Friday, 29 June 2012

The build up to Brazil

GapBreak Brazil - September group at the Antipodeans Abroad training course

PROJECT: Wildlife Conservation & Youth Work
WRITTEN BY: Hannah McHardy

The months leading up to our Brazil placement have been similar to those leading up to the final HSC exams, seemingly distant and full of anticipation! However these months differ as excitement and enthusiasm to save as much money as possible and get away to participate in new and exotic experiences replace feelings of dread and frustration.

There has been much to organise before leaving home that has largely contributed to these emotions; visas, booking flights, deciding what travels to take following the placement, etc. There have also been those not as enjoyable experiences such as the numerous imunisations and the realisation I might not be able to save as much money for travels after our placement.

Another aspect to our antipodeans adventure was meeting our group! The training course was approaching and that was something I personally was looking forward to the most; discovering what kinds of people I would be spending the three months with.

The weekend came and went and was full of interesting and critical talks and Q and A's. Spending time with the girls and even others I met that were going to other countries and continents for completely different experiences was extremely beneficial. Bonding over our excitement as well as working and overspending woes created a comforting atmosphere.

A few months to go before departing brings only heightened excitement and a desire to get out of Sydney and see what Brazil has to offer!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Painting to a different tune in Ghana

PROJECT: Teaching & Orphanage work
WRITTEN BY: Ghana girls 2012

Sorry for the delay in our blog writing, but we're losing track of time over here. When this happens, it's called Ghana time- a totally acceptable concept by which one can be up to five hours late without notice or explanation.

The weeks are flying by, and all too soon we are down to single digit teaching days remaining. Quite a sad thought when we have all become so attached to our students, families and Ghana itself. Just the other day on a normal Monday afternoon at the orphanage it hit us how we have adjusted and settled in to the Ghanaian way of life.

Two new volunteers arrived at the orphanage and it was strange. Instead of being the shell-shocked new comers, we were the ones standing there kids in our arms and African print clothing on our backs.. locals. They looked so lost and out-of-sorts and we realised how far we'd come.

Our other excuse to explain our lack of blog writing is that we've been hard at work putting in 24 hour weekends painting Bess and Zundara's newly completed classrooms. We've all gone a little paint silly and have even given the local well a much needed sprucing up. Needless to say, 8 obruni girls single-handedly painting a 90 foot building shocked some of the locals.

We got a little satisfaction from their looks of horror  as we stretched to our tippy toes on top an already precarious scaffold. We felt even greater satisfaction when we got the somewhat reluctant nod of approval from previously critical locals- apparently women don't paint in Ghana!

We're making it sound like a strenuous work load, but of course we still get our fair share of fun and games. Just 2 weekends ago, it was none other than our Margie's NINETEENTH birthday. We celebrating in true African style. By this we mean dressing in as much African fabric and beads we could get our hands on and dancing the night away with the locals to live Rasta music. Sadly, we had called it a night and were in bed when we heard the crowd singing the 'Happy Birthday' song, dedicated to Margie.

All in all, it was a fabulous and we all managed to squeeze in some equally fabulous present shopping. We spent the following week combing and cutting out the dreadlocks we had put in especially for the occasion (for some reason, unbeknown to us, the hairdresser thought black latex glue smothered over our hair would give us attractive dreadlocks).

The following weekend was very different, but equally as fun. We took the Friday off teaching to go to the beach. Don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds, we took the 43 orphanage children with us. How we managed to squeeze this many kids and 13 adults in two 8 seater buses is beyond us!

The day was spent playing games, building sand castles, digging for crabs and chasing the children around the beach trying to get some pants back on them. After a super exciting lunch of Toblerones, lollipops, biscuits and bread, we piled their sandy little behinds back into the trotros for a rather subdued trip home.

It was so nice to be able to give the children a day away from the daily grind. The other exciting treat we have for the orphanage children comes in the form of solar lighting from Annie, Margie, Victoria and Sarah. So exciting for children who currently wet the bed during the night, too afraid of the darkness to go to the bathroom. It will make such a difference in their lives!

Whether it's lighting up the lives of children or colouring the world in which they live, it's such a rewarding feeling to know we're making a difference in the community that has taken us in so warmly. It's nice to give back to those who give, and being able to give to those with nothing. We'd like to thank you who have helped us achieve this, because without your support none of this would have been possible.

That's all in the way of our musings for now. You'll hear from us soon as we do the final sign-out from home-sweet-home Swedru.

xoxo Ghana Girls

Monday, 25 June 2012

What we'll miss about Argentina

COUNTRY: Argentina
PROJECT: Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Anna Craven

I can't believe I'm saying this already, but our time in Argentina with Antipodeans is at an end. In 3 months, we've seen the most incredible things, met the most wonderful people, and shared experiences that only we can understand, because to explain them is beyond impossible.

Our final two weeks have been filled with returning to favorite foodie hang-outs including our favorite cafe Casa de Gretha, best frozen yoghurt bar Frenzy, juiciest parilla La Cholita, yummiest and cheapest ice creamery across the road and our sweet little veggie shop on Ecuador. Of course, we've revisited the metallic flower, the markets at Plaza Serrano, the Recoleta markets, our regular bars and clubs, being Sugar, Milion, Jobs and Terrazas, and seen Casa Rosada bathed in neon pink lights at night. Sophie's soaked up her final days in her beloved Botanical Gardens and did a tour of Teatro Colon, and Jess went on a brief visit to Iguazu and Rio, and a few of us visited the country town of Pilar. Jess and I finished our final Spanish lessons and said goodbye to our wonderful teacher Yani, and we've all soaked up our time on the residence terrace, the couches in the common room, the ever-busy kitchen and the beds that have become our own.

Today we volunteered for the last time, and we're ll caught off guard by the emotion that hit us when it came time for saying goodbye. With brave faces and big grins we drew our last drawings and cards, packed up the Lego, found the soccer balls that always go missing, counted the number of skips each kid can muster, and snapped photos of the cheesy grins we've come to love. It wasn't until the van ride home that we realized how much we're going to miss these kids, and tears were shed the whole way back to Recoleta.

