Friday, January 25, 2013

Little Gems - Canada 1st Edition

I serendipitously managed to land myself in Guelph - Canada's folk music capital- for my University exchange. By now you must have realised I like to be a music-beagle trying to find as many new bands as I can and although I've only been here for three weeks and already I have been overwhelmed by the amount of talented musicians I've seen/heard so far. Most of these musicians are from Guelph or Ontario but there are the odd exceptions...

Ptarmigan -  Imagine Mumford and Son's before they all had beards and you've got these guys.

Jordan Raycroft - You have probably heard me rambling on about the Open Stage Night at the Bullring which has become my new campus home. Well this guy hosts it and he usually blows everyone else out of the water. If you like City and Colour (and beards) I can guarantee you will like him...

Sarah Felker - Another of my Bullring gems, this girl came on and silenced the place which rarely happens! She'd definitely one to watch UK...

Alanna Gurr - She played in Guelph (her hometown) the other night and she is quite new on the Canadian folk scene but she is very deserving of that place. There isn't really any other way to describe her than lovely. If you like First Aid Kit from Sweden, you'll like Alanna.

The Good For Noughts - (See what they did there?)These guys played at Jimmy Jazz's a week ago and although I didn't stay for long (due to a poutine craving) I was really impressed with what I heard. They almost reminded me of early Goo Goo Dolls stuff, and most of you will remember by infatuation with them.

Inlet Sound - These young whippersnappers have the essence of Canadian folk/pop by crafting their new album in log cabins and managing to get the word "gravy" into a song about love.

Chilly Gonzalez  - My friend Jordan introduced me to this guy. It's not really like anything else on here but you might remember me mentioning Pretty Lights before? You may also remember my appreciation for an amalgamation of electronic, jazz, soul and hip hop. Yes? Then listen on.

Mike Cavanaugh - See on your facebook homepage, click on messages and then on 'Other' and, like me, you might have likes from some musicians who have been stalking who you've been liking and are asking you to listen to their stuff. Although it sounds a bit creepy most of them are pretty darn good, for example:

Mo Kenney - The BBC's Canadian sister, CBC, has a radio station entirely dedicated to playing independent music (take note BBC) and this was the first song I heard when I tuned in. It's a lovely little catchy number.

Your Neck of the Woods/Ben Doerksen - This song is written by leadman Ben Doerksen and I know this is a terrible version but it was just to get a feel for it. You can hear a clearer(and less country) version here on his myspace, I strongly recommend you check it out

Beth Moore -  She seems to have made quite a name for herself already with awards here there and everywhere. Her voice sounds pretty country but she doesn't play much of your typical country and instead this produces a really nice tone! Also being a fan of the Wizard of Oz I absolutely adored this video!

Gavin Slate -  This song is ridiculously powerful, especially alongside the video. Just like Frightened Rabbit sing with a Scottish accent, Gavin sings with a Canadian accent and not the typical American twang everyone else seems to. He is also a big fan of Travis, so you might have noticed a subtle Scottish twang too!

Yukon Blonde - This is what all Canadians look like; beard with some face. These guys has their song "My Girl" was used in a recent promo video for Canada which I watched before even coming here ( and they have even been name-dropped in How I Met Your Mother, by Robin of course.

The Wooden Sky - These guys have been around in Canada since the early 2000's and have crossed into Europe a few times. Gavin's, the lead singer, voice is amazing live and the clip below doesn't quite do it justice but check out here instead:

Mount Sharp - These guys were the soundtrack to my St Patricks day and I had a great time, but I can't remember. However I looked them up afterwards and they definitely deserve the numerous encores I was drunkenly demanding...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Little Gems - Favourites from Home...

You may or may not have come to realise that I like to find new music to listen to...

Here is my pick of  music from back in the UK that I have been dying to show you guys! I tried to pick people you won't have heard before... If you like the sounds of these then click on the little gems tab up there ^^

(I hate that the videos are too big for the page... That's the smallest size and everything.)

Passenger is my favourite singer songwriter probably ever, contested with Joshua Radin though. There isn't a song of his I don't like and I think he is one of the unsung lyrical genius' of our time!

Gabrielle Aplin has pretty much made a name for herself in the UK at the end of last year and she'll conquer the rest of the planet soon enough!

Frightened Rabbit are one of Scotlands gems and they do have a fan base over here but not one big enough. It's nice to hear someone singing with their true scottish accent.

Orla Gartland couldn't get much more Irish; she's ginger, mental and ridiculously musical.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich, there are no words. Just sit back, listen and relax...

Jamie Woon: The most onomatopoeic song I have ever heard.

Nina Nesbitt is another one from Scotland and as far as I know she is actually going out with Ed Sheeran...

Hudson Taylor are a duo of Irish brothers that prove they are not all like Jedward...

