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Himalayan Trek

APRIL 17, 2017 | India - Shanti

Namaste friends and family,
The trek was absolutely amazing. The night before the trek we stayed at the Colonel’s Resort and we all enjoyed the western luxuries there, like hot showers and free toilet paper. Then the next morning we had breakfast at the resort and then they drove us up to our starting point for the trek.

The first day we walked along a dirt road until a certain point, then we climbed up the side of the mountain to get to the ridge at the top. Once we were all up there we sat down and ate our lunch while enjoying the 360-degree view of the mountains around us. Then from the top we walked down a trail to a village called Raj Gundar. Once we got there the guides set up our tents and we hung out around the camp fire waiting for dinner.

Then the next day we had breakfast at 8 then headed out on a day hike to a glacier. But unfortunately we didn’t make it all the way to the glacier because the bridge we were supposed to cross was broken. So we ended up having lunch by the river under the bridge. The trail itself was gorgeous. We crossed several waterfalls and patches of snow. We also had great views of the mountains and on the way back a few of us and the guides had a snowball fight which ended up lasting most of the way back down the mountain.

On our third day we packed up the tents and the guides gave us two options, we could take a difficult path or an easy path to the stop we were having lunch at. So Willow, Kai, Emma, Amber, Liam and me ended up doing the difficult path which was amazing. At the beginning we ended up going uphill for a straight two hours, but the view at the top was breath taking. We got up to 10,000 feet and we were just surrounded by snow capped mountains. We also watched paragliders and had cake which out guide brought with him. Then we made our way back down and met up with the other 3 who didn’t do the difficult hike for lunch. After lunch we made our way up to our campsite and again sat around the fire sharing our life stories which helped us get to know each other better.

On day four we set out around 10 in the morning walking along the ridge. At one point when we stopped to take a break we saw another group of local women hiking and of course they wanted to stop and take pictures with us. After that we made our way further along the ridge to our lunch spot, and we all enjoyed some maggie noddles, which is considered the ramen of India. Then after lunch we walked along trolley tracks, made in 1924 by British armies, which lead us to winch camp. Winch camp is a hydroelectric plant, where we set up camp for that night.

The next morning, day five, we walked further down the mountain and along the trolley tracks again to get to a lower part of the hydroelectric plant. Once we got there we told some more life stories and had some afternoon tea. Then on day 6 we woke up early in the morning to give the guides enough time to pack up our stuff and headed down to another hotel where we had breakfast. After breakfast they drove us back to the Colonels resort where we all took a nice warm shower. We are staying the night there and then heading off to a vegan farm for two weeks.
 

On to Peru!

APRIL 13, 2017 | South America - INTI

Our time in Ecuador is almost up! What better way to spend it than riding the highest and longest zipline in South America! It was definitely a bit daunting at first sight, it was awesome to see everyone conquer it. We spent our final two days at a hostel in Otavalo. We had a lot of time to relax and get some good food before our journey to Peru.

After traveling for 17 hours, we finally made it to Lobitos, a small town on the coast of northern Peru! There, we worked with WAVES,an organization that does a lot of community service work and teaches surfing. We did a lot of community service, such as beach cleanups, cleaning up the school, and painting murals. In the afternoons, we hung out on the beach, took surfing lessons, and watched the sunset. On Sunday, we got up early in the morning, and went out on the water with some local fisherman to fish and make ceviche. It was really fun competing with each other to see who could catch the most fish! And the ceviche was fantastic! We saw some sea lions while we were at it too!

It was an exhausting, but awesome week, and were looking forward for what Peru has in store for us next!

