Thursday, January 18, 2007

India, Tasmania and Brisbane

Well, well, well - life seems to be following some sort of a routine again, for the first time in what feels like forever. I'm now back in Brisbane after returning safely from India and some particularly low key adventures in Tasmania with the family. Read on for the details...

Goodbye to India: the last couple of days went smoothly as everyone realised the trip was winding up and made the most out of all the shopping opportunities and last minute sightseeing. The only slight hiccup we had was at the airport where one of the girls forgot about a massive dagger with a heavy wooden hilt and maliciously glinting, huge curved blade that happened to be in her hand luggage. The Indian security people had a good laugh at it (luckily), but the girl, who was also sick at the time, burst into tears because it was the only present she'd bought for her brother. When they noticed the tears the Indian security people looked horrified and asked what was wrong, and on explaining the problem helped us put it in someone else's hand luggage and then check it in. It was a nice way to say goodbye to India, with a little kindness. As I sat down on the chairs in the departure lounge with all the girls happy and accounted for I felt like I could at last breathe a massive sigh of relief, one that had been building up ever since we arrived in India. Thank Buddha, all the Hindu Gods, Allah, God and whoever else needs thanking - we made it through India!!

Christmas and Boxing Day: my little gaggle of international travellers, the teachers and I arrived back in Brisbane in the evening on Christmas Eve. Dave picked me up at the airport and we prepared to make the most of the 46 hours or so that we would be together before I jetted off yet again, this time to Tasmania. What with Uganda, India and Tasmania we've had almost 3 months apart in the second half of this year, and he says that next time he's coming along. We spent a cozy, relaxing Christmas with his family in Brisbane and then he took me to the airport on Boxing Day for yet another trip away.

Tasmania: well, I know I had 2 weeks in Tassie but I did very, very little except hang out at my parents' shack on the East Coast, swim in the freezing water, walk around the National Park, bike to the beaches and complete a cross stitch (I suprised myself by first starting it and then sticking at it) while listening to Radio National (I am now a convert). To be honest I was a bit of a zombie and pretty hopeless company - just exhausted from India, all the events beforehand, the stress of finishing off my uni degree.

Back to the big smoke: now I am back in Brisbane and regaining enthusiasm for life and living. There's been lots of paddling, riding, running and cruising around with Dave and I'm really getting used to being a Lady of Leisure, which will last until school starts next week. One of the highlights of the past couple of weeks was traipsing through the rainforest in order to find a plane wreckage from a crash in the 1970's. After taking over an hour to "walk" 400m on a bearing through the rainforest we found the plane and were able to declare the expedition a success. I'll put a photo in when I find out how I can reduce its size...

And that's it! A crazy year - this time last year I was thinking I'd have a cruisy year, stay in Australia, enjoy Brisbane, do my uni course and then head back to Tassie with my teaching degree in my hot little hand. Who ever would have thought it'd end up like this? So, when ever anyone asks me what my next adventure is I can safely say...who knows? We'll see what happens....

Friday, December 22, 2006

Are we there yet?!


Well, one more sleep to go before we go home sweet home. Does it sound like I'm counting down the days in excited anticipation?! Probably...

I can't remember where I was up to, I think Jaipur, but I know I forgot a couple of things. In Agra we went to visit a sanctuary for dancing bears. I didn't know much about them before visiting the centre, but they told us there was a tribe of people who caught India's sloth bears and taught them to dance for tourist money. They caught them when they were tiny cubs, put metal rings or rope through their tender noses and made them stand on hot plates to teach them to dance. Basically the bears lived a life of constant pain and agony, until recently when this sanctuary was set up. They go on bear raids to collect and rescue the bears and reeducate the people and have almost eradicated bear dancing in most parts of India. The poor old bears we saw had massive scars on their noses, and some were so psychologically scarred that they continue to sway back and forth whenever they sense newcomers arriving. However, once they got used to our scent they came up to the sides of the enclosure and were incredibly curious. It was awesome seeing them and the girls donated some of the money they raised.

