A weekend in Ooty

Ooty, known as Queen of the Hills is famous for its cooler weather and beautiful views. We’ve visited twice and both of our trips have been a unique experience for us as we have friends there who warmly welcome us into there home. This meant a break from Trip Advisor reviews for the best hotel deals and instead we could focus on the really important stuff … exploring!

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We recently stayed in Ooty during the Easter weekend so it was significantly busier than usual but what a wonderful weekend it was. First stop was Ooty Lake as we took a tuk tuk through the hills on a sprightly sunny day towards the still waters.

We hired a pedal boat for an hour and once pulling away from the first time boaters and upon reaching the far end of the lake we felt an overwhelming sense of serenity as we took in the beautiful views. The only thing missing was a cool beer to go with that sea breeze, or lake breeze as it were in this case. It is 160 rupees for a 2 seater boat for 30 minutes, you’re also required to leave a depsosit, which you can claim back if you’re within your time.

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The whole area around the lake is full of great little food stalls and you can’t visit without stopping for a spring potato. Although the shops and stalls detract from what the lake once was it is still kept clean and in good taste, and we actually quite enjoyed the holidaymaker feel it has to it.

The Botanical Gardens were next on our list of places to visit however they were full of picnic goers. There was little room to sit and relax until getting to the high end of the hills so we would recommend going at a less busy time than Easter weekend! This wasn’t a problem for us though as we enjoyed strolling through this picture of natural beauty.

Dodbetta view point is situated just outside of Ooty but was recommended to us as a must see so we gave it a go. Travelling up through the mountains we bumped into a giant wild dear crossing the road. The tuk tuk driver screamed at us to take a photo as they are extremely rare to see in Ooty but unfortunately the best we got was strictly rear end focussed!

Once again the downside to our experience was the sheer number of tourists taking a break from their busy lives during the Easter weekend. After walking through a parade of stalls selling everything from hats and scarves to permanent tattoos we reached the summit. The view itself was good but not great and unfortunately there was just far too much litter scattered around. We’re sure this place is usually kept neat and litter free but the volume of people meant the authorities could not enforce rules as usual. We would still recommend you visit it if you have time but try a weekday instead!

If you want to know the real Ooty we would suggest taking a walk into the town, meeting the people and exploring the homemade chocolate shops. Being much cooler than most places in India you can enjoy a stroll through the streets without the hassle of the unrelenting heat.

Back in 2015 during our first trip we also took a ride on the Toy Train. If you have time we would definitely recommend it, the slow speed and gorgeous views really allow you some time to relax, however make sure you book tickets in advance as the train gets full pretty quickly. Somewhere else we were lucky enough to have dinner at was The Ooty Club, rumour has it that this is where snooker was first invented! When you step into the club it is like going back in time and you are completely in awe everywhere you look. Unfortunately you can only enter with a member so if you want to visit, we suggest you make some very good friends!

We love Ooty for its climate and uniqueness. Although situated in the heart of India the heritage of once being ruled by the British East India Company is still evident to its core and that blend of British/India is balanced just right in this uniquely mountainous town.

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Volunteering isn’t easy

Something we’ve seen with lots of bloggers and are guilty of ourselves is only sharing the good parts of volunteering… Those unforgettable moments or cute selfies with the kids.

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The truth is volunteering isn’t easy and can be really tough. Of course the good bits are incredible and it’s natural to share these moments with family and friends but you tend to keep the bad bits to yourself, it’s easier that way. It’s hard to explain but you feel if you share your negative experiences that you are letting yourself down.

We’ve volunteered several times internationally and each experience has had its difficulties. We’ve decided to share some of our hard days with you and how we’ve overcome them. If you’re considering volunteering abroad it’s good to know what you’re letting yourself in for!

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Firstly prepare yourself for very basic accommodation with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, little sleep, no fans or AC, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be a little daunting, when volunteering you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so make sure you do plenty of research into local customs before your arrival. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place.

In Vietnam and Cambodia we experienced extreme language barriers. We struggled enormously, particularly in Cambodia where the children were not very well behaved. Teaching classes of 30+ students that do not even understand ‘sit down’ was frankly a nightmare! We quickly realised we couldn’t improvise and had to spend time planning for each class. Using pictures was very helpful so we spent the nights hand drawing in preparation for the next day. Action songs are also great to keep the small children occupied whilst engaging them in learning English. One thing for sure is don’t assume the children will know basic English, especially in the poorer communities because… they don’t! There will also be very few facilities so pack what teaching materials you can as it will make your life a lot easier.

In the Philippines we experienced extreme poverty. On the daily commute to our volunteer placement we saw so many street children that we wanted to help, but what could we do? We couldn’t just walk past and found giving the children food was a great way to help. We often bought snacks for them to eat and always took away any food we had left over in restaurants to give out. Also after days of deliberating we started talking to them. They are children after all and much of their day is spent begging or sitting on the streets bored. Taking the time to chat and play simple games we soon had them laughing and although the simplest thing, a smile sometimes makes everything feel better.

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We’re currently at Our Home Community Orphanage in India. It’s our third time volunteering here but this time we are spending almost three months living at the orphanage. It has exposed us to their everyday life and the real struggles they face each day that you just wouldn’t know about from visiting for a few days.

