The Morning After Cambodia

What happens the morning after? Will we get closer? Or will I just feel like I just made a big mistake? The “morning after” usually refers to what happens after two people have sex. And it usually depends on what happens the night before. In my case, the morning after refers to Cambodia, and to what happened a few months ago. I do not mean that I had sex with the country (of course not), but I do refer to the manner in which I was emotionally overwhelmed, because it was at least as ‘deep’. 😉

Sihanoukville 400

In love with Cambodia @ Koh Rong Samloem

I mean, if you are in love with a country and you have thought about the decision to volunteer, your entire experience can be something turning out dramatically different than your initial expectations if the country – or other (f)actors – do not seem to be on the same line as you are. Volunteering won’t automatically bring you closer, you might probably feel better by doing it initially but if you and the country do not seem to find a solution for the projects you’re working on, you might be asking yourself questions:

  • Why do I (still) want to volunteer?
  • What does voluntourism mean to me?
  • Does voluntourism fit with my values?
  • Is this a short-term thing or do I see this having a long-term benefit?
  • And if we have a relationship, what does connect us?

I never expected myself to raise these questions in my mind, but after working in the volunteer industry in Cambodia, I did ask myself many deep questions about volunteering and tourism (so called ‘voluntourism’).

  • What kinds of projects work?
  • Who will benefit from our projects: the locals, the industry or the volunteer?
  • What will we do if it fails?

Tonle Sap & Basket Weaving 233

What if voluntourism was like a fake ‘snake’ / sneaky friend?

“Don’t fear the enemy that attacks you but the fake friend that hugs you.”

When I was working in Cambodia this summer, the first weeks I was doing my job great and I traveled around with the volunteers. Only by the time we were finishing our volunteer projects, I started to raise these questions. Some things just weren’t right. Maybe that’s the reason why I stopped blogging? Because I was confused?

I mean… If you are building toilets without offering maintenance or technical support, what does the family then do when the toilet is broken?

I mean… If you are building water pumping wells and you don’t supply the water filters, how can those people then give water to their children?

I mean… If you are teaching English to a class of children, but you only stay for two weeks, how can you get to teach them something worthy?

I mean… If you are going to play with orphans in a so-called orphanage, does it really make these children better if you leave again after two weeks? 

Cambodia Leap 228

Volunteering in Sihanoukville (Cambodia), Summer 2014

These are only a couple of questions that raised in my mind, after working as a volunteer group leader in Cambodia… And of course, I have seen many beautiful things too and the volunteering did contribute to many factors too. I am only disappointed that I feel like voluntourism does seem to have more positive impacts on the personal development of the lives of my volunteers, than it does on the country. That is why I talk about a “morning after” effect.

In the mean time, months have passed by that I am back from Cambodia, but I can’t get this questions out of my mind. And as I started my Masters in Anthropology in September, I found that this issue is the appropriate topic for me to write my thesis about. Therefor, I am now researching a lot about Voluntourism and its impacts. And I have found surprisingly much information and articles about it. So much that I am even stuck in finding my own research question to solve in my thesis. 🙂 So if you can help me, comment bellow and help me finding my thesis topic!

No, the real reason why I want to share my feelings about voluntourism in this blogpost, is not about willing to stop the explosion of voluntourism. I still do have a lot of respect for all the volunteers in the world that want to spend time hoping to help a country and its people forward. I believe that they all have the right intentions, but that the problem of voluntourism is somewhere in a layer underneath: somewhere between the intermediaries and the local businesses… And I am afraid I am not powerful (and even not brave) enough to fix that fundamental issue.

to hell with good intentions

What I do hope to send out as a message via this blog post is to be aware that you might be going to hell with good intentions. One of the problems is that “There has always been a nagging inadequacy around the assertion that one cannot sell poverty, but one can sell paradise. Today the tourism industry does sell poverty.” (quote from my Professor Noel Salazar from Tourist Behaviour: A Psychological Perspective)

I am afraid that I cannot give you that much answers yet, but what I can advise you is to be careful when you decide to go abroad volunteering. You can find tips and tricks on http://learningservice.info/ , created by the ‘rethinkers of volunteer travel’. Because I am convinced that we all want to make the most out of volunteering and travels, but we have to do it the right way. And if we – volunteers – are aware of the critical issues in voluntourism, we are one step closer to rethinking and re-creating what used to be a noble random act of kindness.

service-learning

And don’t worry, I don’t have the intentions to stop volunteering. I won’t stop before I have the feeling that something has changed, partially through my efforts. Because you have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. ❤ Share the message if you agree that volunteer travel needs to change. Awareness is the greatest agent for change! ❤

Lots of love

x Julie x

Livin’ the GOOD Life in Cambodia

I’m writing this post during a rainy Saturday evening in Siem Reap. Although it is rainy season, it has only rained for a few hours a day, mostly in the afternoons or evenings. And while I’m sitting here cosy in my bed with the laptop on my lap, I have time to daydream about the past month here in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Actually, it is not a dream – it is real – but the time has gone so fast ever since I arrived here, that I realize I’m already half way through and there are still so many things I would like to do. I guess “time flies when you’re having fun” and you can definetely only regret chances that you didn’t take in life. But before I get too deep in my musing, let me briefly tell you what I experienced the last 4 weeks here…

volunteering cambodia

Life feels good when you are doing something good… ❤

When I came back from my short field trip to Sihanoukville on a night bus, I was sick. That bus was one of the most horrible experiences in my entire travel life. I had to sleep in a cabin which looked like it was for one person, but I had to share it with two. The journey took also more then 14 hours (19.00-09.00) with no space to stretch your legs/arms and hardly any toilet stop. I had to go home from the office later after that day, and I slept the clock round, taking paracetamols struggling to get my sudden high fever down. I was scared to have catched a tropical disease and was worried about being so sick as the group arrived next day. But surprisingly, I felt a lot better already the next day and God-bless-my-strong-body-and-mind, because ever since the group arrived the 2nd of July, I have been busy for more than 15 hours a day, each day!

