Elephant Valley Project – Cambodia

Flying into Phnom Penh (pronounced Nom Pen) I could have sworn I was arriving back home – the land was the same familiar dry brown, there were fences, dams and cows.  The trees however were slightly different – tall palms instead of gums.

Myself and two other volunteers – Phillipa and Cam (Kiwis living in Perth) arrived together at the airport and we were taken into the city via tuk tuk.  I wasn’t expecting that at all, I had just expected a car or mini van…but somehow we all managed to to jam our backpacks and ourselves into the wooden cart and off we went!

At the accommodation for the night, in the city, I also met two other people who were heading out to the Elephant Project; Ikran and Sarah from Canada.  We all enjoyed a few Cambodia beers ($1 each!) and got to know each other.

The next morning bright and early the five of us enjoyed breakfast before jumping into a mini van (thank goodness – I couldn’t have done a tuk tuk for five hours!) and off we went with our driver who spoke not a single word of English.

We darted and dived through the streets of Phnom Penh – as you would expect – there are no formal road rules other then never, ever look back and fend for yourself at all times.  When a driver comes to an intersection they just make their own way around other cars, motor bikes and tuk tuks and all the other drivers make their way around too and somehow everyone manages to get where they want…

We were in Phnom Penh for an hour at least – we stopped to pick up a elderly lady – who again spoke no English.  She had long, red, fake fingernails and an outfit of tracksuit pants, a silk shirt and socks and wedge shoes.  Her hair and make up was immaculate.  She talked the whole way…either to the driver or on her mobile phone.  I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about but I could just imagine her gossiping about her neighbours or daughter in law!  We also picked up another fellow – again nudda English!  I have absolutely no idea who he was.  The driver stopped at a bakery and purchased bread and cakes and at a service station to buy drinks and chips.  Us volunteers are just looking at each other thinking “what the hell!?”.  Little did we know the journey was only beginning.

Finally at 8am we hit the outskirts of Phnom Penh and thats when I realised this was gonna be a loooong trip.  I’m not usually a panicky person, I don’t stress much but seriously oh my god – Cambodians are the craziest drivers ever and the roads are just destroyed.

So a few highlights of the trip:

– the four lane “highway” just outside of Phnom Pehn turns into a dirt road for about 50 kilometres; so you choke on dust and hang on for dear life when the van hits a pot hole.

– the radiator in the van decided to “crap” itself after an hour or so – we pull into a servo and about five men yelled at each other in Khmer about how to fix it – finally the radiator gets filled up with water and coolant and off we go again.

– I learnt that madly honking your horn at every motorcycle we pass is totally normal and not done in rage – its polite, so the person knows a much bigger vehicle is coming.

– overtaking in Cambodia is skill and its common practice to overtake around a corner or over a hill; you just assume the other driver will slow down or three cars will fit across the road.  I don’t know how many times everyone in the bus held their breath as we watched cars coming along to us in the wrong lane.

– slowing down through villages is a no no – the driver just needs to honk his horn to let by-standers know “don’t step out onto the road or its all over buddy”.

– dogs, chickens and pigs are extremely road savvy – they have to be or they will get cleaned up – no one will stop for them, but they always seem to run out of the way just in time!  One of the girls already at the sanctuary said she witnessed a cow being hit by a bus coming in the opposite direction – she said it was the most distressing thing she had ever seen as the bus could have clearly slowed down and the driver did not stop.  Her driver told her that no-one ever stops if they hit an animal as that cow was/is someone’s livelihood and having to pay for killing the cow would be extremely expense – it would also be the driver’s fault not the farmer’s fault.

– we came around a bend (way too fast) and everyone went flying off their seats into the right hand side of the van (no seat belts) – we stopped again on the side of the road to discover the van had blown a tyre.

– luckily there is always a village within a couple of kilometres of each other – so we limped into town and found a small wooden shop and watched a young boy (all of 15 or 16) spend at least an hour repairing the tyre.

– a definite highlight of the trip was when we were waiting for the tyre to be fixed a couple of young children wandered over to very shyly look at us crazy Westerners.  They were absolutely beautiful kids, they hid behind each other and smiled and waved back at us.  In the stinking heat, some of them were dressed in jackets and pants.  Sadly they were extremely dirty and their teeth were already rotting.  But surprisingly they did now some English.  I remembered I had bought some pens with Australian animals and pictures on them, so I digged them out from my bag and gave the three children a pen each.  Their smiles were incredible – they were so excited and bowed their heads to me and put their hands together in thanks.  I then got my notebook and pulled some paper out for each child and we had an instant classroom!  Phillipa draw pictures and the kids had a great time copying what she drew.  Slowly we had more children come and see what was happening; each child got a pen and some paper.  I think we ended up with at least ten kids all drawing pictures of trees, dogs, flowers, houses, motorbikes and then we started saying words like “hello”, thank you” and “good-bye” to each other. They must all attend school and learn English as they all could write reasonably well.  When the tyre was fixed and we had to leave the children all skipped off with their pens and paper and waved goodbye to us.  It was a fantastic moment.

