Monday, April 24, 2017

West Coast Roadtrip

A point that I failed to mention about my time in Western Australia, is that I crossed something off my bucket list!  Well, 2 things really, but only one is listed on my blog bucket list.  I have now been in the Indian Ocean!  I only have the Arctic Ocean left on my list, and to be honest I'm not that keen to cross it off; although, I hear there have been some amazing technological advancements in wet suits.  And yes, some of you might be wondering why I left out the Southern Ocean.  To be honest, I have no idea.  Although, in researching this topic I found out that some Australian "cartographical authorities define the Southern Ocean as including the entire body of water between Antarctica and the south coasts of Australia and New Zealand".  So, if I go by that delineation I still only have the Arctic Ocean left to check off my list!

On Sunday, we drove 820km (about 509 miles) from Exmouth down to Kalbarri.  We arrived at our hostel around 4pm and I headed to the pool to cool off.  Ann and I chatted for a bit and then decided we'd head to the beach to watch the sunset.  We were early so Terry, Ann, and I walked down to the pier to see what was happening.  To be honest, calling it a pier might be too generous; it seemed to me to be more of a large dock.  The setting was quite idyllic with two young families fishing and having fun.  We made it back to our starting point in just the right amount of time.

We took some photos, in-between swatting flies, and then headed back to get ready for dinner.  I realize  now that I'd failed to mention in previous posts about the flies.  From a bit south of Kalbarri to just south of Coral Bay there are flies, lots and lots of flies (despite that fact that there is a near constant wind)! I'd been warned about the flies before my trip to Uluru a couple years ago, but had thankfully not encountered them (due to my visiting in winter). The prevalence of flies has led to the common use of flynets in many parts of Australia:
If you'd like one of your own you can purchase one here - they ship to the U.S.
I had certainly enjoyed my reprieve while further north, and the decrease in fly activity.  Anyway, back to the facts.  This was our last night together and we enjoyed a phenomenal buffet dinner at a local hotel just a short walk across town.

Our first stop, on our last day of the tour, was at a lookout over the coastal cliffs; a spot called Pot Alley.  From there we headed to a pink lake.  It's not the famous Pink Lake, but it was fascinating none-the-less.  No-one really knows why the lake is pink. Scientists speculate that the colour comes from a dye created by bacteria that lives in the salt crusts.  Most of the lake was empty since a local company extracts the bacteria and uses it in health & nutrition products.

On to Greenough, to visit a Wildlife Park owned and operated by a woman named Michelle.

 We got to feed the animals that she's rescued, including a camel, a horse, kangaroos, goats, and sheep.  We were also able to hold a joey (baby kangaroo) named Rosie - she was incredibly adorable!  Our last stop of the day was at Lancelin to visit the sand dunes.  Several in our group tried sand-boarding (no connection to water-boarding), but I'd done it before and don't like the end result, so I declined.

And so, our trip had come to an end - I got dropped at the train station in Perth and quickly caught the train to Freemantle. Demi had mistakenly told me that the YHA was just across the street from the station in Freo and I for some reason had no map that listed my hostel!  A rookie mistake.  I had a map, but it didn't extend far enough to show the area where my hostel was located.  In addition, everything in Australia (except in perhaps Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane) shuts down after 5pm, especially on a Monday.  The first gentleman I asked had no idea where it was located, but God sent me a lovely lady on try number two.  She looked it up on her phone and after a few minutes of trying to figure out how to direct me she just walked with me!  When Google maps proved to be no help she called the front desk; unfortunately that gentleman was just as un-helpful.  I was staying at the Freemantle Prison YHA (which had seemed like a great idea until I was lost in a strange city, at night looking for a prison), so she got me as close to the old prison as possible (we were standing along the old walls) and said that if I walked along the walls I should eventually find the part that housed the hostel.  Long story short, I did eventually found it and despite their desperate lack of signage guiding you to their location it was a nice place, for an old convict prison.

