booking.com – Christmas in the Shire

Research conducted by Booking.com reveals half of Australians feel they’re missing out on a magical Christmas by living in Australia. More than a third saying we don’t have the same level of decorations ( ie. lights, tree and mistletoe) compared to other countries, which they feel creates a genuine Christmas atmosphere.

So, Booking.com is bringing the ultimate Christmas experience to you at North Cronulla Beach – a destination site representing the epitome of what an Australian summer Christmas is!

0C581D70-0D29-46F0-9D02-503EDEE0E7E2

Featuring a life-size ‘White Christmas Snow Globe’ with all the Christmas trimmings, including snow and a real Santa Claus inside, experience Cronulla Beach in a whole new way this festive season.

A white christmas is something out of the movies for us down under while the other side of the world rugs up fighting the cold, we’re soaking in those scorching rays!

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? On the beach, sand is glistening, thanks to Booking.com Sydney we’ll be walking in a Winter wonderland!

Joseph Lloyd, Freelance Writer
Photo Credit: booking.com

Date: Friday, 14 December
Time: 9am – 12pm
Where: North Cronulla Beach
Cost: Free of Charge

Where to go in Banos, Ecuador

Banos is a town about 3.5 hours from Quito, Ecuador. Go to Quitumbe station and find one of the sellers offering trips to Banos. There are plenty and it’s $3 each for a one way trip. The buses have reclining seats, toilets and are quite comfortable. Put your suitcase underneath and hold your valuables for the trip. We heard you can get robbed if you don’t take good care of your belongings, particularly on the overnight buses.

IMG_6980

Once you arrive at Banos, you’re at an elevation of 1860m and you’ll find yourself in a town surrounded by mountains, unspoilt Andean forest, fog, cobblestone streets and plenty of hostels. We booked before we came but you can easily find accommodation here. We paid $20 a night for a private room with a bathroom, tv, breakfast and wifi.

There’s so many places to eat that are cheap and you can easily get lunch from $1.50 for a burger or $3 for set Ecuadorian lunch. There’s also upscale restaurants that might set you back $15 pp at the most.

IMG_E6737

You’ll see heaps of stalls selling melcocha (taffy) in the form of chewy and hard lollies.

There’s plenty of tour companies offering trips to the waterfalls, big swing, rafting, mountain biking, canopy zip lining and more. Find yourself a good deal. We did the waterfall bus tour for $5pp.

We loved this town and thoroughly recommend it for a visit.

IMG_6787

Where to stay 

Balcon De Cielo

I found this hotel on booking.com and selected it for its spot near the San Fransisco bridge with a nice outlook. It also had good reviews. At $75 for three nights, it was a bargain. The private room was spacious with a double bed as well as two bunks, a bathroom, television and towels provided. The bathroom doesn’t have toiletries so be sure to bring your own. They say they have wi Fi but it doesn’t work in the rooms, only downstairs. Despite the fact there isn’t a heater or aircon, the room stayed warm. It was quiet and very clean.

IMG_6776

The cost included breakfast, including a super fresh bread roll, cold meat and cheese, a small plate of scrambled egg, a pineapple juice and coffee. Our last day also has a bowl of fruit.

They have a cheap laundry service too.

They don’t speak much English at all but we worked it out through phone translators and the staff are very friendly and accommodating.

Where to eat

The food in Banos is top notch. We had both basic local options, the set lunch and also had a superb meal at a more pricy option too.

IMG_6780

The Mercado (central marketplace) has numerous stalls offering local foods like the Hornado – suckling pork with llapingacho (potatoes) fritters, salad, chorizo or your choice of meat. This was very delicous and good value for the price. We also tried cuy, the grilled guinea pig – for a hot tip, ask for the rear legs, as they have more meat. The taste was on a mix of chicken and rabbit, not overly gamey.

IMG_6732

A set lunch, or almuerzo will only set you back about 3 dollars with a drink, sopa (soup), carne/pollo/pork with rice and salad. We enjoyed these lunches as we were on a budget and it allowed us to spend more at dinner time.

We also became a big fan of their Maracuya (passion fruit) jugo (juice) and also it’s addition to cocktails.

Amarelo Restaurant 

We enjoyed our visits to Amarelo Restaurant which is claimed to be a Mediterranean fusion restaurant, with Argentinean and Ecuadorian influence. This restaurant is in the centre of town. Think grilled prawns, octopus, carpachiou, risotto, paella, salad and soups, salmon and steaks.

We ordered the house salad with lettuce, spinach, shrimp, matchstick potatoes, roasted red peppers, orange vinaigrette and topped with a red beet crisp.

