By , December 2, 2012 10:47 am

Disclaimer: This is a contributed post.

If you’re looking to make a difference in one of the most diverse places in the developing world, a volunteering project in Kenya can give you that experience. A friendly and hospitable country, Kenya has plenty to see, including exotic wildlife, beautiful landscapes and many varied cultures.

During your placement, you can live with a host family and experience the country first-hand while you work on your exciting placement. Here are five options for your trip.

Care

If you are interested in working with disadvantaged children, a care placement will help you improve the lives of local young people. The HIV and Aids epidemic in East Africa has had a huge impact on local children, with many young people now living without one or both parents. Many orphans are taken in by other family members, however they are often already affected by poverty and find it difficult to cope.

Care volunteers in Kenya can work in orphanages and care homes, with children aged from 0 to 14. Tasks may include feeding or bathing babies, taking children out for trips, helping with homework or playing games. As a care volunteer, you will be an essential part of helping local children develop and learn new skills.

Caring for the environment

The Kigio Wildlife Reserve is situated two hours north of Nairobi, and is a breeding ground for a huge range of wild animals. An environmental placement here will allow you to work to conserve this beautiful stretch of land, protect the local ecosystems and share your knowledge with the local community.

Environmental work in the reserve will involve a combination of observational research and hands-on activity. You may be removing invasive plants, studying mammal populations or conducting outreach programmes in local communities. If you have a passion for nature, then this role is perfect.

Healthcare

Kenya has some of the poorest medical institutions in the developing world and volunteers are needed to work in both the smaller clinics and the larger hospitals. Your level of medical experience will determine what you will be able to do, but if you are looking to begin a career in medicine this is a great way to start.

You may start off by observing the doctors and nurses and building up a good working knowledge of local medical conditions. More practical hands-on work will develop later on in your internship.

Sports

Sports projects in Kenya are a good way to help disadvantaged young people learn new skills and connect with each other. By mentoring and training young people, you will be improving their fitness levels and helping them to try sports which ordinarily they would not get the chance to play.

Your role may include coaching matches, supporting community outreach programs and helping children and young adults to develop responsibilities and routine in their daily lives. Look at the Projects Abroad UK website for more details.

Teaching

You don’t necessarily need a teaching qualification to work abroad in schools. Volunteering in a Kenyan primary or secondary school is a good way to gain work experience for a future career, while giving something back to local children.

Education is very important in Kenya with a huge number of children wanting to attend schools. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough teachers to cover every class, so volunteers are always needed. Starting off as a classroom assistant, you can then progress onto planning and delivering classes for students of all ages.

Once you’ve completed your Kenyan placement, you can take some time to travel and explore the local area. Kenya is a beautiful place in which to live and work – perfect for anybody looking for a unique and exciting gap year placement.

Disclaimer: This is a contributed post.

By , November 29, 2012 7:22 am

There’s an old Turkish proverb that says coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.  Naturally, that’s what Turkish coffee is.

Mike and I were never coffee drinkers before we left home.  I would have the occasional half-coffee, half-hot chocolate but that was about it.  Mike wouldn’t touch the stuff.  Somewhere in Austria that started to change.  By the time we were living in Bulgaria, I was drinking a coffee or two a day, and even Mike was frequenting the local cafe for a freshly brewed Americano.

So it was only natural that we embraced the concept of “When in Turkey, drink Turkish coffee.”  We didn’t expect to like it so much.

In Istanbul, a cup of Turkish coffee will run you between 3.50 and 5 lira (about $2-$2.80 CAD).

Coffee shop in Istanbul

To make it in the traditional method (to the best of my understanding, anyways), fine coffee grinds and sugar are added to cold water in a small copper vessel, which is then heated slowly over charcoal.  Once the grinds start to sink, the drink is stirred to mix it and to create a foam on the top.  Once heated, it is poured in a small cup and served.