 2 days, 1,000 miles, and one prison stay - not bad for a road trip :)
Exmouth to Perth

For a little perspective :)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

West Coast Beaches

We spent most of the day on Saturday visiting beaches in Cape Range National Park.  They were lovely, but none of them had any shade (and I sunburn easily).  No trees, just a lone umbrella that Ben had purchased under which he could hide (he'd been sunburned the day before).  We had rented snorkel gear, so at the first beach I waded in and snorkeled away, only to be stung by the jelly fish that were quite proliferate at the particular location.  Thankfully it wasn't a bad sting, and I did see a turtle and some fish before that happened.  I wasn't "jonesing", as they say, to snorkel so I decided to walk the beach instead.  It had a two-fold purpose since it also kept me cool - it was a scorcher of  a day and I can only stand to lay in the sun and cook if it's not too hot.  I believe the average temperature in Exmouth for this time of year is about 95°F.

After lunch at a second beach (this one thankfully had a small picnic shelter that we were able to snag) we headed off to one last snorkel spot.  Since I'd reapplied sunscreen recently I determined that my wisest move would be to stay out of the water for a bit to let it soak in some more.  This beach was mostly large rocks and there were tons of crabs scurrying all over the place.  If you weren't paying attention I'm sure you could easily have missed most of them, they do an excellent job of camouflaging themselves (although, as soon as I typed that I thought, "God's really the one who camouflaged them").  This beach had less jellyfish, so I did eventually get in the water; it's much cooler in the water and you can't get burnt under the water.  We didn't last long at the beach though, everyone was too tire, hot, and cranky.  Thankfully, I only seem to have some sunburn on my feet and ankles, which I quite certain is from yesterday's adventure (there's a distinct line around my ankles where the wet suit stopped).  After arriving back at our hostel Arpana and I headed to the pool to enjoy the rest of our free afternoon.

"Exmouth is situated at the tip of a slender peninsula, enabling you to watch the sun both rise and set over the water.  The best view is from the lighthouse." This little note was on an advertisement for Exmouth that I had ripped out of the 'Qantas Spirit of Australia' inflight magazine on my flight home in March of 2015, and it was certainly a good tip.

We all hopped in the bus and headed up to Vlamingh Head Lighthouse to watch the sunset.  Exmouth was first used as a military base during WWII.  "During the Second World War the North West Cape became a very valuable refueling depot for US Navy ships, and the Air Force developed a base at nearby Learmonth."
There were several of these with lots of fascinating facts about this area

"Navigation along the north west coast had long been known to be hazardous
 (it is one of the most dangerous coastlines in the world)"
Although it was certainly not the most amazing sunset I've ever seen, it was beautiful - especially the after-glow.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ningaloo Reef

Tour Day 4

That's a whale shark in their logo - WA is one of the
spots in the world where you can swim with them.

The whole reason I took the Aussie Wanderers tour was to see the Ningaloo Reef.  It’s a fringe reef, so, unlike the Great Barrier Reef that requires an hour boat ride to reach it, this reef comes right up to the shore.  Also, because Western Australia (WA) is so remote, it doesn’t have as much human interference or traffic, so the coral and the sea life are more abundant and much healthier.  I did a day tour with Ningaloo Reef Dive to see the Manta Rays.  I didn’t realize when I booked that you had the option to scuba dive (or I would have), so I only snorkeled.  The visibility in the water was amazing though, and I saw so many things.  On our first guided snorkel we saw tons of Black-Tipped Reef Sharks, some were quite large, and two sea turtles!  One of the turtles was only about 3 feet from me, so I was able to get a close-up.

Had to snap a picture of this coral - don't you love its funny face?

 Of course there were fish galore: trumpet fish, parrot fish, and lots of other fish of which I don’t know the names.  We had a snack back on board the boat and waited for our spotter plane to find us some Manta Rays.  Once the plane found them and directed our boat to them, Jen, our snorkel guide, jumped in to keep an eye on them so each group (we’d been split in two) could get to them.  On the signal we quickly slid into the water and swam hard over to Jen.  They were HUGE -- a bit freaky looking as well, but very cool.  We even saw 2 at one time, which is quite rare according to Jen.  One of the rays even had two sharks swimming along underneath it.  You know it was great when the staff is super excited (or “frothing” as they like to say).

It was coming right at me, so I had to get out of the way!!

