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That time in Mexico: Part 2

Mexico was jam-packed with adventurous times! When we weren’t relaxing on the beach with a plate of nachos, we were off trying out something different.

About a week into our trip we took a ride on the fastest speedboat I’ve ever been on. It was so much fun but a word of warning for the ladies…best not to just go in just a bikini top, I ended up without mine at one point! Fortunately no one noticed but it did leave me red-faced – oops!

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We ended up on this beautiful little island called Akumal where we did lots of snorkeling and got to see loads of different species of fish such as parrot fish and barracuda. We also saw some squid and got to observe the beautiful turtles too, of course keeping our distance so as not to disturb them in their environment.

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Beautiful Akumal

Our journey into Coba was fantastic. We canoed (badly), ziplined across a river, rapelled into a cenote and trekked through the jungle. It’s probably the closest I will ever feel to being Lara Croft! (A much less graceful version).

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Krakow – Now I Believe in Magic

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Poland was quite honestly never a country I had thought about visiting…at least any time soon. It was a place I associated only with its terrible history and as much as I enjoy reading and watching documentaries about the war, I didn’t want to put myself into direct contact with the remnants of it. Thankfully my parents had been once before and loved it so much that they invited me to join them for a second visit. They didn’t need to ask me twice!

We arrived in Krakow thirty minutes ahead of schedule after a cosy two-hour trip crammed between two strangers; one of whom was almost falling asleep on my shoulder and the other who spent the entire flight playing Sudoku and what I decided was ‘political Hangman’ on his iPad. Each to their own I guess! Once out of the airport we had already arranged a taxi pick up to take us to the apartment we had rented. It would have been simple enough to take the train but we decided to opt for convenience (laziness) on this occasion.

Our apartment could not have been located in a better place! Well, not unless you plonked it in the middle of the Market Square. It was just a 5 minute walk into the city centre so nothing was far away. The apartment itself was beautiful and truly a home away from home and I’d recommend it over staying in a hotel to anyone.

Information about the apartment can be found here.

Krakow is a beautiful city rich in character and magic. There’s a certain buzz that you get from walking around that I haven’t quite felt anywhere else; it’s kind of hard to describe but I guess it’s a feeling of belonging. The atmosphere gently lures you in with welcoming arms and Pierogi at the ready. Be ready to fall for its charm!

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Fooling around!

 

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Thoughts on Volunteering

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you may have noticed that I took a little hiatus from writing about my trip next year. The reason for this is because the next country on my journey is Cambodia and it was a place where I planned to spend a month volunteering. Right now my thoughts are that I may not be participating in any volunteering at all.

Why the change of heart? Well, I did some research into voluntary organizations and the more I read, the more negative opinions I found.

This subject causes a fair bit of controversy and I’m not here to debate about it; I just want to do what is right and currently I’m finding that the implications of joining a volunteer placement is leaning towards being more harmful (at least in Cambodia) than good. One only has to go to the application page of a volunteering organization to see that there really isn’t anything stopping anyone from volunteering. Most of the time you don’t need any necessary skills and you’re not even asked for a background or police check meaning that absolutely anyone can apply to care for vulnerable children. It isn’t unusual to hear of cases about sex offenders disguised as well-meaning volunteers and taking children away.

If that isn’t enough, another reason for raising doubts is the fact that you have to pay ridiculous amounts of money to be placed in an orphanage, but where does the majority of the money go? To the big greedy NGO’s most of the time it seems. The company that I had found was actually the lowest and most reasonable for costs and in fact seems to be supported by the Aljazeera site (IVHQ) so I will be sending some questions to them before making any commitments and I’ll keep my blog updated with their reply!

I’m not saying by any means that all orphanages are bad…I’m just saying that it’s good to do your research before you decide. If you’re going to choose to go with an organization, choose one that requests a background check of its volunteers and can prove where their money is going.

Here are a few links that I found very insightful and will give you an idea of the questions to ask. The first is a short documentary which was very interesting to watch.

Children are not tourist attractions!

Cambodia’s Orphan Business

The Do’s and Don’t of Orphanage Volunteering

ThinkChildSafe.org

Watch this short video of a Cambodian girl who managed to leave an orphanage here.

Read these 7 tips to help you make an informed decision.

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China – Part II & III

Badaling
15.10.11
What a day! Our wake up call was at 6:30am…lovely! Mind you, I woke up at 6am by myself.  By 8am we set off for our first big day. Our first trek started at the Badaling section of the wall which is a section that is rarely visited by tourists so we were basically the only ones there. I’m not going to give a full account but I will say this – the steps are deceiving. You turn a corner and find another flight, it was never-ending! Oh and for the entire five hours that we walked for, I think only about fifteen minutes in total of those were on a straight path.

The wind was insane. At one it caught me by surprise and I almost fell but luckily Kim grabbed hold of me. With the wind so bad we had to get as low to the ground as possible. There was a section where there was no wall on either side of us so we ended up going down on our bums which was quite funny.

Our lovely group before the trek began!
We encountered some interesting signs along the way.
Literally having to hold on for fear of the wind blowing me backwards!
The majority of the section that we walked was un-renovated.

The trek was tough but beautiful.
Going down was almost as tough as the upward climb because it was so steep. My poor toes!
I have to say that it was the most challenging experience of my life and it’s only the first day! I ache like crazy which concerns me about tomorrow but hopefully I’ll be fine.
Good night!

Day 2 – Black Dragon National Park

16.10.11 – 06:45am
Just woke up about 15 minutes ago. I’ve been waking up and stretching my legs all night in preparation for the day ahead. Today we’ll be at the Black Dragon National Pool and it’s supposed to be an easier but much longer trek. I just hope that my legs cope!
We’re staying at the Impressions lodge and one thing I’ve noticed since we arrived yesterday is that there’s some kind of thumping sound throughout the lodge. It’s literally going ‘Boom, boom, boom’ all the time like a heartbeat. I think it must be some kind of pump. Anyway, we just had our wake up call so it’s time to get ready.
16:50pm
Day 2 of trekking over! Today was a 10km trek which lasted 5 ½ – 6 hours. The park was beautiful. We trekked through a large amount of forested areas with a few difficulties on the way.  It definitely did not feel as tough as yesterday but it’s still very rewarding to have completed the whole day because I don’t think I’ve ever actually trekked this kind of distance in one go! I’m not as unfit as I thought I was!

We’ve also learned the Chinese hand signs from 1-10 so that we can communicate with the hotel staff a bit easier.