Preparing Turkish coffee

The coffee is thick, sweet, bitter, and almost nutty.  It is served very hot, and continues to steep in the cup.  When finished, the bottom of the cup is thick with grounds.

The thick sludge at the bottom of the drink

It is quite popular to have your fortune told from your grinds… we, of course, did a little fortune telling for each other.

A heart and a butterfly

Not sure exactly what a fortuneteller would read into this one, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know… scary little guy

Obviously a pig dog and oversized gerbil fight is in our future

 

What do you see in these grinds?

By , November 22, 2012 8:08 am

This post is about long distance overland travel; part of our healthy, road weary diet. Sure, we could always hop on a plane, but that’s just not cost effective. After 500 and some days on the road, we’ve come to realize that when it takes 9 hours or more to get from point A to point B night travel is the way to go. Our rational should be obvious. We save on a nigh’ts accommodation,and, as an added bonus, we arrive at our destination in the morning. Always preferable to arriving somewhere unfamiliar late in the evening.

Trains:

Trains are the king of overnight travel. Spend the couple of extra dollars (literally) and make sure you get yourself a bed. We took the overnight train between Belgrade, Serbia and Sofia, Bulgaria. It was bliss. We were given a shared berth with 6 beds. We lucked out and ended up with 4 English speaking teachers. We stayed up late drinking wine (which you are allowed to bring on the train with you),comparing travel tales and talking about the differences and similarities between the North American and European educational systems. Ashley was a high school math teacher before we left home, so she was right at home with the topic.

The beds were actually quite comfortable. Surprisingly they were even long enough for me to stretch out on, and I’m 6′ 1″. That’s more than I can say for half the dorm beds I slept in in Spain. The room was well ventilated, and the train was way smoother starting, stopping, and switching cars than I could have imagined. I slept like a baby and didn’t get up until 6:00 AM when we went through the Bulgarian border crossing. We didn’t even have to leave our room, the border guard came right to our door, stamped our passports, and wished us a good night’s sleep. A few hours later we arrived in Sofia well rested and in good spirits.

The room

I fit!

Some nice scenery before falling asleep.

About to arrive in Sofia

Buses:

In Central America, overnight buses were always 1st class buses. The seats reclined slightly, but were still uncomfortable. The A/C was blasted so high that despite the fact that the ambient temperature outside was almost 30°C, wearing long pants, a sweater, and a fleece jacket was a requirement. The good news is that once we left the bus terminal, the lights went out and the bus didn’t stop again until morning. So we had a chance to try and sleep.

In Eastern Europe, the buses are a bit fancier. There’s usually a TV in the back of every seat, and most of them have wi-fi on board. Surprisingly, night time tea and coffee service seems to be the norm. The bathrooms onboard don’t seem to work, so the bus stops every couple of hours to let people out at a rest station where they can pay for the privilege of relieving that midnight coffee. It seems the idea is not to sleep on these overnight buses. I don’t really understand that.

Either way, all the overnight buses we’ve taken have one thing in common. They are incredibly uncomfortable, you don’t sleep, and you arrive worn out and exhausted. If you are debating between the two, trains win every time.

Night Bus to Antalya

 

By , November 15, 2012 9:00 am

We thought we had our Bulgaria to Istanbul travel plans cased.  We booked our night bus from Veliko Tarnovo in advance, had the paper ticket in hand, and even had a friend to drive us from our village to the door of the bus station.  We knew our hostel name and address in Istanbul and pre-planned a splurge on a taxi so we wouldn’t have to navigate the chaos of a new city and country in the early morning hours.

But, several seemingly small things coalesced to make a seemingly easy night of travel an unrelenting comedy of errors:

1. A light drizzle the night before departure.  The light drizzle caused mud on the sidewalk by morning.  Mud on the sidewalk meant less friction for my sandal.  And less friction meant that, before I knew it, I was sprawled on the sidewalk with muddy jeans, a bruised leg and swollen hand.  This made packing a little tougher, but still manageable.  No big deal.

