That liberating feeling! (Part 2)

It is surreal to think about where I was not only two weeks ago. Being back in the normal day to day activities of a school teacher, I find myself day dreaming and looking out the window expecting to see the snow capped mountains I became so accustomed to.

I wake with a start hoping, yes hoping, to find myself on the thin mattress, my clothes and hiking pack strewn all over the tent floor beside me.

But, no, I am in Australia, at home, in a bed and my clothes, while still possibly strewn on the floor are not half as dirty as the ones I was dreaming of!

The second half of this amazing journey was completing the Salkantay Trek. This trek is one of the many pathways the Incas took to get to Macchu Picchu. However, the Salkantay is less traveled by tourists and the general public.

“Why you ask?”

Well it is because it is dam, hard! Its a mental, physical and emotional challenge!

It is 5 days of waking early, constant walking, sometimes for 8 hours or more, over mountains, through snow, rain, sleet, amazonian heat and humidity and bugs…. lots and lots of very large bugs!

We talk about Melbourne weather here in Queensland being temperamental but man this was unreal!

Let me take you through the days one by one!

Day 1, the start…… a puffed out 15min walk from the bus and I was thinking to myself, I am already puffed, how am I going to survive the next 5 days…. A bead of sweat on my forehead and the heart rate increasing……..

It was okay though, these were all an effect from nerves and of course the altitude, as we were now sitting at 3800m above sea level. After breakfast in one of those amazing igloo shaped buildings, which mind you are quite warm and are part of the accommodation available for those who wished to rest prior to the trek, we set off……

The main section of day 1, and by far the most challenging section, was passing through the Salkantay pass, bordered by Mt. Salkantay herself. She is one astonishingly beautiful mountain who frequently disappeared behind the clouds only to reappear a minute later!

This is her, a majestic snow capped mountain!

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It took us approximately 5 hours to get to the top of the pass. We had already climbed a number of false peaks, at the top of which we thought, no more! But of course we kept going. Slow and steady, the altitude making it slow and steady!

It was cold, the lungs were burning, the hear rate was up and the legs were protesting, not wanting to take another step!

Finally, as we topped the 4800m crest we started getting wet with rain. The students commenting on how they hoped it would snow! We had mentioned snow was unlikely and we would have to be extremely lucky!

Well within a few minutes this rain turned to sleet and the sleet to snow! For one of our students this was her first time seeing snow, let alone having it thrown at her. It was such an amazing experience.

Lunch in freezing temperatures, huddled in a make shift thatch covered sleeping area, we admired the mountains as they disappeared under a white blanket, completely in awe of where we were and what we were seeing. I was wearing everything I possibly could and was still cold.

After lunch we left the snow capped mountain and began the decent through the pass and into the valley below where we spent our first night, a very cold night.

DAY 1

Day 2 was totally different, we entered the Amazonian forests. The heat, the humidity and of course the giant bugs that come with a rain-forest environment surrounded us. The mosquitoes were the size of small birds, okay a small exaggeration, but the holes they left in us were and still are quite large and very very itchy! We could not believe the change in climate!

Day 2 was 27km of downhill! This may sound easy, but let me assure you it was not! Camp was hot and humid however, a beautiful place to finally make at the end of a long 8.5 hours of walking. Again, something that had become the norm, we were accompanied at the campsite by a number of dogs. The dogs are everywhere. They line the city streets and all the public campsites even on the trek!

Apparently there is no control over their breeding and in some ways are appreciated by the locals as they deter the native wildlife when in camp. Most were clean enough, others were walking rabies infestations. Note to travelers – maybe consider a rabies vaccination!

Day 3 was a massive day. Whilst only 14km long,  it took us just over 8 hours to crest the mountain our camp was resting on top of. From this camp we could see Machu Picchu, so far away, yet so close. There is no better feeling than seeing your end goal, the reason you are doing the trek, the final days reward as you fall asleep exhausted from the days trek.

We still had a way to go yet but it was a sensational feeling.

Playing UNO while we sat inside a small building atop the mountain, thunder, lightening and torrential rain outside. The mist covering the mountains, we as, as a group came together enjoying each others company and relishing in our individual accomplishments.

The conversations often ‘interesting’ and the topics discussed deep and meaningful. This is what I treasure the most, watching the team push through the hard times, smash those mental, emotional and physical barriers and come together on the other side! There is no better reward.

Day 4, we descended the mountain and followed the train tracks which never seemed to end arriving at our base camp after a mere 17km and 8 hours of walking. Again!

