Katherine Times Wed 12 Mar 2014
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V.32 issue 9
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North Australian News for Katherine Times
14 KATHERINE TIMES, WEDNESDAY MARCH 12 2014 www.katherinetimes.com.au HOT DEALS CALYPSO CAPERS MSC Cruises has a two- for- one deal going on a Caribbean cruise. The special applies to a seven- night cruise on MSC Divina departing from Miami on May 3. Stops include Philipsburg, St Maarten and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Children aged under 18 cruise free when staying in the same cabin as their parents. The price now starts from $1049 a couple twin share. It must be booked by March 31. www.mscruises.com.au SNOW JOB SkiJapan.com is offering free ski lift passes and snow rental equipment for kids in a Niseko ski package. The total saving is around $375 each. The deal includes seven nights' selfcontained accommodation in the recently refurbished Yotei Cottage, airport meet and greet, airport transfers, a sixday Niseko All Mountain Ski Lift pass (including night skiing) for each adult and six days' standard ski, boot and pole hire. The package price for a family of four is $2866. www.skijapan.com LOTSA LUXE Business class flights and fivestar accommodation are included in a Travel Associates deluxe Fiji holiday package. The deal comprises return business class flights with Fiji Airways, a five- night stay at the five- star InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa in a king beachfront view room, breakfast daily and nine- hole golf package. Honeymooners receive a complementary bottle of sparkling wine on arrival. Kids under 12 with their parents get free breakfast and dinner. The cost is $3509 an adult ex Sydney and $3615 from Melbourne. It is valid for travel May 3-June 30. www.travel-associates.com.au GOD SAVE THE QUEEN In response to increased frequency of Qantas' Sydney to Queenstown service, Oaks Hotel and Resorts has early bird deals going on its Oaks Shores and Oaks Club Resort in Queenstown, New Zealand. Room rates are from $139 a night on minimum two- night stays or from $264 a night on minimum two- night stays in two- bedroom apartments, for bookings and travel before June 27. Blackout dates apply. www.oaksresorts.com Trips that change lives Working tourists are doing a world of good in Laos, writes JJimmy Thomson. The old moon bear is not into sharing. Acracked-open coconut has been tossedinto his enclosure and he is alternating chews with muffled growls as the younger bears sidle up. If they get too close, this cute bundle of fur turns into a snarling flurry of fangs and claws. This is no teddy bear. But the youngsters are smart and fast. While one of them distracts their grizzled companion into a threatening lunge, the other snatches the coconut and races off with it, leaving the old timer to moan quietly at his misfortune. The law of the jungle applies even in the safety of the Tat Kuang Si bear rescue centre just outside Luang Prabang in northern Laos. You feel sorry for the old chap, until you remember what brought him here. Tat Kuang Si is home for 26 moon bears that have been rescued from various horrors. The lucky ones were simply caged outside restaurants or the homes of the rich and the powerful, for the amusement and amazement of guests. Others had tubes driven into their stomachs and permanently fixed there, to harvest the bile so highly prized in traditional medicine. You don't want to think about the fear and pain they endured to immobilise them and render them harmless to their heartless captors. So, all in all, the old bear is better off here, even if someone has stolen his lunch. Over in the distance, a female hobbles gamely through her paddock on three legs, the fourth having been amputated. It had become infected when her paw was cut off to make bear paw soup. We shouldn't dwell on the human capacity for cruelty to other animals this centre is all about compassion and caring. And the best news is that if you truly care about the fate of these animals, you can do something about it, much more directly than just sending money. Tat Kuang Si and its much bigger equivalent in Cambodia, Phnom Tamao, housing about 130 bears, are into voluntourism - schemes where you spend a couple of weeks working for a charity and pay for the privilege to do so. Run by the Free the Bears organisation, this is the most Australian of overseas experiences. It's just over 20 years since Perth woman Mary Hutton saw a TV documentary about the plight of Asiatic bears, kept captive in appalling conditions while their bile was drained and their paws amputated. From raising a petition outside her nearest shopping centre, Hutton has built Free the Bears into a global charity instrumental in rescuing hundreds of animals in South-East Asia and an amazing 500-plus in India. But still, people trap and maim these beautiful creatures. When we visited Luang Prabang, we were told that a weekend sweep of a nearby jungle area had cleared more than 100 bear traps. So what can a voluntourist expect? You will be feeding the bears, cleaning up their habitats and getting to know them much better than a bus trip to the zoo could ever provide. You'll be kept busy - either on general duties or on one of the specific tasks such as maintaining or building enclosures and other facilities. Accommodation is going to be clean and comfortable. In Laos you'll be housed in a private room in a villa overlooking the nearby waterfalls. You will be expected to clean your own room, make your own bed and cook your own breakfast. Lunch can be bought at the sanctuaries for less than $5 but dinner, local food cooked by your housekeeper, is provided most nights. Many travellers will see this as a way to really get to know a local culture just by being in it. Both the Free the Bears centres take groups, couples and individuals but you may have to be flexible with your times, depending on demand. For Cambodia we have a maximum limit of six volunteers per week, the idea being that with smaller numbers we can offer a better experience, says chief executive Matt Hunt. However, we do occasionally break this rule for people travelling in larger groups. For Laos, we tailor specific trips throughout the year - about three per year the program there is smaller and the dates are based on specific projects that we would like to accomplish during volunteer trips. Hunt says there is no waiting list, but there are periods of the year which have been booked out. We usually try to accommodate more people, but more often than not volunteers are flexible with their dates and join us on another day, he says. And we do get return bookings. On average, the volunteers tend to be 21 35, but a whole range of age groups have visited. The minimum age is 21, the maximum is unlimited as long as the volunteer is able to physically cope with strenuous work in a tropical climate. That's a point worth making. These trips are not like some voluntourist holidays where you spend your time faffing around taking selfies with grateful locals. At Free the Bears you are expected to work. At time of writing, Free the Bears was specifically looking for architects, a landscaper or gardener, tilers, an artist, painters and decorators, a welder, a graphic designer and a tree surgeon. Most of these posts are for a minimum of two or three weeks. But you can still go along if you don't have these specific skills if there is room. If you are including your voluntourism as part of a longer trip, your weekends are your own at both reserves so you will get the opportunity to do the regular tourist thing too. The Luang Prabang reserve, though smaller, does have the advantage of being 20 minutes from one of the most picturesque and friendliest cities in South East Asia. But the bears are what you'll be there for, and it's your memories of seeing these beautiful animals up close and imagining their relief from the horrors they have endured that will last as long as the shelters and fences you help to build to protect them. They may be fenced in but, partly thanks to you, the bears are free. The writer was a guest of Vietnam Airlines Making a difference ... volunteers at work at the Tat Kuang Si centre in Laos and, below, play time for the rescued bears at Luang Prabang. >> travel TYING THE KNOT? CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY? Have your photos published in the Katherine Times - let us know on 8972 1111 so we can send one of our photographers or email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org HAVING A BUSINESS FUNCTION? A W 12 40 17 5