Siem Reap Volunteer House

The Volunteer House in Siem Reap

After picking up the group at the airport, I showed them the volunteer house in Siem Reap where they would be staying for 4 weeks, and I took them for a strawl around town. Later at night, we had the welcome dinner and the next morning we did the orientation session about their volunteer projects here. The afternoon was spent getting to know eachother during a visit to the local handicrafts market and the best icecream bar in town (The Blue Pumpkin).

 Siem Reap first drink

First drink with the Leapers in Siem Reap

The day after that, we started our first day on the project sites, which consisted mainly out of introducing them to the work and dividing them in smaller groups. The afternoon teaching project did not seem to be able to offer us the desired work, which caused a lot of extra work for me and the project leading team to find another school. Stressy days!

Siem Reap Projects Self Help

Self Help Community Centre

Then at night, we started of the weekend and I decided to go out for a drink with the girls to socialize and get closer to them. We headed to the famous Pub Street, which is the most famous street in Cambodia, with endless dining, drinking and party options… As pretty much everyone got way too drunk way too fast, I headed back home at a descent hour, sober.

first night out in Siem Reap

First night out in Siem Reap with the volunteers

The next day, Saturday, we planned a full day visit to Angkor Wat, the biggest religious monument in the world, a temple complex for which you need at least two days to visit the main sights only. Spectacular!

Siem Reap & Angkor Wat

Monks around the Temples of Angkor Wat

We also used our free Sunday to visit some more of the temples and I felt a 100% blessed to be able to work in Cambodia for the summer and seeing al these beautiful and unexpected things in the world.

Siem Reap Angkor Wat

+/- 3 million of tourists visit Angkor Wat each year…

After an impressive first weekend, I started a new work week with loads of positive energy. We started to build a water pumping well in a local community in the Puok District, and we were able to find a great little school for the afternoon teaching sessions, with many children in need to learn English. The first teaching experiences were hard as it was difficult to tell their level of English, but the great thing is that while the volunteers are teaching, they learn as least as much theirselves too from the experience itself. It was definetely a great opportunity to do this for a few weeks, and the children obviously loved our presence at the school. They are adorable!

Siem Reap Water pumping well project

Our water pumping well, nearly finished…

By Wednesday we already finished our 2 water pumping wells (each group one) and we moved on to the next water project: building a toilet. We could see that the locals benefit a lot from our help and so our time is very well spent. We are doing such a great job here, which gives a huge feeling of appreciation! However, I had some difficult days on a personal level, maybe because I was tired and adapting to a new life style and a new group in a new country again, but it could not stop me from feeling proud of myself for what I was doing here! And the more the days passed, the more I started to enjoy Cambodia and the group. (of course I would!)

I was enjoying Cambodia and The Leap program more and moer everyday. The work was enjoyable as we moved from the one community to another and it did not feel as tough as the program in Ecuador. It was a luxury to come back every time to the hotel room, having nice food and a shower every day. But I also feel like I’m rather gaining weight than lossing it… So I decided to start a 5 minute workout program daily: 61 sit-ups (the number of days I stay in Cambodia) and 10 squad excercises (with a Youtube clip). The price you pay for having all this luxury and food around you… 😛

dinner night out siem reap

One of the many nice dinners out in Siem Reap

Anyway, after finishing the water pumping well, we started to build 2 toilets for 2 incredibly friendly but poor families in another community. Initially, the project was planned for only 3 days but we ended up staying there 6 days. One of the families had 4 children and they had to walk down the whole street to use a neighbour’s toilet or go in the wilderness. Our toilet was more then welcome so! Their oldest daughter was 17 years old and the only one in the family who could speak some English. In the afternoon she went to school and in the morning she helped her mother with the household. She LOVED having us there and I had many beautiful conversations with her, that in the mean time broke my heart… For example, she asked me about my favourite food, so I said curry and rice (because I thought that might be something she knew) but she didn’t. They only eat rice, leafs, coconuts and other vegetables or fruits they can cultivate there. She never ate a pizza in her life and she did not even know what it looked like.  I took some pictures of her and her mother because they did not have any mirror either to see theirselves, and of course no family pictures either.

Toilet Project Siem Reap

Me with the daughter of 17 years old, she could be my little sister

The family also had a baby pig, which they were growing up to sell later on to get money from. One of their only sources of income… But the pig was the cutest pig ever and became my friend more and more every day. It loved being petted and I took it for a walk a few times because it was too sad seeing it in its small cage. My “Babe” behaved like a dog, was obviously having the best days of its life running down the street, playing in the mud and eating grass in the ricefield. On our last day, I asked the family not to sell the pig for slaughter, but they said they needed the money. So they asked me to help them buying a male pig (this one was a female) so they could make babies and sell those, and have more income. With the money they explained they would build a new house, because the one they had was too old and too small. I realised that indeed one pig extra could change the financial situation of the family drastically. I was convinced and we promised to come back one day with a male pig (costs about $50).

Siem Reap Volunteer piglet

The cutest Piglet I’ve ever seen in my entire life! ❤

I have such a great memories of our time there with these people and piggie! In the afternoons, we went to ELMA School, where my volunteers were teaching better and better every day. The atmosphere there was great and we had also fun with the kids, playing games after the classes. The last day we were thanked with a traditional dance show and an English song, and the volunteers got their certificates of teaching English. Another mission accomplished! 🙂

Elma school

ELMA School : ‘Education – Love – Motivation – Action’

Now we are spending our mornings in Samrong Village near Angkor Wat, where we already made insence sticks (which looks easier then it is), and we plan to do basket weaving for next week.

