Friday 17 July 2009

Malawi Summer Team - Amrit on Week no.1

Since coming to Chitakale we have learned four things:

  • Do not measure your strength with that of an African man - you will be annihilated.
  • Mixing cement is the funnest thing in the world.
  • Fried lettuce goes really well with Macaroni.
  • And there is nothing quite as exhilarating as a game of football whilst the beautiful African sun sets beyond the hills.
The people of Chitakale are wonderful. Never have we seen children so pleased to see us; upon arrival kids and adults alike burst into song and kept singing for quite a while, even after we had been led to our accommodation. There are twelve of us on the Quest-Team, including the two intrepid and fearless leaders, (these are not my words) Charlie and Richard. We are living in a four room building - three rooms with beds and one which serves as a kitchen. There are ants everywhere, but they are not a great concern to us; we will wage war on them when the time is right. And we will emerge victorious.

Meals are eaten in a grass hut outside of the main building, which has also turned into the "chill-out" area; people chat and play cards under the bright light of the headlamps we wear religiously after sunset at five o'clock.

There is no electricity in Chitakale. Showers are simple buckets of water to be poured over ones head, toilets are made of holes in the ground. Surely Darwin's theory of evolution must be wrong, or man-kind would have evolved into a species capable of "doing their business" whilst standing instead of crouching. Going to the loo has never been such hard work. Girls keep on complaining about aim being difficult - I do not understand what they are talking about.

We wake at 7 a.m with the sun drenching the courtyard in great-gold and blood-red rays, and the cry of the cockrel (who we have sworn to eat by the end of the trip). After a porridge breakfast we wander on-site and work in the blazing heat untill tea-time at ten, served by Ida and her savvies. After tea, work continues untill lunch at twelve, and then again untill four, when the boys go off for the daily, after-work football session.

We are building a school. It is to be a simple construcion - two rooms and a roof, but it will suffice; expectations here are not high - thank God! It is incredible how quickly progress is made. We work with a group of builders and the community of Chitakale - who, with our incredibly talented leaders (I don't know where these comments keep coming from...), instruct us in the art of cement mixing and brick laying. It is very satisfying to look at a days work and realize that one has built half a wall. Work is hard, but we are happy to be doing it. All in all, we are having a great time and feel privileged to be here.

To finish, a couple of interesting facts about our little group here:-
  • We have eaten 10 kg of rice in a week.-
  • Sotiris is being called the Hulk.
  • The Hulk can do five times as much work as everyone else together in half the time.-
  • Kaiky was first to draw blood.
  • Sophie has been crowned "Big Momma".
  • I have been appointed the role of "Big Bwana" - (Big Boss).
  • Charlie and Richard think they are awesome (and so do we).
  • Bella brought the kids a whole bag of toys!
  • Elise has yet to have her first bowel movement.
  • Miriam broke one of the walls we built.
  • There is a beard-growing contest on the run. Richard is in the lead, but I think I will catch up soon.

We will keep you up to date as to how the war on the ants goes.

Amrit Thind - 17th July 09

Thursday 16 July 2009

Malawi Summer Team - Start building with enthusiasm!

The Malawi summer team have started the construction of the classroom in Chitakale village. With 5 weeks of mixing cement, laying bricks, spreading lime, plastering, painting, digging and carrying ahead of them they have set about their task with enthusiasm. The foundations were in place prior to the team's arrival into Malawi and everything was ready for construction to begin on Tuesday. The hard work of the Quest team and the local volunteers and builders has meant that on 3 sides of the classroom the walls are already up to window height - a great achievement for just two days work.

During the coming weeks the team will also be working closely with the orphaned children by helping out at local feeding centres, youth groups and schools.

More updates on the team's progress to come soon!

Monday 13 July 2009

Kenya Summer Team Get To Work

The type of sand dam that the Kenya team and local community begin constructing today!

The Kenya summer team are rolling up their sleeves and getting down to work today on the first sand dam of the project. They are working with 55 community members of the Munthi self help group and between them will go through 170 bags of cement during the construction. The entire dam should be built in 3-4 days - a fantastic achievement.

Keep your eyes peeled here for more updates and photos of the Kenya team's work!

Friday 3 July 2009

Bolivia Summer Team, toilets, dogs and buses!

Journey to the Heart of South America - Bolivia-ya-ya-ya:Coral had about 2 minutes to get to the gate to catch the flight to Madrid and had to make a quick decision to throw away Jonjon's kind gift of cheese first out of fear of being fined or arrested once we reached Miami. Needless to say this did not greatly please Matt who is suffering from Cathedral City deprivation. Luckily we were easily distracted by several plastic fish displays, a lifesize model of a giraffe and a sauce bottle labelled Chillie Willy for it to really register that we had to wait 10 hours at miami airport!

But when we did actually get on the plane, finally, we were granted with the emergency seats, extra leg room, yes! However the flight attendant also asked if the passenger next to you died would you be comfortable pulling off the emergency doors in a disaster! A little bit daunting to say the least! Well Coral´s bag did not arrive in La Paz with Alice´s. Due to her stupidity while packing, she had to borrow a pair of Alice´s pants although she had packed a pair of 3 inch heels in her hand luggage! Dangerous weapon? Maybe, but American Airlines, didn't seem to mind.

After suffering all that flying and headaches from the altitude in La Paz we can safely say we were a bit apprehensive about a 22 hour bus ride through the mountains. But we were soon greeted with the most amazing views of the mountains, and literally driving through the clouds! so luckily, us being easily amused and cameras in hand the ride actually turned out to be quite entertaining. that said until we reached the first toilet stop. Well Coral thought that the toilets at Download Festival were the worst in the world but quickly changed her mind when she had to wee in a hole surrounded by other women watching!!! So apart from the toilets and the gang of machette and axe weilding roadworkers that hopped on at one point (but were actually quite friendly), the ride wasn´t nearly as bad as we thought it would be!

While walking around Rurrenabaque in the search of dogs to feed out left over banana bread to, we came across a dog which Matt recognised (and the dog recognised Matt) who had lived at one of the animal sanctuaries. So we promptly made a big fuss of her and fed her our banana bread (just before it started to poor with rain)!

Fortunately the sun has returned now (typical, now that we're in an internet cafe!) and all is set to enter Jacj Cuisi early tomorrow morning to start on our hardcore construction-ing for the next week.Wish us luck and we'll be in contact again once Murray is Wimbledon champion (lets hope that doesn't take him another 70 odd years!)

Ambue Ari summer group 09.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Yachana Team on their Expedition

Four weeks summarised in one page - here we go!

We fled the torrential downpours of the rainforest, returning to civilisation in Quito for a few days before our flight to Lima to begin the Expedition Phase. On arrival in Lima we were met by Rob, our new leader, who strangely resembled our old leader Tim with his long hair and beard! In Lima we checked out the Villa Maria project which seemed to be doing some very valuable work in the area. We took a bus to Pisco which was still rebuilding itself after the recent earthquake there. From here we visited the Ballestas Islands which was teeming with sealions, cormorants and dolphins. Later on we went to the Huacachina oasis for dune buggying and sandboarding. The following day we took a flight in a little Cessna over the Nazca lines – we were all impressed by the scale and intricacy of these huge images. We finished the day camping in a beautiful spot on the beach at Puerto Inka, lighting a bonfire to see in Jamie´s 19th!

From here, we picked up a bus-cama and took it down the coast on the Pan-American Highway to Arequipa, the “White City”. Here we prepared for our first trek in the Colca Canyon, the second deepest in the world. The first day we descended all the way to the canyon floor, following this with an easy three hour walk to an oasis on the second. We relaxed here before the big climb back out of the canyon the next day!

