Archives for posts with tag: Travel

After 1 month of training, I found myself with 3 weeks off in Vanuatu and nothing to do.  Luckily, one of the most active lava lakes in the world was on Ambrym, an island only one hour flight away.  As luck would have it, I got a Christmas invite to a remote small village on the same island.  Of course I took it.

The adventure begun on Friday the 12th December at 3:30am when Mark, my fellow volunteer friend from Ambrym arrived somewhat unannounced on my doorstep in Port Vila.  Turns out he came back by cargo ship last minute to process his visa and had nowhere to stay. He figured he could fly back to Craig Cove (East Ambrym) with me and one other volunteer on the 20th, when we would start our volcano hike.

I spent most of the week working, as we had a few deadlines to meet before Christmas.  Mark quickly found out the flights were all sold out, and the boats were not reliable around the festive time of year.  It was a bit stressful.  I was working flat out, attending lots of friend farewells, running out of money, worried about Mark’s visa, the hike, and on top of that I had an extra couchsurfer staying in my tiny flat….

But finally the 20th rolled around, couchsurfer found a boat and Mark found a flight. I quickly washed all the sheets before locking up my house and taking myself to the airport to meet one more volunteer friend, who was placed on Espiritu Santo, Maria.

Plane finally on Ambrym
Plane finally on Ambrym

Next day at 6am we were on a pick up truck; finally volcano bound.  The hike was long and arduous.  The guides gave us little to no food, which was not impressive, given the price of the hike.  The landscape was quite like New Zealand, lush bush with volcanic looking river beds.  After what felt like forever, we arrive at a barren big open space; the ash plain.  I was really starting to wish I had a porter now… At the campsite we comment on the lack of food, ditch our bags, set up the tent and go for another hike.

The Ash Plain
The Ash Plain

There is a steep section into the volcano which should only be descended with a rope.  But this is Vanuatu. The guide forgot the rope.  Two of us go down anyway.  Far out, I’m so close I can feel the heat of the lava.  I can see it splashing against the rock sides of the crater. Ive seen a video of a fat man in a metallic heat suit doing this, and here I am in my T shirt.  I NEVER EVER thought I could get into an active volcano crater.  I have looked into one before, which I wrote about here, but we had to go at night to spot the lava. This time, the lava was a mere 100m away, it was indescribable.  After about 30mins, which felt like a short eternity we decide we should probably go back up and meet the others.

Lava Lake
OMG – Could I smile wider?

Even the night sky up top the volacano is amazing, red like the sunset, all night long.

Heart Nature
Nature loves us!

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Work Small, Spell Big was something I heard over my Christmas break.  I literally means, work a little, rest a lot, and sums up my time in Vanuatu so far like nothing else.

After the volcano walk, we walked a further 4 hours to Willit, a village in the North of Ambrym.  Engineers Without Borders NZ has a long history of working with the Water Council in the area, and we are currenlty building 4 rainwater harvesting systems.  But I didn’t go there to work! That’s another Volunteer’s job.  In the village I went to the gardens, did some weaving, and taught the ladies macramé bracelets.  I tried to do yoga and a walk most days, and was pretty successful, but mainly I just lazed around.

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Me lazing around while the local little angels play with my hair

People in Vanuatu are pretty lucky.  It’s been said they are the happiest people in the world and I can see why.  In the village, you do what you feel like. There is no set jobs, and no judging of lazy people.  Suppose you want to build a house? You call some friends over and build a house!  Suppose you want to eat? Go pick some food from the gardens!  A feast at the end was always called for.

On this day we all built a house
On this day we built this rain shelter together, before having a feast

Wedding Payment
On this day a family bought a bride with a cow and a lot of taro, before having a feast

Money is needed occasionally. School fees, cement, petrol and tools are expensive.  But they are all one off costs.  Not many on the island had “regular” jobs as we know it.  Isn’t that what many people in the western world work towards?

Living the Dream
Some would call this “Living the Dream”

I hopped off the bus, and was only interested in one thing. Toilet. We had been on the bus for 3 or 4 hours, but the last hour just felt like forever, thanks to my bladder!