Over the next couple of days, we're all saying our last goodbyes to the roadhouse and heading our separate ways. Sophie and Jess are making their way back home, Kelly's traveling in Europe, Nat's heading to England, whilst myself and Em are off to explore more of South America.

I really will miss all the little quirks that come with living in BA and the roadhouse, like the smell of 2 peso pastries from halfway down the street, empenadas for lunch every day, the constant sound of voices from the common room, David and Christian's (our security guards) smiling faces as we burst through the front door, our naps in the van on the way to volunteering, the ever-lingering smell of parilla in the air (and on hair, clothes and most foods), the public holidays that occur at least every two weeks, the protests that are guaranteed to occur every few days, dulce de leche flavored everything, Sophie's smiling face in the morning, ridiculous attempts at Spanish, the dog walkers that walk no less than 15 dogs at a time, meeting new people in the house every week and yes, even the taste of a hot slurp of mate.

We can't thank Antipodeans and Road2Argentina enough for such a wonderful 3 months and each of us know that we will return one day soon to see and do it all again. It really has become our home away from home. Te amamos Argentina, y saludos for the last time.

- Anna (Em, Jess, Kelly, Sophie, Nat)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The overnight bus and adventures into the middle of nowhere

PROJECT: Teaching & Building
WRITTEN BY: Lauren Collee

We've reached the end of another week in Cusco and are taking a breather in between two trips out of the city. On Tuesday we got back from the coast - a four night trip, of which two were spent on buses.

The way there was comfortable for most of us, seeing as we had managed to haggle our way onto a 70 sol bus with almost fully reclinable seats and an enjoyable viewing of "Taken" in Spanish.

I think if any of us have the misfortune to be kidnapped and sold into the sex slave industry we now expect our parents to pull a Liam Neeson and come looking for us armed with a shotgun. I would have preferred a little more straight road, though, and I think Sam Fairbz will agree. His estomago chose an inopportune time to react to the Peruvian food.. and it really didn't help that there was a hairpin turn every hundred metres. We probably also could have done without the hour of bad south-American 80s video clips at the end.

We arrived in Nazcar at sunrise, and were immediately snapped up by a sneaky little woman offering us a special bus tour deal of the Nazcar lines and a place to relax for a bit. She neglected to admit that this "rest" period would last all morning and most of the afternoon.

Some set off for the airport to fly over the lines instead, and after completing the paperwork and waiting for an hour or so, were informed that they needed their passport. James came prepared, and set off alone with a planeload of middle-aged south-american ladies (that is to say 3 of them).

The rest of us eventually piled into a big combi van with a guide who made us feel a bit uneasy when he gleefully exclaimed before heading off - "alright then, lets go into the middle of nowhere!". When we stopped for petrol on the way, "just in case", we couldn’t help but think "..of what?".

The actual lines we saw from the "look-out towers" (11m high rickety metal structures with enormous gaps in between the steps), getting a good look at a ´tree´ and a ´pair of hands´.. but we just had to settle with postcard-browsing for the other 100+ ancient sand-art images. I think we agree that it was worth it, though, even if only to see the house-turned-museum of old Maria Reiche, who had devoted her life to the study of the Nazcar lines. The old photos of her camped out in her mini-van in the middle of nowhere with an odd array of mathematical instruments, a 70 year old woman with wispy grey-hair, somehow were almost as unbelievable as the lines themselves.

That night, we headed to Huacachina, where we wandered into the nearest empty hostel and filled it up completely. Arriving there at night, we were completely oblivious of the beauty of the place until we spontaneously chose to climb the dune behind our hostel at about a quarter to midnight.

Walking up a steep hill of sand for half an hour was harder than any gym class we had ever done, but it was worth it when we unexpectedly reached the top. From there we could see the enormous walls of sand all around the little town (which would take about 15 minutes to walk the length of), the palm-fringed lagoon in the centre, and the lights of Ica and Pisco over the dunes. In the other direction there was nothing except for sand.

The next day, we headed out into the thick of it in dune buggys driven by amused Peruvian men who enjoyed scaring the pipi out of us. Sarah got stuck in one filled with Americans who apparently screamed out things like "YOOHOO" and "HELL YEAH" every time the buggy went over the slightest crease in the sand. Sandboarding was loads of fun, but left us with sandy eyebrows and severe pain in the behind for the next few days. It was an achievement if anyone reached the bottom of a slope without ending up in a sandy heap, legs in the air.

Our next stop was Pisco, famous for the egg-white "pisco sour" drink which no doubt is responsible for having sent a few of us to the clinic in the past. Pisco had been ravaged by an earthquake 5 years earlier, and everywhere were lovely old half-demolished buildings with pastel coloured walls, and half-reconstructed new ones. Its a lot more tropical than Cusco, and far quieter, but the sleepiness of it and complete absence of tourists wasn't bad for a change.

We stayed in a beautifully decrepit colonial house on the beach called "casablanca" for approximately 5 dollars a night. On the way, we made a supermarket detour to stock up on 2 minute noodles, and for dinner filled every pot and pan in the house up with boiling water to cook them all. The people we had booked the island tour with for the next day then unexpectedly showed up claiming it was their birthday, and we played drinking games with our landlady, Maria. She was a good sport.

The next day we spent on a quick tour of the "poor mans Galapagos islands" in paracus, before heading on a bus to Ica. There we booked whatever seats we could find home, while a few stayed another night in Ica. Seeing as our bus left at midnight, we had time for a very cheap and satisfying asian meal, and a couple of pisco sours to make sleeping on the bus a little easier. There were various stories to hear when we all met back in San Jeronimo - Sophie and jack had been kicked off their bus halfway through, Sarah had a bottle of water poured on her seat.. but we all got home in one piece. I stumbled straight into the kitchen for a bowl of carmens warm noodle soup, and realised how much this place feels like home now.

Since being back at school, we have finally finished the mudbrick stage of the greenhouse, which comes as a huge relief to all of us.. those things are far heavier than they look. We also did our two house visits, local Ccorao families to whom we will devote a portion of our fundraised money.

