Thursday, May 31, 2012

Road Trip!

We soon got out of the fun but overpriced city for a road trip called the Great Southern Touring Route, a loop from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road and then inland to the Grampion mountains and back to Melbourne!

Our trusty van "orb" (Old Reliable Bubbles) took us all the way there! We slept in the back every night in our very warm sleeping bags.

Lots of amazing and famous scenery on the way. Like this lighthouse for instance... what was it called again? Who knows. Oh well.

The gateway to the Great Ocean Road, the largest war memorial in the world. The road was built by World War I Veterans.

We drove up this road to look for koalas, but it was so windy and there were lots of eucalyptus branches scattered on the road! We were afraid of getting a flat tire so we turned around, but we did see a couple!

And even more the next day! This is at the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve.


 Don't they look like dinosaurs?
(Mom says: "Remember how cold it was?")


 They were at all of our campsites!



Can you spot this one?

Morning coffee!

 Uh oh, traffic jam...

This was our hike in the Grampion National Park called "the Grand Canyon!"

 Self timer on a rock. Not a lot of other people here at this time of year. It started raining as soon as we left.

Mom Comes to Melbourne!

First we took a walking tour of Melbourne and met all the local buskers.

 Here's my friend Zane playing his yayli tanbur. It's a Turkish instrument. I met him when I was busking at the St. Kilda Farmer's Market and as two American buskers lost in Australia we bonded and had dinner. Then I saw him twice again on the street busking! He is funding his whole trip with it, he has to make $40 a day to keep it up (he almost always does!)  He also couchsurfs - (there's a website where you can stay with friendly locals willing to let travellers stay on their couches). He's planning to busk around Europe as well!

 This guy was rapping and beatboxing, pretty good!

 A friendly pianist busking on one of the dozens of pedestrian walkways lined with (very expensive) cafes and shops

 He let me have a go too!

The Royal Arcade, one of the snootier walkways 

An excursion to the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, the best I've seen anywhere! So beautiful!

Mom walking on a war memorial

Kinda looks like DC, doesn't it?

 Me and mom on top of the city!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mark the Crazy Goldminer

Note to readers: So much has happened in the last 10 months I haven't had much time to process it all. So whenever I have spare time to write, I'll be documenting some of my favorite New Zealand memories and posting them here.  Enjoy!

Mark the Crazy Goldminer
March 1, 2012

James and I were dripping with sweat on a brutally sunny day. We had just finished a week-long trek in the New Zealand backcountry, where we camped by rivers and enjoyed spectacular views of the Southern Alps. Now, our backpacks strewn aside, we stood with our thumbs up by the roadside, desperate for an air-conditioned car. After spending a night in Queenstown to recuperate from our trip, we were off to get a taste of dairy farming down south, when a man approached us. He looked to be in his 60's, standing slouched with his hands on his hips, his grey hair and bushy beard frazzled in the heat.

“I've lost my nugget,” he said, looking puzzled. “I must have dropped it across the road somewhere. My auntie lives here," he says, guesturing at the house who's driveway we have been occupying for the last half-hour. "Have you seen my nugget?”

We walked around the pavement and street with him, scanning the ground, but we didn't see it. After one last hopeful search in the bushes around the street, he smiles at us and says, "Oh well, It'll pop up later." He was holding a little terrier he introduced to us as Tom, and then told us his name is Mark.

“I can never resist hitchhikers," he tells us with glee. "I'll go get my car.”

James and I looked at each other apprehensively, but Mark had struck us both as a genuine guy, if a bit eccentric. It turned out he was going out of his way to take us to our next destination. When he brought his muddy jeep around James sat up front and I cuddled in the back with Tom.

Mark loves to talk, a common condition of most people who pick up hitchhikers. He told us about his livelihood, panel beating (making the metal panels for cars) and his hobbies, goldmining and collecting ambergris, whalebones, and strange rocks along the beach by his house. Our first stop was a gas station where we bought popsicles. James and I couldn't decide between the ginger beer or the kiwifruit flavor so we got both to share. Back on the road again, Mark offered to show us a few places on our way where he went camping as a kid.