The days are long and hot, especially now it is the summer holidays. The children wake up very early, some at 4:45am and do not sleep until after 10pm. Previously we worked in London and without our daily commutes and working hours we realise how much time there is in a day. With limited resources there is only so much you can do and quite often we find ourselves looking for something new to do with the kids but without the energy to do it because of the heat.

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Being with children 24/7 is also pretty tough. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely adore them but anyone with or around children at home will know this themselves, sometimes you need a break especially when it’s 42 kids you’re trying to occupy! We have found ourselves missing adult company, family, friends and ‘normal’ things that we do at home. It’s a huge lifestyle change that we’ve had to adjust too.

The lack of water in Wayanad at the moment is a big problem, being here in the height of summer means extreme water rationing. We are experiencing a drought and often have not had water for two or three days so no flushing the toilet after a number two, no showers after sweating all day … there’s nothing worse right? Wrong. This is the children’s drinking water so there’s us upset we can’t shower whilst the children are thirsty which makes us feel even worse. As well as the water the electricity also comes and goes as it pleases, usually at night so food cannot be prepared and dinner can be very late.

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This brings us on to money issues. Living at the orphanage we’re exposed to the day to day money stresses they endure and some days all they have to eat is boiled rice. We don’t even eat rice at home so having that as the only food option is tough and we spend nights dreaming of Pizza Hut takeouts!

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Spending so much time with the children we have formed some really strong relationships. It is only natural that they feel that they can open up to us and although we’ve never asked them questions, a few have told us about their past experiences and how they came to be at the orphanage. Sitting listening to some of the horror stories they have been through is absolutely heartbreaking and probably the hardest part of all. We’ve sat holding back the tears whilst they have opened their hearts to us. All we want to do is cuddle and protect them from ever being hurt again and take away their painful memories. These stories just play over and over in our minds and we have spent a few nights sobbing at the thought of what they have been through.

Finally, saying goodbye. Everywhere we have volunteered it’s always been tough saying an emotional goodbye to the children we’ve formed bonds with but Our Home is completely different, these children are our family. The past two times we’ve left have been hard enough, we dread to think how we’re going to leave them this time.

So how do we overcome these difficulties? We do what the children do and get on with it. You never hear them moaning “there’s no water” “I don’t want rice” “I’m bored” they are our biggest inspiration and motivation to get through the hard parts. Each day is a new start and we always find if we’ve had a bad day after a sleep we wake up feeling better and a positive attitude can change anything. Remember this when you’re feeling low because coming home is just as hard if not harder. You miss everything you hated, you find it so hard eating the pizza you wanted because you’re thinking of the children eating their rice and all of a sudden your ‘normal’ isn’t so normal anymore.

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Our biggest advice would be to enjoy every single minute of it. Volunteering is an amazing, life changing experience despite the fact it isn’t easy. Accept all of the bad parts and try to enjoy them the best you can, remember why you’re there. Don’t pretend to yourself and others that everything is always okay, it’s not and that’s what makes your journey. Express how you’re feeling and don’t bottle up those hard parts, embrace them.

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Life brings tears, smiles and memories. The tears dry, the smiles fade, but the memories last forever.

A day at the beach

07/04/17 was an incredibly magical day for us and a memory that will last forever. Whilst staying at Our Home we decided that we wanted to do a day trip with the children during their summer holidays and agreed that going to the beach was the best idea.

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We hired a tourist coach to take all of the children from Our Home to Kannur beach, about four hours away. For some of them it was their first time taking a road trip and had never before seen the sand and sea. The week leading up to the trip was full of anticipation as the kids couldn’t talk about anything else. All sorts of rumours started flying around and the girls came to us one day with worried expressions on their little faces telling us that the boys said if they swam in the sea their hair would fall out. We couldn’t help but laugh!

The day before quickly came around and the excitement was indescribable! In the evening the children packed their bags, brushed their teeth and were ready for bed nice and early, although we doubt they got much sleep! The journey started at 4:30am and we were hoping to get a few more zzz’s on the coach but there was no chance of that. As soon as we’d boarded the music was on, the disco lights were flashing and the kids were going crazy! It was amazing to see how much energy they had and how happy they were at the start of the day.

45 minutes later the partying slowed down and the travel sickness begun… when we first got on the bus the older boys handed out plastic bags. We thought this was for rubbish and considering we’re in India this was a delight to see. Very quickly we had nine children throwing up and we soon realised that this is what the bags were for. The remaining three hours were filled with a mixture of dancing, sickness and sleeping.

When we pulled up their faces were a picture and as we had hoped Kannur happened to be a beautiful and clean beach. All of a sudden it was rush rush rush, all systems go and they were all pushing to get off the bus they loved so much and never wanted to leave just minutes before. They played literally ALL day on the beach. Building sandcastles, burying each other, playing football, chasing each other and swimming. It was so emotional and overwhelming. Some of the little ones were afraid of the sea to start with but by the end of the day they didn’t want to leave and most of the boys were confident to give swimming under the waves a good go. For lunch we ate fried fish and rice and we’ve never seen them eat so fast so they could dive right back into the waters.

We left the beach by sunset to begin partying on the bus again but this time it was H who had the travel sickness. We were stuck in traffic and the journey took nearly seven hours but by midnight when we arrived home the children were all sleeping soundly with sand in their hair and smiles on their faces. A day we will cherish forever.