In Jaipur the kids decided to donate the rest of their money to a jewellry making school for homeless/abused girls. They take the girls in from the streets, rescuing them from begging, prostitution or physical abuse and teach them how to make jewellry which is sold in Jaipur. They are paid in cash for their labours, taught basic maths, Hindi and English and given a place to live and food to eat. It was fantastic going to visit them and seeing so many happy faces.

Again, travelling makes me realise how incredibly lucky we are to have been born in Australia. I asked the girls to think about that today, because sometimes they get a bit bitchy when negotiating prices or when telling beggars to go away. They've been a great group of kids - they're on fire at the moment, organising tuk-tuks, restaurants, accommodation, sightseeing agendas, timing, etc, etc. It's reached the stage where I can trust them to get us to food, entertainment and transport, all on their own. I really think they've learned a lot and had a wonderful experience, and I think they'll always remember the trip further down the track (and maybe learn more from it later on too). Finally my work here is done (or nearly - shouldn't speak too soon) and it's time for home. Home sweet home!!!

See many of you very soon. Happy Christmas!! M xo

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I love you and we will be bathed in foot odour together forever...


Yikes, almost there! Only a 4 more sleeps before we're all on the plane back home again...and I'm praying no one gets sick and has to miss the plane because I'm ready to come home now. India is amazing and I'd love to come back....without 13 other people to look after.

At the moment I'm escaping the hordes of people in Jaipur and taking it easy while the kids do their shopping. I have to say that the hustle and bustle and constant harrassment is starting to drive me a little bit crazy. Everywhere you go: "Madam, ma'am, good price for you, you look in my shop, I give you good price because you my big sister, where you from, Australia! ah Ricky Ponting, I love Australia, you from SydneyMelbourne, you my good friend, I take you here for very good price madam, I give you, I look after you, then you look after me yes yes, madam here madam".....arrrghhhh!!!

After Manali we jumped on a bus to take us back to Delhi. We arrived after 15 hours, two upchucks, two diarrhoea stops and what felt like one toilet break! Welcome to the joys of travelling in a big group...!!! We spent a day in Delhi exploring the Red Fort (madam, I make you happy with good tour, you make me happy with good money because I see you are good people and good people give good tips and very good people give many tips and I am good and you are good so we both are happy when I get good tips) and a shopping area called Connaught Place. The kids found a McDonalds (no beef products sold) so they were happy.

After a day in Delhi we got on an early train to Agra and stayed in a hotel with a rooftop restaurant where we could sit and marvel at the Taj Mahal. We visited the Taj with the million billion (felt like) other tourists and got the obligatory picture in front of the Taj. It really is an amazing structure. We watched it change colours at sunrise and sunset and got to walk all around the marble. You have to take your shoes off to go right up to the Taj, and I thought it was a bit ironic that the bloke built the Taj for his beloved wife, and now they both lie in the Inner Sanctum, bathed in foot odour, surrounded by the sound of whistles as tourists are hoarded through!

Better run - time's a wasting! Mxx

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Isn't India supposed to be hot?

Fakt: it snows in India, especially in December.

After having been told by Antips (the company I’m working for) that the chance of snow was low, we ended up hiking in it, sleeping in it, cooking in it, playing in it and being dumped on by it. There was more snow that I've seen in quite a while - beautiful, soft, fluffy, powdery snow that made me long for a pair of skis. Several of the girls had never seen or touched snow before and they had a blast, except one has decided that she's still a beach person.

Our trek started with a long, windy drive from Mcleod Ganj to a small monastery near the town of Kullu. We were scheduled to trek for 6 days in the Kullu Valley but they had to change our itinerary for the amount of snow there is at the moment. The monastery was a last minute choice instead of tents, mostly because for the whole 9 hours of the drive it was pissing with rain, snow, hail, sleet and all the other cold and wet combinations you can imagine. It thundered, fogged up, cleared, hailed, snowed, rained for all the 9 hours. However, the next day (our first day of trekking) the weather was clear and sunny, so our timing was impeccable.