On our return to Arequipa, Rob treated us to a delicious meal at a French restaurant with ostrich steaks all round. Later that night we sampled the local nightlife with drinks by the “bucket full”. On our last day in Arequipa we checked out the latest Terminator film before taking a night bus out of Peru to Arica, Chile… we´ll be back. From here it was onto San Pedro de Atacama, a peaceful little town nestling in the foothills of the Andes, where we did some horse-riding (or in Jamie´s case, fresian cow-riding!)
We started our salt flats adventure early the next day, crossing into Bolivia and spending three days admiring the lagoons, hot springs, geysers and accompanying wildlife. From Uyuni, the end-point of the tour, we took a night bus to La Paz. During our stay, we ice climbed on nearby Huanya Potosi , cycled The World´s Most Dangerous Road (where Sophie took a small tumble!) and ate some disgustingly large pizzas.
We then embarked on our second trek of the trip, along the Choro Trail, which took us from snow capped mountains down into the warm lush cloud forest around Coroico. After two full days of gorging at the buffet and sweating in the sauna, and a comically bad 15 hour bus journey, we arrived in Rurrenabaque. From here we visited both The Madidi National Park and the Pampas. Here we saw some incredible wildlife - monkeys, caiman, pink river dolphins, birds of all shapes and sizes and the all-important Rufescent Tiger-Heron! Along the way we celebrated both Kat and Gabi´s birthdays in fine Bolivian style, leaving them thoroughly egged and floured! We were also challenged to two games of football, winning the first 14 – 6 and narrowly losing the second 3 – 2, despite some fine saves from our resident ninja Tim! We also spent a day working at Jacj Cuisi, the new Inti Wara Yassi animal park, clearing land for the new comedor.

As we write, we are anxiously awaiting our 16 hour return journey to La Paz, from where we will visit Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu (via the Inca Trail). More adventures await…

Thursday 11 June 2009

Tanzania GAP 2009 video is here!

Malawi GAP Team - Lucy & Gasche´s Mozambique update

Everyone was excited to leave Maputo & head up to Tofo - even a 4am bus ride didn´t dampen spirits! On arrival we headed straight for the beach for a spot of sunbathing & swim, as well as a glass of Tipo Tinto - the local rum. Wednesday was the start of our dive course at Diversity Scuba which was spent watching thrilling educational DVDs & learning skills in the pool, before venturing into the big blue ocean on Thursday! Everyone came back from the first dive very enthaustatic & ready to celebrate Katherine´s (real) birthday! The theme was ´white trash´which involved fake stubble, plenty of trucker hats & several banana cocktails!

On our next dive some of us were lucky enough to see a manta ray swimming among the many tropical fish, but nevertheless there was still plenty to see including some moray eels, angelfish, lionfish (who Katherine had a v.close encounter with) and an octopus.

Saturday bought more hard work in the classroom, skills in the pool, an ocean dive and for some of us the final exam! The full-moon party in the evening was a perfect end to the day. There were also a few surprises throughout the night...!!! - including a visit from Bruce Gold (Dumbledore,) who Gasche was v.excited about!

On Monday, as Katherine & Me (Lucy) set off on the boat for our final dive, most people took the opportunity to top up their tans & enjoy some tasty food at Aunty Bea´s. Baptiste, Sinead & Charlie took to the waves with a private surf lesson to which they proved to be naturals & Kirsty came face to face with a whale shark!

For the final night we dressed up in our patterned trousers which we purchased from the local market & entered ourselves into a local quiz. A fun night was had by all, Amber, Sarah, Geri & Soph continued to party into the early hours of the morning at Dinos, before the 4am bus back to Maputo.

We all had a fantastic week & can´t wait to return to Tofo in the future! Thanks guys!

Volunteer in Africa 2010!

Monday 8 June 2009

Malawi GAP Team - Completed Clinic House Photos!

Congratulations to all the Malawi GAP team who worked extremely hard during their project phase to complete the construction of a clinic house - their efforts have definitely paid off. The lack of facilities for clinic staff has meant good doctors are reluctant to move to the area. The new house will provide much needed accommodation and facilities for doctors and nurses at the clinic, ensuring better quality health care for the local community. Check out the photos below!!

The completed house!

Sophie and Amber working hard to put the finishing touches to the house interior.

The clinic in Pensulo, built by Quest Overseas last year.

And in a break from the building work...Becky sporting Quest Team colours during a netball match with the local school...stylish!

Volunteer on Malawi GAP in 2010 or during the summer!

Monday 1 June 2009

Malawi GAP Team - project finished, 1st stop Swaziland!

We came, we saw, and we conquered the mounds of bricks until it became the house that Quest built. Our final few days in Pensulo, Malawi saw us sweeping the floors and adding those last licks of paint, not to mention being lovingly smothered by children for almost the last time. It wasn’t easy ignoring the urge to pull a Madonna!
The building shown here midway through the project, finished pics to come!

Our last evening wasn’t complete without our favourite beans and rice feast and a celebratory (and absolutely necessary) silent disco at the fully-fledged house, iPods in, whatever song we wanted, and dancing shoes on!

The last day began with one last fun yet fierce game of netball and football, and we walked away champions, both teams decked out with state-of-the-art and highly coveted bottle top medals!
By the afternoon, we were sent off with song and dance, feeling bittersweet about leaving what came to be home, but itching to begin our travels!

Into notorious Johannesburg airport we flew, where we welcomed our last addition to the group, comeback Kirsty, and set off by bus to Swaziland.

At Sondzelas backpackers lodge we indulged ourselves with horse riding, mountain biking and the like, being the super active people we are. No less than two days and it was Kirsty’s birthday, and her real one at that! We partied it up with table tennis and songs around the campfire, occasionally belting out our signature tune ‘5 Years Time’, much to the appreciation of our fellow sleep-riddled backpackers. "It’s not the music, not the singing, it’s the screeching!’
Soon enough, the time came for the most strenuous part of the expedition; the trek.

pictured from left to right; Katherine, Becky, Geri, Baptiste, Becky, Sophie and Amber

We started off on the right track, but soon strayed with inexperienced map-readers at the helm and sliding down a valley on our backsides. Not quite the plan! But with Lizzie the indestructible using her arms to beat those branches to a pulp, we were out of there in no time.

The trek came to a close with us exhausted, but no time to rest because Gasche’s fake birthday demanded a mighty celebration! Presents, a gossip girl card and a sinful chocolate cake meant that the birthday girl would be the envy of all Upper East Siders, a queen bee for the day. Having left Sondzelas in the Malkerns, we headed towards Shewula mountain camp across the country, to a beautiful view and actual, real beds!

Swaziland, it’s been wonderful. Mozambique, watch out! - Sinead and the Malawi Quest crew

Volunteer in Malawi this Summer or GAP 2010!

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Tanzania GAP 2009 Expedition photos!

As the Malawi team set off on an incredible six week adventure through 5 countries I thought it was time to take a look at what the Tanzania GAP team got up to:

Country No.1 - Swaziland
Although heavy rainfall prevented the team from wild camping, they still managed to trek far into Malolotja reserve.

Almost deserted Malolotja lies on the border of Swaziland and South Africa. A prestine wilderness that appears to go on forever....

Country No.2 - Mozambique
First stop is the Capital of Maputo where the team enjoyed a fresh fish supper at the local fish market. Tiger prawns as long as your arm!

Onto the dive course. Many of the team were diving for their first time and all past there PADI open water. Freddie can't wait to get down and experience 6m wide mantas!

Other activities included burrying James on Tofo's prestine beaches.

Country No.3 - South Africa
The team wearing extremely fetching hard hats, boiler suits and gum boots are ready to pot hole!

White water river tubing in high water, adrenaline anyone?

Country No.4 - Botswana
Mostly desert the team were lucky enough to visit in the wet season and see the vast salt pans semi-submerged. A glistening white expanse as far as the eye can see.....

Onto Africa's largest in land Delta, silently drifing along the water ways of the Okavango. 2 nights camping with the animals and walking through the bush.

The team come very close to elephants while on the safari in Chobe National park. This spot was just metres from where they were camping!

County No.5 - Zambia

Jumping 111m and experiencing the falls in flood made the perfect end to an incredible expedition!

Volunteer on any of our GAP projects in Africa in 2010 and experience some of the amazing sights and activities that this diverse continent has to offer.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Yachana Team Update from the Amazon Basin

From deep within the Ecuadorian Amazon

As we write, we are cowering in the foetal position near the bank of the Napo river, silently but desperately hoping that we do not become prey to an approaching anaconda. Just kidding.

Seriously, the three weeks we have spent in the Yachana in the Ecuadorian Amazon have been an assault on the senses, surpassing our every expectation. The transition to jungle life was less than smooth to begin with. Specifically, waking up in the middle of the night proved difficult for the first week or so but we have now settled into a routine.

Sam wakes us up just after 5am and half an hour later we are trekking through dense rainforest on our daily commute to the technical college. Breakfast is at 6am and is unfailingly some combination of rice, beans, plantain and yuca. We then help in one of the practical classes, either micro enterprise, agriculture, tourism or animal husbandry, until 10am. We use "help" in the loosest sense of the word, as in reality is the students who end up helping us! Occasionally we will then refuel with a fried snack.