We have been brainstorming how to use the funds, a painfully easy task when the essentials they don't have far outnumber the things they do. I think we all see the kids in our classes with new eyes after having been exposed to the conditions in which most of them live - we feel more proud than ever now when they hunt us down in the playground to recite particular words they remember, or ask us impatiently when class will start. On Friday, one of the grateful mothers of the houses we visited came into the school with a basket of warm potatoes and chilli sauce to thank us in advance - we can't wait to start.

Our plans to hike up to the festival on Ausengate mountain fell through this week after we realised that we had missed the main celebration and that temperatures were down to -15 up there, but on Wednesday next week we are taking a little time off school to head to the amazon basin for 6 days. I think we might actually miss the kids quite a bit - its odd thinking that our classes will be over in just over a month.

The city of love - Paris adventures for our France gapbreak students

PROJECT: Language and tutoring English
WRITTEN BY: Siobhan Calafiore

As soon as I sent in my previous blog a fortnight ago, I caught a train to Vannes and then bussed to Thiex to spend the night with Phoebe and her host family. Why you ask? Because the next day we were going back to Paris!

Now when I say that Phoebe’s host family are extremely nice I am not exaggerating. On Saturday morning Phoebe and I had to catch the earliest train so that we could meet Jess and her host parents in Le Mans by 8.30. So Phoebe’s host mother drove us to the train station in Vannes at 4.30 in the morning!! Once we had arrived in Le Mans we continued the rest of the way by car. Our first stop? Versailles!!

We reached Versailles by mid morning so we had plenty of time to wander around the gardens, visit Marie Antoinette’s apartments and of course the Chateau of Versailles. Elisa (our Brazilian friend from Paris) met us there and Jess’s host parents, who have not yet had children, joked that they had four daughters for the day. They seemed to be more like an older brother and sister to Jess than host parents.

The gardens of Versailles were incredible and we literally walked around them for hours. The castle was even more impressive, gold trimmings, vibrant and rich colours, ceilings full of magnificent paintings, a room full of chandeliers, sunlight flooding in through large floor length windows – the only disappointment was the crowd of tourists that filled every room. However despite all of these things I think our highlight for the day was something completely different.

It was lunch.

We had a picnic by the lake in the gardens. The setting couldn’t be any better. Cheese, baguettes, wine or cider, dessert... it was all very French. Blessed with a beautiful day we relaxed in the sunshine and watched the row boats drift. Of course we couldn’t resist trying them out for ourselves and thank god for Jess who was the only one who could steer.

After our perfect day at Versailles we spent Sunday in Paris. We had a quick photo stop at the Moulin Rouge before heading onto Montmartre and watching the artists at work. On Monday we caught the train back to our different villages. Although it was a very quick few days together it was also probably my favourite few days together.

Otherwise we have spent the rest of the two weeks doing the usual routine. For me that is going to Languidic’s primary school. I have now been to 30 English lessons and therefore have done about 30 hours of teaching. I feel like a student teacher. In my most recent class we did Aboriginal dot paintings. I have even made it into Brittany’s newspaper as I was interviewed about the work I do at the school. When I am not at the school, I’m usually doing more exploring of the beautiful region.

Jess has played in a family soccer tournament scoring 2 goals, witnessed her host father parachute out of a plane, watched the world cup, seen a French play and has continued cooking yummy desserts and helping out at her host mother’s school.
Phoebe has gone to her host brother’s hip hop show and continues going to her French lessons and giving English lessons to her host family.

This weekend she is looking forward to attending Noice Bretagne – a festival where the children dress in traditional clothes of the region and there is lots of traditional food and music.

Georgia has had the chance to do some of her own travelling. With her host family and their neighbours, she visited Granville in Normandy. Although right on the coast, it was too cold to go swimming. She has also spent some time in Saint Malo - a very beautiful and touristy coastal town with old buildings that were incredibly well preserved. Georgia has also managed to visit the very famous Le Mont Saint Michel. The incredible abbey has a history even more astonishing as Georgia was surprised to learn that it once was only a shack of a church.

There are also omelettes selling for 55 euro outside. Although she didn’t buy one she enjoyed watching the spectacle of the omelettes being made. Apparently the cooks hit the whisks against the side of the bowl making music as they cook.

Georgia has also stayed in Rennes with a friend of the host family. She has had the opportunity to visit some museums, shop and explore the old streets of the city.
My blogs just seem to be getting longer and longer... once again sorry for the essay!!

Monday, 18 June 2012

The end has come for the Quito 6!

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

So we´ve reached the end of our 3 month expedition to Ecuador. Jasmine, Blake and Sam all caught their plane home last night, while Holly began her 62 hour bus journey to Cuzco. Jeff and I are still here, Jeff flying off to the States tonight, and me to London on Wednesday.

Now I know all of us will be asked the same question when we get home, ¨How was it?!?¨. To save your breath, I can tell you all on behalf of the Quito 6 that this experience has been beyond incredible. For me personally, it is more than I would have ever hoped for!

During our last week in Ecuador, we stayed in Quito, saying goodbye to our work placements, chatting with Marcelo about the trip, and hitting the town for the last few times. Over the past two weeks of going out in La Mariscal, we´ve claimed one bar as our own - named the Attic Bar. We would dominate the pool table there until around 10:30pm, then head off to the dance floor where we´d make new friends and dance the night away.

The music is pumping, and fortunately the drinks don´t taste as deathly alcoholic here as everywhere else! Also I might mention that last Wednesday night, we even saw our old Spanish teacher from the language academy, Alex, partying at the Attic bar. She says that we´ve all improved on our Spanish a lot. =)

Speaking of my Spanish abilities, I was telling Marcelo the other night how staying in a non-English speaking country really does help you learn the local language. For instance, I never thought that one of the few Spanish words I would learn while I was here was ´diaper´, which is ´pañale´. Although I suppose after changing pañales for the past two months I would have to know it´s meaning!

Also this week, Holly and I finally saw Old Town for the first time with Sam. I´m so disappointed that we didn´t go earlier, because it is definitely the most beautiful part of Quito. Although I´m yet to go to Italy, the streets remind me of what I think the Italian streets would look like. And don´t even get me started on the churches! There was La Basilica, which is the biggest church I think anyone has ever seen (Holly recognising it´s Gothic features owing to her architecture course at university).

