Monday, December 17, 2012

Between Worlds


Melbourne, VIC

Toward the end of December I am always getting irritable.  I don’t want to have anything to do with any family gathering of any sort.  I am punishing myself for being such a stupid idiot & putting myself exactly 40,000km from the only place I’d want to be.  ....AGAIN!

This year will be my third consecutive Christmas away from home.  My third warm Christmas – I grew up where this is not a reality.  Normally, the onset of winter triggers a hormone that sends people into holiday mode.  Without this, it seems Christmas comes & goes without warning.

It’s not getting easier, but I am catching on.  Carols aren’t making me spin out & I’m not avoiding stores for a constant slap-in-the-face reminder.  Instead I’m sending out Christmas cards this week & baking shortbread.

It doesn’t mean it’s not hard.


The entirety of time spent on the road, I carry my hometown with me.  This is never more evident than from my accent.  I could shout over music at the top of my lungs ‘Fair dinkum!  Good onya!  Bonza!’ & people will still ask me where I’m from.

Not making a Christmas List is a great thing!  Not being able to sucks.  My lifestyle doesn’t allow me to crave unnecessary things.  I still want tokens of affection from the people I love, but our face-to-face yarns have long since been replaced e-coffees instead.  Just as this is written in binary rather than by hand & the music in my ears is more produced by machines than humans.  It’s an easy reality.

Last year, the only thing on my Christmas List was a pumpkin pie.  (Kiwis don’t know what real pie is.)

This year, if I were to make a List, year it would comprise of a mix of remembrances from home (Winnipeg Jets & CKUW gear, local music) & ingredients to make this one my new home (housecoat, guitar, local music).  Assembly required.
                (...and Bruce Springtseen tickets please!)


I’ve decided to hit the road during the week of the 24th.  There is no substitute for being home with the folks, & I have to stop pretending otherwise.  The past few years, Orphan Christmases have saved me where the intimate family thing failed.  It’s time to celebrate in my own way.

The 24 days of advent are a great time of the year!  Holiday parties are the best!  But the day in question is a lonely time for me.  I get to call home on Boxing Day & hear about all the fun & turkey & presents, when once again, I’m alone.

Hopefully a hike somewhere of a few days will sooth my unsettled soul.  The evergreen Aussie maple & oak trees provide a clash of culture - a pinch of Canadiana that acts as a reminder of how lucky I am to be here.

As surely as there are polar bears displayed outside the Melbourne Museum, & portraits of Neil Young in several bars downtown, I carry my hometown with me.  I am at home away from home.

Merry Christmas!  J

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Forced Entry


The first step is ‘Have a good attitude.’
I woke up every morning knowing I was about to start a job I hate.
It’s hard to get motivated after a realization like this.

There are many reasons why I should have been good at it.
Everyone in my immediate family has been in this line of work.  It should be in my blood.
All day every day I would think ‘I am using my powers for evil.’
...good thing I was particularly bad at it.

Step six is ‘Keep your good attitude.’
There’s nothing romantic about starting a relationship with the sound of a doorbell, or hearing a door close behind you.
I am officially a former door-to-door salesman.

-x-x-x-x-

Where did I go wrong?  Everyone in my family is a salesperson!  They could sell a fish water!

One of my best friends spit out her water in disbelief, choking back laughter.
“You are the most indecisive person in the world!  You can’t commit to anything!
People would probably talk you out of your own sale!”

She’s entirely correct.  They’d give me a good reason & I’d agree.  I couldn’t sell it, but I’d spend a good 10 minutes petting their dog & chatting about the old sailboat in their yard, about their neighbour who passed on, or the mysterious fruit tree in their yard.  This job is not about fostering relationships.  It’s about ‘walk fast, talk slow’ & ‘if it’s not buy, it’s goodbye!’

I can’t believe my own bullshit – I am the first one to laugh at myself!  Just the same, I am quick to call others on theirs.  Where it took others 2 weeks to memorize the steps, it took me 2 hours.  I couldn’t believe a word of it.

It takes more effort to be honest than to lie, cheat & steal.  It’s a slippery slope, but you already know this.
Hanging out with salespeople makes you a better salesman, but a worse person.  They could spin genocide & make it look appealing.

The math itself doesn’t add up anyway.  Even if they guarantee you can make 1,000$/week easily, which is a huge appeal, but with 11hr work days that’s only 18$/hr - on commission to boot.  Instead of sacrificing all aspects of your life (there were at least 5 steadfast ways it clashed with mine), I’d rather work at something I could enjoy, make close to that anyway & keep my life, soul & sanity intact.

Lasted two days.  At least the weather was nice!

-x-x-x-

On the flipside, I’m officially a professional published photographer!

The short story is that someone I met on the road is writing a book about her travels, & is using a picture I took of her & her husband in the islands as the cover.

The long story is that it’s the story of a tragedy in which her husband was killed.

Last I heard, she’d confronted the man responsible to obtain the real story of what happened.
We don’t know how the story ends, & the book is in German, with no current plans to print in English.

If you are German & come across the book Blauwasserleben, can you send me a spoiler?  It would take too long to get my German to a sufficient level to translate on my own.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Northcote Redbacks


Deadly: Aboriginal English,
Adjective:  fantastic, great, terrific

A couple days after shifting house, we’re unloading some boxes that had been in storage.  While my back is turned, Tamara says “Is that a Redback?”  I shot my eyes at her.  She’s joking of course, taking the piss out of my fear of Aussie spiders.  The way she approaches the box says differently.

We found a couple spiders in & among the contents of that move.  All the identities were unconfirmed post-mortem.

When I tell my Aussie mates about this, they shrug it off & say “Redbacks aren’t so bad.  At least they don’t jump.”

My reaction of course is:  There are ones that jump?!?


General consensus has it that Redbacks (Black Widows) aren’t very deadly at all, except if you are very young, sick or elderly.  They don’t stray very far from their nest, & will only bite if you touch them, which is fairly easy because they tend to be in places tucked away, under countertops & the lot.  Don’t play with the woodpile without gloves.  But even then, they will probably just make you sick.


Here’s a list of things I’ve learned about how to live in Australia, despite all the deadly things:

    - Stepping on a snake is BAD.  If you make lots of noise in the brush, & stomp your feet, they will feel your vibrations through the ground & get out of the way.

Of my time in the bush, I haven’t come across a snake yet.  I’ve never been known as Quiet.

    - Australian snakes don’t have long teeth, unlike the fangs you might imagine.  Wearing heavy pants & shoes can be enough to protect your ankles, & ultimately, your life.

Typical procedure is to keep on the way we do – barefoot.  Have you ever seen an Australian wear anything other than thongs & boardies?  (Flipflops & shorts.)  Our compromise is to stomp through the bush barefoot.

    - Treat every snake like it will kill you.

Somehow we still end up chasing down tiger snakes if there’s a sighting down the trail, & approaching mysterious striped snakes even when they rear up at us – albeit with a wide berth.


Classic crazy Australian

I still treat spiders like they will kill me.  There’s something unsettling about intelligent insects.  Snake stories don’t shock me as much as when I hear of spiders rearing on their hind legs & hissing, or fighting a cat.

Snakes mind their own business.  A spider with a face on it screams BACK OFF.


Golden Orb Spider - harmless


Huntsman - harmless

After setting up our tents in an open grassy area, we seemed to be surrounded by sparkles in the grass.  I realized each sparkle the light reflected off the eyes of a spider.  There were SO MANY!  It took 20 seconds to get over it.  My demise starts the moment I become desensitized to Aussie spiders.

    - Always ALWAYS close your tent.  NEVER LEAVE YOUR TENT OPEN.  NEVER.

The caretaker who told me this added that they had found a 3m brown snake the year before at the site. 


    - More people die from drowning than from shark attacks.  An average of one person a year gets chomped & they have a high survival rate.

They have technology that warns lifeguards when a shark that’s been tagged approaches a swimming beach.  They get evacuated pretty regularly.

    - Most sharks read impulses.  If you’re nervous & agitated, a shark will read your heartbeat as prey.

....I don’t think I’ve swam in the ocean since I’ve been in Australia, for awareness of the white-pointers (Great Whites) in the South, & the jellyfish & crocs up North.  If I have to pick my battles in this country, I’ll stick to the inland.


Crocodile tears:  Stories about the North

Crocodiles were almost wiped out of Australia, so they put a hunting ban on them.  They are still protected, but now there are more crocodiles in the Northern Territory than people.  It’s a conservation issue.