Machu Picchu looming ‘very’ high above us, almost unreachable at that point in time. We all took a moment, stopped and said to one another; “How do we get up there tomorrow?”

Accompanied by 9 wild dogs. Each of which were given a descriptive and amusing name. We enjoyed our final camp dinner, cooked by our very own chef. The chef, who had managed to erect a make shift kitchen using a tarp and three wooden pylons. A hot drink and the maize specialty dessert were had before we retired early, knowing we had a 4:30am start.

Day 5, the day we had all been waiting for!

We set off up the 1876 steps to the summit, or the gates of Machu Picchu.

Joined by thousands of others from around the world we entered these gates and immediately, were breathless. The sheer size of the ruins, atop the mountain and in the clouds was unbelievable! Seeing it from below or the side will never truly reveal how amazing the ruins and the expanse they cover until you are looking at them from above!

The Incans were truly astounding people and what they were able to build and construct without the tools we have now is hard to believe. The stability and precision something we do not see today! They used the boulders atop the mountain to build their places of worship, their houses and even a sundial. The wealthy and the workers separated by the vertical gardens all terraced and now covered in plush green grass.

Splitting from the group and taking the time to move in and out of these amazing buildings, look down the sheer cliffs from their windows and interact with the Lamas was something special. The ruins are tightly supervised by a number of locals who all have whistles. You are not allowed to be loud, jump up and down, eat or sit on the ruins. If you do they will blare their whistles and wave at you wildly. The reason you are not allowed to jump up and down is they have had multiple deaths from people doing this and falling off the side and to their deaths. Who would have thought!

For a lot of people, myself included, life can seem to move to fast, be to hard and feel so unsatisfying. Well this was a moment where it felt all to overwhelming for me! As someone close to me said, “Shelley your cup is never half full, it is always overflowing!’ This was an overflowing moment and boy did I feel it in my bones. How lucky was I to be where I was and to have done what I had done. Even better I had done it with other peoples children and given them an experience I had waited 33 years for before they had even left high school!

That liberating feeling! (Part 1)

It’s weird to think that a week ago today I was finishing the final day of the Salkanty trek, ending up at the base camp of Machu Picchu……

Now I am sitting in my all to familiar little abode with the spring breeze floating through the house, the suns out and I feel liberated, free and totally self satisfied!!

The South American trip was two years in the making! It’s hard to believe now that it is over.

I am still in awe of what we did as a team! I mean who can say they have built three fully functioning toilets for a small kindergarten class that were using the small patch of dirt behind their classroom as their toilet??

Well I can and the 8 students who came with me can!

It’s amazing what hard work, being a team and basically pushing through the mental and physical barriers of being exhausted, adjusting to altitude and an overall lack of sleep can produce.

Arriving at the camp, day 2 of being in South America, our view snow capped mountains that stretched for days! Tents, our accomodation.

I was totally overwhelmed with where we were and what we were about to undertake. Would we finish our project in time? Would we all adjust to the altitude? Would anyone get sick? All these thoughts, racing through my head.

I laugh now as all it took was looking out at the view and we had to realise that we had already achieved so much! We had arrived! The rest was easy!

Waking each day at 6:30am, breakfast in the small hall built by a previous team using mud bricks called Adobes, we fuelled our bodies for the day ahead. The hike down to the school was always a quick and easy one! As downhill always is!

When we arrived it was straight to work. Mixing concrete, sifting sand, walking to get buckets of water…. the list goes on! We all became brick layers, sifters and concrete mixers. We watched the wall start to grow, the first line of bricks already down! We worked alongside a local ‘Mistro’ named Sisilo! He was so amazing and man did he work. He NEVER stopped!

Here in the first world we have no idea what hard work is! These guys do!

Nothing happens quickly in a third world!

Over 6 days our toilet block started to take shape! It was extraordinary! Each day we would pack up, dirty, exhausted and sweaty ready for our warm bucket showers.

These showers though, were at the top of the hill we walked down every morning. Now as I said downhill was easy! The uphill was crazy! We felt the altitude when we started the climb! It was only a 1.16km walk, straight up mind you, but it felt like a mountain! Your heart pumping faster than ever before, your breath stolen from you, your legs burning and the sounds of blood pumping in your ears! Altitude is an amazing thing! You can’t see it but you can feel it!

It took us 47minutes on day 1 and I am proud to say by the end of the 6 days we managed to get it done in under 26 minutes! Booya!!!

When given the chance we can do amazing things! From start to finish here is our progress!!

How amazing is that!!!

