Tag Archives: Maps and Views

The Spirit of a Volunteer

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Its one of those words that people utter with awe and amazement. “Volunteer”… Thats what a plucky band of us had the privilege of being called when we taught English and were thoroughly fulfilled with our lot.

It took place on the Island of Zanzibar and it was probably the best experience of my life. Getting to meet the other volunteers who came from all over the world was awesome.

These people chose to spend a chunk of their youth to assist another community, while, at the same time, learning and growing through an experience that will leave a mark for the rest of their lifetimes.

Their wisdom, even at their young ages, brought a sense of hope and joy to the East Coast of the Indian Ocean‘s Spice Island.

The project was teaching English and also at primary schools, along with various community assistance such as school DIY. I was one of the oldest volunteers at 23 years of age.

It is without a doubt that I mention that these most uncommon of people, combined with those we aided are a shining torch to future generations to carry on this tradition.

Lets meet a few of them. There was Manoel, an Economics student from Zurich University. He had studied there for a year and also was in the process of completing three weeks national service for the six years after his first year, when he completed nine weeks worth.

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He was completely different to me, money savvy. He advised me on more than one occasion. What about Aidan, an Irish bank employee who worked in Frankfurt.

His girlfriend, Catherine and himself gave us a great time for the first week. It was later understood that, after leaving us, they headed for the Maasai Mara on Safari and it was here that he proposed to her.

That was happy news, despite us having heard it second hand. They met at a Catholic summer camp, I’m not sure where.

Andre and Lilya, from Bulgaria? Andre had his Private Pilot’s License, something I hope to gain in the future. They had met and then been apart for two years before their relationship started.

This is what he told me, anyway. Lilya and I had some interesting conversations, namely about Shakespeare and the fact that she had formed the opinion that Romeo was on drugs. She may not have been wrong:)

What days we had together. Our free time was spent playing volleyball on the beach or at the bar sipping punches on those sensational white Indian Ocean sands listening to Reggae music from Culture and Tarrus Riley, to name a few.

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We’d buy ten drinks at a time and party till 1:30 a.m. with the same breeze of the Indian Ocean current from the south that cooled us during the day now warmed us. It was a tough life:) Also brutal was the fact that that we had to watch twenty-something women in bikinis.

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As for the people who we met at the bars, they would sit with us and talk all night on the beach. The night sky was like the heavens had been sown with white crystals that set your eyes alight. These were dazzling and we almost always had a clear sky.

Want to try some of their Stoney Tangawizi ginger beer. Its worth buying just for the name but the taste of the cool, fragrant liquid inside means you’ll buy it again and again.

These drinks can be found at almost any bar along the beach and you’ll generally pay between forty to sixty pence per bottle. As for the alcohol, there’s Havana Club and Black Vodka. Preferably you’ll have more sense than to mix these together.

One night a guy, thinking that my half-filled glass of rum had whisky in it, topped the other half off with that drink. Wow! I may be six feet five inches, but even I felt like my head was in the clouds after that one. It was the next morning that I went dolphin swimming at 6 a.m. What a rush!

Well, we bounced around in a ten foot boat the next morning. It was with great excitement that we saw these happy creatures in their natural habitat. They leapt out of the water, dove, swam away and were just fabulous! No decent photos, I’m afraid. I borrowed this one.

A dolphin leaps out of the water in the Indian...

A dolphin leaps out of the water in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other excitements included the Spice Tour, which also takes place in Jozani Forest, the sanctuary of the Red Colobus Monkeys. Of particular interest is the mangrove swamp, where our guide showed us how the seeds fall off the mother tree and embed themselves in the mud.

Ecology is central to the Archipelago. We were given an eco-tour the first Wednesday after I arrived. This showed us much about the island and its delicate ecosystem.

This tour consisted of us visiting the seaweed plantation, going to a family’s home to see how coconut milk is made…by grating the innards of the fruit out… and paying a visit to Jambiani‘s much revered herbal doctor. These were useful chunks of knowledge tht we could gain an insight with.

Our guide told us that seaweed was the main cash crop on the Island and we were well-reminded of this every morning, when we would look out over the beach into the rising Indian Ocean sun and see handfuls of women and men toiling over their plots, trying to make a few pennies here and there.

They were the coolest people I’ve ever met. They were fun, smart, beautiful in the case of the women, and generally happy with their lot in life! What a place, where your heady dreams of fulfillment and paradise come to fruition!

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Skansen, a guide to Stockholm’s 19th century exhibit

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A fully-functioning 19th-century village? Thats what you’ll find in Sweden’s oldest open air museum, formed in 1891. Truly magnificent in both content and scale, it is a must-see for anyone wishing to visit this Bastion of Scandinavia. The Post Office still operates and arts and crafts are taught all year round. 

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Its name is…Skansen!

If you like the smell of timber and architecture of the 19th century then this is the place for you. The sight of people in period costume  of the place and the architecture will leave you breath-taken. The staff are informative and there is an authentic Swedish chef. Ever seen the muppets? He’ll remind you of them. It is truly the heart of 19th century Sweden. The open air cafes are abundant. So is cycling…

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There are places like Helin and Voltaire that serve coffee tea and pastries, the smell of which you’ll never forget, plus more, or there is Skansen terrace, a wonderful open-air venue where you can sit and drink under the sky of a long summer evening. Want to have your own little glass moose? Why not go to the glass-blower and watch him make it before your very eyes?

All the fauna of Sweden are kept here. If you find seals cute and cuddly, a grey one is fed every day at his aquatic enclosure. He looks happy all -day long. The size of the enclosures is large. The animals have plenty of room and are loved by both staff and visitors.