Insence Sticks

Making Insence Sticks

In the afternoons, we are now going to CDO (Cambodian Development Organisation), where the volunteers spend 2 hours teaching English and Computer classes to orphans and 1 hour of constructing a new orphenage for them each day from Monday to Friday.

There is only one week left at those projects in Siem Reap, so the time definetely goes fast. This weekend we went to the Floating Village and we did a boat trip on Tonle Sap Lake, which used to be the biggest sweet water lake in South East Asia.

Tonle Sap lake floating village

The floating village at Tonle Sap lake

Usually, the girls go out on Friday evenings so they can be hangover on Saturdays, enjoy a brunch in town, have a pedicure/manicure/massage and do some shopping. Then Sundays are reserved for an excursion. The first weekend we went to Angkor Wat (temples), the second weekend we went to Phnom Kulen (waterfall) and this weekend we visited Tonle Sap (Floating Village and Lake). Phnom Kulen was a National Park with some buddhist statues in it and other religious places, but most famous for its giant waterfall. It was nice to cool off and swim there, feeling like Tarzans in the jungle, enjoying a picknick and tanning a bit.

Phnom Kulen waterfall

The waterfall at Phnom Kulen N.P.

During the week everyone goes to bed surprisingly early and the spare time is filled with shopping at the market, going for Indian/Mexican/International food and watching shows like the traditional Apsara dance show. We also got slightly addicted to the fruit shakes that they sell everywhere for only $1: they are frozen and contain fresh fruit! Jummie! 😛

apsara

Apsara traditional dance show at Temple Club, Siem Reap

I think the girls are having the time of their lives and even though I have busy days being with them most of the time AND training my fellow local colleagues in group leading AND writing reports for The Leap AND preparing various documents for the program, I am feeling better and better here because the days go fast and the program is going so well and nice! I’m starting to fall in love with Cambodia’s charming landscapes, laid back way of life and beautiful children. Only one month left to go and I’m back home! Half way through now!

x x x Love x x x

Julie

From Ecuador to Cambodia .with Love.

Quite a lot of things have changed since my last update from Ecuador. I am currently 18.500 km further, literally on the other side of the world, and a lot has happened in the last few weeks and days, wherefore I didn’t manage to structure some nice blog posts. So for all of the ones who cannot follow (I can’t follow myself sometimes anymore), here’s a short update of a long journey to a new life in Cambodia.

I returned from Quito (Ecuador) to Brussels (Belgium) the 20th of June, had a only a full 3 days there to meet up with my family and friends, and left again the 24th of June towards Bangkok (Thailand), from where I would take a long distance bus crossing the border to Siem Reap (Cambodia), my new hometown for the next two months. Taking The Leap again for the Summer Program was the most crazy and impulsive decision I’ve probably made in my entire life, as it meant I would be tour leading again for two months… I was also absolutely NOT prepared for this one (as it would be my first time in Asia!), but I switched OFF the ‘think’-button and ON the ‘do’-button. Trust was the new keyword in my life, after many crazy experiences, and I was sure this would be another great time abroad.

job

I decided to do this job for many reasons: first of all because it was LIVING THE DREAM, an amazing chance I had to take, and travelling for a long time abroad had done something with the person I was and the life I lived… I was questioning all aspects in life: my studies, my job, my home, my boyfriend, my friends, my lifestyle, … In Ecuador I had learned that gap years are all about finding yourself, but when you find yourself, the reality just does not make sense anymore. And I felt like I could use the time to overthink life some more and have a better perspective on things when I would return the end of August.

Every end is a new beginning, and all great changes are proceeded by chaos… With these new quotes I left for a 9 hours flight to Mumbai (India) where I had a stopover for my flight to Bangkok (Thailand). During that time in the airport and on the flight, I got to taste a little of the Indian culture and I can ensure you: this country is on my wishlist even more now: lovely people, a special culture and delicious food! Then I flew another 4 hours further, arriving in Bangkok (Thailand) where I would spend 1 night before crossing the border to Cambodia.

bangkok

Me hanging around the Buddhist temples of Bangkok

It was my first time in Asia, and I expected to have a serious culture shock again, but I guess I was getting used to travelling and getting lost in a new city. I was simply amazed by all the cultural differences: how a city can be so busy and chaotic from the ‘outside’, but as soon as you enter a temple (the ‘inside), you feel Buddha’s everlasting peacefulness… I also loved the fact that they all walked barefoot in temples 😛 Add up the amazing Thai food to that, and you’ll understand why I enjoyed Bangkok so much. Love at first sight, and definetely ready to return in August for another overnight stop before flying back to Belgium!

A few tuk tuk and Sky train rides, and 500 questions about finding my way later, I was on my way to Cambodia. The border crossing experience was “something else” (as Kevin Hart would say it), with the usual chaos and visa procedures, but I kept calm and arrived safe but sweaty in Siem Reap, a 9 hour bus route from Bangkok.

The first thing I noticed was the amazing hospitality of the Cambodian people, who seem to live to serve others. An amazing feeling that sometimes overwhelmes me too much, coming from a rough and tough culture in South America where hospitality is not even mentioned in the Spanish dictionnary… I also felt safe, very very safe, even in all this tuk tuk and motorcycle chaos.

I got a room in ‘Angkor Boutique Villa’, where I met my new boss upon arrival. He was the owner of the hotel and he told me I would stay in this place during my whole time with The Leap in Siem Reap. That ment: airconditioning, a mini-fridge, a hot shower and room cleaning service all the time. This was such a blessing!