Daughter: An angry woman singing like an angel.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Snow Big Deal

Second week update on my exchange in Canada for family and friends and anyone else who strays this way!

A main street in Guelph
While all of you have been revelling in snow in the UK the snow in Guelph completely vanished this week and we have the false temptation that Spring is just around the corner, until it snowed like mental on Thursday. I am definitely beginning to overcome the British mentality about snow...
Does what it says on the tin

On Saturday I did the wander around downtown as promised. The actual downtown region of Guelph is pretty small and I was done within an hour. The centre of Guelph is pretty small and everything is built around a few 'blocks' and intersections. The building were all carved out of a light sandstone and there was a mis-match of almost wild-western buildings and more colonial British buildings. There is a square of bars all within about five drunken stumbles from each other at one intersection and they are almost all Irish pubs (although real Irish pubs do not have women in mini-skirt kilts serving you). Canada doesn't really have your big supermarkets like Tesco that sell everything under one roof, Walmart is probably the nearest but it's miles away, and so there are a lot of little independent shops instead of high street chains. For example in the UK we have Topshop, River Island, New look etc but I've only seen one H and M and that was in the mall here not on the high street.

A house along the river
Just along from the central station there is a little walkway along the river named after John Galt who was the Scottish author (and coloniser -  what a great combination of careers) who founded Guelph, this explains why almost every street has a link to the UK. The walk along the river was nice but since all the snow had melted everything was muddy and not as picturesque as it could be. I was told that if I wait until summer, that's when Canada shows off it's feathers. The houses along the river were really cool though, reminded me of my house at home: they all had gardens that led onto the sea with kayaks lying around and everything looks quite higgledy-piggledy. Heading back to the University from Downtown I found the Royal City Park which again is going to look gorgeous in the summer.

Allison and Me!
On Saturday night I went out with some of the other international students before I headed off to a Keg party with some of my Canadian friends here. Alas I didn't do a keg stand but I did drink beer that tasted like urine and seawater from a keg using a red cup. Talk about taking in the culture.

Dog Therapy
My second week of classes have been good but I am still overwhelmed by how much work they do here alas I am coping. Even though it is stressful, the university organised a dog therapy session for students where we got to go and stroke dogs for a while to relax!  I had my first Anthropology class which is a 3 hour lecture on Tuesday nights (7-10) and I didn't drift off at any point. It was strange because we were discussing culture and culture shock and adapting to new cultures and I could relate it all to what I was experiencing on exchange! For this class I have to write a paper on a group of indigenous people from anywhere in the world, I don't think I've ever been as keen for a bit of coursework!
Part of the Aboretum

On Tuesday the weather was glorious and it looked like Spring was upon us already, be it brief. I decided that after classes (and a nap - I've made a habit of going swimming 11pm-12am) I would head to the University's Arboretum. This is essentially the university's botanical gardens but they are HUGE compared to Dundee's. I wandered around a mere half of it and it took me a few hours. Just like downtown, the Arboretum was pretty but I know that come spring it will be a completely different story!

The University of Guelph is No.1 in Canada for it's catering services and I can see why, there are hundreds of eateries on campus from Subway (which tastes different to the UK, they use cheddar and they call the American cheese Swiss cheese, ironically) to Mom's Kitchen which is like home-cooked food. There is even a man who wears a cowboy hat and sells hot-dogs from a tiny stall in the middle of campus blaring really bizarre songs all year round, even in the height of winter. There is also a place called Poutinees which sells Canada's national dish (essentially) Poutine which is from Quebec and is nothing more than chips, cheese curds (cheese before it's been compressed into a block) and gravy poured over the top. I am in love with Poutine, it's ridiculously unhealthy but oh so good. While out in town I got a large portion, which apparently nobody finishes alone. I showed that in Scotland we have a training ground for such tasks, called Clarks Bakery. Although all this food is great, it's worrying how little the students who live on campus know how to cook! They have things called Meal Plans here which are prepaid onto your student card and used to buy food on campus. When you have so much good food available it's easy to see why they don't learn to cook. Most of the girls I live with have these meal plans and admitted that they only know how to make cheese on toast. It makes cooking a struggle for me as they don't have half the utensils I need, there wasn't even a cheese grater!

On Wednesday night I was bored of doing work indoors so I headed to The Bullring which is one of the the university's many eateries but with the tagline of 'your living room on campus'.The Bullring used to be used to show cattle (the University here has a big agricultural school - it's like Orcadian farmers walking along side city hipsters) but has been converted into a cafĂ©. The bullring seems to be where all the musican and "alternatives" hang out, which is my kind of place. On Wednesdays there is an open mic and I sat pretending to do uni work while listening to what musical talents Guelph had to offer. Like any open mic night, you have to sit through some strange acts and some downright terrible ones but I was surprised by how many ridiculously good people there were. So if it's a Wednesday night and you are wondering where I am, I can guarantee I'll be at The Bullring.