It is now that our real work begins. Save for a break for lunch - usually a slight variation on breakfast - we spend the rest of the day working on our project. In essence, this is to build a greenhouse enclosing a raised plant bed that will protect vegetation from flood damage. The project is intense and, when we´re not working on it directly, we are either carrying huge planks of wood or digging up and then carrying enormous sacks of soil. Moreover, on the first day, Gabi was unwittingly lured into teaching an English class, an activity which we now take turns to do for a couple of hours each day.

Evenings are usually spent relaxing and doing very little, testament to the physically demanding nature of the work. Dinner is usually a slight variation on lunch! If we´re feeling slightly wild, we might even pay a visit to ¨Club Mondaña¨, a small hut that provides a winning combination of beer, pool and oreos, if little else.

It is impossible to adequately condense the highlights of the past few weeks into a few short paragraphs. What we can say is that our time here has given us an ability to adapt and to meet new and varied challenges. Travelling by dugout canoe on an almost daily basis is an incredible experience, evoking indescribable feelings. Twice we have tubed down the Napo river. On our second trip, what normally involves simply floating down the river on tyres turned into an adventure, which saw us dragged by the current in the wrong direction, hitting trees, rocks and who knows what else and Tim almost breaking his leg. We´ve eaten a meal of ¨jungle bacon¨ (palm heart larvae) and ¨jungle spinach¨(stinging nettles), witnessed students, with almost no prior knowledge of English, complete full sentences after a single lesson, and seen our own fitness improve immeasurably.

Expedition phase, here we come!

Monday 18 May 2009

You wait 2 weeks and then they all come at once. Bolivia Team Exped part 2

The leading team leader group in quest history started well with an awesomely organized ice climbing session, where the bo$$ aka orlando succumbed to altitude sickness and lagged disappointingly behind. Quite frankly we expected more!
Free day in la paz was good. Dumbos is the best ice cream shop ever! Just ask Tabs.
The following day we went to copacabana in a bus. Then we went to isla del sol in a boat, then we went to bed in a bed.
Sunsets are awesome, so are sunrises. We saw both so everyone was chuffed to bits.
Lake Titicaca is extraordinary, I mean extra - ordinary, swimming in it is cold but what an experience! (It’s the highest navigable lake in the world).
Sally looked awful on the boat ride back. I think she felt sick. But you can never tell with that one.

When we got back to copacabana we snacked and then bussed it to Puno, via a sweet border crossing. Got to Puno and had supper in an Italian restaurant. Post supper a few sprightly characters headed to the cake shop and unfortunately paid the price the following day, vomit-wise, making the reed islands less than jokes.
Bussed it to Arequipa which was standardly mediocre.
Got there and had supper and then headed to deja vu, the joyride of Arequipa.
Prep day for the trek was a riot, everyone chipped in and everything was listo.
Got up early for the colca canyon trek and headed to cabanaconde. First day we headed down to the bottom of the canyon, crossed the notorious colca river, and reached camp well inside time. The ´chefs´ cooked some great pasta pomodoro and then we kipped down for the night.
Woke up bright and early and trekked high and low to the next stop off point, the luxurious oasis hostel. Sunbathing was the only thing on the cards and was made all the more pleasant by the cool (please note the double entendre) swimming pool with picturesque waterfalls.
Had another early night after an awful lemon bready tuna lunch but great powdered mash with fried frankfurters. Scrumptious!
Got up at 3am and climbed out in record time, 3 hours and 27 mins and 42 seconds, not that we were counting, arriving back in Cabanaconde to find banananananana pancakes and yoghurt drink on the menu. bussed it back to arequipa via the thermal springs, which were nice, but it was generally agreed that 39 degrees is a bit too hot for a nice bath. 38 is better.

Got back to Arequipa and had a celebratory meal out before hitting deja vu again, and again and again. Another satisfactory evening.
We have now had two free days chilling in Arequipa, which some people made more of than others. Basically everyone did useful stuff like climbing and horse riding. deja vu again featured in the evenings again.

And so now we are handing over to the second leaders, which doesn’t excite anyone - at all.

What happens on trek, stays on trek.

Boliva Expedition Update.

Having survived the colca canyon we were rewarded with a couple of days at the beach; we swam, ate and sunbathed (some of us a bit too much). In typical group style it took a whole day to prepare a barbecue but it was well worth it in the end. Our next stop was the legendary nazca lines, an experience enjoyed by all except fred, whose stomach was not quite up to the turbulent landing. Fortunately we were able to relax at the pool in Huacachina despite the presence of some rather rotund characters. As the sun began to set we raced across the dunes rollercoaster-style in two sand buggies. Most people were fairly competant on the practice sand-boarding slope, with the exception of Harry, who managed to roll the whole way down. After a beautiful sunset we had one final ride and then returned to the hostel for a wonderful meal. The next morning, sore and stiff, we took a boat to the Islas Ballestas (the 'poor mans Galapagos') to look at A LOT of sea lions, penguins and birds. There was a fairly pungent smell lingering and for once it was neither Barney's farts nor Fred's feet. Later that day we had to say goodbye to Johnny our private bus driver in Pisco on route to Lima. Our afternoon in Lima was spent indulging in the finest of Western traditions - bowling and cinema, before taking a luxury night bus to Huaraz the Peruvian trekking Mecca. While Sarah commenced an 8 day career as team nurse with Orlando, the others went on the first of two acclimatisation walks. At the end of the walk we were met by Orlando and Sarah for a surprise bridge swing.

Everyone managed to do it even though some needed more persuasion than others. The second walk turned into a high altitude game of 40-40 thanks to a conveniently placed land slide. Our next adventure was The Huayhuash Circuit, minus two (Harry and therefore Sarah), and Giardia proved too much for Hattie and we lost her at our first campsite in Llamac. Whilst that was a tough loss to bare we did win our first football match against foreign opposition. The trek started with a 4300m pass which was followed by a 4 hour hike downhill to our 2nd campsite; Matt was somewhat slowed down by the prescence of Gringo (the ambulance horse). We woke up the next morning to frozen tents and yet another porridge and raison delight. Fortunately this day only consisted of a day walk so the tents did not have to come down, and we made our way up to the first lake. Sadly this is where we lost Fred, but the rest of us soldiered on to the second lake at 4900m. After much encouragement we made it up to 5000m a milestone in treking especially for Orlando who had salmonella. Having frolicked in the snow we made our way back to camp on route picking up a freezing Fred. Our penultimate day saw us climb out of the valley up to a pass of 4700m. The final day was a "short" 4 hours back to Llamac where we met our buses back to Huaraz. After a day of extreme canyoning and dog rescuing we had our 'Xtreme' leaving party, which left the bar without a significant portion of its glasses, thanks to Harry's Coyote Ugly-style acrobatics. And that concluded Phase 2 of our expedition - next stop: Huanchaco...

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Malawi GAP Team - Food, work and play, in that order!

*****Warning the following blog entry depicts scenes of killing animals and may not be suitable for readers of a sensitive disposition*****

After a particularly eventful but hilarious prank week, the group eagerly embraced secret friend week. Everyone showed off their ingenuity and gifts included a fire bolt broomstick with accompanying snitch, a tennis court, a full drum kit, poems, chocolate, banoffi pie, and of course more chocolate.

Whilst we were performing random acts of kindness for our fellow human folk, our feathered friends were not so lucky. Yes, this week we dispatched our two chickens, Harry and Hermione. Katherine and Baptiste performed the actual throat cutting, whilst the rest of the group stood back and watched in a mixture of awe, admiration and slight hysteria. Baptiste's decision to throw the lifeless and bloodied chicken head into a crowd of screaming girls didn't really help.

Katherine's swift wrist action was particularly effective, however as she let go of the (seemingly) lifeless body we witnessed an actual chicken running with its head cut off, as it back flipped into the rubbish pit. Any feelings of remorse or guilt were extinguished as we sat down later to a delectable meal of chicken, chapattis, rice and salsa.

On the work front we had an exceptionally busy week. Along with the usual leveling and painting around the site, the group ventured into the local surrounding schools, participating in life skills lessons and sports coaching. Being back in classrooms seemed to be too much for the elders of the group some of whom (Katherine and Sarah) had to be reprimanded by everyone's favourite teacher, Mary. All was forgiven though when the group whipped out a raucous rendition of Katy Perry's "Hot'N'Cold", always a crowd pleaser. The performance was a huge success, no doubt because of some people's temporary amnesia to the fact that they can't actually dance.