They are scary creatures.  Real dinosaurs with that have evolved perfectly.  They don’t chase; they ambush.  They do not move unless going for a feed.

    - In the north, people carry hefty walking sticks because when a croc attacks, it latches on to the first thing, & doing this could save you a leg or your life.

Sounds logical, but nobody does this.  They’re not popping out of bushes while you’re walking down the street.  ...well, they sometimes might, but that would be irregular.

    - Everybody has dogs in the north because if they go missing, it’s a warning that there’s a croc in the area.

This is true.  Better a dog than a kid.

    - Freshies (freshwater crocodiles) are found in most waterholes, but they are generally shy & non-confrontational.  They can grow up to 3m.
    - Salties (saltwater crocodiles) only move inland during Wet Season when the roads are 2m underwater & they can access new territory.  They are BIG & will EAT YOU.  The signs show the difference in severity of the change in tone.
  


Ways to tell if there’s a saltie in a swimming hole:

    - Walk around it looking for slip marks on the banks
    - Wait until dark & shine a light on the water.  They come to the surface & hang out on the rocks at night when it’s cooler & the light reflects off their eyes.

If you know what to look for there are always signs; they are too big to be covert.

    - Never be the last one in the water.  Apparently they’ll always pick off the last one in the herd.

Unconfirmed, but this sounds like reasonable hunting instincts.  Last or not, I never swim alone just to improve my odds.  (This is a lie.  I have swam alone, but not for long.  Paranoia is infectious.)

In some risky areas there are big cage traps in place, presumably baited with something fleshy.  When the cage remains open, the rangers say ‘We are safe – see?  The cage is empty.’  I hope I am not the only one who sees the flaw in this.

Taken from in the water.....


Bears are my game.  In terms of people in Australia, I have ‘Bear Experience’.  My stories are true, which doesn’t mean they are not embellished with gestures & indifference.  ‘Yep, gotta hang your camp food in a tree or bears will attack & eat you.  Yep.’  *shrugs*


Every wild animal has potential to be dangerous, whether it’s a deer, a bear, a koala, a whale or an elephant.

Bad things happen because people are idiots.  Take care, & Darwin will smile upon you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Totality


Ramingining, Arnham Land, NT


After siesta I woke up with my guard down.  Out of sorts, wandering with my head in the clouds.

I was waking up to the third day that day.


The eclipse was expected to reach total coverage at 12 minutes after sunrise, at 6:14am.  We’d been up every morning for sunrise to gauge the conditions for the big day.  It was always hazy.  Dawn provoked a mist rising from the immense floodplain, as if the earth exhaled with the relief of a new morning.  It was as if we were witnessing the dawn of time.

On the day of, the mist rose well above the horizon.  We gripped our hearts & waited.

The sun rose at 90% coverage - a massive pink crescent on the edge of the world.  The sunlight came & soon enough was arcing above us, leaving us to darkness.  Crickets buzzed.  Birds flew on.  The air felt lighter beneath the Ring; everything in my body went on high alert.  I trembled with goosebumps.


It’s difficult to describe a world of surreal darkness.  Attention focused; all our breath was drawn.  Time stopped.

It was so soft.  It was the best time of day to watch the eclipse.  The sunlight was very gentle.  It was the only part of the day when the regular harshness would be subdued enough to witness without fancy blackened eclipse glasses.

The festival had been planned for 8 years.  Eclipse chasing is not a culture I had ever been exposed to.  My friends insisted that after today, I would be hooked.  No longer just for astronomers & mathematicians; a quick search on Wikipedia will give a precise calendar of when & where the next solar eclipse will be witnessed.

My plans changed sharply the week before, when I was extended an invitation.  My life is more foreshadowing than planning.

The actual event was over in a few minutes.  The sun was still rising in the sky when people were packing up camp to get back to reality.

There had never been an open invitation to outsiders to visit this part of the Aboriginal territory known as Arnham Land.  Numbers were restricted, because they were unsure how it would run.  Everything was questioned 10 times, to allow for cultural sensitivity.  Organization wasn’t optimal; it felt like we listened to soundcheck for days & drinking water arrived at 4pm after spending all day in the heat.

The first year of a festival is expected to be unrefined.  That’s not why we came.

On the last evening, the local community finally came out.  The elders had visited the previous nights, gone back & championed the event to the people.  My guard was down, & I was taken aback.  We invoked spirits that night with the locals.  A little girl smiled at me who was so genuine & beautiful I almost cried.  We played with the kids who climbed on us, danced with us & embraced us.

Who are we?  We are nobody, just 4 bastards from down the road – but we were embraced as brothers & sisters.


It took a celestial anomaly to bring us all together.

I almost sat on a scorpion, was almost hit by a fireball, & almost crushed by a tree branch.  I ate water buffalo, still cannot weave a basket to save my life, but learned a few words in Yolnu.

It was an incredibly moving experience.  I am better for it.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Build Up

Northern Territory, Australia

"This is more remote than the party I went to in Siberia." - David


Crossing the line was the beginning.

We stood on the brink of the unknown, a highway leading into no-man’s land; Arnham Land, where outsiders are only allowed with special permission.  There was a line drawn across the road.  “When you cross this, you must leave all the bad spirits behind you.”  Effortless, the other 3 members of the crew stormed over – a bushman, a Christian & a scientist.  I took a deep breath to make it real.

                Is this real?

Somehow it is because of David we all got here, who brought us all together.  He’s the orchestrator of this madness.  It’s sunset.  We’re about to drive some absurd distance into the bush on a dirt track of some state to chase this solar eclipse that’s only visible from the tippy top edge of the island.  At night.  In an area riddled with water buffalo.  Surely he’s to blame.

Just before the Wet Season is a period called the Build Up; when the air gets thick with humidity & the sun turns on.  Creeping into when the sky unloads & the rain sizzles off the pavement.  Saltwater crocodiles drift inland by water access.  Some roads are 2 meters underwater.  We are on the brink of potentially being stuck where we’re going for 3 months.

On Google Maps, the track takes 21 hours.  It really takes about 8 at a reasonable speed.  Assuming you don’t roll or get driven off the road by maniacal road trains.  *A road train is a semi-trailer towing many containers.  The largest has 4 containers; 53m in length, weighing 170 tonnes.  They don’t drive, they hurdle.*

By the time we’d explored the festival site, it was approaching dawn.  Silhouettes of shelters built with tree branches emerged with the soft rosy light.  Beyond that, over the escarpment that drops out of nowhere, is magic.

An enormous wetland directly due east; the biggest floodplain in the southern hemisphere.  Even before the sun peeks, the mist comes to life, rising within the trees.  All the colours enfolded into that shade of light.  Every morning seemed like the dawn of time.

There is a massive festival in Cairns for the eclipse; estimating 50,000 people in that region.  There were 180 tickets sold to this one, with 900 people living in the nearest community of Ramingining.  Visitors have been asked to respect the local customs; including wearing a skirt past the knees, keeping some activities men only & others women only, asking permission before taking photographs, not making eye contact while speaking to someone (depending who you’re speaking with) & in particular keeping the event drug & alcohol free.  We are seasoned punters, & can imagine too well the debauchery in Cairns.  This is an amazing opportunity to experience a part of Aboriginal culture.

This event has been planned alongside the community for 8 years.  There is alot of uncertainty; everything is questioned.  It is strange for the locals to have so many outsiders invited into their land.

The others have seen solar eclipses before.  They describe the darkness, the shadows, the stars, the activity of the birds, a vibration that passes through you...  But they are all different, they are all new.  This is the only precedent to this adventure.

It is common within the Yolnu language to refer to one another without using first names.  This is exceptional.  I have 3 more brothers.

Together, we have no idea what to expect.  Heavy anticipation & excitement fueled by complete ignorance.  And so we begin.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Up The Guts

We had hitched over 3,000kms up the centre of Australia.  Around every corner, I caught my partner Matt jerking his thumb towards me saying “Hitching is so much easier with a girl;” he confided later he was also afraid of the possibility someone might say “Let’s kill him & take her!”   I cannot count how many times we’ve been asked “Haven’t you seen the movie Wolf Creek?”  One day I aspire to hitch there.

It was a long road; it was a long 12 days.  We did pretty well, & had some epic singalongs.  The wait time wasn’t too bad considering the lay Aussie thinks of the Stuart Highway as unsealed barren territory through the desert where you may come across one car a day.

