Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

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Plastic Free July – some trials during Week 1 (and a win!)

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We decided to sign up for Plastic Free July. We already “do” a lot of the things to minimise our waste, particularly plastic. But it is always good to have something like this to keep it at the forefront of your mind and raise your general level of consciousness about plastic waste.

Interestingly, we had already “failed”, only hours into our July! Saturday morning dawned, and we had only just the previous week signed up for an eight week subscription to have our newspapers delivered on the weekend. Bad choice! Might have saved some money, but every Saturday and Sunday, we get the delivery of our papers wrapped in plastic! eek! Wasn’t really part of the plan. A good learning though, so we certainly won’t be renewing this (temporary) subscription.

On on! Later in the day, as we headed off to get some groceries, it was a no-brainer to bring our grocery bags, which are always in the car, along with our onya fruit and veg mesh bags. Had to remember to pack along our “keep cups” though, so that we could have our takeaway coffee and stay within our “plastic free” July and away from the evil disposable coffee cups!

Another challenge met us the following day, however, as I started to think about packing for an upcoming trip. I tend to use my “daily disposable” contact lenses when I travel, but alas! It is throw away plastic. Argh. Not sure about this one. Haven’t yet decided if I am going to bring along my usual monthly disposables, or just live with the (guilt?) of daily disposables while I am away.  A bit of a summary on the good, the bad and the ugly on disposable contact lenses, versus glasses, etc…  can be found here.

Porridge sachets – a no no that we hadn’t considered!

The other challenge on the Sunday morning was for Mark, as he was fuelling up his body for the 100 km or so cycle ride he was about to embark on. He just popped a porridge sachet into a bowl (something warming on these cold winter mornings!) but alas! More throw away plastic. Damn!  (Update:  I went onto the site for our porridge sachets, and I see that although they sell plain old rolled oats in a cardboard box, none of their (yummy) instant porridge with various delicious add-ins are available in “bulk”.   Bummer!)

voila! ready to use. Will happily keep on with this idea after Plastic Free July is done.

HOWEVER!  Not all was lost this week.   I took advantage of our (plastic covered) weekend newspaper, and made a bunch of paper bin liners.   A bit of origami fun, and it will be an easy transition to keep doing this long after July.  Here is a bit of what it looked like for me:  (NB:  I have kept a plastic bag in the rubbish bin in case of wet spills, but I am not expecting any huge dramas!)

A bit of creative origami that even I could do!

Popped these newspaper liners in with a plastic bag in case of wet spills.

If nothing else, this month is certainly highlighting for us where we can improve. It is also highlighting that maybe we aren’t as good about being “plastic free” as thought!   On on to Week 2.


Journeying across America – on bicycle

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Many of our readers know that Mark is a keen cyclist.  In the cold, dark, rain and snow.   Hang on – there’s never any snow in Perth!   OK – cold, dark and rain.   He and his scaly mates are out there, pedalling their butts off 3 or more mornings a week.   They are dedicated.  And a particular bunch of them are crazy.   Seriously crazy.   They decided that it would be FUN to cycle across America!   that’s right – all 6500 kms of it.   Craziness.   Cyclist tired

I know Mark wanted to go, too, but unfortunately our possible house swap in Canada that would have made that possible, fell through.  So he has been living vicariously through reading their blog (which you can also read here).   It is an inspiring story.   Particularly because we are getting our fill of cycling at the moment, as we dedicatedly watch the Tour du France highlights every night.   Both of us are Tour Tragics!   (true story – what can we say?)

The idea of the TransAmerica Cycle Challenge was borne out of Mal’s long service leave.  So after much research and planning, they were off for the ride itself – and celebrated Rodney’s 60th birthday while on the road.   What a great way to spend your 60th birthday!   Cycling 6500+ kilometres!   Wow.

The reason we are giving these crazy folks a bit of a plug here, is because they are not only doing this for their own (health) good, but they are also raising money in the process for a great cause – Wheelchairs for Kids.   It is a great cause, and they are now in their final stages of the ride.   Only about five more days of cycling to go.  If you are interested in learning more, and maybe even donating to this great cause, you can click here.

Well done to all!  We have been watching your progress with amazement, wonder, and RESPECT.