Our first day involved a 3 hour trek up some steps to a beautiful ridge top from which we could see the mountains of the Himalaya in the distance. We visited a temple on the ridge top and saw a procession that brought up the temple's deity from the valley where it had been having its 5 yearly hot spring bath. It was cold but I got up early to watch the sun come up over the Himalayas - spectacular. The only down side was that my camera disappeared in the proceedings...

Then followed more days of walking - some through villages, some up into the snow for that experience, some along muddy or icy roads, some down into the valley and some back up. I loved it all, except perhaps some of the whinging from the girls about the hills. They were all challenged by the walk but overall they've said they enjoyed the challenges, the snow and the scenery. One of the last nights we spent up the mountains in the dumping snow. I reckon it snowed about 1m overnight, and our poor guides spent much of the night beating the snow off the tents so they wouldn't collapse.

I thoroughly enjoyed the trek and wish it could have gone for longer. Our guides were great, especially when they woke us up every morning with 'bed tea', a hot chocolate delivered to the tent. I especially got on well with one of the guides and would like to come back one day to climb the mountains he was pointing out in the distance. He also just personally escorted me to the police station to report my stolen camera, something that I couldn't have done on my own since the station was miles away and full of people who only spoke Hindi. I now have a police report in English and Hindi, officially stamped and written out in triplicate, and for no charge at all.

Yesterday we all rode a yak and dressed up in traditional clothing for photos. This sightseeing I find a little trying, especially waiting for hours for restaurants to figure out how to feed 14 people and sitting outside shops waiting for the kids to look at and/or buy everything in sight! We're moving on to Dehli, Agra and Jaipur starting tomorrow so there's more of that in store.

I've handed it over to the kids to organise everything now and they're doing a pretty good job. They're actually really great kids with big hearts and bright futures - but do they ever love a shop!

More later, now I'm finally up to date. Take care - M xo

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Barbie Girl and the Dalai Lama

Hi all

Well, is there ever lots to report! We finished off our stint at the community project, Nyingtob Ling. They now have 3 new flower beds and 2 new vegie patches. The girls struggled a bit with the project - the food was pretty plain (steamed dumplings, vegies and what looked like vertebrae) and the work was hard (3 days of picking packed hard dirt, sifting through to get rocks out and hoeing). However, the last night they threw us a party and all the girls got right into dancing with the kids at the home. Their favourite music is Barbie Girl (don't anyone play that for me when I get home - I'm over it) and they love to dance. We lasted 3 hours before giving in to exhaustion and going home for our dumplings. It was a good time and by the end the girls were sad to leave. I really liked the disabled kids - even with so little they are so happy and embracing of newcomers. I think the girls realised how lucky they are by how hard it was to deal with the life of a Tibetan disabled child.

While at the project we visited a local Tibetan art museum/working place, Norbulingka. The girls donated some of their raised money to them because they've got quite involved in the Tibetan culture and people. We also had a lovely walk through the tea fields to buy seeds and tools for the project.

Back in Mcleod Ganj we stayed in a monastery and learned about the life of the Buddhist monks who live there. We were also lucky enough to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he addressed a massive crowd of people at his residence. He spoke all in another language (I'm embarrassed I don't know what it is) but he was a twinkly old man who chuckled away at his own jokes along with everyone else. It was a great experience.

That's it for now - will update on the 6 day snow trek that followed as soon as I get a chance! Must go or I'll be late to meet the kiddies, and seeing that something I always get stuck into them about is punctuality I'd better run.

