The Adventures of a Part Time Professional Gypsy (and her ginormous teddy thing)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

One Time, At Bush Camp...

I was quite impressed with my hitching efforts as I pulled up for induction at 7am that Aprily Monday morning. I'd been on the road for a while and had nothing that resembled clean clothes let alone interview attire but they let me in anyway... What I stumbled into I wasn't quite prepared for.

There were 17 of us all up. 2 Kiwis, a 56 year old woman and a random mix of youngster Aussies. Have I mentioned before that too many Aussies scare me? [ahhh shivers!] After a brief introduction it was challenge time - some strategising, some heights tests, some harness activity.... it was all new to me - I even had to ask if it mattered that I'd put the harness on inside out?! By the time we got on to knot knowledge I was just about ready to do a runner - I can't even tie a good old granny knot!

We lost 2 inductees that Monday night. Neither of them gave much explanation. One even left in tears. I spent most of that first night job hunting...

I survived the Tuesday's leap of faith and 20ish meter pulley threading. I survived Wednesday's canoe and heights rescues and by Thursday I was amazed that I was one of the 9 that remained. I even moved into more permanent accommodation - It was only a shipping container but it was a massive step up from the tent I'd lived in for weeks before 'the camp'.

Week one as a newbie was rough - I got up on the abseil tower and stared blankly at the ropes for what must have been 20 minutes while one of the managers painstakingly assessed me on my set-up. I failed rock climbing tie-offs. Twice. I failed pretty much every hard skill there was to fail, but somehow I made it through the week. And the next one. And before I knew it I'd passed all my assessments, including the soft skills, and was handed a dark blue "outdoor activities instructor" shirt and a contract.

I only planned to stay a little while - I mean Spain awaited, as did the 200 odd countries I've yet to visit - but I lasted the whole term and even came back from New Zealand for a second... 5 months later I'm still here and heading into a third. And if you think that's impressive then I should tell you that even with my complete lack of coordination and previous lack of all things outdoor instructory; I haven't killed anyone yet!


Monday, September 26, 2011

Temporary Employmentedness

Where was I....? Hmmm...? Tamworth - that's right stuck in Tamworth! The hellhole that is Tamworth. Chicken farmers. Foreigners. More chicken farmers. A big guitar. Nothing else. Nothing. I no longer had hopes. No longer had dreams. No longer had money. No longer had faith in mankind. I suppose I was alive and I should at least be grateful for that but Tamworth doesn't exactly make you feel very glad-to-be-aliveish...

I spent the morning job hunting and trying to find direction then grabbed my bags and headed out to the highway. I was going in whichever direction the first car was going. I knew I needed to get away from that place! I raised my thumb to the hitch when the german receptionist ran out after me. "I have job for you. Come quick. Okay?" I followed her back into the hostel and she passed me the phone.

"Well, I need someone to help me with my kids and horses" said the friendly lady on the other end of the phone.  "Do you have any experience with children?" I went into details of the years of random childcare my life's accumulated and I heard her smile. I don't know exactly how you hear someone smile, but she did. "And what about horses?" "Well... I owned a horse for 8 or 9 days once..."

Duke, my favouritest of the horses
Within the hour Renee arrived and I was off to a little town in some other nowhere land and I became a horserearing nanny lady. That was Wednesday. By Friday I was quite settled and was all packed and ready for the weekend's camping horse show when I decided I'd probably better check my mail quickly  and let mum know I wasn't dead (She worries sometimes). I scanned through the spam and found a "no subject" one that began "Hi, Thank you for your application. I would like to invite you to our induction week commencing on Monday 18th April (next Monday) at 07h30 sharp."

I'd briefly met an English girl back in Bellengen who worked at a bush camp (whatever that is). It sounded fascinating so I scribbled the name of the place down on a scrap of paper and stuffed it into my pack. Stuck in Tamworth I'd stumbled upon it, googled it and found that applications for new staff had closed just a week earlier. I sent them a CV anyway... This was their response.

Now came the dilema: I'd just started on the horse farm and the family was lovely and and and... but this Bush Camp induction sounded way more exciting; even if the email didn't even include my name and was a little general - let's be honest, it's just an induction; hundreds of people might be invited.

I stared at the computer for hours (probably only 3 and a half minutes in real world time) and then went looking for Renee - she was busy strapping the kids into the car - they were all set for camping. I gulped. And then gulped again louder. I just mentioned the Bushcamp and the kids were cheering so loud from their memories of the camp that Renee marched me inside and made my mind up for me.

We tried to call the camp. Answering machine. It was almost 5pm. It was a Friday. I returned an email "See you Monday".