– the air con in the van decided to die, so it was windows open the last hour or so of the trip.

Finally after seven (not the expected five) extremely long, bumpy, hot and scary hours we arrived in a small town called Sen Monorom.  What blew me away was that in kilometres from Phnom Penh it is only about 350kms.

From here I met Gemma who is second in charge at the Elephant Sanctuary.  What I learnt was that Globalteer don’t actually run the sanctuary, they are just a facilitator.  The sanctuary is actually called “Elephant Valley Project” and it was started by an Englishmen – Jack Highwood – back in around 2005 when he was only 21 years old.

You can view the website by clicking here http://www.elephantvalleyproject.org

Jack wasn’t around during the time I was at the sanctuary – he was doing research in Thailand – however Gemma who is next down the line and has been working at the sanctuary for three and a half years was in charge.  Gemma is an Aussie and I don’t know how she lives in such a remote part of Cambodia and supervises the four Western staff and numerous Mahouts, cleaners and cooks, plans the weekly tasks to be done for the volunteers, organises the day visitor bookings and their excursions, does most of the administrative work for the sanctuary, works with the local community to organise any elephants that need to come to the sanctuary, works on conservation and environmental issues within the protected land – including tree logging, deals with poachers and basically any issues that arises – Gemma handles it.  She also speaks Khmer.  Wow!

The Project is about 30 minutes drive from town and usually volunteers stay on site, however the Project is currently having some “licensing issues” and difficulties with some tour operators in town.    Therefore us volunteers were placed into some accommodation about 15 minutes from the Project.

The accommodation was basic.  The most basic I have ever stayed in.  It was certainly an experience.  It was basically a log cabin/shed (with gaps everywhere between the timber) with a concrete floor, tin roof and about half a metre off the ground slates where the mattresses lay.  There were also mozzie nets to keep the mozzies, cockroaches, bugs, termites, spiders and flys away.  There was no ceilings fans and most definitely no air conditioning.  The bathrooms were down the end.  They were concrete floors with a Western style toilet – however it didn’t flush – you had to use a bucket of water to wash it through, and a shower head with cold water only.  Even though it was extremely basic and hot, it was clean, the sheets and bedding were clean and after a night it was actually pretty comfortable.

There was a dining room near the “shed-room” where dinner was served and the kitchen was located.  Above the dining room was an amazing platform with beautiful views over the jungle- I got some great sunset photos from here.  There was also about 4 cabins that were similar in style to the shed-room just for couples staying together.

Roger the dog and one of her pups – Brindle (yeah I didn’t bother asking about how Roger ended up getting her name) lived on site, along with a rooster and some chooks.  I also saw a black cat sneaking around from time to time.  Helen, who is the volunteer coordinator, also lives on site in one of the cabins and basically is someone there to look after us.  Helen is from the UK and is currently doing a three month stint after doing some work at the Project last year.  Kenzie was another volunteer who was staying for six weeks.  She is from the USA and only 20 years old – I thought she was so brave!

Breakfast and dinner were served in the dining room and both were prepared by a restaurant in town and brought out by scooter at 7am and 6.30pm daily.  Breakfast was crepes with local honey and fruit.  Dinner was rice with usually a veggie dish and a chicken dish or some noodles.  They were both really delicious.  Everyone took turns then to do the dishes in the small kitchen out the back.  There was no sink, so we had to rinse the dishes by bucket into a drain on the concrete floor and then wash them in a stainless steel tub.  Surprisingly I never got sick once.  There was also no fridge so cans of beer and coke were kept in a large esky with ice.  The water was provided in 10 litre tanks, but was never cold, just room temperature.

A typical day started by waking up at around 6.30am and getting ready, packing my backpack, filling up my water bottles, putting sunscreen on and having breakfast.  We usually piled into the van or the “truck” by 7.40am.  The van was luxury – normal seats and air con.  The truck is a beaten up old Toyota Hilux duel cab with seats in the tray.  It was very dusty if you were the unlucky one in the back but good fun!!  Helen would drive us to the Project and we would arrive by 8am.

Most days on our drive to the Project we stopped to pick up Terra.  Terra is a Bunong – which is a native or aboriginal Cambodian.  The Bunong people are “animists” meaning that they believe things such as animals, plants, rivers and mountains possess a spiritual being or a soul if you like.   They are only found in the Mondulkiri provence. Terra works as a cleaner at the Project, where many local Bunong people are employed as Mahouts, cooks, caretakers, security guards, park rangers and cleaners.  True to the Cambodian people Terra is extremely shy and weary of new people but once she does feel comfortable you can usually get a smile out of her.  Terra did not speak any English at all.