I look around and see a rudimentary structure that appears to be a shop and a house. There is nothing else around, just barren desert. I feel a sense of pride at my Spanish and rush towards the lady, asking for the baño. But she says there isn’t one, and tries to sell me a Coke.  I felt so devastated that she would lie to me like this. Because obviously, the family living there must have a toilet, right?

Wrong. This is Nicaragua.  A small, poor country in central America.  For me, it was the land of volcanoes, surf, rocking chairs and parties.  For the people living there, it is a different story all together.  The daily grind of putting rice and beans on the table to feed their kids is hard enough.

In Nica, the conscientious people burn rubbish (mainly plastics) outside while their children play and inhale the fumes. The majority of people just throw the rubbish wherever they are at the time when it is produced.

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Just another stream behind a township in Nicaragua

Can you imagine building a toilet as well? What’s the point? Over a billion people still practice open defecation today…. Which would be ok if they are healthy and happy.  But there are so many water borne diseases we know about, and I feel like I can make a difference. In fact, it is a social responsibility for me.

This is my motivation for going to Vanuatu with Engineers without Borders.  I’ll be there a whole year, to increase awareness in the sanitation area. Whether this be educational programmes at schools, up skilling labourers, or both, I am not sure yet.  I know no one in Vanuatu, in fact, when I saw the placement, I had to google where it was! This will be a different kind of adventure to my usual and will be what I make of it.  I am scared and excited all at the same time.

Because remember, what you see as a tourist is not reality.

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Beauty queen parading around beach

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Cute kids by the beach.  Is that plastic on top of the roof to stop the rain? yes it is.

I have been living in New Zealand again, since December last year. After over a year of wandering, learning, expanding, I felt like some time settled in the familiar environment that my parents made their home. NZ has been amazing in every way.  It has outdone my memories in its beautiful landscape,  open warm people and the welcoming outdoors.

But my adventures here are a story for another day.  I have many stories, past and present, so will be starting my blogging again.

The point for today is, I am back to my old life again. I am still an engineer, I try do yoga at least a couple of days a week and although I’m told I dress more “hippie”, I even slotted back onto all my old friendship groups and activities. Its as if I never left.

So after 2 years on the road what has changed? Am I destined to go back to the matrix version of me forever? Was it all a dream? No. It all looks all the same, yes, but its different. My awareness has definitely changed.

This weekend I held a fundraising high tea for O and fair trade. I joined engineers without borders. Little things.  This sounds very simple, even boring some might say.

I have, after all marched through coffee farmer road blocks and strikes in Colombia. It was exciting and interesting yes. But I couldn’t help them. They wanted more money for their coffee. A simple request, over which they closed all the major roads in the country for over a week.  Fair enough I thought.  They have grow all their own food and yet, could barely feed their families. It is a factor of global economics. What do you drink every morning? Do you have any idea how much sweat and tears go into your warm cuppa?

But it is up to everyday people like you to change the world. What do you drink every morning? What do you wear? Do you know where it came from, who made it? Please don’t tell me You don’t have enough money.  You cant pay an extra 10 or 20% to make it fair trade. Give someone a chance of a better life.

Watch the video below, laugh a lot, and follow the frog. Or the cute monkey

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Of course, you can be anywhere to do this… buy local, buy fair trade, always think about where your stuff comes from…. more expensive does not always mean its not from a sweat shop though…

And, donations can be made from all over this interweb thing, here

http://www.oxfamsmorningtea.org.nz/omt14/let-them-eat-cake

Happy Halloween!

To celebrate, I have compiled a few photos of scary things I have seen in the last year and a half.  Most people seem to think I should be scared of traveling alone, but this is not the case… However, there are many things I am afraid of. In no particular order, here are some:
IMG_5891Capela de Ossos Bone Chapel, Faro, Portugal

IMG_0394Rodeo, Colorado, USA

IMG_1819Horse Spider, El Tunco, El Salvador

IMG_4379Shriveled up Human Head (most likely fake), Middle of the World, Ecuador

IMG_4543Dead turtle, Galapagos, Ecuador : (

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Skinned Cow, Jujuy, Argentina

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Shriveled up llama fetuses, La Paz, Bolivia

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Creepy doll, Valencia, Spain

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Creepy doll head, Lagos, Portugal

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Caterpillar, Akchor, Morocco

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My barefeet amongst pigeon shit, Fez, Morocco

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Marginalised women…. everywhere

Today is my Birthday in New Zealand. It is not yet my birthday in Spain, where I am right now, but I may just celebrate twice.