On Wednesday, the local youth group came round for an afternoon of mendazis (small fried dough balls), games and dancing. It was a roaring success and was followed by Charlie showing off her impressive poi skills and local kids Lamion and William very much upstaging us all on the secret friend drum kit. We are bereaved to report a lack of everyone's favourite game "Splat" from the afternoon's events, but there’s always a next time.

On Thursday afternoon we were invited to the house of our friend Mark to meet his family and see his home. Even a short walk around the local village bears resemblance to the Pied Piper. We tend not to mind though; in fact we're sure we'll find it hard to adjust to the general lack of roaring fans when we return home. Although the weather was somewhat tempestuous, a fun time was had by all. Mark's mother led a prayer, blessing the group and Mark showed us his home and spoke to us about his life and hopes for the future. One of Mark's neighbours allowed us to try wrapping her baby in a chitenga around our backs - the traditional Malawian way, which turned out to be harder than it looks! The afternoon ended with a sharing of sodas, and of course a song and dance session - would our day be complete without it, we think not. We are not yet disheartened by the fact that most African toddlers have more rhythm than all of us combined, we've in fact learned to just embrace it.

This week, groups of 2 have been going to the Quest bakery, just outside our home to bake the morning's bread, with everyone's favourite baker, Lucy. It is a talent we are yet to master, with Lucy often forming entire rows of rolls in the time it takes us to complete one individual roll, but hey, who's counting? This has, however been of no detriment to the taste factor, exemplified by the inhalation of hot peanut butter rolls every break time.

The feeding centre is still running smoothly, although the ladies have stopped asking us to recite Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes to the children. We take no offence at this, admitting it’s probably a good idea for all members of the group to get the actions down pat before we scar a generation of Malawians. As the project continues, it is nice for the group to get to know the kid's personalities much better, although we know we may have to restrain some from pulling a Madonna when we leave in 10 days.

Regular readers of our blog may have picked up on the fact that we are a group that likes to eat, often implementing a no judgment rule at meal times. Saturday morning was of course, no exception. Taking a devil may care attitude as our arteries were permanently blocked; we tucked into Katherine's Quesadillas of Joy- an intoxicating concoction of left over chapatti, marshmallow, peanut butter and chocolate.

There was unanimous agreement that Saturday's breakfast was a potentially divine experience.
This week the group has also begun to coach the sports teams of rival schools to varying degrees of success. On the netball front, some have struggled to come to grips with the no running rule, but then again that’s hardly essential. On the football front, many of the local kids have been showing us up with their skills, but none of them can claim to have an international player in their ranks (thanks Sinead!).
Whilst one group had a very successful training, complete with netball skirts and marked courts, the other group had slight issues with the netball hoops that had to be held above ground, making accurate shots that much more difficult. Nonetheless, there is already a healthy rivalry brewing, which is sure to come to an exciting head in the coming weeks.

As a lovely and civilized end to the week, the group was invited to Molly's Gran's house (Granny Dora) for a big Sunday lunch. Some of us particularly Charlie, were overwhelmed just at being inside a 'real' house with a beautifully set table, roaring log fire and everyone's favourite amenity - flushing toilets! Sylvia joined us for a scrumptious lunch of beef and chicken lasagna, salads, chocolate cake, custard meringue tart, mince pie biscuits, cream and ice-cream. It is safe to say that everyone was subtly unbuttoning the top button of their trousers to allow room for their 'food babies'. From the dining room, we waddled the five metres to the living room, where we drowsily relived our childhoods (or in Sarah's case, her childhood, adolescence and Uni years) through Disney's "The Lion King", "Hercules" and the beginnings of "Aladdin". We can all safely say it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and a perfect end to a perfect week!


Monday 11 May 2009

Malawi GAP Team Clinic House update 11-05-2009

Amazing progress has been made by the Malawi team on the first clinic house. The new house is the first step in getting excellent doctors and nurses into the rural village of Pensulo. Before the clinic was built with the help of Quest Overseas and the royal bank of Scotland pregnant women had to walk up to 8 miles for medical care.

The team have worked alongside the community and have just a few finishing touches left to complete the build. They have also been helping out at the local feeding centre's and primary schools as well as preparing for final celebrations before heading off to Swaziland to start the expedition.

Long term it is these orphans and underprivilaged children who will benefit from the work of Joshua Orphan Care and Quest Overseas volunteers.

Volunteer in Malawi - Summer 5 weeks, GAP 2010

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Sophie Throsby Malawi Gap Update

After another week of mixing cement, plastering, brick carrying and painting we were meant to head to Lake Malawi, but due to the non-African weather we had to replace it with the second best idea- Food Weekend! This involved eating cereal in the internet café, pizza for lunch, ice cream, chips, sweets, more ice cream, pizza and crisps. We ended Saturday with a “Hobo party” and many games of mafia, Ring of Fire, and Geri dancing the night away!

Monday marked the start of “Prank Week” which brought on ruthless pranks including boxer short scavenger hunts, toad showers, bricks in beds and locking our leader Sarah in her room.

On a more productive note we spent Wednesday and Thursday helping out in the local schools. Wednesday was spent with the younger children, teaching them colours and numbers, whilst Thursday was spent at the secondary school, playing games and teaching cultural exchange.

Friday was an exciting day, as we set off for Cape Maclear, although we did have to wait 2 hours for the bus to turn up. After setting up camp at the water’s edge, watching the sun go down, and taking advantage of hot showers and flushing toilets, we had dinner and drinks and the night began. We brought the party to Gecko Lounge, dancing through the entrance and creating our own dance space. As the night wore on, some chose food and sleep, whilst others chose to make their musical debut, singing and dancing Bob Marley on stage….to a crowd of 3 (although those involved insist that the crowd swelled significantly at their arrival).

Saturday was spent sunbathing and participating in Mole-led aqua aerobics in the lake. After waiting over two hours for lunch, a brave and daring 7 (Katherine, Soph, Saz, Mole, Gash, Geri and Baptiste), chose to conquer the short swim to a nearby island. The first leg was enjoyable, spent gazing at the myriad of tropical fish, or in Geri’s case, impersonating beached whales on the rocks (Ida). Once the courageous swimmers returned, we celebrated Baptiste’s (fake) birthday in true Malawian style with freshly caught lake fish, cooked over an open beach fire. For desert we had more Powers and marshmallows, while the local children sang and played homemade instruments. Amber led a class in the ways of the worm, and we sadly report that whilst Saz got an ‘A’ for effort, she unfortunately was not successful.

We were all very sad to leave on Sunday, but the seven hour journey was nothing if not eventful and involved extreme eating of beans and rice (the group’s favourite meal), hard boiled eggs bought through the windows of gas stations and pot holes the width of the road itself. Throughout the journey the bus seemed to be plagued by a mysterious and pungent fishy smell, the source of which could not be found until we unloaded the bus where we discovered an ungodly enormous bag of day old fish (belonging to the driver who had neglected to tell us of our fishy guests) under the seats. We were all relieved to know that for once, the smell was not us!

Monday 27 April 2009

Vm Expedition from Chile to Bolivia

We started off our first adventure within the jungle sporting our EXTREMELY attractive jungle shirts, with the best shirts definitely going to Emma, and Fred, with Emma´s looking like a grandmothers table cloth and set of curtains, and Fred looking like a 75yr old man attempting to look young and play golf! Rob´s shirt would have been in the running had it not been on him, as it happens, the plad actually suits him (hillbilly). The journey was literally one of the most enjoyable journeys that we have had since being in South America, it was flat and breezy, with lots of sights! what more could you want except maybe Pimms?!

we arrived at the ecolodge, with none of us knowing what to expect, and it has to be said, our expectations werent high when we saw the tiniest little dingy waiting there to take us across to the ecolodge, and the hurrendously deep mud we had to endure to get to the dingy. when we got there and saw our rooms the mood was very much lifted and positive despite the sweltering heat, and the amount of insects flying around! we had an amazing lunch while it poured down with rain. after lunch we went for a "walk" in Robs eyes, definitely not for the rest of us, anything longer than 1 hour classifies as a hike!! it ended up being 3 hours, with many a funny moment seeing a 5ft 3" bolivian man carrying a 6ft 5" LAZY english boy (Fred). i can safely say though we have seen enough trees, and plants to save us a lñife time, and we thought that the rest of the time would be focused on animals, oh how wrong we were....