I have been asked a few times before why would you pay, or make students pay to go overseas to build a toilet. Why make them pay to work?

Well it’s easy! Look at what we achieved! In the first 6 days of this amazing 17 day adventure (see part 2 coming for the second half of the trip), we flew 33 hours, went on 5 planes, discovered the airports, came together as a team, shared stories, discovered the sights of Cuzsco, hiked up and down a hill each day, watched our project transform from one row to ten to over 20!

We watched the small local kids smile as they themselves saw their toilets transform! Our gift to them! This strange group of white ‘Gringos’ who has flown across the world to build something just for them!

We pay to help as without us they would still be going to the toilet at the back of their classroom, in the dirt and the dust.

We pay to show our over privileged children just how lucky they are!

We pay to give back to those less fortunate.

We pay to find ourselves and to build on what we have already!

We pay to build resilience, grit, patience and awareness!

We pay because the benefits far outweigh the costs!

(Stay tuned, this is only a snippet of what was a life changing, mind altering and liberating 17 days!)

Back of the toilet door

Toilets – something we all need, use often and in fact spend a lot of time in.

I wanted to find out on average how long we spend in the toilet so I used the most trusted website – ‘Google’. Here’s what it said.

“Now research has proved that women really do spend longer locked in the bathroom – the equivalent of one year, seven months and 15 days, a month longer than men.

It found men spend an hour and 45 minutes every week going to the toilet – whereas women get everything over with in a mere 85 minutes a week.

The poll of 2,500 people revealed that going to the toilet accounts for the biggest chunk of time spent in the bathroom – an average of one hour and 42 minutes a week, or almost 92 days over a lifetime”

(https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/www.scotsman.com/news/how-long-do-we-spend-in-bathroom-1-189-years-1-1072528/amp)

Is that not mind blowing or what!

Not only are there a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and layouts of toilets but even more interesting is what can be found on the back of them. It seems this is a place where we ‘used’ and I say that now as more often than not we are no longer staring at the back of the door but rather at our screen.

In saying that, I spent time looking at the back of toilet doors and I found them the most interesting places and it was quite an experience.

The back of toilet doors, water closets (WC), Dunny’s, lavatories, loo’s, home offices, big hole and more, are wonderful places! They are places which may enable one to gather knowledge and find out about the area you are living in or visiting. They can be a source of inspiration or motivation.

What you read and see, on the back of the toilet door can vary from articles, photos, newspaper clippings quotes and comments.

I did some asking around. This included adults, children, colleagues and also some randoms. I must say I did receive some weird looks, but these were the most common things found, seen or remembered in or more importantly on the back the toilet door.

1. Calendars – Some of us need to be assured what day or month it is. I have never seen a calendar on the back of a toilet door as of yet. however, one of the things I think about when i visualise a calendar is more the pictures that may come with the dates. Who knows the actual date anymore? That’s what our phones, computer watches and other devices are for! It may be useful for birthday reminders? You can send of a quick text while on the loo. Saves time later, or even forgetting!

2. Times tables chart or even a periodic table – to help educate our young ones. In this age of technology we would need to pry the phone or Ipad from their hands for this to even be remotely effective! I don’t think I ever heard my daughter reciting the times tables when she was on the loo. There is hope though and I think as parents we do hope the small things will make the bigger difference!

3. Historical posters – for example one teenage girl mentioned her father had historical war posters which included images and history of war tanks. This may mean you spend longer in the toilet reading them and I myself would need them to be changed or updated to be informative. Maybe this is to much to ask.

4. A book review – apparently these can be found on the toilet doors at a school. What a cool idea.

5. Signs, more often than not written in different languages, which highlight cultural expectations – such as please do not stand on the seat or how to dispose of sanitary items. These used to be mostly in English. The one I see frequently is written in five languages!

6. How to squat, the right way to do this. These signs usually include weird little stick figures or images which show the correct posture and then the cleaning process which should follow.

7. How to use a ‘bidet’ these are the small fountains which send cold rushing water into weird places! These are cultural and can be found in;  European countries, South American countries,  Middle Eastern countries and throughout East Asia, especially in Japan. They are more commonly found or as a separate structure anymore but have you ever wondered what the ‘hose’ is adjacent to the toilet.

8. Graffiti – this is where you find out who loves who and also who has hurt who. You can also generally make out the differences between being in a public toilet, a workplace toilet and the of course the high end building toilets. I mean if you take the following. One is the back of a public toilet, another from a popular food chain which has lots of people pass through it and the final one is of a toilet door in a high rise office building where your heels click on the marble as you walk in. You can spot the differences.