Our only extended wait was between sneaking out of a resort early, & Matt’s persistence to stay on the main track instead of going 350km off towards King’s Canyon.  My mad math mind tells me we can only expect the first cars to arrive at check out time plus our distance down the road +/- an hour.  Although meeting me remains logistically impossible except by chance, I can run my own just fine.

-x-x-x-

Cooper Pedy is a hole.  Quite literally; it’s an opal mining town.  The most interesting buildings are underground.  The underground hostel is on some list somewhere & because of this is hideously expensive.  We balk in hysterics at the prospect of camping underground – which could possibly be the least attractive idea I’ve ever come across.  It’s stuffy, quiet, you’d be sleeping on bedrock & where are the stars?

One of the most interesting drivers we had on our adventure was our first ride from Adelaide.  He was an opal miner from Cooper Pedy.  It’s fascinating to hear how it provokes him.  He describes it as ‘like hunting without killing anything’ & it sounds like hitting china plates.  Furiously pursuing the seam; they will stay down as long as they have to.  He’s not originally a local, but has gotten sucked in by the spirit.  They spend the evenings watching tv, packing their ‘sausages’ (dynamite) for tomorrow.  I wonder what it would be like to live in a town where everyone knows how to make their own explosives.

(Sidenote:  He was on his way to go visit his father who had come up with a new scheme to catch blue swimmer crabs.  Take a kangaroo carcass from the side of the highway & stake it into the ground at low tide.  When the tide comes in, the sharks & stingrays have a field day with it.  When the tide goes out, it remains knee deep in blue swimmer crabs, waiting to be plucked & eaten.)

Uluru/Ayer’s Rock feels like being on Mars, except the flies are horrendous.  We checked on the road conditions to Kata-Tjutja, another altogether less famous rock formation nearby, & the response was “It’s on fire!”  The brushfires were pretty intense & the whole area was closed while we were there.  It created a haze that diminished the effects of sunset/sunrise on The Rock, although Matt reckons it was cool he could see the flames make the clouds flicker at night.

It seems we were lucky along the way.  We only got bad news from people retreating South about the changing of the weather – how stiflingly hot it was & the increasing humidity.  When we arrived in Alice Springs it was the end of a two week heat wave; with temperatures over 40 degrees.  They had just pulled a body out of the local river, which is no more than a sand bar in dry season.

We were staying 15km outside town; Alice Springs is notoriously rough as guts.  It was a great opportunity to sleeping in swags in the outback.  (A swag is a mattress covered in canvas designed to be rolled up & is essential for a bushman’s camp.)  The stars were spectacular.  The night air, a freshness, & all the sounds that come along with the Australian dusk, when all the animals come alive, is entrancing.  The only thing we had to worry about is the neighbour’s huge dog waking us up just before sunrise, catching his nails in my hair & possibly peeing on you.  The same night, there was some sort of riot or ruckus in town, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to say we had it pretty good!

North of Alice, almost every driver offered us a beer.  We’d even heard that in the Northern Territory (NT), most vehicles have a patch of Velcro on the dashboard where they can put their stubby holder while they’re trying to roll a cigarette.  Cool story, but unconvincing - we saw no proof of this.

There used to be no speed limit in NT.  Now it’s regulated down to a breezy 130km/hr.  They used to hold Cannonball Run races where foreigners would ship in their high-end sports cars & have a go.  No one was the wiser until there was an accident with two Japanese businessmen in a Ferrari & the authorities had to suddenly piece together what they were doing in the middle of the outback.

-x-x-x-

Just North of Karlu-Karlu/Devil’s Marbles, where we first saw a dingo & some freaky spiders, we hit the humidity.  We’d been cruising with two dudes who raced here in 3 days from Melbourne who had good music, a full esky & were shooting to Darwin for the evening.  We insisted on stopping at Daly Waters; a pub we’d heard about the whole way along.  It didn’t grab our attention the way it was described, & the walk back to the highway was an excruciating 5kms.  We sat in the shade there in resentful silence, when the man in the white van pulls up.

This man had passed us at Alice Springs with an empty van (other than a few boxes) & we waved him along.  He passed us at Ti Tree & we waved him on again.  The next morning he was the first car on the road at 730am from Devil’s Marbles, & again, he was surprised to see us.  We had to re-evaluate ourselves – what do we have to do for this guy to stop?!

The humidity makes people aggro (aggressive).  We bit our tongues until they bled not wanting to point fingers on why we weren’t at the campsite with the swimming pool, or on the road to Darwin, but instead sitting on the side of the highway in the skin melting humidity.  At sunset.  If there were ever a time we needed a ride, it was then.  He stopped & said “I said if I passed you again I’d pick you up.”  It’s about time!

-x-x-x-

We’d spent a couple days reassessing in Katherine, to decide whether or not we’d be staying for the mango picking season.  The pay can be quite good, but among the deterrents is the acid that mango trees excrete.   One of the positives would be working alongside fruit bats the size of cats.  We threw our name in the hat & took off just as quickly.

Our ride to Litchfield National Park was a pair of Frenchmen, who had just come from picking mangoes instead of fixing the carburetor on their van.  The ride North was cruisey at 75km/hr – no hurry.  Until a few km instead park boundaries there was a hill we couldn’t climb.  Then it stalled.  We tried every angle, roll starting it from the top of one hill to gather momentum enough....but it was no use.  We surrendered to an expensive campsite just outside the park.

I kept telling Matt that ‘This was our karma day.’  We had nowhere else to be & okay, we had to put in some work, but they’d be stuffed if we weren’t there.  Ultimately this will come back to us.

The next day we met two awesome chicks from Canberra on a rapid-fire trip around the park.  We swam in the most amazing swimming holes, eating mango in waterfalls.  These are the kind of things that define paradise.  Then we rode in the back of a truck – my favourite way to travel - swam at more waterfalls, almost kissed a barramundi, saw BIGGER freaky spiders & our last ride of the day was in a Landrover named Betzi.  They’d circled around from a different route to pick us up & I was suspicious.

Aza is always immediately confrontational when meeting anyone, so if they respond negatively, he doesn’t have to help them.  Within seconds he’d told us some unbelievable story – that was probably true - & I accused him of walking on water.  I saw this gypsy train & even when I looked at Matt for his approval (to take the ride), I was already in headfirst.

-x-x-x-

Road trains burned past us the whole way along.  (Max 4 trailers, length of 52m & 170 tonnes.)  I made it my personal goal to catch one.  This didn’t come until parting from both sets of my comrades – Matt & Aza – when I was hitching in Kakadu National Park; Croc hunting, but more like crocodile avoidance.

Kakadu was a nightmare to hitch through.  I was almost chased out of the park by the relentless flies.  Even in an empty expanse, there was no sense of peace.  Inner tumoil.

Went for a swim at the very Southern edge with my head firmly on my shoulders, hyper-aware of any signs of crocodiles.  (In Litchfield, the rangers have put up croc warning signs to keep the tourists away from the good spots.  In Kakadu, there are lots of crocs.)  I tried to slow myself down by thinking that there’s no point in fearing a croc attack.  If it were to happen, it would be over so quickly, you would die fearless.

                ...I suppose that’s the optimist talking.

The artwork was ethereal.  Ubirr is a sacred site of Aboriginal artwork from tens of thousands of years ago – keeping the generations alive.  The histories & lessons live on.  Many of the old sites have requests not to take pictures, because to see them out of context would not make sense.  I respect this immensely.

My final ride was from a Czech man who was stalking cockatoos when I met him & could speak almost as much English as he could cockatoo.  Through hand gestures we learned that we both come from hockey countries!   He is a huge fan of Jaromir Jager, so we talked about the NHL the whole road to Darwin!
I wish I had Winnipeg Jets paraphernalia!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Punks You Can't Beat Us

Melbourne, Australia

Living in Melbourne has been a long time dream for me; my Mecca for music.  Now that I'm here, I'm lapping up every opportunity at live music.  It's got an excess of something I love & somehow I find myself with more energy than I can bear.

The kitchen staff scoffed at me when I told them I like punk music.  All but one.  I had wanted to ask if he knew any good venues or gigs based on his old rugged tattoos, but I don’t like being presumptuous.  Turns out he fronts a punk band.  Actually, it turns out he’s a veritable celebrity in the Melbourne punk scene.  We started jabbing on about music during afternoon cleanup.

He got me into the Melbourne Punk Pub Crawl.  It’s been going on 30-odd years, always on the day of the AFL Grand Final.  Keep the day clear.  People come interstate for this.  They used to have clashes with the cops, but now they have a police escort.  It’s kind of a big deal.