It looked like a castle, and we spent around 45 minutes sitting out the front discussing what we would do with the place if we happened to buy it as a home. After La Basilica, we found the San Francisco church. It doesn´t really look like a church on the outside, but inside the detail and beauty of the decor is just exquisite. The church is made out of 500 pounds of gold, and took 170 years to build!

I went back today to attend a church ceremony there. Although I didn´t understand much of what the priest was saying, I could still admire the statues and paintings and detailed walls, as well as fitting in a prayer for my family and friends at the end.

I´m going back to work placement for two more days before flying out of the country, and I can tell that my last day is going to be teary. I´ve become so close with some of the children, and I don´t want to believe that this will probably be the last time I ever see them.

Thursday was Holly´s last day, and as a means of thanks from the nurses, she received a ceritificate of appreciation. From what we could decipher on the certificate, they said the cutest and sweetest things about her. Holly´s words exactly were ¨This is the best ceritificate I´ve ever had¨. I´m so excited to get mine on Tuesday to show off to my friends!

So folks, that´s all. I´m sorry that I´m not naturally a good writer and thus these blogs have bored you, but at least you know the gist of everything we´ve been up to. To Jasmine, Sam and Blake, have a safe trip home to your families. To Holly, Jeff and I, let our adventures continue! To my mum, I´ll see you in London in four days and counting! And to everyone else, I´ll be seeing you soon! Xoxo, the Quito 6.

Friday, 15 June 2012

University of Sydney students get a taste of the Maldives

COUNTRY: Maldives
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups - University of Sydney
PROJECT: Teaching and swimming coaching
WRITTEN BY: Jessica Leigh Camilleri

Week one in the MALDIVES!

What an amazing first week! After over 20 hours of door to door travel we finally arrived in Thinadhoo very late at night. Ever since then we have not stopped sweating! Taking a tour of the island the next day was an eye opener, with us discovering that many of our expectations were exceeded.

We couldn’t believe that 6000 people actually live on this island and couldn’t figure out where they were all hiding!

After smashing two bottles of water each we finally came home and discussed how we would survive the next four weeks in such heat! However, we have powered through, completing a week of 6am coaching sessions as well as theory lessons throughout each day.

The best part of this experience has been the kids with their accepting and enthusiastic behaviour! We are still struggling to learn their unusual names, however they have our names down pat with all our signatures and dates of birth being recorded in their notebooks like we are famous or something!

When we are not teaching or being swamped with kids you can find us in the beautiful blue water, soaking up the sun in our long board shorts and rashies! The food has consisted of extreme spice and whole fish being served on our plates (eyes included!). But with only two people sick in the first week, and one visit to hospital we cant complain!

All in all, travelling in a group has been very fun and so has experiencing the Maldivian culture (both religion and relaxing lifestyle), but ask us how we feel in another three weeks and we might have a different view!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Children of the Misiones Region

Kids of the Misiones Region

COUNTRY: Argentina
PROJECT: Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Anna Craven

As you could guess, our last few weeks have been jam-packed full of activity in Argentina, so I'll launch right into the thick of it!

Before heading to the Misiones region, Nat, Emily, Sophie, Kelly and myself headed out of the city for a day to visit a traditional estancia (ranch). We Looked around the old farming houses complete with their original decor and furnishings, and ate home cooked empanadas.

Next we ate a very filling, beautifully cooked Asado lunch and I still can't say whether or not I'm fond of the idea of blood sausage (which "the most important" gaucho plonked on my plate). Em also indulged in not one, but two dances in front of everyone with a gaucho.

Iguazu Falls!
Last pizza and wine night at the student residences!

Finally, we watched a traditional argentine tango, complete with the all-black ensembles, some folkloric songs, a gaucho rope demonstration and a gaucho tango. Very full of wine, meat and salads, we hopped back on the bus and headed back to BA. That night, Emily, Kelly and myself saw the movie 'Elefante Blanco, that had just been released.

It dictates the true story of two priests that worked on behalf of the dispossessed and poor people of the largest slum in Buenos Aires that is corrupt by drug crimes and violence. The footage was shot right where we volunteer at the centre called Ejercito, so despite it being all in Spanish and without subtitles, it was enjoyable enough to learn some of the slum culture's history and even see a couple of the kids we know in the background of some scenes! A couple of us have also done a tour of the beautiful Casa Rosada (pink house), which is the official residence and office of the Argentine President.

Finally the departure day for our trip to the Misiones region had arrived on the 23rd of May. Em, Kelly, Nat, Sophie and I met with the other LIFE volunteers at Retiro station (13 of us in total) and we spent the whole night fully reclined in huge, cushiony seats, complete with a hot dinner and movie!

Arrived the next morning in Montecarlo and got settled into our roadside accommodation. That afternoon, we headed to the indigenous village of the Guarani people called Peruti. Once turning off the highway, we had a 10 minute ascent through thick jungle before the road opens up and becomes dotted with little wooden huts and children running and jumping with happiness at the sight of our van. We began sorting out the donated clothing and gave the kids an afternoon snack of milk and cereal.

Mostly, this time was spent getting to know the kids, who were all covered in the red dirt of the Misiones region, with scraggly hair and huge smiles on their faces. It's hard to say whether I can recall a moment when I didn't have one or two kids hanging off my back arms or shoulders, as they loved climbing like monkeys.

The next day was Argentine revolution day (25th de Mayo) so when we arrived at the village, we decorated the main hall and surrounding trees with blue and white balloons, handed out chest pins, prepared a celebratory lunch of hamburgers for the entire village, and painted the kids nails blue and white, which they absolutely loved. With two volunteers who are doctors, we taught the younger kids about nutrition, the older girls and boys about health and the older women about childcare, health and nutrition.

On the morning of the last day, we played on the soccer field with the kids and then the entire village arrived at the hall for the handing out of donated clothes, in which every person received a new set of clothes and shoes for the coming month. A huge pot of pasta for lunch, then we de-liced lots of the kids hair. In the afternoon, the kids took us all on a tour of the entire village, where you would walk sometimes through jungle or open empty fields before coming across the next hut, and even their graveyard.