Jimmy Jazz. It was dark...

On Thursday I continued to investigate Guelph's music scene. Guelph is actually a renown centre for indie and folk music, which luckily for me if just what I am into. Tonight's venue was Jimmy Jazz which had a kind of of dirty unwashed charm that you get from indie bars. Tonight the bands Among Millions and The Good for Noughts (see what they did there?) were playing. Among Millions are local Ontarions led by Joshua Doherty, who was more than pleased that I recoginised 'Old Fashioned' by Frightened Rabbit which they covered. Before coming I listened to a bit of the Good For Noughts on youtube and they are definitely worth another listen!

Yesterday I went into the mall with my friend Anna who comes from Glasgow (it's nice to have someone who knows what greet, wain and craic means) as we tried to sort out a Canadian sim card for her. We ended up staying in the phone shop for at least two hours sorting her phone and in the process befriended the shop assistants. This isn't rare in Canada, you find yourself constantly making friends with strangers (the good ones) which is a really nice change to the 'don't talk to strangers!" mentality you are taught!

Last night I was with the international students who are mental, especially the Australians (good luck Kirsten!). They all headed downtown and though it'd be fun to go to a club but I am not really a club person. However it wasn't too bad as a bit of alcohol can make anything fun. The first club we went to was Opus which was above one of the many Irish pubs and was quite modern looking but it was completely empty. Since we had our entry stamps we headed else where for a while. After seeing everywhere else was pretty much full we ended up at a place called Trappers which was another club but was also bare. Downstairs was a place called Palace which Allison had warned me about. It was quite the seedy dive full of jocks and frat boys. However the best way to enjoy a club is to just take the piss with everyone and ended up having a pretty good time! Even though I think I'll be sticking to pubs for most of the time!

While you lot back home got the Northern lights I
can deal with living with awesome sunsets
There was a trip to Niagara Falls for all the international students today but I am going with my Great Uncle and Aunt tomorrow instead. It will save me money as well as a trip to the butterfly house! As soon as I read they were going there I was glad of my decision to leave it until Sunday. So expect a whole load of photos over on facebook in the coming days and I'll keep you all up to date again next week!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tips for Kilmanjaro/Tanzania! - Childreach International/CAMP

This is a massive chunk of writing to help answer some of the questions I had when going to do Kilimanjaro but get a pen and note down the parts that are useful. Apologies for the word vomit and lack of structure!

First of all, Africa is amazing. Tanzania is such an amazing place and you will learn all this! When you do get to Moshi, you will get harassed by people trying to sell you bracelets, sunhats, paintings and football strips. They are all stupidly expensive to start with because they are trying to get as much money as possible just to warn you. If you learn some swahilli they will not only give you a better price (just like numbers and “too high! Etc will do!) but if you just stay Hapana asante (no thankyou) in a calming tone they might just leave you alone. Don’t get all angry and stressed because they just harass you more. I always started with an offer that was just under half the price they offered, start realistically low as if you start high they will bid higher and higher. After all they probably want the sale more than you want what they are selling so if you walk away they might follow you and offer you your original low price. However, it might seem harsh that you are trying to scam them when you have more money than they might ever have, they are also scamming you so you need to find a balance between compassion and pride!

 If you want a break from the bustle of the street sellers then you can go to “the Kilimanjaro coffee lounge” or “The coffee shop”, both of which offer great coffee (seriously, the best I’ve had) and are tourist favourites so you might meet other travellers there. I highly recommend trying the coffee lounge’s banana smoothie! Just remember that the food here will be more expensive than buying it at a local eaterie. Club Alberto is another favourite of westerners, mainly because it sells nothing but burgers really. I didn’t like it because it was a bit of a seedy dive and would much rather go try something authentic. There is actually an artists 'village'  which anyone working in the coffee lounge will tell you how to get there. You can get really nice authentic souvenirs and the owners just let you browse without harassing you much.

There is a really nice little hotel in the centre of Moshi called Hotel Kindroko (it’s front door is literally sandwiched between two shops, I think it was near Hotel Newcastle which was hard to miss)which we used to organise trips to the surrounding areas but we all wished we had stayed there as it looked really nice! We stayed at Midlands Lodge which was a bit further out of the centre and you had to get a taxi back and forth, which wasn’t that bad since taxi’s cost nothing, just remember to agree on a price with the driver before you get in, also just because they are a taxi driver they might not know where they are going so a sense of direction and some swahilli phrases will again come in handy. Midlands Lodge let us keep bags there while we went up Kilimanjaro so if you are in Tanzania for more than the climb it is a good idea to see if hotels will let you safely keep your stuff there ( I wouldn’t leave valuables there just in case but check trip advisor for any recommendations).