When I got there they had already trashed a cop car.  There were some loose cans of paint at the back of the corner pub that was unsuspectingly slammed with hundreds of punks.  One was nicked & used to redecorate a patrol car.  They weren’t too happy.

A show of force to show who really owns the streets.  It was the first time I’d heard someone say “Drink up guys, there’s gonna be a raid!”

There are few shits, but most of us are wonderful people.  Yeah, sure I associate myself with these guys.  I might not look the part, but I brought a turkey sandwich to a pub crawl.  How punk is that?

Then there was the bridge gig – the best show yet.  Under an overpass by the railway lines, we ran our own show.  You would never know screaming past with your windows up, but we lit the night on fire.  Our rules.  Bands all night, bring what you want, share.  There was a bar & a skate ramp built.  Arm-in-arm with some of the most rugged midnight warriors that’d make you cross the street, singing all the while.  They don’t know me, they just high-five me after a sweet mosh.

There’s a real sense of community among us.  Sticking up for each other; I saw this tiny girl go crazy at a show.  Writhing on the pool table, flipping chairs, picking fights with the bouncers, & ripping her clothes off, while the manager gave her water & made sure she had friends nearby.  Then asked me if I wanted the same shot she had.

One of these things on my “always wanted to do” list is dye my hair & get a Mohawk.  Somehow this fell into my “I’ll just do it when I get to Australia” box.  One of my friends has a shaved head with a pink fringe.

Stick around, Have Fun, Lay low.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How I Ended Up Here


I tried so hard to stay in New Zealand....I truly did!

I had buckled down for a tedious visa process, including xrays & extensive medical checks to sweat over like the one for New Zealand.  When I paid my fee with my application, I got a receipt via email.  But it wasn't a receipt, it was my full-blown Working Holiday Visa.  It came in less than an hour!

I put off sailing here for ages.  I was supposed to be here in time for my birthday in (April) & every two weeks I was "leaving for Australia".  I had so many going away parties; they were compelling enough to make me stay.  Ironic.

Right up until the 24 hour deadline I was on the phone with the airline trying to change my flight.  I had even arranged a place to stay for the next 2 weeks to whenever.

I packed all the wrong things.  I checked off every box on the declaration card.

Do you have animal materials? - yes
Do you have any food items? - yes
Do you have dirty contaminated camping/hiking gear? - yes
Have you been on a farm in the last 30 days - YES

I'm a big fan of the Australian show Border Security.  It showcases the folly of drug smugglers, visa loopholers & people from Asia bringing heaps of food into the country.  My chance at stardom!

The States would have sniffed everything inside & out, asked questions about my intentions for my dirty laundry, & even after xraying my tighty whities (in my bag & on my body) still would've given me cause for concern.  & that's just to ENTER.

They gave me a "what the f**k is this?", scolded me for the sorry state of my passport, practically slapped me upside the head & kicked me out of security & into the country.  Leaving me to fend for myself in big bad Australia where everything bites & will kill you.

-x-x-x-


Maybe where I went wrong was immediately deleting the text from Caro that was waiting for me on the ground that went on about b.ombs, t.errorism, plots & c.artels - all in less than 150 characters!  She has a warm way of saying "If you get deported, you can stay at my place!"

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Heading to the Land Down Under!


'...made a journey to a place where there was nowhere left to go.'

The past few days have been wracked with indecision.  I made several calls yesterday, & called Air New Zealand twice as a last-ditch effort to stay in the country.  Things have been falling into place.  There is an incessant reminder that this is how the cards were meant to lie.  The hitchhiker in me knows all about fate, reminding msyelf with the same optimism that all even the worst plans are meant to happen.

I am flying through the air.  I didn't have a big going away..well actually I had too many.  Everybody thought I was long since gone & I just kept showing up.

The friends I made throughout the country, particularly Auckland, have been insurpassable.  Whenever I left it was never one-way.  There was always a cuppa to be had behind an open door somewhere.  I arrived intending to get some sort of grounding.  The familiarity I developed with Auckland is hilarious.  I had never intended to come to New Zealand at all!  This all started with roller derby - just remember that.

Directly between 2 fantastic women who both call me their Canadian sister.  I made a date to meet Tamara here 16 months ago from my mom's living room in Winnipeg.  This is the realization of a prophecy!

Sixth biggest country in the world, & the country I know the most about that I have never been to.  I used to teach my family about marsupials when I was a kid.  I started on a race here from Florida 22 months ago.  (I am in the lead.)  I have been on the brink of going for the past 5 months, but the anticipation & knowledge of my rediculously high standards is daunting.

Foreign/familiar words & customs literally falling away behind me.  Trading place names like Waitakere, Te Awamutu, & Papakura with Mooloolaba, Geelong & Wollongong.  Jandals for thongs; Marmite for Vegemite; chillybins for eskies; kiwis for kookoburas; fush for......urm, skippy?  I see no language barrier bro.   I mean, mate.

The Cat Empire, Blue King Brown, The Living End, John Butler Trio, Hilltop Hoods, Nick Cave, Grinderman, Xavier Rudd, The Herd, Bodyjar, Powderfinger, Oka, Bliss n Eso, Funkoars...  Melbourne is my mecca for music.

I am FUCKING STOKED for Australia!!!
...
I CAN SEE IT!!!!

Oh! It's very flat....& big.....
Alot like home!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Footrot Flats


Last night I was comfortable staying home to watch the kids while the olds had an evening out.  Cuppa tea in my housecoat, watching the AllBlacks beat the Aussies again.  Ha!

Living on the farm has been a settling experience.  Every day had a surprise.  The concept of routine was sometimes broken with a cattle drive, motorbike lessons up muddy tracks, bottle feeding a calf, or helping a heffer deliver.  Or sometimes playing dinosaurs, Olympics, fishing, paleantology, basketball or tag, or stopping the boys from hitting each other.  Playing with the kids is awesome but exhausting!

The ocean was always at the horizon, the sun spilling over the foothills bouncing up to Mt Karioi.
And you know what?  The frantic indecision dissolved.  Every day just felt good.  Stars aligning.  Idiosyncratic.

I am already back in Auckland.  My flight is in 33 hours time, but I'm still in denial.  Feels like toppling over the edge of an iceburg.  More than half my trip has taken place in New Zealand.  I feel synchronized with this landscape, the sounds & names of the birds, the trees, the rivers, the currency & even the seasons.  It has become a very easy place to call home.

Pukekos, manuka, Tongariro erupting (how cool is that?!), Pokarekare Ana, powhiri, burlesque on K Rd, waitemata, Taumatawhatatangihanga-something, fantails, jandals, Mt Egmont/Taranaki, Mt Aspiring, keas, waikato, tuatua fishing, Takapuna, AllBlacks, Footrot Flats, Tui (beer & bird), whitebait, fijoasWhite Island, supreme pies, headless Mexicans, Arapawa goats, Willy Wonky Donkeys, Kaiser, goat island, tuatara, drinks @ Bungalow 8, Swashbucklers, whitecliffs, gurnard, Fast Company, Eden Park, Remarkables, Kaiser, chillybin, Mana Island, takahe, kebabs in Plimmerton, waka, tarakihi, waikeremoana, Routeburn, kepler, kumara, hot pools, snapper, haka, pub quizzes, bike polo, Tane Mahuta, motorbikes, cattle drives, taniwhas, pohutukawa - Aotearoa.

The only real Kiwi thing left to do is to go to Australia!
We know where your heart really lies.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thank God I'm a Country Boy


Porangahau, Hawkes Bay, NZ

The closest cell reception from here is a 40 minute drive to a little town where they process afterbirth & deliver it to top end salons to use for skin treatment.

The sheep placenta capital of the world.  Not even joking.
This is as close to the "real New Zealand" as it gets.



Every little town's got a dairy, a rugby field & a pub, without fail.  When I walked into the closest town pub, the barkeep said "Look who's back - The Canadian."  It had been 4 months since my last visit.  It doesn't take much to become a regular around here.

Been living on a stud farm the past few weeks.  Proud to put on my cowboy boots to go feed every day.  No matter the weather.  It's only ever sunny, rainy, or windy & always muddy.  Pretty good for winter!  Thus far I've only fallen into the mud once, although the creek almost swallowed me up with mud to my knees.  The day I remember not to tuck my rain pants into my boots, I should be sweet as!