Following this, with the two British volunteer boys, myself, em, Kelly and sophie climbed through thick jungle for about half an hour with a group of the kids, before running down a muddy dip and over a rocky ledge to reach the Parana River. Here, we all dived in, in our mucky clothes and swam across the river and downstream with all the kids. This hour or so was the most incredible experience, and I can say it has been my favorite day so far since coming to Argentina.

The next day, we got a bus to Puerto Iguazu and immediately us 5 girls and the two British boys jumped on the next bus to Iguazu falls! We spent the whole day walking over rivers, streams and rocky out crops viewing the huge falls from the various lookouts, each time just bewildered by the never-ending flow of enormous whitewash.

At the end of the day, we clambered to the water's edge and went in one of the speedboats up the Brazilian channel, went under some of the falls there, then sped up the Argentine channel and got drenched as the driver went in and out of the galleons of water. Shivering, and soaking, we eventually made it back home and slept incredibly well that night.

The next day, the 5 of us went with the LIFE founder Lilian to Ciudad del Este, a city in Paraguay that is infamous for its huge stake in the South American black market. The city was crammed with roadside stalls and people selling anything and everything, from perfume and watches, to handcuffs and guns! After browsing the stalls and enjoying an oversized oriental lunch, we arrived back in Puerto Iguazu.

The next morning, we boarded a 4 hour bus ride to San Ignacio and when arriving, the 30 degree heat and beautiful sunshine compelled us to lie by the pool and nap on the hotel deck for the entire afternoon- such a nice change from the 15-10 degrees that is a constant in Buenos Aires! The following day, we visited the beautiful old Jesuit Ruins, browsed the markets and eventually boarded our bus back to Buenos Aires.

After a 4 day break here, we met Jess and headed to Mendoza on an overnight bus on the 3rd of June. When arriving in Mendoza, after half an hour of looking out the bus window in awe of the snow-capped Andes Mountains, we booked all the activities for our stay, then jumped on a bus that took us through the countryside towards one crop of the Andes. The windy road took us right to the Hot Springs, where we basked in the heat of the pools that look out over rocky peaks, under a clear blue sky and refreshing, crisp air.

That night, we had an Asado at our hostel, getting to know people from all over the world, and headed to a bar after being stuffed with very salty beef and potatoes! The next day, we got picked up in the morning and once again were taken to a high point of the Andes where we were dropped off at a small ranch. We each jumped on a horse and for the whole day, we rode the horses through this area of the Andes, with a view of the beautiful snow caps in the distance and the entire valley that surrounds the city of Mendoza. This was stopped only by a brief Asado lunch.

On our final day in Mendoza, we headed to the main wine region and rode bikes on a tour of the various vineyards of the area. We tasted many liqueurs, chocolates, jams, salsas and wines, ate empenadas and pizza and learnt a bit about wine and olives along the way. That night we boarded our overnight bus to Mendoza, ready for a well-deserved rest!

Last night in the residence, we were treated to our final wine and pizza party on the terrace. Unfortunately, it was the coldest day yet of the year in BA, but a very full house braved the cold and enjoyed the home-made pizzas that just kept coming, tray after tray.

With two weeks left, I know I'll be volunteering as much as possible, without thinking of those final goodbyes to the kids we've come to know so well. We all have a few more things left to do on our bucket lists, and will be squeezing them in between visits to the places we want to return to.

Anna (Em, Kelly, Nat, Sophie, Jess)

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Galapagos adventures and last week in Quito

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

Buenos tardes everyone!

How are we all? I bet you're all excited to see your loved ones again in a week! Last week I told you all how I was left alone while the others went off to the Galapagos... :(

Fortunately enough, it seems they had an amazing experience! They put their tanning suits on, got up close and personal with some rare animals, and relaxed in the comfort of their 5-star cruiser. I must admit I'm just a tad jealous, but I've still got a good 60 or so years to go back! The gang took some really great photos as well, almost good enough for some antipodeans advertising they think! I'm sure they would love to share them if you ask nicely.

Apart from the Galap-lap adventures, all has been reasonably quiet in this busy city recently. We've been having fun at work, getting the most out of the last two weeks we have left. And by this I mean that yes, a boy called Martin shat on my hand yesterday. I've been adoring the children at my placement though. I know all of their names now and I know what makes each one smile. It feels so very fulfilling.

One girl (Damaris - aged 5 and one of the few who can actually speak) likes playing peek-a-boo with Barney in the playhouse. She can also go hours at a time forcing you to take her down the slide repeatedly. But I love her, and she's actually one of the main people here who's helping me improve my Spanish! It's going to be sad saying goodbye to them next week, but I've been so happy to help them, even if it is just making them smile.

Also this week, we've been taking advantage of the $5 cinema movies and enjoying the Wednesday night "Ladies Night - free drinks" trend in La Mariscal (Gringoland). My host father, Marcelo, says we've just about seen it all now in Ecuador, so we'll be spending this weekend in Quito again. We might go up the gondola and look over where we've been living for the past three months, and I'm keen to finally see old town and attend a pretty church ceremony. Whatever we do I'm sure we'll still have jolly fun, simply because we're in a beautiful country with a beautiful language and we know that we don't get these kind of experiences every day!

There's still a week left, so enough time for one more update soon. Take care our loved ones, and we'll be seeing you soon! Xxx

Camp Muhaka - new home in Kenya

PROJECT: Community & Conservation
WRITTEN BY: Bronte Anthony

Jambo from Kenya!

We have successfully survived for a week in this foreign land, battling both the blistering heat and mischievous mosquitoes, and competently doing so with new found levels of courage and independence.

Our departure from Sydney International Airport almost seems like an age ago. We left our teary parents behind and boarded our flight, embracing our journey into the African unknown. On our way however, there was the inevitable stop over in Dubai, after the 14 hour journey from Australia. During which time we spent the best part of five hours in transit wandering around looking for the best wifi signal...yes shamefully, we did have a fair amount of electronic equipment in our possession.

In any case, we soon found ourselves upon the next Emirates flight from Dubai to Nairobi - a 5 hour trip filled with movie watching and lazy dozing in our seats. And then we landed. We were in Africa!

