I’ve not written a blog post in over a year! Well not for this site anyway, but I’m in China and I want to document it. So as of Monday I hope to be posting a weekly blog about my experience.
I arrived in China on the 20th of February and it has been a whirlwind of adventure and friendships and experiences since then! All of which I will update you on properly in the blog posts that follow this one.
After I graduated University in July I realized that as much as I loved my course and everything it involved, a desk job just wasn’t for me, not right now anyway. I had the travel bug, I needed to GO somewhere, anywhere, and where better than China?! A completely different culture, new people, new places and a chance to try my hand at a possible new career. Also… Pandas! The decision was obvious, the choice easy. So to China I went…
To give you a basic run down of my current situation, I recently passed my TEFL qualification certificate which allowed me to apply for a teaching internship in China. The lovely people at STA travel, I-to-I TEFL and ImmerQi all helped in setting up my trip and I will also be writing posts for I-to-I TEFL so keep an eye out for those, I’ll let you know when they are posted. I have been placed in the South of China in a Province called Guangdong, my school is in a “small” (I use inverted commas because it is bigger by far than Aberdeen but by China standards it is classed as small) town near the city of Zhongshan. I’ll go into more detail in a future post, but it is BEAUTIFUL! I could not be happier with where I’ve been placed and the people I’ve been placed with!
My plan as it stands just now is; complete my internship here in China, spend a month travelling around South East Asia and then go on to do another 5 months’ internship in Vietnam. Who knows where from there but I feel like trying to plan further than a year ahead is just not how I work.
I left home almost a month ago, after a wonderful send off from my friends and family, I spent a week in London and then hopped on my flight to Beijing for a week of orientation, cultural classes and exploring. It was a ten-hour journey by bullet train down from Beijing to Guangzhou and then a further hour to our town. As I write this I am sitting in Sanxaing, Guangdong Province, China, in my new home, with my new flat mates, easting pancakes because it’s International Woman’s Day so what else are we meant to do?! (I should be creating a lesson plan for my first graders… but I thought I’d post this little update first).
It’s 12am, it’s pitch black, all you can hear is the sound of your own heart beat and someone being sick a few steps in front of you. It’s cold, it’s windy and all you have is a head torch to guide your way. It’s summit night on Kilimanjaro and it’s about to be the hardest night of your life!
I had such high hopes for this blog post, I was going to write notes from each day, record everything, do a video diary. By the time I got to camp on day one all I wanted to do was eat my popcorn, sip my tea, locate the nearest toilet, curl up in my sleeping bag and pass out! (Which is exactly what I did.)
Don’t get me wrong I didn’t for a second think that climbing the highest free standing mountain in the world was going to be easy, in fact a small part of me was convinced I couldn’t do it but I just told that part to go to hell and kept pushing on. The thing I found both this year and with Toubkal last year was that it didn’t seem to matter how physically fit you were if you weren’t determined to make it to the top. It was mind over matter with me, my body wanted to give up, it was falling asleep as I walked but my head wasn’t going to let that happen.
This is my Kilimanjaro experience (as well as I can remember) it day to day over the six days it took to complete the biggest challenge of my life!
Day one started at the Machame gate 1640m above sea level, it was a bit of a gloomy day so we didn’t get to see the whole mountain before the climb (probably for the best to be honest…) It was like walking right into the Jungle Book, hanging vines and stone steps all the way to camp. I was glad of the cloud cover if the sun had been out in full force the heat and humidity would have been unbearable. It was quite pleasant walk to Machame camp stopping for a lunch of chicken and chips under the trees about half way. A couple of times I felt I was going to tumble back down the path, my awful balance and walking poles being attached to my back pack were not helpful, but there was always someone behind me to give me that slight push I needed to correct myself.
At camp we met our porters who showed us to our tents (I’m just going to say now that my porter was the best human being I have ever met and I owe him so much because he pretty much did everything for me, including putting aftersun on my very burnt hands, and I love him). We were shown the mess tent and given a briefing for the next day and then it was straight to bed for me because it got unbelievably cold as soon as the sun went down!