I unpacked my belongings from the car and bid the kids farewell. Renee left me with their house and their ute and their horses and organised me a lift to the highway for dawn-o'clock Sunday morning and then they were out of there.

 Before I knew it I was unemployed again and hitching back into the unknown, headed for a little town called Tea Gardens.

Harry... the dog who thought he was a horse.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When Hitching Turns Bad and then gets Worse

Picture from Australia's most famous horror movie - Wolf Creek

I was in high spirits as I finally bid Bellingen (ahhhh, what a heavenly heavenly place) farewell - the people there give the nicest hugs! Even though it was raining I was okay - it's generally easier to hitch hike in the rain. In fact I didn't even make it to the hitching spot 100m down the road when a friendly trucker pulled up and told me to hop in. Andy even pulled over for me to see the waterfalls and the scenery as he drove me to Dorringo.

I was on my way to a farm job in Orange (A town 500 or 800 km South West from Bellingen) - I was finally going to mark off the remaining 46 days of rural work that I needed for my second year visa which I need if I ever decided to brave Australia again! I was pretty chuffed that I'd secured a job and was even more chuffed that all my timings were going to work out perfectly!!

Andy apologized profusely for not being able to take me any further and apologized even more for not being able to stop the rain. I liked him. But as he drove away and the rain bucketed down and the mist descended so did my high-spirits - all I got was drenched as a handful of cars sped past splashing me. I was wet and miserable.

It felt like I had stood there for hours [but it was probably more like 15 minutes] when Julian pulled up in his ute. His cap was pulled low and his sunnies were on, but he smiled. "Where you goin?" I asked - "Armidale" he replied. "Mind if I jump in?" He seemed surprised that I did and then carried on rolling his joint.

Julian told me how he was presently on the run from the cops as we sped at 140km/h down the windy road - he wouldn't tell me why he was running from them - just that he's packed up house that morning and was going to hide out in Armidale at his secret house for a while. I tried to plaster a fear hiding smile across my face and tried to find a new topic...  "Kangaroos..." Then he steered off the main road and I started to get really worried - he sensed my panic. "Don't want to go through any of those police checks" was his excuse - but I'd watched Wolf Creek and I knew that he really just wanted to murder me in the middle of nowhere!

"If you like kangaroos you really ought to come and see my house" he said. I thanked him for the kind offer but refused - "there are kualas too" he threw in as if he was an infomercial. "I'm really okay to get out here" I said in my head - but I couldn't think of an excuse to use with it and we were now on back roads so back that there were no cars anywhere... My brain started hyperventilating!!

As we continued towards somewhere passing "Armidale" after "Armidale" signs pointing in the opposite direction Julz told me about his days as a bikee and told me how he was now a kangaroo whisperer. He can talk to them - it's apparently the language of the clicking tongue.  I nodded believingly but was more  focused on watching for oncoming traffic to wave down and shout "help!!"

"Let me just drive you to Orange" he said. Why did I tell him where I was headed?? Why?? "I need to meet up with a friend this evening" I lied - but I think lying is okay when you're doing it to stay alive. "Ahhh, but I need to go to Orange anyway" he continued "tell your friend to meet you there - we'll swing past mine and pick up my swag." He was on his third joint when I talked him out of it and now he wanted me to deliver a "package" he had taped under the car's carriage to a friend - I had to pose as his girlfriend while doing it...

The clouds burst open even more as we passed his friend's house so I was spared - "I don't want you to get wet my sweet sweet darling" - why on earth was he calling me "darling"??? "How lucky am I to pick up someone like you?" - What did he mean by that?? PANIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I saw another car and asked him to pull over - he refused - he said that he had sworn to drive me to Armidale and that's where he would take me. He kept on asking me for this and that: his house - Orange - his other friend's house - lunch... eventually I caved and said "Okay I'll have lunch with you - but only if it's in Armidale town at a restaurant." At least that way I was guaranteed some safe passage - I relaxed a bit.

I've never been happier to arrive in a small town - especially because I was still alive! And there were people around - I was safe! We were down a back road where no one would recognise him - but there were still people about!!

Julz wandered off to get some beers and I scribbled a quick note on a napkin for a waitress - just in case there was trouble.

Julz took his time and I started wandering where he was- he wasn't at the bar... I checked the car - just in case he was rummaging through the bags he'd made me leave locked up inside. I checked the bathroom - nope. And then he emerged from nowhere drinks in hand.

Our food arrived as we sat discussing about his collection of Papua New Guinea Voodoo art. What a strange strange man. I sipped the beer twice - but even through his sunnies that he had yet to remove [even in a dingy restaurant] I could still see him eyeing my drink - it may have all been in my mind - but that drink tasted different... What if he slipped me a roofie?? I waited till half way through my meal when I 'accidentally' knocked my drink over.