Immediately we felt an eruption of heat and humidity from inside the shabby International Airport. After picking up our luggage, bravely trudging across the road to the Domestic Terminal (and very nearly missing our 4:30pm flight as a result of a rather large queue), we made it onto the 'Air Kenya' plane to Mombasa. There is no denying that this coastal city was not exactly as we'd expected. From our bus windows, the dirty and litter strewn streets flew past, while the local people continued about their business, occasionally staring at this vehicle full of tourists.

Eventually the traffic (or should I say, non-existent traffic), gave way to a quieter dirt road, which wound its way through the street side stalls that were slowly being lit as the darkness of the Kenyan night crept in. The sparkling stars were our guide, and soon we spied the gates of Camp Muhaka, and could see the welcoming sign - 'Karibu Camp Kenya' - our new home.

In short; the camp was magnificent. We were greeted by the infamous Eustace, our in-country agent, and soon met the cooks and other camp helpers, before devouring a massive dinner of spaghetti with a vegetable sauce (the servings here are truly ginormous), and then proceeding to endure the first of our many cold showers.

Unpacking and setting up 'camp' in our cabins was minimal that evening, as bed was much more desirable (even beds covered in mosquito nets, almost encapsulating us against the evil bugs of this African world). The chattering monkeys and bush babies of the camp didn't even stop us from falling asleep that night.

Since that first evening, we have awoken each morning to the crow of roosters outside and the streams of light from the sun, sneakily peeping in through our chicken wire windows. A breakfast of soggy toast, with the rotational accompaniment of either eggs, beans, or if we're lucky, pancakes, generally sustains us for the working day.

Project work begins at 8:30am, and is conveniently situated right on our front doorstep. Armed with sunscreen, insect repellent and water bottles, we attack our work of digging, plastering, mixing concrete, filling plastic bottles with dirt, slashing grass, planting beans or painting with energetic enthusiasm!

The lunch break at 12pm is always welcome, however the mass amount of carbs (whether potato, bread, rice or pasta) they load onto our plates are not always specifically favoured - nonetheless they do the job of sustaining us. Afternoon work starts again at 2pm and continues until 4pm. Following this, one can play with the local children, engage in a game of football or netball with the secondary school teenagers, go for a run around the area, shower, wash clothing, or sit with a cup of Kenyan tea-bag tea and wait anxiously for dinner at 7:00pm. The list of late afternoon activities is seemingly endless!

Our 'rest and relaxation' is spent on the weekends, and so far we have enjoyed two blissful days on the pure white beaches of Diani, taking in the warm sun and salty air that the East African coastline has to offer.

Inevitably, there have been the occasional down moments, where talk of home comforts, food (especially food!), family and friends are brought up. These don't last long however, especially when we are reminded that we're all in this together. Furthermore, there is always a constant level of upbeat chatter and 'banter' from the new friendships that we have formed with the 17 or so other young people from England, Wales, Scotland, Austria and Holland, and so it is almost impossible for one to stay seemingly upset or lonely for long.

We travel to Camp Tsavo next week, where some intense safari action will no doubt take place. Expect to see plenty of photos!

Lots of love from Kenya :)

Kruger safari and Swazi life - first blog from the south of Africa!

COUNTRY: Southern Africa (Swaziland, Mozambique & South Africa)
PROJECT: Teaching & Care Work
WRITTEN BY: Bryar Hawkins

Our first week in Southern Africa kicked off with a bang, beginning in Kruger National park. The camp site ‘Lower Sabie’ became our home as did the ritual game drives and animal encounters.

We were fortunate enough to see the BIG 5 on the first day and surprisingly it only got better as the week progressed. We had an “eventful” night drive, which included observing some rhinos up close and being charged by an aggressive adolescent elephant.
One week in and we highly doubted the week getting any better!

However, we packed up our tents and headed back to Swaziland to meet our kids at our respective NCPs (Neighbourhood Community Points) Bryar and Chicky teach at Bethany NCP and Izzy and Brad have settles into Ezulwini NCP.

We all instantly fell in love with our kids and started to bond from the very first day. After spending two weeks with our cheeky, playful kids we had some time to relax and party at the annual Swazliand music festival ‘BUSHFIRE’! 3 days of amazing music, culture and art made us feel even more at home in Swaziland.

Just as we were finally feeling settled in we were shipped off to Mozambique for a week of sun, surf and tanning. The week consisted of an ocean safari, kayaking in terrible conditions (having to get rescued) and a cultural tour of an isolated local island.

One of the highlights was certainly the local rum ‘Tipo Tinto’, which was a big hit amongst both us and the locals. Returning home and having to say goodbye to our friends from England we settled back into Swazi life and have another excited 3 weeks ahead at our NCPs.

Bryar & Brad xxxxxxx

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

When Nepal becomes home...

PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Pauletto

Things feel like they've finally returned to normal for us. No more strikes, very little sickness and everything seems to be falling into place.

Every morning we wake up, sometime between 5:30 and 7 to take our morning meal of tea and biscuits. It's blessedly cool this time of the morning, it's been getting into (we estimate) somewhere between the 25 and 30 degree rage during the day.

From what we can gather the monsoon is late this year, causing the flies and mozzies to stick around. The school is a leisurely one minute walk from the house, we can just lounge on the day bed and go when we hear the morning bell!

We come home for lunch, usually eating roti, a flat bread, or some sort of dry snack food. School ends at 5, and between then we teach classes 1-5. The younger ones don't really understand us all too well, so those classes are filled with games, dancing and singing. Dinner is around 7, so those two hours we have free we spend reading, exploring the town, cooling off at the waterfall, chilling at one of the numerous houses we are invited to after school for tea, or (mine and Bella's personal favorite) indulging in our new found love of knitting.

Mum's care pack was possibly the best thing from home. We had a Mi Goreng cook off one night for dinner, and everyone loves the muesli bars and photos.

Walking through the sleepy streets of Banepa, the crazy, death streets of Thamel or taking the that leads to our house all feel so normal now. It feels like home. I can't believe what we like when we landed here, like lost little lambs! We could barely navigate two streets from our Hotel, now it seems though there isn't anywhere we can't go. Learning the language has plaid a big role in that. We can get to the 'Nepali' districts, away from the tourist area and manage a brief conversation with the shop keeper, and we can usually get a better price if we haggle in Nepali!\

Kabita visited us two days ago and we told her of our plans for the school. After much, much deliberation with ourselves and the school we've decided to spend the bulk of the fundraising on a brick wall for the school, real stairs and a gate to keep the "riff raff" out. Leftover money will be spent on furnishings like maps, more supplies for the kids and little left over the orphanage in nearly three weeks. Yikes it's gone fast! This weekend we'll travel to Thamel to pay for all of this and hopefully have everything finished 20 days from now.