He pulled off the main highway onto a rocky unsealed road, and took us to a lovely, calm river with a wide space perfect for a swim. Mark asked us if we mind if he hopped in – of course not, we want to get in too, it's bloody hot!

Mark stripped down naked and waded into the freezing glacier water. Tom got his feet wet and then waited in the car. James and I follow (I wore my bathing suit, don't worry!) The frigid shock of the cold water was soothing on such a hot day but after a few minutes I was ready to get out and dry in the sun.

Back in the car, we drove for another hour but it was starting to get dark.

“Hey I think my friend Norman lives around here. I bet we can stay with him.” At this point, why not?

Mark didn't know where exactly his friend lived but he seemed unconcerned. He went into the only bar in Balfour, a middle-of-nowhere kind of town, and asked them where Norman lives. They knew Norman and told Mark that he lived in the next town over.

So after a few more kilometers Mark went into the bar at Riversdale, where he got directions from someone that said Norman lived in "the house with the longest grass."

James spotted Norman's place as we drive down the only residential street in town. It was a single-story, slightly dilapidated house with an untidy lawn stretching a bit further than the rest of the street. We pulled in and parked.

Norman came out to greet us as if he had been expecting us. “I was going to go to Gore with some friends today, but I had this feeling that I needed to be here. Good to see you, Mark.” Norman's skin was pink and shiny from too much sun and had an unusually hairy neck. He was bald, pot-bellied but strong-looking, and wore a stained red shirt with holes in the armpits. We later found out he shears sheep for a living.

“Norman, this is Amber and James, some hitchhikers I picked up a few hours ago.” Mark introduced us proudly.

We exchanged pleasantries and Norman lead us into his home, and told us he's decided to give us a full Maori greeting. It turned out even though Norman is as white as can be, he is a 'paheka'- a white guy obsessed with all things Maori. He knew their language fluently, could make a traditional hangi meal (roasting a pig underground with hot rocks in a pit oven), and was absolutely obsessed with basket weaving.  His house was one of the dirtiest I've ever seen - his living room strewn with stray flax strands and half-finished projects, newspapers and trash stacked in every corner. The kitchen looked as though it hasn't been cleaned in at least a year.

Norman started the welcome ceremony by singing us a song in Maori, and then asked us to sing a song or say something to introduce ourselves to the group. Then he gave a long speech in Maori and translated it for us - you are all welcome here, thanks for coming, etc etc - and then we finished with the hungi, each touching foreheads and noses. I held my breath when I touched my forehead to Normans, and when it was over he said, "Well you're meant to breathe in a little bit of each other's air, or life force, but that's alright."

He offered us the living room to sleep in and even started to move some of the piles of trash so we could lay out our sleeping bags, but I politely declined. He left the bathtub running a few days ago and the carpet is soaking wet. We decided instead to set up our tent on his front lawn. Mark slept in his car.

The next day all four of us headed to Piano Flat, a lovely camping spot where Mark used to go as a kid, and we spent the day lounging by the river. Mark did some gold mining and we all went swimming. 

At the end of the day, Mark finally dropped us off in Edendale, another small town where we soon started working on the dairy farm. We were sad to see him go. He invited us to stay with him at his home in Cozy Nook. He claimed you can cast a fishing pole into the ocean from his front porch. I didn't quite believe him then, but we found out that he wasn't lying the next weekend when we went to visit him!

Here are pictures from our visit to Cozy Nook.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hippiehouse on Wheels!

As dawn breaks on a frosty morning on New Zealand's west coast, I find myself walking along the creek, watching a miner pan for gold  in the river flowing through our campsite. All around me, the bush is coming to life. Birds are chirping, their melodies winding around the trees, greeting the rising sun. Unfortunatly, this tranquil moment is soon shattered by the cries of another creature stirring from her slumber, my 1-year-old travel companion, Willow. "MUUUUM! MUUUUM! MUUUUUUUUM!"

Day three on the hippiebus, and it's chaos as usual: pre-breakfast screaming and coddling by mom Kristy, frantic searching for adequate clothes for the day, and preparation of our breakfast crumble.  To spare the rest of the campers the screaming baby, I offer to take the kids on a bike ride.