Day two the sun was out and we raced the clouds up the mountain. I thought they were going to catch up with us but we stayed ahead of them until they couldn’t climb any higher. I found this day one of the hardest because we had to walk all the way to camp before lunch and it felt like a life time! I also dropped half of my NAKED Banana Crunch bar at our second snack stop and it was heart breaking. Staying at the back allowed for a lot more conversation though I felt like I got to know some of my Brunel team mates a lot better on day two.
Everyone told me about how beautiful the stars look from Kilimanjaro before I went but I can’t say I really saw them properly until summit night. They were there, I was just absolutely exhausted every night when we got to camp that I went to bed straight after dinner and looking up while walking in between 20 something tents is not advisable. A few people stayed up to watch the stars and came back to me with tales of shooting stars and the milky way but I just couldn’t keep myself awake to watch with them.
Day Three was acclimatisation day, we climbed high until lunch time and then back down to sleep low giving our bodies a chance to get used to a thinner atmosphere at higher altitudes. The climb to lunch was hard, breaks were very welcome, but I did not feel any symptoms of altitude sickness and made it to the Lava Tower in the first half of the team. After lunch I decided to stay back with the team members who were suffering from altitude sickness to make sure everyone was doing ok and to provide my encouragement. This was going very well until about ten minutes before camp when out of nowhere altitude sickness hit me and the entire contents of my stomach emptied onto the side of the trail. It completely knocked me for six. I felt dizzy, weak and wasn’t entirely convinced I wash finished throwing my guts up. My head guide, James, had to hold me up for the short distance to camp, my vision was blurry and I don’t really remember getting to the check in point. All I remember thinking was how impressed I was with the members of my team who had been dealing with this all day, I felt absolutely horrendous and could only imagine what it must be like to experience altitude sickness from the morning knowing how far away camp was! When I finally got to camp all I wanted to do was go to sleep but I knew that would just make me feel worse so I made myself go to the mess tent for popcorn and a hot cup of tea, followed by a handful of pain killers and a lot of water. Within the hour I felt absolutely fine again.
Day Four we tackled the Barranco wall. This steep ridge was an almost vertical scramble on which I ripped my nana’s walking trousers she had lent me, almost had my hand pulled off by the guides (they did not know about my dodgy wrist) who yanked us up that wall like their lives depended on it and saw the most spectacular view from above the clouds. This was actually the fun part of the day because they then made us walk down a valley, back up a valley, down another valley and finally back up a valley and into camp. What’s wrong with bridges Kilimanjaro?? I have never wanted to pee more in my life than the last twenty minutes of that day and I was so relieved (in more ways than one) to see a toilet block just out side of camp, there was no way I would have made it through check in without an accident occurring!
We had made it to base camp! There wasn’t exactly much time to celebrate though, we were to leave again at midnight for summit so it was dinner, toilet and bed! Having said that dinner was still an emotional meal; a couple of my team were very upset because they did not believe they could make it to the summit! I had full belief in every member of my team and to see them so upset made me completely break down into what was the first of many tears in the 24 hours that followed.
Sometimes in life you believe you have been super sneaky and no one could possibly know what you are up to! I tried to organise a surprise for my team along with the team leader from Brunel by contacting the teams loved ones asking for a letter of encouragement to read before summit night. I would like to think that most of the team were completely clueless but one member of RGU had asked me on several occasions if I was organising said surprise. Getting more and more frustrated at this members willingness to spoil the surprise for himself when he finally called me over after all the letters had been handed out I thought it was to gloat that he knew what was going on the whole time and I hadn’t surprised him one bit only to be handed a letter from my own loved ones and have to return to my seat feeling bad for all the times I told him to let it go! My letter is pictured below and while most of the team were sitting in their seats crying I couldn’t help but laugh at my mum’s favourite story of me and my stubborn ways!