Back on the boat we had a nice lunch while cruising around (another boat had spotted a whale earlier, so we went searching for it but never saw it).  We did, from the boat thankfully, spot a tiger shark.  There was a “bait ball” (a big swarm of fish swimming really tightly together) and the sharks were trying to get the fish up to the surface so they could eat them.  On our last snorkel of the day we saw a cowrie shell, which is extremely rare to spot during the day.  The water here is an incredible shade of aquamarine, absolutely stunning.  Back at the hostel I met up with our group and we set off for Exmouth, where we’d spend the night in a bug free hostel!

Coral Bay, Western Australia

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Longest Flight in the World

They say “reckon” a lot, instead of “think” – I reckon it might rain this afternoon.  And instead of “How are you doing?” they ask “How are you going?”  When you ask a flight attendant if something needs put in the overhead bin, they respond with, “I’ll pop it up for you, do you want your jumper (jacket) with you?”  Oh, Australia, I’ve missed you.

Yes, it is a long way to Australia, and my flight from Dallas to Sydney is currently the longest flight in the world, clocking in at 8,578 miles (roughly 17 hours of flying time).   Blessedly, every seat has its own entertainment system and they give you free food. Check out the menu for my return flight - they know how to treat you right.

 My travel time was increased even further due to the fact that I flew directly on to Perth (an additional layover plus a 5 hour flight).  Sadly, I goofed and used the ePassport kiosk in Sydney (I’d never had the chance before and it seemed quicker) so I don’t even have an Australian stamp in my passport.  Live and learn.  Staying in a hotel my first night was an excellent decision, any trip that takes over 30 hours deserves a hotel room all to yourself.  Getting from the airport to the hotel took well over an hour, a few buses, and lots of asking for directions.  It was about 3pm when I arrived, but the Art Gallery of Western Australia was only open until 5pm, and it was too early to go to bed anyway, so I freshened up a bit and headed off.  I’d read that they have a lot of Aboriginal Art in the gallery, but wasn’t all that impressed.  It is a small gallery and it wasn’t really the art I was looking for, although a lot of it might have been done by Aboriginal artists.

There were some nice pieces though and it did kill some time.  I stopped at Woolworths to grab an evening snack and then headed back to the hotel.  There wasn’t much on TV except coverage of Cyclone Debbie hitting Queensland, so by 8pm I was out.  That, of course, meant that I was awake by 2am, but it was to be expected, no matter how little sleep I’d had in the last 30+ hours.

I was the first one picked up for my Aussie Wanderers tour and we ended up with a lovely group of people.  For the beginning of the journey I sat next to Jaimie, a 19-year-old from Cornwall here visiting his uncle in Perth and traveling around until he starts uni (college is high school in the UK, and university is our college).  There’s a couple in their 70’s from Seattle, WA (Terry and Ann), 2 other British guys: Josh and Ben; a Swiss girl named Alex, 3 German girls: Arpana, Suzanne, and Juliane, and a Canadian named Lauren.  Our only noteworthy stop on day 1 was at The Pinnacles Dessert.  Covering a distance of about 10km, the rock formations are unexplained, even to this day.

 There are several theories about their formation, but nothing concrete.  Our accommodation for the evening was at Big River Ranch in Kalbarri National Park.  We took a hay ride on the back of a truck so see their little piglets, and to feed some cows and horses out in the field while the sun was setting.  The bathroom situation left a lot to be desired.  We all shared one big trailer that had been refitted in to a bathroom.  That wouldn’t have been such an issue, but there were no locks on the bathroom stall doors (an awkward situation with a mixture of boys and girls).

Day 2 was an early start to beat the heat.  We headed to the Murchison Gorge in Kalbarri National Park and after a short hike several in our group tried abseiling (we’d call it repelling).

 After a fair bit of driving we stopped at Shell Beach, appropriately, if not unimaginatively named, for a little beach break.  While there I saw several shovel nosed rays and possibly a little shark.  The water was really clear, but the wind made the surface a bit too choppy to make out details.  Our accommodation for the night was at Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort (Mia is pronounced MY-A, not ME-A), which is located in Shark Bay.  The town is known for its wild dolphins that live in the bay and they have a lot of rules in place now for human interaction with the dolphins.  They’re very careful not to do things that will change the dolphins natural habits (let’s just say they learned from earlier mistakes).  They only feed 5 of them, they can tell them apart by their dorsal fins and they only feed them 10% of their daily food requirement so that they don’t become dependent.  Lots more driving today, it’s about 780 miles one-way to get from Perth to Exmouth.  We stopped in a little town called Denham for lunch and  then made a stop at the Stromatolites; they’re really only noteworthy if you believe in evolution, although I guess if you're into biology they could be interesting.  We drove through some random patches of rain and saw several rainbows and some beautiful clouds with the sun setting behind them.  It was a lovely evening drive, to be sure.