Cambodia

APRIL 12, 2017 | Southeast Asia - Sabai

This week was spent transitioning, we left from a peaceful yoga meditation retreat into the small city of Chaing mai, Thailand for one day. We spent this day at a pool and for the first time during our stay in Thailand we experienced rain. That night we took an overnight bus to the capital city of Bangkok. The bus ride was long and entertaining due to the fellow travelers sitting near our group. Waking up in Bangkok we set out to our hostel we spent three days and nights in Bangkok. Our days were spent exploring the city we did group activities such as taking the rivers system of public transportation, fast paced boats stopping at stops on the river side we go off to go to an art museum one of the most interactive exhibits was a black room with screens that sensed movement you could see your self in red dots on a red screen. This adventure eventually led us to the sky train that gave us a fast pace moving view of Bangkok. We departed the train at a popular part of the city where we indulged in Mexican food and eventually found ourselves at a spot with a stationary view over the whole city. We ended our six weeks in Thailand and took a bus to the boarder of Thailand and Cambodia. Saying goodbye to a country we all began to love and slightly understand was upsetting, the boarder crossing its self was an easy process. Cambodia is a beautiful country with open people, great food, and a very hot sun. We began our stay at PTD an organization aimed at helping women and children from difficult situations rehabilitate and be re integrated into villages, the women are taught skills and are very friendly. Our service work started by digging six wholes three meters deep that will eventually be turned into toilets for a school that village children can attend the work was difficult but felt rewarded once finished. We had a great translator for our week with this organization his name is Ravy and he made us all laugh as well as taught us a few Khmer words. Cambodia has been a beautiful and welcoming country to us so far.

Rishikesh & Yoga

APRIL 5, 2017 | India - Shanti

We arrived in Lakshman Jhula, Rishikesh, exhausted, after a 5 hour train ride and almost 2 hour rickshaw ride from Haridwar station. Despite most of us being in desperate need of a nap, air-conditioning, and lunch, we were immediately struck by the beauty of this unique town. Temples and stupas stuck out among buildings, nestled in between the beautiful Ganges river and huge green hills. After a half day of resting and exploring, we headed to Phool Chatti, where we spent the past week living the “ashram life,” and learning about the yogic path.
Following a 5:30 am start, our days at the ashram were packed full with various kinds of meditation, chanting, breathing exercises, yoga, and philosophical lectures on the yogic path. The daily meditation classes varied from singing beautiful mantras in a group with bells and drums (called kirtan), to simple guided meditations on cultivating compassion. Along with the two daily meditation sessions, each day also included a two hour long silent meditation walk, during which we visited (and got happily soaked in) a local waterfall, meditated on the rocky shores of the Ganges river (or ‘Mother Ganga’), and took part in a ritual bathing in the river. Beyond meditation and yoga asanas, the course also included a session of laughing yoga (my personal favorite), during which the entire ashram group lay in a circled and laughed hysterically at absolutely nothing (or faked it till’ we made it), then danced our hearts out, singing “hoo hoo, ha ha”, with Indian tabla music playing in the background.

Although deeply restful in many ways, our week at the ashram had it’s challenges. Whether it was waking up at the crack of dawn, pushing through difficult yoga sessions, spending long chunks of time in complete silence, or even waiting seven hours between lunch and dinner, each person in our group (myself included) found something that tested them in some way. However, I can honestly say that despite our individual challenges, this past week was one of profound growth for all of us. Every one of us has come out of this experience having learned something new, either about the yogic path or about themselves. Namaste and much love!

Matagalpa

APRIL 12, 2017 | Central America - Maya

This past week was one for the ages! After spending last week in the remote town of El Pisacho, we set forth to the city of Matagalpa, for our fourth and final week of Spanish classes. We spent each morning taking classes at the Colibri Spanish School, and were blessed with yet another wonderful set of teachers. Much thanks and love to Diana, Carla, and Myra for an amazing week of classes and activities!


Equally as awesome were our homestay families. It was both refreshing and enjoyable being able to revert back to the partner format for this week of home-stays, as it was much less difficult to communicate with each other and our home-stay families. The delicious home cooked meals didn’t hurt, either.


