Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Possum Party

By Kathleen

The wildlife in Australia is endlessly fascinating to me. With no indigenous mammals accept the dingo dog (or so I’m told) the creatures that inhabit the land are new and strange to me. Being as isolated as they were from the rest of the world, Australia’s animals evolved in special and unique ways.
Most of the warm blooded ones are marsupials ( the kangaroo) or monotremes ( the platypus). They all seemed to have evolved to be especially adorable, which I’m not convinced is the best survival strategy.

I often wonder what the first European explores thought of the wildlife and how they described it back home. There are birds that sound like demons in the woods and rainbow colored parrots. There are strange warm blooded creatures that lay eggs, and then there are the famous kangaroos which have heads that look like deer, eat grass, hop like rabbits and are as big as a man. I wonder if anyone believed them at first or if people just nodded and smiled and thought “ that’s what happens when you drink too much salt water”.

Most cold blooded animals seem to be some degree of poisonous.  So in Australia I have made my own categorized of wildlife, cute and deadly. Lets hope I don’t find something that falls in both of those. ( Thinking about it kangaroos do fit this as they are cute but if they jump into the road while you are driving they can be deadly, it’s like hitting a deer… that hops.)

I so far have been lucky enough to see some wild kangaroos up close, well, not too close and even encountered one of those poisonous snakes. There are road signs that warn of wombat and koala crossings but we haven’t actually seen one yet.

Then, last night, I was taking a shower in the bathroom when I heard this group of kids with accompanying mothers come in. “ Where is it honey?” one of the mothers asked, “ Up there see.” A child responded, clearly afraid. I was toweling off so I stopped thinking ; where was what.. hopefully nothing poisonous…

I asked them what it was “ There’s a possum!”. I thought for a second with the accent that they said python which would have been cool, but then I remembered that I don’t think they have those here. “ Oh a possum” I replied and hurriedly dressed as they discussed a way to remove the hapless fellow.

Now I grew up with cats, outdoor cats, and anyone who has ever had one will know that they bring you “presents” often still alive for your pleasure. So I’ve seen my fair share of scared bunnies and birds and chipmunks and the like, oh and I love rodent like creatures. The kids thought I was hurrying to get dressed and escape, I was hurrying to get dressed and see the little guy.

There it was up in a corner of the bathroom, looking like a thief caught I the act, all big eyes and scared face. The poor thing was obviously terrified and upset that its dry warm evening home was inhabited by us. The ladies and kids went off to find some men to clear it out all the while shrieking about how ugly it was. I went to get Fiz to show him how freaking adorable it was.

The men got a broom, which really didn’t seem necessary and attempted to brush  out of the loo but it kept evading them until it ran to where Fiz and I stood cooing. “ Go that way” I told it and it seemed to understand because it followed where I was pointing to and escaped.

Possums back home are sort of like big cute rats, they are generally white and have whip-like tails and little fangs. They get hit by cars a lot and strangely they also play dead when they are scared. So generally unless you catch one scurrying around your garage this is what they look like.


This is an Australian possum. Now as yourself, would you sweep that out with a broom!? Adorable.
Australian Brushtail Possum by Michael Humphrys





Sunday, December 25, 2011

I’ve Been Workin’ On the Blueberry Farm…

This is how a blueberry cluster should look. Lots of blueberries ripening all the time. This is New England, not Australia.

By Kathleen

Alright, I know, we’ve been bad bloggers. Its true. I’m sorry.

See  last time we checked in, which was too long ago, I still had not seen a kangaroo and we were headed up the Hume Highway towards are blueberry destiny. That destiny, like so many fantasies, does not have a happy ending. Suffice to say we have completely sworn off blueberries and anything else blue for the rest of the year. Ok, well no not really that would be very dramatic. But we were swindled and now I have a better feel of what it is like to be migrant worker.

Where shall I begin…

We arrived in the small town of Kempsey, ready for our adventure and were excited to see, amongst other signs of life, a crunchy little organic store selling bulk items and Dr. Brommer’s Soap ( squee!)

So delicious!
The farm was located on a pretty little dirt road that apparently is populated by growers, we were warned not to go wandering lest we be mistaken for trespassers or police and shot. The blueberry farm was simple enough 6,000 plants is actually no so many when you see them all and there were reasonable facilities. Here I will point out that after Asia almost anything can look reasonable but in this case I mean a hot water shower, flushing toilet and kitchenette. Best of all it was filled with other backpackers. “ Great” we said.

The next day was our first blueberry picking day and it went swell. The sun wasn’t too hot, the work was easy, most everyone who spoke English was nice and we hit it off really well with a girl who is a long term volunteer at Panya ( for those who weren’t paying attention that’s the farm we stayed at in Thailand and yes… there is a quiz). We were in good company.

However, there were problems. They were small issues to be sure, like the missing door on the shower, or one toilet for 20 people, but seeing as we have already established that anything above what 10$ will buy you in Asia is fine we didn’t much mind. What concerned us were the rumors that the money was crap.