She is not having it.

"Come on Willow, lets go! Be quiet! You'll have fun once you forget about your mom!"
Sure enough, the screaming only lasts for about 2 minutes. Her brother Sage is behind me on his bike, his uneven training wheels clanking on the gravel road. At every tiny hint of uphill we both push our bikes. We stop to investigate a child-sized cave.

"We better not go in there!" Sage says, wide-eyed, just as I was thinking we should. I'll never understand the mind of our four-year-old.
We continue around the winding road, Willow looking surly but at least not screaming and Sage pushes his bike,  pretending he's about to die of exhaustion. Finally we turn around, and its an easy coast downhill. No one drives down this gravel road in the middle of New Zealand nowhere.

When I turn the corner to the campground, Willow spots the moon. It's full tonight.  "MOOOOOON!" Willow says excitedly, pointing at the huge yellow orb rising though the beech trees and ferns. It's her favorite word.

Back at the caravan, after an ecstatic reunion between mother and daughter, Kristy asks her baby: "Did you have a good time?" 

And, with an indifferent glance in my direction, she nods! That tiny nod from Willow made my whole trip worthwhile.

Even though I'm thousands of miles away from everything familiar, there are moment when I realize that I am in the right place. Last week I got to go on the road trip of a lifetime, just because fate had decided so. Here's how it all fell into place:

A few months ago, James and I were hitchhiking to Riverton near the bottom of New Zealand when we got picked up from a raggedy-looking Canadian named Jesse. On the way to the campsite we asked him to drop us off he missed the turn off so he invited us back to his farm. We met his partner Kristy and their two beautiful kids Sage and Willow along with Jesse's parents who were visiting from Canada. We were soon chowing down on tasty organic quiche and salad. We ended up staying there the whole weekend, playing music and babysitting. Jessie is an accomplished guitarist and writes his own songs. Kristy has a beautiful voice and now has a few original songs too!

A month later, we stayed with them for another week, which was one of the major highlights of my trip: I learned how to chop firewood and milk a goat, exciting new skills for a city slicker like me.

While dropping us off in town Kristy mentioned that she and her friend Tamsin were going on a road trip up the west coast and that we were invited to come along. Unfortunately James had to go work up north but I knew I had to go with them. When else would I have a chance for an adventure like this?

Fast forward to Wanaka 2 weeks later, the site of our rendezvous for the journey. When I first see them from a distance, a spattering of vibrant color by the edge of the lake, I notice that Sage and Willow arenaked and playing in the lake. An assortment of Asian tourists with huge cameras snapping pictures of them!  Wow, blonde naked local kids, great photo subjects! Haha. One Chinese lady (she said ni-hao) walks right up to Willow and tries to pick her up - but no way, she is not having it!

I soon find myself in the moving hippiehouse that will be my home no the road for the next week. It is owned and expertly operated by Kristy and Jesse's best friend, Tamsin. She immigrated here from England seven years ago. Back when she was my age she had serious health problems, which she thinks were from all the processed junk food she ate as a kid. So she embarked on an epic three-year solo trip through Asia to try out lots of different traditional healing methods. (She's writing a book about it!) She was vegetarian for 10 years, and for a few years was on a gluten-free dairy-free yeast-free sugar-free meat-free diet.

Being the reliable hippie health nut, Tamsin had us on an amazing diet with some of the best 'healthy' food I've ever had! It's called the GAPs Diet, the Gut and Psycology Syndrome by Dr. Campbell McBride. In a nutshell we were allowed to eat foods that are easy to digest - organic meat, fish, all fruit, most vegetables, fermented nuts, butter, honey, and coconut - but starch like potatoes and grains like rice or oats were off-limits.

Also on the trip with us was Phil, another hitchhiker who had stayed with Kristy and Jessie. Phil was born in Russia, where he was raised by his grandparents in a tiny village. He moved to England when he was seven to go to private school where he acquired his posh English accent. In high school he had dreadlocks and wore black nail polish, but somehow he transformed to a perfume-wearing metrosexual who took his girlfriend to fancy art galleries and such. Instead of university he studied jewellery making and gemstones. On our trip he was always picking up rocks, and he would go talk to local jewelers who would just give him stuff for free! Phil is also an amazing beatboxer and tried to teach me some of the basics.