Sadly Terra has recently had a rough trot – her small timber hut/house caught fire and burnt down, leaving her and her five children homeless.  As she was trying to pay for her house to be re-bulit, this meant she had very little money left over and only enough to feed her children rice once a day, while she ate soil and dirt.  Absolutely heartbreaking.  Jack organised a working bee and raised some money and helped her built a small shack that at least offers some protection.

On one particular morning Terra and her youngest baby, maybe nine months ago came from their small hut.  Terra was wearing the same clothes that she had worn the day before.  The small baby had just been washed and while we drove Terra dried the baby and put a pair of pants and a jumper on her.  It was very sad to see the clothes were extremely dirty and unwashed but I guess that is all Terra has.  As Terra worked at the Project, the little baby was placed in a hammock under the trees near the kitchen and some of the older children watch over her.  It really puts life in perspective.

Once we arrive on the hill at the Project, Gemma works out what tasks need to be done by the volunteers and which staff members are allocated to work with us and which staff members are allocated to the day groups.  The day groups usually arrive at about 8.30am but they only go to the visit the elephants – they don’t do any work.

During this time us volunteers and the staff members all sit in the red dirt and chat.  Its beautiful in the warm sun, looking over the hill towards the jungle and mountain views.  I often sat there and thought I can’t believe I’m in such a remote part of Cambodia, of all places.  It really is a beautiful place.

One morning as we sat around, Too-en (Too-en is a local who works as a guide) heard an animal noise coming from the jungle and after listening to it, told us it was a gibbon calling.  He said it was quite late in the morning for a gibbon to call so we were very lucky to hear it.

On our first day us volunteers got to spend the whole day meeting the elephants.  It took us about thirty minutes to trek from the hill down into “Heaven Valley”.  Once in the jungle we crossed a river and then waited on a log for the elephants living in this area to be brought in from the jungle for their morning bath.

Seeing the elephants come from out of the jungle for the first time was awesome!  In this part of the valley there are five elephants – Ruby, Pearl, Ning Wang, Mae Nang and Onion.  It was thrilling watching them amble through – no chains, no leads and no fences between us and them.  We were only a few metres away from them.  The whole concept of the Project is to just watch and be in the company of the elephants.  There is no elephant riding.  In our little group we would sit for a couple of hours in the jungle just watching the elephants graze.  Only the Mahouts hop on the elephant’s back when they are learning to enter the water.  Once the elephants arrived at their watering hole and went in for a bath we were able to walk over closer to them and help throw buckets of water on them.

Some of the elephants know how to bath themselves and spray water on them, others don’t – as they were never able to learn this in their previous life.  Hence the Mahouts that help them and scrub and try and show them what to do.  Some of the elephants love to get into the water and then drop on one side and just lay there.  Others are very cautious and are still learning.

When the elephants are ready to come out from the water, we just moved out of their way and let them do their own thing, they wander where they want.  Once Onion comes from the water she likes to throw dirt all over herself!

It was a bit daunting being so close to these elephants, knowing they were wild animals but as the days wore on, I trusted them more and felt comfortable around them.

Once these lovely ladies finish their morning bath they usually head off together back into the jungle to eat and roam and be a happy, normal elephant.  Onion always goes her own way however, she doesn’t get along with the rest of the group and has lots of issues to sort out.  Onion was used as a logging elephant and worked extremely hard her whole life.  One day she stopped working and refused to move anymore.  Her owners contacted the Project and asked about her being taken in.  This benefits both the Project and the owners.  Firstly the owners receive a monthly allowance (less then they would if Onion was still working – but enough for them to live on) and they are able to come and visit Onion whenever they want.  For the Project they are able to take Onion in and care for her and know that she is happy and able to enjoy the rest of her life.

The Bunong people still use elephants for labour and they do care greatly for them – they just don’t understand the correct way I guess.  It goes back to their beliefs that everything has a soul and an elephant has the greatest soul – ceremonies are held to mark the arrival of a new baby elephant in the village and funerals when an elephant dies.  Its mainly the business men from the city who purchase elephants and use them for the tourist trade that are extremely cruel to the elephants.

When Onion first arrived in the Project she be-friended Bob – the only male.  Onion and Bob were best friends and did everything together.  Onion was acting normal and interacting well and washing herself.  Then sadly Bob died late last year – believed to be from old age.  I’m sure you have watched on TV or read that elephants take the death of their mates very hard and Onion did/has.  She now is back to square one and distanced herself from the others.  She now even bites the other elephants on their tails and once pushed Ning Wan down into the river!  She definitely has an attitude.  But sitting and just watching her you can see a sadness in her eyes….she has had a hard life.

Just before midday we trekked back out of the jungle and down the hill into base camp.  This is where the accommodation, kitchen, dining room and sheds are located.

Siesta/lunch time is usually from 11.30am to 2pm and man did I need it!  We can lay in hammocks downstairs or go upstairs into the lounge room and lay on chairs and enjoy the amazing view and sometimes catch the breeze.  Most of us read, chatted or slept!  Lunch is served at 12pm and was always rice, vegetables and fruit.  The food was very basic but always delicious.