Barbie and Body Image

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Dolls should come in all shapes and sizes.  L to R:  Traditional Indian Hindi doll, Filipino "Imelda" doll, Ghanaian beauty in traditional attire

Dolls should come in all shapes and sizes. L to R: Traditional Indian Hindi doll, Filipino “Imelda” doll, Ghanaian beauty in traditional attire

As Mark now has a granddaughter, we are starting to think about the kind of toys that we might consider buying for the little one as she grows older.  Neither of us are fans of “gender specific” toys generally; and Barbie is a classic one that is strongly related to the whole “pink-ribboned, blonde, blue eyed” experience that we don’t really buy into.  Not that there’s anything wrong with playing with dolls!  (or with blonde hair and blues eyes, for that matter!)  No doubt child psychologists have done the appropriate studies that demonstrate the numerous capacity building activities that imaginative play can bring.  And it may well be that Mark’s granddaughter one day plays with, and enjoys – dolls.   But we will likely NOT be the ones giving her the traditional version.   Our choices come from a variety of places, some of which we thought we’d share here:

1.  The “default” Barbie is unrealistic, and probably doesn’t help young girls in their quest to be “beautiful”.  ALL young girls are beautiful, in all their amazing shapes and sizes, colours, and interests.   In this well written article, one of the concerns raised is that girls as young as five are expressing a desire to be thinner!   What is that all about??!   Not something we want to be encouraging, so no, thanks Mattel, we won’t be buying one of your Barbies anytime soon.

2.  There’s a whole world out there:  Only about 2 percent of the world has blonde hair and blue eyes.  There are a LOT more darker haired, darker skinned people, and there always will be!   We like the idea of having a doll that is more natural looking, and in today’s population, if that doll was to more closely mimic world wide trends, it would certainly have dark hair, dark eyes, and not traslucent skin!   We LOVE the doll that is the highest seller in Nigeria, for example – called the Queen of Africa.  Check it out here. Now THAT’s our kind of doll!   What we like about it mainly, is that it is reflective of the women in that region.  Fabulous.   But also great to have such dolls in places like Australia, where young kids can see that dolls (and people), come in all colours!

3.  What’s wrong with Normal? We don’t really buy into a doll that has a body shape that, statistically speaking, fewer than 1 in 100,000 adult women would have.  But one initiative that we DO like is the new “Normal Barbie”.  We think she looks great, and has average women’s proportions.  She is called the Lammily doll, and she just seems to make more sense.  Call us crazy.

4.  Or for something a little bit different: Finally, we personally don’t have any issues with ANY children playing with dolls.   Girls, boys, whatever.  It’s PLAY.  Imaginative play.  Which is a good thing.  Which is why we also don’t have any issues with this Transgender doll.  We seriously don’t think kids give a brass wazoo about whether their doll has “girl bits”, or “boy bits”.  The idea seems to cause the parents way more grief than the children!   So just on principle, we kinda like it!

Would love to hear about your thoughts on this issue!   (Oh, and for the record – yes – I played with Barbie when I was younger.  And no, I don’t feel overly psychologically damaged from doing so!  But it is nice that times have moved on, and we now have choices.  Choices are a good thing).

Written by Mar(k)

January 23, 2015 at 7:58 pm

The Tour du Mont Blanc – by foot or by bike!

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Greetings readers!   We received this fabulous 17 minute video yesterday from our friends Sander and Jan, a pair of Belgian men who we met in mid 2013 whilst we were hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe.   At the time, we were completing this classic hike, whilst they were just about to embark on the same trail, on mountain bikes!  We do get quite a few requests from some of our armchair traveler readers to post more about some of our travels, so this one is for all of you.   We hope you enjoy it, and hope you can pick us out on the last frames.   Our enduring memory of these guys is the witty repartee we had with them over a shared meal in a “hobbit styled” hostel that we were at.   We hope you enjoy their awesome video!

The Tour du Mont Blanc.  One of the classic hiking trails in Europe.

The Tour du Mont Blanc. One of the classic hiking trails in Europe.

Written by Mar(k)

April 15, 2014 at 6:12 pm

2011 in review

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Hi Everyone!   Just wanted to say THANK YOU for continuing to follow our volunteering adventures on our blog site!  We hope you continue to enjoy our stories throughout 2012….      Best wishes, from Mar(k) !!!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,300 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by Mar(k)

January 1, 2012 at 9:30 am

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Being grateful for the little things…

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Now that we are back in Australia, after our wonderful year as volunteers with AVI / VSO in Ghana, we thought we’d reflect a little bit about how this experience has changed us.   We’re not talking about really big picture, “DEEP” things…. but the little things that we do or think about differently, now that we are back in Australia.  Here are some things to come to mind:

How grateful we are for regular electricity and running water.  Both of these are “on demand” for us in Oz.   In Ghana, we considered ourselves very fortunate to have both; albeit somewhat intermittently.  In our one year there, losing electricity (called “lights out”) occurred on an almost daily basis;  sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes an hour or two, and sometimes for a day or two!  The longest run without electricity was 5 days, right at the start of our placement!  It was definitely an initiation by “fire”…. 