So here we were, summit night, with two to three hours sleep my nervous chatter had already set in, I had one mouthful of “breakfast” and thought I was going to see it again almost immediately, the cold was unbelievable, the sky was glittering with star light and my water bladder had already frozen solid. For most of the climb I focused on Mars, it was usually directly in front of me and distracted me from the tiny head torch lights in the distance that reminded me of just how far we had still to climb. My day bag was taken off me by a guide almost straight way so I could focus solely on where to put my feet. This guide (who fell over once and scared the absolute living hell out of me, if he had fallen over then all I could think was that there was absolutely no hope for me and my clumsy self!) stayed with me the whole way to the summit and for the life of me I couldn’t pin down his name. I know I would never have reached the peak if it wasn’t for him, shear determination and a packet of Haribo Tangfastics that I had saved specifically for that night.
I almost gave up on several occasions, absolute exhaustion and fear threatened to overcome me at any moment. Every time we stopped for a break I thought I was going to fall asleep. When James said it was time to move again tears came from nowhere, but he grabbed one arm and my guide grabbed the other and hoisted me to my feet, up we went higher and higher until we started to see the sunrise over the clouds so far below us. That was the moment I knew I could do it, my phone had died from the cold so I had no idea what time it was but when I saw the sunrise below and Stella point above and beyond that Uhuru Peak I knew I was almost there, to give up now seemed as impossible as the whole climb had felt 6 hours before and I pushed myself that last hour and a half, to the Summit of the worlds highest free standing mountain.
I didn’t summit with anyone but my guide, I was about ten minutes behind the first group from my team to summit. When I got to the rest of the team I was swallowed whole by a group hug and burst into yet more tears at the sight of my team mates tears. Then there was the queueing for photographs (other groups had summited at the same time as us), the realisation that my camera had died from the cold, losing the friendly square that a kind man had given me for good luck on the bus to London, my phone getting a second wind and switching back on for photos at the summit and finally a member of my team collapsing from hypothermia in his legs*. This all happened in about 30 minutes and then it was back down the mountain.
Heading down was arguably harder than the way up. Firstly the ground was no longer frozen so it was like walking down the biggest sand dune you have ever seen in your life, secondly it was about eight in the morning and I had had about two hours sleep and thirdly there was no motivation left in my entire body. I’d made it to the top, I was done, I just wanted to curl up on a rock and go to sleep. This was not helped by the fact that every couple of meters I would fall on my back and lie there like an overturned beetle until the James caught up with me again and put me back on me feet. By about the fifth fall I told him I was staying put and he would have to drag me down because I refused to fall over again. So that is essentially what he did after I had one more cry, this time asking for my mum and pizza. He took my bag on his back, threatened to piggy back me down the mountain, took my hand and led me down the sand dune of death with complete ease despite his allergy to dust (wise career choice there…). When we reached solid ground I got a complete second wind and marched of into the distance only to be met with yet another impossible downward climb and had to sit for about 20 minutes for someone with a bit more technical skill to show me the correct path.
Finally, after what felt like a life time, I made it back to base camp. I was met by my porter who gave me the biggest hug and a cup of pineapple juice which lasted all of five seconds. He led me back to my tent, took my boots off for me, ran to fill my water bottle up, gave me a well deserved fist bump and zipped me into my tent. I should have had a nap here, I was exhausted so it should have been easy but I just couldn’t fall asleep! I spent the rest of the time we had at base camp packing as best I could with my sunburnt hands, eventually admitting defeat I had to get someone to help me stuff my sleeping bag back into it’s compartment.
We had lunch and then set off again down the mountain. I think we had been walking all of two minutes when I had to stop. I couldn’t breath properly, my vision was blurry and I was about 90% sure I was going to be sick. I was right. Up came my lunch, up came my pineapple juice, up came my Tangfastics and, you guessed it, out came the tears. Altitude sickness is not a fun thing, why it only happened to my on the decent I do not know but I am very glad that it didn’t happen before then because I don’t think I would have managed to summit if it had. Instead of the four hours it should have taken me to get down to the last camp of the trek it took more like six and it was pitch black by the time I arrived. My porter, being the absolute amazing human that he is, guided me to my tent, took my boots off for me and even offered to take my dinner to the tent. I refused this last offer as food was about the last thing I wanted. I struggled into my sleeping bag, closed my eyes and passed out till morning.