 Remember to keep covered up when in public, this includes shoulders and legs; some girls in our group got abuse for wearing knee length skirts! Maxi dresses and a shawl was a good option for girls as it is similar to the local dress and guys get off a bit easier with something like a T-shirt and board shorts. You get fined big time in Tanzania for dropping litter in the street so make sure you keep your rubbish on you until you get near a bin and also be careful if you accidently drop something because sometimes pesky locals will jump on the opportunity to make money from you but look at the reactions of the on-lookers, they’ll be tutting at the fraudster, not you! When you are walking around, even indoors wear flip flops or something on your feet because there is a parasite called a cheggers that live on the floor and bury into your toes, particularly important to wear flip flops in the shower. Also Tanzanians don’t really use toilet paper so take tissues with you, and never shake hands with your left hand as it is considered rude as that is what Tanzanians use as toilet paper instead…

We did the Machame route and it was an amazing experience but gruelling at times! It took us 5 days up and one day back down. You don’t get much sleep and you will have to wake up at ridiculous times of the day. The climb all in all isn’t too hard as in it’s quite a gentle gradient most of the way, the horrible thing is when the effects of altitude kick in. You might not get sick but you will get breathless (if you have asthma take 2 puffs of your brown inhaler everyday, I ended up lending my blue one out to other people!). The first day is hard as you are getting used to it and the first leg is through a jungle and so the air is heavy. You will feel horrible on the first day unless you have legs of steel. After that the climb is a series of trails but until the last few days where you do some clambering up a cliff face. Doing exercises to strengthen your leg muscles is very important as they are what take the hit. It’s also highly recommended you take walking poles as it will take the strain off your knees, a bit. Aerobic exercise will also be beneficial but remember it won’t help the altitude! You will go through the suggested 4 litres of water and you should aim to go through it all everyday. I would suggest a platypus/camelback for the first few days as you can just walk with it in your mouth and constantly drink but it would be good to have a bottle for the summit attempt because the tube of your platypus will freeze (you can try putting some vodka in it but I don’t think that will help any altitude sickness you may have). Another handy thing to do is to add dissolvable vitamin C tablets or berrocca into your water for the day as it will help the immune system (even though getting a cold is inevitable) and you will get sick of the taste of water especially if you use chlorinated water purification tablets (again necessary even though they are often left out of kit lists!! It can be any form of water purificator though!) .

Food in Tanzania is very hit and miss. It can be quite basic but one thing it is, is cheap: you can get a meal for about £1.50 at local places (not westernised ones). If you go to Zanzibar the food is MUCH better but also about triple the price depending on where you get it. The lobster curry is amazing and some places let you go catch your own fish. On the mountain the team of porters and chefs can astound you. I went with Really Wild challenges and they cooked our food for us and it was a lot better than a lot of the stuff down the mountain! I guarantee you will be amazed at the standard of cooking considering you are thousands of metres above sea level! Be prepared for carbs with a side of something, lots of rice, toast and pasta! You will learn to love Milo and become acquired to their strange sugary butter. Be sure to take some kind of super sugary energy boost, I found Orkney Fudge was an excellent choice(Stephen, get everyone stocked up!) but you might get a chance to go past a supermarket before you go up.  I will warn you is that vegetarians will struggle in Tanzania as most places serve some kind of meat and then rice or ugali (a ball made of a kind of corn that you dip into the stew). I don’t think we got anything that wasn’t meat based, however the westernised coffee lounges might cater to vegetarians. Fizzy drinks are 10x more sugary than back home and often are neon in colour. The Tanzanian beers are actually pretty good and it is compulsory to have a ‘Kilimanjaro’ the day you come down from the mountain. Remember if you are going to Tanzania, Zanzibar especially, be careful when eating around Ramadan as many people are muslim and fast during the day. If you are there for Ramadan avoid eating in public during the day and it might be harder to find places to eat. One of my favourite culinary experiences in Tanzania was not Tanzanian cuisine at all but Ethiopian, in Stone Town in Zanzibar there is a great restaurant called Abyssinian Maritim and the woman who owns it is very helpful and basically you order an injera which is a massive pancake and then you get a series of stews, sauces etc which you pour on the injera in piles and then eat with the injera – cutlery free! Also try tej – an Ethiopian honey wine, it’s delicious! Oh yeah don’t try to “find your way around” in Stone town as it’s impossible to navigate, if you get lost find a legitimate looking restaurant and they might call you a cab (maybe for a fee…). Aftter walking around in Tanzania for a day you get covered in dust so avoid light clothing, go for earthy fabrics that hide dirt.

For independent travel we used a company called homelands adventure and they took us on Safari and to Zanzibar for about $550 dollars, I can’t remember exactly. It was pretty good and the company president Muskim is young and so took us past liquer stores and coordinated our time in Zanzibar with a full moon party on the beach. If you go to Zanzibar do not give up the opportunity to go on a spice tour or a trip around Stone Town. In the evenings there is an amazing food market at the harbour and I’d recommend trying shark!