the second day in the jungle meant that the groups split up and walked on seperate trails and were going to meet up and go swimming afterwards. Emily´s group went further up, whilst Rob´s group stayed lower down. on the way to the jungle, we saw a Jaguar, much to Robs amusement! what made it worse was that the least jungle person ever (me) spotted it! after spotting the jaguar we were on a high, however that soon fell flat on its face with all of the plants and birds being pointed out to us! Robs group also had an eventful time with the quick mud, with Sophie ending up waist deep in it (so knee height for everyone else), and Debbie losing a few inches off her height as well!! all was ok with Alexander swooping in and sweeping them both off their feet, much to all of the other girls amusement! we finally met at the river with both groups exchanging storied whilst enduring the surprising rapids that "just appeared"! some of us also went on an afternoon trek to find the porku-pigs (correct terminology ofcourse), however that wasnt as successful as planned, however it was definitely worth it to see a slightly over cocky quest leader fall in thousands and thousands of pigs poo, and then proceeding to complain about it for a while, mentioning no names... Rob!!!!

the next morning was an early start as we travelled on to the pampas, much to everyones excitement as this meant we could see more animals without actually having to leave the boats!!! the morning boat ride back was really nice and we saw some amazing sights, after that we had a 3 and a 1/2 hour jeep ride to the pampas, and let me tell you, words cannot describe just how rediculously bumpy that "main road" was, even in a 4x4 with questionable suspension! we eventually arrived at the river and got on the boats to be greated by some pink river dolphins in the background! it was an amazing sight! we arrived at the other eco lodge and had lunch and then had an afternoon swim with the dolphins which wasnt as delightful and relaxing as first anticipated! everyone entered the water with anticipation, with emma and i being greated by a soaking from an unsuspecting dolphin behind us! other people swam with dolphins and had a great time, we also had people getting bitten on the feet, and on one occasion the leg! other than that, everyone had an amazing time!

the next day went down river and admired all of the wildlife along the river, which was spectacular! it was extremely hot and some people started to get heat stroke but we saw lots of monkeys and birds, i think its safe to say that the leaders and the guides saw a lot more birds than us but due to our reactions from them pointing out the birds, they decided against showing us anymore than they had to! we also so a capy bara, much to everyones excitement! it was definitely a highlight! in the afternoon we swam with the dolphins again, with no blood being drawn! in the evening it was emmas birthday and she had the nice surprise of a bolivian tradition of an egg and flour cracked and poured over her head! none of us have any idea why, we did get told, but none of us understood! she also had the biggest cake i have seen in a while!

the next day we left bloody early to go anaconda hunting! that was DEFINITELY the most well spent time, we saw 5 anacondas.... NOT! we walked for what seemed like a year without any sightings of any snakes! we did however see more capy bara´s and camen!! we then had lunch and headed back to Rurranabaque... OH JOY! a mutual feeling throughout the group!

the next day saw a rude and unusual awakening for one member of the group as it was his birthday (Freddie), he was greated by Emma and I cracking egg and pouring flour over his head! after that, a few of us, Rob, Emily,Tom, Fred, Sarah, Sophie and I, went to the animal enclosure on the otherside of the river where the Bolivia group had been helping out. when we arrived there we went straight away to see the most adorable baby spider monkey everywhere! we all got a chance to hold her, a DEFINITE birthday highlight for one, and a highlight for he rest of us! after that we trekked around the enclosure, admiring the work of the bolivian group, with all of us realising that we definitely chose the best project as it hadthe least manual labour! in the afternoon we went out onto the road, ready to hitch hike a ride back to Rurranabaque, 3hours went by with about 2 full cars going past, and us passing the time playing the name game! by about 4 or 5 hours of waiting we resorted to Ceibo (96% alcohol) to relieve the pain of waiting and to celebrate Freddie´s birthday! not to worry parents it was "watered down"! it got to 11:30 with no sign of any cars coming past or any way of us getting back that night so we called it a night and stayed in the house. the others however did manage to celebrate fred´s birthday without him, or us! apparently they had an amazing time, with a few people enjoying themselves slightly too much!

the next morning those of us who were stranded in the jungle got up at 5 to go and wait by the road for hopefully a car or anything to take us back as we had a flight to catch! ourt waiting paid off and we hitched a road on the back of a log lorry, the funniest sight was definitely us all trying to climb up the back of this lorry! once on the lorry, and EXTREMELY slowly, but surely making our way back in poured with rain, in true jungle style! we made it back to find a relieved bunch of people and that our flight had been delayed, much to everyones dismay! this meant we celebrated freddie´s birthday in rurranabaque, its quite the experience! everyone had a great night, especially the birthday boy!!!

the next morning we were up bright and breezy to catch our plain back to La Paz, it turns out that the rain saved us, because otherwise we would have missed our flight! we turned up to the "airport" which was a shack in the middle of this field, and then flew back to La Paz, i can safely say that we have never been so relieved to be back in La Paz!

Vm expedition From Peru into Chile

Arrived in Chile and decided that Arica was the Chilean equivalent of Slough. Sat around being shat on by birds and eating lots of icecream..things got worse (!) when we were rudely awoken by Chilean border control deciding it was necessary for us to take our bags off and back on the bus at 2 am for no apparent reason!
Some of us did horse-riding in San Pedro. Having decided that the Spanish names for the horses were rubbish, we renamed them Walter, Kevin, Chuck, Daisy (which turned out to be a bloke - nice one Debbie!), Arnold and Jeremy. We all headed off to watch the sunset, where a random German lady knew about the sunset than Rob. Crossed the border into Bolivia, which was a wooden hut. After Rob's hilarious April Fool's, pretending the bus had broken down we headed to our jeeps. Tom, with an oscar-winning performance, convinced Emily that due to his financial situation would have to leave Quest - even managing to shed a few tears!
The first few days were spent checking out the Dali rocks, lakes, flamingoes and Rob falling off rocks. All American Climbing Team, my arse! On the first day we bathed in the hot springs. Although we consider ourselves pretty offensive tourists, we were put to shame by a guy in pink sunglasses who is now called the pink penis (three guesse why!). On the second day we saw the geizers (hot spots in the earth) and a volcano. It was such a nice change to have people cooking for us after the hot chocolate debacle in the Colca Canyon. We also renamed our group Qwestside..and so began Qwestside Story...
Girls and boys became two warring factions as to who would ride in the nice jeep to the salt flats the next morning. The boys concocted a plan of pure genius (Fred's opinion, not Emma's of course!) to get to the jeeps first, by locking the girls in their rooms with gaffer tape (thank you Quest budget!). With Rob as ring-leader and Soph and Emily joining forces, there could only be one result. Spent the day taking piccies on the Salt Flats, and enjoying the good weather and a pancake and beer breakfast (ironically suggested by the most responsible adult). We also enjoyed hearing a Bolivian myth about a lactating mountain creating the Salt Flats!
After seeing the Salt Hotel, we headed to the train graveyard, which turned out to be much less exciting than anticipated, except for Rob and Tom.
Returned to Uyuni to have the best pizza in Bolivia, and then to the night bus of hell to La Paz!

Expedition Start - Peru Team

Having endured a month in Villa Maria where Beer, a miscellaneous vodka & orange drink and bottles of rum had been the only alcohol available (except when Family Leechman supplied Smirnoff-always appreciated), a night of debauchary was definitely in need when we got to Miraflores. The group didn´t fail to step up. The night started early with mixes supplied by Vivanda (supermarket extraudinaire)..and ended early for some (special mention to Vicks who manager to drunkenly fallover the “uneven” cobblestones and was rendered too injured to walk let alone dance). However, those of us who did make it out hit the bars with some gusto, especially those who spent the entire night chatting to the group of English guys who were staying at our hostel. Special mention to Zoe....

