Tuesday, June 3, 2008


That stands for "End of the Year Retreat" signifying that the year should now be over. But, oh yeah, it's still not. I had to drag myself into class yesterday, wondering if anyone was going to show up now that the majority of them had taken their PET (Preliminary English Test) over the weekend. I was surprised to have about 8 show up at one point or another. After a session of the Julia video series I went with them to sit on a terrace and enjoy the beautiful weather. They were also meant to be speaking English, which they managed to do at least part of the time. It was a nice way to start the week, but I'm really wondering what I'm going to be able to do with them over the next month!

Now I should get back to talking about the retreat we went on this weekend. I must confess that before going I was feeling a bit apprehensive. I can enjoy camping, but I like to do it on my own terms, as in I have made the decision that I want to go camping, not I have had a camping trip mandated to me. However, my somewhat negative approach to the weekend didn't end up spoiling what turned out to be a really great experience. After traveling 4 hours by train and bus to reach Prague, we met up with the most of the team and went by train for a little over an hour south east of Prague to the town of Caslov. Despite the heat, we had a good time visiting in the train as we mulled over the prospect of soon being able to purchase Taco Bell again...(sigh)

From Caslov we had chartered a bus that took us up into "the Nature" as Czechs refer to the great out of doors. The windy bus ride took us through fields, up and down hillsides, past castles and ruins, and eventually down a long gravel road to the Na Pilce camp. As we finally pulled to a stop I was immediately taken with this beautiful place. The cabins didn't look half bad, and the sun beating down on my shoulders encouraged me greatly.

The left window in the cabin in front was my room. The bed was not much softer than the ground, but I did manage to get a little (emphasis on the little) sleep in it.

It was after 7 by the time we arrived, and my stomach was pretty much ready for food, but it was still some ways off so Crystal and I took the opportunity to do a little exploring in order to stave off our hunger. We weren't disappointed with what we discovered. There were lovely little trails heading in every direction, and upon crossing the little one sided bridge I was assailed by the smell of hot dried pine needles that brought back all the mystery of Camp Apserkaha. Magical indeed.

I was later pleased to discover that, amidst all the rather dodgy sausages that people were roasting over the fire, there were some that were at least close to being traditional hotdogs, so I didn't have to starve all together. And after the meat we roasted marshmallows and had s'mores. Can't get much more American than that!

The evening was finished off with a late night hike through the woods in which Joseph nearly destroyed his ear when he fell and hit a tree, and Kassidee almost lost her engagement ring, which we fortunately found with the use of the light of a mobile phone. We returned to the big field by the camp and watched shooting stars and satellites and basked in the glory of all that God has created and deemed to be good.

By the time I curled up in my bunk that night I was ready to crash, but between the hard bed, the drunken Czechs partying outside, the early morning sunrise and the endlessly happy birds, I only slept about 4 hours. I have to say that my retreats have rather made a lie of my life for those that don't know me in any other context. These people are starting to think of me as...horror of all horrors...a MORNING person! Oh how deceived they are! But I can't really blame them when I was wide awake at 5:15, and in the shower by 6:30 because I just couldn't lie to myself anymore.

The early morning walk did allow me to get some great photos of this lovely place. As my friend Crystal commented on her blog, it's no small wonder that they have chosen this place to film things like the Narnia movies and "A Knight's Tale."

Ten points to whoever spots the extra point of interest in one of these photos :)

Besides having a chance to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings we had several meetings discussing the end of the year and how to deal with reverse culture shock. While I was generally addressed as a first timer, I pointed out that, in truth, this is something I'm very familiar with. I have to say I'm less worried about it this year than I might normally be. Right now I'm just really excited about the chance to see people and enjoy the summer. But it's always good to remember that there is always a bit of a challenge with reentry.

Saturday afternoon we took a nice hike in the excessive heat and I ran across a sight that will really confuse the people I've been trying to explain current affairs to.

A relic of the past for sure! But it amused me.

We hiked for ages only to completely miss whatever it was we were trying to find to begin with. After walking and walking, sometimes on a path nearly completely overcome by the bushes, the signs quit referencing the place we were trying to find. Ah well. It was still a goodly amount of exercise, and I told myself that all that sweat was enough to justify the Magnum bar I let myself buy after dinner. :) For those unfamiliar with the wonder that is a Magnum ice cream bars, let me just throw the word divine at you and leave it at that. They're just that good, and pretty much just that expensive as well, which is why this is the first time I've had one since my summer in Italy almost 12 years ago.

In the evening we had another short meeting, and then watched the End of the Year slideshow. There were some pretty amusing photos, and it was amazing to see all the places that people have managed to visit over the course of the year. We've been pretty much all over Europe. Afterwards we played cards until after 12 and then headed off to bed.

Despite being exhausted from the long day in the sun, the short night's sleep, the slight head injury I suffered from falling backwards off a swing (don't ask!), and the dizzying effect of playing Nerts in dim lighting, I still woke up by 6. Once again I went for a trek, and managed to snag a few last fun photos.

After breakfast and another short round of meetings, during which I was recognized as one of the leadership members for next year, we enjoyed our last few minutes in Na Pilce. It was sad knowing that some of these people will not be here next year. I'm really going to miss the Moores who I won't be seeing again. I had a great time, once again, playing with Jack and Andrew, as well as having a brief moment to hold Natalie, their two month old daughter. Retreats just won't be the same without the kids!

Before leaving, I had to join the many people who I'd seen passing through over the weekend, and I took a moment to ring the bell. I have no idea what it was exactly supposed to signify, but I just couldn't leave without taking part in whatever the ritual was.

It really was a great retreat, although when I got back I felt more exhausted than refreshed. Only 25 days until I fly home! Yippee!

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