Kia Ora from Backpack Australia & New Zealand

G’Day and Kia Ora from Air New Zealand Flight 008,

“We travel not to escape life, but for life to not escape us”- Sistle Maher

It’s wild to think about all we’ve done in such a short amount of time. As we fly at 35,000 feet across the pacific the mind begins to wander. I remember back to the day we touched down in Auckland, 18 new faces eager to embrace the adventures ahead. It takes guts, ambition and, more than anything, a sense of adventure to travel halfway across the world with people you don’t know to explore countries unfamiliar to oneself.

It’s 23 days later, and any fears have been replaced with admiration. Last night, we sat around the lagoon pool at our Cairns hotel and shared a bit about our experiences and the journey. One by one, we shared our thanks to our fellow travelers and reflected back on a few moments that brought smiles to our face. Some shared stories that brought on laughter, others shared sentimental moments that highlighted our appreciation for one another, but one thing was clear, nobody was at a lack of words to show respect for our fellow travelers… a truly special evening to an end to an incredible journey.

While the last night was one to stick in our minds, it only seems appropriate to reflect on our time in Cairns first…

After our domestic flight from Sydney to Cairns, we promptly collected our bags and drove to the tablelands with our outback guide Loz. Windy roads and hills followed as we drove deeper into the oldest rainforest in the world. Upon arrival at our lodge, we quickly reflected on the natural and stunning lifestyle of those in rural Australia. Our time in the Australian tablelands was filled with native tours that presented the opportunity to swim in waterfalls and taste the food of the land. A few brave souls found a secret cave behind the cascading falls of Milla Milla while others recreated the hair toss of an herbal essence commercial scene in the pristine pools below.

The days were long, but memorable as we paddled through the mist and darkness in a serene night canoe adventure spotting wildlife such as possums, water dragons and wallaby. With only the stars to guide and a few torches on our heads we paddled through the night viewing some of the most unique Australian wildlife native to the area.

After returning back to the coast, it’s hard to tell if it was the warmth of our friendships or the warm sea breeze that had the group feeling a sense of euphoria. Our final days in Cairns were filled with laughter, great food and new experiences as we walked about this eclectic ocean-side town. From SCUBA diving to cable skiing the smiles were endless and the bond of family grew stronger with each passing day.

Two can create a bond, but 18 have created a family. We fly across the pacific with a sense of accomplishment. Not only for the adventures we’ve conquered but for the people that will remain in our hearts forever. A few tears come to our eyes as we think about how we’ll spread out across north America upon landing, not sure of when we’ll see our new family members next. We’ll surely share photos, keep in touch via the internet and chat via social media, for it’s not over, you may be able to separate the pieces of this family puzzle, but time will never break the bond we’ve created on our adventures in New Zealand and Australia.

Thank you for following along our adventures,

The Westcoast Blogger

Australia

Are you prepared for an amazing experience? Check out our Australia and New Zealand tour for high school students and get ready to have a thrilling adventure.

Finding Beauty in the Small Things – Costa Rica Community Service

Buenos Dias from Costa Rica!

We’ve had an amazing time traveling throughout Costa Rica and are excited to share some of the in’s and out’s of our trip with you!  We arrived in Costa Rica, went through customs (alongside a local Costa Rican top level club soccer team…not a big deal) and then made our way to our hotel. The hotel is beautiful, tucked in between the Cordillera Talamanca mountains of San Jose. Once at the hotel, we gathered as a group for our first ever team meeting, where we learned about Costa Rica and “Pura Vida”.  In Costa Rica, “Pura Vida” translates literally as “pure life,” but for the people here (the Ticos, as they call themselves) it means so much more. “Pura Vida” means to appreciate what you have, to live life to the fullest, and to generally just enjoy the world around you! We embraced this mentality as we headed to sleep and prepared for our first push out of our comfort zones in the morning.

IMG_5836

Day Two was white water rafting day! We went rafting on the Pacuare River, which we were told was ranked a top five white water rafting destination IN THE WORLD. It did not disappoint! The trip took about three hours, as we rafted anywhere between class 2 and class 4+ rapids. The trip even included a lunch that was freshly made by our rafting guides, who were also local to Costa Rica, and included some of the most delicious pineapple any of us have ever had. As we made our way through the beautiful rainforests of Costa Rica, serenaded by the Cicadas up in the trees, you could tell that this group was growing closer together by the minute. We had a blast, but in the back of our minds, we knew the real reason that we had traveled down here was just about to begin.

Days Three through Five were service days. Our community service took place in a community called La Carpio, a neighborhood of San Jose. There, we worked with the Costa Rica Humanitarian Foundation. We heard from the foundation’s leader, who told us to “be ready” to do some really awesome work. La Carpio is an extremely poor community located in San Jose. To give an idea of the conditions that the people here live in – we were asked to play soccer with the kids. There was no field, so we played in the street. We were asked to paint houses. We painted aluminum “fences” that served as walls for their homes. We were asked to dig a walkway through a hill so that we could pour in cement so that the hill would not fall on a woman’s home. Okay, that one was actually very accurate. It was unbelievable to see our trip members’ reactions to these conditions – they embraced their surroundings and were eager to help.

IMG_3274

Our TM’s dove right into this work, doing everything imaginable – painting, coloring, digging, playing, donating, all with no regard for any of their personal things. It was fine that their shirts got paint on them, or that their shoes may have gotten a little scuffed up. Why? While our TM’s have done great work, we have all been inspired to do this work by the people who live in La Carpio. The people who live there have so little, but are pleased by so much. The TM’s LOVED playing soccer with the children in the street; the adults were so grateful for us just to be there, and any work that we did was just an added bonus. We did so much good work, and it was so gratifying to see the finished product and all that we had accomplished over the course of our three days there. As a group, we reflected and came to the following conclusion: our time in La Carpio was life-changing, showing us the beauty in the simplest things that life can provide us.

We will close this blog in true Costa Rican fashion, by saying…

Pura Vida y Hasta Luego,

The Westcoast Blogger

 

Our Spirits Can’t Crumble in the Amazon Jungle! – Ecuador & the Galapagos Community Service

What a great adventure! After stops in Latacunga and the Amazon rainforest, we’ve seen spider monkeys, toucans, and ocelots, climbed a volcano, and tubed down one of the Amazon’s tributaries. Hard to believe it’s only been five days since we left Quito! Our latest adventures began in the beautiful city of Latacunga, where our hotel had a breathtaking view of the massive volcano Cotopaxi. Not content with […]

The Gift of Giving – Costa Rica Community Service

We can’t believe that we’re already halfway into our trip, and we are loving our time here in Costa Rica! It’s been incredible so far and the whole team seems to be falling further and further in love with this little piece of land that translates to “Rich Coast” in English. Our time in Tamarindo […]

An Amazon Adventure

Four days and so many adventures ago, we arrived by plane, bus, and boat to our lodge on the Tambopata River in the Amazon jungle! Our service projects planting yuca at an organic community farm and helping beautify a local kindergarten brought us in touch with the Ese-Eja indigenous community, which has lived in the […]