In the afternoon we trekked into another part of the valley for about an hour or so.  This time we got to meet Gee Nowl and Easy Rider; who are besties and are properly the most normal elephants in the Project.  They just hang together, eat together and can and will wash themselves very well.

Lastly on the way back to base camp we found Milot in the jungle with her Mahout.  If I had to pick my favourite it would be Milot.  She is such a gentle giant and really loves people.  I don’t know how – as she was used to carry tourists for up to 12 hours a day.  Milot is blind in one eye because her handler beat her constantly over this part of her head to make her walk with the large basket full of people.  You can see by looking at her that her back is bent out of shape and she has marks where the ropes and chains used to strap the basket over her.  Like many of the elephants, Milot is also missing the bottom section of her tail.  This was cut off and the hair was used to make jewellery.

You can read all about the elephants and their backgrounds here:  http://www.globalteer.org/volunteer-projects.aspx?project=cambodia-elephant-sanctuary#section_11  When you are listening to their stories it is so sad, they really have had a rough life, but its so lovely to see them happy and free now.

At about 4.30pm we usually started the worst part of the day – the dreaded walk back up the hill.  I don’t know how one hill can cause so much terror but seriously it was never ending and I’m glad it wasn’t just me.  We then pile into the van or truck and back to the camp we go.

The sun is usually setting by the time we get back – about 5.30pm.  The sun is massive, a big orange colour tucking itself behind the jungle hills.  There were always a few fires burning so there is a smoky haze.  When I came back from days of working I was absolutely filthy, smelly, I had blisters on my hands (yeah I’m a sook) and a red dirt everywhere.  I liked to sit outside (in more red dirt!) and watch the sunset and play with Brindle.  Usually she would have found a stick or bit of rope and she liked to have a game.  It was incredibly peaceful and quiet and just being in the middle of nowhere in Cambodia made me feel very happy.

The rest of my time spent at the Project consisted of learning to cut banana trees and feeding these to the elephants.

Helen showed us how to cut down a banana tree.  Elephants will eat the trunk of the tree but not the leaves.  Therefore you cut the bottom of the tree first to “timber” it and then cut the leaves off and place these as mulch around the base of the tree.  Banana trees then sprout again from the base. You then need to pull any of the dead out strips of the trunk (as use as mulch) and then cut the trunk into sections about 50 centre metres long.  If there are any bananas on tree, they need to be cut off and returned to base camp and hung until they are ripe enough to feed the elephants.

After we had cut down the trees, we then had to lug them down into the second valley.  If we were taking them to Heaven Valley then we needed to load them into the truck and then walk them down.  It was really physical work but I did enjoy it.  I think I did pretty well cutting down the trees – apart from having the machete around the wrong way at one stage!  My aim isn’t great – usually it takes a couple of hits to fall the tree, but I never seemed to be able to get it in the exact spot again…so many a banana tree was hacked up!

Ikran was the only one who had bad luck – as she was cutting into a tree, she accidentally hit a water pipe and all this water blew out everywhere!  I though it was a super juicy tree at first!!  It was hilarious but poor Ikran felt so bad.  Helen ran up the hill trying to find which tap turned off the pipe.

Watching the elephants enjoy the banana trees makes it all worthwhile – they love them!!  They stand on the the tree trunk first and break it all up – it makes this fresh, crisp cracking sound – like a piece of carrot breaking in half.  Then they pick it up in the trunk and feed it into their mouth.  Crunch, crunch, crunch!  The bananas get thrown out and we try to scatter these around so they can have a bit of fun finding them.  They have a exceptional sense of smell and their trunk forages around in the leaves searching for the bananas.

I had an amazing time at the Project – meeting people like Gemma and Helen was great but also being with fellow travellers who were all their for the same reasons as me.  Just being able to sit in a quiet jungle and watch an animal at wild was enough for me.  But to be able to walk over to Milot and touch her was incredible.  She was beautiful.  Lots of amazing memories…

Photos can be found here:     https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.740287269349484.1073741830.100001046523887&type=1&l=ef5a30b8a3

 

Another week has passed

So another week has come to an end and another country gets ticked off the list. I’ve only been travelling for nearly two weeks, yet it really feels like two months.

Tomorrow (Saturday) I fly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where I spend one night. On Sunday morning myself and the other new volunteers are driven about five hours to an area called Sen Monorom where the Globalteer Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary is located.

I’ll be spending two weeks there and I’m really looking forward to working with the elephants, unpacking my bag for a while and having a base.

However, before I get ahead of myself…I am still in Singapore! Have had a great six days and got up to plenty of things…

Tuesday morning I hopped on the MRT and travelled to the Gardens by the Bay along near Marina Bay. There are two massive glass domes and inside they have managed to plant/grow flowers, plants and trees from all other the world, including bottles trees (which grow in Roma!).