It's peaceful out in the paddocks when the horses aren't hooning after you trying to chase you down with hooves flying, or trying to eat you.  Beautiful runners.  I've only been kicked & bitten once & was told it was a misunderstanding; probably my fault.  Blaze butted me once, but that was justified, cause she's a bit of an asshole.

There's a profile on every horse.  Lineage: all the half-brother/sisters, who's sired which horse, and all the horses that have left & are showing around NZ.  All the histories & ages.  We know who's stubborn, snooty, clingy, nosy, bossy, lovey dovey, & who's willing to babysit for the others.  Oh yes, we're clever.

Friggin horses are smart & run straight out when you leave the gate open....

We've trained em, weened em, cleaned em, brushed em, rubbed em, clipped em, pushed em, pulled em, sold em, & done everything but ridden them.  Bugger.

When the brood mares are due, Studmaster Max goes on Night Watch.
Always vigilant.  Stay alert.  Watching for signs of trouble.

But when the first foal came, it was from a mare we didn't even know was pregnant.  A couple hours old she was discovered.  A beautiful little filly!  Wobbly legs.  She walks like one of those giant robots from Star Wars.  We are enamoured with her; she's flinchy & doesn't let us close.  The mother has had enough after 5 days & passes her off to another mare for babysitting.

The second was a wet muddy mess peering at us from the top of a hill.  The mother had picked the first of 5 rainy days, than gave us attitude when we went to put a coat on the little guy to stop him shivering.  He can't get enough love & nibbles Studmaster Max's chin with his gums & nipple feely hairs he's got on his nose.  He's got a patch the shape of Africa on his side.  A bleeding heart at birth.

A beautiful mare arrived, very colourful with great patterns; originally bred here.  One morning she had stillborn twins.  The success rate for twins is 5% for recovery of either of them.  Often, the mare is lost as well.  She was lucky.  Crushing nonetheless.  'Where you have livestock, you have dead stock' I suppose.  She was such a sweetheart & now treats me with a 'I love you cause you feed me' love.

Strangely enough, my favourite part of farm life has been rounding up the sheep or cattle.  I love mustering them between paddocks & strategizing the movements.  It's kind of a game.  I could have been a really good sheepdog.

20 minutes down the road & I would have grown up on a farm.  Yet, this is the first time I've really experienced farm life.

There's just as much getting up early & refried beans as I like (none).  We have wood fires all the time, but indoors, to heat the house.  Not enough fiddle or banjo by far.

Basically it's like the movie City Slickers, but without the horse riding.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Whiskey Sometimes Tastes Unexpected

Alizée is telling me how being a bum is a noble lifestyle.  To wander in search of a purpose, living a minimalist life.
No, we're not bums - we're Pilgrims!

I've been out of sorts the past few days, & few weeks previous.  I'm settled this week to work on some online studying.  Auckland hospitality is dear to me; it's very obvious that people who talk down to this city don't know my friends.  I caught up with them for the long weekend, & they were happy to provide some study space.

Pushing back against my daily allotted time for fun.  One fun thing a day, & long breaks.  Some days it was allocated to calling home & chatting with the 'rents (or the Olds, they would say in NZ).  With all my time spent inside, I could have gone to the beach...  I need to get offline; out of my own head & into the world.
...but even arm-in-arm on the way to the rugby with my friends, my head is somewhere else.

Feeling unfocused has had me in a haze.  Travelling for the sake of it.  In the past 2 weeks I was going to try to live in Queenstown, Wellington & Tauranga.  Someone told me "So you don't really care where you end up..."  It's important to recognize the truth when it slaps you in the face.

Feeling off.  Not about being restless, but craving change.  Is there a difference?

Should be exploring NEW ZEALAND!  Taking advantage of what I've got at my fingertips! Maybe trying my hand at waka, learning Maori, or even simply sailing.  But whatever it is: Focus.  Don't spread yourself thin.

I've been really winding myself up tight about everything I'm missing out on.
On one hand I'm elated by the possibilities!
Sometimes, constantly plagued by indecision, it cements me to the ground.
Freedom has it's price.  Re-teaching myself the fundamentals of persistence & goal setting. Acknowledging each step forward.
Pursue your passion, everything else is a distraction.
Leave the distractions behind.

Got some ideas about the things I want to try.  Whatever my decisions, I should not regret them.

I tend not to live the backpacker lifestyle.  It is unhealthy for me to be drinking every night.  Maybe I am in New Zealand, maybe by the weekend I'll be on another island with another climate & maybe a different timezone, but this isn't a holiday.
At what point does traveling become real life?  Am I a bum or a pilgrim?
Is there a difference?

Today I do feel like a pilgrim.  The clouds have parted.  I am feeling comfortable with my life & my decisions thus far.  I am ready to leave Auckland - without separation anxiety.
Alizée just responded saying "...but are we ready to leave you?"

I've been waiting all this time to be something I can't define.
It's time to find out what that is.



**Of course I wrote this when I should be studying.  There is no more fitting way. :D**

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Home is Whenever I'm with You...

Little things, like feeling comfortable in what should be the most uncomfortable circumstances.

Caro "the Goat Lady" from Auckland truly believes I have not been killed yet because I have a knack at befriending people.  No, I just talk.  Probably too much.  Asking questions about all kinds of stuff.  I only know a little bit about alot of things.  Questions are no problem.
She thinks I might be a good hostage negotiator.  How sweet!

Home is an interesting concept.  For some people it's a certain bed & curtains, the company of certain people.  It could just be somewhere to go.  Somewhere you're bound to.

I've got friends who've given up their home ages ago, & many more who are drawn back.
I am told that giving up your home is an extremely liberating experience, or really depressing.

Considering this in bed over tea with my Latvian friend Danuta in Dunedin.  Working as an au pair means even though she is treated as part of the family, it is not her home.  Home is where she has freedom in her own space.  I defined my home as somewhere I can be myself.

Problem is I am always myself.  Everyone has different triggers of different personalities, but essentially, the base is there.  Here I am baby!  I'm not going anywhere!

It's easy to adopt wherever I am as home.  Point at my bag & call it 'home'; imagining all the times I woke up in the bush comforted at the thought I'm in my 'home' which at the time is a thin tent of protection.  Familiarity among strange surroundings.  Sometimes that's all it takes!

Going up the west coast of the South Island, whenever I shrugged my backpack on to leave there was a voice to say "The door's always open."  A warm smile to back it up, & hot water for a cuppa tea.  Whether it's with a lilt from Poland, New Zilland, England, the US or anywhere.

Realization:  I've stayed in places around the world, including Mexico & Colombia, that are comfortable leaving their doors wide open.  It's a challenge of the spirit, & a happy feeling.
The world is not such a scary place!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Great Walk: Routeburn

Finally I stepped out the front door.

Wanting so badly to do one of NZ's famous Great Walks, constantly stuttering to start, picked up our bags & laid them down, heading to the bar instead (made of ice).  Provisioned instead.  Okay, let's do this!...tomorrow.

Our host Mike asks if we have a GPS beacon, & everyone else says "You're not doing Routeburn, are you?"  The lady at the DOC office (Department of Conservation) told us it was waist deep snow weeks ago.  That's pretty much exactly the fears surrounding my hesitation.  The world is against us.

BUT my New Years Resolution is to Stop Hesitating (same as last year) & we push forward saying "How bad can it be?" & "realistically we are not doing this whole trek, but let's go & see how when we get there."  So I left half my food at home.  I mean, at Mike's in Queenstown.

We'd had plenty of luck hitching on the same road a week ago, but this time they weren't biting.  We struggled but managed to get to the trailhead just at the cutoff time for turning back.  Perfect timing.

The hike was amazing, & the trail conditions were better than we could have imagined.  Unreal.  Spectacular.  We couldn't have asked for better weather (other than the wet firewood).  So we pushed on, until we got to the top, until we got to the bottom.  Looking back at the ridge we did is insanity.  Are you freaking kidding me?!

Walked across to Milford Sound, which is practically the 8th wonder of the world.

Rubbing the new blisters on my feet from my 15$ tramping boots, looking at the next one.  That Milford Track is awful tempting...  And so many more!  Heaps even!

Momentum.  Not a moment to waste!






This is our map....


Do you recognize it?  (Harris saddle to the left)




Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Timely Homebody

Queenstown, NZ

Sitting by the hearth.  I do alot of back-dating my posts, but today is today.
Night stalker.  Evening is time with the fam.  The night is mine.

Mike invited me to his house.  It's a new feature on Couchsurfing, one I've explored only once before that landed me a travelling mate for a couple days.  This one has yielded the same.