2. Worn shoes.  My shoes have been with me for every outdoor activity since the Yukon River in the summer of 2010.  Don’t forget that I walked 900 km across Northern Spain over concrete, asphalt, and rocky trails.  So they’re a little less grippy then they used to be.

Apparently, this can be a problem as you walk down bus steps in the pouring rain.  For the second time today I found myself sprawled out in pain. Luckily my elbow nobly broke the fall for my back, letting out a crack of glee that called out to every passenger on the bus.  Bruised and broken, I hopped up to save an ounce of dignity, grabbed my bag from under the bus, and cowered in the nearby bus station to avoid the line of eyes and noses pressed against the windows of the bus.  Still shocky, I was ushered into the tiny bus company office to get our tickets for the second leg of our journey.

3. A single digit.  Normally, the difference between 28 and 29 is not great.  Unless you’re travelling on the 29th of October and the guy at the bus station in Veliko Tarnovo booked your onward travel for the 28th.  As I sat in the tiny office, I was told by the agent that he expected us yesterday and there was no room on the bus for us today.  All of this was relayed in German, since we still didn’t understand Bulgarian.  While he made some calls, we stopped to assess the damage from my fall.  Mike was convinced I broke my laptop from the sound of the crack, but I assured him that it was my elbow that made that sound, not my electronics.  We pulled out the laptop, iPhone, and Kindle and they were all A-OK.  I felt a little better.  I took off my rainjacket and pulled up my sleeve to examine the brave little elbow.  By Mike’s expression, I knew it didn’t fare as well… turns out I managed to peel the skin off it through a wool sweater and Goretex rain jacket (pretty impressive I would say, since I didn’t even damage the jackets!).  Mike swore he could see bone.  The joint was swelling fairly quickly and I couldn’t bare the pain of touching it to see if the bone was intact.  We bandaged it up and sat back to wait.

4. A box full of water.  The agent returned with a smile on his face and told us “keine problem!”  He found us a bus leaving an hour later then the one we originally booked.  It was also full, but the staff agreed to find space for us.  I didn’t like the sound of that, but the idea of staying the night at the mostly closed bus station in the rain didn’t appeal to me either.  We paid full fare and waited.  When the bus arrived, its attendant ushered me on board and showed me my seat… Four (partially full) cases of water crammed in behind some seats.  Nothing like sitting sideways at a 45 degree angle for a 9 hour bus ride!  The bright side:  My sore elbow was on the high side, not the low one which required some elbow propping to achieve some semblance of comfort.

My seat for the night

5. Coffee service on a night bus.  Sounds good, right? This was our first experience with European night buses and we were pleasantly surprised to see them offer coffee, tea, water, juice, and soda.  However, every time someone ordered a coffee, Mike was required to move.  You see… his seat was not quite as luxurious as mine.  He got a newspaper and a cushion to sit on the steps of the back door.  Which is where the hot water was.

Mike’s settled into his staircase for the night.

6. A case of mistaken identity.  Arriving at the Bulgaria-Turkey border, we were told that we would have to buy a visa for about 15 bucks each.  No problem.  We were expecting this.  We had talked to quite a few British ex-pats that had made the trip and the price sounded about right.  The attendant navigated us across the multiple security booths and brought us to the visa office.  The man looked at our passports and asked for 15 USD each.  I pulled it out.  He looked at them again, then said… “Oh, Kanadski! Not Amerikanski… oh… wait…” He turns around, rifles through some papers, and finds the sheet of Canadian visa stickers.  Turns out they are 60 USD per person.  Unbeknownst to us, Canadians are required to pay 3-4 times as much as any other country to enter Turkey.  Yikes.

7. A broken ATM machine.  When our second bus was just two hours outside of Istanbul (the company managed to find us another bus parked at the same rest stop with some spare seats that was headed our way. We fell into a deep sleep the second our butts hit the seats.

