Fire and Ice Fun for Fifteen Friends

Some people collect stamps or coins or shoes.  Me, I collect people.  Once I decide I like someone, it is hard to get me to let go.  So what do you do when people you really like are scattered all over North America?  Why, you plan a trip with that assortment of very interesting souls.

Are you curious about what happens when you put 15 friends together for 12 days on an island, coming within 40 miles south of the Arctic Circle?   Me too.  For all you inquiring minds out there, I have good news.  One of my traveling buddies is also a blogging buddy, so for THIS trip, you will have two, yes TWO blogs to peruse–this one, and the Canadian version of our Iceland Adventure.  Nancy is a fantastic photographer who always provides excellent information about the places she visits.  Another plus: her blog keeps pace with the trip, while I usually lag far behind.  (Translated: Nancy will likely be doing MOST of the blogging).   If you sign up to follow her posts, they will be delivered automatically to your in-basket, just click on that blue link above to be transferred over.

Some demographics: Our group is composed of 5 men and 10 women: 4 from Boston, 4 from New Jersey, 2 from Ohio, 2 from California, 1 from Oregon and 2 from British Columbia.  6 have never been on a group trip before, and 8 have never been on an OAT trip before.  11 of us are retired. 2 of the husbands were foreign-born:  (Argentina and Jordan).   I’ve known some members of the group for decades (the longest friendship is 53 years,) but others are newer relationships, including 1 traveler who I’ll be meeting for the first time when we arrive in Iceland.

Where will we be going, you ask?  After exploring Reykjavik, we will be traveling west and north to places with unpronounceable names.  Akureyri, I am told, is located just 40 miles off the Arctic Circle, in case you were wondering.   We then are flying back to Reykjavik, for a visit to the Golden Circle, before heading home.

For all you visual people out there, I have included a map, of sorts.

I’m excited about seeing the wonders of Iceland–the land of fire and ice.  But I’m equally excited about spending time with this great group.

Several of us decided to fly in a day early, arriving at Keflavik airport around (groan) 6 AM.  It takes about an hour to get luggage and emerge from customs, then roughly another hour to get to our hotel.  I think it is a pretty safe bet that our rooms won’t be available at 8 AM, or for  at LEAST several hours, so I have loaded up on suggestions from the OAT Forum of what to do in Reykjavik till we can crash in our hotel rooms.

Hope you join us for what we expect to be a very fun party!

At Least Ten Reasons to become a Portugal Global Volunteer

Are you considering becoming a Global Volunteer?  Wondering which program is best for you?  I’ve volunteered six times, in five different countries: St Lucia, Vietnam, the Cook Islands & Mexico, where I volunteered twice, and most recently Portugal.  I’ve done blog posts about four of them, describing how each program was wonderful in its own way,  and oh, so very rewarding.
Because I get sucked into all of the “top 10” lists, I decided to do one that will encourage you to consider spending two very worthwhile weeks in that fantastic part of the world known as Portugal.

  1. Highly motivated, interesting students:
    My assignment was English conversation at the Polytechnic Institute of Beja,

    My group, seven of the twenty four members of our class

    where I spent evenings chatting with adults who already had an impressive grasp of English, but wanted the opportunity to practice and to improve their pronunciation.
    Three of us taught together, breaking the students into smaller groups after the first forty five minutes of the two hour nightly class.
    Other volunteers taught at the high school,  middle schools and the prison.  Some tutored restaurant owners and staff.
    Interestingly, we each thought that WE had gotten the best assignment, which leads me to the next reason.

  2. An Incredible team Leader:
    Joe has been leading teams to Beja, Portugal for many years, and his extensive experience really shows.  He quickly sized up the 10 of us and figured out which volunteer best matched which assignment.  He’d give Match.com a run for their money, if he ever decided to get into the dating business!
    Joe knows all Beja’s historical sights, the most fun restaurants, the best excursions for the weekend, the cultural events, where you can get your laundry inexpensively done…everything you need to know to thoroughly enjoy your non-volunteering hours.

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    Our leader, Joe, in the black tee shirt, left front
  3. Interaction with the Community:
    When I say that Joe knows everybody in Beja, I’m not exaggerating.  One night, we enjoyed dinner with Beja’s mayor and councilwoman.  And yes, those are gifts the councilwoman is holding.

    What was in the bag?  Lots of local goodies, including my favorite–chocolate from the shop down the street.