Last year I was in Nicaragua for my Birthday. I vividly remember it as if it was yesterday. The people, the cake, the surf conditions and the sunset. It was the first birthday I spent away from home, and it was very special for me. I can’t believe a year has passed since then. It really feels like yesterday. In the middle, there are many vivid memories of days spent living life, learning and being happy.

But this is my whole life actually, I view it as a series of memories and events that brought me here, to this place and time. I am greatful for all of it, so as an experiment, I have dug up photos from my birthdays in the past few years, all of them equally special and unique, due to the times and the people! Thank you to all the wonderful people in my life!!

2005: 21 ! No photos available, but this night remained with me as the best night of my life for many years to come, it was the first time, I allowed myself to really celebrate being me, and being alive!!!

2006: My good school friends FORGOT my birthday, (to this day they argue that they simply got the date confused) I spent it at the local watering hole (shads) getting drunk with my engineering friends, much like many of my University days…

2007: A Muffin Picnic in Albert Park, close to university…
my skiing friends organised it, everybody brought baking, the climbing club people brought tables, it rained and we all squished inside a pergola.

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I also had a birthday BBQ in which we cooked, because the boys didn’t want to

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2008: Celebrated at a good friends house. It was such a small event, we all fitted on one couch. kind of.

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2009: Awkward party. Half my friends in one corner… half in the other… boyfriend at the time streaks through our flat. My friends boyfriend (now husband) also streaks through the flat, but falls off the deck naked. no photographic evidence unfortunately.

2010: Just another Bradford Street Boozeroo! I don’t think it was dress up, but some people came in costumes anyway. The usual things happened I’m sure: chicken nuggets, popcorn machine, beer pong, and a trip to Carl Jr’s the next day. I think it also started as a tea party, and I spent most of the next day scrubbing cake off the walls and ceiling with my flatmates.

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2011: After more than a year of Boozeroos I felt like getting out of the house. I had two birthday outings… at one I ate thai food and got very drunk (carried home in fact) and at the other I ate cake!

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2012: Last year, I went surfing with my lady surfing friends!

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2013: This year, I shall be in Sunny Nerja!

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With all the ramblings of time passing and such themes, I would like to say I have a lot of good stories coming on here…. when I get time to write…

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Wild Pecans

We have a hippie cousin! Or a descendant of a cousin of my granddad anyway.  He has travelled around Europe busking, and is probably the only relative who might just understand me a little!

I met said cousin on a street corner during the coldest day in Buenos Aires so far.  I wore all my warmest clothes at once and was still cold since I was early and he was late to the rendezvous point.  He took me to a little house my grandparents half own on an island in the Tigre Delta area of Buenos Aires, a magical place I haven’t been to for over a decade.  From my childhood I have so many memories here; the smell of deet, the icky taste of powdered milk, croquet on the lawn, and soggy afternoons filled with sunshine.

There are many little silt islands where the river plate discharges into the sea.  People live here permanently, or have little weekend homes.  My grandparents in particular, used to row here every weekend from the mainland.  For those who live here, electricity is only a very recent commodity – post 1990! There are no stores, but people in lanchas (rudimentary speed boats) that go up and down the creeks with fresh bread, produce and whatever else you may fancy.  I would fancy owning a bread boat actually.

IMG_4964Pink Trees

pecan dance

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I had no memories of being there in Autumn, look at the beauty.  My cousin said 1500 people lived on our island permanently, but it had the feel of being deserted. I was lucky to go with someone who knew his way around…  We collected kilos and kilos of Pecans, climbed tress and froze our asses off! The next day I took the lancha colectiva back to the mainland with a sense of fulfilment and joy at the thought of coming back.  Going to the little house on the island is like retreating to a little temple of happiness inside me….

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My hippie cousin inspired me to take a side trip to Punta del Este, Uruguay for the weekend.  Here I mysteriously picked up a sweet foldable bike to baffle customs officers with.  The import laws in Argentina are ridiculous, you have to literally pay 50% of the price of the item to bring it on for personal use!!!! Unbelievable. Argentina is a crazy country.