When you get to visit a school you cannot really prepare. It's amazing.... indescribable really. Just make sure you have a video camera BEFORE you arrive because they sing as soon as they see you arrive and then you get mobbed.They will be grabbing your hands, stroking your hair and jumping on you and everything . They will be fascinated with your camera and most of them are massive posers, and rightly so! You will fall in love with them all and you will all be shocked into silence. This is where learning some Swahilli is again really handy, just stuff like what is your name and how old are you. Also try to have something prepared as a group like a song or a dance or something because they sing and dance for you! You will no doubt not want to leave and you’ll find that all children back home are now disgusting spoilt brats.

The guides suggest you should have started a drug called 'Diamox' I think it’s the day before the climb which is used for acclimatization and I cannot recommend this enough. We had 17 people in our group and all but two were on it and it was only one of the two who got any form of altitude sickness. You can get it from your GP but they can be a bit hesitant about prescribing it because it can mask the onset of altitude sickness which is dangerous. If your GP says no and you still want it then you can get it from online pharmacies (Dr Fox etc). Diamox gives you a weird pins and needles sensation in your hands and feet (and sometimes face) which can be strange at first but you get used to it! It also makes you need to pee A LOT and a lot more than normal so it is even more important to drink plenty water. I was on Diamox but I also took some herbal things I had read about just in case! I know some people might prefer a herbal option than throwing more chemicals into your body alongside antimalarials. I took beetroot supplements and another herbal tablet called Ginko Biloba which have both been shown to help with altitude! A quick note on antimalarials, I was on malarone because it has fewer side effects. It is a lot more expensive but with the risk of altitude sickness and inevitable gastroenteritis at some point I thought it was best. If you are taking doxycycline then remember that it makes your skin very sensitive to the sun and when you are altitude the air is thinner so it can be even worse, so even if you think you are a person who tans, take a high factor suncream.

Bring a headtorch and not a wind up one as it is important for the summit attempt which is done at night and believe me you can’t keep stopping to wind it up! Take GOOD waterproofs just incase and even waterproof bags or binbags if you don’t have dry bags. Sleeping bags should be at least 3 season and I’d advise a sleeping bag liner to save your sleeping bag getting too filthy. Having a good down jacket is important and take thermals/running leggings. It is important to layer up as the temperature can be variable. Take lip balm as chapped lips are horrendous in the cold, take abuff or scarf too to help protect them. When it comes to shoes, take a pair of good walking boots (start wearing them in around the house asap), nothing too fancy as you don’t use crampons or anything, and a pair of light trainers to relieve your feet after the main climb. Take several types of gloves, like from silk-style liner gloves, thicker waterproof golves and then a pair of mittens to go over the top. Take paracetamol or ibuprofen, knee support bandages and maybe some ibuprofen gel as you will creak and ache come day two.  You will pack two bags for the mountain, one day bag (about 30litres) and a rucksack (about 60-80l). You will carry the daybag during the climb so put all valuables and important things you might need in that. The porters take your big bag but it can’t way more than 20kg and you won’t want it too when you see what they carry. They are amazing and you will be in awe when they start running up the mountain! Get to know the porters as well, they are really amazing people and will help you a hell of a lot. But know boundries because several of us girls got proposed to, be flattered but reject politely and don’t tell them where you are staying unless you want them to arrive at your door when you get off the mountain, well unless you do want to marry them then go ahead! You’ll notice the guides and porters will often use English sounding names instead of their actual name. Tipping porters is a difficult one, you tip EVERYONE in Tanzania but how much varies and when I went we did kili first and we always looked back thinking we should have given more to the porters and guides. I gave $100 to a kitty that was divided between the porters and then there was a separate one for chefs etc. Usually if there is a porter or guide you feel did a really good job and made your climb amazing then take them aside in private and personally give them extra. Another thing people do is donate equipment they aren’t going to use again to the porters but this is considered an extra to the monetary tip.

I’m sure you are all very intrigued about the toilet situation, everyone seems to be. Basically on the mountain they vary from crouching behind a rock to quite a fancy building (Barranco camp!). The toilet banter will become a bonding topic between the group believe me! They are smelly but you will get used to it after a while, chewing  gum or putting some vicks vapour rub under your nose helps! Take plenty tissues as toilet paper doesn’t happen up there and put tissues in the bowl/pile when you’re done. There wasn’t any taps with running water when I was there so take a few small bottles of antibacterial hand gel and baby wipes (they are your best friends). There are no showering facilities but it doesn’t matter because everyone else is just as groggy and you will get to stare in awe at the colour of the shower water when you get back to the hotel! Our porters did give us a bowl for of warm water for washing and a bar of soap which we considered more than a luxury! Now for the girls, to make sure you don’t get a present from mother nature get the doctor to put you on the pill if you are not already on it. You can take it over your time in Tanzania as I can’t imagine much worse than dealing with that in those conditions!

