Monthly Archives: November 2016

Wild Life Parks and Monasteries in Sri Lanka

Starting off our first adventurous week in Sri Lanka was amazing! We are the first LEAPNOW group to step foot into Sri Lanka and we are making sure that we’re going to leave our mark! We started off our week with a tour of a beautiful dutch fort in the heart of Galle.  We all were mesmerized by the European architecture and how ancient yet modern it was. We all found a small yet elegant gelato shop, called Illeys. To cool us down from the sun’s malevolent rays, we all bought gelato and relaxed in this beautiful shop. We kept walking throughout the dutch fort and stopped at the edge. We were all drawn to the relaxing sounds of the ocean waves hitting the rocks, and we sat there for a few minutes to take in the surrounding beauty. We came back home to our beautiful home stays where our families cooked an amazing Sri Lankan dish called Hoppers and vegetable Rotty. Us being extremely hungry and eager to try out our first Sri Lankan local dish. IT WAS INCREDIBLE!

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As the week progressed, we went to a beautiful wild life park called Yala that was north of Galle. We were in Jeeps that had no roof, so we were able to take in all of the beauty of the environment and animals of this forest. It truly was an exciting experience seeing all of the animals co-existing in the same habitat and how incredibly unique each animal is!

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We then visited a turtle hatchery to see these exquisite turtles and their eggs.  It was an astounding experience. Turtles are so graceful in the way they move and communicate.  It was touching to see how the hatchery rescued turtles in danger and treated them so they might once again be able to live there lives in the oceans.

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To cap off this amazing week of events, we all went to see a beautiful Buddhist monastery that was on the ocean. To get there, you have to walk along a bridge that is suspended over the ocean.  The views were breathtaking! After stepping foot in this mysterious yet graceful monastery, we went into a room where people would pray to lord Buddha and meditate. We partook in this practice and got a white string tied around our right our arm while the monks were blessing us. We then all sat down and meditated for 10 minutes and it felt incredible to be right next to the ocean while doing so, it was a powerful moment for all of us and we were grateful to be there. We ended this eventful week with a family dinner of all of us eating in the dutch fort and enjoying each others company. Next week our volunteer work starts. We’re excitedto help the kids of the Orphanage and Monastery!

Love and Light from North India

Happy Early Turkey Day From Varanasi!

Here in vegetarian India, no animals will be hurt in the making of our Thanksgiving this year. Actually, we will be working with elephants and bears at a wildlife sanctuary in two days. Today we are leaving Varanasi via a 14 hour train ride to the city of Agra. Ricky is VERY excited to be on the train. Our past 14 days in Varanasi have been what I can only call organized chaos. The city has been a challenge for every single group member in so many different ways as well as an amazing teacher to all of us. Everyone is very sad to be leaving their home stays, but also so excited for the next adventure.

And now, a few highlights of the past week. Let us tell you all about the best movie on the face of the planet. In case you weren’t aware, India produces quite the films. We went to the movies to watch a traditional Bollywood movie as a group, but had no idea what we were in for. Long story short, it was a love story that got rather complicated. But no worries there was singing and dancing and perfectly timed balloon drops on the streets of Scotland. Yeah that’s right folks, an Indian movie based in Scotland. Something that was

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equally awesome was the fire dancing performance performed by three students: Leilah, Sarah and Lucas. Needless to say, it was awesome. They each twirled around a stick with both ends quite on fire. Sarah may or may not have burned a small strand of her hair off. Speaking of fire, our guide, Sangrameetra, took us down to the burning ghat yesterday. For those of you who don’t

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know what that is, it’s where the death ceremony is performed. In the ceremony, family members lay the body down by the Ganges and clean it off before laying it under a pile of wood and burning it for 4-5 hours until they collect the ashes and spread them in the river. It was an equally powerful and difficult thing to witness.

We miss everyone in the states and we are so excited to share our stories with all of you guys in three weeks.

All the love and light,

North India

What a Way to Start the Week in Nicaragua!