The last day was definitely the easiest but it also felt like a never ending trail of trees upon trees. I was impatient to get down but also very aware of how slippery the ground was and if I was to go to fast the likely hood of me ending up on my backside was very high. When we finally made it to the bottom there was an enormous sense of relief. I signed out, took of some layers, found my porter and that was it finally over. This is where my porter very kindly put aftersun on my hands for me and took my day pack off my back. He even carried it all the way onto the bus for me. The final day was a good day for chatting and reflecting on the day before. For myself it still sort of feels like a dream, I know it happened but there was such a big build up to that day and then for it all to be over already is just surreal. This was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, there is no way I would have made it with out the support of my team, my family, my friends and the amazing guides and porters.
I took on this challenge partly to prove to myself that it was possible (partly because a certain RAG chair who shall remain nameless convinced me it was a good idea) and also to raise awareness for an amazing charity who do work all around the world. If you would like to donate to Childreach International you can still do so on my fundraising page linked below.
*this team member is absolutely fine and still has full use of both of his legs. The guides acted amazingly and got him down to base camp quickly and safely and part from feeling a little bit silly for not listening to the head guide about wearing more layers no harm was done.
Usually I have some sort of topic in mind before I start writing a post, not today. I guess an update if kind of a topic but still it leaves a lot to the imagination. This post could be about anything!
Firstly it is about my new flat! I looooove my new flat, it is spacious, it is kind of hipster, it has a garden (I know right, like wow) and when Evie gets back from her Southern Hemisphere adventuring it will be filled with the best people I know. So you could say it is perfect, there is one problem and it is only a little one and since we moved in there have been less and less of them and really when you think about what flat/house doesn’t have them… SPIDERS! and not just little squish it with a shoe type spiders, these things are freaky as anything you can imagine. Still, I loooove my flat!
Some would say that the spiders are not the only problem (some probably wouldn’t even see them as a problem) but I can’t see any flaws, maybe I refuse to. For people who don’t know Aberdeen very well I feel like I should explain the area that I live in; simply, it’s well dodge! Actually it’s not that bad, it looks bad especially to “Grown-Ups” (even though I am 20 now I still do not class my self as an adult, that is just to weird for me to handle) but really it is probably one of the better areas down by the harbour… By day it is an ordinary alley-way with a warehouse on one side of the flat and a gloomy tunnel to the other side. I won’t say more than that for fear of unwanted visitors discovering the location of my secret base, although if you are reading my blogs then I’m sure you are a lovely person 🙂
Ok now that you have seen my flat this post is also about my family holiday to Ireland. Wowcha it was warm! Although I am told that we picked a lucky week and usually it rains aallll the time, so pretty much exactly like Scotland then?
Highlight of the trip for me has to be the Giant’s Causeway. As I told my mum “it is the only reason I actually wanted to come to Ireland we haaave to to go.” So we drove from our rented house in Southern Ireland for over two hours all the way up into Northern Ireland to see it. It was completely worth it! I do wish there had been less people there, they were ruining all my photos *huffy face*.
Managed to get one with no people 🙂
Thirdly it is about trying disastrously to be healthy. I suck at all things healthy; I eat chocolate non stop, I never do any sort of organised exercise, walking up hill just about kills me and what even are vegetables??
I joined my local Pure Gym, I have been a total of two times, once with my flat mate Leanne to check out the changing rooms and once for my Gym induction so in total I have done zero exercise, but hey I only joined last week. Ok so I know that I am completely failing at the exercise so far but next week I vow to go to the gym and do a work out at least once, hopefully twice because I really need to.