Next stop was Pisco, which we arrived at after a mere 5 hour stint in the bus: the groups favourite mode of transport. However, our hardship was duly rewarded when we arrived at the hostel we were staying at. Marble floors and sofas in the lobby have never instigated so much excitement before, and that was prior to the discovery of fluffy (well kind of) towels and HOT showers! Fred, Sarah and I stepped up and christened the town with Pisco Sours…it had to be done!
Next morning we left heaven hostel early to set off to the Ballestas islands ( or poor mans galapagos). The boat ride took us round to see the Candelabra imprint in the sand, seals and penguins, but it has to be said what REALLY made the tour was the guide whose voice had an uncanny resemblance to Borat. His instinence that there was to be •no smohkin on board” being one of the most enjoyed of his warnings.
After the Ballestas we headed off to Huaccachina where we were set to go Sand boarding and Dune buggying. However, excitement started even before we made it on the buggys as Fred during the few hours we had unsupervised managed to break the key for our room in half. No easy feat. A slighltly bashful Fred came stumbling towards us while we were relaxing by the pool only to produce the now useless half key and mumble about poor craftmanship as he made a comparison to tin foil. The metal key was CLEARLY not strong enough…hmmm. However, after Freds mishap was solved we trundled off in the sand buggys to give sand boarding a go. Perhaps trundled is not the most accurate word to use in fact, considering that the buggys reached speeds of around 120mph! It was amazing how fast those wheeled cages can go and an incredible experience to literally dive off massive sand dunes at such high speeds! After whizzing around for a while we stopped and got our boards ready for our first go, most people went down on their stomachs at great speeds a few others choosing the wimpier option to dig their feet in the sand as they go down to break (including myself). By the end though the majority of people tried going down standing-we were pretty much pros at the end of it...almost. After going down a couple more dunes we zoomed off in the buggys to catch the sunset over the chicken farms. Not both buggys actually made it to the sunset but apparantly the view was amazing (bar the chicken farms which didn't quite create atmosphere).

Next day we headed off to catch our flights over the Nazca lines in the smallest planes Ive ever seen-planes of three plus the pilot- definitely an experience. The actual plane journeys were pretty cool though and we all appreciated the massive pilot headphone look..always atttractive. We saw the lines about four times each, tipping and swerving as necessary but this was not without some of the group contracting flight sickness. It was a little concerning as being so wrapped in taking photos outside the window Alex and I turned around to see Anya in the back sweating profusely, and a worrying shade of was clear she wasnt feeling her best. However, the pilot got a TAD too concerned and insisted immediately after landing that she be wheeled off into the distance in a wheelchair. Clearly to the others watching it was a somewhat worrying scene. Charlie Girl in a slightly less dramatic landing also started feeling a little worse for wear and insisted that it was the worst flight of her life. Have to say though the rest of us enjoyed it, even Charlie Boy who with a slight fear of heights and small planes had been marginally concerned about the combination before.
After the flights we headed straight to Nazca lines to get supplies for the camping that night and then went to the beach to set up camp. The campsite was right next to a hotel (perfect for loo facilities and secret coffees and teas) and absolutely stunning. It was completely secluded except for us and was an amazing setting for a BBQ with the sound of the sea in the background. The romance of the setting however was slightly marred by the fact we were all donning the head torches and eating out of tupperware. However, the fact we were eating steak off a BBQ in the middle of a beach was pretty cool (always an advantage that Rob used to be a chef). The night ended with marshmallows over the camp fire and a classic game of werewolf.
The next day was really relaxed, mostly involving paddling in the sea and sunbathing. Except of course for the boys who decided to go on a walk and track down bones and ruins. Clearly the idea of relaxing on the beach was just not masculine enough for them..After packing up our tents we then embarked on a 1.8km HIKE up the hill to catch our bus to Arequipa. All except for a rather smug Charlie Boy who having felt a little worse for wear all weekend got his ticket out of Jail free card with a truck ride up the hill with all the bags. He claimed later he felt guilty passing us sweating like beasts as we hiked up but to the rest of us it looked a little bit too much like the cat that got the cream...When we reached the summit of the mountain (despite what Rob/Emily may claim it was DEFINITELY a mountain) we ended up waiting for the bus for a while. The potential of Rob and Emilys children was much discussed (with some concern it would spend its life trekking) along with some harmless day dreaming about the bus that was arriving. Why shouldnt the bus have a trolley with food and snacks passed out lavishly? Rob was clearly not impressed as he insisted we were being a little optimistic...The bus was worth the wait....comfy reclining seats, english films (including 7 pounds, just like heaven and The Mummy 3 (the latter two not quite so well recieved)) and to our delight A TROLLEY! In fact the food we got was pretty amazing bearing in mind it was on a bus...however Sarahs claim it was some of the best beef she had had on the trip was still highly concerning.....Even after seven hours though the sleepy group was a little reluctant to get off...a successful bus ride you could say, especially as we had now arrived in Arequipa: which even by night you could tell was really beautiful.

Villa Maria Expedition Update part 2

Sunday was a fairly early start for a day of ice climbing. Feelings were mixed about it in the group, many people apprehensive about what was to come. When we arrived we were immediately hit by the altitude, and so the idea of an hour walking uphill to get to the start wasn´t appreciated. We made it to the glacier however, and after a quick lunch of the old favourite chicken milanesa we were shown the technique of how to scale the ice. Most of us then began to attempt to climb to the top of the 10m high wall of ice, but Vicky, Lucy, Laura and Debbie went for a small glacier walk. Sarah, Bart, Fred and Tom made it right to the top, but everyone put in good efforts. Sarah, Alex, Sophie and Tom then tried the glacier walk whilst Vicky also succeeded in reaching the top. We headed back to La Paz with various headaches and coughing filling the bus for the journey back. That evening many of us took early nights in preparation for the mountain biking the next day.

Not everyone fancied taking on the worlds most dangerous road, some of the group fancied a day of rest (and shopping!) in La Paz which was surprisingly successful. Meanwhile, Alex, Fred, Bart, Sarah, Debbie, Emma and Tom headed off with the leaders to the start of the mountain biking, where our Swedish guide gave us a very frank briefing on what to expect. In order to appease the Bolivian deities we had a sip of revolting alcohol before starting our descent, a relatively easy stretch of tarmac to get used to the bikes. Tom still managed to fall in embarrasing fashion however on a gravelly bit. The boys tried to take on the uphill, Bart and Fred conceding defeat whilst Tom tried to continue, but he was forced to stop by Rob. After a snack we were given an even more terrifying talk by the guide, before we set off, the 400m drop a matter of feet away. Further falls (but fortunately not too serious) were incurred by Fred (possibly more retarded than Tom´s), Sarah and Debbie. We arrived at the bottom a little disappointed it had ended, but delighted to have made it all in one piece. After returning we order the biggest pizza any of us had ever seen, a worthy reward after a entertaining day.

The next day was spent preparing for the Choro trail. Wednesday morning we got the bus up to the start - well, not exactly the start, we had to walk up for an hour through the snow to actually get to the top, and moods were not good! We started our descent quickly, trying to get out of the snow. The checkpoint brought about lunch, but Rob told us that thanks to the bus driver we were well behind schedule and had something of a race to the campsite. Driven on by the prospect of rest and not wanting to walk in the dark we managed to arrive at the campsite at around 5pm, well before sunset to everyone´s relief. The second day we set off early, and were making what we thought was good progress, until Charlie boy sustained a bad injury to his knee. We therefore slowed our pace after lunch, but we did not mind as Rob told us we were only 2 hours from camp. Unfortunately he was mistaken. We were about 4 hours from camp. This soured moods further, particularly at the back where we did not know what was going on. The sight of the campsite was a massive relief after we had been walking for almost 8 hours. Even better there were chips! The third day was blissfully short in comparison to the first two. We had lunch at the top of the toughest slope of the trail, disgustingly sweaty, but in good spirits, although Charlie girl was also now carrying a knee injury. We arrived surprisingly early at the Japanese man´s campsite, and had our tents up just after 2pm. The rest of the day was relaxing in the campsite, some of us even treating ourselves to beer. A night filled with a mild fear of being trampled by horses followed, before the final day of the trail. This passed quickly, although Anya and Debbie seemed keen to continue the walk, walking straight past the rest of us while we tried to sort out buses. The journey to Coroico was eventful. The first minibus almost had a head on collision with a car, while the driver also risked taking out several children in his haste to get to Coroico and back. Meanwhile in the other driver refused to take the other group up to the hostal, and left them in the square after a 10 minute argument with El Dark Horse, where the driver tried to secure a camera as payment. We were glad to get into the hostal and hit the sauna, our second trek at an end.

Pantanal - Rio team takes on the Jungle

On our 83rd day of being in Brazil we arrivewd in the national park famous for its wildlife in the South West of Brazil known as the Pantanal. We slept in hammocks in a wooden lodge beside a crocodile infested river, where tge most regular visitor was a toucan who kept us company over breakfast.