Right now I'm sitting in a teacher's house, using the internet and I'll have to leave for school soon, so I'd better stop and send you more this weekend.


One step closer to Borneo & Cambodia

COUNTRY: Borneo & Cambodia
PROJECT: Community & Conservation work

Hi all! Here we go with our debut blog post from the increasingly excited soon-to-be TEAM BORNEO/CAMBODIA AUGUST 2012!

As of last weekend we can now tick off one more item on the extremely long list of ‘stuff we need to get done before Borneo/Cambodia’ – namely, Training Camp. Training Camp took place in the gorgeously lush, green (and on this weekend, particularly wet) Naamaroo Uniting Venues, NSW. However, there was little time to enjoy the view as our two days were jam-packed with various sessions to prepare us for our up-coming travels.

We heard about ex-gapper Ruby’s amazing experiences in 2011, learnt the basics of effectively teaching English in the local schools, got a bit anxious hearing from a travel doctor about the multitude of diseases to be caught overseas (but who also explained how to avoid them, conveniently), and also picked up some sweet magic skills to impress our families from guest speaker Julian Mather, but which will most of all help us engage and connect with the local children.

It was great to meet the members our group who could make it to the camp, and finally put faces to names. The dedication of this year’s gappers was impressive, with students coming from all over Australia (including Victoria, Brisbane and the Northern Territory), and working the craziest jobs to raise money for their trips – some working as housecleaners and others packaging tubes of horse-worming paste. And I thought being a cashier was hard work.

This weekend’s final result: We’re totally pumped to see amazing sights, trek through un-touched jungle, cuddle orang-utans, relax on topical Islands, and most of all to help some communities who are less fortunate than us, and who will ultimately allow us to better understand the world we live in.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Brazil Gappers head to Rio!

Arial view of Rio!

PROJECT: Wildlife and Youth Work

Hello all!

Firstly I would like to apologise for any bad grammar and unreadable sentences I may write in this update. As I write this, the 8 of us all together once again sit in Che Lagarto Rio de Janiero! Although extremely excited to be here, we have been sitting here-some trying to catch a nap on the hostel lobby couch-since 8am (about 4 hours now), and plan to sit here for at least another two as check in is at 2pm :/ Sadly we were greeted with pouring rain too.. But with that aside for now I will provide a quick update on what we have all been doing!

Last week Nick, Maddie.B, Bella and I visitied Foz do Iguacu (Iguazu Falls) and Paraguay. On the Saturday we were lucky enough to have clear skies to visit the amazing falls! We were taken on a safari through the national park and then a boat right under the waterfall, besides getting drenched the falls and the national park were so so breathtaking, absolutely beautiful. The falls themselves stretch to the Argentinean side (We were unable to go to Arg as I'm under 18...) but we could still see that side from the Brazilian side tour.

On Sunday we were unfortunately visited by the rain we have seen constantly in the past few days. Nevertheless we went to Paraguay and spent a day shopping in what we were told to expect, a huge duty free city full of shopping centres and market stalls. Watches, clothes, perfumes and every type of electrical appliance was real they were is another story...For us nothing much was bought except for a 'real legit' Rolex watch (we kept being told even though it may have been only $10 Aus) and another vintage Casio...soooo classy.

As we returned to the Animal sanctuary, after a 9 hour bus ride back to Curitiba, we spent our last days working and saying goodbyes to the animals that we had become so attached to (particularly Baby Jaguars, Monkeys, Ant eaters and Parrots). Once again as we packed on the Wednesday with only hours to leave the realization that another month had finished was totally unbelievable. I can safely say we will definitely miss all the staff we were lucky enough to work with and we say thanks to the wonderful founders Chris and Luciano!

From that, it brings us to Wednesday night were we finally met up with Josie, Maddie.t, Marie and Jordie after a whole month. With an early 4am get up for the 6am flight we are all exhausted but are keen to see as much of this spectacular city as we can! We have a tour booked for Saturday (fingers crossed for good weather) to see the main sites of Rio.

Once again we say goodbye, boa tarde and catch ya later!

xx Sim and The Brasil Group!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A month in France!

PROJECT: Language and tutoring English
WRITTEN BY: Siobhan Calafiore

I have been thinking just this last week that we are now reaching a stage of familiarity and comfort. Through my own experiences as well as speaking to the other girls most of us are feeling a lot more relaxed in our surroundings and better connected to the people and life around us. Our French is continually improving so that communication is becoming easier, the region where we live is becoming familiar to us, public transport and getting around is now second nature and every day our relationship with our host families is strengthening. I am spending less time thinking about home and my family or wishing that the people around me would suddenly speak English. My mind is here in France, not elsewhere. By being part of the here and now I am not at all homesick. When you become familiar and comfortable you become confident and it is a nice stage to finally reach.

But enough about that, what have we done in the last two weeks?

Jess has been busy helping out at her host mother’s school during the week and watching her host father play soccer. She has now had a chance to try a range of traditional French cuisine and has found a love for brioche. She has also been lucky enough to do a few French cooking classes. Last weekend Elisa (a girl from Brazil who we meet at our hostel in Paris) came to stay with Jess in Le Mans and Jess had the opportunity to show her around and go for a few bike rides through the country side.

Phoebe has settled into a busy routine of French lessons in Vannes, teaching English to the family, helping out at the high school where her host mother works, going to pony lessons with her host sister and sporadic local travel whilst also planning travel further abroad. The best parts of the last two weeks for Phoebe have been watching a forty year old man sing 80’s rock at the local café, being constantly asked about partying and clubbing in Australia by the French high school students, sharing different tastes in music with her host parents and being told that her French is improving.
During the weeks I have been busy visiting many schools in the area as fortunately my host mother and her friends are teachers.