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Its harmony with nature leads you to think of all the dream you dreamt as a child.

Cornwall

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It was a bright June day when we set out for Cornwall. I was excited. It was just my mother and I for the first time in ages! Not only that: I was also headed back to Cornwall again for the first time in six years! 2008 was the year.

We were to see sights that were both commonplace in modern English culture and those steeped in the ancient mysteries of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

We were headed to Mullion Cove, where we had spent some time in a holiday cottage after having moved from Canada in May of 2002. We set out early in the day and expected to camp for the whole time we were away. In actual fact, it was too cold and, on the second night, we opted for a travelodge.

However, the first night was spent in a campsite, us having packed a tent in the back of our Subaru. When we got to the cove on the first day, we spent some time wandering around, taking various photos. We got some absolute scorchers as well! It figures, though. My mums a photographer. What a lovely setting.

The rugged coastline and unique culture of this part of the world leaves you with the feeling that it is completely disconnected from the mainland of United KingdomWe spent the evening in a nice pub up on the hill behind the cove.

It was a pleasant place with an outside seating area/garden and there was a lovely breeze coming off the water. The tables were clean and the food was decent. It also had the most pleasant path leading up to it…

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We had a game of dice. Its very similar to Yahtzee, a North American game. We took a walk along the top of the cliffs and sampled the view as the sun set on the western horizon. At this time of day, it is a beautiful and truly spiritual place. 

Our campsite was on top of the hill above the hamlet and was therefore a little breezy. The sleeping in the tent was a little cold, although I didn’t feel this. I was snug a bug in a rug. Also, it was a three-man tent. Thats handy, given that I’m 6 feet 5 inches.

It was about five in the morning and a dull gun-metal sky presided over us. We packed the tent and set out across Cornwall for St Ives. My mum was very kind and gave up some of her day at Naval Air Station Culdrose‘s viewing area, complete with cafeteria. I remember taking a good shot of a Sea King helicopter based there. Good tea too!

Royal Navy Sea King

Royal Navy Sea King (Photo credit: fromthevalleys-)

When we got to St Ives, it was still grey. Not clear like our previous day. The town retained its appearance, however. A rare quality is that this county, and, moreover, St Ives will look good no matter what the weather. In fact, it is probably more beautiful in the mist and fog. It is also home to the Tate St Ives.

Tate St Ives, Cornwall

Tate St Ives, Cornwall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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What the town is Unique in is its peninsula-style harbour that has twin beaches, a feature that is not replicated anywhere else, to my knowledge. Although the sea gulls will try to steal your ice cream if you’re by the waterfront.

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The smell of the sea mixed with fish and chips…and I mean the authentic English style…would be out of place on any other shore, especially without the accompanying countryside. It really fills the nostrils. It really can not be copied successfully either, although some areas of the world try to sell them with authenticity. It doesn’t ring true!

In the afternoon, we headed for the small town of Mousehole. This is a quaint town typical of any Cornish fishing community. It boasts a lovely harbour area, filled with small boats for rent, and a line of postcard shops with cafes. There is, of course, no shortage of pubs either.

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That was day two over with. We spent that night in a Travelodge, given that my mother had to get some fitful sleep for the drive home the following day. She snored and I had a restless night, having to go for a couple of walks.  But that didn’t bother me because I love my mother very much.

It was on the way home that we stopped off at Port Isaac, where we strode along the cliffs and sampled the village. It is a small fishing village that was very prosperous from the middle ages to the 19th century and vital commodities such as stone, coal, timber and potteries were unloaded here.

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There are also good beaches around. If you want to surf, then the beaches at Perranporth and Newquay offer world-famous beaches and surf that will take your breath away.

I bought a little souvenir from the gift shop present at Tintagel castle. The prices were just about right there. Not too expensive, nor cheap. The item was a little Celtic treskil, or cross.

Legend has it that the castle is the birthplace of King Arthur. And so it slips into place as a site that is set in the most British of tales. And what better place to have it than this bleak and stormy isle!

A romantic, beautiful place, it is set amongst green cliffs and there is little left of the building itself. But that just adds to the scenario. It’s a bit like somebody just took an hourglass and made time stay till throughout the ages. To think of the legend that the place is immersed in just gives me goosebumps.

The castle itself is set amongst the steepest cliffs anywhere could possibly offer with green grass atop them. There is little left of the castle itself, but that only adds to its romantic and magical lore. It lies roughly equidistant between the towns of Padstow and Bude. Also very special places.

And so it came to pass that we plondered slowly home, a six-hour drive, under screaming blue skies and with happy contentment. We had had a joyous break!

Pastries in Valletta

Republic Street, Valletta, Malta 1

Republic Street, Valletta, Malta 1 (Photo credit: John Drinkwater)

Valletta was lovely that day. It was the last full day of my holiday and it going to be made the most of. As I chose a particular bench in the city’s main square, I heard a voice from over my shoulder.

a nice old maltese man

a nice old maltese man (Photo credit: S.H.CHOW)

It was a little old man asking if I was from Denmark. It took me a second to realise why. Of course, it was because of the pastries! “No”, I smiled, “I’m from the United Kingdom“.

We began to chat and he asked me what I was doing in Malta. I told him that I was sampling it so I could write a blog about it.

He said he liked to have sweet food as well. He had his eye on my pastries! I kindly offered him one and he took it.

It transpired that he had worked in the UK when he was young, as a waiter for three years, returning to Malta after that.

Apparently, his mother would not stop nagging him. He asked if I had any kids of my own or a wife. “No”, I said, “not yet”!