I remembered being in Punta de Este as a kid, and all I remember is the advertising stickers on cars.  They will stick them on your windscreens untill it is no longer safe to drive due to poor visibility.  Also a crazy place.  But it is now practically winter, and save a few gung-ho surfers I had the place to myself.

Being only a casual surfer, and having the commodity of a bike, I entertained myself by enjoying the sea and the beaches around.   Uruguayans are very chilled out, and drink a lot of Mate.  I saw some hybernating at the hostel, but not out and about on the streets.  Note me wearing my snowboard jacket.  Brrr!

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Breakfast, lunch and dinner, just got stranger and stranger in Colombia…. yes that is cheese in the hot chocolate!

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Sofia (9)View from Caledonia Island towards Colombia

It is not that often I go very far off the gringo trail. However this time, the trail was cold. Gabi and I reached Panama, with only a few days buffer to get to Colombia. One minor detail stood in our way – the Darien Gap. Most people end their trip in Panama, or fly to South America. But this was too boring for us.

Legend says that the Pan American Highway stops here because of Colombian guerrillas, or the drug traffickers, or both. Travellers brave enough to venture the Gap do it illegally by foot, and often do not appear out the other side. I entertained the thought of lugging our 20kg bags kilometers across the unchartered swamp but that option wasn´t going to get us to Carnival on time!

The next option was to take an overpriced sail boat through the San Blas Archipelago followed by 40hrs open water sailing to Cartagena. This was more tempting, but they were all booked out.

The more I asked around the more rumors I heard of another way. A chance meeting through couchsurfing gave us confirmation that we could catch a highspeed boat through the San Blas to the border town of Puerto Obaldia, and then to Colombia. It sounded long and risky, but easy to set up. After a day of watching Iron Men in Panama City, we felt fearless. So that is what we did.

Sofia (2)Ironman  watching day in our new sports gear

SofiaEntering Kuna Territory, Note the fake guns

With extra money, beer, food and water we set out towards the San Blas islands. This is part of Kuna Indian territory and they have preserved the Caribbean feel well by keeping the area under populated. They guard their traditions and land by keeping land and business ownership strictly Kuna. On the way in, we receive a yellow poker chip as proof of tax payment to enter.

Sofia (1)Carti, a Kuna town

There are towns, consisting of several islands with lots of families living in huts, and then there are the tourist islands. These are further away and have 1 or 2 families looking after them. Some people go just to get drunk and party, while others go simply to bask in the sun. I fit into the latter category.

Sofia (3)Isla Diablo

Sofia (5)More Islands

Sofia (4)More Islands

We spent a couple of days on the beach on a quiet island, Isla Diablo, enjoying the sun and tranquility. The island had massive chunks of beautiful coral and huge conch shells on the beach. We spent our days swimming, snorkeling, collecting coral and shells, and making marcame creations. At night there was no electricity, so we went to bed with the sun. Our family took us to other islands and fed us chicken, fish, sea snail and lobster. It was a pretty good life.

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We both knew once we hopped on the lancha our Central America dream paradise would be over, so were in no real hurry.
Our Island family was on to it though. One day they came up in urgency saying the next lancha was leaving in the morning. Not ready to leave our paradise, we wanted to ask all about the boat, but…

Sofia (8)Our sweet ride

Nek minnit we were getting shuttled away. So what if it was dubbed the ¨lancha de la muerte¨ we only had one way to get across the border now. It was a small cargo lancha, 0.5 stars with compulsory life jackets and a waterproof tablecloth to huddle under included. We thought the ride would be 6-8 hours, but after 10hours we got dropped off at a non-descript island somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Feeling stranded, we eat sardine sandwiches and go to sleep in our soggy hammocks.

 Sofia (10)Kuna Lady and Child looking out towards Colombia

Sofia (11)Fashion

The next day we make it to Puerto Obaldia, the last frontier of Central America. After a few hours waiting for the only photocopier in town to start working, we have the luck to catch our third lancha ride. This one nearly flipped a few times, but we make it to Carpurgana ok. We are finally in Colombia, next stop Carnival!!!