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The afternoon was spent walking around the area near the hostel – a very Islamic area with a mosque and little cobbled streets selling fabrics and spices.

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Tuesday night I was eating dinner and have a cocktail at a restaurant near the hostel when the lady next to me said hello. We start chatting and we worked out we where actually staying in the same place and same room – “pod buddies”!

We decided to walk to Raffles Hotel and enjoyed a Singapore Sling in the bar area. Raffles is even more beautiful at night time – its so grand – I can’t imagine how beautiful it would have been back in the day.

Wednesday I went on a Changi World War Two tour. Sadly a lot of the buildings and remains from this time have either been demolished or are now part of military land and not accessible.

However I did get to visit Changi Village and Changi Beach, go to the Changi Museum including the Changi Chapel, visit Johore Battery where there is a replica WWII15-inch gun battery and briefly saw the remains of the Old Changi Prison. It was still extremely interesting and because Australia had such a huge involvement in Singapore during World War Two it was nice to learn the history.

Wednesday night I was lucky enough to catch up with a Roma work mate, Ali, who has recently started a brand new life in Singapore!

We dined in extreme luxury at the Fullerton Bay Hotel (definitely blew the backpacker budget that night!) and then enjoyed a cocktail in their ‘oh so chic’ rooftop bar – The Lantern. The views were amazing!!

It was great to see Ali, have some company and catch up on the Roma goss.

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Thursday saw Ali and I catch up again and we spent the morning walking around Chinatown checking out the markets and all the very interesting food – if you can call it food! Somehow grasshoppers, insects and bugs aren’t my taste.  After lunch of dumplings and sweet buns, we both made a mad dash back to our homes in a lightening and thunder storm that didn’t relent.

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Thursday night I went out to the Singapore Zoo for the night safari.  I really can’t remember the last time I went to a zoo, but I really enjoyed it.  The tram ride lasted about 40 minutes and goes around through the different sections and I saw heaps of animals.

Then there is a path that meanders through the jungle and stops in at different animals again.  I was very lucky to see a beautiful tiger, he was behind glass but it was just him and me together with no-one else around in the darkness.  Amazing.

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Today I had a quiet day – I needed to go to the post office so I did that and I did my laundry and have packed my bag.

While the weather was clear, I took the MRT and walked around the Marina Sands area.

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The elephant sanctuary doesn’t have internet so you won’t be hearing from me until the second week of April.

Z x

I have arrived in Singapore…

My time in Bali and Bliss sadly had to come to an end yesterday (Sunday) and the nerves kicked in again…a new adventure and experience to begin.

I love Bali, it is such a beautiful and spiritual place – it was the perfect spot to start my journey. I made some very special friends there who I know I’ll stay in touch with.

Arriving in Singapore meant a couple of new experiences – one staying in a backpackers at 30 and two being completely alone in a big city. I am going to admit that a couple of tears flowed last night – I talked to Mum and Dad on Skype so I’ll blame them!

This morning I woke up late and seriously I could have stayed in bed all day – I was just feeling down, alone and scared. But I forced myself up, put my St Christopher necklace on for good luck and walked outside…into the pouring rain…

All good I told myself – I bought a $4 umbrella from a corner store and did what any normal scared Westerner would do in a foreign country – go to the nearest Starbucks! I poured over the map and Lonely Planet over my mocha and muffin and decided that rainy weather is perfect for a museum – so off to the National Museum I went. I followed my map, stopped when I got confused, detoured to a couple of markets and shops, casually found Raffles Hotel, so checked out the bar and took some photos, and found my way to the museum.

It was such a bargin to get into the museum – about $8AUD – and I was just in time for a free guided tour. The museum and tour was fantastic and showed the evolution of Singapore – when it was first settled by Mr Ruffles himself in 1819, to it’s part in World War Two, joining with Malaysia, separating from Malaysia, gaining financially stability and developing infrastructure for its people. Singapore has done pretty well for itself.

I had some lunch at the museum and chatted to another women who was travelling by herself and decided that I’m glad I got out of bed, it was a pretty good day. Who knows what tomorrow will bring 🙂

Z x

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Random wall art not far from the hostel

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The outside walls of Raffles

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Raffles itself

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The roof of the National Museum

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Stormy weather on the walk home

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Another street

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My room and “pod” – its actually really nice, very clean, private and for the most part fairly quiet.

Desa Seni yoga retreat

Desa Seni is a beautiful yoga retreat about 10 minutes drive from Bliss.

Whilst in Bali I practiced there nearly every day mainly enjoying the Vinyasa and Hatha classes. However I did attend a Anusara class where I did my first head stand!

The grounds of the retreat are very Balinese and beautiful – there is also accommodation available for those really wanting to experience yoga all day, every day.

Octavio (one of the male instructors) provided a lot of entertainment around the Bliss dinner table each night – I think a few of the girls had a small crush on him!

Angela was also a fantastic teacher and that Spanish accent made the class even more relaxing.