When we finally arrived I was so sore, I could hardly get up.  We got our stuff together, grabbed our backpacks and found a taxi.  We showed him the address for our hostel and he said “OK.” We asked how much.  He said “40 lira.”  Thinking this was way too much, but too sore and tired to even haggle, we said “OK.”  We asked if he could stop at an ATM so we could take out some Turkish money.  He didn’t understand so we mimed the action while holding a debit card. “OK,” he said. We got in and he drove us along the bus terminal (which, if you’ve ever been at Istanbul’s main bus terminal is larger than most airports I’ve been at) and stopped at an ATM.  It was out of service.  We hopped back in and he drove us to a string of banks where I got our card to work, not on the first, but the second machine we tried (I’m pretty sure I was just putting in the wrong PIN at the first one in my sleep-deprived state).

We got back in the cab and our driver asked us where our hostel was.  He already had the paper with the address on it, so we pointed at it.  Obviously he wasn’t sure where that was.  He stopped and asked another cab.  Drove a little farther, and stopped to ask another.  He tried to call the hostel’s number but couldn’t get an answer.  Then, asked several more cab drivers on the street.  Phoned a friend.  Asked the audience. Oh… Google Maps, how handy you could have been here!

Finally, after something like an hour or more in the cab, he stumbled across our hostel and dropped us off at the door.  “50 lira,” he said.  “What?!? No way!”  It doesn’t matter how tired we were, we weren’t overpaying by that much.  He could have told us he didn’t know where the hostel was.  He could have actually turned on the meter in the front instead of quoting us a price.  He could have told us when we asked to stop at an ATM that he would charge more.  After a little yelling in the street, we paid him the 40 lira we rightfully owed and walked into our hostel.  Luckily, he didn’t follow us in cause he was mad.

To Sum Up:  We can certainly say our quiet little overnight trip to Istanbul was an adventure.  At the time of writing (12 days after the trip), I still have souvenirs from it: a black bruise on my thigh the size of a softball, two horizontal linear bruises on my back where it connected with the stairs, and a bruised elbow that I still can’t put pressure on.  But that’s part of travelling, isn’t it?  We survived and hey- it sure makes for a better story than we got on the bus, fell asleep, and woke up in Istanbul, doesn’t it?

By , November 14, 2012 9:00 am

Disclaimer: This is a contributed post.

With the cost of living on the rise and salaries being squeezed, there comes a time when we all need to find a holiday on a shoestring. And luckily for those of us with a tight budget, cheap holidays are readily available. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.

Let’s say you’ve got Greece on the cards. Some of the more specialist Greek islands such as Santorini tend to come at a premium, while other more popular retreats such as Rhodes or Crete are a little more mainstream and can therefore appeal to a wider range of pockets.

Corfu is one such example. This sun-drenched island appeals to many different holidaymakers – from families and young couples to party-lovers and ramblers. When searching for a cheap holiday to Corfu you’ll probably see the main resorts of Sidari, Govia and Kavos cropping up in the search results. These spots tend to appeal to a wide audience and where Sidari and Govia are concerned, you’ll find plenty in the way of kids’ clubs, activities, local attractions and of course gorgeous beaches. Kavos is equally well-equipped, but this is a lively town that comes alive after dark with the beats and rhythms of big-name DJs. It’s not the best bet for families or anyone that intends to get a wink of sleep at night – but if you’re here for clubbing shenanigans and all-night parties, you’ll fit right in!

The main thing to remember when looking for a cheap holiday is that the sooner you book, the better. Booking as soon as the brochure hits the shelves gives you more time to pay off the cost of your trip and save some spending money, and in most cases you’ll benefit from travel agents’ special offers and deals too. It just takes a little forward planning. Then all you’ve got to do is sit back, put some pennies aside and count down the days until you jet off to sunnier climes…

Disclaimer: This is a contributed post.