I have sung nursery rhymes with kindergartners, done presentations on Australia in primary and middle schools and helped out in English classes. I am continually blown away by the kindness of the teachers and the eagerness and enthusiasm of the students. It is also nice to share my country with them and let them know that yes we do sleep in beds, yes we do have electricity, no we don’t ride kangaroos and no French isn’t the language we usually speak. On the weekends my family is eager to take me places - an old medieval village, the wild coastline, the beach, art galleries, the remains of an old fort. I also had the chance last Saturday to catch up with my two host sisters from my last trip to France. It had been nearly three years since I last saw them! They came to my village Hennebont and we spent the day together walking through the botanic gardens and eating crepes. We had so much to say to each other that for eight hours straight we did not stop talking in French!

I also have had the chance to speak English from time to time as Phoebe and I have caught up in Vannes and an American girl my age named Rachael has just arrived in Hennebont. She is also teaching English to a family who is fortunately friends with mine. Every day I am meeting new people – extended family, friends of the family, teachers, students and other foreigners. It is nice to have a network of people here in France. It is nice to be connected.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Aboakyir deer hunting festival, just another day in the life of a Gapper in Ghana!

PROJECT: Teaching & Orphanage work
WRITTEN BY: Ghana girls 2012

Greetings from the golden land of Ghana on the gulf of Guinea! At school we would teach this alliteration. Speaking of teaching, we are well into the swing of things now. Tara and Sophie are doing special public speaking classes with older primary students. Bess and Zundara are now teaching outside with the goats and chickens, as their classroom has been knocked to the ground... more on that later. Tori and Sarah are getting creative with their kids - googly eyed paddlepop stick men! And Margie and Annie, who teach at the orphanage, are just trying to get the kids to stop beating each other, peeing on the ground and to discover the joys of sharing and spelling tests. Of course, it's not all hard work...

We left you last blog as we were about to go to Winneba, to participate in the Aboakyir deer hunting festival. It was an experience to say the least (lots of wild street dancing and holding on to our hats.) We awoke at four a.m on Saturday morning, which is actually not that early for us here, to go into town and watch the street parade, which consisted of many half-naked men smeared in mud and chasing us down the street. Sophie's face went obibini (black) with mud! We got into a hilarious conversation with a man dressed in a nurses outfit (cross-dressing was the norm).

For the rest of the day we just soaked up the atmosphere, it was good. We missed the deer sacrifice due to the whole confusion of the town, but didn't miss getting up close to the poor, trussed-up, glassy-eyed corpse. We spent the rest of Saturday hiding from the rain, reading books aloud to each other, eating bananas dipped in milo, salad (!!!) and telling some really scary stories.

How about we detail our typical teaching week? Yes, let's go. Monday, after we teach school, we all get a tro-tro out to the orphanage for an afternoon of tears, laughter, fighting, songs, handwashing and lots and lots of loving. The kids all run down to the road when they see us, and fling themselves into our outstretched arms. Literally. It's beautiful. On Monday, as we do every night, we spend a long hour writing lesson plans. Tuesday after school we head down to our local haunt, out into the country to a spot (that means bar in Ghana) called Mavics.

Here we get a cold Coke or Fanta, recount hilarious teaching stories and plan our upcoming weekend. Wednesday - after school we might go the internet cafe, get some corn-rows perhaps, pop into the seamstress, wash our filthy clothes, before heading to the 'obruni' meeting. We chat to a couple of Swedes, a German perhaps, ignore the Poms, and then make a dash home before the mosquitoes come out to play. Dinner is usually pretty early, pretty oily and pretty spicy. Then bedtime usually before eight. Thursday (see Monday). Friday we teach until 12pm (normally at school is worship and dancing) so sweaty and filthy, we head off on our weekend. It's so easy getting around Ghana! Someone just asks us, as they always do, "Where are you going?" and this time, we answer them!

Last weekend was great. Minus Bessie, whose parents popped in for a visit, the rest of us headed off to the fabled "Green Turtle Lodge" which turned out to be a crappy six hour tro-tro ride during which Annie left her wallet on the tro-tro, leaving her dependent on the kindness of others. We chartered our own tro-tro to the lodge, and let me tell you, it was crazy! The road was terrible, at one stage Tara got out to push it up the road. We nearly got bogged! So you can imagine the relief when we arrived to a tranquil beach resort, a cool clay bungalow and some dear, yet divine, food. The next morning we up early, as usual, and ventured into the mangroves in dugout canoes. There were storm clouds on the horizon, yet foolishly we took our precious cameras onto the swamp... and then the wet season struck, leaving us to seek refuge in a remote, impoverished fishing village, where the sweet ladies welcomed us and wrapped us in colourful wax cloths.

We sheltered for an hour, and when the rain abated, we went back out onto the swamp and into the village. Sophie and Tara went off to get bananas and got stuck in the village for another two hours. We ran back along the beach, panting, as the rain swelled again. We got so wet we decided we would get no wetter going swimming!! So we did. Then we put all our clothes back on, and had warm, delicious french toast, banana and honey, and Ghanaian hot chocolate. It was a good weekend, albeit that Sarah lost another two pairs of thongs, leaving the grand total of pairs of thongs owned by Sarah in Ghana to five.

We all brought some money to donate, and are having fun deciding what to spend it on! Tori and Sarah are probably going to buy a water tank for their school, for the children are thirsty. Tara and Sophie are thinking of taking their class to the zoo in Accra, and tying it into a lesson on animals. Margie and Annie have already bought some leather-covered mattresses for the orphanage, and go there almost every day bearing gifts of food (yams yesterday!) But Bessie and Zundara are really showing the rest of us up, it's inspirational. Their school, Prince of Peace, is one of the poorest. Their classrooms used to be like a horse stable, with disintegrating blackboards and lots of chickens. A triple classroom is mid-construction, and we are all excited for the weekend we all paint in together in rainbow colours.

We have set the last part of the blog aside to talk about our feelings. We are all a bit sad and wistful, that we coming to our halfway point in Ghana. The first week seemed so slow and bewildering, yet the days go faster and faster, and we struggle to keep them in our grasp. We are all having an incredible time, beyond words, which is why this is such a long blog. Until next time,

Ghana Girls xoxo