As far as the healthy eating goes, well it goes better actually *achievement unlocked!* Since my boyfriend is staying with me for a little bit, and has been cooking for me (which is awesome because if I’m honest I am so lost in the kitchen without him), I have tried Salmon for the first time in ages. Anyone who knows me will know that I absolutely hate fish, well not anymore! Yeah suck on that taste buds, its called maturity. Other improvements include; eating Granola for breakfast instead of chocolate cereal, I now take no sugar in my tea, my fridge has had actual vegetables in it that I actually bought by myself and I have not bought myself a chocolate bar since I got back from Ireland. RESULT!
But seriously though I need to go to the gym like ASAP
I hope you enjoyed my little ramble about my life, please come back for more soon
Our last day in the village of Marigha. We felt so welcomed and accepted by the people in the village that it made us sad to think we had to leave. I know that we will all miss the children so much. In terms of building work we were back to sand chaining and shovelling. We wrote our names in chalk, along with the footballer names the children had given us, on the walls that we plastered the day before. Just like that it was lunch time.
There was so much going on after lunch; parachute games, frisbees, skipping, chase and ball games. Just before dinner we had a game of football with the older boys in the village. I think it is safe to say football is not really my game, although I did manage to tackle someone with only minor injuries. Then they put me in goals… bad idea, I prefer to run away from the ball rather than dive in front of it.
After dinner we went to the house next door where they had prepared some cous cous, some people tried their luck at eating it traditionally by making it into a ball and just eating it off your hand. Unfortunately I am allergic to cous cous but it was really old fun to watch everyone trying to through handfuls of it into there mouths.
We then went back up to our house where the villagers were waiting for us to show us some traditional drums and dancing. It was an amazing experience to be involved in the dancing and some sort of take on the conga in which I ended up piggybacking one of the younger boys because he couldn’t reach my shoulders!
So this concludes my Moroccan Adventure. It was one of the most amazing experiences and I feel so privileged to have been a part of it. In the speeches that were given that night the village council told us how grateful they were for what we had done for them but I want to just say that I am grateful to everyone involved in making this project happen, to the village for taking us in and trusting us to build such an important feature in their community and to friends I made along the way.
Plastering walls in Morocco essentially consists of throwing cement at walls. We spent the day being taught the technique that means the cement actually sticks to the wall; this does not mean that the cement actually stuck to the wall.
The children were waiting outside the house wanting to play after we finished building, so played music on our phones and had a dance off which was hilariously fun. I was attacked by tiny children wanting to play catch (they wanted me to chase them and then tickle them pretty much), by the time I got to tea I was absolutely exhausted from the heat.
After dinner we all sat in our “Scottish Room” and ate our junk food and chatted for ages; which made it really difficult to get to sleep when everybody left…
I think the villagers were becoming more used to us being there, we had a bigger audience at the build site and even a couple of the local girls came out to see what we were doing. One of the the girls wanted to give us a hand with the building, she must have been about thirteen or fourteen, so she joined our sand chain.
We played outside the house again after lunch and the girls joined in as well, up until then it had only been boys that had wanted to play, but now the girls were playing with the parachute and the football and duck duck goose. I discovered that duck duck goose can actually be a very dangerous game if you play it in the mountains, as I dramatically slid into my spot while being chased by a 7 year old around the circle. My legs (which were already covered in bruises from the buckets) were now cover in scratches from my ankle to my knee.
We met out side out house at four o’clock so that our guides could take us to visit the local salt mines and for a hike around the village. We walked down to the mines and they explained to us how the salt water is taken up from the wells in buckets and put into the reservoir, it is then let into large, shallow, concrete squares on the ground and left to dry out for three days in the sun. Then the salt is bagged and taken to the local markets for sale.
From the mines we walked up behind the village to where the castle was and started our mini hike from there. We walked all along back of the village and up onto the foothills of the mountains above. Some of the older children joined us, they seemed to have no problem with the steep slopes or the heat as they ran ahead of us. The views were incredible. We could see the whole village from the highest point on our walk.
We were so exhausted from our hike and the heat of the day. After tea we went to the local shop and bought a bottle of ice cold Pepsi each which was a perfect way to end our day…
The first thing I did in the morning was look across to the the mountains opposite us. The clouds were tucked in-between them, just under their peaks, hugging the sides like fluffy white glaciers. It was a beautiful start to my day.
