Friday, 25 May 2012

Jaguar cubs in Curitiba!

PROJECT: Wildlife & Youth Centre projects

Hello everyone! First and foremost apologies for the lack of updates! Since I last wrote I, along with Bella, Nick and Maddie.B we're still in Floripa. On our last week all together we went down to Campeche, to where Jordie, Josie and Marie are staying for a BBQ and one last slumber party.

On the Friday we all said our sad goodbyes at the Kids Centre and by early Saturday morning (unfortunately for Maddie.B and I, who had been taken out by Lari our host sister the night before...we got home only in time to grab our bags and leave to the bus terminal) we were off to Curitiba.

We were met by the lovely Rafaela at the bus terminal and were taken out for lunch. Personally my time here in the city of Curitiba (keeping in mind the animal sanctuary is 40mins out of the city itself) I have come to realise this is one of the most indie places i have ever been. Rafaela is catching on with the indie scene and recommending places for us to go!

The animal sanctuary is literally one of the most amazing places ever. On the Sunday, we were lucky enough to be taken out for a bush walk around the sanctuary by the founders, Cris and Luciano. Despite the wake ups at 6am to rain (on a couple days) our week so far has been absolutely great. We all spend time with one of the fantastic workers there, cleaning animal cages, preparing food and just general banter in the kitchen with the staff (classic because of our lack of Portuguese and their slight understanding of English). On the first day we were even allowed to play with the baby Jaguars and as a reminder of that glorious moment we have all have a few scratches, bite marks and holes in clothes....still worth it though!

On our first weekend in the city we spent a day with our new friends met through Rafaela, and spent the day at a Uni BBQ, followed by a night out in the city. The next day we were lucky enough for Rafaela to take us around to some of the famous sites here the city has a lot of European influence and is so beautiful.

Other than that our nights in our awesome house within the sanctuary have been spent just relaxing and watching movies. Nick and Bella are now designated cooks an been cooking pretty gourmet meals and Maddie.B and I clean up the many dishes we somehow manage to go through in a day.

Our time here has already gone to quickly. We only have one weekend left here, which we plan to go to Iguazu Falls. After that we sadly depart on the Rio De Janeiro(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) with the rest of the Brazil gang (shout out to Maddie.T for organising everything!) for 4 nights, then once again we split up, with Nick, Bella, Maddie.B and I back to Floripa where we hope the weather is better (as I write this Nick tells me its raining outside) and Josie, Jordie, Marie and Maddie.T go to Curitiba and the animal sanctuary.

So for now I say Boa Tarde once again...hopefully I will write more often (but at the sanctuary Internet connection is limited...I will persist though!). Stay Golden!
Love Sim and the Brasil Gang xxxx

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Feliz dia Mama! Mother's Day in Cusco as gappers hit the 5 week mark

PROJECT: Teaching & Building
WRITTEN BY: Lauren Collee

It's our 5th week in Cusco and its starting to cool down a little - every morning I stumble upstairs in woolen Peruvian pants, stripy thermals and a beanie that looks like a dead baby llama, and proceed to pour about a litre of hot tea, coffee and this unidentifiable porridge-like substance down my throat. The cold tends to leave us alone during the day, and comes back around 8pm. This hasn´t hindered our nighttime excursions into town, however. We are beginning to discover the benefits of having to upright-spoon on buses due to lack of space, and one of them is warmth. The same goes for taxis - I´m proud to say we recently beat our record of How Many People Can we Fit in a Cusco Taxi?, getting 9 (including the driver) into a 5-seater. Our goal is 11.

We are slowly starting to learn the names of a few of the local doormen and barmen in town, after getting over the initial shock of their tendency to literally drag us by the arms into their clubs. Fogl had an interesting experience the other day, when one of the doormen got hold of his Facebook and posted him a love ballad and invitation to play playstation at his house.

Picking up from where I left off - the week before last for most was spent madly trying to fit in all the sights on the Cusco city tourist ticket (I think between us we have seen almost every Incan and pre-Incan rock and pot and pan and painting in Cusco), but also characterised by the lead-up to mother´s day. If there is one culture that is particularly appreciative of mothers, its the Peruvians. From Monday right through to Sunday we were bombarded with billboards, ads, miscellaneous banners and signs proclaiming "feliz dia mama!". There were services in churches, schools, even the local jail. On Thursday, we received printed invitations to our own little school´s tribute. Each grade sent up a couple of shy but excited students to perform for the class mothers, who sat in a line with long plaits hanging down their backs, other smaller children at their feet or in their laps, and proud smiles on their faces. Most of the performances were songs or poems which followed the gist of "pretty mummy, i love you, your cooking is good". The most memorable, however, had to be year 6 - a hilarious sketch mimed to a melodramatic Peruvian song in which the father goes out drinking while the mum stays home to cook and clean, until eventually she drops dead and he is left feeling guilty and heartbroken. It was a huge hit with the audience.