When not in class or at home, we partook in various afternoon activities run by Colibri. Whether it was Monday’s cooking class, Wednesday’s steep hike to the massive cross on the top of the mountain, or Friday’s dance class, the rich Matagalpan culture was always sprinkled throughout. Our week came to a close with a day of hiking and a night of camping out in the jungle located right outside of the city. We set off for Bona Fide permaculture farm tomorrow, and are looking forward to having another great week before we begin our home stretch into student directed travel! The photos in this blog are from our previous week at La Mariposa, stay tuned for more photos from our Matagalpa adventures! 
 

Blog from Pucara

APRIL 3, 2017 | South America - INTI

Saludos from Pucara, Ecuador! Our last week here in Ecuador has been filled with knowledge, adventure and inspiration as we traveled through the Intag region, learning from several communities and taking long hikes through bio-diverse forests. Arriving into Pucara, we were enthusiastically welcomed with a big celebration filled with games, music and dances. After the ceremony we were pushed further out of our comfort zones, once again, by being divided into individual homestays. What started off being a scary idea to most of us, ended up becoming a great experience. It was a nice opportunity to practice our Spanish and build stronger relationships with our host families, as well as experiencing living and traveling on our own.

Throughout the week, we worked within the community on projects such as volunteering on Pete’s farm and collaborating with community members to help build a new bench for the futbol field there. As we worked, we learned a lot of environmental science facts on the western slope of the Andes, where we are, which happens to be the steepest place in the world.

During our free time, we practiced our dance for the departing ceremony that was planned for us on Thursday. The dance was nicely choreographed by a few of us girls and was awesome. We ended up performing to Waka Waka by Shakira, and finished off with the Cupid Shuffle including community.

On Friday, we said our goodbyes in Pucara and headed over Junin, a small community who’s members have been fighting mining in their area for over ten years now. While there, we learned a lot on the issues with mining in the area and were able to hear from the perspective of families that have been affected from the conflict. The next day, we hiked up the cloud forest, for hours, through one of the most bio-diverse places in the world. We were able to see the different, very beautiful, cascade water falls in the area where exploratory drilling has been occurring, and first handedly witnessed the impact it has on the environment.

Now we’re ending our week at a beautiful hot springs resort, with just few days left until our next adventure to Peru! Hasta luego!

Our Time in Rwanda

APRIL 3, 2017 | East Africa - Kifaru

I think I speak for all of us when I say we wish we could have more time in Rwanda, especially the beautiful city of Kigali. We arrived in this vibrant city on the 28th of March and each day has brought its own challenges and joys. we visited five memorials, a colorful market, and an amazing Coffee farm.

After our first night in Kigali we started off the day being led around by Bosco and Devine, organized through the Discover Rwanda youth hostel. We headed toward the big Kimiroko market. We (mostly JT) were super excited as we passed by the basket ball court and soccer stadium. As we came to the market we were surrounded by colorful patterns all the way to the ceiling as merchants displayed their fabrics. The stalls were lined with women working at sewing machines making pants, shirts, dresses, and jackets to the perfect fit. As we walked the stalls we were swarmed with people offering us the “best price” and the nicest jackets. Thankfully Devine was there to teach us how to bargain and tell us what we really should pay. Each of us found treasures either for ourselves or as gifts. Kevin was drawn by the hippos on the white pants that would eventually be his. After being persuaded Nanci walked away with some beautiful wallets. We all became aware of how amazing the elephant pants are. George, Jack, Nanci, Nina, and I all could not resist the style and the comfort of elephant pants. Riley left clad in a Rwandan soccer jersey and George in a chicken jacket. Kelsi got a super cute polka dot skirt and Nina eventually had a dress made to her perfection. JT left wearing a traditional, colorful shirt that may or may not be meant for a woman :).

After the market and visiting many of the beautiful and modern buildings of Kigali we made our way to a few memorials and the Rwandan genocide museum. We each took our time going through the museum learning about Rwandan history and what led to the second genocide in 1994. There were pictures of the destruction and death. There were testimonies of survivors. Some walked through a room that honors the children who were lost. Many were drawn to tears at this huge injustice. We walked by the mass graves and were left feeling but a fraction of the weight these people must bare.