We spent our third night at the Ningaloo Reef Club in Coral Bay and it was not my favorite (or anyone else’s for that matter).  Because of the rain there were bugs everywhere.  No exaggeration, the walls were covered in grasshoppers, beetles, and other random bugs.  To make matters worse there were tons in our room for the night as well!!  Thankfully we killed enough of them to allow me to sleep without fear and we did manage to get the AC to work, so all was well in the end I guess.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Roofing Day

I woke up early and attempted to catch the sunrise several times over the course of the week, but most days it was too cloudy.  Thursday, however, made it worth the wait. I do so enjoy being near the water and it was nice to be able to have my devotions on the dock several mornings that week.
"In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus"

We headed north up the coast line and then turned into the Rio Dulce and headed for a town called Baltimore where we would spend the day putting a roof on a school.  After a short trek through the jungle, carrying many of our supplies, we arrived at the school.  Not a cloud in the sky, it was hot, hot work.

 I was allowed to help with the roof so I spent my day helping send sheet metal up to the guys on the trusses and trying to make sure everyone up there stayed hydrated.  Tom told us later that day that it was structurally the worst roof he'd ever worked on in Guatemala.  The trusses were extra-far apart and not made of the straightest (or thickest) wood.  Everyone not involved in the roof did, you guessed it, more crafts!  They also played games with the kids out in the field as well.

After lunch back at El Faro we had several options.  There was a soccer game between El Farro and a team from Puerto Barrios, the ropes course, and of course swimming and relaxing.  My pastor and Seth both love soccer so they played in the game (they found it frustrating though because of the language barrier).  I wanted to watch the soccer game, but as expected the game started late and I'd felt bad that only 2 people were interested in (or physically capable of) doing the ropes course with Alex.  In the end, four of my teammates and myself all attempted the course.  I thought that since I was strapped in and hooked up the height factor would not be an issue, but boy was I wrong.  I desperately wanted to turn around after making it through the first section (there were 3 or 4 more and they didn't look any easier), but they convinced me to carry on despite 2 others already having turned around.

 I somehow managed to finish the high course and then also do the lower course before I was finally freed and rushed back to the soccer field in hopes of catching some of the game.  All the adrenaline from the ropes course had me feeling great, tons of energy despite the hot and taxing morning spent roofing.  I only caught about 10 minutes of the game, it was easy to tell when they were cheering for Seth because they would yell "Canche" (Guatemalan slang for blonde/blondie).

After dinner the women from the sewing program set up a bunch of their stuff for us to be able to purchase.  There was a plethora of beautiful items and it was incredibly hard to choose!  One of the missionaries was also selling the coffee that the Medina farm sells to El Faro at wholesale; they get to keep all the proceeds.  This coffee is apparently one of the Starbucks Reserve coffees, so apparently that's a big deal.  I'm not a coffee aficionado by any stretch of the imagination, but our pastor is and he said it's really good coffee. **Anyone interested in purchasing the coffee (with part of the proceeds going to the mission) can do so at Connect Roasters.**

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Playground & A Prosthetic

Our schedule for Wednesday had us heading north towards Livingston.  We were going to a school to build them a playground.

School was on break, but the kids knew we were coming so we had lots of children, and some adults as well, to keep us busy.  Having a playground at school helps increase attendance and this school has been asking El Faro to help them build a playground for quite some time.

 We left the guys to build the playground, and us ladies did lots and lots of crafts with the children and women.  Nancy taught a woven cross craft, Linda & Debbie made crowns, and Ev and I did the braided crowns, with Lauren helping all of us and even doing some nail painting.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy the crafts.  We eventually ran out of the hair bands so I just started tying the braids like hair scarfs, or having them use them as belts.  "Necessity is the mother of invention."

