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Australia 2014: Heading south in Western Australia

Australia, WA open road

Welcome back for another installment of the Great Australia Travelogue of 2014! For the next leg of our journey, we packed up our friends’ SUV and headed onto the open road, south through WA and toward the coast and countryside.

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joanna irl

Australia 2014: Arriving in Perth

Australia, Perth beach walk

The second leg of our journey took us to Perth in Western Australia, to meet up with old friends and see a different part of the country. Our first morning we got up and went for a walk along the beach, and a series of inlets and small lakes with lots of local birds.

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Australia 2014: Starting in Sydney

Australia, Sydney Haymarket

So I’m finally getting around to getting some of my photos from our trip to Australia up and realizing I have a lot of them…. Over 3,000 actually, but as it was a three week trip, I guess that’s not too bad really. At any rate, I’m going to begin with our first stop on the journey: a three night excursion in Sydney.

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Catching up on things and a quick Australia summary

Australia at the Opera House

So, Australia was absolutely fantastic! I had a lot of first-in-my-life experiences (including diving for the first–and second–time), visiting two world heritage sites, and meeting a long time friend for the first time face to face, plus other fun things like a Geek Girl Pen Pals Club tea party and all the local wildlife and…. Well, it’s going to take several posts, and I’ll get on top of things eventually, but you’ll have to be patient with me. It’s coming. And if you’d like to do what we did and see what we saw, I’ll make a list of the places photographed!

A quick summary in the meantime: I both started and ended the trip in Sydney, first with J and then with my folks, so there are quite a few photos of the ever-photogenic Opera House.

Continue reading “Catching up on things and a quick Australia summary”

joanna irl

Australia or bust!

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Hello!

I’ve been in Australia for the last two weeks but haven’t had much chance to really post anything simply because we’ve been so busy. Here are a few photos for now, with more to follow including a dailyish log when I have time to wort through all the photos. ^_^

 

In the meantime, why not check out my review of Muppets Most Wanted? Captain America will follow shortly, too.

 

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joanna irl

Philippines, Day 10… the extended edition?

So the last entry left us waiting at the airport. For an extra three hours. Keep in mind we’d already arrived the allotted two hours early. Yeah, you read that right– FIVE HOURS in a tiny airport. And we were supposed to have dinner during our layover in Manila.

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So here’s where being in the Philippines has its definite advantages: you can order pizza delivery to the security checkpoint… and then bring the pizzas on through!

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So there we were, scarfing pizzas, when our plane FINALLY arrived! We had already arranged to get shuttled immediately to the next plane, all of us assuming our luggage wouldn’t make it, and scrambled to get on board. The flight only lasted about an hour and a half, and we touched down with thirty minutes before the next flight… except our flight had departed early. We were STRANDED in the Manila airport, which is HUGE because it’s got FIVE massive terminals.

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After a time at the airport trying to get on another flight, we were told that it’d be at least a day and so we went to the most affordable safe hotel Compassion could book. It was described as “the utmost in modern Japanese efficiency” and when we got to the room…. PODS. Yes, we slept in stacked space pods! Each had its own light, outlet, and fan, with pull-down screens. Wild, huh?

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We did decide that the hallways looked like they were straight out of a horror flick, tough… CUE THE RUNNING!

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The next day, while some of the other leaders tried to arrange flights for us back to Hawaii, most of us hung out in the Mall of Asia, the largest mall in the Philippines. This is the main entrance. It had a ton of shops that were chains from the US (including a BUNCH from California), but some of the places were Asian, or even local. I needed a clean shirt, so I bought one at a Japanese store called Uniqlo.

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A bunch of us got manicures and pedicures because while the goods (i.e. clothes, shoes, etc) were basically the same price as at home, the services (nails!) were MUCH more affordable. So I got a $4 manicure.

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That night, four of us were able to get on a flight to Guam connecting to Honolulu. I took three of the kids with me and we left. I was like a horse for the barn by then. We made our flight, but the other 13 in the group had to spend another space pod night before getting routed through JAPAN and then finally home about 14 hours after we arrived. See that photo? I think we look pretty coherent considering everything we went through and the crazy lack of sleep for the three days previous.