An affectionate email back home for most of us did not quite live up to the momentum of the holiday here, and so we lavished attention on our Peruvian mothers on the 11th of may (dont worry mum, i still owe you breakfast in bed). Sarah and I cooked a crude imitation of a lamington for Carmen, with melted Peruvian chocolate bar icing and coconut shavings that were worth the effort of smashing the coconut on the street below. Fogl and Sam got their caricatures drawn for Dina.

Speaking of mothers, I´ll just quickly reassure all concerned parents that we are all alive and well and there is no one left in the clinic - poor Holm held out the longest, lying in bed with her drip in even after the other 4 had gone back home to be nursed to health with coca tea. While 5 of our group were in their and things were looking particularly grim, Gabi´s mum saved the day with a package that would fit a 10 year old child. Watching Gabi pull countless pairs of socks and 8 tubes of vegemite out of that Mary Poppins paper bag (although it made us all insanely jealous) somehow lifted the mood of that little clinic room enormously.

Since the last entry, we have properly settled into our teaching schedule and have made very satisfying progress with the greenhouse - as was all the more evident when I handwashed my trackpants the other day and emptied out a bucket of water that was literally black with dirt. Memories of primary school are starting to unearth themselves as we find that despite cultural differences, the kids here enjoy games like giants treasure and making pasta necklaces just as much as we once did. I won´t pretend that classes aren´t exhausting - that teaching the alphabet in english to a class that has only just learnt it in Spanish is easy, or that anarchy doesnt break out every time we offer them choice regarding the colour of their paper or the sticker on their workbook - but their enormous appreciation of us simply being there is more than gratifying.

Last weekend is probably one of the last we will have free to spend in Cusco from now on, given how many weekend trips we have our hearts set on. On Sunday, most of the group went white water rafting - I havent heard much of that, but it seemed to be a positive experience despite Brindy and James going under. Don't worry, they came up again eventually. We spent Saturday exploring Cusco´s wonderful second hand markets, the batarillo, which has been one of the highlights of my trip to date. Im not exaggerating when I say they have everything there - food from quails eggs to coffee to UFOs (Unidentifiable Fried Objects) - ornamental goods from donkeys heads to boob-shaped jars to rocking horses made out of stuffed baby deer, and enough second hand clothes to ensure I never spend another dollar on jumpers in town centre again. We were among the only obvious non-locals, and were warned more than a few times to get out before we were robbed, but despite the claustrophobia that hit us after the first hour we all left vowing to come back when we could.

 On the way there, we made one of many bus-friends - a lovely old woman who wanted to practice her English and was incredibly keen on Fogl. I´m going to miss the trust between strangers on the bus that Cusco has going for it - mothers are perfectly happy to plonk their babies or shopping on the laps of people with a seat, and when sam fairbz sat down on the floor the other day and old man offered him his carpet as cushioning. I will admit that we had a not-so-pleasant local bus experience, however, when the other day a sneaky little man offered us and about 10 peruvians a direct lift to cusco for 2 soles. We happily agreed, and were gloating over our comfy tourist bus seats when he kicked us out on the side of the mountain about 2kms later and demanded we pay him anyway. Ive been much more grateful for my square metre of space on the regular bus ever since.

Like I said, we have a lot of long-weekends in view, with plans for Arequipa and Pisco and Bolivia and Ollantaytambo all in the making. We are also mulling over a festival next weekend held at the bottom of a mountain, which apparently involves a nighttime hike to get to the site, whipping and throwing llama foetuses (whatever that means), and substituting dancing for sleeping because of the cold. In short, there should be a few extra stories to tell by the time the next fortnight comes around.

Monday, 21 May 2012

A new French family!

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Siobhan Calafiore

After much anticipation and anxious waiting we have finally arrived and settled in with our host families. During those last few moments as the train pulled into the station at Vannes I felt a surge of nerves come over me and I glanced at Phoebe who seemed to be feeling the same way.

I remember saying that these next few seconds would be the worst part of the whole trip. It was good to have Phoebe with me as we searched for our families on the platform - a luxury some of the other girls may not have had. I spotted Catherine (my host mother) easily and as she smiled at me the nerves dissipated as quickly as they had come. Phoebe and I left the train station with our families ready to commence the second part of our adventure in France.

Despite some natural adjustments to the French lifestyle I feel quite at home with my host family amongst the pretty scenery of Hennebont. The house is a ten minute walk from the medieval town which has at its centre an impressive cathedral. Just down the road is a lovely river speckled with boats and behind the house is a lush green forest. It is scenery that could have come directly out of a fairytale. The three boys although shy at first have welcomed me into their home with unexpected maturity despite their young age. Whether it be offering me a yoghurt when they raid the fridge, speaking with me openly and freely undeterred by my broken French or handing me the remote when I sit down to watch to television with them. The parents have been just as warm as they continuously tell me to “make yourself at home”.

