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Jun 2009

Pirates in Zambia

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

Finally on Monday the strike finished and things seem to be getting back to normal. Last week was still seriously disrupted. At Dambwa school there were hundreds of pupils and only a handful of staff. The kids had turned up to just to see if anyone would teach them. Our usual 30 children in grade 6 turned into nearly 100!! It was pure chaos but everyone had real fun. Most of the children went home covered in glitter; even the boys want sparkles in their hair! The head teacher thanked us several times for our presence…it felt like we were extremely welcome.
This week has been dominated by divers, self portraits, lion masks and pirate costumes! We haven’t found any Zambian yet who knows what a pirate is, even the teachers were intrigued, but once the kids read “The Pirate Kitty” they are all extremely excited about making eye patches and pirate hats! Stimulating their imaginations and getting them to think independently is what our sessions are about.
At Cowboy Cliffs we were treated to a lesson in traditional Zambian dance. The children were keen to show us what to do but then it was our turn to move to the rhythm of the drums. It’s pretty hard to dance when you are surrounded by 60 clapping 5 and 6 year olds and you can’t stop laughing. It was a fantastic morning with the product of some interesting videos and photos.
Our volunteer librarian has befriended the workers at the local library and they came and paid the Bookbus a visit. The Livingstone library does not have a children’s section and they were amazed to see the colourful books we have on board. Today 3 of the library students have come to join the volunteers and sit in on some of our sessions, this is good interaction with the local community.
Bungee jumps, seeing a herd of wild elephants crossing the river whilst watching sunset on the banks of the Zambezi, (taking care not to be eaten by crocodiles) and visits to Victoria Falls, coming home drenched with spray are some of the amaZing things we have been up to in our spare time.

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Jun 2009

Beach and Amazon

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

It has been so so long since I last wrote that I´ll appologise in advance for not being able to do all the things we´ve done justice. So much has happened since I last wrote about Cotopaxi, Otovalo and Quito, I can barely remember. Bullet points might come out at somepoint. I´m a bit hungover today after arguably the best night out as of yet last night. There was a fiesta on the beach for the town. Giant speakers, dancers on a stage and the whole town was salsaing on the beach. We swam, got up on stage momentarily (before being shunned off) to dance infront of the population of Puerto Lopez and generally had an amazing night. Suffering today though.

So… quick and terrible recap of the past couple of weeks…

Tena: 2 Weeks working on the Book Bus in the Amazon

•We headed to Tena, a town in the heart of the Amazon for 2 weeks and volunteered on the Book Bus. The bus is so cool (I´ll try to upload a stolen photo – new camera is the worst thing I´ve ever seen so don´t have my own) it´s illustrated by Quentin Blake no less and has tables and what not. Anyways we took the bus to village schools and read to the children (in dodgy Spanish) to try to get them interested in books. We´d then do an activity with them like getting them to draw their favourite character from the book we´d read (if they could understand it!) or get them to use random plants in a collage. Normally, if we had energy, we´d play with them for a while and get uber sweaty in the intense heat. Was fun and rewarding but so, so tiring too. After the first couple of days when we put loadsa energy into the playing part, we all made a pact to calm it down to save us from complete exhaustion.

•In the afternoons we either went back to school to teach English (which to be honest was a complete failure), had a free afternoon to skype and sunbathe or went on a little excursion. We spent a couple of afternoons swimming in the Amazon with kids or without and marvalling at the nature around us. We went to a couple of nature reserves and saw ossolots (like a mini lepord), parrots, monkeys, snakes – urgh – turtles and cool stuff. Around some of the towns there are wild monkeys just chilling out, stealing food and playing all over the place. Unfortunately there are also snakes all over the place too and kids holding them. I freaked out a bit, Emily too but the rest of the group held giant boas round their necks and smiled as if this was completely normal…. Another afternoon we got a tour of the jungly part with a local guy and he made me into an Amazon Princess with a dress made entirely of natural planty twiggy things. A pretty good look…. He showed us loads of other stuff and we were amazed at all of the things he could do with single leaves and what not. Unfortunately I was bit ill and didn´t get to see everything but sounds like it was awesome.