So that was the end of my Philippines trip for this time. I made it home to San Diego the night before J and I had reservations to do something kind of awesome. But that’s a post for another day. ^_^

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joanna irl

Philippines, day 9… and the start of an odd adventure.

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Saturday morning, we found ourselves back at the Compassion project at Life Church for their Saturday program. The kids are split into classes based on their ages, and our group broke into smaller groups to visit them in their classes. These are the oldest kids, years nine and ten, who will graduate from high school next spring. In the Philippines, kids go to college at age 16, though they are phasing in a more “American” style, adding grades 11 and 12 to their curriculum over the next several years.

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The younger kids enjoyed games like pictionary and duck duck goose.

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One really cool thing that happened was that J and I started sponsoring a kid in the project there… and then I got to meet her! She’s six and her favorite color is pink. ^_^

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I gave her a ton of books, mostly about animals (hey, it’s ME after all) and art supplies with EXTRA crayons and we got to play and color together. ^_^ (We’re talking about favorite animals in this photo. She likes birds.)

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Aaaaand here we are smiling. She’s just too cute. I got to meet her mom, too, and learn all about her family.

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Here’s a pretty good group shot of all of the sponsors and kids in the project, plus a few extras in the back. Our church in Hawaii is partnered with that Compassion project and sponsors nearly all of the kids there.

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All too soon, it was time to go…

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There were lots of hugs and tears and photos and all of the things when you’re saying goodbye.

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And lots of silly. Lots and lots of silly.

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It was starting to rain again, and she didn’t want me to go. 😦

We got to the airport on time despite all of the long, hard goodbyes, went through customs, and settled at the gate to wait.

…and wait…

…and wait…

…and wait.

Our plane arrived THREE HOURS late from Manila, effectively missing our layover there, but we thought we would still maybe make our connection to Guam and the flight home…

To be continued… ~_^

joanna irl

Philippines, Day 8: the Underground River and Farewell Dinner

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So, it’s been a couple of weeks since I got back from the Philippines and a lot has happened since then, but I still want to do the last couple of entries about the trip. This one is from Friday, June 6, and is from our trip to the Underground River, one of the Natural Wonders of the World. Our tour was early in the morning and the light coming over the islands was beautiful.

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We took another outrigger boat from the dock around to a side of the island not easily accessible by foot. It was a short ride, but we passed some really cool rock formations before arriving at the landing beach.

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Once there, we got checked in and saw some of the native wildlife…

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We boarded canoes to take us into the river, which is inside a long cave full of bats and swallows. The only light came from the spotlights we carried on the boats. Because of that, I don’t have very many photos. Plus it was just about the same as last time.

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I did get to see more monitor lizards, though! They were even bigger than I remembered, and I made a point of getting better photos. ^_^

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It was fun for the group, especially after a long week.

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We got back on the outriggers, and returned us to the dock where we started, which also had a lot of shops and a restaurant, where we ate lunch in a treehouse. It was huge, and had enough tables for all of us, and the food was really good.

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We hung out at the beach for a little while after lunch, with some people playing in the water and some of us walking the length of the sand. I also got to take a nap in the shade, which was SO nice. I was pretty worn out by that point.

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That night we had our farewell dinner, hosted at the pastor’s house. It was pouring rain (hello, beginning of monsoon season!) and the power was out, so we squeezed into the main room in the dark, with plenty of candles to light the meal. We were even treated to some traditional Filipino dancing! Then, as we were starting our “formal” goodbyes (where we give each other little gifts and such, before the huge group hugs and crying later) the lights came back on. Yay!

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Here’s the whole group, except for me (since I’m taking the photo). ^_^ Our hosts had made the party “Hawaii” themed and even gave us leis! ^_^ Mine is now hanging by my front door.

We still had one more planned morning in the Philippines before heading back to Hawaii on Saturday night… but I’ll save that for the next entry because it entails an ADVENTURE.

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Philippines, days 5-7

This will have to be a compacted post. The last couple of days have been long and Internet has been patchy, so there hasn’t been time to do a full update.

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Tuesday, we spent an entire day at the beach with our group’s Compassion sponsor kids. Most of them had never been to the beach before, and it was so much fun to play with them in such a beautiful setting.