Some photos below…

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A couple of snippets from Bali…

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Poppy’s Lane in Kuta

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Bruce the Bliss Dog

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Poppy’s Lane, Kuta

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A temple in Kuta

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Miss Alana, Miss Shar and Mr Bruce

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Cute shop Bungalow in Canngu

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Typical road in Canngu

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Bali Sky

 

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The amazing dinners at Bliss

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Fireworks from my villa on my last night – full moon party

Bike riding around Bali

On Thursday Shar and I went on the Bali Eco Cycling tour; if you are ever in Bali this is a must; it was a fantastic day trip showcasing the beautiful other side of Bali.

This was one of the first times in a long time that the picture I had in my head about Bali actually came true. The rice paddies we rode through and the villages we passed by were absolutely stunning and definitely what Bali really is.

Shar and I managed to drag our butts out of bed early for a 6.30am departure (few weeks since I’d been up that early!) and we were hanging out for the coffee at our first stop at a coffee plantation. Also on our tour was a Aussie family of 10 (there were more left at home in their villa) that were great company for the day and provided a few highlights…

At the coffee plantation we were able to view the civet cat – you know the animal that poos out coffee beans and then people pay a bucket full of money to drink a “cat” “poo” “cinno”! I didn’t succumb to drinking the cat coffee but a few others did – apparently its not too bad but the sludge in the bottom of the cup didn’t impress me.

After how many shots of coffee later – I can’t remember! – we were on our way to Mt. Batur and its crater lake, to enjoy breakfast and a stunning view of this volcano that last erupted about in 2000.

We then road to a small back road to pick out our wonderfully road worthy bikes and ride through the rural back roads of Bali. Sadly I did not pick a winner bike – about 1 k down the road the chain on my bike completely snapped!

Danna, one of the tour guides, told me I was riding too fast to be changing the gears – basically the bike and the gears were just stuffed. But another bike was brought to me and Danna and I caught up to the group at the next local village. We were able to go into the village and see the work they perform – the ladies at this particular village work with bamboo to create screens. We saw where they housed their pigs, their kitchen, their bedrooms and their small temple/shrine the middle of the village.

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We spent about two hours riding through little villages and back roads and then down through the rice paddies. It was just the best experience. Mothers held their babies arms up and waved to us, little children wanted a high five, old men smiled and we cycled past. The cars and scooters tooted at us as they overtook us – not in rage like we use our horns, but to be polite and let us know they were coming around.

We rode our bikes down into the beautiful rice paddies and navigated our way along a tight cement path right between two crops and the water drains. The locals allowed us to come onto their fields and they showed how they removed the rice from the plant – all the work is done by hand, no machines and both men and women grow the rice.

Next a little drama broke the serenity! The grandfather of the family lost control of his bike and slide about 4 metres down the side of a cliff! It was a bit hairy there for a moment, wondering if he was actually okay – it was a long drop through the jungle. Thankfully his son in law was a doctor and was able to help.  It appeared he was just battered, bruised and very bloody lucky! The handle bars on the bike where bend back towards the seat, so I think they took the full impact. So after he was buckled up in the van and given a couple of Bintangs it was back to riding through the countryside.

Photos of our tour are here

Zoe x

Goodbye old life…Welcome to Bali

The last four days have been a blur but I can report I safely arrived in Bali yesterday (Sunday) at about 4pm Qld time.

I do have to admit that amongst the packing, last minute preparations, goodbye dinners/lunches and travelling to Brisbane my nerves did kick in and tears did too. Although I didn’t have any doubt I wanted to go and what I was doing was, as one of my best friends put it “something most people will never get the opportunity to do – so live it up!” I did have a small amount of doubt that I couldn’t do this own my own…by myself.  However I hoped on the escalator at the Brisbane International Airport and waved goodbye to my Mum, Day and brother standing from above.  There were some very mixed, emotional feelings.

Walking out of the airport alone in Denpasar, being greet by literally hundreds of people holding signs up displaying visitor names made me take a deep breath and tell myself I can do this or actually I have to do this. And so I did; I  jumped my first hurdle.

My first 24 hour impressions of Bali are very different to what I had in mind. Definitely one of the more cleaner Asian countries I have visited and the people are extremely friendly and kind and no road rage as yet. But exactly as I had pictured it – small temples tucked between buildings filled with flowers, wild bamboo sprouting every which way, bright, colourful flags and laterns lining streets, rice paddies and beautiful villas and resorts.

I do have to admit that due to the fair amount of slack Bali has copped over the last few years (Schapelle Corby and the Bali Nine) and having to hear “eeewwww, why Bali?” every time I told someone where I was going did make me wonder if Bali was the best first choice. However as part of my greater plan of not flying any more then 6 hours and my breath being taken away by Bliss Sanctuary’s website I’m very happy with my decision.

