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!