The invitation was shady on the surface.  He invited me to share his bed (no hanky panky - promise!) & btw he's a nudist.  (*I must clarify here for my parents that I did not share the bed with him; I had a bunk to myself in a separate room thank you very much*) Most telling is that his massive German Shephard was beaten up by a possum.  Pets take after their owners, & I see no problem.

On day 2, Mike & his son Jack left for Dunedin, leaving the dog & the house in our care.  For the weekend.  In Queenstown, party central.  With a fridge full of beer.  Oh dear.

Tonight is my 6th night staying here.  I'm really feeling like a homebody.  Constantly keeping the kitchen clean.  We stay in & watch movies or tv at night.  Have dinner together, fight with Jack to go to bed on time.  Yesterday we made pumpkin & kumara pie for the family!

Making decisions about the future, or what I want my present to be.  The opportunities are only limited by my creativity.  Of all the places to be, this is a great time to be in Queenstown.  The autumn is so beautiful & the mountains are truly Remarkable.  And I really feel like things are falling into place.

Life is a crash course on timing.

Met an Estonian named Annika when our paths miraculously crossed as we were both about to get lost in the woods.  Happenstance makes her a CSer, & I have a torch.  The next day she's hitchhiking for the first time with myself & Ariella, my co-pilot.  Just down the road to see what it's like.  Our thumbs & smiles grab us a jetboat ride with our ride!  Blastoff!!!
[and cheers in Estonian is terviseks :-)]

Hitchhiking makes you believe in fate.  Timing is everything & everything is connected.
In fact, if I hadn't have missed my layover in Florida in 2010, I wouldn't have gotten a free roundtrip through that budget US airline, wouldn't have gone to Panama City from Colombia to use it, wouldn't have caught the boat to NZ.  Because I slept in a half hour.  Simple as that.

I've slept one hour during the night only to wake to a missed call from overseas.  How do they do it?  Some people have a knack for this!

I've been trying to sail to Australia for well over a month.  Friends of mine have been pushing it back since March & about every 3 weeks it coincides with perfect timing for me.  The 3 weeks in between were at the end of April when I had to make a move.  I couldn't wait around when it's going to possibly be months while the weather is turning cold & the South Island lays unexplored.  The day after I book my ticket South, guess who calls saying they're leaving next week.  So long compadres.

Hiking the mountains provides clarity.  It's been 2 weeks between here & Dunedin in the South; meeting good friends, penguin hunting & exploration.  What do I want my present to be.  Drop everything else.    Focus.  Ski season sounds nice, but let's head to Australia.  Wrap this up & let's go!  No more dicking around!

Then my phone is buzzing once again.  My friends from the boat.  Not gone yet, in fact, more repairs.  Leaving in a few weeks.
Great timing!!!

Things are finally (seemingly) working out!

...and Jesus, it's already 2:30am & I'm supposed to be up & out tramping early.
Bad timing.  sigh.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

How's your sense of humour?

I just almost missed my flight.  I was sitting for about 3 hours outside gate E9, until boarding's getting close & there's still no action.

I am sitting in seat E9.
......
Christ.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Run For Your Freakn Life!

I spent the afternoon by an abandoned insane asylum being chased by zombies.

Everyone's together at the start.  It happens all at once.  People are getting picked off, you're jumping over people & leaving them behind as sacrifice.  These were once your friends, right?

Then there's the obstacles, & you'd better believe the zombies know where you're at your weakest.  Mud waist deep, swimming through a bog, straight up diving over haybales, manoevering the tires & if you lose a step, you're toast.

At the start, me & my tribe were cautious, tiptoeing through tunnels & peering through curtains, but learned quickly surprise is on your side.  Or sometimes they're smarter than us.

Chased through the woods, abandoned buildings, pretty sure went through a bus, into a cornmaze.  Feet plodding, heavy breathing, screams in the distance.  Into an opening there's one with a chainsaw right in front of us.  I thought we had to get past him, but he wasn't attacking us & the path veered right.  Up in front, screams behind me heaved me onward.  Run-run-run - into a corner!  I tucked myself in to hide, & the sheep followed!  Trapped!  Staring into the blank eyes of death itself.  That was the one time I screamed.

This is just a drill.  I have evidence now that if & when the zombie apolcalypse comes to fruition, I am dead.  You think you're ready?  Really?  I did end up surviving, but I thought I'd do better than I did.  I'm going to stretch more often now, just in case.

-x-x-x-

The first ever Run For your Freakn Life was wicked fun!  I've never run 5k so fast in my life (or ever, I guess).  It was put on by Spookers, a haunted theme park.  The zombies are so real, gruesome, howling, screeching, never out of character.  Even well after we finished we were watching the course from an embankment.  A zombie in the distance saw us, staring.  After a few minutes we stopped egging him on & he kept staring.  Uneasy.  He seemed hungry.

Friday, March 23, 2012

You're Never Going to Survive/Unless You Get a Little Crazy


Taranaki, NZ

It's windy.  Gusting up to 113m/h.  If this were anywhere else, I'd be thinking cyclone; Batten down the hatches!  But I'm sitting on top of the highest hill in New Plymouth, holding on to this bench for dear life.  If I let go I'll fly to Australia.  Should have worn my red shoes...

-x-x-

This is taking too long.  This hike was supposed to be easy.  Instead I casually got lost, fumbled with a few different routes before finding the correct turn to loop back to the road.  The sun has turned golden, sunset being an hour away.  Appropriately burning bridges, can't turn back the way arrived along the beach, with the rising tide the waves are licking the White Cliffs I came to see.

After a certain sticky situation I roped myself into a little while ago (read: SPLORE) I always carry a flashlight with me.  If I hadn't, this 2 hour tramp would have been an overnighter.  In the pitch dark, I could never have felt my way to the end.  Maybe that was why the whole situation happened, cause the survival auto-pilot was back again.  It's not supposed to be rigorous at all, but let's give it a try in the dark rain.  Challenge accepted!

Pissy rain is persistent on bringing down my mood.  It was fun for the first little while, but every trail marker says you've only gone centimeters.  Damn, that grass is really slippery!  Humble, one foot at a time.  This is when it can get dangerous & the worst could possibly happen.  Let's get out asap please.

Very interesting tunnel vision.  Had to focus hard to keep myself present & become aware of this experience.  I started playing music in my head, memories in overdrive - much like the meditation of swimming, or sailing alone in the ocean.

In Canada I'd be bear-feed; in Australia I'd be gotten by one of their countless insects or spiders that can kill you, or it'd straight up flood & wash me out the trailhead.

This is New Zealand.  I'm constantly reminded that there's nothing here that can kill me (even their most poisonous spider was imported from Aus - not deadly).  Although there's something mildly comforting in that, in this country of extreme outdoing each other to the maxxx, I think it should be changed to:
Nothing here can kill you but your own stupidity.

Monday, March 19, 2012

WOMAD

New Plymoth is having a party.  WOMAD is the name.



I can't believe what just happened.
On my first day of arriving I was working in the zoo, camping at the racetrack & had already seen bands from Ivory Coast, Burundi, Jamaica, Senegal, Japan, France & Ireland.  & I showed up late!

Volunteering at WOMAD (World of Music Arts & Dance).  Holy shit.  The best festival I have been to in sheer quality of music.  Every band you got a taste of would 90% of the time blow your mind!  Incredible!  Fantastic!

Going into it I knew 2 bands on the roster & they were at their very best!

Dobet Gnahore played the 2007 Winnipeg Folk Festival.  Just like then, she ripped open the friday night slot with her furious dancing that made everyone jump in!  She is so beautiful, she is always front page material.

Last summer I listened to alot of weird gypsy music & fell in love with the song Balkan Reggae by Mahala Rai Banda (Romania).  Oh. My. God.  They were unreal.  You could tell they didn't speak much english, but on every song they lit up!  You can't have a 10-piece horn section & not know what you're doing.

In fact, there was alot of that.  The average band size was probably about 11.  Batacuda Sound Machine (NZ) had about 10, Pascal (Japan) had 16, Babba Maal (Senegal), Bombay Royale (India) & Sharon Shannon (Ireland) each had 11 or 12.  There not many regular sized bands at all & only a handful of solo acts.  In fact, a friend of mine saw one of the solo loop pedal performers (Adam Page) busking in Queenstown a couple months ago.  & an Israeli friend knew the guys in Batacuda, cause he saw them play in Whakatane on the west coast, & was the only one there!  Small world NZ.