I have done a lot in the two weeks I have been here including flying a kite with the boys at the beach, going for walks in the forest, observing votes being counted in Hennebont on the day of the election and witnessing a change in President, visiting Vannes with Phoebe and Marie-Alix (our in-country agent), doing several presentations on Australia at the local primary school, attending a primary school musical, watching the soccer religiously with the family, exploring other towns and attending lots of gatherings providing me with an opportunity to meet friends and extended family.

It was originally planned that I teach English to the eldest, William, in lesson format. However it hasn’t turned out this way. Instead I occasionally help with homework, speak in English to William and play some games with the three boys. I think what is most important in such situations is adjustment and I am continuing to modify my original lesson plans into activities and games for the boys. Georgia has experienced similar difficulty as so far she has only been required to correct English homework.

Jess however was prepared for informal lessons and has alternating French and English speaking days with her host family. Both Phoebe and Sarah have begun more formal lessons with their host brothers and sisters. These lessons are enjoyable as the children are eager to learn and full of questions. Georgia has spent the past two weeks visiting beautiful “chateaux”, exploring the old city of Le Mans, shopping and bike riding with her host sister around the Sartre River. 

Her tastebuds have also been treated as her host mother enjoys cooking extravagant six course meals and her host family have wasted no time in introducing her to French snacks and lollies such as Nutella Panini and fraise tagadas. Georgia has also had the opportunity to try a different type of French cuisine visiting a French McDonalds with her host sister and finding herself amused by the McBaguettes.

Phoebe has also benefitted from a lovely host family and as a result has found the last few weeks a great experience and easier than anticipated. She already feels at home in the town of Thiex. Apart from teaching English she fills her days exploring the surrounding villages by bike, visiting Vannes, going to the beach and participating in a French course similar to the one in Paris.

Jess’s situation is a little different from the rest of ours as she has settled into a family consisting of just two adults. However she is enjoying every bit of it. She now has orientated herself with the city of Le Mans and after a few bike rides and walks believes she can find her way home without getting lost!

Her family have also already taken her on a three day trip to Angers to visit extended family. However what has impressed Jess most is the fact that her host family actually don’t mind vegemite - seeming as on her last trip to France her host family didn’t take to vegemite quite as well!

Apologies for the long blog but it has been an exciting past two weeks for all of us!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Ghana girls head away for the weekend

PROJECT: Teaching & Orphanage work

We've all been having an amazing time since our last blog, filled with weekend travel, exhausting school days, and regular trips to the orphanage. We finished off our first week at the orphanage with our first teaching experience in Ghana!

After a few days in their company we feel like we've adopted a lot of little brothers and sisters who always run to greet us whenever we arrive. We also spent a couple of days cleaning out the classrooms and the bedrooms, uncovering unbelievable amounts of dust. Since we started our proper placements, we've been going back there to visit twice a week.

Our first weekend travelling was eventful, to say the least. (Sarah
says "wild XD") We headed down to Cape Coast on Friday, hoping for a
relaxing weekend by the beach. Instead, we found ourselves in the
midst of traditional African dancing at the bar, sampling the local
beverages, and getting to know the obibini who showed us how to pull
in the fishing boats in the proper Ghanaian way, which involves a lot
of harmonious singing. We also visited a few tourist destinations,
such as Kakum National Park where we survived the canopy walkway and
discovered Sarah's fear of heights, Hans Cottage (Australian crocs are
better), and Cape Coast Castle, which was pretty heart-wrenching as
it's a memorial to the slave trade. PS there are chocolate pancakes in
Cape Coast, so it's definitely a return destination ;) We left on
Monday just in time to get back for teaching on Tuesday!

We are all placed at separate schools and are teaching in pairs. Most
of us have been given a class of our own to work with, usually around
twenty kids about six to ten years old. We've all become a lot more
innovative as there are very few resources in the classrooms apart
from a battered blackboard, some old books, and a lot of chalk (in
three months' time we may all develop chronic coughs). Some of the
subjects that we're covering are science, English and maths, although
working with a few kids who don't know the alphabet is a challenge.

Our latest weekend was spent at Apam, although Tara and Sophie endured
a four-hour church service with their host families instead. At Apam,
we stayed in an old, spider-ridden, and potentially haunted fort which
at least had a beautiful view of the ocean. We had a lovely
slumber-party with four of us under one mosquito net.

Right now we feel like we are at last settling into our placement and
the Ghanaian way of life. Many of us are now sporting braided hair and
African fabric, and are improving our skills at ripping open water
sachets and ice-cream bags (Fan-ice) with our teeth. We kid ourselves,
optimistically, that we're beginning to blend in ;)

We'll write again after the deer festival weekend at Winneba where we
plan to hunt down a sacrifice to the gods in the forest ensuring that
the sun will continue to rise. Hope all is going well Down Under, lots
of love, Ghana Girls 2012 <3

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Halfway through Argentina adventure!

Pizza & wine night - Argentina student residence

COUNTRY: Argentina
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Anna Craven (with Emily, Natalie, Sophie, Jess and Kelly)

To say that we've fallen in love with Buenos Aires would be an understatement. Already having seen 6 weeks fly by, it's saddening to know that the next 6 will come and go equally as fast.