Water we lost about a handful of times; again, sometimes for a few hours, other times for a few days.  The issue is that you never knew how long it would be “finished” for.   So rationing the water you had became very important.

As a result of the above things, one of the things we now have is a new found respect for water.  So….  we are not ashamed to admit that we now abide by the “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” principle at home!   This results in a lot less flushes, saving a lot more water.  Every drop counts.

clean water - one thing we certainly don't take for granted anymore!

Also on the water theme, we have a container that we put under our shower to collect the water while it is “warming up”.   We then use that water on our garden outside, rather than let it go wasted down the drain!   This is also a luxury, as we did not have hot running water in Ghana.  

Another thing we regularly give thanks for is the way we do Laundry here.  All we have to do is load our front loading washing machine, press a button and voila!  clothes that are being washed for you!   In Ghana, we did all laundry by hand, which took a few hours every week – and was a tough upper body workout!  

Another area of thanks is for the ease of being able to eat well.  We used to fantasise in Ghana about eating at restaurants, but the reality is, we do not eat out all that often.  It is just so easy to get beautiful, fresh, healthy food at the grocery store, that we are more than happy to prepare it ourselves.  It is quick, easy and most cost effective!   We still love to go out, but we see it as a treat, rather than a regular occurrence!

One of our true delights - a great coffee!!! aahhhh..... bliss!

Good coffee!   We really did miss our regular pilgrimage to our favourite barista while we were away!   Although we had some plunger coffee that we rationed while we were in Ghana, it is still such a treat to go to one of our favourite coffee shops here and get our Cappuccino (Mark) and a Soy Flat White (Mar).   aaaaahhhhhhhh…. the little things.

Access to good medical facilities:  when Mar was sick, we ultimately ended up losing faith in the health service that was available to us.  We are so grateful that we can get quality medical care here in Australia, and have faith that the diagnosis that are made, are the appropriate ones….

Friends and Family:  we missed you guys!   It is great to be back and be able to catch up with the people who are near and dear to us!   And for that matter, we feel we still share a little part of us with our friends and family who are not so near to us in Perth – through sharing our thoughts and feelings on this blog!   So love going out to y’all…..

Our VSO Family while we were in Ghana!

The Thorsborne Trail – a hike of self-sufficiency!

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all packed up and ready to hit the ferry!

Jumping off the ferry at Ramsay Bay was exciting; my best mate Janet and I were off on yet another hiking adventure; the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island in Far North Queensland.  Although only 32 km in length, the walk is truly spectacular and has some tricky bits.  Many (if not most) people take 3 nights, 4 days to walk it; as this is our annual “catch up”, we opted for 6 nights and 6 days of walking (which mostly translated into six days of talking, laughing and eating!).  One of the delights of overnight hiking is the feeling of self-sufficiency;  you are completely self-contained, and can take pride in knowing that you have carried your food, shelter and clothing along with you for the duration of your trek.  Our various body parts were crying in agony after day one, which is usual for a hike; the kinks in the body usually get ironed out after the first night or two, and then it feels great to put on the pack every morning.

Part of the excitement on this particular hike for us was the crocodile experience!  Being “Croc Aware” was something we had to be, as several of the designated camp sites had croc warning signs placed at the entrance to the campsite!   I must confess we spent a few sleepless nights, when every sound of leaves rustling (probably a bush rat nearby) had us imagining being in the jaws of a hungry prehistoric beast within seconds!

Water in abundance, and the view wasn't too bad, neither!

Water was in abundance of this trail, which was quite a difference for me, coming from Western Australia, where it is common to have to carry water over long distances.  Here we had fresh water available at each campsite, and enjoyed the views of a few waterfalls (Zoe and Mulligan Falls) along the way.

Mother Nature’s presence was palpable, as we could still see the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi.  The rangers did a fantastic job of opening up the track again in early July, after being closed for months.  But on the first few days of our walk along the beaches, evidence of the power of the storm was clear; large pieces of driftwood strewn across the beach, competing for space with plastics, and other large pieces of detritus.  Still – it was a fantastic walk and one that any serious hiker should add to their “must do” list.

Written by Mar(k)

August 10, 2011 at 9:35 pm