In the add we were promised 7$ kilo for big berries and 2.50$ for a kilo of small, pretty good money. But then it rained… for a week, so but the time we showed up what fruit was left on the bush was mostly overripe. This was complicated by the fact that the last bunch of pickers hadn’t stripped the bushed properly so there was no chance for the plants to make new fruit. We were stuck with leftovers.

Still big leftovers little leftovers, they add up… or so we thought. Turns out that anything other that top quality big berries was deemed a “ jam berry”. We weren’t paid for jam berries. At first this seemed fair, they couldn’t sell jam berries so we didn’t get paid for them. Until it became clear that they were in fact selling jam. That interestingly, it was one of their biggest sellers. Funny…. I swear they were “jam berries” because they were bad and couldn’t be sold.

Now here’s a lesson for all you budding entrapanuers so listen up. If you have a product that requires minimal cost input and you don’t pay your labor then what you make is almost entirely PROFIT.

It really would have been almost tolerable, except for the farmer’s husband. He comes to us after work and gloats about how “his” jam sells so well he was able to buy a big screen TV after last weekend's market.

This is compounded by the fact that at every turn they would try and do favors, freeze your meat offer pizza, so we all felt too guilty to leave. Until we saw our paychecks. Then everyone made like Moses and got outta dodge.

Fiz and I didn’t leave with the exodus, we stayed for another week ( we did drive 1000Km to get to the damn place). In the end it was sad, the full timers were so cool and the work was fairly easy. Strangely the boss could never figure out why we all left. Totally eluded her. When we found out Fiz made $7 in one day we left too.

We traveled to Sydney where we stayed with the friend from Panya for a few nights. We also meet a German couple who happened to be staying as well. They were super cool and we ended up traveling with them on our way back down south.

The four of us spent Christmas under a tree with a roast chicken, some blueberries and Australian brandy cream.  Tropical birds, pink and white “caw-cawed” as we North Hemispher-ers wished each other a Merry Christmas. We were right in the middle of it when a huge thunderstorm came rolling, we ran through the rain with our chicken back to our cars.

Now we are back in Victoria in a place right outside of Shepparton called Mooroopna. It’s the middle of nowhere, not even a nice little organic shop in sight. We are looking to pick tomatoes. We need to get new tires for our car.

Prospects seem good. The people at the camping spot across the way have offered us picking jobs and we drove down here on the promise of a packing job. One is a lot more money than the other but the hours are crazy. Still I’m debating the crazy for the substantial increase in my personal wealth.

It is quite difficult to decide. I think we may find out more information tomorrow.

Oh and I finally did see some kangaroos!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Australia!

By Fiz

It has been five days since we arrived in Australia, and so far we have landed a job, bought a car, and started out on the 1200km journey to the farm we will be working on.

Flying into Australia was quite nice, except for some issues with the in flight entertainment systems.  We highly recommend Thai Airways, the flight attendants were very courteous, and accommodating, the food was quite good, and the planes were new with a very aesthetically pleasing interior. Our flight from New Delhi to Bangkok was just shy of 3 hours, then we had a 6 hour layover (where we dropped $20 on two burgers with fries and sodas), and we finished it up with the 9 hour flight to Melbourne. 

We arrived famished at Hotel Discovery, “Perfect for the budget traveler” with dorm beds starting at just $18 around 1:00 o’clock pm!  Our room was a four bed dorm which we shared with two Swiss women traveling having just graduated from College. We were paying $24 per bed and we were still paying less than any other guesthouse/hostel/hotel listed online for the Melbourne region.  After we checked in we went looking for food, which we found at a chain cafĂ©/bakery called Pie Face, a cute little place that served all manner of savory and sweet pies.  Kathleen got a meat pie with a face drawn on the crust in gravy, and I had the first quiche lorraine I actually enjoyed since we left home.

With satiated appetites we began the job search.  We took the advice of other travelers and began our search on gumtree.com.au the Australian equivalent to craigslist.org and sent off applications to any and every ‘help wanted’ ad we saw.  There are two types of listings on Gumtree, the casual *Holy shit!  We just hit a bird in mid-flight, it flew in front of us and sorta bounced off our hood (or bonnet in Australia)* work, for backpackers and travelers, and Full-time, which is a permanent position listing.  About 15 cafes and restaurants got resumes from us, and a few farms as well.

Ironically the farm we landed a job picking blueberries on is the farm we liked best when we were first looking at harvesting listings while we were in Nepal.  They ignored us until we called, though when I did they were very welcoming.  So within 24 hours we found employment.  The only issue was that we were a solid 15 hour drive south west of the farm itself… 

Thus began the hunt for a car. This was a bit more difficult.  We called every ad for every vehicle that could fit our luggage and was in our price range, so we responded to at least 30 listings on Gumtree, we ended up looking at three vehicles before we found the car for us.  The first was a camper van in rough shape, without any of the paperwork needed to actually drive the thing.  The second was an SUV that didn’t match up to the listing at all, and there were 3 groups of buyers, but the owner hadn’t put any effort into actually selling it, and was just showing it around. And the third was a station wagon that was all good and well except for the tires which looked like they were going to spontaneously explode, and the mileage was super high.