A note on money (no pun intended!); Tanzania uses both shillings and US dollars. US dollars are mainly reserved for tourist activities and are usually specified in a price if you are meant to use them. You are more likely to get a better deal in shillings though. Kenyan shillings are different to Tanzanian shillings, seems obvious but we forgot. Also in Moshi most banks didn’t accept our European cards except Barclays which is on the main street in Moshi, you can’t miss it it’s just like the one in the UK. It would be advised to take as many shillings as you can from there (you will get confused by the infinite zeros) but try and work out how many dollars you will need while here using estimates then adding on maybe $100 more and get them exchanged in your home country as you will get a better deal there. Wear a money belt or similar and keep your notes and passport in there and obviously, don’t flash your cash or expensive items around.

The summit attempt is by far the hardest part of the climb. We had about 2 hours sleep and woke up at midnight to start walking at 1am. At Barafu camp you can barely walk to the toilet without taking a break. It was painfully cold and dark but in a way this is good as you can’t actually see how steep the climb you are doing is. The last day actually involves the biggest ascent of the whole climb so it’s good you can’t see it. You will be very out of breath so it will be quiet, this is when most people play their motivational Kilimanjaro playlists on their ipods (batteries of cameras and ipods etc run out quickly in cold conditions so keep then in a inside pocket or something to conserve battery, also those who are interested I did get phone signal at the top of kili!). You climb under a blanket of stars until you get near Stella point, at this point you do want to kill yourself until the sun starts to rise (you’ve been climbing for 5 hours now but you don’t realise it) and you can see the top and that’s when the motivation starts pumping. It’s very beautiful and impossible to describe without coming across all gap yah! I’m not going to try and explain the euphoria at the summit, you’ll all find out for yourselves I am sure!

I've documented my time in Tanzania and the climb up Kilimanjaro from Summer 2012 here!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

From Uppies and Doonies to Loonies and Toonies


For those who don't know I am currently on exchange from my University in Dundee to the University of Guelph in Ontario in South East Canada. This is just an update for friends and family around the world so they know what I've been up too since I haven't had time to write letters or postcards yet so the standard of writing will not be fantastic! :) 

I've been in Canada for just over a week and it's been non-stop since I arrived. I left Orkney shortly after Christmas and headed down to Dundee and onwards to Edinburgh for New Year. I'd like to thank Amy and co. for letting me live in their flat over New Year it was great! I almost ended up having no plans on New Year but thanks to Dan and Innes for taking pity on me and I ended up having a night similar to back home where I was only heading home at 7am with brandy to keep my insides warm. I spent my last day in Scotland with the lovely Craig and Calum who kept me company for 12 hours and even stayed up until 6am with me and even drove me to the airport. What sweethearts! Thanks again boys and I'll send you some maple syrup in return!

 I managed to pack (almost) everything I wanted to take with me for 6 months into one hold-all and I optimistically thought it might be within the luggage limit. 27.5kg and £40 later I was on my way. The plan was to get some sleep on the plane but when they are serving cooked breakfasts, I'm not risking missing that! Usually I like to chat to the person next to me but I gave up on this guy when he got pissed off at the air hostess for shutting the locker for on his "£200 suit." I will also say that it was a female pilot and she did a very, very smooth landing!

I was flying out to Chicago first and I was surrounded by North Americans for the first time, something I'd have to get used to. Suddenly I noticed my accent, something that I haven't really ever done before.

Most people hate flying long haul but I love it, firstly there is the personal entertainment systems which are now found in economy and then there is the weird time-travel aspect of it which I seem to really like but most of you would just call jet-lag. Even though I had films, tv shows and games at my fingertips I fell asleep to the 'soothing' sounds of the Dark Knight Rises...

Chicago O Hare. Bit of a timewarp.
Arriving in Chicago was both exciting, as this was my first time in the US, and scary, because the US border control has such a reputation. The reputation is bang on as you have to go through one passport control, pick up your bag, go through another passport check and then re-check your bag before you can go to your connecting flight. O'Hare Airport was architecturally stuck in the 90's and not nearly as built up as most European airports which was surprising considering it was such a major transport hub.

My plane to Toronto wasn't much bigger than the Saabs you get on from Orkney to Edinburgh, even though it was an international flight it didn't feel like more than flying from Kirkwall to Aberdeen. I was sitting next to a woman from Quebec who had a proper French accent, you forget that in Quebec their first language is French and it's completely different to the rest of Canada.