Over the last weekend of April, we packed our backpacks for a long weekend in Uruguay, as the Argentines had decided to announce yet ANOTHER long weekend! We headed down to the port, went through customs, got our passports stamped and jumped aboard the 'Buquebus' to cross the Rio de la Plata. The trip took one hour and we arrived mid-afternoon in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, which is a beautiful port side town, complete with a historic quarter who boasts a place on the UNESCO world heritage list.

We spent the afternoon exploring the quiet, cobblestone streets, the lighthouse and jetties, and sipped on a free glasses of wine in a picturesque laneway. In the evening, we enjoyed strawberry daiquiris whilst watching the sun set over the water, before eating traditional home-style food and listening to live music in an old plaza.

We enjoyed a cosy stay at 'the Oriental Hostel' before heading to the bus station the next morning, where we boarded a bus to Montevideo. The trip took 3 hours and we arrived mid afternoon in the much larger, and louder city. The weather was cold and wet, but we braved the elements and explored the downtown area of Ciudad Vieja, walked by the sea around the point, and stood in awe of the dozens of open-parillas, bars and restaurants that are crammed into the meat market that is 'Mercado del Puerto'.

That evening, we went to dinner at a local Parilla and enjoyed some of the Uruguayan nightlife. On our final day, we got lost in the maze of streets that makes up the Sunday Morning Markets, where you can purchase anything from fish, puppies, and peacocks, to toothpaste, mannequins and saxophones. That afternoon, we decided to splurge, and treat our rumbling tummies to a 4 hour lunch at the mercado del puerto, including bottles of the traditional and on-the-house 'media y media', before sleeping the whole 3 hour ferry journey home. We absolutely loved that weekend, and it still feels strange to say 'we popped over to Uruguay'. I cannot stress enough the beauty of Colonia del Sacramento, and know that one day I'll go back there, where everything will still be stuck in a time warp, looking exactly the same as it did hundreds of years ago.

In the more recent weeks, we've really settled into our routine of Spanish lessons and volunteering. Currently, myself, Natalie and Jess are continuing Spanish 9 hours a week, and we have found ourselves speaking with more and more confidence as time passes.

Everyone absolutely loves volunteering, particularly now that we've all found our own favorite centers to go within the villa. Emily likes el Alba, where there are less kids, who are quiet and eager to learn more English. Sophie and Kelly and Jess like Ejercito, which is an outdoor centre, with a lot more kids who run absolutely wild, but are always eager to finish as many worksheets as possible. Nat likes Los Angelitos, as the kids there love learning English and mathematics, and never turn down piggy back rides or skipping. I like Las Horas, as I'm friends with a lot of the kids there, who love to spend the whole time drawing and painting, before they loose their concentration and become really cheeky.

The birthday parties once a week are different from usual, as the arts and crafts, dulce-de-leche cakes, soccer and face painting are such a treat for the kids, who for a lot of them, have no other opportunity to celebrate their 'cumpleanos'. As for us, it's always fun to come home to giggles from our housemates who love the face-paint creations plastered to our faces.

Within the city, everyone's got into the spirit of the Buenos Aires nightlife, and have danced until sunrise at some of the city's famous boliches and bars. Sophie, Nat and Jess rode bikes around the Ecological Reserve at Puerto Madero, whilst Kelly and I took Emily to our favorite place, Plaza Serrano in Palermo Viejo, where we sipped cocktails and ate Empenadas before weaving through the indoor and outdoor markets that cram the main intersection.

We've also danced for hours amongst the Argentines at the 'La Bomba del Tiempo' drum show. R2A hosted another pizza and wine night on the terrace, where some cooks came and made delicious fresh pizzas for us, which was fun as always, despite the bitter cold that has recently swept BA. Just yesterday we all got the subway to Chinatown for a change in cuisine, before picnicking with some housemates in Palermo parks nearby the markets, with Alfajores, pastries, buckets of dulce de leche and champagne. Today, we took Kelly to La Boca, San Telmo markets, Plaza de Mayo and cafe Tortoni, whilst tonight we've been getting excited about our upcoming trips.

Next Wednesday, 5 of us board an overnight bus and head to Peruti, an indigenous village in the province of Misiones, where we will be volunteering for 3 days, before heading to Iguassu falls, Paraguay and the San Ignacio Jesuit Ruins. We will the return to Buenos Aires for 4 days, before heading to the Mendoza Wine region next to the Andes for 4 days. During this time, Jess will be visiting Rio de Janeiro and the Brazillian side of the falls.

As I said, we can already expect time to go ever-faster as we get increasingly more busy, and travel out of the city a couple more times. We are all loving this experience so much, and attempting to cross off wishes from our bucket lists before time slips away. There's still so much to do and see, and I can't believe we still have the energy (despite frequent siestas).

- Anna (with Emily, Natalie, Sophie, Jess and Kelly)

Friday, 11 May 2012

Guinea pig lunches and walking on the equator. All in a days work in Ecuador!