Sofia (12)Gabi conquering Colombia

For the end of the Mayan calendar, the solstice or whatever you’d like to call it, I flew up to Mexico to meet my sister, my moon sisters and to be close to where it all started.

The Rainbow family (otherwise known as hippies by all the normal people) were having a gathering close to Palenque, an impressive Mayan site for the event.  We decided this would be a great idea too…

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My sisters and I at the Rainbow Gathering

We didn’t have any expectations on the end of the world as such, but thought it would be a fun gathering anyways.  In the days leading up to 21 December I saw so many surreal scenes with naked people that I thought I was already in another dimension.  I also heard many theories on what might happen.  Aliens, portals, dimension upgrades for humans and people living inside the planet were all viable possibilities.  After all, modern science is just theories anyways, right?

My favorite option was that we would all have a moment of enlightenment at the time of the alignment, seeing and understanding other dimensions, similar to an ayahuasca trip.  I wish.

As the people at our gathering were lacking in organsiational skills, we decided to go solo and camp at the ruins ourselves.  3 of us independent ladies took our second tent and wandered towards the ruins.  Unfortunately for us there were guards with guns patrolling, so we had to pay US$2.5 to pitch our tent at a campsite.  At around midnight it started to rain. Sleeping in a puddle sharing a sleeping bag between 3 was not much fun, but we didn’t have a moment of enlightenment till the solstice time, when we moved our tent under a cover.

Sick, smelly, soaked, cold and disillusioned we walked in the rain to the ruins for an average day.  Happy new era!!!

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Not an authentic ceremony, Palenque

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Since then, we have been exploring Mayan portals to the underworld.  No one knows what exactly happened to the Mayans; why their civilisation collapsed?  Many believe they became elves and are now living in these portals (cenotes, caves, lakes etc) and guarding the forests. Who knows.  It was an interesting journey anyway.

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Is this a portal to a better world?

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A portal to fun

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Also not a portal, Copan, Honduras

In this dimension, many Mayans and practices still remain, with 31 distinct languages still being spoken in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.  Most of them don’t even speak Spanish.   Although most of their knowledge had been lost, herbal medicine, dress and some worship traditions still exist.  I can see where the elf story came from – these modern day people are barely up to my shoulder!

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Modern day Mayans in traditional dress, Santiago La Laguna, Guatemala

At an art exhibition recently I was shocked to see pictures of Mayan men scouring for scrap metals in Guatemala City – right where the sewerage outflow meets the rubbish dump.  These men reportedly scavenge $20 a day; more then twice the minimum wage in Guatemala.  And yet these people are happier than many people I have met in the Western world.

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Trash miners, Guatemala City

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Success of the day, Guatemala City

The month of November, when I thought I would be learning permaculture and ended up working in a smoothie bar in Pachamama, deep in the Costa Rican jungle was indescribable!

Pachamama is an intentional community based on Osho principles.  After the month, I am still not sure what Osho principles entail, but I had a that wasn’t so important…. I learnt a lot and had a great time! Everyone there is beautiful, and I did not end up having much spare time.  I was always enjoying something like; Swimming in the river, endless hot showers, yoga, temascal, meditation, crazy dancing, awesome dancing, bonfires, tents, Cacao parties, dinner parties, intense conversations, good people and serving wild treats.

IMG_2702My Casita

IMG_2712Our “private” beach

IMG_2786Bonfires 🙂

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IMG_2857Beach again…

Unfortunately I cannot share the amazing recipies I learnt, but here is one I found online, which is also my favourite!

HALVA BALLS

Ingredients (for 10-15 balls):

1 cup Almonds, 2 cups Tahini, 2-3 tbs. Honey, Salt, Vanilla

Preparation:

1. Crunch the almonds with a pinch of salt in a food processor until it is powder.

2. Add the Tahini, Honey and Vanilla and mix it well until it is like a dough.

3. Roll portions into ball shapes and roll them in almond powder.

Optional: Put little pieces of chocolate inside.

Place them in a fridge for some time before serving.

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Wild Treats Nom Nom

Recipie credit: https://www.facebook.com/pages/PachaMama/122941224395291?ref=ts&fref=ts

Thanks Pachamama!