By , November 12, 2012 12:14 pm

We interrupt our regularly scheduled posts to bring you this important update:

Ashley and I are embarking on another epic walk. This time we’ll be walking 509km along the Lycian Way. A coastal trail in Southern Central Turkey between the cities of Fethiye and Antalya.


View Lykian Way in a larger map

We’ll be carrying sleeping bags and a tent. We’ll also be leaving the laptops behind, so expect us to take longer than normal to reply to your comments and emails. We’ll have our iPhone with us so, as long as there is free wifi on the top of Mount Olympus, we will be able to sneak in the odd Facebook update or Tweet.

Meanwhile, a lot has happened since we left Bulgaria. Thanks to the magic of WordPress’ scheduled posts, those stories will be coming your way uninterrupted over the next 3-4 weeks. After that time, we’ll be back to tell you all about our walk.

Resuming regular transmission…

By , November 9, 2012 9:21 am

As you’ve no doubt heard, we purchased a house in Central Bulgaria. This does not signal the end of our travels. In fact, we’ve already left Bulgaria and are currently exploring the countryside of Turkey.

Now it’s all well and good for us to tell you that we bought a house, let you know how much it cost, gave some insights into Bulgaria’s bureaucracy, and showed you some pictures of our new pad. But I think it’s also important to explain why we want to live in Bulgaria.

Yes, you read that right. We want to live in Bulgaria. Contrary to popular belief, we do not make a habit of buying houses as a souvenir in every country we visit. Bulgaria is special. It’s a place we want to live, and that’s why we bought a house there.

All dollar amounts quoted in this post are $CAD, which at the time of this writing are approximately equal to $USD.

Bulgaria is Beautiful

Maybe I should rephrase the title of this section to something like “The Small Bit of Bulgaria We Actually Saw is Beautiful”. The truth is that despite living in Bulgaria for three months, we hardly travelled around at all. Bulgaria has a beautiful Black Sea Coast, mountains to ski and hike, and plenty of history on display in the form of monasteries and Roman ruins. But we didn’t see any of that stuff. I guess we decided to save it for another trip. The bits we saw are all nearby our own village, and we thought they were beautiful.

Veliko Tarnovo – River Residences

Veliko Tarnovo – Tsarevets Fortress

Emen – Canyon

Gorsko Kosovo Reservoir – A great place to swim and fish on hot days.

Bulgaria is Centrally Located

If you look on a map, you’ll see that Bulgaria borders Romania, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia. All places we want to see. Still within range of a night train/bus, you find Italy, Austria, Croatia, Slovania, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova, and the Ukraine. Wow.

Bulgaria is Connected

Even the small villages, like ours, have high speed internet access. So communication is no problem. But that’s not what I was getting at. What I find amazing is the fact that you can cheaply get  everywhere by bus/train. Our small village, for example, has a daily bus to and from the closest major centre, Pavlikeni. There we can do all of our shopping, or catch a bus/train to somewhere more exotic, like Turkey. And get this, the bus to Pavlikeni costs less than driving at only $2 each way.

Village Life is a Mix of City and Farm. As it Should Be.

City Life

  • You have neighbours to talk to.
  • There is a local store for your daily shopping needs.
  • A cafe & bar for those days you don’t feel like cooking.
  • Your streets will get plowed in the winter.
  • You have running water that you can drink from the tap.
  • And, of course, electricity.

Rural Life

  • You can buy fresh unpasteurized milk.
  • You can raise your own egg laying chickens (which, FYI, you can’t do within a village in small town Saskatchewan)
  • If you like, you can have goats, cows, horses, and sheep. You keep them in your yard at night, then send them out to public pasture with a local shepherd during the day. No need to buy your own pasture land.
  • You can grow your own cherries, grapes, peaches, apples, pears, walnuts, hazelnuts, blackberries, vegetables of all kinds, and much more. Anything you plant in this country has a habit of growing.
  • You get a big yard and privacy.