Later we joined together and discussed, trying to process and understand all that we had seen. In general we were all left unable to fathom how any of this could happen. Throughout the days we visited more memorials but also got to adventure through the city and see the amazing recovery and hope that Rwanda has.

James and JT went to the basket ball court to join some locals in their favorite pass-time. George went off to an internet cafe to catch up on some much needed communication and studying. Jack joined Kelsi, Riley, Nina, Nanci, and I in a search for coffee, internet, and to return to the market to pick up our personal dresses – they turned out amazing!!!

Although there were many things to fill in the gaps of time ( Ethiopian food, hostel craziness, and good talks) we soon moved on to learn all about coffee! Huye mountain coffee was introduced to us by THE MR. COFFEE aka Aloys. Our high energy jokester of a guide met all our needs for exploring and coffee, even Nina had a cup. The energy and excitement (at least for me) was flowing as we walked through the coffee trees. The branches were filled with green cherries soon to be red. We got to pick a few of the red cherries and pop the beans out. The white bean was covered in sweet pulp – we all got to try some. We continued hiking through the coffee trees learning about these wondrous plants and their discovery.

When we got to the top of the mountain we got to take part in roasting some beans in the non-machine traditional way. After seeing the coffee plantation and how all the beans are processed we were given our own little bags of beans! Then we drank more coffee!

After lunch we went to our final memorial – arguably the most difficult one to walk through. The partially IT school was preserved and turned into a museum that would proclaim the message, “NEVER AGAIN!” There were three building filled with bodies that had been preserved by lack of oxygen in the center of a mass grave then later by limestone. Facial expressions were forever held on the faces of these victims. Their look of extreme terror gripped my gut and threatened to expel all that I had eaten. Still we struggle to understand how any of this could happen. Still we question humanity. And yet there is redemption. There is hope. Humanity is resilient and life is worth experiencing. So with the tragedy we learn to be strong and to be joyful. We choose what we make our life, we choose to continue with the experience and leave people touched by love and laughter in our wake.

Pun Pun and Suan Sati

MARCH 31, 2017 | Southeast Asia - Sabai

What a mindful week we’ve had! We began with a warm welcome from Rompei and Peggy, our wonderful guides at Pun Pun Organic Farm. Rompei could teach you about virtually anything, from soap making to Thai massages to the uses of garlic and all the plants in Pun Pun’s garden to an intense organ massage that Luke was able to experience! Each night, we would take on a job: We’d gather eggs from the goofy hens- there would be up to 60 a day, whaaaat! Cooper and I gathered grass for and milked Pepper, a sassy, very well spoken cow while engaging in some eye-opening conversation about the journey of life with Wyatt, one of the long term community members there. We’d also water the massive garden and had to opportunity to cook vegetarian food directly from it; Luke, Martin, and Brendan made some ridiculously delicious green curry with veggies they handpicked themselves.

Peggy showed us the beauty and fun of Earthen housing! It’s simple and yet so sturdy and sustainable for us and our Mama Earth.  We got to mix together some clay and hay to make cob for their new seed saving house! OH THE WONDERS OF SEEDS. Pi Joe, the founder of Pun Pun and husband of Peggy introduced us the the concept of seed saving, a new topic all of us weren’t familiar with at all. His goal is to save seeds from as many different plants as possible since we have lost around 90% of our seeds variety world wide. Did you know there’s an eggplant that’s green and white, the size of a clementine!? I had not a clue until I saw one in Pun Pun’s garden!

The people in Pun Pun’s community are some of the most open-minded, down to earth humans I’ve eve had the opportunity to meet; it’s all love!

We transitioned from this wonderful example of sustainability to Suan Sati,a space for self reflection, growth, and love. Here, we were welcomed by Will, Lisa, Ian, Sasha, and PI Jar. Each day, we woke up 5:30, earlier than the sun, to begin the journey into mindfulness through meditation and by listening to the wise words of our older brother, Will. We then took part in yoga with Lisa, who has such contagious energy and passion for the art; she almost forces motivation into your mind in the best way possible. Sasha and Ian introduced us to the absolutely sublime philosophy of Permaculture.