We had a free afternoon after our morning’s work on the building site so Imogen, Lorna and I went explore the village a little bit. We walked up to the castle that Abdul had taken us to on the first day and the hills next to it. We then decided to go somewhere new and followed a path that went past the castle and back into the village but we had never been to this part before. While we were trying to decide which way to go next some of the villagers start talking to us. Of course we had no idea what they were saying so Lorna tried speaking french to them, which worked until they exhausted her knowledge of french and both sides settled with pointing at things.
We met for tea at the usual time but instead of going to the main house for it, we were invited to one of the local builder’s house where they would show us how to make traditional Moroccan Mint Tea. We sat around a long room on the floor which was covered with brightly coloured mats and cushions to put behind our backs. Abdul was sitting down at the far end with a tray full of various tea related items and began explaining how they made their tea
After the tea had been boiled for five to ten minutes we were each given a glass and some traditionally baked bread. I had really started to like the mint tea but I still had to wait for it to get to at least room temperature before attempting to drink it.
When we came back from dinner there was a good fire burning outside the local cafe type thing that was under our house. The children were sticking branches in the fire and chasing each other while spinning these branches around. They found this game hilarious fun but all I could think of was that it would end in someone getting burnt. As far as I know no children were hurt by flaming branches of doom that night…
Here is a blog of the first three days of my trip to Morocco for you to enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLcbUBP9wbU. This is the first VLOG i have ever done and it to me two days to get it uploaded to YOUTUBE, stupid internet…
A lot of sand chaining happened today (pretty much we lined up and passed buckets of sand down the chain and then the empty buckets back up the chain). Some people were also continuing with cement mixing and wall building. I have to say that chains really are the most efficient way of moving heavy things about that I have ever seen. I think this method should be used a lot more than it is being used now. It definitely taught me about team work and how important communication with in it (I’ll be using that lines in future interview *winky face*).
Between Lunch and tea we got to meet some of the children from the village, we took the parachute out that Imogen had brought with her and taught them some games. We also taught them the “Hokey Kokey” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. They sang us the National Anthem of Morocco, a song about a cat who had his piece of fat stolen by a dog and then they started singing Shakira’s 2010 world cup song “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) much to our surprise, off course we joined in and they seemed equally surprised. It was a great moment
We really wanted them to do some dancing but they were to shy because some of the older boys were watching, so we decided to do the Macarena and Abdul got them all to join in which was so much fun, even though we didn’t know the words at all! After a long discussion with the group one of the yonder boys ran off , when we asked why he had run away they told us he had gone to get a drum. The boys then started singing with a beat from the drum and also a squashed, empty Pringles can that was rhythmically being hit on a stone by one of the children. It was amazing to listen to and very hard not to dance to.
It was great to finally meet the children who were going to be using the education centre once it was complete. I think it definitely showed me that all the stress from fundraising and saving and organising transport down to London was worth every single minute of the time I had put into it…
I was woken at five in the morning by the prayer call from the village mosque, I thought it was a dream. I was even more sure when I asked Imogen and Lorna if they had heard it and they said they hadn’t, especially when I could have sworn I asked Imogen what time it was when it woke me.
Utterly confused, I headed to breakfast where I asked around and it turned out I wasn’t going crazy because some of the others had heard it as well. Breakfast for me was crumpet/bread things with jam which was a much better start to my day.
Walls seemed to be popping up everywhere as we worked during the morning, you could turn your back for one minute and when you turned around again you would be in a completely different room from the person you had been standing next to. We could see where the class rooms were and where the toilet was going to be, it was beginning to look more like a functional building.
We stargazed again that night and we were joined by some of the Aberyswyth people, if only they had stayed out a little longer they would have seen the three amazing shooting starts that shot through the night sky. I had never seen shooting stars that clearly, especially the last one; we could see the bright white meteor and its tail perfectly against the dark black of the sky. It was absolutely beautiful…