The music was phenomenal!  & really surprising.  There was a loop pedal violinist (Chapelier Fou) who was very intense & groovy for what it was, & I was amazed at how mesmorizing the Brazilian dualling accordions were (Toninho Ferragutti & Bebe Kramer) & how magical the Mongolian throat singers were (Anda Union).  There was a super interesting band from Wellington that had a stage filled with old Indonesian chimes, 2 DJ's at the back & a breathy blonde singer wearing angels wings.  Wild sounding, completely surreal.  Electronic, combined with these traditional chords....Wow. (Minuit vs Gamelan Taniwha Jaya)

It was grand that in the 3 days, most bands played at least twice or thrice.  Probably cause it's too expensive to fly out more musicians, but it was so cool to really get a chance to see everything & to see the bands you loved again!  (When I say Mahala you say Rai Banda!)

It was very diverse in every sense.  They had a segment called Taste the World, where artists would prepare a dish from their country & serve samples to the crowd.  Super cool!  The Mongolian liquor was potent, & the Fijian curry was delish!  They had dance workshops, movies, comedy, an artisans village, food stalls from every corner of the world, a Maori center with massage & tattooing!  I've never seen tattooing before at a festival!!!  In the back there was a even quiet  retreat with life coaches & forms of alternative therapy & treatment.  I didn't get to check it out cause I was dancing with a fury!

The venue was spectacular.  Papakura Park is really lovely with hills filling out the place, a big bowl with a lake surrounding the mainstage, alcoves & gullys perfect for other stages.  The festivcal site took up only a small part of the Park, but the trails went on forever!

I worked in Kidzone, which was literally taking place at the zoo.  It was a small zoo.  They had most of the animals moved out to a farm somewhere - no lions or tiger at this one, they were mostly farm animals anyway.  Kept the social animals behind, the otters & the monkeys.  At Kidzone there were bouncy castles, performers, stilt workshops, face painting, crafts, & playgrounds!  I was helping the kids make costumes for the parade!  So every day I got covered in paint & glitter!  No, I didn't try to eat the glue this time around!  We made heaps of bug wings & antennae for all the little cretins.  It's amazing what you can do with some bamboo & zip ties.  There were professionally made big costumes for some of the big kids & I lost rock paper scissors with a girl to be the mighty butterfly.  When the parade happened I was relishing in second place - the wings were so big, tall & heavy, & her antennae hat kept slipping over her eyes so she couldn't see anything!






Parade costumes


Mrs Butterfly!


The weather was magical.  Beautiful & sunny all weekend from 2pm Friday till Monday morning.  Monday we had to pick up little bits of glitter out of the grass all day, & it was pleasantly overcast.  I'm sure there are probably glitters from last year or the year before in the exotic birds' nests.  As soon as we were done getting frustrated hand picking it & just vaccuumed it all instead, the wind started giving a bit of a push.  Within hours there was a windstorm that lasted 3 days!  If there had been even a whisper of wind during the parade, it would have been a disaster.  The butterfly's wings were 10ft high!  She would have been launched!

We camped in the centre circle of a racetrack.  The horses race sporadically from 4:30am till 7pm.  In the morning everyone would ask "Did you hear the horses last night?"  I sleep through everything, so no.  They were described as the beating of an infant's heartbeat - fast & jittery, but reassuring that it'll come back again.

The last night I got hot into jungle fever flurry of dancing for Staff Benda Belili from the DRC!  Didn't get it the first time around, but the 2nd time they got me pumping!  Each of them have a disability, but that hasn't stopped them yet!  One even hopped out of his wheelchair to join the crowd's dancing with a headstand!  WOW!

The information is dodgy about where to go, lots of people leading us astray.  The afterparty is the game.  I have a heated bet with Mrs Butterfly for drinks from whoever is last to arrive.  I got there in brilliant time & found the next trick to get free drinks.  Butterfly never even turned up cause they were turning volunteers away at the door!  It takes a great DJ to play for a room filled with musicians.  Salsa dancing latinos, Africans, Europeans, altogether breaking down the dance floor!

At the very end tip of the night, in a flurry I met this wiry American journalist, & his is another story in itself...

The afterparty was the only real party of the festival.  It was mostly families attending, so as soon as the main stage was up, the campground was extinguished.  That's the way to be.  For the love of the music!

, inspired!


Dobet Gnahore (Ivory Coast)


The Yoots (NZ)


Narasiratu (Soloman Islands)


The Bombay Royale (India)


Minuit vs Gamelan Taniwha Jaya (NZ)


Staff Benda Belili (DRC)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cowboys


Sitting on the ground for our communal meals; Living in downtown Auckland has strange similarities to what I would imagine living in India might be like.

I live in a studio apartment with 2 Indo-Fijians & an Indian, which later turned into 2 Indians.  The smell of curry punches you in the face when you enter the flat & the the walls sweat with the heat.  Always bollywood music playing, or an episode of Dance India Dance on.

There's always LOADS of Hindi flying around, which is such a sharp language you always think they're arguing about something.  I later found out that's it's not always Hindi.  Sometimes the 2 Fijians speak Fijian together, sometimes the Panjabis speak Panjab together, but altogether they can speak Hindi.  That hardly seems fair!  Irritated me at first, so much that I wanted to interrupt anyone talking in their native tongue in my presence, eventually I realized I don't have to listen to their drivel & can block it out unless they make it super obvious & switch to English. Or maybe I've forgotten english!  Neener neener!

But really, I should have learned some Hindi by now.  It took me ages just to remember Namaste - Hello.  I did learn Good night, but it's gone now.

It takes a special kind of person to live in such close quarters with other people.  In my case, a sailor (I suppose), in their case, Indians.  I didn't even realize it was more of a cultural thing than a personal thing until I saw the look of incredulity of every other person that came in looking to share our apartment.  Oh right, we do live shoulder-to-shoulder.  Well, to be fair, they're students.

It's sweet actually.  Everyone's encouraged to do whatever they want.  Even though it's essentially one room, it took me several days to even meet my roomates.  One night, I'd been out late at a concert & stripped into my skivvies, hopping into bed.  When I woke up, there was a girl I'd never met laying next to me!  New flatmate.  She laughed, then taught me all the worst swears in Hindi, then skyped my mom & taught her all the worst swears in Hindi.  I was blushing when I had to tell her what they meant!

I am often out till late & they never go to bed until 3ish.  Great combo!  Even when I'm working at 8am, I'm usually up till 1ish, but when I get woken up to loud cooking, music & Hindi every night, they respond really well when I tell them to shut the f up I have to work in the morning.  Every day I was not looking forward to telling them off that night.  It's hard to stifle youth when they're in a foreign country on summer holidays & having fun.  Or rather, hard to stomach it.  Sometimes the grumpy old bear has gotta take a swing at the cubs to keep them in line.

One night I woke up from my hibernation to give them an exasperated grumble, & it was an argument between one of them & her boyfriend.  She was trying to break up with him or something, or he may have stolen something...I don't know, it was all in Hindi.  They were apparently yelling in the street outside the building & we could hear it from the 10th floor.  I told him to get out or I will beat the piss out of him in 10 seconds.  It seemed to work well, even if she left with him.  The girls stayed up worrying & biting their nails.  No thank you!  Back to sleep!  After his 2 week suspension from the apartment, enforced by me, he was very quiet.  As a titmouse!  Who says violence solves nothing?

That night the girls were really apologetic to me.  They made it seem like "Listen you two, fight all you want, but don't wake Jocelyn up, okay?"  Yes please.  Well, in theory yes, but if you're in trouble I want to know.  Reminds me of wrecklessly driving my car into the ditch & not wanting to call home cause they'd specifically told me to drive safely, even though I still needed help getting out of the ditch...

Best part of living so close together: when your roomate tells you we have an infestation of either bedbugs, fleas, or scabies.  They sprayed everything, bombed the apartment & one got checked & it was scabies.  I am still an unbeliever.  Everyone else is writhing around scratching & I don't have a single bite on me.  Aren't I delicious too?  A succulent morsel even?  I swear it's cause of my cold blood.  Back home I am a moveable feast, but here the mousquitoes hide when they hear me shuffling through the grass.  So they spray & get special detergents & things.  I just keep having sound nights of sleep.

, West Indian.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Seasick


Met up with Hanne yesterday at CouchSurfing Drinks!