We also ordered the tenderloin medallion on volcanic stone served with Andean potatoes, vegetables, and a tossed salad. This is an awesome steak, very tender and highly recommended that you try this if in Banos. The accompanying chimichurri and bearnaise were both very tasty, as were the little potatoes. The portion is large and it is a great value meal for $11.

Drink wise, they have microbrewed beers, wines and I enjoyed a vodka with Maracuya (passion fruit).

We enjoyed it so much we returned for the medallion as well as a superb beef carpaccio and maracuya cheesecake.

IMG_6966

IMG_6969

Stray Dog

We went here for a drink, owned by some guys from Chicago, it’s a brew pup with a few good beers on tap. They do sell food and spirits as well.

IMG_E6831

Honey, coffee and tea.

This became our regular for a good coffee each morning. They also sell patisserie goods, sandwiches. We also found it to have good wi Fi.

IMG_E6769

Plantas y Blanco

We spotted this restaurant walking by. It appealed to us with its Japanese like set up. With a fire place and low couches to sit on the floor, it was very inviting. However, it was not Japanese, rather upscale Ecuadorian fare. The food was less than $10 USD for some amazing trout that was nicely prepared with crisp skin and the flesh perfectly cooked served on top of cucumber, tomatoes and seasoned nicely with dill. The chicken with vegetables was also tasty. This restaurant also had a selection of beer and Chilean wine.

IMG_6824

Where to visit 

Thermal baths 

Sadly the Las Modernas pools with water slides were closed, but we visited the Las Piscinas de La Virgen which stays open til 9:30. It’s a $3 entry. There’s a cold, warm and hot bath that is 42 degrees. It’s great for a visit to soak those muscles and you can mingle with the friendly locals. Be sure to take a towel and swimming cap or you’ll need to rent them. Whilst they look old and not too hygienic, we found the experience good. There’s administration areas with “lockers” or someone to look after your bags, as well as change rooms.

You can head out of town in a cab to Piscina El Salado for some other well recommended hot springs.

This said, there seems to be all kinds of hot springs around, public and also private within the hotels.

Luna RunTun

At an elevation of 2200 m, it is one of the fancier hotels you will see around Banos and well worth a visit. For a fee, you can use the facilities in cluding the hot springs which consist of 4 pools and jacuzzi, all supplied with volcanic thermal water. We were not staying at the hotel, but for a $20 fee it was well worthwhile. This included hot spring access, rental of a towel, swimming cap which was mandatory and also provided us with a bathrobe. You can order from the pool bar and have drinks, as well as food brought to you in the hot springs. This place has an amazing view of the city both by day and night. We recommend visiting late afternoon as you can take advantage of the daytime and nighttime views. It is such a nice quiet place to enjoy a the hot springs, though it is not nearly as warm as the springs in town.

La Casa Del Arbol, tree swing at the end of the world

There’s plenty of swing style adrenaline activities in Banos, but La Casa Del Arbol is the original. Set from a treehouse are two swings (made from steel now) and you can sit on the swing and get pushed out into the clear air or clouds depending on the day’s weather. If it’s clear, you should see he Tungurahua volcano. It’s quite a fun activity for adults! For kids, there’s some smaller swings and a mini zip line. Entry is $1 and then tip the guy pushing the swing an amount of your choice. Organise a ride, a taxi or a bus up there. You can also have a bite to eat and a beer or two, the empanadas are delicious and cheap too, they will set you back 50c.

Pailón Del Diablo

This is worth a visit for the amazing waterfalls there. Take the 5 dollar Chivas, which is much like a party bus, as they pump the tunes. Sit in the back and you can have a bit of fun mixing it up on the stripper pole, which is not so easy on a moving bus.

The Chivas will take you to a few waterfalls, to see or partake in the adrenaline activities like; Bola Extrema (swinging ball), canopy triple (zip line) and the cable car at Tarabita Agoyan.

IMG_6852

Whilst it isn’t too comfortable as it is pretty rough and squashed and open to the weather, it is a cheap and fun way to see the sites.

IMG_6893

Overview

We were in the town for three nights which was probably the perfect amount of time. We would definitely recommend you pay Banos a visit.

 

 

Service in action @Camps International – Camp Tsavo and Diani, Kenya. Part 2

Service is the prime aim of a Camps International trip and during our visit to Camp Tsavo, we were able to engage in these projects first hand.