Colourful markets of Quito

COUNTRY: Ecuador
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Lauren Gaudion

I´ve only been in Ecuador for 16 days now, and have already experienced it all... The culture, the food, the language barrier, the altitude sickness (or food poisoning - unsure what the cause was), etc. Although some of these experiences have made me homesick, they are what I wanted and expected to happen! It lets me know that I am going hard and getting the most out of my trip.

So far after my arrival, the original ´Quito gang´ have shown me around the huge city, running 100km long and 7km wide! On my first day we took a 40c bus ride up to Mitad del Munda and were thoroughly enjoyed straddling the equator and eating guinea pig for lunch (a very interesting meal, might I say).

The following Tuesday Holly and I began our Spanish classes at the academy. Although Holly remained fairly ritarded at Spanish after 20hrs in lessons, I managed to learn quite a bit surprisingly! Now I´m finding it (slightly) easier telling the taxi driver how to drive me to my destination. Although I would love to continue learning the language, I´m too broke to pay and extra however much for more lessons, so I´ll just stick to talking to the taxi drivers and my host mother (who knows no English whatsoever).

The weekends have been successful so far in travelling around Ecuador. My first weekend we went to Baños - a beautiful town surrounded by waterfalls and mountain scenery. There were a lot of tourist attractions we indulged ourselves in, such as white water rafting, canyoning down waterfalls, dune buggy and motorbike riding. We also let a little bit loose with the nightlife which was incredibly fun. I never realised how much better Ecuadorian nightlife was compared to Australia... we were given free drinks, the music was so happy and Mexican, and the atmosphere was the livliest I´ve ever seen!

Altogether Baños was simply amazing.

Last weekend we spent two days in Otavalo. We arrived on Friday and the markets were already quite large, but Saturday morning we woke up, looked out our windows and there were stalls all over the streets! I couldn´t see a road for the cars to drive on! We spent basically the whole day shopping, buying gifts for our families and friends back home, while also deciding to splurge a little bit on ourselves (Sam buying three ponchos for herself). Mainly we all bought llama products (scarves, ponchos, socks, slippers, beanies, etc.) just because they all felt so soft and fluffy!

Holly and I started our work placements this morning. We´ve decided to try out a medical clinic for children who suffer some sort of incurable disease. Surprisingly I wasn´t as traumatised as I thought I would be. There are some children who can barely do anything for themselves which is quite heartbreaking, but all of them are very cute and friendly towards us. I enjoy the work we´re required to do, that being feeding, playing with and generally taking care of the 15 or so children. I´m looking forward to working there more and getting to befriend all of the cute little toddlers.

For now that´s about the gist of what we´ve been up to here in Ecuador, but indeed there will be much more to come from the ¨Quito 6¨! Ciao!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Cake face and camping in Pisac - Week 3 for Lauren in Peru

PROJECT: Teaching & Building
WRITTEN BY: Lauren Collee

Three weeks into the Peru placement, Cusco really is beginning to feel like home. Our first impressions of our host families turned out to be spot on. They are perpetually good natured and embrace our cultural differences with a sense of humor. My Peruvian mum is so concerned for our well-being that she puts our knives and forks in a saucer when setting the table so that bugs don’t fall off the ceiling and crawl over them and make us sick. Apart from the occasional unconventional dinner, like cold apple pie or jelly, the home cooked meals here have been exceptional - parents back home have a lot to live up to!

For my 18th birthday, my host mum plonked an incredible looking chocolate cake in front of me, and then told me to take a bite out of the side while my host brother shoved my face into it. I don’t know why no one warned me this was a South American tradition, but it was delicious anyway. Everyone carefully avoided the portion of the cake that had the imprint of my nose and chin in it. I don’t think Eleanor had her face shoved in a cake on her big day later that week– it was a dense banana loaf, might have hurt a little bit.

An update on our progress at the school in Corao for all our lovely friends and family who have donated – as we finally begin to understand the meaning of the term ´hard labor´, we are getting more and more efficient with our greenhouse building. We have come a long way from the first few days, when our attempts to wield a pickaxe looked more like interpretive dance. The expression on Sarah brindles face when she is working at a particularly tough weed these days is something beyond terrifying. Unfortunately, our attempts to actually teach the students have been thwarted time and time again by public holidays and government strikes.

We have been assured that the strikes will pass, but for the meantime, it’s quite nice having the school to ourselves while most of us still look a bit ridiculous trying to get the hang of wheelbarrows.

Last weekend, we left Cusco for the first time since getting here.. for the second time in the case of Jacinta and James, that is, who obviously didn’t get along too well with the officials at the airport, were granted hilariously short visas, and had to flee temporarily to Bolivia last week before their stay ran out.

