Tag Archives: Agriculture

Couch Surfing in Ubud

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scanning for Couch Surf hosts… is anyone out there?

Five weeks prior to our arrival in Bali we contacted Di and Nigel through Couch Surfing (CS). At the time, Indonesia felt like a far-off dream, and the prospect of sailing home to Australia, a ludicrous endeavour.

We had our backs bent to the task of digging rice paddies on a burgeoning eco-tourism project on Koh Phangan. The barrage of bass-line from late night doof-parties, for which the island is famous, and the bloody proclivities of the local mosquitos was taking its toll. For the first time in a long time we were at a loss: couldn’t say where we were going, when, or for how long.

After hanging up our gardening gloves for the day, we took up our laptops and pegged our hopes on a series of couch surf requests: a life-line of introductions that stretched all the way from Southern Thailand to KL and Singapore, and from peninsular Malaysia all the way across the sea to Jakarta, Kuta and Ubud.

Di and Nigel received our CS SOS with felicitous welcome. They stuck with us while our plans changed and accepted us even after the date of our stay shifted from the 17th to the 27th of April – a mere three days before they were due to depart for their holiday in England.

Fast-forward five weeks to the afternoon of the 27th of April and there we were, trussed up like a couple of Christmas turkeys on bean bags on Di and Nigel’s front porch, gazing into limpid mugs of coffee and mooning over proferred plates of door-stop sandwiches – organic white ciabbata!

During those first crucial hours of host-surfer bonding it became apparent that the four of us shared a cultural lineage: Nigel and Richie grew up within 129 miles of one another in Birmingham and Thetford respectively, whereas Di and I are both Queensland lasses, our home towns separated by a meagre 1,600km: which in the spacial-geographical terms of our country, meant we were practically neighbours.

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Nigel shares his passion for micro-brewed beer with his fellow countryman

Once we’d established the parameters of our youthful follies, we fell to that favourite passtime of refugees and migrants: laughing over the quaint traditions of our countryfolk; recalling landmark festivals, fads, celebrity-downfalls; and sharing humorous anecdotes about the inexplicable customs and idiom of our ‘host’ country – Indonesia: it was Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island meets Down Under all over. Continue reading

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Arriving in Laos

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That Phoum Pouk

As soon as we crossed the border from China into Laos it became apparent that Lao moves to a different tune than its oversized neighbour to the north.

Entering Laos might entail a change down in gear,” our friends in Dali warned, a day before departure.

This is the part of the journey I’ve been looking forward to since day one,” Richie reminded me as we handed over our passports at the border. Even the security officials seemed happy to see us. We smiled and made our first attempt at the greeting, ‘sabaidee‘, which sounded softer and more childlike in our mouths than angular ‘ni hao’.

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entering Laos on a bus from Jinghong (China)

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laidback at the border, visa on arrival (US$32 for Australian nationals)

I hadn’t realised how uncomfortable the pace of development in China had made me until I entered Laos. Except for the presence of rubber plantations and new roads, sure signs that China’s influence in this region extends well beyond its border, Laos felt a world away. Continue reading

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Discovering Molise…

In spite of its central position in the country, and proximity to Rome, few people who visit Italy have ever heard of Molise. One of the smallest and most sparsely populated provinces in Italy, Molise is home to 400,000 residents, and one third of the country’s endemic species of flora and fauna, including small populations of wolves, bears and chamoix. Its three national parks encompass an area of 3,350sq km, making Molise a green and pleasant place to escape the noise and congestion of Italy’s major cities.

When Richie and I arrived in Italy on the 12th of April we had never heard of ‘Molise’, and when we exited the country on the 30th of June, we’d spent a total of almost half our time there.

This is the story of how we ‘discovered’ Molise…

After seeing the high standard of work Richie was turning out for his Permaculture Diploma, Angiola, our host in Rome, suggested we visit Molise to stay in her family’s villa, explore the countryside, and make some suggestions in the garden. We weren’t sure if we were being invited to have a holiday, or to implement a permaculture design. Either way, the enticement of free accommodation in a restored stone stable was enough to tempt us into the heart of the country – to the very navel of Italy.

In Campobasso, Molise’s capital, we were met off the bus by Angiola and her sister, Maria-pia. Angiola was on her way back to Rome but invited us to stay as long as we wanted, so long as we spent the first few afternoons of our visit helping her sister and brother plant 200  pomodoro (tomato) plants in the garden.

The variety of pomodoro that Maria-pia and Michelangelo favoured was a native of Montagano (the the closest village to where we were staying), and was without doubt “the best tomato in the world.”

Unfortunately for Maria-pia and Michelangelo, not even “the best tomato in the world” will grow to a ripe old age if the conditions for living aren’t right. On arriving on the scene in Faifoli Richie and I were greeted by the sad spectacle of over two hundred pomodoro seedlings wilting with stage fright under a relentless blue sky in a dry barren patch of recently rotovated earth. It was tomato genocide!

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Killed with Kindness

I’ve heard about the legendary hospitality of villagers in countries such as Greece, Iran, Pakistan and China, but never having experienced it myself, believed it was the stuff of myth. Turns out it’s true… ‘xenia‘, the tradition of stranger hospitality is alive and well in eastern Morocco in the Valley of the Roses.

Richie and I arrived in the the village of Bouthagar in the Valley of the Roses off the back of 3 hectic nights in Marrakech. We hoped to find a quiet spot where we could be alone in nature and observe rural life, unmolested by the type of banter that made Djema El Fna (the central square in Marrakech) a tiresome place to be.

As well as checking out the local traditions of agriculture we hoped to undertake a trek or two in the nearby villages and gorges. Our friend, Mark, had been there a few months before and told us that the scenery was impressive and fairly unspoilt.

In Bouthagrar we were thrilled to chance upon a gorgeous guest house with a terrace overlooking a valley: rosy adobe dwellings, abrupt cliffs, clear river, pebbly shores and verdant terraced gardens lined with the ghostly silhouettes of silver birches, figs and olives cold be seen from every window.

When we asked at our guest house about the possibility of taking part in a day of natural building to observe the traditional technique of rammed earth construction (‘tabout’), our host Youssef wasted no time connecting us with a local builder. His name was Brahim and he had learned the tools of the trade in a 16 year apprenticeship to his father.

By 7am on day two of our stay we were accompanied to a construction site in the nearby village of Znug. On our way there we took a shining to our long-legged companion, Mohammed – the only one in the team of 5 builders who spoke French. We spoke considerably less French than him,  and not a word of Arabic or the local Berber dialect. It was going to be an interesting week of learning…

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