Follow me as I blog my way through 12 months of travel, 20 countries, 2 volunteer programs, 44,000 miles, over 20 flights, countless chicken bus rides and 365 wonderful work-free days.

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

TOUR BUS TRAVEL VS VOLUNTOURISM

Have I been doing it wrong all these years?

I don’t exactly know where my inspiration came from to volunteer. I’ve always been the type of person to watch documentaries on starving children in Africa, feel absolutely heartbroken and vow to make a donation in the next ad break. But I don’t. I continue sitting on my couch, crying into my ice cream and feeling sad. The documentary finishes, ‘The Amazing Race’ comes on and I forget all about those starving children in Africa.

A year or so ago, in typical Hayley style, I started developing that familiar itch to travel again. I’ve been an obsessive traveller since I was 21 and have travelled to over 25 countries. Now, at 29 years old, something had changed in the way I wanted to travel.  I didn’t just want to watch a country go by as I looked out the window of a comfortable air-conditioned tour bus, hopping off intermittently to snap the obligatory photo of some pretty mountain. I wanted to get amongst it all. I wanted to help people. And I wanted to stop saying “one day I will” and just do it.

When planning my trip I stumbled across IVHQ, a New Zealand based organisation with volunteering projects all around the world. I was instantly hooked and applied for projects in Kenya and Mexico, two of the countries I planned to visit on my yearlong overseas holiday. I was accepted into both. Was I terrified I’d bitten off more than I could chew? YES… but I went anyway.

First stop.. Kenya. After orientation and a few days to catch my breath I was catapulted into what felt like an alternate universe. My job for the next month was to consult with pregnant mothers, assist in births, help sick babies and provide first aid and family planning classes to those who couldn’t afford to seek help elsewhere.  It seemed like every patient I saw was suffering from extreme poverty and starvation, and most of the women were HIV positive. On my second day at the clinic I sat in a room with a pregnant mother of three while she waited for the results of the HIV test we’d just given her. It was an intense five minutes and something I will remember for the rest of my life. You don’t get that experience sitting on an air-conditioned tour bus.

Fast forward three months to Cuernavaca, Mexico. It was to be my home for the next two months while I volunteered with Casa Hoy, a local organisation passionate about helping the community. They offer a variety of projects including teaching English, child care, environmental, animal welfare and computer assistance.  I learned that I would be volunteering in a foster home for children whose parents were in prison or too unfit to look after them. There were 29 children at the home, aged between 1 and 5 years old. And boy did I fall in love with each and every one of them.

There were many defining moments during those two months at the home. Those secret ‘high five’ moments that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But my most memorable was Clara*. Clara is 2 years old and lives at the home. She never smiled or laughed, never played with the other children and seemed to be in her own little world most of the time. I often wondered what kind of life she had led to make her like this. So, every day I would pay special attention to Clara – lots of playing, giving her cuddles, helping her with her lunch and just generally making her feel loved. The defining moment came about a month into my project when Clara finally smiled at me. Next came the laughter, interaction with the other kids and she even started sitting on my lap without being prompted. Success. To be honest, sometimes I questioned myself about why I was here spending my free time with these children when I could be at home playing with my three beautiful nieces. This was why. These defining moments. I will never forget Clara or my time spent at the foster home.

By the time I turn 30 (in 5 months eeek!) I will have travelled to 33 different countries. Did I love visiting those countries and seeing them through the window of my tour bus? Yes I did. But my time spent in Kenya and Mexico created a whole new depth of appreciation and love for the country and its people. Feeling that sense of family and belonging. Exchanging daily “hola’s” with the laundry lady and the man at the corner store. Getting involved in the community and helping people, even if it’s just by making them smile.

Volunteering changed the way I want to travel. It took me 9 years and 33 countries to figure that out, but I got there in the end. I got off the couch.

 

IMG_1707

Advertisements

Packing it.. literally, physically and mentally

If you have stumbled across this post in hopes of finding some great packing tips, you’ve come to the wrong place. (but please feel free to stay).

To be honest I’m really tired of reading articles and tips on packing for a year-long trip that say one pair of pants is enough and to just pack for a week and wash regularly.

I can’t do that.

I’m not the most fashion conscious person out there. I don’t use hair dryers/straighteners/curlers.  I live in jeans and I rarely wear make up. A pair of pluggers and some runners is fine with me. But I can’t just take one pair of pants and 2 shirts and be happy about it and I don’t want to wear the same thing every day.

For the last month or so I have found myself lingering around my lounge room, during which time I have been gradually adding to my ever-growing pile of clothing, toiletries and electronics. And I don’t even need to mention the little extras that get secretly thrown in there by my mother on a regular basis.  And FYI, I say lingering because I don’t actually attempt to pack anything. I just stand there staring at it in hopes that it will somehow miraculously shrink in size and then pack itself perfectly into my 60L backpack.. with extra room for souvenirs of course.