Anyway, it started off with a 2 hr wait outside the camping hire store, which we had been assured would open at 9am (a 1.5 hour delay is nothing in Peru time). After finishing at Ccorao, we hopped on a bus to Pisac, and somehow managed to find our way to a campsite that we knew nothing of save the name and price. Pisac is beautiful – quite like Cusco in that you can wander from the very touristy main square into streets that appear completely untouched by western culture within minutes. It was in these backstreets that we found the most satisfying meal of our lives – in a mudbrick room, around a massive table with a tablecloth that looked like great aunt jan´s bath curtain, we were each presented with a plate of rice, pasta, potato chips and fried chicken for 4 soles – around $1.50. It didn’t matter that the chef had to chase a couple of dogs out from under the table. No description will do that chicken justice. We ate in that total silence that happens when you don’t have room for words in between bites.

It turned out that the whole camping idea was a lot nicer in theory than in practice – at night, we only survived the cold with some serious spoonage. But that did not dampen our spirits as we woke up on Saturday morning for Pisac ruins. A significant part of the morning was spent battling with the Peruvian authorities - a standard, and not entirely unenjoyable, part of your average day here – all for a student discount. We lost this time, but the view was more than worth the seventy soles we paid for it. After two hours uphill, a lot of snacking, and several adventures (including but not limited to being walked in on in a squat toilet and finding a live brown snake sealed in a bottle on top of a cactus), we arrived at the top.

It’s a surreal feeling, having the whole of the sacred valley spread out before you. The huge, grassy tiers that the Incans had carved into the landscape made it seem as though you could simply step back down into reality, but there was a quiet satisfaction involved in remembering the gallons we sweated making that journey. It turned out that getting down was not so easy either – soph, lu holm, chaz, sarah and I opted for the short cut that jack and Sam had taken up to avoid paying. As fogl put it, “there was kind of a path for some of it”. I am still finding bits of cactus in places I never knew they could reach.

Sunday morning, we headed into town for the famous Pisac Sunday markets. It really was incredible. With all the locals descending from their homes in the hills for mass, the town just came alive. The stalls stretched up every street, selling everything from unidentifiable woodwind instruments to fresh fruit and vegetables. We gouged ourselves on 20 cent bread and pure cacao chocolate, then the majority of us hopped on a bus for moray, another archaeological site. After heated disputes with minivan drivers over prices and some serious uncertainty about bus routes, we made it to a beautiful, wheat-field Peruvian landscape that we never knew existed. The Incan site itself was only half the beauty, as is usually the case in this country. Our trip had a slightly anxious end when we realized that Sarah wasn’t on the bus back from Urubamba, but she arrived home in one piece 20 minutes after I did, tired and happy.

Its around 7pm now in Cusco, and I’m sitting in an internet café surrounded by local Peruvian kids playing internet soccer – ahead of me is an incredible Peruvian meal, followed by a lot of coca tea and a viewing of “yo soy” - a Peruvian reality tv show, which some of us are getting embarrassingly involved in, where the contestants are professional impersonators. Hasta luego, amigos.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

La vie à Paris - first blog from France!

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Siobhan Calafiore

It’s hard to believe that it has already been a week since we arrived in Paris. The time has gone too quickly. Yet although it feels as if we have hardly been here, the city has become very familiar to us. If someone was to hear about all the things we have done and if they saw us five girls together they would think we had been in Paris for months not days. Our week began with the five of us girls at a restaurant not too far from our hostel in awe of the city around us and full of chatter as we got to know each other. It was a nice moment because we instantly clicked despite all having very different personalities and we knew that we would all get along.

Despite being exhausted from the flight we were all keen to explore the city straight away. Although we only had a week in Paris and our French course took up a lot of time we still managed to visit many famous sites such as Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, L’Arc de Triomphe, The Eiffel Tour (which we climbed at midnight!!), les Champs-Elysee (where we managed to do a lot of shopping) as well as some less known sites such as France’s own statue of liberty, churches and gardens. For me it was my third time seeing some of these monuments yet they still managed to take my breath away.

Although our French course wasn’t as exciting as our adventures around Paris, I really enjoyed it. One week was a great introduction for some and revision for others of the French language but I would have loved to stay for longer. With only three levels it was hard to cater for everyone however the middle level was perfect for me. All the teachers spoke in French throughout the class so we became quickly accustomed to listening and responding in French. For the most part they were very nice and accommodating. The other foreign students also were incredibly friendly and helped make the class more enjoyable and less confronting.

None of us will forget our week in Paris and I think we took advantage of all it had to offer. It was a lot of fun and we take away with us a lot of memories to be treasured and a lot of photos to smile and laugh at. We have lived and acted like tourists in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, now it is time to live like locals in a place very different to Paris but one I am sure that will be just as enjoyable.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Teaching begins, and a visit to Chitwan National Park

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Pauletto

So, from where we left off!

A few days after our arrival into the village we taken to visit a waterfall and the famous view point, Nagarkot. We walked for about 20 minutes, our host father Hem taking us with a small troupe of kids.