She leaves today.  Her flight is in half an hour, going to Bangkok & never to return.  Today is the worst day to leave Auckland!  *(Every day is the worst day to leave Auckland.)

Thursday the day I go racing on Fast Company in the Waitemata Harbour.  Last week was frickin cancelled for too much wind (gusting up to 40knots).  There is also a rendezvous scheduled with s/v Le Cochon Noir later today.  I'm eager to see how their new baby Rahiti is getting on & the state of repair the vessel is in.

That's not all!  The Volvo Ocean Race is arriving in Auckland!  World class racers will be pulling into the Viaduct anytime today, as a stopover on their 9 month race around the world.  70 foot nascars of the sea.  I am inexplicably stoked for a prairie girl.

Talking boats is exciting!  We have become yachties.  It happened right under our noses.  Our audience is transfixed as we go on & on arguing weather & advantages to boat types like we're seasoned sailors.  These conversations are fitting enough for the cruising club, but take place at red lights & at bars.  Our old sailing stories...  To hear them again from her point of view!

A few weeks back, a friend invited me to help deliver a boat with him from French Polynesia to Auckland.  I declined the free flight to Tahiti, including bond paid in full, but no pay.  Damn him!  It was the height of surfing season too!  And to visit my Polynesian brothers...
But it's better for me to work & make some money, especially not knowing at the time it was my last chance to do so.  Responsible, right?

I explained this to some passers-by, who were drooling as I was describing this, pounding on the table saying "Call him now & tell him you'll go!  It's a once in a lifetime chance!"
Is it?  What if I've had my once-in-a-lifetime chance?

The islands are not so far away.  So long as I am in the Pacific, I know where my heart is.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The System is a Vampire

I jumped from the first general seating to the floor of Vector Arena.  It happened kind of instinctually.  Moments after they herded me upstairs saying the floor was at capacity (me being late, as always), I was climbing over the railing braced for a 10ft drop.  I hesitated once, at one of the best shows ever (Rage Against The Machine, Minneapolis 2008) & only regretted it.  Never again.

Katchafire brought the sultry horns to compliment the adrenaline buzz.  Just standing in this crowded room still makes me feel alive.

It's the end of summer here in New Zealand.  You know what that means!  Oh yes!  It's that time of year again...

O-WEEEK!!!!!@##&$%@%

This is when college kids are back in school, & campuses are pumping with BBQ's, parties, keggers, & concerts.  Living right next to 2 big campuses has it's advantages.  Although I didn't have a go on the bouncy castle, I did get a free student funded barby!

Snuck onto the floor a 2nd time, for lack of appropriate wristband.  New found freedom feels cramped.  Awareness dawns on me.  I am in a spider nest.

A good show is a good show to me.  But then I realized I was in a crowd of 8000+ 18-21yr old college kids.  This is the party for UNITEC, the biggest Uni in NZ.  The next 2 acts proved anyone with music taste had left a long time ago.  I was starting to suspect they might just seal off the exits, gas us all & eliminate the 85% of the douchebag population in one go.  My biggest error was being the only sober one in the building.

Anticipating one of the biggest names in Kiwi music.  I've witnessed 3 fights, been offered drugs twice & been standing here 30 minutes.  Some dude just snorted something next to me.  Bring out the demons.

Shapeshifter made everything better.  They were ethereal & warped & wild & let us let it all out.  A different kind of electronic music.  A different kind of high.  Get that itch worked on.  Manic & bright!  Force.  Illuminated.  A good way to be.

The crowd can make or break the atmosphere, but sometimes a good show can pull through & unite us.
Lesson: Be more aware of the demographic next time!
Yeesh!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Time to get Messy

4 hours of sleep last night.  We were up till 5am last night.  They were mostly drinking, cooking & eating.  After coming home from a wicked injection of live music, I stayed up to talk to a good friend from back home about school & statistics & listen to her 2 year old son giggle at the Hindi voices in the background.  Bliss.

I am sitting on the floor of my apartment in my dirtiest clothes on Saturday morning.  My flatmates are all comatose.  I am waiting for a ride from someone I've never met to a big paint fight in an Auckland suburb.

It is Holi - the Indian festival of colours.  My stained white shirt will never have looked better!

In fact, I might just bring all my clothes & roll around a bit.  A new wardrobe might be nice.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Monday, February 20, 2012

Festival Carnage - Splore


Splore, Tapapakanga National Park, NZ

NZ summer is chokka (chalk full) of festivals.  I am a knob & only realized the ones I was supposed to be at too late.  The few weeks of holidays surrounding christmas were a wash for weather, & New Years was practically cancelled for rain.  Auckland shot 10,000$ worth of fireworks off the Skytower, into the clouds, where no one could see them, because they're brilliant.  There were about a dozen NYE festivals - ALL mud fests & flooded.  The famous 'World's First Sunrise' in Gizzy (Gisbourne) on the east was overcast, & there is nothing more depressing than an overcast sunrise.  Mudslides & washed out roads everywhere.  Outran it all & parked myself between a barby, music venue & the surf, sipping on Headless Mexicans & may have even had stars & fireworks.  Choice.

*As an unrelated point of interest, did you know Kiwis actually get stoned & watch this video, which is what 90% of the internet thinks all the time?  (also they love Flight of the Conchords.)*
I digress.

What the f was I talking about?

Ah yeah so the one festival I honed in on was Splore.  Don't know why.  Something to do with the melody of horns on their homepage.  My ears perked up.  I have a way with these things.  Nobody was un-costumed all weekend.  Except me, the square.  Also, I didn't know the "no alcohol" policy means they pretend to search us & we just hide it more cleverly.  So I was also the only sober one all weekend.  Woohoo.  Let the party begin.

Hitched to the show with no worries & met some cool folk.  Popped my tent & dashed in the see The Yoots, said blissful 8-piece horn roots ensemble.  A warm sunny singalong welcome to this beautiful festie!  Dancing in a straw bed, lazing on the hillside, or in the ocean by some sleepy curious yachts.

Erykah Badu was the only act I had even heard of & it seems this was the overwhelming case.  I am alone however, with the overwhelming feeling of.....how can I describe it?  Dissatisfaction?  Inadequacy?  Disappointment?  (Can you feel that way about someone you've never heard before?)  A general bad taste in my mouth.  R&B Diva.  Jesus f-king christ.  She thought she was top shit.  She was ordering the lighting crew around in the middle of songs & making this stupid superhero pose after every song.  The backstage crew told me she was really cold, with an air of superiority, & uber-late throwing everything off kilter.  I thought it was quite obvious she was a stuck-up bitch.  It showed in her performance, which is never good.  But I suppose everyone else was fooled so...

Plus it rained, full-on, right at the end of her set.  Suddenly my body hates me.  'Hate. Being. Wet.' it says.  Every inch of shelter occupied by bodies, called for retreat to the tent.  Strategy meeting.  Huddled in the corner of the "wet side" of the inside of the tent never works.  Fun night!

Everything Saturday was great!  Artists, food, atmosphere, weather, music: Latin Aotearoa were hot & spicy with latino flavour.  Grit teeth into a sugar skull smile.  Pinche madre!  Dios mio!  Cuban Brothers were full-on & hilarious!  The Barons of Tang delivered their so-called "gypsy folk with a twist of deathcore" brilliantly.  In fact I'd throw jazzy into that description as well.  Touché.  An ethreal circus with mannequin parts, poetry, a stripshow & people eating off other people.  Sat there thinking "I wish I had good enough friends I could eat off of...."

Got in as a volunteer with the exception I enjoy the festival & stick around to work cleanup Monday.  Instead I lucratively got in with the main stage backstage crew.  Even though we felt so lame dressing in simple black (if you could imagine the costumes!) a few slack hours tearing down drumkits here & watching the bands from sidestage there beats the hard labour of sorting recycling from rubbish we avoided.  :-)

**Note: Watching a band from side stage - crossed off the Bucket List!**

My Splore was great!  Monday however...

Monday was understatement messy, following the volunteer afterparty.  All the confiscated liquor that went through my system demanded an intense detox.  Met too many people & as always a little too trusting.  Lost my shoulder bag with my cellphone & rainjacket inside & found my shoes in a bush.  Woke up thinking I had been kidnapped only to realize I was with my friends the whole time.  Really bad.  Found a flashlight, re-oriented myself & somewhere safe to crash, alone outside the festival grounds & three sheets to the wind.  When it comes down to it, I remember how not panicked I was.  My survival skills are pretty sharp.  Still, not a good way to end a festival.  Once again, I am glad I have friends.