Angkor Boutique Hotel

A room at Angkor Boutique Villa, this is HOME.

http://www.angkorboutiquevilla.com/

We also had a 4-course dinner with the group leading team. I felt like I was the only one talking on the table, which made me feel quite stupid. But I immediately realised: these people are just so ZEN and stress is a word that they didn’t seem to know. So frustrating, haha! Who am I going to share my dramaqueen-moments with now?? 😉 No, seriously, the people are shy, open to listen but they obviously think twice before they speak. They are so well mannered that sometimes it feels artificial and as if they studied what they supposed to say. I definetely have culture shock with that part, and have to get used to dealing with the locals in a proper way…

Also, the weather is hot and humid, more than anywhere in Ecuador and I had no idea how I would ever be able to work here. God bless the A/C in my room! The food is nice, less spicy than in Thailand and of course every day twice rice, but they use curries, basil and lemongrass a lot. Hmm, I love Khmer cuisine!

Khmer Amok

Khmer Amok – A typical curry dish

Friday was my first day of work, again it surprised me how relaxed everyone was working (barefoot) in the office. I felt welcomed and they already asked me to stay working after one day for a longer period. Guess they liked me!

I felt quite privileged having my boss, a busy man running 2 travel agencies and 1 hotel, all for myself on a few private tours, introducing me to the volunteer projects around Siem Reap. Honestly, it was all way too overwhelming and too much information to absorb in only two days, but I just went along with it and let it all happen to me. Trying not to stress out was definetely easier with calm people around me. God, I need to learn how to meditate…

It were also very emotional days, going directly to the poorest areas where hundreds of poor kids lived in bad conditions, and on the other hand realizing I really did it. I left Belgium again for 2 months and I started to realize it for real now! But luckily, there was not much time to think…

Siem Reap Projects Volunteer

Mother and child in a local community, Siem Reap (Cambodia)

Saturday evening I had a business dinner with the company I worked for (Indochina Adventures, the local agent for The Leap in Cambodia). I didn’t understand much of the Khmer conversations they were having (and it’s hopeless to start studying this difficult language). Also, I wasn’t prepared with my adventurous backpack clothes to participate in this ‘beau monde’ life. And I had difficulties being served with another 4-course dinner while the same day children on the street were begging me for money and food a few blocks away from that same restaurant. What a shocking contrast!

Siem Reap was one big tourist resort, in my eyes, where one can find every Western product wished for. Made in China, low prices and happy hours everywhere… I could see a Leap group having the time of their lives here soon… Whether I honestly liked it, is something else, because I lacked authenticity and I wasn’t used to having such a big offer in comfort food and products anymore, after living in Ecuador anymore. I missed my ‘back to basics’ life!!!

Early in the morning on Sunday, I left Siem Reap to Pnomh Penh and Sihanouk Ville to visit the volunteer projects there. They bought me first class VIP bus tickets and my gave me $100 cash to pay my hotel and eat 2 days. I felt treathed like a princess, being picked up at the hotel entrance and given a packed breakfast box for on the way. This was too much!! Such a big contrast from where I came from and I wondered why I was being treathed so well here. But I could find a reasonable answer and decided to believe I deserved all of this after 4 months in Ecuador and I would give the best of myself of work, that was the only thing I could do in return and a good motivation to start of with!

Sihanouk Ville

Sunset in Sihanouk Ville

It were 7,5 hours to Pnomh Penh (the capital city of Cambodia) and another 6 hours to Sihanouk Ville (beach alarm!), so it was too much time to think for me on the bus, and arriving in another tourism paradise like this on my own was hard and confrontating. I felt lonely and lost in this paradise, had too much time for myself – being here to work and “change the world” – not to enjoy really, but I kept strong thinking about the great times that would come once the group arrived and then I didn’t have to be lonely anymore, being able to start doing what I loved to do: group leading, volunteer coordinating, working hard on the projects and party even harder. (HELLO GOD? IS THERE A WAY TO SIGN A CONTRACT FOR LIFE TO DO THIS DREAM JOB?)

I just hated this random days before / between a new phase in life, when you don’t know what to do with yourself. You’re preparing and preparing, but in the same time you know you’ll never feel prepared enough, so sometimes in life (no, most of the times in life) you just have to stop thinking and start doing! And that’s exactly what I did when I decided to go from Ecuador to Cambodia, and the reason why good things happen!

Take The Leap, Take The Risk. Take The Chance.

It might be worth it! ❤

Julie

risk care dream expect

 

The Cloud Forest of Mindo

After working hard for two weeks in the Andes, we were rewarded by a free weekend to enjoy the cloud forest of Mindo. We travelled about half of the day, and arrived in the afternoon in the tiny but beautiful village of Mindo.

With its breathtaking settings surrounded by cloud forest on all sides, the small village of Mindo has become a backpackers favourite in Ecuador the latest years. It lives and breathes tourism, and it is conveniently located just off the main road between Quito and Esmeraldas.

Mindo is a paradise for birdwatchers, hikers and adventurers as there are loads of activities to do: butterfly farms, zip lines over the treetops, mountain-biking, tubing, orchid collections, and so on… Me and my group opted for a visit to the chocolate factory on Saturday, tubing on Sunday and a waterfall tour on Monday.

Mindo The Leap

Leap Team B in Mindo

Saturday 31/05/14: Chocolate Factory

Straight after our arrival in Mindo, we booked a tour to El Quetzal, the Chocolate Factory of Mindo. It has a wonderful laid-back coffee shop and the real reason to visit it is to try the locally famous brownie, the American owner’s proud specialty, according to Lonely Planet. And so we did!

We got a tour to see the whole chocolate making process, where they grew the cacao tree, how they roasted the beans, how they mixed the chocolate and so on. But the highlight of our tour was of course the tasting workshop, where we tried various types of chocolate (very pure and healthy) with sirops, herbs and spices. It was quite an experience, and the brownie was indeed unforgettably delicious!