DSC_0191

Nearby to Camp Tsavo is Itinyi school, where many of the projects are undertaken. Whilst this school would be very dissimilar to any Australian school, it has grown greatly as a result of Camps International projects. Groups such as ours learn how to make bricks from the Project Manager Ibrahim, who explains the techniques clearly and also models the task through demonstration. Made with mud, concrete and wooden frames, then set to rest, this is a time consuming process. This work would take weeks for the locals to do and our contributions enable the locals to work on their own businesses. We also dug holes and planted some trees to provide shade in their school playground area.

DSC_0189

Whilst I was disappointed that it was holidays and we couldn’t see the classes in action, we were lucky to meet the principal and some staff and hear about their school. School is taught in English and the children also learn Mathematics, Science and Swahili amongst others. It is clear the school is a wonderful learning facility as we met many children in the area who had fabulous English and confident and friendly dispositions. A group of delightful children came into their school school for the holidays, found us working and got stuck into the projects too. They helped us with our tasks and I would add they were possibly better at much of it than myself (certainly digging holes anyway). I will never forget these children; teaching them to play hopscotch, talking with them, offering clean water and simply taking a photo or two, which they absolutely loved.

Another local project involved cutting sheets of wire and hanging it on fences to deter elephants from the farms and prevent destruction to the villagers’ properties. I would imagine it to be an extremely time consuming job for the locals to complete, particularly with hand held wire cutters. It was extremely satisfying to see this work completed. The local children again turned up, this time more to play and show us old school marbles which they enjoyed playing.

The area also has a community based organisation for women developed by Mamma Mercy and we had the opportunity to hear from her about its creation as well as from its current president.

The women’s group encourages local women to make handicrafts and sell them in their store, as well as offering loans with interest when needed. The positive words these eminent women had about Camps International and it’s impact on their lives was extremely lovely to hear and we could see just how much they value the relationship of the community and Camps International. We learned to make some of their crafts like beaded bracelets and elephant poo paper. They are extremely clever women and enthusiastic about their women’s group which was inspiring to see. We wish them all the best for continued success.

Aside from the projects, one of the things I found most interesting was to do was visit the Maasai Mara tribe, well known for their distinctive colourful dress and customs. They welcomed us with some amazing “jumping ” dancing, melodic songs and dressed in beautiful clothing and jewellery. Living a pastoral lifestyle, centering around cattle, we were shown around their farms and semi permanent housing. It was extremely kind of them to open their homes to us.

IMG_4134

Whilst staying at Tsavo and engaging in projects, we got to learn from the locals and hear just how much they love their jobs. On the last night, group member Dom, a very thoughtful and generous individual decided to put on a dinner for the staff – meat, jacket potatoes and a few drinks. He cooked, we served and cleaned up. The staff sat alongside us and ate together, sharing stories and even doing a Congo line to the tunes of Hakuna Matata. Both parties found this extremely gratifying and it was a lovely way to end the trip at Tsavo.

IMG_4457

We left early the next morning and travelled another 6 hours to Camps International site at Diani Beach. Quite hot and close to the beach, the site is quite leafy and have some furry friends living on site. We took a walk to see the Camps International Projects in this area, such as some homes that have been built, additions to the local school such as a kitchen and a medical centre. We also bought some crafts and had clothes made to measure. There is some really meaningful work that has been achieved in the area and the continued work I’m sure will thoroughly benefit the community.

I had a wonderful time with the local children who were amazed by bubbles and balloons! Seriously – it’s the small things, no arcade games needed!

IMG_9484 For our last day, we went down to Diani beach for R and R and spent the day in the pool and at the beach. It was a nice day to reflect on the trip that we’d been on and have fun with our new friends.

IMG_4595

For anyone considering a trip with Camps International, I highly recommend it, for its meaningful benefits – both to yourselves and the communities you assist. Any of their trip offerings would be marvellous to take your family, school to learn about community responsibly and the act of serving others.

I had a wonderful time, made a bunch of new friends and will forever reflect on this positively.

IMG_4624

I’d like to thank Camps International for making this possible, Will and Tanya in particular for organising my inclusion. Thank you to Yusura, our superb leader and all the staff at both sites. Thank you to the wonderful group of staff from across Australia for a wonderful week and all the amazing things you’re doing to promote service learning in your schools and beyond.

For further information, see Camps International on this link

Camps International 

Fighting for a cause @Corporate Fighter

I (Sarah) took a short hiatus from eating out, drinking and blogging to train for 12 weeks in a boxing program called Corporate Fighter.

