Location: Tharwa, Australia
Hello dearests'. I realize this is very much overdue. My appologies but I'm not good at sitting in front of a computer...my attention span doesn't last that long. Here's a brief-ish anecdote of the past few weeks...actually not brief at all.
Let's briefly start at the start. I flew into Brisbane exactly...well, not exactly, but close to...36 hours after leaving Toronto. Long flight and was pretty happy not to be sitting any longer than that. My good friend and famous Australian tour guide, Kati Watkinson, picked Kris and I up at the airport. I hung out with Kati and Drew...and Becca and Emily and Family for the next week and a half or so. Seeing the gorgeous Brisbane sights. The Watkinson family is pretty great. Met up with some other Kandalore alumni living the Australian life, which was nice as I hadn't seen Donna or Mathias in a couple of years. Spent a night on the Sunshine Coast in Mooloolaba (I can't spell it and can barely pronounce it...but looks something like that I think) with Kati, Becca, their cousin Nicole, and Kris. Slightly overcast but was nice to be on a beach for little bit. At the end of my stay, Kati and I headed to Byron Bay for a night. Spent two days on the beach and walking around the folky, coastal town. Went for a beautiful walk down the highway leading to a cool lighthouse (the most easterly point in Australia) and came back along the beach. We didn't actually make it to the lighthouse but the walk was great. Spent the night in Kati's car next to a park after a night time sit at the beach and some guitar playing in the park. The next day I caught a bus to Sydney with a five hour layover in Coff's Harbour, which I spent at a little Thai restaurant. The bus left Byron just after noon and pulled into Sydney the following day at 7am.
After dropping my bags off at the hostel, I headed for a self-guided walking tour of Sydney. A 'two hour detour in the wrong direction' later, I found the Fish Market, the Darling Harbour, some breakfast, and a boat tour of the Sydney Harbour leaving at 11:30am. Was cool to see the city from the water. Once back on land, I kept walking and met up with Kris back at the hostel. We spent the afternoon checking out the Botanical Gardens and then back down to Darling Harbour for some dinner. We bussed it down to Canberra the next day at 8am arriving a little after noon.
The first week of work was pretty pointless for us. Kris and I did a lot of sitting around. I think we had more coffee breaks then actual time working. We did some training stuff but mainly just watched as people did things to get an idea of what's going on? I'm getting over my love/hate relationship that often occurs when I start somewhere new and starting to get a little more in the groove. Kids are just getting back to school now, I believe, after summer holidays so school courses haven't started yet. We helped out with a family course for their canoe portion. Pretty humerous as we paddled right through Canberra and stayed overnight in a Scout building next to a rowing club. The canoes look more like long, awkward, and very outdated kayaks with large cockpits that you could potentially put a big skirt on. Kris and I gave the intro to paddling speel, which was fun and then we all headed out. Our put-in was next to the Canberra Zoo! The paddle in total was about 10-12 kilometers. Found this all to be quite funny...even the astroturf that lined our take-out at the Scout building.
I had a few days off from the 25th to the 28th and headed down to Melbourne in a rental van with Kris, Leah, Whitney, Amber (a few girls I work with), and 20 bottles of wine...there was a sale on...6 bottles for $10...we couldn't refuse. The scenery on the way was gorgeous and wickedly diverse. From farm fields to rainforesty type landscapes. After making a few random stops, we drove till about 7pm or so and stopped at a little tex mex restaurant in the middle of nowhere for a bite to eat. We kept driving for another couple of hours and finally stopped at a harbour in Eden to sleep. We figured out that all the seats could recline and somewhat joined together forming a makeshift bed that slept four girls somewhat comfortably? I opted for the driver's seat and all our bags piled on the passenger side. The random honking as my foot would hit the horn gave us a good little jump on a couple of occassions...reminded me of Byron Bay when Kati and I slept in the car only I kept hitting the four-way flashers. And this time there was no police officer waking us up at 6am telling us we couldn't sleep there; however, a tour bus packed with eager whale watchers pulled in around that time. We arrived into Melbourne just after 3pm or so and went straight to Alex Sinclair's place (a long time and super Geneva Park friend). Did a little quick catch up, and headed out for dinner and a night on the town. Had a good couple of days hanging out with Alex and then missing my flight back to Canberra. So in Australia, friends can come beyond the security gate with you. We arrived at my departure gate and they said that the plane would be boarding in half an hour so we decided to sit at the bar just down the corridor and have a drink. Half an hour later we're back at the gate and everyone's gone...the lady there asked if I was who I was and then proceeded to tell me that I missed my flight. Karma. One of the guys we work with and was also in Melbourne hanging out with us missed his flight back earlier that day and we were razzing him about it. Alex and I couldn't help but laugh as we thought I would potentially miss my flight because we got to the airport late. So I caught a bus back...left at 9pm and arrived 7am.
