Monthly Archives: October 2014

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Transitioning to Varanasi

Gratitude and beauty abounded in Clement Town and seemed to hang lightly over the heads of all of the group members like the prayer flags fluttering from the top of the World Peace Stupa. The practices with the Tibetan Girls’ Soccer Team were energetic and formed quick friendships, even if the girls laughed at us each time we tried to pronounce their names correctly. Saying goodbye was bittersweet. Each member had something they would miss deeply, whether it be the kids in the school we played with whenever we could, or the deep chanting from the monks that hummed out of the monasteries at all times of the day, but everyone looked forward to our next adventure.

The adventure started with around 24 hours of traveling on trains.

The trains were cramped and relatively awkward to navigate, but we found ways to amuse ourselves by reading, telling stories, decorating each other’s hands with henna and watching the countryside slip by us with each shudder of the tracks.

Varanasi welcomed the group with a rooftop breakfast at our guest-house overlooking the shimmering, morning-grey Ganga river. Many people spent the next several hours saying hello to our new home by passing out on their beds for several hours and catching up on the sleep that was missed on the rocking, groaning train.

Our Varanasi contact, Sangha Mitra, was our guide around the city for the next several days, organizing lectures, temple visits, a sunrise boat ride, and seats to watch the bustling night-time Ganga ceremony called the Ganga Arti.

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The culture and history of Varanasi is stunning. Rearing its head in the form of half-submerged temples sinking into the Ganga water or quietly practicing its faith on street corners with streaks of white paint brushed across its forehead. Each new street has something to offer and we padded the alleys in single file like a line of awestruck American ducklings.

After three days of staying in the guest-house, everyone repacked their bags and, for the first time, split off completely separate to stand in nervous anticipation on the stoops of their home-stay families. Each student was welcomed into a different family with open arms, despite language barriers and cultural differences, and quickly settled into their rooms and the rhythm of living in a house again for the first time in over a month.

IMG_0705One afternoon was spent in the Guria center for children of the Varanasi red light district. Students alternated between playing with the younger children to helping set up Diwali lamps and trying to stay out of the way of everyone else. The evening was closed with an exciting firework performance and a shared meal in the main room of the center.
Days are being spent strolling from classes such as stone carving, fire dancing, classical music, yoga and cooking, and arguing with our home-stay families to actually let us help out with chores. Walks by the Ganga and chai on small rooftop cafes are always a good option as well.

Settling in to Life in Rural Nepal

Week 2-2

At 5:30 in the morning on October 4th we left Kathmandu for the outskirts of Chitwan National Park and our home for the week, Balleram’s farm. The road to get there was beautiful as we drove through a verdant valley with a roaring river; a breath of fresh air after a week in Kathmandu’s urban sprawl.

Compared with where we were, bustling Kathmandu, the farm has been quite the culture shock. The farm is nestled among the rice paddies of rural southern Nepal. We’ve had to deal with the humid heat, glaring sun, close proximity and some more intense waves of home sickness. This led to an excellent discussion on missing home, culture shock and dealing with new environments and circumstances.

We have been busy here at the farm. Under the direction of Balleram, his wife, and two daughters, we cut beans in the fields around the farm (both for sale and consumption), helped in the kitchen, collected eggs from the chicken coop and worked to construct a new addition to the kitchen. The days are sweltering and we had to stop working for a couple of hours in the middle of the day in order to keep our energy. We have been eating very well and most of what we eat was grown on the farm, some of it picked by us just hours before eating it.

Week 2-5Walking down the street we are amazed with how friendly and quick to smile everyone is. The kids especially love to practice their english and get their pictures taken. One in particular, Sudarsaan, invited us to his school, named Motherland. When a group of us showed up we were instantly taken up in a sea of school children. We ran around, did handstands and had a blast. We also spent time in the classroom which was a wonderful cultural exchange opportunity.

Some of the ways we’ve been spending our downtime here has been swinging on a giant bamboo swing, observing a Hindu custom during the lunar eclipse, learning a little Nepali, connecting with the locals and getting refreshing almond milk and fruit drinks in the local village. We have also played a lot of games as a group which led to lots of laughing and group bonding.

Next we head to Chitwan National Park, then on to Aurobindo Ashram!

Nick and Kavian

Arriving in Guatemala

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Buenos Dias, Amigos y Familias!

Skyeler here, one of your trusty trip leaders for the epic 2014 Viva Travel Group in Latin America, aka Team Funny Bone!! Our students will begin updating the Facebook World later this week but my Co-leader, Gigi, and I wanted to take a crack at it and start things off with some heartfelt appreciation for our amazing group of students and our time together thus far in Guatemala.

These last few days have been a whirlwind and we have definitely hit the ground running!! We arrived in Comalapa last Thursday and immediately fell in love with this friendly, open-hearted community tucked away from the tourist traps. Gigi and I were immediately impressed by our group’s willingness to throw themselves into a very different culture and go out on a limb with their varying levels of Spanish. On our first full day, after a second round of safety and cultural briefing, we turned the students loose to complete a challenging scavenger hunt that had them bargaining in the markets and exploring the streets of Comalapa. Friday and Sunday are Market Day here and the Hunt was divided into two to maximize cultural exploration. The students have shown tremendous maturity and engagement with both the program and the new world of Indigenous Guatemala, and have come together as a fantastic team.

One of my highlights of this group in the last few days has been our evening music playing. A couple of us have brought ukuleles, there is a harmonica, and there is always a percussive instrument to be utilized from an empty water jug! There are some stunning beautiful voices in this group, and I think we may just have to start a band! There has been some talk… we’ll keep you posted.

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On Sunday afternoon, we had a wonderful walk up to a special church above town with Feliciano, our host here in Comalapa. He shared with us many important facts about Guatemalan history, answered our questions, and even shared some deep wisdom about the power of acceptance. We left that conversation inspired by his words, and grateful to have the opportunity to interact with such open, kind-hearted folks like Feliciano! Then he took us to his family’s house where we learned about weaving, making tortillas….and of course a dance party erupted!! It was awesome.

Wow, I wrote a lot!! Well, its been a jam-packed few days, and tons of fun with this great group of young people. We’ve started working on the sustainably-built school with the NGO Long Way Home, and our work ethic has impressed the staff!! As I write this, students are swinging plastering cob, carrying gravel, and swinging tools around (safely ! ) I feel SO fortunate to be able to share this incredible experience with such great people!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for our future adventures!!

Skyeler