"Let me just take you to Orange" he said one last time. "No!" I said - "I'll walk back to the highway from here". And the notified waitress watched intently as he finally let me unpack my bags. I felt like crying and throwing up at the same time I was that shook up. But I got straight back onto hitching immediately - I did not want him coming back again - he may have just been a very disturbed 58 year old man - but I've never been that uncomfortable before and psycho killers are apparently a common breed in Australia!

I watched him drive down the road and park. I stuck my thumb out like my life depended on it and a family pulled up. I jumped in shaking but smiled politely at 4 year old Tilly and Bonita and Desy. I was safe!  I glanced back once more and saw Julz driving off.

My new drivers had missioned through to Armidale for the horse races which had been been rained out so they were going to Tamworth for the afternoon instead. Tamworth was my day's target destination - it was perfect! - They even dropped me at the hostel and made sure I checked in okay!

In Tamworth I had cellphone reception for the first time in more than a week so I called through to Orange to find out the exact location of my new farm home- voicemail.

The next day I tried again - it just rang. And now the number's dead.

And this is where I sit - stuck in chicken farm land in the epicenter of nowhere where the Aussies don't speak english (I don't understand a word they say except "Keith Urban" (because he happened to play here last night) and the only foreigners are South Korean. I'm half way between Sydney and Brisbane and 555km from everywhere coastal and I don't have a clue what to do next... it's time to get on the road and ask the first car that pulls up "where to?" Let's hope they're normal....

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Looking for Unicorns

"Where to?" asked Karen, Australian hitch hikee the thirty second. I had yet to consult maps and formulate any plans, but it was time to leave the comforts of Coffs Harbour's real beds and canoes and surf and "west" felt right so that's what I said. "Come on then, I'm only going as far as Ballingen but." They all end their sentences with "but".

We reached Karen's turn-off and she looked at me and I looked back at her and then she looked back at me and I was still looking back at her and she said "I know where you need to be tonight" and she drove me an extra 5ish kilometers to the Ballingen Backpackers and told me "You can camp here tonight and then tomorrow you can decide what you want to do." I obeyed. 

A week later I still find myself in Ballingen. Still at the hostel. Still registered as "one night camping." Still alive. This place is extraordinarily special - apart from Pai in Thailand and Granada in Spain - I can think of nowhere even vaguely similar!

Nobody in Ballingen wears shoes; that alone makes me want to stay forever - this place is magical! The fact that my tent stayed dry after five days of incessant torrential rain is a miracle and a half! A four year old told me that she saw a unicorn the other day - a white one - so today I cycled out to the Promised Land and explored Never Never Creek seeking them [with names like that I was almost certain I'd find unicorns] . Sadly I found only droppings  - but I know I was close.

Everybody in Ballingen is divorced or psychotic or disturbed or pregnant or all of the above - but it just seems to add to the appeal. Over breakfast this morning I chatted to several personas of one very disturbed Melbourner and a possum. The possum made some excellent points. 

There's tubing and canoeing and hiking and the world's most spectacular views and biggest colony of flying foxes and plenty of fields to dance in and every local tells you about their most recent alien invasion ...but the real Bellingen is so much more...  With my camera broken (that's six broken in four years I think) and bed calling my name; all I can tell you is that it's a place you need to explore for yourself... You too may never leave...

Probably not quite the unicorn I was seeking... but close... very close....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The World by Toilets : Melbourne

It may be unfair to judge a city purely by its toilets – but for some – with all the crap they have going on in them – the toilets really are just about the best thing they have! 

Melbourne’s toilets alone were almost enough to get me to “settle down”, find a job and become a real person... almost... My first night out in the city led me to some remarkable findings:

And if the artsy toilets weren't enough to sway me, the community syringe disposal units that even family friendly bathrooms possessed ensured that I knew it was an exciting city full of colourful people!

Combing the toilets with the architecture, the music scene, the nightlife, the buskers, the cafe's and the friendly hobos, I really can recommend a visit, a live, and definitely a wee or two... If I wasn't a full blown gypsy I might well be there still! The world is full of crappy cities - Melbourne is not one of them!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Waking up in Strange Places

This morning I woke up in a weed plantation.

Life's been a biiiiiit of blur the last few weeks... one day I was a school nurse in Melbourne (I administered 4 bandaids, one ice-pack and took one temperature) - the next minute I was headed for Sydney in Davidoff (below) with Jersey (who I met in Cambodia 2 years ago) and Frenchie....