  4. Lasting friendships:
    Laurie, Jeanne and I met when we volunteered in St. Lucia in 2012.   P119E0249.jpg
    Although Jeanne and I volunteered together in Mexico in 2017, this was the first time since that first meeting that I had had the pleasure of spending time with Laurie.  Having her as my “partner” at the University made it even more fun!
    The best part?  I now have SEVEN new volunteers who I would be thrilled to see on a future assignment.
  5. Shared Experiences:
    It almost felt like I was back in college.  Because we pretty much took over the first floor of the Hotel Bejense, I knew just about everyone in every room on that floor.  There was always someone to play with, just like back in the dorm.  IMG_5699Want to have a chat over a cup of tea?  No problem.  Just walk down the hall, to the breakfast room and along the way, you are sure to bump into a buddy or two.
    The hotel also had a cozy lounge, in which we gathered every night to share our experiences, before heading off to dinner.  As you can see, experiences weren’t the ONLY things we were sharing!  Our fee for Global Volunteers covers our housing, food, transportation to the work site but not wine.  Again, no problem.  We took turns purchasing wine, cheese and other snacks to make our evening meetings more enjoyable.
  6. Serpa Cheese Festival:
    Okay, so there is no guarantee that a future program will take place during the Cheese Festival.  We just happened to luck out.  (That cheese in the photo above was purchased at the festival by one of the volunteers.)
    There were LOTS of free samples of cheese AND wine AND chocolate!
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    Not only that, but we got to experience “Cante Alentejano”.  Okay, so I will never make my fortune as a videographer, but this 33 second clip will give you an idea of this very stylized art form.

  7. Evora:
    Global Volunteers are free to travel during the weekends.  Because public transportation is reliable, comfortable and inexpensive, we took the bus on Sunday to the beautiful city of Evora, spending the day enjoying all that it had to offer, like the Roman Temple,
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    the Chapel of Bones.
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    and even more music!
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  8. Beja:
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    There is so much to say about this lovely place that I devoted an entire blog post just to Beja.  Click here if you want a closer look at this delightful town.   It is so worth visiting.
  9. Lisbon
    It is also impossible to list all that Lisbon has to offer as one entry in a 10 item list.  So, Lisbon ALSO has its own post.   But here’s the best part:  It is SO easy to get from Beja to Lisbon by bus.  The bus station is just a short walk from the hotel.  I was surprised that it was so inexpensive–just 14 Euros to ride in comfort with access to free wifi.   Notice the stop in Evora.  
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  10. Venture Outside of Your Comfort Zone:
    Why not stretch your limits?  Try something new and exciting?  You may make new friends, accumulate lots of memories and experience another culture in a way that is not possible when you are just passing through, visiting the usual tourist sites.

Beja, Week One

Our first week in Beja has concluded, and what a wonderful week it was!

I’ve been asked many times about the kind of person who does a Global Volunteer project, so here’s a brief description of the 10 fantastic people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working, complete with a visual.

Cisco (front row) is the first Australian Global Volunteer I’ve ever encountered. (He could possibly be the first Australian in Global Volunteer’s history). We all LOVE this extremely creative and talented guy. A graphic art designer by training, he has done so many other things, it is hard to believe he is only 31 years old. I suspect his Beja students are most impressed by his disc jockey experience, but I love hearing about the awards he won while working on a Disney cruise ship. He is “bloody ripper”. (Yes, Cisco is teaching me to speak Aussie).

Also in the front row is our fearless leader, Joe. It feels like EVERYBODY in Beja knows Joe. Coming here for ten years, leading two teams per year (February and September), Joe knows all of the assignments, and has done an amazing job matching us up so everyone is happy.

Joe has sampled just about every eating establishment in the area, so we are enjoying a wide variety of delicious cuisines.

Weekends are usually free time, however Joe very graciously organized a guided tour of Beja on Saturday morning, followed by an excursion to the Serpa cheese festival in the afternoon. Sunday we spent the day visiting the historic town of Evora.

My dear friend Jeanne is in row 2. Jeanne has decades of middle school experience, so she was paired with Heidi ( back row), who is a first time volunteer. Any trip with Jeanne is guaranteed to be fun. Her positive outlook on life is the gift that keeps on giving.

Next to Jeanne is Cindy, from Connecticut. She is a retired Spanish teacher, who has spent last week working in a variety of schools with Dale (last row, Heidi’s husband). Cindy has done a number of GV trips, and is returning to Queretaro, Mexico this October. For those of you who wonder if you could volunteer as a single woman, Cindy is your role model.

Laurie is between Cindy and me. Jeanne, Laurie and I all met Continue reading Beja, Week One