9. Motivational sayings and life goals.

10. Mirrors – hmmm I might leave that one alone and let your mind wander 🙂

Not only are toilets such an interesting place, where, face it, we do spend a lot of time but they can also when visiting something send our noses into overdrive or make us feel like we are living it up.

Rather than describe them I thought, as the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words.

Enjoy, these are toilets from across the globe.

A ‘bommy’ or bush toilet used on Outward Bound. A bucket with a plastic bag. These can be interesting, especially when there are 18 people using it!

A public shower and toilet block built by volunteers in Kenya, Africa. This is luxury!The toilet, a long drop. Built by volunteers in Kenya. If you left the light on at night it attracted wildlife you did not want to share your time with.A toilet in Nairobi, I don’t think it was useable.

Awe – one of the top ten.

Awe, one of the top ten emotions I learnt about in my positive psychology course.

It’s actually a great word.

Before I talk about it let’s define it:

Awe is: “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder” (dictionary.com). It’s synonyms include: wonder, amazement and astonishment.

I hadn’t realised how many times I had experienced this emotion until I took the time to think back and reflect on all I have done, everything I have seen and where I have been!

Here are some of my ‘awe’ moments, where I have felt amazement, wonder and complete overwhelming appreciation for beauty. Being in that moment, in that place at that time to capture what I have.

1. Sitting in a cave which acted as a safe haven for the women and children. Housed in the mountains of Kenya, one of the guards puts down his machete and picks up a camera to take some photos.

2. The skull of a deer lying next to a watering hole where lions and elephants frequent. The circle of life in real time!

3. An African sunset. I just couldn’t believe where I was and how lucky I was to experience this alongside people just as motivated as me and who take the time to develop our young people. Taking them across the globe to volunteer and dedicate their blood sweat and tears to help others. A truly awe inspiring thing to do!

4. This picture says it all. Sitting in a hotel sipping on a cider looking over a watering hole and this is what we get to see. Animals in their natural habitat. A truly unique experience, and amazing to be a part of.

5. A young monk sitting in the temples in Cambodia. Days spent dedicating his time to helping others give thanks. Only having one meal a day, he is still so thankful and always willing to do what he can to help others appreciate their surroundings and to be thankful for what they have.

7. Cambodia 2017 – working as a volunteer alongside some students in our sister school. Two boys who have nothing, sitting next to one another watching what was going on. A special moment for them both that I captured. I was in awe of how resilient these young people are despite the hardship they face each day!

8. A small puppy in Myanmar, one of many, that just sits alone in the city, the temples or any place where tourists may be. Some are used by the locals to get money or donations as they ‘cannot feed themselves’. A helpless puppy.

9. A tree that has shown us building a temple will not prevent it from being all it can be. One of the most beautiful temples in Cambodia.

Taking back its space!

10. A cupcake parlor called ‘Blooms’ in Cambodia. Run by an English lady who educates the local women and gives them a skill. This amazing cafe is situated on a street full of dust and pollution; however, behind the glass walls resides this magical place and the most delicious cupcakes!

11. Three of the children from our sister school in Cambodia. They may have walked 5km to school that morning, had no breakfast and the only clean water they can access is when they are at school! Despite this, they are still so truly happy and grateful!

An amazing culture!

12. A picture tells a thousand words. The killing fields in Siem Reap, Cambodia. A confronting experience no matter how many times you go. A bracelet made and hung as a sign of respect and acknowledgement to every body, set of bones or child killed in what was a very hard time in Cambodia.

13. In the skies of Myanmar, a bird takes flight!

14. Like life sometimes we refer to the light at the end of the tunnel. This just made that statement seem so real! It resonated with me as on another level as the tunnel may seem dark, but there are always patches of light along the way!

15. Early in the morning, camped on the side of the Clarence River in NSW, we wake up and find a spider has spent hours crafting the most beautiful and intricate web. The dew made it even more amazing to look at. The time, the effort and detail was amazing!

16. Working with some horses in Gatton, QLD, and this little spider (mind you a very poisonous one), is out getting some sun!

17. Snow on the Gold Coast.

18. I thought this was normal, I mean come on, everyone has a snake help them when they are marking. She was so comfortable!

19. Taking the pet snake for a walk – is this normal. The looks we got that day!

These are only a snippet of the many times I have experienced the emotion, ‘awe’.

Be sure to take the time to look up,put the screen down and take a moment to appreciate your surroundings!

It is truly amazing!