Knowing that time is ticking away and that what is sitting on the floor in my lounge could potentially fill 2 backpacks, I thought it was time to do some research. I found a book on backpacking tips (that’s a lie.. my mum found a book that up until now I didn’t think I needed to read).

Sitting down to this little gem I hoped that I would find that magic piece of advice that would take all my packing troubles away.  ‘Ahhh a packing list section’ I thought.. brilliant.  Until I read it…One pair of pants.. and wait for it… two pairs of underwear.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I was reading this on my Kindle I would have thrown the book across the room. Two pairs of underwear??? She can’t be serious.

No really.. is she serious?

So I’m giving up on books and articles and I’ve decided to throw it out there in hopes of getting some useful suggestions and advice. Be brutal.. but don’t forget I’m going for a year, living in rural Africa for 1 month of that year, camping for about 5 months of it… and… yeah now I’m just making excuses.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

4 skirts, 1 dress maybe 2, about 10 singlet tops, 2 pairs of jeans, 1 pair of black pants, 1 pair of 3/4 pants (suck it pant haters), 8 pairs of underwear, 2 cardigan thingys, 1 black thin jumper, 1 hoodie, 3 scarfs, 4 pairs of socks, few bras.

Thoughts???

13 JULY 2012 UPDATE: WHAT MADE THE CUT?

1 skirt, 1 dress, 7 singlet tops, 2 pairs of jeans, 1 pair of black pants, 7 pairs on underwear, 1 cardigan, 1 hoodie, 1 thin black jumper, 2 scarfs, 2 pairs of socks, 2 sports bras and 1 normal bra.

Sorry I just won’t compromise on the underwear !!

Total weight, including clothes, toiletries, electronics, volunteer gifts.. 22.7 kilos.

Irresponsible, selfish and a struggling pensioner… yeah that’s me.

The day has come.. the day I’ve been counting down to now for about 6 months.

I QUIT MY JOB

And what a weight off my shoulders. Finally being able to tell people about my plans, where I’m going, what I’m doing – my great adventure. It feels good.

But there’s always one isn’t there? That one person who can knock you so far off that happiness cloud and bring you back down to earth with a big fat thud.

Enter.. bitchface… aka a work colleague.

The conversation went a little like this:

Bitchface: “So are you really going travelling or is that just an excuse?”

Me: “Yeah of course I’m going travelling”

Bitchface: “What are you doing? where are you going? for how long etc?”

Me: “Africa, Mexico etc etc, going for a year etc etc.”

Bitchface: You know I think it’s all well and good to be going travelling and GOOD ON YOU (**fuck off**), but I really think it’s time you started to settle down. You’re getting older and the longer you wait to buy a house the harder it will be on you when you’re retired.

Me: In disbelief muttered something along the lines of “I’m 28, not 78 and I don’t need to buy a house to make me happy or feel secure”

Bitchface: “I think it’s irresponsible and (as she walks out the door) I’m going to be the one paying for you with my taxes when you retire, because you haven’t paid your house off in time and you won’t be able to afford to eat.”

Me: Gets up, tackles bitchface to the ground and….  no not really but I wanted to.

Who says stuff like that?

So here I am, still super happy and still feel awesome that I’ve finally resigned and am on the final countdown. But I can’t help but think about what she said.

Am I really irresponsible and selfish?

And more importantly, god forbid, will I really have to live off baked beans for the remainder of my years, selfishly bludging off tax payers who have worked their whole lives just to support me? I think not.

You give me FEVER… the best injection ever

You’ve been planning it for months. You’ve made lists, and checked them twice 10 times. You dream about it and think about it everyday. You find ways of bringing it up in every conversation you have with every person you see. The trip.. the big trip.

It’s so easy to do all of these things and be blasé about it when you’re still living your ‘normal’ life. But then there is that moment when you stop.. and realise.. oh my god this is actually happening. It’s not a dream anymore. IT’S REAL and there is no turning back.

That moment for me was this morning when I got my Yellow Fever Vaccination.  I’m assuming it wasn’t the rush of a foreign substance being pumped into my veins.. no it was general excitement. I walked out of the doctor’s surgery and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. I felt free.

The reality is that in 9 weeks I will find myself in Kenya, about to take on something I have never done before – volunteering – or teaching English for that matter. Standing in a class room full of children so eager to learn and hear what I have to say.. but what do I have to say? I have no idea, I’ve never taught before.

As for my placement and accommodation, I’ve requested to be placed somewhere as rural and remote as possible so chances are I’ll be living in a simple hut with no water and no electricity. Past volunteers have told stories of only being allowed to bathe once a week in one bucket of water. As for my meals, I’ve been told I’ll be eating lots of rice and potatoes and that it’s not uncommon to have to pick weevils out of your food before cooking. Sleeping is generally on a mattress placed on a dirt floor and I’m afraid to even think about the toilet situation. I’ll live like this for a month before heading South on a camping tour.

So that’s the reality. That’s what hit me this morning while sitting in that doctor’s office. Such a huge impact for such a small needle.