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Leaving Roatan was hard. The wonderful new friends we made at Octopus Dive School and Buena Onda Hostel were sad to see us go. But Nicaragua was calling our names, and we were quick to answer! However, despite our initial enthusiasm, we were sadly delayed for an hour and a half in the San Salvadore Airport. This

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actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because by that point we were all starving and 30 minutes is not a lot of time to grab a lunch. Our first impression of Nicaragua was fantastic. After going through the usual hum-drum of customs, James, a Leapnow staff member, greeted us with fabulous dance moves and a fully planned three day Vacation at a lovely

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hostel by a lake called Peace Project. We had a wonderful time, a mixture of working on internships and lakeside activities helped rejuvenate our bodies and spirits. This time passed quickly and we soon found ourselves on our way to Matagalpa with our new favorite driver, Eddy. Eddy took us first to an artisan market in Masaya where we bought gifts for our family members. Don’t worry, nobody got anything too crazy. Once we had a chance to settle into our home-stays, our classwork began at the charming Colibri Spanish School. The teachers there were very adaptable to all styles of learning, and the coffee was impeccable which helped a lot. Through the school, we had the rare opportunity to join a silent

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protest against domestic violence in Nicaragua.We painted our faces white to symbolize the pureness and light of the women who were murdered. We also wore red to represent the blood shed. We marched to the police station, to draw attention towards the police officials who refuse to acknowledge these

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crimes, and the organizer gave a speech over megaphone. It was a powerful experience. What a way to start the week!

Heard by the Soul of Sri Lanka

img_1832The bell rang at 530, stirring us all from our sleep. Outside the window, the trees were merely shadows in the morning darkness, and we silently got ready as the sun began to creep its way up. Out the dormitory building and down the path passed the tea station, we walked on a little trail outlined by beautiful magenta flowers, to reach what was a vast, smooth floor, covered by an orange dome. This is where we would begin our day at the yoga ashram, the ten of us mingled with eighty or so others for meditation and chanting. An hour and a half later, still humming ‘Jaya

img_1909Ganeisha’ under our breaths, we walked to another yoga space and began our two hour long asana practice. Each day this sequence would change only slightly in variation of certain poses, but we would always begin with a series of surya namaskar (sun salutations), and then move through seated postures, shoulderstands, headstands, balancing postures, finally ending with savasana. The schedule then moved through philosophy classes, karma yoga, and then ending the day with another round of asana, meditation and chanting.

 

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The yoga ashram became a place for each  of us, where closure could happen. It was a space for silence and appreciation, and also wonderful conversation with so many people from around the world. It was a time when small beautiful connections were made, and also a time when saying goodbye to India was approaching. The ashram challenged us in different ways, and by the end brought us closer img_1829together to send us off to Sri Lanka. We touched down on the lush island to find ourselves surrounded by the element of water, which was a huge shift for us and would continue to be so. On the second night, standing in the rain on the edge of the ocean, feet buried in the sand, we watched as darkness fell. We then each said our intentions for the last part of this trip, and one obstacle we’d overcome in India. Taking a handful of sand, we then bid farewell by tossing it into the sea in the direction of the land we had spent two months in. And as the tides flowed in and out, so did our intentions, caught in the net of the sea, and heard by the soul of Sri Lanka

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Dev Deepawali: An Incredible Celebration!

As America dealt with the results of the presidential election this week, we on the Indian subcontinent were preoccupied with our own predicament: PM Modi’s declaration that

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the 500 and 1000 Rs notes, the country’s highest denomination, are now invalid. The decision was made as an attempt to curb the flow of black money, which refers to funds made on the black market on which taxes have not been paid. As luck would have it, virtually all of the group’s money was made up of these very bills, and so we woke up November 9th to the news that Trump was President and that our money was now just colorful paper.

The banks were charged with exchanging the old bills for working ones. The main objective of our week was going to the various banks in Assi and trading in our defunct bills, a task that combines the dreary waiting of a DMV visit with the agitation and

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excitement of a sporting event. The 500 and 1000 Rs notes account for 80% of India’s cash in circulation and the country is largely run on cash transactions, so every bank was packed with hordes of people desperate to exchange their money. ATMs were closed all across the city, and the few ones that were working were swarmed by huge amounts of people. The ATMs would inevitably run out of money, leaving the majority of those waiting in line without cash. Foreigners were given preferential treatment at the banks, waiting in special lines that took a fraction of the time to move through. Whether this was right or not was something that many of us in the group grappled with, as we walked past hundreds of people who’d been waiting in line for hours to trade in their currency. Nonetheless, the money we exchanged is necessary for paying for our food and accommodations, and the whole process has taken up the majority of our week.