Myle'ne (Frenchie), Ben (Jersey), Davidoff and I

9ish days of fishing for our meals, living on beaches and meeting many an elderly small town aussie (they're a different breed I tell you) later I got a last minute phone call and was hitching the remaining 174km to Sydney for an MGMT concert... it was worth it.... I woke up on Jacqui's (who I met in Berlin 3 years ago) kitchen-couch....

MGMT - and no they don't only have that one song...
 I really planned to find a job in Sydney - honest - but there were far too many unavoidable distractions and I got talked into a couple days break from the job-hunt break. Oh the beach... the beach... the beach....

Licking the Sydney Operah House
 Before I knew it I had joined another van gang and I was headed for the Blue Mountains Folk Festival. There were beards and Banjos everywhere! While the incessant rain poured down I offered my kitchen hand services at the world's best "noddles noodles noodles" bar - I think I may have found my true calling as a onion chopper!

The van gang: Tom and Jerry, Davidoff and Alf
Chopstix noodle bar
 It was only going to be a weekend trip but the north had an avoidable lure and before I knew it I was in Newcastle sleeping in Briony's (Whom I met in Amanzimtoti last year) palace.

Briony and her nifty toilet paper supply
 A night in the park, a night on the beach, a couple of storms later and I was still going North - amazed that my $15 tent resembled any sort of waterproofness at all!!

I became an official member of the Alf (world's best van) crew and joined Ash and Brad (Two English lads who like to play with scissors) on their quest to somewhereness. And then one morning, a week or few later,  I woke up in a Domino's Pizza carpark surrounded by far too many old people and I knew it was time for a change....

Brad and Ash
I hitched to the main road and asked the first car that stopped where I should head next. This is how I landed in South West Rocks where I walked the 8km to the edge of town and found a kangarooy weed field near the gaol. After a very eerie night, I was just glad to wake up alive!

Another four hitches later I find myself in Coffs Harbour with no idea where to go next or what to do when I get there (the job neccessity is still a necessity); but tonight I sleep in a real bed - and that's a strange concept - it's been a while!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Americans - They don't always kill you!

Americans. They scare me a little. But that’s normal… right?? So, when my phone rang and the elderly American couple asked “Are you still looking for a ride to Melbourne then?” I was pretty unprepared. I panicked, hyperventilated and said I’d call back.

I was looking for a ride. Or at least I think I was [I generally am confused at all times about what exactly I’m doing.] But I didn’t know where I wanted to go to from the lovely Adelaide or when or how… normally the biggest challenges in a gypsy’s day are working out what to have for lunch. I was ill prepared.

I returned the call. I accepted. It was set to be a five-day trip to Melbourne in a rental car. By the description it sounded like five days of fine dining and luxury hotels. It sounded terrifying.

I packed my bag and bid farewell to the Homette (soon to be a great hostel in all of Adelaide – ask for Shane) and O-bahned (the must do transport experience in Adelaide) into the city thinking that I really should have taken the time to call mum and write a will before heading off on this daunting new adventure.

I walked and walked and walked a little more and took a deep breath. There they were – Nils and Hannah and our Hundai Getz.

My elderly Americans... The friendly sort...
Little Getzy - our noble steed...
But as it turns out they were German. I should have seen it coming; the whole world seems to be turning German these days. Also instead of the 60-somethings I’d anticipated they turned out to be 30ishers. Fortunately I was not alone - they’d conned Dutch Max into coming too. The 4 of us squished into the teeny two-doored car with our massive backpacks – it made us closest companions immediately!

Nils (left) and Hannah (Right) - my friendly not-americans and cheese and more cheese and olives 
Nils and Max in the Grampians
We drove. We drove. And drove a little further. Almost half an hour down the road we reached the Maclarenvale wineries and the wine tasting began.

Maclarenvale wineries
More of Maclarenvale
I can’t possibly imagine a better road trip to Melbourne – Great food, great wine, great company, great experiences… the Great Ocean Road, the Grampians, white kangaroos, dead kangaroos, a billion beautiful beaches and lots of lamas. How do you beat lamas?

White kangaroo at Border Town, Victoria
One of the many lamas in Port Fairy

The German way of dealing with mosquitoes.
Griffiths Island

The start of the Great ocean road

12(ish) apostles

 The moral of the story here – and you should take this to heart – don’t be afraid of Americans. Even if they’re not Americans. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

100 Days on the road. 100 People worth the knowing!

196,503 trees...  9869 toilets... 8765 roadkills....  5060 km... 174 kangaroos... 118 beautiful beaches... 47 jogs... 36 cycles... and finally day the 100th arrived (Friday, 11 March)! That’s 100 days of pure overwhelmingnessness and at least 100 people that made it that splendid!

Below are the people are just some of the people that awesomeness is composed of: