Monday, June 25, 2012

Hello from Wales - KaLeigh White

Hello from Wales! My name is KaLeigh White, and I am a junior Sociology and Public Administration major from Ottumwa, Iowa. I write to you today on day 10 (June 22, 2012) of UNI's Sustainability Capstone in England and Wales. This trip marks my first experience abroad, and it has yet to disappointment me. I came on this trip to experience new cultures, see some history important to the United States, and of course, to fulfill the Capstone requirement of my Liberal Arts Core classes.

I will be the first to admit that "going green" is not a passion of mine but I am always interested in improving life at UNI, and naturally, saving UNI money. Thus, exploring the benefits that going green can offer UNI is of interest to me.  Since arriving in the United Kingdom, I have noticed several sustainable efforts everywhere we go. (I am not sure if I am noticing more because of the topic of this Capstone, but I would venture to say that being green is much more prominent here than in the United States). Kara and Andrew both mentioned several examples of sustainability in their blogs and the number of these examples have only increased since. We are currently staying at Bala-Backpackers Hostel where the owner, Ms. Stella, has no shortage of signs/notes regarding being environmentally friendly  (and signs about everything else under the sun). Every room has a sign that reminds you to sort out your "rubbish” and recycle. The bathrooms are plastered with reminders to conserve every drop of water and low flow showers (that shut off every 15 seconds). Next to the kitchen trashcan,  Ms. Stella notes that one "wheelie bin" of trash is all that is needed for 40 backpackers over a two-week time frame. I find that to be truly amazing. My home uses one "wheelie bin" every week for three people. I hope to learn from this minimalist life style and, like them, use fewer disposable products.

Just as I would like to come back to Iowa a little greener, a large part of this trip is to bring new sustainability ideas back to UNI. This is a huge challenge indeed. As they mentioned at the University of Birmingham, changing the habits and mindset of people is a huge challenge. After all, humans are creatures of habits. Additionally, many of us at UNI have everything we need. We do not worry about running out of clean water. We can generally afford everything we need (or want), and it is just a quick trip in the car when we run out of our paper towels, bottled water, chemical cleaning products or anything else we could possibly "need." I can barely even imagine what it would take to replace all the paper towel dispensers on UNI's campus with hand dryers or to convince students to take shorter showers (I don't know if I could even convince myself of that). I think this will be the biggest task of the UNI Sustainability Capstone class.

Now, let's move on to the spectacular Wales. Tonight is our last night here, and I do not want to leave. I do not think any of us do. The scenery is breathtaking no matter where you look. All of the little towns we have visited have a massive amount of character. Since we arrived the weather has been surprisingly nice. We were expecting constant rain, but today was the first day that we caught a few showers.

KaLeigh White, Stephanie Hogan, and Jill Thompson on the beach in Llandudno, Wales.

The first place we stayed at was the Westdale Hotel in Llandudno, Wales. It was adorable and well kept by the owners, Lesley and Simon. They made it all that anyone could hope for and more. They welcomed us with open arms and a friendly face. Lesley made us a delightful English breakfast our first morning, and later, a great sack lunch for hike up Mt. Snowdon.   On our last night, Simon joined us for conversation in the living room, and in the morning when we left, they stood in the doorway to wave us goodbye. But I am getting ahead of myself, so much happened before that goodbye.

Andrew Sorge and KaLeigh White in one of the towers at Conwy Castle in Conwy, Wales.

Our first night in Llandudno, we enjoyed a group dinner at the Whetherspoon, and then, we explored the shore and the hillside. It was beautiful beyond words. I could have sat forever on top of the hill that overlooked the city. The next morning, we hopped onto the city bus (the public transportation is amazing throughout the United Kingdom) to visit Conwy Castle.  The castle, like the rest of Wales, was stunning. We climbed the towers, enjoyed the views, and soaked up the history.  Before leaving Conwy, we meandered around the village's shops and enjoyed some traditional fish and chips at the port.

After Conwy, we headed to the cable car in Llandudno that went over the Great Orme. Three of the girls were lucky enough to ride in the same cable car that the Olympic torch went up the Orme in. Again, the views were awesome.  Once we had soaked up enough of the sights, we headed down the hillside to enjoy some dinner in downtown Llandudno and a relaxing evening in the Westdale living room.

KaLeigh White descending Mt. Snowdon

Bright and early (too early), we woke up to breakfast with Lesley and Simon before Nigel (our coach driver) picked our luggage and us up to "enjoy" Mt. Snowdon. About an hour after leaving the Westdale, we arrived in the mountains, and Nigel dropped us off near the end of our trail up the mountain. The spirits in the group were mixed. Many of us were very excited, while others of us were nervous. It was not long before we were all feeling "the burn". We would be feeling the burn for 4 hours up that mountain. The climb up took a little bit of teamwork, some encouragement, and a lot of endurance. There was a thick fog blocking what we knew were spectacular views the whole way up. I, along with the rest of the group, was really bummed by this. But as condensation collected on our eyelashes and after a number of breaks, we finally made it to the top. That was the best feeling in the world. We had done it together, and despite being exhausted and cold, spirits were high. It was a great moment to share with these wonderful people who I have only known for a few weeks. I think it really brought our group together.   You could feel the comradery bursting at the seams.

We briefly caught our breath and warmed up before heading down the mountain. Just as we were leaving the summit, the fog cleared and we were blessed with views beyond our wildest dreams. The whole way down we took tons of pictures and gazed upon the grace and peacefulness of our surroundings. The path we followed down was more challenging, but faster.  It was fun climbing over and round the rocks of the mountain side (even though I fell A LOT). We eventually reached the bottom 2.5 hours later, a little wet (or really wet) from the rain.  A short time later, we arrived exhausted, sore, and did I mention wet to Bala-Backpacker's Hostel. We warmed up with a wonderful shower, refueled at a pizza and pasta restaurant, and then crawled into bed for a slumber.

Daylight came much too early the next morning. I awoke slightly sore and still a little tired. My spirits were lifted (a little) by breakfast from Ms. Stella, and before long, Paul from the RYG Outdoor Centre came to pick us up for a day of canyoning. (For those who may not know what canyoning is -- as I did not before today -- canyoning is a relatively new outdoor sport were people scramble, swim, rappel, and slip their way down gorges.) With the rain drizzling down, we fought our way into wetsuits and life jackets at the centre, and then headed in a coach to the gorge. Canyoning was extremely cold, and we all had our fair share of slips and falls. Our two guides, Paul and Rob, had to prevent the stream (or small river) from carrying me away several times.  Time seemed to fly, and before I knew it, we were making our way back to the RYG Centre. Despite the fact that I could not feel my toes, I could not wipe the smile off of my face.

Today ended with a very relaxing evening. I regained the feeling in my toes after a warm shower, made a quick trip to the store for a snack, and took a short nap. I awoke from the nap to enjoy a homemade, or should I say "hostel-made," group dinner of pasta, fruit, and garlic bread with ice cream for dessert. As I write this and the day winds down, laughter bounces throughout the hostel's walls and the games have only just begun. Can this trip get any better? Sorry "Mum", but I may be moving to Wales. Goodnight, or as they would say in Welsh "Nos Da".