M xx

Friday, December 01, 2006

"Yes madam, no problem"

Hi from India, the land of ‘yes madam, no problem’

I have quickly learnt that the answer to every question in India is ‘yes madam, no problem’ whether or not the answer fits the question or the person knows the answer. The rule seems to be that if someone doesn't know the answer they either say ‘yes madam, no problem’ or they make it up. This led to some interesting times in Delhi when I was told that ‘yes madam, the train is good and very close’. This turned out to be very wrong – the train took about 1.5 hours to find and it was packed and too dangerous for the kiddies even if we’d managed to make it on. So we changed plan and took tuk-tuks instead (little motorcycles converted to 3-4 person taxi vehicles), only to find that the Red Fort is closed on Mondays (it was Monday). It seems that this trip will be all about rolling with the punches, being adaptable, taking things as they come and doing the best we can.

From Delhi we had a huge train trip all the way up to a random train station up north, then a 2.5 hour bus ride to Mcleod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama. The girls are a huge attraction for the local guys and everywhere we go we get a huge crowd gathering within a 3-4 metre radius of us. The girls squeal and giggle which I think just encourages them. We’re definitely a spectacle though – 10 girls, 2 women and 1 man travelling through India! The bus trip had the most incredible hairpin bends as we made our way up the mountains, and we had chunder number 3 and 4 for the trip (chunders number 1 and 2 were on the plane and train). However, it was worth it for Mcleod Ganj where we visited the Dalai Lama’s residence and the girls made a donation to a Tibetan unemployment cooperative.

Right now we’re completing a community project near Dharamsala. We’re gardening for a Tibetan disabled childrens’ home called Nyingtob Ling. The girls got stuck in today and they’ve already got 3 new flower beds and half a vegie patch. Tomorrow we’ll be doing a cricket oval, compost bin and finishing the vegie patch. The kids at the home are very sweet, although the girls found it quite full on to begin with as some of them are quite disabled (eg covered in drool). However, we danced and played games with them today which was good fun.

The girls are coping ok so far, although having a little trouble with the food, cold and dirt. They’ll be ok! They talk a lot about food, cold and dirt and spend an excessive amount of time shopping for souvenirs, which is starting to drive the me a bit nuts (the teachers too I think). I’m being rude - the kids are great fun really, and it’s wonderful to see them getting involved in the culture and stuck into everything that comes their way.

After 2 more days at the community project we head off into the Himalayas for a 6 day trek which I’m looking forward to very much. Several of the kids haven’t seen snow up close yet (we have views of the snowy Himalayas) so hopefully we’ll get some while trekking.

All’s well – everyone’s safe, happy and having a good time. Phew!

Take it easy - Marj

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Anyone for India?


Well, it's been a whirlwind, very challenging, busy (frantic at times), home and uni-based 7 weeks since returning from Africa. There were times there I was just about ready to throw in the towel, and it's only been in the last few days that I've started to embrace the idea of going to India rather than dread it. I'm finally feeling somewhat normal and human again, which is a good thing because the expedition leaves on Sunday (less than 2 days away)!

I arrived home and went straight to a briefing weekend for this expedition to India. For those who don't know, I applied and was given this job at the beginning of the year. It involves taking a group of girls from a private school in Brisbane to India for a month. We're doing a community project, trek and general travelling/sightseeing. We've been building up to it since about April.

The following weekend I was missing paddling (already!) so decided to join some friends on the Severn River in northern NSW. However, unfortunately the trip ended in a terrible tragedy when one of my friends drowned in a hydraulic in one of the rapids. We did all we could to save him but it was too late. This is his website of all his wonderful adventures if you're interested:

Finishing my teaching course was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. However, I managed to get everything in and finished up about 2 weeks ago. Since then I've been taking things very, very easy and trying to regain my energy so I can take on India. Everyone's been incredibly supportive, including friends, family and the uni staff. A big thankyou to everyone!

I'll try to update this while I'm away but I don't reckon the photos will make it on until I return at Christmas time (or probably after that considering I'm just finishing uploading Africa at the moment!).

Cheers - and happy adventuring!

Marj xx