Mindo Chocolate Factory

Brownies at El Quetzal

Saturday evening it was time to discover Mindo’s nightlife, and we ended up chilling in a treehouse bar zipping pinneaple daiquiris and other cocktails. It was a good night, hanging around as one big family team! 🙂

Sunday 01/06/14: Tubing

After quite an early breakfast, we had to postphone our tour of the day to the afternoon as it was raining. Not that it was a problem, because Sunday is usually a lazy day and nobody felt like moving. I wandered around in town, worked on the computer and in the afternoon the group went tubing. Tubing the rapids of Rio Mindo is a very popular activity, but can be also dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Therefor, it is always guided. Cost? $6. Not bad!

Mindo TubingTubing Activity

The evening was spend more relaxed and laid-back, having dinner at Biohostal and going to bed early for tomorrow’s trip.

Monday 02/06/14: Waterfall Tour

After an early breakfast we left for another tour, my favourite one in Mindo! The Tarabita, a unique hand-powered cable car, took us soaring across the lush river basin over the tick cloud forest to the Bosque Protector Mindo-Nambillo, where you can find lots of waterfalls along the hiking trail.

The perfectly safe wirte basked on steel cables glides 152m above the ground and, though certainly not for people who are afraid of heights, it is a superb way to get above the forest and enjoy incredible views!

Mindo TarabitaEnjoying the Tarabita views

Cascada Nambillo was the closest waterfall on our map and trail, and took us more or less 15 minutes walking to get there. It was a nice hike with impressive views along the way. In order to get to the waterfalls, we had to do a hell of a rock climb – which I was absolutely not planning to do – but took us to a magical place, where the boys found their paradise and encountered their inner Tarzans! 😛

They used the tubes, the water slide, the ropes, the rocks, the water, and everything else you can imagine to make some waterfall fun!

Mindo WaterfallsRock climbing at Cascada Nambillo

We headed back to Mindo town around lunch time, I bought bus tickets, made invoices, arranged a place for lunch and so on, and then we took the bus to Quito, where we arrived around dinner time. It was a nice and calm but still very enjoyable last weekend of our Leap program.

Next on schedule:

The Ruta del Sol, the last week of The Leap!

Oh my god… Time flies when you’re having fun!!!

x x x

Julie

My Galápagos Dream Journey – 7: San Cristobal

7: SAN CRISTOBAL

After taking a 2 hour boat ride from Isabela to Santa Cruz, and another one from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal, I had finally arrived back at the island where my Leap group was volunteering.

Islas de Galapagos san cristobal

View from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, capital of Galapagos

During my stopover in Santa Cruz, I had the best fruit bowl with granola for breakfast ever, and visited the Charles Darwin Research Center, as it is not so far walking from the peer and it is a must-see in the islands, I was told. However, it did not really impress me a lot. After the death of Lonesome George, I do not think that there is that much more to see in the station. Or at least not things you can’t see anywhere else on the islands, such as iguanas and tortoises.

Islas de Galapagos tortoise

Tortoises in Charles Darwin Research Center, Santa Cruz

So I walked back quite quickly, went to the internetcafe to do some work for school, had a salad for lunch (yes, a healthy day) and bought some last souvenirs on the avenue. Then it was time to board the next ferry, which would bring me in another two hours to San Cristobal.

I did not have a reservation or a fixed plan, but I was not planning to return to Hacienda Tranquila because I wanted my two last nights to be spent as a holiday. So when I arrived at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, I went to a hostel called Leon Dormido and asked if they had a room. They tried to sell it for $30 a night, but I got it down to $20, convincing them that I did not have more budget. I got a very nice room with airconditioning and hot water, and I had to walk 2 steps to be on the main street. And there was WiFi, even in the room. Perfect!

After putting my laundry in the shop, I met my group by coincidence in town. We had a drink together and decided to meet for dinner in a restaurant. It was really nice to spend that evening together with them again and I enjoyed a chicken burger. We watched the sea lions playing on the beach at night and then we headed back seperately to our accommodations.

Islas de Galapagos san cristbal sea lion

Sea lion in San Cristobal

Thursday 8th of May it was my last full day on the islands, and I had a free day to do whatever I felt like doing. I slept later then my usual 6 o`clock, had a good breakfast and was planning to go searching for `Fundacion Nueva Era` as Yanapuma was interested in a collaboration with them. It felt like a great coincidence, because while I was eating breakfast on a terrace, some poster crossed my eye and that was it! Right there was the foundation. So I went inside, explained myself and 5 minutes later I had an appointment with the boss for the next morning. Great because that ment work for today was done…

I went for a walk in town, bought some souvenir, had a freshly squeezed juice and did some reflection on my time in the Galapagos. It had definetely been a great journey so far. And to give myself some last sun rays before heading back to Quito, I headed to the beach. I walked via the coast to Playa Mann, which was surprisingly relaxed. There was a beach bar, again some sea lions and some trees to look for shadow when the sun is too hot.

Islas de Galapagos playa mann

Beach bar at Playa Mann, San Cristobal

I also visited the opposite Interpretaton Center of San Cristobal, which was the most interesting museum of the Galapagos Islands, to my opinion. After traveling a lot, I felt like all the pieces fell together and I got answers to questions I did not think about. It was free entrance and I have learned a lot of things about the history of the island and the income generation of tourism for example.

Islas de Galapagos interpretaton center san cristobal

The most interesting information of all… – Interpretation Center

After the cultural visit I went back to the beach and watched sunset. Enjoying to the fullest my very last moments here. I went to the hostel for a shower, and had something small for dinner. As the Galapagos came to an end, it means that another Phase with my Leap volunteers was coming soon. Tomorrow I would meet them at the airport to fly back to Quito and start the Adventure Week. I was definetely nervous for that, but come on up… Break a leg!

Islas de Galapagos sunset playa mann

Last Sunset on San Cristobal

Well, that was it. The end of my Galapagos Dream Journey. I had spend 3 weeks on the islands, felt like the luckiest girl on earth for having this amazing opportunity to visit the islands on a budget and was absolutely sure about never ever ever forgetting this in my life. I had seen the most amazing animals on earth, met great people, found new volunteer projects and did some volunteer work myself as well, was more tanned then ever before, spend too much money but oh so well spend so I could not care, I felt great because life was good and with loads of energy I was heading back to Ecuador`s mainland, ready to give the best of myself for another 4 weeks with The Leap.