Our week was not all about banks and money though. On November 14th the group celebrated Dev Deepawali, a festival celebrating the gods descent to the ghats. The ghats

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are the name of the riverfront steps leading down to the River Ganges in Varanasi. The whole city was

buzzing that day as everyone decorated the ghats with sculptures, lights, and stages, in preparation for the festivities that night. The group met that night at our favorite cafe, and we all went down to the ghats together (though some of the group chose to celebrate with their homestay families). The ghats were busier than we’d ever seen them. Lights shone all around us and music blared in our ears as we squirmed past crowds of people looking for a boat to take us down the Ganga. With the help of Sangameetra, our

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guide and guardian angel, we were able to find a boat and get onto the river and away from the crowds of people. Our boat ride was absolutely magical. Varanasi features 87 distinct ghats, and it seemed that each ghat tried to outdo the others

with beautiful displays of light and fireworks. The supermoon shone red on the Ganga as we passed hundreds of

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diyas, clay oil lamps dropped in the water

silent awe while we rode up and down the river, each of us entranced by the magic of the night. The experience was something that none of us will ever forget. to honor the gods. Each one of us had a chance to drop a diya in celebration. We all sat in

Tranquility at Las Piramades

After a few busy weeks, staying at the yoga and meditation retreat called Las Piramades was a welcomed time of relaxation. We began each day

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with an hour of yoga where we both energized our muscles and calmed our minds. We then made our own breakfasts from local, high quality fruit, yogurt, peanut butter, bread and eggs. The bread was made by a local lady who also makes kombucha, kefir,

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kimchi, and other probiotic products. Each day, we’d also have a class on metaphysics and specifically lucid dreaming and astral traveling taught by an amazing lady named Chaty who also led us in a daily hour-long meditation. She explained to us the process of transcending different dimensions and shared her own

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eye-opening experiences. The name Las Piramades has a specific story, but it also is embedded in the architecture. Most of us stayed in little hobbit house pyramids, and the whole retreat was beautiful. Each day we’d do movement in a garden full of healing herbs. For lunch and dinner, we arranged for a local restaurant to make us group meals. It was owned by a very jolly English man named Paul who was always willing to support us.

Our free time consisted of visits to the local cafe with delicious cookies, tranquil aesthetics, and fresh juices. We would also spend time on the dock, go for walks, talk to other travelers, and soak up the cultural blend. We had the amazing opportunity to free our minds and bodies at the local ecstatic dance. It took about thirty minutes to hike up to this beautiful center called the Yoga Forest surrounded by waterfalls, nestled between two mountains, and overlooking the mystical Lago Atitlan. We danced for a few hours, drank cacao, and twirled in arial silks. That afternoon we partook in a casual kirtan or devotional chanting session, which was very energetic. Our whole week was focused on balancing ourselves emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

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After this rejuvenating
time, we headed to the airport to make our trip to Roatan, Honduras. We began our journey by sleeping on the airport floor, which was difficult but rewarding and eye-opening nonetheless. Getting off the plane, we were hit by a wave of humidity and heat, and saw the beautiful turquoise Caribbean Sea in front of us. We arrived at our hostel and began the next part of our thriving journey.

 

The Latin America Trek

Coming off an amazing cultural immersion experience of living in home stays, the LTAM group completed a few tasks before embarking for the testing trek. To bring our time at Casa Xela Hu – the Spanish school – to an end, the students all wonderfully presented a demonstration that exemplified their progress thanks to the learning institution.

image8Our last days in the European-like town of Xela were both hard to let go of and full of wonderment as to what trials and tribulations would have to be overcome in the trek. Talking about the trek, we had a hard start, climbing up hill for several hours, until we finally had a hearty and delicious snack of trail mix, an appreciated departure from the papas fritas and tacos of the city, We journeyed on throughout the first hiking day as well as the second which was entailed with multiple pit stops such as Record hill, a vertically challenging hill to traverse and the

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Cornfield of Death named so because a guide once was attacked by a cow, according to myth of course. We had smores that night, and were treated to a delicacy that some only experience once a lifetime. At the ungodly hour of 4am, a divine sight was observed by the group, the eruption of a volcano bordering the sparkling waters of Lake Atitlan. The last day of the trek was wildly easier for us to endure given the difficulty of the first few days. After the trek was over, we found ourselves in a tropical paradise and treated ourselves to hamburgers and dives into the water we had so

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longingly been staring at for the last few hours. From there, we departed for San Marcos, a yoga and spirituality hotspot in Guatemala. Much to our surprise and content, we housed in Las Pyrimides, a meditation center focused this week on the analysis and observation of lucid dreaming and astral travel. What an experience this has been! We cant wait to update you all on our next adventure in the controlled pandemonium we know as Central America!