•Best day so far has probably been the middle Saturday in Tena when we went rafting. We spent the whole day in the boats with a quick stop for lunch and games, going down rapids, singing songs and pushing eachother in. Our boat had such a laugh, our guy leader person was so chilled out (you knew you had to paddle hard if he started screaming FORWRD which he did do a couple of times) though Emily and I did despair at the amount of songs the boys and Matilda sang from disney or high school musical. We tried to introduce rap but were outnumbered. I feel out in the rapids which was momentarily really scarey and could have so easily been avoided if Darren had bothered to turn around, but it turned out to be pretty fun bobbing around in the waves.

•We´ve been cooking ourselves for the past 3 weeks which has a) made me fat and b) been such good fun. The first week I cooked with Matilda which turned out to be so stressful when the power cut, we bought cabbage instead of lettuce, our meal was 45 mins late and basically raw and we had to go out to drown our sorrows afterwards. Cooked with Daryl the next week and had a complete opposite experience. We were so chilled out and made a couple of reasonably yummy meals. Everyone makes incredible puddings though and my short body can´t cope so the pounds are piling on…. Plus the hair is uncontrolable in the humidity and I look like a short fatty with an afro.
There´s probably loads more to say about Tena and venture co-ers if you can think of anything I´ve missed let me know and I´ll add it in or you can just write it in a comment for all to see.

Volunteer Phase 2: Puerto Lopez – coastal town

•We´re now in Puerto Lopez, a town right on the beach. We´re staying in a purpose built house which is really cool but our room is so cramped. Packing is going to be a nightmare. Sharing with Matilda, Amanda and Emily and all of our stuff in spread across the minimal floor spacing. It´s quite terrible! But the house is cool, we have started to paint it and put our hand prints on the walls (like in the attic at home) so it´s looking gurd!

•The projects have been fairly random actually. I usually volunteer to continue with the book bus in the mornings and then help out with the more manual stuff in the afternoons. So far we´ve painted a library, paved a path with gravel in the national park and cleared a museum garden. Quite an odd mix really. When we were path paving we found a sulphur (smelly) lagoon and took a break swimming and covering ourselves with mud. Was a good laugh and there is photographic evidence somewhere.

•In any free time we´ve been basically just relaxing on the beach and trying to improve the tans. We werea bit worried when we first arrived because it was raining non stop but it cleared up later in the week and now weve got epic sunshine and tanning opportunities. The first day we swam quite far out and a couple of us got stung by jelly fish which was freaky. Felt like being electrocuted so have been a bit scared to properly swim again.

•We did however go skinny dipping the other night which was the funniest thing so far. We stripped off and legged it into the sea in the pitch black and could barely talk for laughing so much. We were very impressed that the boys actually agreed to do it because they´ve never done anything like it in Singapore where even wearing a bikini is a wierd thing to do in public.
All in all the trip is going amazingly. We´re all getting on so well and it´s so interesting because the diversity in the group is pretty amazing so everyday we find different things to marvel at. Emily, who´s American, is constantly amazed at some of our expressions and we are at the boys and their Singaporian slang. We´ve all been to different types of schools and have different ways of life and what not. The schools that Matilda, Dora and Kate went to are so different to good old Adams they boarded, had crazy uniforms and had to go to chapel every week and do prayers and hymns and stuff every day and they had prep and stuff too. and curfews. crazy stuff… So interesting to discuss though!

Right I´ve been on here way too long and am missing out on the sun. Tomorrow we are headed to a little island to do more work which should be interesting as apparently there is like only 1 building and not much to do. But should be cool to just chill out and be forced not to communicate.

Tis all for now… I´ll try to write again a bit sooner next time. muchos love x

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Jun 2009

Bonfires, Thunder and Lunar Rainbows!

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

The strikes are continuing and are expanding to all walks of Zambian life, but the bus keeps rolling out to the schools to find the super keen children waiting for us. That was until today… when a huge thunderstorm in the night, turned the sandy roads to quicksand!! This made driving the bus an impossibility and made camping and outdoor cooking……interesting! All Zambians seem shocked at the fact it has rained, something almost unheard of in June. We spent the day categorising books and getting messy making papier mache! Fingers crossed for bright blue sky tomorrow!
Thursday at Dambwa we found many more children than last week, most of them told us they had turned up to school, knowing there were no teachers but hoping that the Bookbus would show! Cat masks, magic wands and a huge group photo all materialised during the fantastic day!
Tuesday at Nakatindi, under threatening black clouds and with a big drop in temperature, the kids, usually so calm, seemed intent on running amok, pretty easy when there are no teachers!! They started large bonfires, to keep themselves warm but then proceeded to jump over the huge licking flames in some kind of bizarre game! Health and safety is non-existent! When you tell them it’s dangerous they look at you like you are some strange being!! They continued to claim it couldn’t rain, even with the rumble of thunder in the distance. Only when the first huge spots began to fall did they all run for cover.
Maybe the full moon could explain the kids’ crazy behaviour! It certainly causes the lunar rainbow at Victoria Falls we witnessed on Saturday night. It was an amaZing spectacle but quite eerie at the same time to see a ghostly rainbow in the middle of the night. Definitely an unusual “must see”. The whole group also indulged in another sunset cruise on the Zambezi!