How vastly different my life will be. And I can’t wait.

No wait… I’m not ready

I’m now on the official countdown. Ok so I was technically on the official countdown about 6 months ago but now that I’m into singular digits, it’s super official.

I’m leaving in 9 weeks (oh my god) and it’s really starting to hit me. In just 9 weeks I’ll be leaving my family, my friends, my oh so comfy bed, my favourite foods, my hot shower and my clean and varied selection of clothes, and I won’t see them again for a year. A WHOLE YEAR…

So I’m working myself up for that moment… and freaking out in the process.

I find myself going to bed at night and wrapping myself in the clean sheets, sinking into the comfy mattress and drifting peacefully to sleep. I’m embracing every moment of it knowing that for the next year I’ll be sleeping on god knows what, swatting my mosquito net out of my face every time I roll over and chucking a hissy fit in the middle of the night because something is crawling up my leg. I don’t want to go.

I find myself standing under the shower for a lot longer than I should. Loving that hot water comes out and that I have no chance of being electrocuted by live wires hanging above me. And loving that I’m behind a locked door and I don’t have to wear shoes in case I get a fungal disease. I don’t want to go.

I find myself consuming sushi by the bucket load, craving Thai food and fish and chips. Cooking Sunday roasts on weekdays and eating chocolate like it’s going out of fashion. I miss food from home when I’m away. Does Africa have sushi? I don’t want to go.

I find myself longingly staring into my wardrobe, agonising over what to take with me. I should take 2 pairs of jeans because they always stretch if you wear them for too long and they don’t fit properly and then you have that saggy arse thing going on and you look a bit like you have a penis because the front goes all pouchy.. but I can’t take 2 pairs because my mother has packed my bag so full of useless items that I’ll never use and I don’t even have room for underwear. I don’t want to go.

I find myself spending more and more time with family. The hugs are longer, the laughs are louder and more frequent. I feel like I want to hold on to them and never let go. And I’ve begun questioning myself why on earth I would choose to leave them for a whole year. I don’t want to go.

So here I am.. 9 weeks to go and I’m clearly in the freaking out stage of my countdown. I’m sure next week will be different. I’ll move on to the totally unprepared stage or something, but for now, I’m not ready, time is going too fast. Help!!

10 Bucket List Moments – ticked off

So in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m big on lists, and as I haven’t yet started my big adventure, all that’s left to do is dwell on previous adventures… ahh memories.  

Which is precisely why I have started a series of Top 10 Lists. Everything from the food I would chop off my right arm to be able to eat again, to things I’ve learned about myself while travelling (a riveting read I must say ;)).

So in light of the above, here lies my Top 10 bucket list moments that I am proud to have ticked off…so far.

10. See the Terracotta Warriors in Xian, China – Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to visit the Terracotta Warriors. That dream became a reality when I visited China in 2010.  

9. Swim with sharks – While I actually didn’t do this when travelling, I still think it’s worth a mention. I completed this crazy task in 2002 and I didn’t die, or pee in my wetsuit from the sheer terror.

8. Held a snake – though probably not on my original bucket list at the time, I mean, what sane person would intentionally make a plan to do this? I held this baby (not a baby) in Vanuatu in 2005.

 7. Kiss an alligator – The lucky fella was a resident of the Everglades in Florida. Oh and this one was a baby. I’m not insane.  

6. Go hiking… like real hiking. Possibly not what ‘real’ hikers would consider a ‘real hike’, but for me it was as good as. One of the best experiences I’ve ever had was a 3 day hike in Thailand in 2011, where on our third day we got to ride elephants the rest of the way. Probably the prouder moment was that I didn’t pass out, more so than the actual hike itself.

5. Visit Miami Ink Tattoo Studio in Miami – Not afraid to admit this. I was so excited when I stumbled across the famous studio in Miami in 2008. Unfortunately we didn’t get to spot any of the guys on the show but getting a photo of me in front of the sign was good enough.

4. Go to a baseball game in America – I love baseball and something I have wanted to do since I can remember was go to a game in America. We went to a game in Washington 2008, and it was everything I imagined it would be, and more. High 5’s from random strangers, fanatical fans and Budd Light. What more can a girl ask for?    

3. Jet Boating in Montreal – Imagine splashing water over your face and it being so cold that it hurts when it hits your skin. That’s an understatement. I described this experience at the time as feeling like I was going to die one minute and feeling so invigorated the next. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.    

2. Eat a grasshopper in Thailand – definitely another one that wasn’t on my original to do list. I’m not usually the type to participate in such shenanigans (ie. eating weird food) but when our tour guide presented a group of us with a bag full of deep-fried grasshoppers, I had to do it. FYI, it tasted like chicken, and I’m not kidding.

1. Climb the Great Wall of China  – Not only did I get to the top of the wall, I climbed every one of those thigh burning, heart attack inducing steps to get there, all with a cold mind you. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years and I’m really proud of myself for having done it. Yay me !