 

Varanasi: the city of light, death, and silk

We were in Sarnath from the 31st to the 3rd. While we were there we stayed in Kalpana’s

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house, an amazing woman who helps out both the women and children in the surrounding community. One of the ways in which she gives back is by providing a schooling environment to the local children. She also provides jobs and training to some of the women in the community. While we were there we played with the children and also helped to teach them English. On the 3rd Sam Bull arrived and was welcomed not only into our group but by the community as well, later in the day the children put on a performance and said their goodbyes. As a thank you gift to Kalpana for here hospitality and generosity, our group painted her a mural of Krishna.

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On November 4th we took tuk tuks to Varanasi and met Sangametra, who has been our

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guide, that night we went down to the Gangas and watched an Arti. On the 5th we learned about the history of Varanasi and then went on a tour and observed the sari making process. On the morning of the 6th we received a a brief introduction to Islam.  Later that day we learned about Varanasi’s red light district from Ajeet, a man who works with sex traffic victims. Early on the 7th we went on a sunrise boat

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ride. After breakfast we packed up and left the Puja guest house for our home stays. The 8th has been our first day of classes in Assi Ghat with local teachers and artisans. The 8th has also provided time for each member of North India and Nepal group to have some time to ourselves and recuperate.

Sarnath was an amazing introduction to North India.  It is not quite as busy as Varnanasi and allowed us to ease into the culture. In Varanasi so much was happening all the time, there were so many noises and smells and people that most everyone in the group became a little overwhelmed. In Assi Ghat we are all getting our first taste of freedom. We have been able to schedule our days with what interests us and have had time away from the group to embrace to culture through our home stays and wanderings.

Reaching The Unreached

The last week has been a very rewarding one at RTU. We have seen our hard work be not only finished, but deeply appreciated by the families whose lives we’ve helped change. We completed the finishing touches on the three houses we have built, and today, Friday, we celebrated their inauguration with the families themselves. It was a very joyful and emotional experience. When we arrived at each house, we were greeted by the families, workers, and fathers. We had a leader cut the ribbon to the house before stepping in, and then one of the fathers proceeded to bless the house with candles, a ritual, and holy water. After the blessing, we were given food and drinks from the families and had a great time.

All the houses were decorated colorfully and everyone was dressed at their best.

Their appreciation was felt even without the need to communicate in the same language. During our free time this week and during certain times throughout the last 2 weeks, we have been working with the school children ages 5 to 16. It was a very interesting and fun experience. We did all sorts of activities such as painting, origami, play games, and even teach English. It is one thing to see them from a distance and wave, or simply tell them your name, but it is completely different to actually get to know them and their stories. Tomorrow we begin a new transition. We are headed to Madurai to join a yoga ashram for a week, and will deeply miss RTU.

Diving in Honduras

We left the beautiful city of San Marcos in the night. The lights of Lago Atitlan twinkled as we said goodbye. The time has come for a new adventure. After a night spent sleeping in the Guatemala City Airport, we boarded a plane heading for Roatan, Honduras. The

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moment that we stepped off of the plane, a beautiful sea breeze welcomed us. The warm sunlight  and tropical climate is a nice change of pace. The Caribbean Sea was one of the first sights that greeted us and we have become very familiar with it since. We are staying in a hostel owned by a Spanish woman. She is very hospitable and a wonderful cook. She made us a mouth watering paella that we are sure to remember for years to come.

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During the day, we spend our time with our lovely dive instructors, Eva and Velveeta. We have been learning the basics of scuba diving for the past week. Most divers begin their training in a pool, but our group has been learning in the Caribbean Sea. Each day we review our homework from the night before and then go into a sand bar to practice our skills. After lunch, we go to a dive site and get to enjoy and be a part of an entirely new, underwater world. We have seen lion fish, flounders, parrot fish, angel fish, giant crabs, barracudas, eels, and even the rare turtle. We swim through tunnels of coral reef and we have swam with a school of fish or two. Some brave souls

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decided to dive 100 ft below the ocean to explore a shipwreck.​​ We end each day exhausted, but still looking forward to what is to come. In order to relax, we are able to watch movies and laugh together to end our days. It will soon be time to leave this paradise, but we all know that this place and our memories of it will never leave us.