So Bliss….their motto “for women travelling on their own without being alone” is exactly true. I feel extremely safe and well cared for – if I could stay here for the next 9 months life would be easy! After a forty-five minute drive from the airport in the area known as Canngu, I entered through a beautiful set of timber Balinese style doors and was welcomed so warmly by Zoe (the owner) and Shar (the hostess). The resort is just quaint and so beautiful – it is truly Bali!

There are two long villas which house the rooms and communal area.  The communal area is where the kitchen is located with a communal fridge that is always stocked with food, left overs, drinks and chocolate.  Also a couch to hang out on, a TV, DVDs, books and this is also where the beautiful Bruce hangs. Bruce is a golden retriever cross poodle and the size of a small pony but he is just gorgeous and it adds a nice homely feel (missing my Pipster and Maxy Moo).  There is a beautiful, warm, palmed lined pool and also a large Balinese hut, complete with flags and curtains fluttering in the wind, where dinner is served nightly.

The staff are like family members of Bliss. There are the lovely ladies in the kitchen/housekeeping – Kadek, Yanti and Riska. For breakfast when you have risen and are ready and the ladies will prepare anything you fancy.  The same applies for lunch. At dinnertime the ladies prepare at least 7 different traditional Balinese dishes and the group share the food under the Bali hut.  The food is just amazing and contains plenty of fresh vegetables.  Chilli, garlic, lemongrass, banana leaves and coconut also feature predominately.  Dessert tonight was a coconut crepe with a palm sugar filling, yum!

There is Ketut the driver who will drive guests into town or to Ubud – wherever really. Komang who cares for the gardens and sleeps in the Bali hut at night time as the Chief of Security! Miss Wayan and Miss Viva; the incredible massage ladies. Miss Viva is extremely cheeky…:) And the one and only Shar – the fantastic hostess, jack of all trades and most importantly – a Queenslander!

There are six other women here at the moment – a mother and daughter from the States, two Aussies, a Dutch girl and a Polish New Yorker. Its lovely to sit with them all and Shar during dinner and discuss what we did that day and share recommendations on places to visit. After dinner Shar organises our next day and we all chat about where each other is going and who can catch a lift with who.  There is no obligation to go with anyone else; there is no obligation to be with anyone and there is certainly no obligation to do anything!

Today Eva (the Polish New Yorker) and I went to yoga together in the morning, I then had some lunch and had my 90 minutes treatment (we all have one everyday!) followed by a swim in the pool and a walk to the beach.

Tomorrow I am going to yoga again, followed by my treatment and then the lady from Melbourne and I are going into town for the afternoon. We are all here because we are travelling by ourselves and we all give each other space – you can work out who wants company and who wants to be left alone by the pool. Its a really beautiful place and Zoe has to been given credit for such an amazing idea and seeing it come to life.

So on a side note – the weather is hot and humid but no rain. Although it is thundering outside now.  Last night there was a small earthquake/tremor!  The whole bed shook and woke me up – it only lasted about 10 seconds or so but I couldn’t work out if I was dreaming or not.

I will post some photos up over the next day or so.

Z x

I’m packed…I think?

I thought photos might do this post more justice…this is how today went down…

After a week of putting everything I thought I wanted to take with me into the spare bedroom, I ended up with this nice little pile. Mum and Dad watched it grow daily…

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However as today progressed, I did start to whittle the pile down and some items didn’t make it into the pack…

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And finally after lunch, a break, a bit of frustration and realising I just couldn’t fit my nude high heels in I think I am packed!

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My pack weights about 15 kilos which will be fine for the planes but I’m not sure about my back! Its heavy and I’m scared I might topple over if I bend down but I really can’t reduce anymore weight and I’m just gonna have to suck it up!

So heres a list of what I packed…let me know if I have forgotten something!!

– first aid kit
– 1 micro-fibre towel (I had two but one had to go!)
– 1 packing cube with the following inside: iPhone sim card; shackles for my packs; matches & lighter; torch & head lamp; EU adaptor (thank you Mum) ; raincoat; portable clothesline (thank you Mum); spare iPhone charger; iPhone headphones; scissors; Swiss army knife
– garbage bags
– water bladder (my pack has a pouch inside for the bladder and a hose that comes through so I can drink directly from that
– a bag full of drugs (for gastro, headaches etc)
– a pack safe cage (I’ll show you what that is when I use it)

Clothing:
– 1 hat (the second hat got culled)
– 1 small going out clutch
– 7 pairs of socks, undies and bras
– 1 sports bra
– 1 pair of PJs (the second pair were also culled)
– 1 pair of bathers
– 2 pairs of long hippy pants
– 1 pair of demin shorts
– 2 pairs of black gym 3/4 pants
– 1 pair of Canterbury
– 1 casual dress
– 2 going out dresses
– 6 t-shirts
– 1 pair of thongs, a pair of sandals and my trekking runners (cross between a runner and a trekking boot)
– 1 pair each of thermal leggings, shirt and jacket
– toiletries (the absolute bare minimum!!) – shampoo, conditioner, soap, one moisturiser for face and one for body, sunscreen, Bushman spray, toothpaste and brush, hair brush, face wash, deodorant, shower cap, hairbands, bobby pins, Lucus Pawpaw Ointment, razor and spare blades, mineral cover and blush, mascara, lipstick and eyeliner. I did give up the hair dryer as well, it just would not fit!