The following few days I spent doing some reccie work. Headed out to some climbing, abseiling, camp, and hike spots that OB uses to check for risk management jazz, as well as to some new areas to see if they're useable. The courses here are pretty much all hiking...there's not too much water around. The whole 7 year drought thing in Canberra means that water is slightly scarce...and kinda scary if you ask me. Anyway, the hiking is all navigation based. No trails. Just map and compass. Because of the lack of water, groups have to hike in areas where we can drop water jugs off so food also gets dropped off. We only ever carry 2-3 days of food at a time before a drop off. The terrain in this area is still pretty burnt from the 2003 forest fires combined with lots boulders. The weather is ridiculously hot, averaging about 32 degrees most days. I've been warned by other instructors about early morning starts to avoid the heat of the day...sometimes starting as early as 3:30-4am. The nights cool off pretty nicely though.
I think the wildlife has been one of my favourite parts so far. I love walking outside in the morning and seeing kangaroos and wallabys bouncing across the field. Their legs and tails are amazingly strong. See them all the time while hiking too. Seen a few wombats and almost stepped in a few wombat holes. Seen two of Australia's finest and deadliest snake specimens...the Tiger Snake and the Yellow Bellied Black Snake...very comforting to see them while hiking. Kati and I ran into a possum one night in Brisbane. I still have yet to see a Koala; although, there are signs all over the roads telling people to slow down because of them...I think it's a tourist ploy honestly. The birds are by far my absolute favourite...the colours, the sounds...very cool. I keep saying this but I do need to do more research on them. The kukaburras sit and laugh at you like they know something you don't...they're definitely keeping secrets! There are white cockatoos and red-y/blue parrots that circle around quite often. I'm surprised my neck isn't sore as my head is always cranked upwards.
Wednesday I head out to the Snowies in Victoria to help set up the mobile base camp there and then work the first course. I'll be there till around the 24th and then back to the ACT base here in Tharwa. FYI...little communication access.
There's my update. Hope everyone is happy and enjoying the snow. Sending out some long distance love and good thoughts...
Location: Salavas, France
Hey dudes and dudettes - I'm a little on the absolutely horrible side of keeping this thing updated so if should I be so bold as to refer you to another website...I will. Marcus has been keeping a good tabs of 'what's going on' with some good pics. Will update soon though. In the meantime, check out...http://stuffhappenseveryday.blogspot.com. Like I said, will give you my thoughts, opinions, etc. soon! Later.
Location: Salavas, France
Day 20 and first entry from Salavas. The first few weeks were on the meh! side of things. The leaving one place and starting fresh somewhere else syndrome definitely kicked in and is petering off now. The Ardeche is absolutely beautiful! Very gorgeous and by that I mean gorges...and lots of them. Rocks and caves galore - great spots to explore. Staff and kids all sleep in vinyl-walk-in-tents...not together though. Behind my tent sits a rather large rock face wonderfully decorated with leafy trees and creeping vines. Life is pretty basic and everything is done outside...which I really like...even eating. The weather is just starting to pick up and is getting brighter by the day. T'was pretty chilly for a while and mornings are still rather brisk. For most people, the walk into town takes about 45 minutes to an hour and the scenery is most spectacular. However, for Marcus et moi - walks go on for a good couple hours it seems...we get very much distracted by the many vineyards and old stone houses and taking pictures.
Our first group, an international school from Germany, just left today. I had a lot of fun this week and was great to see the place up and running in full form after two weeks of training. I have gotten in some good paddling on the river and my solo boating is improving. Definitely having a blast with that. The water level is pretty low right now so much of the river is class one and easy twos. On our first staff 'grande descente' down the river, our breakfast was eaten by wild boars...that's right folks, you do not have to worry about bears in these parts because pigs are the only problem you will encounter. They also make for a good prank...planting bananas by peoples' sleeping bags not only makes the pigs go nuts but also the people trying to catch a little shut eye!
The way things work. Schools are typically here for 5-7 days and the kids have various activity periods. Half days are spent rock climbing, caving, canoeing, and going on a 'mini descente' of the river. One full day is spent gorge walking on a dried river bed - map reading, exploring nature, abseiling down small rock ledges, walking along rock ledges clipped in with rope and carabiners, and jumping into and swimming across water pools. There's a section on the walk where the group has the option of going through what is called 'the birthing hole'. Basically, you lie on top of a rock, angled down, face first, arms outstretched, and wiggle your way through a small hole to awaiting group members ready to receive you at the base of the rock. Slighty scary the first time but becoming a bit of pro star after my second time...although, I still need to figure out a way of keeping my pants on as I go thru...seems to be a reoccuring theme for me...I do have my bathing suit on underneath for all those inquiring minds. Addtionally, two days on spent on the 'grande descente' of the river...about 30 kms in total. Staff are split up - some leading the kids through the rapids and some acting as river team positioned throughout the rapids for safety. The entire school, including teachers and VC staff, go on these trips...a slight change to the way things are run at home...30-40 boats instead of 6...but it just seems to work here. The kids paddle these boats called 'Ardechois' - big plastic floating logs with grooved seats - heavy and awkward to carry but easy to flip over when kids dump.