We ended up buying a Holden Commodore, from a used car dealership, a station wagon with enough room with the seats down to fit an inflatable double mattress in the back, AND fit all of our luggage in the front seats. Booyah!!  It has some issues, it likes to lean to the left, and when going uphill the ac only blows on our feet.

After stocking up on produce from the largest farmers market in the southern hemisphere and some other necessities; tent, inflatable mattress, cutlery, maps, ect., we turned out tail to Melbourne and began the journey to the Coffs Harbor area, we drove 4 hours and spent last night in a camper park.  We left the park this morning and have been driving through country oddly reminiscent of Southern France, or Tuscany, it also happens to be the wine country of Australia.

This morning we were woken up by the sounds of wildlife that was as foreign to us as the names of most of the road signs, cities such as Wodonga, Wagga Wagga, and Yea (No joke).  As of right now we are cruising at 120 Km/hr and are about halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, and haven’t seen a rest area for over an hour.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Days and Nights in New Delhi

By Kathleen

Sorry for the lax posting, it’s been pretty dismally calm here.

New Delhi can be an exciting place, or it can be mind-numbing. I hate that in cities you can’t be bored and go for a walk in the woods. In an Indian city especially going out for a walk always becomes an adventure and sometimes you don’t want an adventure you just want a god-damn walk.

That beings said this is what we’ve been up to:

Annual Day:
Fiz’s cousin has two kids, both boys, aged 13 and 8. Their school is posh, large and multi-storied with a soccer field and stadium lights, the amount of space it takes up is quite impressive considering it’s in the heart of New Delhi. Well once a year they have the Annual cultural and Sports Day, to prove their “fitness”.

“Fitness” is an obsession here, and while I agree that obesity is bad, there is more to life than sports, something which people here don’t always seem to get. Sports, Money, Family, end of story.

So we sat through two long, chilly hours of kids performing really mediocre theater and dance. Oh it’s true I’m bias, I was a theater kid and I went to a performing arts high school that produced really awesome stuff so when people say “they are just kids” I say “ so?” no excuse for bad theater.

It was interesting to see how many things were on fire during the show, at one point literally 40 kids had torches, TORCHES, out on the field… and yes a kid did catch on fire and need to be thrown under a blanket.

Birthday-Indian Style:

The day after Annual Day turned out to be one of the boy’s birthday so we got to celebrate India style. It’s been a few years since I was 8 but the level of the party seemed a little over the top to me. I mean really did the kid need a caterer? Really? I guess in India the answer is yes.

There was even a magician, which was a nice distraction and meant I didn’t need to pretend to be amused by 15 sugar high 8 year olds. (Though wow, they were all sitting very nicely and talking very pleasantly and then the soda was handed out. Ten minutes later they were bouncing off the walls yelling, popping balloons. I wish we had video of it. “These are your kids on sugar”)

The whole thing lasted about three times as long as I would have liked and nobody was speaking any English except Fiz. My Hindi is getting better, slowly, but after being so sick I didn’t much care to play bablefish with my brain. Turns out one of the ‘relatives’ who was sitting next to me for hours spoke English perfectly fine, she just hadn’t wanted to speak to me.

When she did start talking to Fiz later it was quickly revealed that she is one of the most boring people on Earth. I practically fell asleep as she explained her job and when she proudly said that she “never ate anywhere but home, ever” I just nodded. Clearly it was pointless to disagree. My favorite part was when she showed us a stand up comic on you-tube “here you’ll know him he’s American” and then he was British. Really people there’s a big difference between the U.S and the U.K… like 3,000 miles of water I like to call the North Atlantic.

A Venture into the Upper Crust:

So two years ago when we were in Auroville we met a woman our age who was loud, out-going and perfectly modern India. Her husband played in a pysc-trance band and she offered us rolls in the first minute of conversation. We declined but we have stayed in touch so we looked her up on the facebook and told her we were in town.

I hadn’t ever been to Gurgaon accept once on Valentines day to go to a hookah bar, and wow is it a totally different world. There are trees and huge glossy glistening Technicolor marriage halls and country clubs and malls like OMG.

Set amongst all this modern glam were pods of high rises which are not businesses but flashy sexy designer apartments for the new Indian Elite. We took the metro out to meet our friend. She met us with her chauffeur a half hour later because she had gone to the wrong station, she doesn’t take the metro, she confessed.

Her house was something out of either a designer magazine or an IKEA wet dream, everything was brand new, there were big windows, a nice kitchen and three floors of rooms. It was kinda intimidating I won’t lie.

We had dinner there and sort of talked, it seems the Indian tradition of not being great with strangers crosses over economic gaps. We smoked, we played Uno. It was nice to get out of the house and away from people who think we are extra-terrestrials. But it made me miss my down to earth friends and super appreciative of just how awesome they are.

This entry is mostly thinly veiled complaints. I’m itching to move on and get outta India. I’m sure I’ll miss it when I’m gone but right now this particular trip has been a huge fail. I still feel tired from being sick and seem to have lost all taste for Indian food, which is awkward. We leave for Melbourne in two days  and I’m a bit nervous about finding a job and getting into the travel groove again.

We’ll keep you posted.