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We had a cookout on the beach for lunch. Walking down the beach afterwards, we discovered hundreds of star fish and had to stop for photos.

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Me, too. 🙂

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For dinner, we had a traditional style dinner “war” with all of the food piled in a long row along the table. The goal was to clear the spot in front of you first. I lost spectacularly.

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……………
Wednesday we headed south to a village that has no running water or electricity to do outreach.

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Some of us visited the local high school and elementary schools while others renovated and painted a daycare center.

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The kids were fascinated by us.

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At lunch, we went to a local river with a natural swimming pool. We ate rice wrapped in banana leaves, fish, and bananas, then had fresh coconuts for dessert.

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And, of course, a swim afterwards.

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After lunch we went to another presentation at the high school, where they gave awards to the top twelve students.

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…………..
Thursday (today), we went north to another village on the coast where the church is implementing organic gardening as an outreach tool. Organic produce provides more income for the farmers, but it also gives them better nutrition; until this new outreach, they only farmed rice and lived in debt from season to season.

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We visited their worm farms where they produce their own fertilizer compost.

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Then we headed to the rice fields to help tend an organic vegetable garden set behind a screen of trees.

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Most of the tiling and plowing is done with water buffalo.

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We planted pepper and bean seedlings, watered them, and then made little covers for them out of banana trunk pieces to keep the little plants from withering in the intense sun here.

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Not the most flattering photo ever, but all the kids rode the water buffalo (named Rosalinda), so I did, too. Here is proof.

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The Philippines is simply beautiful. There is no other word for it. After the morning of work, we were invited to the local beach to have our lunch and then relax until meeting the local high school later that afternoon.

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The local beach was almost empty but for us, and I took a nice, long walk along the shore before heading back to one of the little shelters for a much needed nap.

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Towards the end of our down time, it started to get overcast and by the time we were at the high school, it was pouring rain.

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We all packed into their outdoor auditorium just the same, and in less than thirty minutes, the rain cleared and everything became bright and sunny again. The high school students there seemed to really enjoy our visit, too.

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The thing that struck me most about the last couple of days is the generosity of the people. In each case, as we drove through the village, we were handed food to take along to our lunch. Even though these people don’t have much, they want to share. In the case of the farmers today, we took them groceries but they sent us home with four times that amount in produce for their gardens. It’s really amazing. Oh, and the fruit here is the best of any I’ve tasted. Mangoes every day is fine by me!

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joanna irl

Philippines Day 4: Kids and Controlled Chaos

It’s the tail end of Monday and I’m sitting on the balcony of the hostel in the warm night air. It’s been a long, full day, and our first with the Compassion project here.

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We started the day with meeting all of the primary school age kids at the project partnered with Life Church. They put on a play for us and dance presentations and we spent the entire morning with them. School starts next Monday, so we distributed school supplies and then we all ate lunch.

It was cool to see them so excited for the backpacks full of supplies. Schools here require that kids have all of their own supplies, including uniforms, and if they don’t, then they cannot attend school. Compassion provides all of that. And somehow about 200 kids got all of their school supplies in about ten minutes.

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All kids seem to love cameras and these were no exception. We took a ton of photos together, and our kids played with them. it got a little chaotic, but definitely broke the ice and they all had a great time just spending time together.

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We had lunch at the project and then went out for home visits with the sponsored kids in our group.

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The kids live in a variety of types of homes, some with wood and some with dirt floors. Being out of Manila, there is a little more space, but only a little. Some of the families have animals like chickens, but they all have very little. Some have small businesses based out of their one or two room homes, and many have little to no income. Compassion makes a huge difference in their lives, not just for the sponsored kid, but for the whole family.

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In the evening, we had dinner with students who are part of Compassion’s Leadership Development Program, or LDP. They are sponsored a a rate about ten times the childhood program so that they can attend college. They are the top students coming out of the Compassion program and in many places around the world are changing their countries by serving in politics, teaching, becoming doctors, etc. It was really cool to meet the seven from Palawan.

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Tomorrow we’re spending a day at the beach with the kids sponsored by people in our group. It should be a fun day, and I’m looking forward to getting out on the water. The islands here are so beautiful.