The next group arrives tomorrow. I will be spending a good portion of the week familiarizing myself with the rock climbing sites and getting to know how they run the climbing here, as Neil (director) wants more people trained in specific areas. I was also asked to be the 'Healthcare Practitioner' for July - they do not have nurses here but someone with advanced level first aid to dole out medications and such...so that will be me. I will also be heavily involved in all the activities and act as support when needed. A different role for me and I think by that time the role will be a welcome change.
So there it is. I'm pretty tired and looking forward to spending the rest of the day relaxing, and taking a hot shower!
PS- address for the next three months: my name, c/o Village Camps, La Base du Cros, 07150 SALAVAS, France
Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Bonjour de Geneve!
I know. I got a lot to make up for. London was grand - saw the sites...did the tap dance around the city from the art galleries to the royal family dwellings. I think I needed more time to explore and maybe a bigger cash allowance. London definitely loves fashion and famousness...glamourama. Spent a few days with Charlotte and her wonderful family in Swindon, finishing off with the Tour de Londres...ie, the London Marathon...completing our own marathon that day just trying to keep up with Charlotte`s mother at various check points.
Met up with Jenn and Dave again and spent the last few days relaxing at their flat and meandering the streets of London. Spent a day with Leo, Mike, Raph, and a few other famous folks at the National Gallery - hugely huge and most spectacular collection of art. I would not mind having a few of those in my personal collection. Yoga-d with Jenn one night and discovered my lack of balance and gracefulness...giggling my way through...but a nice way to wind down the night.
The last few weeks in Tanzania were amazing. Got a ridiculously amazing tour of the country. The final few days of our trip finished in Arusha and Moshi. Arusha is beautiful - quite enjoyed my stay there. Charlotte and I visited the UN building and sat in on a criminal tribunal for the Rwanda genocide...a little late as the case started four years ago...but with a little help from our neighbours and the guards that worked there we were able to piece together a little more of what was going on.
From Arusha we headed to Moshi...typically the home base for tourists/hikers/climbers looking to venture to up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Charlotte and I spent the days walking around through the town and enjoying some good local coffee at our own private coffee shop just outside our hostel. We ran into a couple other Baal Foundation volunteers and hung out with them for our first night in Moshi. They were staying at the Moshi house that Kari owns - not so much a house as a mansion. We spent three nights in Moshi and on the third day Charlotte and I caught a dalladalla to Marangue (a town on the lower slopes of Kili and the Marangue trailhead for the easier Kili climb) to check out the Ndoro waterfall. When we arrived in Marangue we were welcomed by a plethora of shouting men all trying to escort us to the waterfall. With a little help from a few children on the bus and Frankie (our new friend) we were advised to stay on the bus a little while longer. Frankie guided us to the waterfall thru lush looking banana trees, forests, farmland, cattle-grazing fields, stream, etc. T`was quite a magnificient walk. We arrive at the `cultural centre`, received walking sticks, and made our way down the slippery mud/stone steps to the waterfall. Quite the trek down and even moreso on the way up - especially after months of no physical exercise. Picnicked lunched, sat in the freezing cold water, picture took, and then headed back. Needless to say, the theighs were a little sore the next day.
We caught a bus back to Dar es Salaam the next day and spent the weekend in Bagamoyo with Kristin, Douglas, Barnabus, and Desire. Hanging out by the beach, pool, internet, and at Baga Point (the little local establishment near to where we live). There were no more volunteers left in Bagamoyo when we arrived. Charlotte and I stayed with Mama Mlekwa and Mlekwa (one of Douglas` children`s home families) next door to Kristin and Douglas` house. Kristin gave us an update of GVN`s visit to Bagamoyo. Colin was wonderful and GVN proved to be extremely appologetic, understanding, and definitely wanting to make some changes. Kristin has written a proposal to GVN to have volunteers come through her instead of Baal...a most wonderful plan. Everything is still being sorted out; however, it appears as though everything the volunteers hoped for is coming true.
Currently, I`m in Switzerland. Met up with Marcus at the airport the day before yesterday. Had the most amazing lunch of delicious cheese and fresh bread yesterday. Figuring out what to do today and heading to France tomorrow to start work.
There`s my update. Hope spring is sprunging at home. Salut!