The men were able to get the playground built in about 3 hours, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it.  After a quick lunch, packed for us by the kitchen staff at El Faro, we were back on the boat and heading to Livingston.  We had the afternoon free to explore and do some shopping.  After an appropriate amount of time we all met at a local ice cream shop for a treat before finishing our return trip.  We had the afternoon free and many of us enjoyed a refreshing swim.  My brother, Seth, had created a ball out of string and scrap fabric from all the braided headbands we'd been making, so the guys and a young local boy enjoyed trying to catch the ball while jumping off the dock.  Rarely successful, but entertaining none-the-less.

During our evening devotions we had the opportunity to hear from 2 of the Guatemalan staff members, Alejandro & Sammy.  It was interesting to hear about how God brought them to El Faro and what ways they minister to those in the community.  Alex had been with us throughout the day and had helped translate for us, which is one of the ways he helps out.  The other two main areas are oversight of the ropes course and a new ministry of making prosthetic limbs.  It was incredibly fascinating and he even brought us a sample one he had made.  There is a social stigma associated with missing a limb, so Alex has to search out those in need of a prosthetic as they often are rather reclusive.  Sammy has a passion for computer, technology and  families.  He runs the computer lab on site and uses it as an opportunity to teach the children about Christ and to get to know them.  He explained that the government requires a computer certification to graduate, but they don't always offer the classes necessary to obtain the certification.  In addition to the schooling requirement, people without computer skills have a much harder time getting a good job so it creates lots of opportunities.  It's not without its challenges though as internet out in the jungle is quite expensive.

By this point in the week we could now make paper crowns with our eyes closed, and I can't help but think of the song "Kings & Queens" by Audio Adrenaline.
"Boys become kings, girls will be queens wrapped in Your majesty...Then they will be brave and free, shout your name in victory!  When we love, when we love the least of these..."  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Adoradora de Dios

On Tuesday we headed to the local dump to minister to the families there.  El Faro hasn't had a regular ministry there as of yet, but one of the couples on staff would like to start reaching these people, so we got to help them start.  There are about 50 families that live in the dump and a local church has built a shelter there in which we were able to host a little VBS program.  The church also has plans (and is currently fundraising) to build bathrooms and showers, since one of the main issues for these families is lack of sanitation and clean water.  You may be wondering why people would choose to live in a dump, and I would have to say that "desperate times call for desperate measures".  In this area of Guatemala there are few jobs, so the men of the family often leave their village and head to a larger town to find work; most of them don't come back.  These women have children to care for and often little to no means to do so; their last resort is to move to the dump in hopes that they can find enough useful items that they can either sell or recycle.

The night before they warned us that it would be smelly and that there would probably be lots of fleas, lice, and other bugs.  When we arrived, I didn't feel that the smell was as overwhelming as it could have been and there were a lot of flies, but it wasn't all that bad (for us).  Still impossible to imagine a life so desperate that you move to a dump.  David, Zita, and Andrea (all Guatemalan) led the lesson time for the kids and then shared a snack with them.
Zita & David leading the song time
The gentleman in the background was our photographer for the week,
so you'll notice that most of the photos I post are actually his.

 During the children's program all the mothers and grandmothers were sitting around the edges of the pavilion to watch and take a break.  I was able to paint some of their fingernails (a few of them told me their church wouldn't allow them to have painted nails) and I was able to help them do some crafts.  The morning went by quickly as we helped them choose strips of fabric, braid them and then turn them into headbands.  Once the children's program was over many of them also wanted to make something; we had plenty of fabric so we were happy to "share the wealth".

No trip to Guatemala is complete without a visit to Pollo Campero, so we headed there for lunch.  It's a Guatemalan-founded fast food chicken chain - better than KFC.  They even have excellent vanilla ice cream, but I'll admit it was a bit challenging to go "out to eat" after ministering to people who live in a dump, literally.  We arrived back at El Faro (by sea again, which was much more enjoyable today since there was plenty of sunshine).  Some of our group headed out distribute water filtration buckets or to do some home repair, but a few ladies and I headed down the path to ministry they hold on site several days a week.  They have a sewing & jewelry making co-op, where the women create headbands, handbags, backpacks, necklaces, and earrings, which they sell for extra income.  They were kind enough to let us try our hand at making some paper beads.  These women have had plenty of practice and were far better, and quicker, at making beads than we were - but it was neat to see.  They have a great eye for colors and patterns, so their jewelry is beautiful.