Bless you all!

From Julie with Love

If you never try, you’ll never know…

Here’s the truth: You can’t know how you’re going to feel about something until that “something” is actually happening. Because guess what? The only way to figure out what works for you is to try things, so you can’t be afraid to try things. And only until you learn to let go your fears, you can rise above them.

I guess true failure is when you don’t let yourself off the perfectionism hook long enough to experiment and test and live. Experimentation is everything. So I told myself… “Listen, I get that you’re scared. But I also get that you want to change your life here. And it’s not gonna happen if you keep… waiting.”

And so I decided to go out and try things until I figured out whether it worked for me. Because really, what’s the worst that could happen? Winding up not liking the city, returning home and stay scared? Well, congratulations, THEN YOU KNOW. And that alone is a big success.

But so I made a turnaround in my mind and started to open up myself for this country. And from then I realized… We all have eyes, but not all of us can see. Everything depends on whether you are ready for it or not. And after one difficult week I felt ready! Finally!

Quito 198

#selfie (not so great hihi)

The weekend started and I decided to go out and do something on my own, without the protection of my guest family. And it didn’t matter what, just something to make me feel fine. And so I decided for the first time in my life to do something I usually have an aversion to: tourist buses. 🙂 This time I could only see the advantages: cheap, easy, safe, punctual, comfortable, educative and fun!

Quito 002

And so I decided my Day Tour with the Hop On – Hop Off Service in Quito. And I turned out to see a lot of things:

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I really enjoyed being alone all these hours, and finally and did not only feel FREEDOM but I also start to appreciate the beauty and the culture of this city (even though it stays hard to focus on it sometimes hihi). Note:  Latin American capital cities are known to be not the most beautiful cities in the continent, due to a high population, traffic problems, air pollution, crime, violence and so on.

It was like I had different eyes to see, different ears to hear, a different nose to smell and a different mouth to taste. Everything was getting better today! I enjoyed my time and felt accomplished when I got back home. I had not been robbed, I had not felt scared or unsafe, I had not felt lonely and I even had the biggest portion of sun during this whole week. God’s sign to say things were moving on from now on?!

 new eyes

Sunday was also a lovely day. However it begun with pooring rain, the weather got better and me, Francisco (my host father) and Nicolas (another guest staying in the house), decided to go out for a tour and we rented bicycles. On Sunday the city is partially car-free so that cyclists and pedestrians have time and space to enjoy their ‘healthy’ free weekends.

Bycicle Tour

Francisco guided us up north towards the old airport of Quito. Nowadays, there is a new airport build about one hour distance of the city center. Therefore, the old airport was closed and is now used as a bycicle park. And I have to say, it had something ‘different’: riding the bike on an airport strip!! It was a nice experience, even though the altitude made it difficult to breath for me sometimes… DSCN5977

On our way home, we stopped by the local market of Santa Clara and had some lunch there. I wasn’t really sure about the hygiene and the quality of the food there, but as everybody ate (and I promised myself “if you never try, you’ll never know…”) I had a delicious plate of fresh fish with rice, plantains and spicy sauce. Mercado Santa Clara

Afterwards, I decided to pass by the bakery for something sweet because I was starving (because of the exercise or the altitude?). I bought ‘Tres Leches’ desserts and took it home for the whole family. I really feel so good there with them, every day I feel blessed to say that I feel like ‘going home’…

Tres Leches Postre

Around 4 o’clock it started to rain again, so we felt lucky to be inside again. Everybody was tired and as the weather was bad, we all felt like doing a siesta. Nothing more relaxing on a Sunday afternoon!

And so, my dear friends… After all I had a great weekend and I feel like I have found new energy and strength for next week! I hope you are as happy as me to feel things are getting better. And as you might have noticed: I have tried and now I know… Hey, everything is okay! 😉

Gandia – University Life (2)

Time for a follow-up post about the student life in Gandia … In the previous post I talked about my course package and my spectacular way to pass the French subject. Perhaps it is now time to take a look at the vibrant campus life (and then again on some subjects …).

Tijd voor een vervolg-postje over het studentleven in Gandia… In de vorige post vertelde ik over mijn lessenpakket en mijn spectaculaire parcours door het vak Frans. Misschien is het nu tijd om even stil te staan bij de bruisende campus (en daarna weer over wat vakken…).

gandia_cas

As you can see, the university campus is situated near the beach of Gandia. It seems that God has listened to the prayers of ‘the student’ here because this is truly a dream destination! The motto “work hard, party harder” here is therefore truly applicable. Playa de Gandia is not only famous and notorious for its beach, the whole neighborhood actually comes to life after midnight. As it should be (in Spain)!

Zoals je kan zien, situeert de universiteitscampus van Gandia vlakbij het strand. Het lijkt wel alsof God de gebeden van ‘de student’ hier heeft aanhoort, want dit is werkelijk een droombestemming! Het motto “work hard, party harder” is hier dan ook werkelijk van toepassing. Playa de Gandia is niet alleen beroemd en berucht om het strand, de hele buurt komt eigenlijk pas tot leven na middernacht. Zo hoort dat (in Spanje)!

The ultra-modern campus was opened in 2001 and has approximately 2,000 students. And even though the architecture looks very strict: the atmosphere that hangs around is very casual and relaxed. The relationship between teacher and pupil are very familiar, reportedly even more than in the rest of Spain. That’s the advantage of this “small” campus (for Spanish standards).