IMG_3390

I had been seeing pics and posts pop up on Instagram  and Facebook for a while now about Corporate Fighter, possibly because it is the internet’s way of connecting you randomly to things that would potentially interest you based on what you follow. Given I’ve been in the boxing and Muay Thai world for a while, I’m not surprised. Or the universe was telling me to get on board. Whatever the case, I entered one of their competitions stating in 25 words or less why I’d want to join. Amazingly, I was selected as a winner to join the 12 week program as part of Corporate Fighter 31. I was pumped to start! 

When you join, they request you to explain why you are choosing to participate. For many people, it’s about a personal challenge, they want to lose weight or get on the straight and narrow. For me, it was about wanting to set a good example of perseverance and determination to achieve a goal. I’d long been wanting to put boxing training into action.

25627372_10159821906885008_1293481561_n

The concept is, that, any individual can apply and, once accepted, sign up at rough cost of $795 for a 12 week training program that includes 4 training sessions a week, headgear, gloves, shirt and a bag and at the end of the 12 weeks, participate in a boxing bout vs someone else in the program. It is also a charity fundraiser – for this program, it was raising funds for Team Rubicon (supporting war veterans). The charity part of it really appealed to me.

25624588_10159821936570008_1142194925_o

The idea is that most people are inexperienced and have never fought before and over the 12 weeks you learn basic technique, footwork and eventually sparring, incrementally increasing the intensity as the weeks go on. 

Wednesday’s were a minor form of punishment for me; this was cardio evening – think mountain climbers, planks, sit-down/stand ups and those dreaded burpees. These sessions were to make you fit for fight night and whilst you might hate it at the time, it really is fun and extremely beneficial. 

The trainers; Florian, Danilo, Andrea, Jemma, Tanya and Kurt are wonderful, extremely passionate and organised great routines each night and also available for extra personal training sessions. The gym also has other classes you can join like shadow fighter, technique and sparring sessions. 

IMG_3028

 A special thanks to Jemma – she is an outstanding individual who is so dedicated to the sport, and offered in her own time to have “girly fight club” or special sparring sessions for the women from CF 30 and 31 to get more experience. This, we are truly grateful for. 

 IMG_3148

Fight night is incredible – 14 bouts of fights on our night, in front of over 500 people, held at the Hyatt Regency, Sydney. We warmed up, came out to an entrance song and fought our hearts out.

IMG_3587

IMG_E3463

Winners are chosen and trophies awarded. Throughout the night there are auctions and further fundraisers to generate more money for the charity. Afterwards, we change and party with our support crew.

IMG_3145

Fighters are expected to sell two tables of supporters, and they get to watch the event with a two course dinner and unlimited alcohol. There’s photobooths for fun with your friends! It’s a top night out for all. I’d like to thank my friends, family, workmates and blogging crew for coming along! Special thanks to Kurt for putting up with my boxing talk all the time and giving me endless encouragement.

 Although I didn’t win, and I was extremely disappointed, I need to remember that winning is not what it’s about. It’s a charity fundraiser and most people wouldn’t dare step in the ring at all, and I did it. I also said I wanted to participate to prove determination and perseverance and that I did, fighting 1 week after recovering from a neck injury and with bronchitis. I completed the fight, fought respectfully, and with good technique. I desperately want to give it another go at full fitness to prove my real capabilities. 

IMG_3597

 Along the way, we made a new bunch of friends, made possible by the community environment it is, Facebook groups to discuss advice and the group catch ups to the Commonwealth Games trials, rock climbing and post the event; the pub! I’ve made some lifelong friends from this, which is amazing given the competitive nature of the sport and the fact we punch each other’s face at the end of it all. I must also thank my lovely opponent Jess for a great job in the ring.

 

25564587_10159821907050008_1707376506_n25530246_10159821936610008_1362713327_nFrom the word go, this is one of the best organised events I’ve been involved in – lots of briefings, emails with reminders, help with nutrition, supplements and advice. Trainers were on hand to respond to our many questions. Thanks to Josh King – it’s an amazing concept that does so many things for so many people.

25624782_10159821936595008_567044441_o

It also wouldn’t be what it is, without Carla Kassab. She is an A *** organiser, support network and friend to all. Her tireless work and care for everyone certainly didn’t go unnoticed and she made it all run so smoothly. It’s a tough job and one we admire.

I would like to say it’s an incredible experience, that I can’t speak highly enough of. I miss my weekly CF training, FB notifications and words of encouragement from the group. Whilst it’s over for me for now, hopefully you’ll see me again in the future. 

25555383_10159821907090008_559952138_n

Thanks to all involved. If you’re interested in signing up, see Corporate Fighter on the link below.

Corporate Fighter