During our three days we went on walks through the surrounding area spotting all manner of creatures, from armadillos to macaws, and found a fruit which was used to paint ourselves in tribal designs. Piranha fishing was a highlight due to much success for the team despite the efforts of the local crocodiles we still managed to fill our plates for supper. Horse riding filled one of our mornings as we gallopped through the forest that was buzzing with animal activity.

A cracking few days in a ideallic setting with great fresh food and a dazzling aray of wildlife that was like nowhere we had been before.

By Edmund and James

Rio team update

Lencois/ Diamantina

After a long, but eventful bus journey from the surfing town of Itacare we arrived in the scenic town of Lencois. Having checked into the hostel we met Puma, our guide, who briefed us on the plan for the forthcoming trek. Our 4x4 dropped us in what was the ´middle of nowhere´ and our trek had begun.

Our first challenge was a steep climb which woke us all up and gave us an impression of what to expect for the next four days. AFter a hard first mornings walk we paused for lunch a the top of a stunning waterfall overlooking one of the many luch green valleys of the Chapada Diamante. Under head-torch light we arrived at our first camping spot, tents were pitched, food was cooked and eaten and everyone crashed out for a well earned rest.

The second day involved a strenuous climb through caves and over rivers to one of the highest points in the area, known as the ´Castle´ where the views did not dissapoint. We wound our back to camp via a refreshing waterfall, and despite snakes in the bed and tarantulas in boots we all made it to day three of trek.

We kicked the day off with a massive ascent, but the view was well worth the hard work. A fabulous day walking through the stunning valleys and rivers of the national park with many a waterfall to be swam in. Night was spent camping in the bush under an extremely starry sky, with not a sign of man to be found.

The final day was a long trek back to Lencois to complete our 100 km trip, with a great sense of achievement all round on arriving at the hostel where everyone appreciated a bed, warm water and food that wasn´t cooked on a camp fire!

Monday 20 April 2009

Malawi GAP Team 1st Project Update - arrival and starting work

After a somewhat arduous 24hr journey, we finally arrived at the cowshed reminiscent Blantyre airport to begin our three month extravaganza! As we drove over all the bumps and potholes (many the width of the road itself!) into Pen Sulo, our village, we were greeted by a group of people singing and dancing to celebrate our arrival – one boy getting a little too overexcited and running smack into a tree…oops. On Saturday we had the big official welcoming ceremony complete with speeches, songs, plays and traditional dancers in rather scary feathered masks – our cultural contribution was to do the hokey kokey with the kids…Everyone is so friendly and welcoming here, we have kids with us wherever we go, we’re like Madonna without the court order. Saturday night was spent at our project partner Sylvia’s house, all of us very excited to able to use a real toilet! She very kindly invited us for dinner and drinks. This would be the first of no doubt many times to see one of our local contacts, Mary, a little bit sozzled!
Easter Sunday gave us our first taste of African religion and we all walked proudly to church in our new chitengas (sarongs) bought especially for us by our leaders Sarah and Charlie. We were shown round the secondary school by the Pastor and Smart, who told Sarah off for paying more attention to two mating bugs than the pastor! During the service we had to give a performance of Amazing Grace that we’d prepared but two minutes before. Unfortunately the church choir sang just before us and also sang Amazing Grace, putting our version slightly to shame. However, Becky Mole signing the visitor’s book “you can’t O.D on G.O.D.” went down as well as Jesus himself.

After topping up our spiritual reserves we headed to Mary’s house where she and the local youth group performed some skits, songs and a rap for us. A small child farting next to us half way through Mary’s seemingly made-up-on-the-spot song did knock our concentration slightly! We taught the youth group Splat and Wink Murder which went down a treat although a few people (i.e. Sophie!) got a bit too into it and scared all of us with her splat tenacity!

During the week we’ve been hard at work on the doctors accommodation that we’re building – it’s pretty darn tough although helping out at the orphan feeding centre seems to be tougher! By Friday we had built all the walls and everyone is surprised at how fast it’s going. We are all brick laying pros now although there have been a few frog-shaped causalities when we’ve been wielding our cement mixing shovels!

Other events in our first week include building a massive sofa out of ladders and mattresses for Amber’s birthday, replacing Amber’s deceased mug Humphrey with the aid of gaffa tape and Becky Mole’s dual stream…Alas a lot of people have been struck down in their prime with a wee vomming bug this week, nowhere has been safe and at the time of writing Sarah and Charlie are the only ones that have remained unscathed! Don’t go worrying though, everyone was back on form to enjoy the local cuisine.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Yachana update minus a photo!!! Tim sort it out!

We arrived at the airport at 4 am. Tired. After several games of Uno, we finally found Sophie wandering around the airport looking lost. Four of us got upgraded to business plus due to good looks and charm. The two ugly ones remained in economy surrounded by screaming children. Wondered out into Quito. Met some American dude wearing a skirt who happened to be our guide Tim. We got aquatinted with the city which was to be our home for the next few weeks.

After a couple days of lessons we headed to Quito Colonial for Good Friday. We witnessed a procession, Cucuruchos, of thousands of people dressed in purple and the occasional white KKK outfits all carrying crosses on their backs. Quito crime scene: Kat’s bag got slashed possibly in a church. Hacks birthday too, so we made him a wonderful Llama card.

Headed of to Otavalo with Fernando. After a spectacular two hour trip through the Ecuadorian countryside, we arrived at the famous animal market - much to Kat and Sophie’s delight. After being very close to buying several animals we headed off the to main market where Gabi suprised us all by not buying the most ridiculous llama jumper in the world.

Tim sent us through a very dodgy house. We passed through a sickly family all curled up in one bed then we were lead into a very small blue room with religious artifacts and a man armed with a spear, Marlborough Lights and candles. Gabi awaited being cleansed. After recovering from the initial shock of being told he was "going to be blown" he was pleasantly relieved to be merely spat on, set alight, and caressed with eggs. Ironically this process was a cleansing.

Later that day we arrived at hostal La Luna. Really lovely; we were surrounded by Mt Cotopaxi, horses, llamas, hammocks, and massive dogs. Had a very relaxing evening. Tim cried to Sicko. The next day proved to be a challenge for us all. We headed off to Cuicocha, a volcano Crater Lake, so called due to the two guinea pig islands in the middle. We trekked around the whole 14Km of the lake, up steep hills at 3500m. The girls entertained Tim with moans and groans. Despite being at the back complaining the whole time they managed to beat Spam the cross county champion. Finally we gave up and hitched a ride back with the locals.

Monday: it hailed

Tuesday we headed of to the Equator, Mitad Del Mundo, and were suprised to not find a beam of light coming out of the sky. Had an amazing day and insightful tour. The girls loved weighing less.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Mamma Mia - Quest style!

Our Peru gap team on the Villa Maria project last month. If only they'd seen this before making the film, Piers Brosnan wouldn't have stood a chance!

Friday 27 March 2009

Sarah Charlton - Tanzania Team South Africa Update

I guess we must all be pretty intense as we have officially emerged on the other side of Sabie, South Africa (the "adrenaline phase" of the trip) in one piece. That isn’t to say that we didn’t have some close calls – Lily falling off a log with a river tube around her waist about a mile from the water, Lily drifting helplessly downstream (her cries for help getting steadily quieter) and Lily struggling to follow the instructions of the guide and “just DO something”. We tubed, we caved, we jumped off cliffs into pools of water and we threw ourselves off bridges (for the latter, extra special mention goes to Dixon ‘vanity’ Knox, James ‘Danger’ Belcher, Tom ‘Blondie’ Wills and, representing the female contingent, Nicola ‘Stunner’ Stokes for their impressive forward bridge jumps, or, reassuringly ‘suicide dives’. The final day saw a dramatic paintballing session in which the ‘Savage Beast’ team, led by the courageous Sophie, prevailed with a last-gasp flag capture. We drove to Pretoria battered, bruised and buzzing with adrenaline.
In Pretoria we indulged in a few days of shopping and experiencing South African ‘culture’. We spent the first day in the huge Menlyn shopping centre, the biggest in South Africa, where we proceeded to replenish our clothes supplies. We finished our day with a game of bowling, in which pros Lily and Sarah showed where their true expertise lay with a string of strikes. That evening we went out to a reggae bar in celebration of Victoria’s birthday and, shock of shocks, Kate even dressed as a girl for the occasion (in heels and a top which Dixon had forced upon her!). A few cocktails later, we found ourselves in one of the classy establishments in the neighboughhood dancing the night away!
Day two in Pretoria was a time for our brains to be fed, so the next stop was the Apartheid Museum. Everybody left around lunchtime except for Victoria whose Birthday antics had rendered her bed bound. Perhaps it was something she ate… After a short drive, we arrived to be divided into Whites and Non-Whites, entering the museum through different doors. Three hours later, we saw sunlight again and headed back to Pretoria with a much greater understanding of how the system of apartheid affected every sphere of life in South Africa. Most of us headed to bed for a rare early night in anticipation of an 8 hour Northward journey in our overland monster truck. Next stop, Botswana!

