasted a bit like celery with heaps of sugar in it, and for those of us who liked it, we chowed down. The president suddenly started jumping up and down making all sorts of strange noises, and when this failed to communicate his message, he ran around snatching back the reeds. Apparently it's an acquired sort of food and if foreigners eat too much of it at first, they can get really sick. Luckily we were all ok.

After shopping (it seems that this is possible even in the most remote of places!) for handicrafts created by the women of the Uros, we set off on a reed boat which even had a top deck! We were rowed (and Bellie and Kate had a go too) across to another island, where we saw the local school and a 7th Day Adventist Church. A little more shopping was had, then we set off for Isla Taquile - a real island out on the lake, not far from Bolivia.

On such a beautiful day, the only thing to do was to climb up on top of the boat, stretch out, and fall asleep to the gentle rocking. This was one of those really special moments where we talked about life, marvelled at the spectacular views, and relaxed just taking in the serenity.

Arriving at Taquile, it felt like we'd jumped from Peru to the Greek Islands. Spectacular stone arches lined the path up the cliffs, and the water was so blue it looked like it had stepped out of a painting.

We were totally pumped to be doing something energetic after sitting still for so long, so we set off with a bounce in our step. This was a big mistake. We'd forgotten about the altitude and the fact that it was our first day in it. 3,900m above sea level at the highest navigable lake in the world. This means that we got about 20m (no joke) before we had to stop to catch our breath. It would be a bit ridiculous to see if you had no idea about the effects of altitude. However, a few bananas later and a nice steady pace meant we huffed and puffed our way up the hill. It was well worth it.

When we got to the top, the most stunning views were all around us. Looking out across the water, we could see Bolivia (seriously!) and it was tempting to organise a boat to go across just to say we've been there. On that note, the Uros floating villages have to be tethered down so that they don't cross international waters, because apparently there can be issues with visas and passports, because they don't have either of these!

We walked right around the island, stopping in the main square to look at the sparkling waters below. There was a really cool sign post with directions and distances to all sorts of places, and this is where we found out that we're actually 13,027km away from Sydney, as the crow flies.

A delicious lunch was had at the Cafe Flor de Coca. This translates as the Coca flower cafe. For those of you who have never come across Coca before, it's what Cocaine is made from. Don't worry, we haven't encountered any of that, but Coca leaves are used to assist with altitude sickness. We were treated to fresh trout, yummy soup and lots of bread.

As well as great food, we had a great cultural lesson. We were taught about the differences in the local dress, so now know how to identify men who are married, engaged, under 18, or single and looking. Quite convenient really don't you think?

All too soon it was time to trek back down to the water. Down was definitely much easier than up, but it was kind of sad to leave this magnificent paradise.

The boat ride back consisted of lots of laugh, Trivial Pursuit challenges (it's amazing how much our teachers don't know! And pretty funny the stuff they do know!), singing dancing and just absorbing the wonders around us. It was hard to imagine how a day such as this could ever be improved.

We returned to the same place for dinner and were treated to another festive song and dance routine. All sort of dishes were tried - chicken, alpaca, beef, etc, and we went home well fed and ready for the next adventure.

We so wish you all could have been there to share in this adventure with us. It truly was one of the greatest days of our lives.

Love to all,

Team B. Today B is for Burnt (but don't worry, it's just a little bit, and we're all applying Aloe Vera).

Monday, 5 December 2011

Madness in Mumbai - UniBreak Placement Week 1


The first four things that we noticed when we stepped out from the plane were the heat, the sheer amount of people, the very unique smell and the incredible state of the roads. We were told by our caretaker, Yogesh, upon arrival that ‘there is no need for seatbelts in Mumbai’. He further stated that ‘if you are able to drive in Mumbai you can drive anywhere in the world’. Drivers are prepared for the unpredictable, however we were not. There are no lanes, blinkers are used but not noticed, there is a constant use of the horn and there is little spare road that is not in use. In contrast in Australia where the horn is used rarely and only in anger or frustration, in India the horn is used to say ‘hey just to let you know that I am driving centimeters besides/behind or just cutting you off in a close manner.’

The enormous population Mumbai of approximately 12,479,608 (According to the 2011 census) means that pedestrians (who interestingly walk on the road rather than the footpath), animals (from cows to elephants!) and machines all use the road to push to their destinations. It is common to have a donkey in front, an auto rickshaw to the left, three bikes with people without helmets to the right and a car with the side mirrors removed/broken off and five people weaving among the road users to cross the road, whilst the traffic is moving at approximately 40km/hr.

The curious eyes in array of the coloured, sequenced and beaded saris stare upon our strange white skin, blue eyes, light hair and unusual way of being. Although we are sore thumbs in streams of beautifully dressed locals we have had positive interactions with all the people we have meet from the people we have been working with to the local tailor.

Of a Morning in our guesthouse our treasured caretaker Jyoti is making a rice dish for breakfast, a western style pasta dish with minimal spice, in Indian terms, for lunch. We are served Chai (tea in Hindi) a favorite of the Antipodean’s, which is not like any tea we have tasted in Australia. With the aroma of Jyoti’s cooking we start our day.

New Horizons Child Development Centre

Laura (Speech Pathologist Student), Lizzy (Speech Pathologist Student) and I (Rachel- Occupational Therapy Student) have spent this week working and observing the staff at New Horizons Child Development Centre in Mumbai (NHCDC). NHCDC is a multidisciplinary center for children with disabilities, it was founded by Dr. Samir Dalwai, a Developmental Pediatrician, and provides therapeutic services of Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Remedial Education, Psychology and Parental Counseling.