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Jun 2009

Strikes, Jigsaw Riots and Sunset Football

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

Another week and the teachers are still on strike, but this does not affect the enthusiasm of our pupils, every school we visit, whether there are teachers present or not we find kids wanting to learn. A poignant moment yesterday was when I and another volunteer walked into a small straw and mud classroom at Nakatindi community school which we expected to be empty to be confronted by 40 teacher-less grade 5 children sitting quietly who erupted into shouts of “Teach us something madam!” That wouldn’t happen in the UK!!
Later the same day a group of grade 7 boys offered to show us around their village compound. It was real insight into the type of homes these children come from…mud and straw huts with no electricity or running water, but everybody, whatever age, is always ready with a wave and a smile. We picked up some very fresh vegetables for our dinner, which the children made sure we got at fantastic local prices!
Friday mornings we spend at a wonderful preschool with 90 children set up by the determination of one man, Cowboy Cliff, who finances it entirely with his bicycle tour business. The children are really cute but a real handful sometimes! This week we almost started a riot with some jigsaw books we brought, every child wanted the pictures of lions and elephants and no one was interested in the pandas!! However all differences were soon forgotten with some games of musical bumps, the music man song and the now legendry Bookbus anthem of “Peel Banana!!”
This weekend some of the group went on a camping trip to Botswana, where they had an amazing time. The rest of us went jet boating on the Zambezi, although the activity itself was fantastic, the journey there and back was the highlight. We passed through entire villages of mud and straw huts, which seemed untouched by modern Livingstone, merely 30 minutes away. On the way home we stopped for a game of football with locals. We played with an amazing multi-coloured sunset backdrop until bad light stopped play. It was a real pleasure to talk to the children who were all really keen to practice their English on their unexpected guests!!

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May 2009

So far on the Book Bus

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

So 2 weeks into my life on the Bookbus and here I am sitting on the Bus at Linda Community school surrounded by the sounds of kids in class singing and others laughing and playing and the everyday lives of Zambians passing by on the street. The sun is high and the sky is brilliant blue! The volunteers are sitting on their mats with their groups of grade 5s doing a variety of activities from acting, singing, drawing and reading! Everyone is smiling!!
Our week has been disrupted by public holidays and teachers strikes but wherever we go we find kids willing to learn and with a real enthusiasm for our books!! The holiday day we used to give the bus a thorough clean and tidy and to decorate it with pictures drawn by the kids(move over Quentin!!), postcards and posters! The community schools are unaffected by the strikes so that is why I find myself at our Monday school on Wednesday!
The Zambian people are so laid back and friendly and always ready with a hello and smile for the “m’zungos” in their yellow t-shirts! We are quite a fixture wandering around town in the afternoons. Bright yellow is not the colour to wear if you want to blend in!!!
Life at camp is everyone mucking in with the cooking and cleaning and laughing about the most random things. At the moment we are trying to rework the Elvis song “in the ghetto” into a Bookbus anthem of “in the grotto”!! (That’s the name of our campsite!!) Every so often we will take a night off and enjoy some type of activity, last week it was a sunset cruise, tonight it is Champion League final…African style in the local cinema…should be an experience!

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Feb 2009

Trekking in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Posted by / in South America /

The approach to the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is on the gravel roads that link one side of Patagonia to the other. Vehicles throw up a cloud of dust that leave a wake as if travelling through water. We spotted rheas (Patagonian ostriches), guanacos, (wild llamas) and a mighty condor drifting effortlessly across the wide open skies above the horizon. The great granite massif that forms the “Torres” is the centre piece to one of nature’s most stunning landscapes. Three “towers” and several aptly named “horns” soar over 2500m high above the surrounding hills, this place is all about scale, and here we’re talking big scale that’s served in quantity!