Touchdown in Toronto just after 7pm local time but midnight back home. Canada is 5 hours behind the UK but my sleeping pattern during winter is so bad that it completely cancelled out any potential jetlag. There was no walkways onto the airport so as soon as you left the plane you were hit by the cold Canadian air I was warned about. Canadian immigration were very pleasant and made their interrogating questions just sound like casual conversation. As with any journey involving air travel, I was happy to be reunited with my bag, all 27.5kg. I was greeted by my Great Uncle Alfred I hadn't seen for 10 years or so and my Great Aunt Sandra I'd never met, and understandably didn't recognise me!

We had dinner at a roadside inn called Mowhawk Inn between Toronto and Waterloo which was pretty much how I naively pictured every bar and restaurant in Canada to look: logs and stone walls, roaring fire, massive pitchers of beer and ice hockey on the TV. We were served by a waitress who had been working there since the 1980's and by her perm it didn't look like she was ready to leave the 80's yet.

I had a wonderful sleep in Alfred and Sandra'a beautiful house and they were very welcoming and lovely so stay with. It is reassuring to know there are people I can turn to here if something goes wrong! I'll definitely be visiting them again and I thank them again for helping me so much!

Found in the tiny town of Fergus in Ontario, alas in a British speciality shop.
On my first day in Canada we drove out of Waterloo and went to the small towns of St. Jacobs, Elora and Fergus and my first shop visit was actually to a shop that sells British products! It nice to know there is somewhere to go when I run out of real Dairy milk (they have dairy milk here but it is a weird American version that is not the same!). This part of Canada is known as Mennoite country as it is home to the Mennoites which are essentially like Aumish people as they are very religious and live off the land. They do not use electricity, they have their own schools and instead of cars they travel using horse and cart but it can be deceiving that they are poor but in reality they are very wealthy land owners.

In the evening I met more of my family across here, Alfred and Sandra's daughter Jillian and her family who were another example of my welcoming relatives over here. I was surprised to find out I was one of the few family members from Scotland they had actually met and even Sandra has never met my Dad! I can't imagine having not met my Aunt! Thanks Jillian for the Chinese even if I ended up forgetting it in the fridge back in Waterloo! I'll definitely come visit again soon and definitely before I leave!

Check me out at the bleachers! So totally like awesome.
Saturday 5th January was moving day and it was like being in first year all over again! Alfred and I headed out to Guelph with neither of us really knowing where to go once we got there. After one or two wrong turns we got to my halls and I got flashbacks to my own crazy halls experience in the UK. My room is pretty basic: wardrobe, shelves, desk, chest of drawers and a really hard single bed, however I like to work my magic and make my room my own! Alfred took me to the mall along the road from the university and I got kitted out with bedding, which is usually an easy task in the UK but over here they have not only other names for things but completely different kinds of bedding. I was also introduced to Canadian sales tax where they add 13% sales tax onto certain things when you are at the till, so the price on the tag isn't the actual price you'll pay.  Unless you are really good at mental maths you just end up paying with a high denomination note and gathering change (it's always a really awkward price too). That's another thing, the money here is confusing as a British person: their 25c coin looks just like a 10p and their 10c coin looks just like a 5p. They also have the names loonies ($1) and toonies ($2), hence the name ( and for those not familiar with Orcadian culture and uppies and doonies...

Rose-ified my room.
 I had joined couchsurfing before coming to Guelph and chatted to a girl called Allison who was having a gathering that night. I decided that instead of staying in by myself on my first night I'd get out and meet people! Most of the people their were school friends but they were equally as inviting to me considering I barely knew anyone. We headed downtown to a bar and with the help of alcohol I made numerous new friends, aided by showing them all British money, driving license, passport etc (tip for fascinating drunks when you are abroad, alas not the safest when intoxicated Disclaimer:I am not responsible for loss of money, licences or passports!). I was planning to get the bus home but in true Rose fashion I got impatient and thought, 'it's cool I'll just wander home.' I made it home alive with no wrong turns but I can't say I'll do it again anytime soon... So yeah, thanks Allison and co for welcoming me to Guelph and it was a perfect first night in my new town!

The uni has a guide dog training program! Puppies everywhere!
After my first week of uni I can actually say I am genuinely excited for my courses this semester, which if you know me back in Scotland is quite unbelievable! The teaching here is different and the lecturers just seem a bit more engaging, plus there is no labs or molecular stuff in sight!Oh yeah over here it is possible to be a 3rd year Biology student and not have a single lab class. I am in heaven here!  There is much more of a  reason to turn up to lectures as they actually test you on things they say in lectures rather than things you can find in text books and they don't stick to textbooks much in my classes (which is good as textbooks here are £80-£100!). The workload seems to be a lot more than in the UK with each classes having at least one midterm, some kind of term/research paper as well as final exams and they are all crammed into a small time period. However since the emphasis is not on the final exams I am hoping the exams themselves will be a bit easier than those back home...