In a country that is still at a nascent stage with respect to awareness and acceptance of developmental issues in children, the centre strives to provide coordinated and consistent therapy by intervention in order to help the child achieve his or her best potentials. Rachel, Laura and Lizzy with the doctors and therapists at NHCDC

We have greatly enjoyed forming relationships with the therapists, doctors and other staff members as well as the clients of the center. Throughout the week we have been taken aback at the differing styles of therapeutic interventions and assessments compared to what we know from our training at the University Of Sydney. We were given the opportunity to discuss these differences and share our knowledge and gain insight from the local professionals. We have been overcome with the way the Indians flow from there heavily accented English to Hindi, Marathi, other Indian languages and back to English in the same sentence. Seeing therapy in an unknown language in a different cultural has opened our eyes to the diversity of therapy within the world. However at times this has been frustrating and meant that we have had to naively sit and smile. At one point a client burst out laughing that the Occupational Therapist Student was silly for not knowing Hindi. Laura, Rachel and Lizzy with the Pediatricians at Sion Hospital.

A highlight of our time at NHCHD includes our trip to the Sion Hospital to see a presentation about a supplement that is being used to treat severe acute malnourishment along with an onsite demonstration into how the supplement is made with a trip from the Minister of State for Health of Maharashtra and an introduction to the Pediatricians from the hospital.

Nurse Emily’s Corner I started my placement at Datar Nursing Home this week. Unlike in Australia, a nursing home is a small hospital. Three doctors who specialize in gynecology and obstetrics run Datar Nursing Home. Within the first hour I was taken into the delivery room to witness a birth. The energy in the room was incredible, I have seen nothing like this before, as the nurses assisting where equally excited as the new Mum. I am sure the coming weeks will bring many more amazing experiences.

Week 1 - UniBreak volunteers in Peru

Week 1 has been amazing. Gruelling and challenging but absolutely amazing. Coming together from all over Australia, I think we were all a little nervous about group dynamics and how we would work together as a team. We really shouldn’t have worried at all – everyone has become so close already. I think because of the shared experience we’re going through here. From altitude sickness to a need for facebook access to ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over the Peruvian trinkets at the markets.

The school we’re volunteering at in Curaou has been one of the best aspects so far. These kids, ranging from 6 to 12 are so affectionate and willing to learn! On our first day at school, all of us volunteers got a hug from each of the students, and the little ones just didn’t want to let go! I’m partnered with Rowan and we’re teaching Year 2. The subjects we’re covering are English, Art, Sport and Computers. Computers is definitely the most challenging, art the most fun and sport the most tiring for us not used to the altitude!

Our construction project is the most physically tough aspect of our volunteering – we’re in charge of completing a wall around the parameter of the school and though it’s a big task, we are all really determined to complete it.

Today, the end of our first teaching week, the school held a carnival. Sporting matches were organised and ‘pescado’ (aka fish) were sold to families and friends. Morning classes were followed by an intense Team Australian Volunteers vs. Team Peruvian Teachers soccer – sorry, football – match. I’m sorry to say that we lost 3-2 but a rematch has been organised so I’ll update you asap!

We’re all also a little in love with our host families – these people are so affectionate, gracious and caring. Settling in was a breeze ☺ We’ve already explored the city and are going out tonight for weekend drinks while plans for Machu Picchu have been made! This weekend some of us are going horse-riding through the Sacred Valley as well!

It’s all happening here – salsa lessons, a room with a view, altitude sickness, amazing food, families and kids and improved Spanish exchanges with taxi drivers – what’s not to love about Cusco?! Love, Sach x x x

Tanzania Gappers say goodbye to camp

The last two weeks have been so exciting yet at the same time the most depressing as we bid farewell to our friends which have become our family over the past 3 months.

We spent last week in the village adopting the village lifestyle. We milked cows, herded cows, participated in seaweeding and surprisingly we were trusted with machetes to chop firewood. Our favourite however was cooking japatti and samosas with the mamas. After spending some quality time with them we developed a strong friendship. So much so that on our last day in Mwambani we were invited to one of the mamas houses for afternoon tea.

Unfortunately Friday ended on a sad note when one of the village boys passed away from eating a poisonous fish. Many of us had taught him English and would watch him play soccer on the field. The next day we attended James' funeral. Because of the Muslim community in the village the funeral was different to what any of us had previously experienced-nevertheless it was an equally nice and reverent ceremony.

Our last week was spent finishing off our paintings on the school. We painted worlds, digestive systems, maps, eyes and ears. On our last day at the school we were bid farewell by the school children through song. They had prepared for us 2 traditional Swahili songs and a song in English wishing us luck for the future. We were put on the spot when we were asked to perform so settled with singing Do-Re-Mi (a song that has frequently been sung in our group). Whilst taking hundreds of photos, we hugged goodbye to the children and took our last glances at what we had achieved in our time working there. It was then time to say goodbye to the villagers.

As previously stated we were invited to one of the mamas houses for afternoon tea. We ate one of the traditional dishes; rice pudding and potato. We had invited all the villagers we had become rafiki sana (good friends) with and over rice pudding we laughed, hugged and finally with teary eyes waved goodbye.

We have all learnt different things from our 3 month experience in Tanzania. A big aspect I'm sure we will all take home with us is the 'pole pole'(slowly slowly) attitude we have become accustomed to. Another lesson that specifically came from Eliphas (one of our leaders) is just to be happy; "Although at times it can be hard, you live life to the fullest when your happy." whilst we are excited to see our families or to begin our next adventure, living in Mwambani has been such an experience words cannot describe. Over our time here we have shared laughs, discussions, tears and memories. But most of all we share a special place in our hearts for Mwambani village, Tanga, Tanzania. NAPENDA TANZANIA! Camp Tanzania 2011.

Want to find out more about your chance to volunteer in Tanzania? Antipodeans Abroad specialises in gap year ideas for Australian and New Zealand students. Find out more at www.antipodeans.com.au.