The Weather is Pretty Good:

The winters are shorter than they are in Canada by about a month on either side. There are heavy snows but there are also warm chinooks. It’s been known to hit positive 20 deg C on New Years Day, and a cold snap will only get as cold as -25 deg C.

Summers are fantastic (this is the only season we’ve personally experienced); Dry, not much for wind, temperatures between 30 and 40 deg C. I can’t imagine a better summer climate anywhere.

You Can Afford to Have a Drink

The beer is priced at a reasonable $0.70 for a 1L bottle. And it tastes not too bad. Wine is a bit more. A local vintage can be obtained 3L for $5. Better still, they’ve legalize distilling your own alcohol. And, since everyone grows their own grapes, there is a glut of hooch (officially called rakia). It’s tasty, and given away for free by nearly everyone. We’ll be making our own when we have a chance.

Actually, It’s Affordable All Around

We’ve already mentioned how much a house and land costs. If you missed it, you can catch up here. But it’s not just the housing and the booze. Food is also cheap, even if you are not growing it yourselves. Tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and fruit generally run $1 per kg or less while in season. Cheese is plentiful at about $3 per kg, and bread is about $0.50 per loaf. Property taxes are almost negligible (less than $100 per year), and water is less than $10 per month (depending on how much you use).

Of course some things are still expensive. For example, gasoline for your car is quite pricey, electricity is expensive, and wood for winter heating will still run you about $1,000 per year depending on how much heat you need. But these “expensive” items are priced comparably to everywhere else in the world. They are just expensive compared to how cheap everything else is.

So Why Aren’t We Living in Bulgaria Now if it is so Great?

A couple of reasons. First, we are not done travelling. Not by a long shot. Second, despite the low costs, we still need to figure out a way to generate an income before we can move to Bulgaria full-time. The country has a very high unemployment rate, and a very low average hourly wage. To make matters worse, neither of us speak Bulgarian, a fact that will severely limit our employment prospects until we can learn the language.

Although we’ve been quite successful thus far, it’s only possible to live on dreams and rainbows for so long. So until we work out how we are going to generate enough income to move full-time to Bulgaria, we won’t be living there full time.

What’s the Plan Then?

Like so many things, we just don’t know. Our first plan, is to eventually return to Canada and get jobs. We’ll work and save until we feel that we have enough money to make a go of it, then move to Bulgaria. It’s boring and old-fashioned, but there’s a proven track record of success. While we are saving up, we’ll visit our house when we can and do as much work on it as we can with the holiday time we are allotted.

Another option would be to relocate to Bulgaria and try to pick up seasonal winter work elsewhere. For example, we may try to spend our summers in Bulgaria enjoying our organic food, and low costs. When winter strikes, we’ll set off for a warmer country and work in the dive industry. It’ll mean another investment in courses to become instructors, but could be a enjoyable/sustainable way of making Bulgaria work now.

We’ve talked about working for a year teaching English in Japan or S.Korea. The idea being that we could save up enough money to live in Bulgaria for a couple of years before needing to undertake another year-long teaching gig. It has promise, but we are not sure if we’ll enjoy teaching English or not.

Finally, we could try to work in Bulgaria. It’s possible that Ashley could get a job as a teacher at an English school. But it probably wouldn’t be within commuting range of our home. I could try to earn an income online programming, or translating from Spanish into English, but that’s not fun either. Along the same lines, we could use our company to undertake some sort of business in Bulgaria. The big problem being that we’d be earning a Bulgarian wage. That would get us by, but we wouldn’t be able to save up for future travel. And it’s not just sightseeing that we would miss out on, we’d also be away from our friends and family back home without sufficient incomes to buy tickets to go back to Canada and visit. That would be hard.

So for now, and until further notice, the matter of fitting our Bulgarian house into our lives permanently remains unsettled. But we both really, really want to make it work.