De uiterst moderne campus werd pas geopend in 2001 en telt ongeveer 2000 studenten. En ook al ziet de architectuur er best strikt en streng uit: de sfeer die er rondhangt is uiterst ongedwongen en relaxed. De relatie tussen leerkracht en leerling zijn heel familiair, naar verluidt nog meer dan in de rest van Spanje. Dat is het voordeel van deze ‘kleine’ campus (naar Spaanse normen).

Enjoying Gandia Life 009

The university campus currently offers four disciplines (grados), which all last 4 years in normal conditions. I’m not sure if I translate them all entirely correct, but anyway:

  • Tourism
  • Audiovisual Communication
  • Telecommunication systems
  • Environmental Sciences

De universiteitscampus biedt op dit moment 4 richtingen (grados) aan, die allen 4 jaar duren in een normaal traject. Ik ben niet zeker of ik ze allemaal helemaal correct vertaal, maar goed:

  • Toerisme
  • Audiovisuele communicatie
  • Telecommunicatie systemen
  • Milieu wetenschappen

I think all courses are about as popular and they are all very practical. Personally, I think it’s nice that there are also walking around a lot of artistic people, because the program audiovisual communication focuses on the creation of media: radio, TV, animation movies and interactive communication … and best of all is that they all do it with a lot of passion!

Ik denk dat alle opleidingen ongeveer even populair zijn en ze zijn ook allemaal heel praktijkgericht. Persoonlijk vind ik het wel leuk dat er ook heel wat artistiek volk rondloopt, doordat de opleiding audiovisuele communicatie zich vooral richt op de creatie van media: radio, tv, animatiefilmpjes en interactieve communicatie… én het beste van al is dat ze het allemaal met veel passie doen!

Thus, the university even founded its own TV program, “Poliglotas” it is called. The students voluntarily created it: they do interviews, cooking videos, clips and so on. You get to know things about the international activities within the campus. Now they are already to their fourth or fifth season, if I have understood correctly. Here you can already see a trailer (in Spanish of course):

Zo is er zelfs een eigen tv-programma in de universiteit opgericht, “Poliglotas” genaamd. De studenten doen er vrijwillig aan mee: ze doen interviews, kookfilmpjes, clipjes enzovoorts. Je komt er dus heel wat door te weten over de internationale activiteiten binnen de campus. Inmiddels zijn ze ook al toe aan hun vierde of vijfde seizoen, als ik het goed begrepen heb. Hier zie je alvast een trailer (in het Spaans weliswaar):

I can actually only speak critically acclaimed about this campus. And most of all I would like to continue my studies here (I have only one year to go before I graduate). But unfortunately there is no option to extend my Erasmus exchange with one year. That obviously would be too good to be true!

Ik kan eigenlijk alleen maar met lof spreken over deze campus. En het liefst van al zou ik hier mijn hele studie voortzetten (ik heb inmiddels nog 1 jaar te gaan voor ik afstudeer). Maar helaas is er geen mogelijkheid om mijn Erasmus-uitwisseling met een jaar te verlengen. Dat had natuurlijk te mooi geweest om waar te zijn hé!

An example: I am very impressed with the motto of the Gandia campus. Which states: “Qualsevol nit pot sortir el sol ‘. This sentence is written in Valencian largely on one of the exterior walls, and means something like: “every night ends with a new day.” A very optimistic, meaningful and remarkable motto, don’t you think?!

Een voorbeeldje: ik ben erg onder de indruk van het motto van de Gandia campus. Die luidt: “Qualsevol nit pot sortir el sol’. Deze Valenciaanse zin staat in het groot geschreven op één van de buitenmuren, en betekent zoveel als: “elke nacht eindigt met een nieuwe dag”. Een heel optimistisch, zinvol en merkwaardig motto, nietwaar?!

Universitat_Politècnica_de_València-_Campus_de_Gandia_(6)

It is also very noteworthy that so many international students attend classes on the campus. There are a lot of Chinese students who study here their whole degree here and our current Erasmus delegation also counts about 100 members (at least if I can believe the Facebook group ESN GANDIA MEMBERS 2012-2013 January-June).

Het is ook heel noemenswaardig dat er zoveel internationale studenten les volgen in de campus. Er zijn heel wat Chinese studenten die hier hun hele studietraject afleggen, en onze huidige Erasmus-delegatie telt ook ongeveer 100 leden (als ik de Facebook groep ESN GANDIA MEMBERS 2012-2013 January-June tenminste mag geloven).

The fun part is that it is just enjoyable to study here: the facilities are very good, the teachers are enthusiastic and motivated, and even the students seem to be proud on both the campus as the atmosphere that hangs around. In short, recommendable to come and study here!

Het leuke is gewoon dat het aangenaam studeren is: de faciliteiten zijn uiterst goed, de docenten zijn enthousiast en gemotiveerd, en zelfs de studenten lijken trots te zijn op zowel de campus als de atmosfeer die er hangt. Kortom, een aanrader om hier te komen studeren!

Geografía del Turismo y del Ocio

Well, time for a story about a subject that I follow here: ‘Geography of tourism and leisure. This course consists of two parts, considering there are two teachers who have alternated each other somewhere mid-April.

Goed, tijd voor een relaas over een vak dat ik hier volg: ‘Geografie van het toerisme en de vrije tijd’. Dit vak bestaat uit twee delen, gezien er ook twee leraren zijn die mekaar ergens halverwege april hebben afgewisseld….

The first part we got from Maryland, a pretty young woman (apparently lesbian) and certainly not fallen on her mouth. The first classes with her were a whole experience, were it not a culture shock, considering she loves it even more than the other teachers to ask students for their opinions, or ask (personal) questions in the middle of her lectures and yes: appropriately and inappropriately she also might be snapping or offending someone in public. Some quotes are:

  • Your tasks were so bad that I better had thrown them through the window.
  • You guys are a bunch of pigs, you’d better not come to class, this I’ve never seen.
  • Give me ‘queso’, ‘jamon’, perfume and something nice, and maybe we can talk again (meant as a joke).