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”
Bill Mollison

We all discovered the delicacy of vegan food as well.
This retreat was oh so necessary in my eyes to gain some understanding and awareness of my “self”, Buddhism, yoga, and sustainability.

A few highlights of the week!:

We enjoyed dance therapy at Pun Pun. Rompei created a playlist for us to dance through the life of a seed. Brendan enjoyed swimming and getting some shots of the Thailand sunset at the reservoir. We got to watch some films at Pun Pun. Luke appreciated that Lisa got us to look into each others eyes for 2 minutes while on the retreat. Really intense stuff. This was Martin’s first time participating in yoga and meditation!! Nitnoi’s (Taylor’s) highlight was being accepted into a pack of ferocious-looking dogs. once again, its all love! Will, our meditation guide, loved the connections he made with our group and being able to share some of his wisdom with us.
Chris liked running through the fields at sunset and milking the cows. Anya loved breathing through stretching every single muscle in her body, including ones she didn’t know existed.

Twiga, Tembo, and Pumba, Oh My!

MARCH 27, 2017 | East Africa - Kifaru 

Over the last week we had the honor of living and working with the NGO Wildlife Connection. This NGO specializes in bridging the gap between wildlife and humans. We worked with them to build elephant friendly fences for local farmers. Elephants will often travel outside of Ruaha National Park, looking for food, often finding it on farms and tramping all the crops in their vicinity. The bee hive fences work because elephants have an innate fear of bees. We worked two long and challenging days on the fencing. We split into groups to make the building process easier. Kevin, Riley and JT carried the beehives through the cornfield. Nanci and I measured out where all the posts has to go. Jack, Moreh, George and James all dug the holes for the posts using “pongas” aka machetes.

Once we finished our work for the day, we headed to the library that Wildlife Connection created for the community kids. The room was cramped with all 11 of us and a number of local kids. The library was full of books for the children to pursue for fun or to further their education. We ended up spending a couple hours playing Tanzanian games. If we are being honest most of us had no idea what we were doing…


Once we left the library we headed back to camp to catch up on some sleep or maybe play with the camp dog, Rafiki (the best puppy in the whole world). We spent our other afternoon going on a hike to a lodge with a breathtaking view. Once we reached our destination, Adam, one of the biologists at Wildlife Connection, gave us a little talk about conservation.

After our tough two days of work we FINALLY go to go on safari!!! I cannot speak for the rest of the group but the safari was one of the most exciting things ever. If you can’t tell I’m a huge animal person. Our guides Roy and George, were able to tell us all about the different animals in Ruaha National Park, the largest park in Tanzania. It was also baby animal season! Throughout our days we saw zebras, elephants, giraffe, hippos, crocodile, gazelle, so many impala and even 2 lions!

One of the most exciting moments was when our vehicle got between some baby elephants and the adults. Not surprising, the adult elephants were furious and started trumpeting and mock charging. It was spectacular. You could never imagine the feeling of power and strength that the elephants were giving off. Seeing the lions was the coolest thing ever!!!!! We found two lionesses sleeping in the grass and got amazing views of them. They are truly the most magnificent creatures. Being on Safari allowed us to put into perspective all that we learned about conservation. Seeing African animals in their natural habitat was one of the best experiences of my life. Next stop, Kigali, Rwanda!

Learn more about The Wildlife Connection’s amazing work here!

Mystical Yoga Farm

MARCH 27, 2017 | Central America - MAYA

We have reached the end of our Guatemalan adventure and about the midway point of our trip in total. The last 5 days were spent at the mystical yoga farm where we encountered some of the biggest challenges thus far. The food was vegetarian only but some of us would mozy on over to the near town to grab a little pollo frito. It was a new experience for all of us in different ways; I certainly never imagined I would chant to pacha-mama with my fellow OEs and students in a sauna. Aside from it all we enjoyed our quiet reflecting time on the beautiful lake Atitlan and drinking cacao while exploring our spirituality. Now we’re off to Nicaragua!