Over here people can take pretty much any combination of subjects which is cool, Dundee were quite strict on what I could take and they had to be biology related. However I did get to pick one module from outside biology. I am taking:
Principles of disease - makes me think I am a medic and it's REALLY interesting.
community ecology - probably the most boring but I can't complain!
conservation biology - Interesting even though the lecturer seems like a really scary lady
evolutionary ecology - This class is really interesting, mainly because the teaching is so different as the lecturer is trying to integrate creativity into science. There is no exam and you are marked on your contribution in discussions!
Introduction to Anthropology - I've been dying to take Anthropology for years and now I have a chance! Only one lecture a week and you have to submit a research paper  which I might do on linguistics, particularly the Orcadian dialect! Can't wait for this one!

I'm also looking into ideas for the Ontarion which is the uni paper here.

I bought tickets to an ice hockey match in Feburary! Excited! Not tried it myself yet...

I've made a good few friends here already which is awesome and everyone is really friendly and easy to talk to so I am sure there will be more, it's only been one week! I've even met two people who knew someone who went to Stromness Academy! Seriously what are the chances?! Small world!

My photography of my nights out haven't been fantastic... I'll improve!

Tomorrow I am going to wander around Guelph and get to know the town and next weekend I will hopefully head to Toronto to meet more family and or go to Niagra Falls. So expect lots more photos than I have been taking in the next few weeks!

So that's about it for now, I did warn you I'd been busy and this is a summarised version! In essence  I LOVE CANADA!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Safari Day 1 - Lake Manyara - 25/07/2012

At some ridiculous time in the morning we were bundled into two converted landrover discoveries and started the eight hour drive to Lake Manyara National Park. We drove through the scenery you would picture when you think of Africa, especially as a child: expansive dry plains and the occasional maasi warrior herding cattle and you expect Simba and Zazu to appear at any time. There is definitely a reason they have so many national parks here. Along the roadside young Maasi boys would walk in black robes and white face paint to represent the healing process after their transition from boys to warriors, also known as circumcision. The Maasi definitely rule these plains and was very refreshing to see such a prominent tribal lifestyle, something that is almost extinct in Europe.

Before going to the national park itself we drove to the nearby town called Mto wu Mbi which was where our hotel for the night, The Holiday Fig Resort, was located. We stopped to drop our things off, get our rooms and have a spot of lunch. The rooms we were staying in were made up a single long bungalow detached from the main hotel. There was a swimming pool in front of our rooms that actually looked quite enticing even if it was not chlorinated. The rooms themselves were quite simple with comfy beds, nets and a safe. The windows however were merely mosquito nets separating you from the outside world and the exposed electrical fixings above the shower reminded you you were still in Africa.

Our lunch was your standard African fare of carbs with a side of meat stew and soon afterwards we headed to our first national park, Lake Manyara. While Muskim signed us all in we wandered around in the surprisingly informative car  park under the blistering midday sun. After registration Muskim clipped open the tops of the landrovers to give us the experience of standing 4x4 driving.

For the first few minutes we eagerly eyed up and down trees looking for any form of movement. Our driver Sebastian had been driving these safaris for years and had an eye for spotting camouflaged creatures. The park started with a jungle where we spotted water bok and baboons but moved on as we started to get concerned by how close they got to the car. The jungle soon opened up into plains and you could almost hear the circle of life playing in the back ground. Immediately there were animals everywhere; a zeal of zebras grazed underneath jackalberry trees and giraffes chased each other at a surprisingly fast pace. There were also countless wilderbeest, buffalo and even more baboons.

Even though you were surrounded by your childhood picture of the African wild you kept forgetting it was actually the wild. There were so many safari groups everywhere it felt like a safari park rather than a national park. The jeep full of Asians wearing protective masks and clothing protecting them from dust and any other potential hazard, except am impending stampede or attack, didn't help. The rotting carcasses made it feel a bit more wild though. Flamingoes stretched up into the horizon around the lake and the jeep zig-zagged back into the jungle. Eagle-eyed Sebastian managed to spot an elephant. The Swahilli word for elephant is 'tembo' and I think it is one of those words that just perfectly describes the elephant and it's docile plod. At some points we got so close we could have easily just reached out and touched  them.

We continued driving looping through between the long shadows and golden rays of the evening sun and headed back towards the hotel before the national park descended into darkness, dusk being it's most active  hour. Before dinner, the brave few of us headed into the pool in an attempt to clean ourselves, since we decided the risk of cholera was less of a threat than electrocution from the showers. We thought it would be nice to get some beers from the hotel 'bar' which was essentially a fridge and anything that wasn't there was fetched from the local market. The hotel provided us with a wonderful display of endless food with more variety than we were used to, including the exotic quesadillas and home made guacomolĂ©. Following dinner I ended up staying up until about 3am chatting, which wasn't going to work out well when the mosque woke me up at 4:45am to conveniently start the next day.