Het eerste deel kregen we van Maryland, een tamelijk jonge vrouw (naar het schijnt lesbienne) en zeker niet op haar mondje gevallen. De eerste lessen met haar waren een hele beleving, ware het niet een cultuurshock, gezien ze nog meer dan de andere leraren ervan houdt om in het midden van haar lezingen de studenten (persoonlijke) vragen te stellen, naar hun meningen te vragen, en jawel hoor: ze te pas en te onpas ook een afsnauwt of afbreekt. Enkele citaten zijn:

  • Jullie taken waren zo slecht dat ik ze beter door het raam had gegooid.
  • Jullie zijn een stel zwijnen, jullie zouden beter niet naar de les komen, dit heb ik nog nooit gezien.
  •  Geef me ‘queso’, ‘jamon’, parfum en iets leuks, en misschien kunnen we dan terug praten (als grap bedoelt).

Yeh, you’re a bit in favor or against her (and her classes). But it gives immediately a good impression of ​​how Spaniards deal with each other: very direct, and sometimes even TOO honest and rather familiar, in terms of language. I even forget just to mention that she does all these things while rattling, and sometimes it’s awfully hard to understand her. However, she uses a lot of intonation and facial expressions, which helps, of course!

Tsjah, je bent een beetje voor of tegen haar (en haar lessen). Maar wel meteen een prima indruk van hoe Spanjaarden met mekaar omgaan: heel direct, heel en soms zelfs TE oprecht en nogal familiair, qua taalgebruik, zeg maar. Vergeet ik er nog even bij te zeggen: dit alles doet ze al ratelend, en het is soms hartstikke moeilijk om haar te verstaan. Wel gebruikt ze superveel intonatie en gelaatsuitdrukkingen, helpt natuurlijk wel!

imageSomething like that… 😉

Well, what have we learned from her? Since ultimately that is what it’s all about … The difference between rural, littoral, natural and urban tourism, the difference between leisure and tourism, what the different types could be activities (adventurous, sportive, lucrative, educational) and… Oh yes, a whole chunk of destination knowledge (= indicating cities and countries on cards).

Goed, wat hebben we van haar geleerd? Daar draait het uiteindelijk om… Het verschil tussen ruraal, litoraal, natuur- en stedelijk toerisme, het verschil tussen vrije tijd en toerisme, wat de verschillende soorten activiteiten kunnen zijn (avontuurlijk, sportief, lucratief, educatief) en euhm… Oh ja, een hele brok landenkennis (= het aanduiden van steden en landen op kaarten).

For the exam I scored 47 on 50 for the destination knowledge (Excellent!), 5 out of 10 for the theory, and … 0.5 and 3 for my group work (Practicas). This last we found so strange that we went to ask what was wrong with it at her office. It turned out we had only delivered half of the requested work, because we had misunderstood the assignment. When we then still wanted to hand in the work and asked it up to four times again, she refused us. A lot of work for nothing, though … But she wanted to give us 0.5 on 10 more for the assistance during the classes (because we almost always were present). She also said that we could still come back to discuss the results after the final exam of the other teacher in June. In other words, everything is negotiable in Spain! Or maybe… Hopefully!

Voor het examen scoorde ik 47 op 50 voor de landenkennis (excellent!), 5 op 10 voor de theorie, en … 0,5 op 3 voor mijn groepswerk (practicas). Dat laatste vonden we zo vreemd dat we naar haar bureau zijn gegaan om te vragen wat er mis was gelopen. Wat bleek: we hadden slechts de helft van het gevraagde werk geleverd, omdat we de opdracht misverstaan hadden. Toen we vervolgens het werk alsnog wilden inleveren en de bundel tot vier keer toe probeerden te overhandigen, weigerde ze dat netjes. Veel werk voor niks, weliswaar… Maar ze wilde ons wel 0,5 op 10 meer geven voor de assistentie tijdens de lessen (omdat we zo goed als altijd aanwezig waren). Ook zei ze nog dat we na het eindexamen van de andere leerkracht in juni nog een mochten terugkomen om de resultaten te bespreken. Met andere woorden: alles is onderhandelbaar in Spanje! Of toch… Hopelijk!

bad-grade-fuuuuuuu-human-quotes-teachers-Favim.com-132814_large

Conclusion: I currently have a 5.7 out of 10 as a final note for this course and I still have to pass an examination for the other teacher. Thus there is still some sweat and toil to go to bring it all to a good end! Because… the other new teacher we have, Jesus, is quite a dry guy.

Besluit: ik heb momenteel een 5,7 op 10 als totaal voor dit vak en moet nog een examen afleggen voor de andere leerkracht. Wordt dus nog even zweten en zwoegen om het tot een goed einde te brengen! Want… de andere, nieuwe leraar die we hebben, Jesus, is nogal een droge kerel.

He keeps telling us things about cartography, GPS systems, and measuring distances on maps, we must also develop with Google Earth routes and it’s really awfully boring, and quite a bit harder than the first part, I think. I am also not looking forward this kind of theory in Spanish, because it is even difficult to do it in Dutch. Anyway, let’s do it! There is no other choice!

Hij komt ons steeds dingen vertellen over cartografie, gps-systemen, en het meten van afstanden op kaarten, we moeten ook met Google Earth routes uitwerken en het is echt hartstikke saai, en best wel wat moeilijker dan dat eerste deel, vind ik. Ik kijk er ook erg tegen op om het examen in het Spaans af te leggen over dit soort theorie, omdat het zelfs in het Nederlands moeilijk te begrijpen valt. Maar goed, we gaan ervoor! Er is geen andere keuze!

So, now you know a bit more about my exciting student life…. Soon more! 😉

Zo, nu weten jullie weer wat meer over mijn boeiende studentenleven…. Binnenkort meer! 😉