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Monday 23 March 2009

Malawi GAP Team Preparations!

Everything is in full swing for the Malawi team’s arrival on 9th April. The foundations have been laid for the building work and materials have been bought and moved by human chain onto site. The team will be building staff housing for the new clinic that was built last year. Without this good quality housing it is very difficult to attract good doctors and nurses to the clinic. Before the clinic was built pregnant mothers had to walk up to 8 miles to receive medical care.

The team will spend the next 6 weeks on site, mixing cement, laying bricks, plastering, liming, putting together A-frames, painting, floor laying and much much more with the help from local volunteers and builders.

The team will also spend time with the orphaned children by helping out at feeding centres, local youth groups and schools.

To volunteer in Malawi this summer click here!

Watch this space for more updates

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Peru Team Update - Charlie Leechman reports

So it was carnival in South America, but we didn’t want to ignore the British tradition of pancake day! Sophie’s cooking group stepped up and made us pancakes for breakfast (with the help of Alejandro and Danilo) on what we think was pancake day but there is still debate around that topic! Jon arrived just in time for the pancakes and the day carried on in the normal fashion of playing with the kids, but a few of us got to go to the nursery for some ´mummy´ time! However, we were slightly put off when we had to serve the kids rice and fried chicken blood!

That night the Peruvians plus Fred, Sophs, Bart, Jon and Emily had a bit of a late night and a few of us woke up with either giant puppet heads by our beds or drawings on our faces........ The weekend was approaching and for family Sunday we were doing a ´save the planet´ play and song, and after a mammoth rehearsal with Lucho the group shot off to Camilla´s first birthday party. We were greeted with plush leather sofas and fantastic food, the night continued with a series of videos such as ABBA´s greatest hits which led us on to make the decision that Mamma Mia was the choice of musical for the last family Sunday, which made Lucho extremely happy!

The next day we were greeted by lots of children for the fair and then to the much loved piscina. That evening we went to Camilla´s SECOND birthday party where they had blocked the road in order to fit in the DIY Disney castle. The place was drenched in disney and not only did she have one cake, she had 3!!!! We then got treated to a disney show which the children loved. I then found Emily holding the 21 day old baby that I had been dying to hold all evening, so Emily, Laura and I spent time holding and cooing over the baby. When we returned to our lovely home, we discovered that Ana Mariela´s family were having a fundraising party next day where the majority of us headed for some drinking and dancing with the locals.

Family Sunday started with us dressing up as the usual Disney characters, then Fred took to the stage as Harry Potter with his glamorous assistants, however, the magic tricks were not met with much applause from the audience! The ´El Planeta Hay Que Salvar´ play got much the same reaction but we carried on with a super size Hokey Pokey which was so well received we had to do it twice!

We then began construction of the first house and painting of the school. This is when “Jesshope and Leechman Construction Company” was created due to Emily and I being so speedy with our frames. By the next day house number 1 was finished and so was the painting at the school. The next day school began so we have screaming children not wanting to leave their mothers every morning arriving at 8am! We also began the second house but Lucho found us to get revenge as earlier we removed the ladder while he was on the roof.

That night we began rehearsal for the family Sunday in which the boys were dressing up as girls and dancing to Shania Twain ´Man I Feel Like A Woman!´ Us girls were feeling a bit left out and wanted to dress up as boys and dance to 5ive (Debster was especially keen), however Lucho was not keen on this idea so we ended up doing the clown dance. The group illness also began with everyone feeling really ill apart from Fred! It was a struggle to find a free toliet for that week! That evening, a discovery of maggots and other things were discovered in the box/fridge and the mystery of the group illness became resolved. Nice!

After that discovery group hygiene was stepped up several notches, with copious amounts of bleach, hand sanitizer and the permanent removal of the box/fridge thingy! The fair had to be cancelled on Saturday as the majority of the group was ill and we had only had one rehearsal for family Sunday! However, rehearsals were short and sweet due to the power cut. After pool time and lunch we packed our bags for Miraflores. The hostel in Miraflores was very nice and a far cry from our accommodation in Villa Maria. We all headed off our separate ways but later all congregating in Starbucks! Lucy, Alex, Fred and Sophie all got piercings.

We then headed back to the hostel to get ready for our night out and more importantly for the HOT SHOWERS!!! The girls, especially those in the long line for Zoe´s hair straighteners took a very long time to get ready. We then went to a restaurant but the majority of us were still recovering from the illness or still ill had to chose stomach friendly meals! The meal was clearly too much as Anya, Sophie, Emma and Alex had to make a quick exit back to the hostel as were feeling too ill. The rest of us headed over to Barranco, however some more of us weren't feeling too well so Bart, Tom and I headed back to the hostel. The others then headed onto a very sweaty club where Shania Twain Í feel Like A Woman´ came on, so much to Fred’s excitement he grabbed the DJs stool and gave the club a sneak preview of the boys dance for family Sunday!

Tom woke up the next morning at 8.30am so he could watch the football, but he discovered that it wasn’t actually showing on the TV so he proceeded to spend the rest of his time in Miraflores watching it on the computer! The rest of us went out for breakfast. We headed back to Villa Maria to prepare for family Sunday and dress the boys up in the girls’ clothing. The girls did their clown dance first which was actually just a build up until the boys hit the stage. The boys lost all dignity as they walked on stage dressed up in dresses and make up, Fred’s dress was ridiculously short but we decided he looked very pretty as a girl. The dance went down a storm and they were called on for an encore!

The next day we put up our first house! All went well and the family were very grateful and happy with their new house. That night we had a surprise birthday party for Danilo (which was actually on Thursday but we forgot!) The majority headed off to bed after the cake though as the illness was still rife. House 2 was put up and we got fed a lovely lunch as a thank you from the family. That night was the first rehearsal for Mamma Mia. House number 3 was put up the following day which didn’t go completely smoothly due to a bit of wood cracking and the door not being able to fit but it all ended up ok. This family had 12 children and only 3 beds so being able to give them extra living space was really lovely and they appreciated it a lot which was shown by the mammoth lunch they gave to the group who put it up. They had to literally roll down the hill back to the school where they were all looking a bit worse for wear especially Emily who gained much respect as she finished everything she was given!

Rehearsals went on late into the evening with Lucho playing many pranks on us such as cellotape across the bathroom door, butter on the door handles and a stink bomb in the girls room! The fourth house went up the next day and we made a record of putting it up under 2 hours (a possible Quest record????). We then had the first of our TWO lunches as we had also been invited to Ana Mariela’s house for a thank you lunch (we raised well over our target- so thank you to everyone, she is going for her first scans etc on Wednesday and Anya and Debbie are going with her). After two lovely lunches we rolled down the hill again and then went off the play with the kids and also start construction for the final house.

Saturday was predicted as the day from hell as we had the fair, followed by a sports day, however both were extremely successful especially the sports day with a gringo in charge of a team, so there was a lot of competition between who’s team would win. Anya´s team won and all the ninos we rewarded with sweets and prizes. That night the group slaved away at rehearsal for Mamma Mia, which was looking good. The next day Rob returned to Villa Maria. Family Sunday began with a can can dance in the munecas and then we did Mamma Mia, however I managed to fall through one of the missing planks in the stage and get what I thought was quite a severe injury but Rob later told me it was only a minor scratch.

Mamma Mia went really well and was definitely our best performance to date. The next day we started our mural at the school which is space themed and is being finished as I speak. Some of the group finished off the construction of the 5th and final house, however they ran into quite a few technical difficulties and they are a bit nervous about putting it up! Last night we went out to dinner at this really nice pizza/burger place as it is one of our last evenings!

Rob then gave us half of our trek talk, which started off a little scary but we are all looking forward to it now and it sounds good fun. Today is our last full day in Villa Maria, which is actually quite sad! Tonight is the leaving party so we are having a BBQ which Lucho is cooking for us and then tomorrow we clean up and pack up and head off to Miraflores for 2 nights.

Off on the expedition Friday!