The waterfall was small but still spectacular! We soon learned it was the local shower spot
although we didn't strip down this time! Returning we stopped constantly to pick the yellow berries they call 'onsheloo', a type of raspberry. Nagarkot took a little longer to reach, about 2 hours there and 2 and half to get back. Leigh didn't make it to the top as he felt sick so Bella and I
continued to the top. The view was awesome, and we even spotted a few snow
peaked mountains!

Later on in the week we were welcomed into the school. The whole town (almost) came out to see us, covering us in swathes of flower garlands and thikas on a foreheads, (the red and yellow chalk). We were given our timetable thinking 'How cute, Kindergarten and Grade One to finish with
everyday!" We were so wrong.

Classes started out fine in the morning. We were all split into different grades and I taught Grades Three and Five. The older kids are great to teach, they know enough English for us to teach a lesson well and are old enough to at least respond if they can't speak any. The younger classes were
a nightmare though! After two weeks we were teaching the same thing as nothing we tried seemed to work. Even the teachers remarked that we couldn't really do much. The kids, after all, could barely read and write their own language!

This coupled with the lack of supplies and motivation from the teachers caused a lot of stress and tension in our classes. Our agent, Kabita, quickly fixed the problem. We now teach older classes with one grade one class as opposed to three! School runs from 10 till 4, Sunday to Friday.
There are seven lessons a day to teach over six classes giving 42 total periods, those of which we teach 18 of. I feel like we're finally settling into village life and adjusting to working in the school. It's actually enjoyable most of the time!

Today is Buddha's birthday according to the Nepalese calendar, which puts us about a month into the new year, 2069. We've taken a holiday and arrived in Chitwan National Park yesterday, spending Friday night in Thamel.

It's the perfect place to chill out and relax, it's like an island resort. The bus ride took about 7 hours as opposed to the regular 5 due to some accidents on the roads. We spent last night visiting the elephant breeding centre and meeting some great people, particularly a Swedish couple we've become
friends with. Today we trekked the jungle after an hour long cabbie ride down the river.

We didn't see tigers or rhinos but there were crocodiles, billions of bugs and birds, and monkeys. We then cooled off with and elephant bath! Easily the best thing we've done here. Nothing quite like
having a shower on elephant back with water from it's trunk. Unfortunately Leigh was quite sick last night, we think he ate some bad food. Bella and I are fine though and he's much better now.

Well I'm off to get some sleep under my canopy like mosquito net listening to the small Japanese group play the guitar - surprisingly well! - before we take off for our elephant back safari. I'll keep you posted!


Friday, 4 May 2012

An unexpected safari in Dubai, then onwards to Ghana!

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Tara Deer & Ghana Girls 2012

Hello from Ghana! We have at last all safely arrived, after some delays that left half of us stuck in Dubai for a couple of nights. At first this seemed like a disaster, but the girls involved perked up
after enjoying a camel safari through the desert. Sarah was the only one who managed to arrive on time and had three days by herself in Accra, whereas Tori took a detour through Istanbul. Sophie managed to travel according to plan, which was a surprise, especially because she ended up arriving before the other six who were stuck in the Middle East.

Our two days in Accra were well-spent touring around the city, involving drumming and dancing lessons, explorations in markets, and swimming at Kokrobite beach. Staying at the hostel was a great chance for us all to get to know each other and try out the local language and food. Most notable was the fufu, which is like playdough made out of cassava and drowned in very spicy sauce. We practiced having showers out of buckets, responding to being called "OBRUNI!!" (white person, or literally, someone from over the horizon). On Friday we said an affectionate farewell to Tina, Felicia and Bright who all took very good care of us.

We've now spent three days in Swedru, getting to know our host families and exploring the local area. We all had a full-on weekend with wedding ceremonies, church services, and Sarah and Tori changing homes on Sunday. We're now all really enjoying our host families, who feed us extravagant amounts of food, such as fried plantain, egg stew, and palm nut soup. The church services have been hilarious, preaching interspersed with loud gospel music and dancing in the aisles (Sophie was great at this!). We're all really keen to get our hair braided and get clothes made up in bright and beautiful African fabric!

We've all just come back from our first visit to the orphanage, having travelled there in the back of a ute. The kids were so thrilled to see us, and jumped into the ute to greet us. We spent around an hour meeting and playing with them, singing, hand clapping games, or just having a cuddle. There were about thirty kids of all ages, between two and ten. We'll be spending the rest of this week there before heading into our teaching placements, except for Margie and Annie who are staying on at Helping Hands.

We're all having a FANTASTIC time here, embracing the Ghana culture.
Talk to you again in a couple of weeks, much love, Ghana Girls 2012!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Welcome to The Childrens City! Gappers arrive in Brazil

Beaches of Florianopolis!

PROJECT: Wildlife Conservation & Youth Work
WRITTEN B Y: Simeran Bahia

Ola Amigos! After a much sleep deprived flight to Santiago, followed by a very confusing terminal check in fiasco at Sao Paulo the Brazil group finally made it to the beautiful land of Florianopolis! Last week we spent getting to know our own local areas, the many buses- by sometimes catching the wrong ones- and of course the week long intense Portuguese classes that have somewhat helped us in our own ways; especially when we started work at Cidade de Crianças (The Childrens City). So far our two weeks at the Kids Centre have been absolutely amazing, the children are so energetic and are keen to be with you at all times. We started work painting their greenhouse, playing many tiring games of soccer, jump rope, capeirera, art classes and general exhausting activities (mostly giving piggy backs).