Kristy, mom of Sage and Willow, is one of the nicest people I've ever met - she just radiates calm and sweetness. After high school, Kristy trained to be a dental assistant, but like Tamsin found herself with some serious health problems. She tried all kinds of antibiotics and pills but none of them worked - they just seemed to make her sicker. So she decided to try more natural remedies and changed her diet, and travelled by herself in Australia, working on farms (just like me!). That's where she met Jessie, and then they hitchhiked across Canada ... with a cat! Then they moved back to New Zealand together to pursue their dream of living a sustainable life and not having to rely on money - growing their own food, trading with neighbours for what they can't make themselves. I am so inspired by them.

So imagine all of us in one moving room - me, Tamsin, Phil, Kristy, Sage and Willow - for a week! I learned a lot, especially from Tamsin, who does all kinds of hippie healing that I had never even heard of. She has a light machine - like a high-powered flashlight with different colored filters - that she shines on different parts of your body. She gave me a rainbow session and I have to say, despite all my disbelief, I did feel something. Maybe it was psycological, but who knows! 

We also cleansed gemstones in the full moon, "om"ed at every meal, and had lots of jam session. We had one great one in front of a grocery store - Tamsin on her violin, Phil on the guitar, and me on the flute!

On Tamsins lists of evils are: cell phones (she never touches hers to her face) sunscreen (she threw mine in the trash) pharmaceutical medicine (she worked for a pharmaceutical company in England for a few years) and processed food - all of the additives, chemical, and preservatives are disgusting. Knowing her has definitely changed my conception of what is healthy. For instance, I grew up thinking butter was bad for you. But the truth is fats are essential. In the American diet we don't eat a lot of animal fats so butter should be used, in moderation as with all food. Margarine and any kind of 'fake butter' is really, really bad.

Both Kristy and Tamsin advocate this amazing book called "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon that presents old recipes from how people used to cook before supermarkets and fast food, using vegetables from their garden and animals from their farm. It's a really amazing book, I read part of it at Kristys house.

For two nights we stayed at a Tapawera campground owned by Tamsin's friends from England Tim and Coleen. One night Tim gave us a group EFT session. The Emotional Freedom Technique consists of tapping on certain meridian points while focusing on a specific issue that is bothering you. There's a phrase that you repeat to yourself: "I accept every little bit of myself no matter what" in between the tapping and focusing. I'm not sure I completely understand it but the positive thinking part of it appeals to me. 

Tim also took us on a hike up to Mount Arthur, where you can see the west and the east coasts of New Zealand! To the west is all native bush, but looking east you see man's impact - deforestation, pine trees farms, pastureland, etc.

As I watch the wandering hippiebus drive off to Golden Bay, I head for Picton to take the ferry back to the North Island. I feel sad to be parting from them but also relieved not have to live in such close quarters with such tiny, loud people.  But I know that I will see them again someday. I can't wait to meet the older versions of Sage and Willow. I have a vision that in 10 years I will come back to New Zealand and visit them on their farm, and see how their dreams have unfolded.

Tamsin spent years refurbishing this van.


The sometimes cranky but often adorable Willow

 Inside you had a kitchen complete with stovetop, sink, oven, and storage space.

 There was even a wood stove to keep us warm at night!

This table slid down to become a bed. 
Three people could sleep in this area with three more on top in the loft.

Breakfasttime!  Every day for breakfast we would have an apple crumble - baked apples on the bottom layer, on top grated carrots, 2 eggs, butter, and honey - with organic yogurt. Yum. So good.

The van at Gillepsies Beach campsite, where you can see Mount Cook FROM THE BEACH.


Early morning tea

 This beach was so cool, we spent two nights here.

 Where else can you see mountains from the beach? Amazing. The pictures don't do it justice.

Sage is a good climber!

 Tamsin, the chef with a delicious lunch: beetroot and carrot salad, mashed pumpkin with butter, and homemade meatloaf. Yum.


Back at the pancake rocks!

In the back