Backpack:
– Bose headphones
– tissues, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitiser
– eye cover/shade
– travel pillow
– pencil case with pens, nikko, notebook
– photo album (to show friendly locals pictures of home – they really enjoy at these)
– Aussie pens and pencils to give to local kids

My Mum, Dad and I are leaving for Brisbane tomorrow morning.

Z

How I organised everything in 2 months…

Well I managed to organise, at this stage, 5 months aboard in about 8 weeks, including receiving my passport back from the Indian embassy today – well it is in Brisbane with my brother, Tim.

I decided during Christmas 2013 that I needed to fulfil my life long dream to travel the world and live aboard.  As soon I knew my leave was approved (thank you Meryl) I set about applying for my UK work visa as the research I had done showed it could take up to six weeks to organise. I successfully obtained a “Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa”. Basically this means that I can work in the UK for 2 years. The paperwork side of things and the the UK embassy website don’t make things easy to understand so I decided to contact an agency to help me with the process.

BritBound were fantastic and well worth the extra cost – I completed their simplified but numerous forms and they processed the application on my behalf. To apply for the Tier 5 visa I had to be under 31 years of age, prove I had $3000 AUS in the bank, submit a recent passport photo, send my passport to the Philippines (where they process the visas), travel to Brisbane and visit the British Consulate to have a biometric test done (it took all of 15 minutes)…then cross my fingers for weeks and hope I was one of the 10,000 Aussies and Kiwis to be “let in to the Mother Country” for the year! The whole process cost approximately $600 and it was great feeling to receive that email to say YES!

When I do arrive in the UK, BritBound have organised an appointment for me to visit a bank and open an account, they have put me in touch with a recruitment agency and I get invited to a welcome lunch and get to meet with other “BritBounders”.

Knowing where I wanted to go and planning my first leg of the trip was very easy – it definitely had to be Asia to begin with and I knew wanted to see the Taj Mahal. I’ve had a picture of the Taj pinned on the desk for the last 12 months or so.

I mainly did my research via my Lonely Planet books, hours and hours of googling and honestly everything had been planned in my head for years. I booked my flights and accommodation over the net for Bali and Singapore; but used a travel agent to book the tours of Laos and China to India and to organise my visas for Vietnam, China and India. I booked online the volunteer placement with the elephants in Cambodia and I’m winging it through Vietnam.

You also may be interested to know it has cost me about $1600 to get up to date with my vaccinations – thats including the surgery fees. It wasn’t cheap to be immunised against Hep A & B, Typhoid, Boostrix, Polio, Meningicoccal, Yellow Fever, Japanese Encephalitis and Rabies. I also have my Malaira tablets ready to go when need be.

I started my first course of needles in late January and finished them last Thursday. I think the worst of it was five needles in a row…yes it did hurt. The Yellow Fever shot – which was another trip to Brisbane – was less painful then a mozzie bite.  I now have to carry with me a little yellow book which proves all of my immunisations. It will be extremely important for when I travel to Africa as I need proof of a Yellow Fever shot to get back into Australia.

On my several trips to Brisbane I started buying items such as a back pack, padlocks, micro fibre towels, a first aid kit, trekking boots etc and now this is currently ready to pack/jam/I’ll make it fit into my back pack.

So there you go…hopefully I haven’t forgotten anything!

Z

Welcome!

Hi Everyone!

Here it is, my first post! Hopefully the first of many happy memories to come.

Here is the link to show where I’m travelling over my ten month adventure. At this stage I have only booked as far as mid June 2014. I will see where the world leads me after that…

Zoe’s Map

I’ll keep updating this as much as I can while I’m travelling around.

I fly out to Bali on Sunday and for those interested, while I’m in Bali I am staying at Bliss Sanctuary for Women.

Bliss is a women only resort, focusing on all things mind, body, soul.

As this will be my first stop I’m hoping to enjoy some yoga sessions, learn to surf, get a massage (or two!), visit as many beautiful temples as I can and get my head back in order. I can’t wait.

Today is my first official day of holidays, after finishing up my job. It was an emotional day saying goodbye to people I had worked with for nearly five years. There is also the reality that I’m leaving a perfectly good job to live the life of a backpacker!

I did cross a couple of jobs of my list still have quite a few things to sort out – such as dealing with Telstra, getting all my travel documents ready and printed/saved and PACK!

I am also waiting very patiently for my passport. It is currently with the Indian embassy in Brisbane and it should be couriered to Roma by Thursday…I know I am cutting it very fine!

So hope you enjoyed my first post…hopefully there will be many more exciting ones to come. Feel free to post heaps of comments!!!

Z x