On the weekends we have all visited different areas of this amazing island, to the beautiful Lagoa, its beaches and markets to hanging out at the biggest shopping centre here, Iguatmi. Being on different sides of the Island to Maddie.B and I (we being at the top), the rest of the gang, Maddie.T, Bella, Josie, Jordie, Marie and Nick have made several trips up to us, for Brazilian BBQ made by our host dad Mario, and to see one of the most famous beaches here- Jurere. Most of us have also all been to each others houses and areas too, each of our areas are so different to one another, its quite surprising. Other than that, we have all had nights out together/with our own host families, danced and seen the amazing Brazilian night life, our first week we even had a party organised for us by Maddie.T´s host brother Leandro at a local club!

Brazil itself is fantastic, the people are very nice, allowing us all to make many friends even though there is still that awkward language barrier. The weather so far has been good, except in the past few days the sun has disappeared and we´ve seen an appearance of rain and wind. The food here is also quite delicious we would all agree, we have all been blessed with having amazing host families who make amazing food...although Nick, Bella, Maddie.B and I are guilty of taking many trips down to the local McDonalds for lunch and some of us have also become pretty addicted to this delightful soft drink called Guarana...we already have plans of bringing suitcases of it back to Australia.

Feeling a little homesick last Friday we headed on to check out the ´Didge Steakhouse´ - an Australian restaurant serving ´traditional´Australian food...we now have a hangout where we can go for future homesick times. Having only one week left all together before Nick, Bella, Maddie.B and I travel to Curitiba for the animal sanctuary, we have a jam packed week of plans from Karaoke, Go Karting, Samba dancing, celebrating Maddie.T´s 18th(!!) to hosting an Austrlaian themed party for the Kids at Cidade de Crianças! Being out all together at lunch today it hit us that in one week we would be a third through our placement here in Brasil, although we all miss our family and friends back home, our time here has already gone so quickly and so far it has been absolutly incredible.

But for now we say Boa Noite e ateh logo! (good bye and see you later)
Love Simeran and the Bonita Brasil Group!

First update from GapBreak Nepal!

The famous "Momos" of Kathmandu

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Pauletto

Arrival into Kathmandu was unbelievable, like stepping into another era. We landed, departed the plane and sat in the customs desperately trying to gather our wits! Little did we anticipate the madness would only continue. The airport itself can only be described as some sort of Slovenian Community Hall. Things moved slowly inside, but outside was chaos! We collected our bags and were promptly grabbed and hassled by loads of taxi drivers. Fortunately Kabita and her Australian friend Kate quickly came to our rescue and after much bargaining with different drivers we were whisked away to the beautiful Hotel Encounter, our home, for the first four days of Nepal life.

The city itself can only be described as pure life. Sounds, sights and smells erupted from every shop, and didn't end with the night. Thamel seemed like an adventure in just crossing the road! But after a few days we quickly became accustomed to this life and soon found our favourite hang outs and places to eat. The momo's (a type of steamed dumpling) along with fried mushrooms quickly became our staple diet, washed down with heavy jugs of Nepal tea.

The KEEP offices greeted with warm welcomes, many smiles and plenty of laughs. The last day in Kathmandu we toured the city, visiting stoupas and temples alike in grandeur and culture. We were a little daunted though when we walked in on a mass death ceremony at the temple of Kali (god of the dead). All too soon it was time to the leave the peaceful gardens of the Hotel, a sanctuary a midst the bustling streets of Thamel, to so hello to Kankre, our village.

Riding the bus, fortunately, was not on the agenda was we took a private Jeep with Kabita and another KEEP worker to our new home. Children seemed to appear out of the very woodwork of the village, dozens of small hands fighting to grab hold of ours. We live with two great parents with three children. First days in the village were overwhelming, we had no privacy...everyone wanted to know us! The food here, (always a priority when I travel) is simple but tasty. (Here, we say 'mito!') We eat dall bhaat twice a day with pickled vegetables and curry. This is occasionally mixed up a bit with roti bread, the odd chicken once a fortnight, and popcorn. We drink boiled water, curd, milk and of course Nepali tea! The tea is made of milk, tea, cinnamon, cloves and sugar all boiled. Easily the best food.

School presented its own problems with Kindies and Year Ones being night impossible to teach. More success is felt with the older classes, grades two, three and four, so we aren't too crazy yet. The days are long and hard, we find ourselves often thinking and talking of home. But every day is easier than the next and soon the days will become weeks and the weeks to months.

Anywho my guide is stressing, so I have to go now. I'll try and right more often, the internet is an hour's walk away! Planning to spend the weekend in Thamel, will send some pictures to you then!