Our plan was to trek the “W” route following the 3 valleys that lead, from left to right, to the Torres base camp, the “British” base camp and Grey Glacier. We planned a route that would take 6 days with a mixture of laden and unladen walking. The group split into 3 person tent teams and procured supplies according to the food budget and the amount of weight they were prepared to carry. The walk to the Torres Base Camp was our warm-up walk which, 6 hours later, had done the warm-up and much more. After breakfast on the following morning we re-grouped and headed of to Campamiento Italiano at the head of Valle Frances.

We walked up Valley Frances to Campamiento Britanica from where had stunning views around the amphi-theatre-like bowl in the centre of the massif. Walking laden can be a challenge and our walk to Campamiento “Pehoe” proved the resolve of the group. All made it with time and weight to space.

Our walk to Glacier Grey was into the teeth a mighty gale. The weather until now had been hot, sunny and dry; today we got cool, cloudy and only slightly damp – 4 seasons in one day is the catch-phrase around here! Our travails were rewarded with fantastic views of the glacier with its blue tinges and imposing scale. Huge chunks the size of office blocks peeled of the face of the glacier creating a huge wave and a round of applause from the spectators. We returned to the camp with the ind on our backs and arrived in good time to prepare the evening meal. During the final day’s walk-out, I suspect that more than just one of us was sad to be leaving the park as we walked. A great 6 days for all!

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Jan 2009

The Salar de Uyuni

Posted by / in South America /

Bolivia southern borders with Argentina and Chile are reached by crossing the vast Uyuni salt flats known locally as the “Salar de Uyuni”. This journey shouldn’t be taken lightly; just getting to the start point involves a rough 5 hour bus trip over unmade roads from the “Silver City” of Potosi. The town of Uyuni has a wild west feel to it, it sits on a dusty and windswept plain bordered on one side by the Andes and on the other by a vast salt pan that stretches to the horizon – whichever way you go involves adventure and not a little hardship.

Patagonia Venture 26 arrived in Uyuni on 3rd January 2009 and after making the necessary preparations climbed into a pair of hefty Toyota Landcruiser 4WD station wagons that were to become home for the next 3 days. The first day took us over a flooded salt flat that reflected the views mirage fashion with perfect clarity. The wide open spaces at this altitude provide the most incredible visibility and the distant volcanoes seemingly floated on the horizon.

An ancient graveyard of rusting trains was like a playgound for grown ups and re-enactments of scenes from John Wayne to Indiana Jones were played before we continued across high desert to our fist overnight stop in a collection of mud huts. Day 2 brought us to flamingo filled lakes, Dali-esque rocked shaped by nature and a pink lake called lagna Colorada. By day, this part of the world can be scorching hot under the high altitude sun, by night the temperature can drop to -25C. With such a range of climate we were forever adding and subtracting layers to remain comfortable. The colours of the landscape blend into one another from blue to purple to orange to red creating a never-ending overload of scenery.

We arrived at the Chile border satisfied that this trip could never be erased from our memories. The dusty and bumpy roads had taken us to a place that is surely unique on our planet. Looking into to Chile we saw a ribbon of tarmac that would lead to the Atacama desert and the start of our next adventure

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Dec 2008

Did you know?

Posted by / in frontpage, South America /

Guinea pig or “cuy” is a traditional dish in the Andean region of Peru and Ecuador. The taste is compared to rabbit, thought delicious, and though difficult to accept for people in other countries who regard guinea pigs as pets, the cuy is a staple of Andean cuisine. They are called “cuy” for the sound they make cuy, cuy.

The cuy has a place in pre-Colombian Inca tradition. Consumed only by the nobility or used as a sacrifice and a means of foretelling the future via the entrails, there is a long History of the Guinea Pig (Cavia porcellus) in South America.

Cuys are today raised commercially and form a nutritious part of the Andean diet. An important part of the Novoandina cuisine, cuys are prepared in varipus ways according to region, but in Peru, they are usually served with potatoes or rice and a savory, spicy sauce. In the Huancayo region, the cuy is preferred fried with a sauce of pepper and achiote. In Arequipa, it is prepared baked as cuy chaktado and in Cuzco, it is baked whole, as a small suckiling pig, with a hot pepper in its mouth. In Huanuco, Tacna and Cajamarca, the preference is also for friend cuy.

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