Tag Archives: Overland to Oz

Get it in the ground!

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Being without a home doesn’t mean you have to be without a garden. How many people do you know who have garden beds that are under-utilised? Use ’em!

It’s been 9 weeks since Richie and I returned from abroad, and while we don’t yet have a home of our own (or a garden for that matter), we’re by no means home-or-garden-less. Thanks to the generosity of friends, family and friends-of-friends-and-family, since arriving back in south-east Queensland we’ve had the courtesy of seven different beds and a range of experiences getting our hands in the soil.

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In the middle of August we took the plunge and planted over 100 modules of assorted vegetable and herb seeds gleaned from 18 months of travel in 21  countries. Each morning it’s a race to see who’s first out of bed, down on hands and knees, calibrating the success of one full night’s growth.

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First it was the giant mustard greens, then the lettuce, closely followed by the tomatoes, coriander, and now the pickling cucumbers. It’s anyone’s bet when the eggplant and okra will raise their heads…

When all the seedlings are through, there will be more baby plants than we’ll know what to do with, at which point, we’ll do the rounds of friends’  and families’ gardens, planting them out and hoping, in time, to reap the rewards in the way of more seeds to grow on – locally adapted, and kept viable through precious grow-time in the earth.

So far we’ve trialled a range of watering methods for our seedlings. During germination seeds benefit from a fairly constant rate of temperature and humidity, but given our rather ad-hoc living situation we’ve been forced to experiment with all manner of irrigation (and household) devises for watering: hoses with no nozzles, plastic milk bottles with pin-pricks in the base, spray guns, and bonsai watering cans. We even considered using an eye-dropper for minimal splash-back and earth displacement… What do you use to water your fragile seedlings?

For my birthday this year Richie presented me with a timber box bursting with assorted flower, veg and herb seeds from Eden and Green Harvest; amongst them, heirlooms such as ‘Turkish Orange’ eggplant, and ‘Greek mini’ basil. There are flowers too! Borage. My favourite bee-plant.

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While we don’t want to count our tomatoes until they’re ripe, 9 out of the precious 12 tomato seeds given to us by our friends in Athens have germinated! These tomatoes, along with the pickling cucumbers from the Balkan Ecology Project in Bulgaria are among the rarest in our collection.

True to the spirit of abundance we’re eager to share our pool of biodiversity with people who, like us, take pleasure in propagating and harvesting unusual varieties of open-pollinated heirloom organic fruit and veg. On a visit to Stanthorpe in two weeks  my parents will be delivering miniature pear and nashi pear seeds (from Greece and China respectively) to friends who have a diverse and abundant backyard garden. Planting seed across a variety if  climatic and micro-climatic zones ensures a chance that at least some will survive, flourish, provide a yield, and begin the cycle all over again.

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transporting seeds from home-to-home… mobile gardening!

Happy planting !

GROW!

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Luck of the Irish

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I’ll tell you something you might not know about the Australian Outback – it’s peopled by young Irish! The subtle charm of saltbush and red earth does not account for the numbers in which they arrive: behind every counter, every laminate benchtop in every kitchen, pub, petrol station, cafe and caravan park between Darwin and Mt Isa there’s a Galway or Pipe lilt-a-lurking.

Whatever the Outback lacks in emerald green it makes up for in gold: the solid gold of a hard-earned wage – the kind it’s hard to come by in Ireland. Italians and French are drawn here too, for work, but not in the same numbers as the Irish – nowhere near.

At the Mataranka Caravan Park, at the end of a long day of hitchhiking, I inquire at reception about the cost of renting a tent pitch for the night: $36! It’s terrible news but pleasing nonetheless to hear it delivered in a running-stitch of tender Leinster tones! Battling to reconcile myself with parting with $36 for a patch of earth, I inquire whether management might have a spare tent they can throw into the bargain. To which she kindly responds, ‘No’.

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That night, lying under the stars, part-way-under a shared sleeping bag, with the sound of mob politics in the background, I ponder what it might be like, as a youth from an Irish village, to find yourself, suddenly,  in the Australian Outback. I feel baffled by what might draw someone this far across the earth to take up residence in a landscape only marginally less alien than the moon, to a culture as quixotic, contradictory and idiosyncratic as a pink bus called ‘Priscilla’. Surely it’s not just the money?

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On the second night of our hitch-hike across the Outback we’re saved by the kindness of the Irish. Tess, Mike and Lee are on a road trip that will take them from Sydney to Cairns. They’ve drawn up at the Barkly Homestead in their dusty blue station wagon and are happy enough to have their tents up, cans of beer in their hands and a good part of the driving behind them.

It’s cold. As they hug their coats closer about their shoulders their attention is drawn to the two weirdos (us!) who have wandered in off the road, under cover of darkness, and are spreading a layer of cardboard on the ground in order to shield themselves from the rising damp that would otherwise cost them a night of sleep.

‘We ha a tarpaulin if ya waaant it’, one of them offers, shouting over from the comfort of his canvas camping chair. He looks appalled to be witnessing our performance of voluntary impoverishment.

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Kupang to Dili: this sailing life

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head down, bottoms up – Keith inspects the anchor locker

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Dili street scene

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provisioning the boat with real food grown by real people, Kupang market

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main sail

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sailing Timor-Leste waters

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dragging the tinny down to the water, Kupang

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Sailing Home

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Out of office reply: Gone Sailing.

We apologise as we are currently unable to respond to your emails. We are onboard the Tientos with Lea and Keith bound for Darwin, Australia via Komodo and Kupang, Indonesia and and Dili, Timor-Lieste.

We are in capable and experienced hands and very much looking forward to the voyage, with our dream of flightless travel from England to Australia intact.

Wish us luck

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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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stars over kuta

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The three brightest stars in the sky above Kuta Beach are not stars at all, they’re aeroplanes. They orbit the sky, once, twice, before descending. I watch as they approach, becoming larger and more fanta-coloured as they draw near.

The aeroplanes drop like muscular angels to the earth, chasing one another up the runway, lifting the skirts of their wings like frisky schoolgirls, teetering on the narrow lip of land that separates runway from sea. Finally, they come to a standstill before the crooked elbow of the disembarkation ramp, disgorging another fat helping of tourists into the swollen body of the Denpasar Bali airport.

To balance out the equation, three aeroplanes take off. They enact the dance in reverse, lifting their gaze to the horizon, hunkering down, and launching themselves at the sky. As they claw their way up into the stratosphere their blunt bodies shed vortex after vortex of spent air molecules. The sound falls like a meteor shower on my head, mingling with traffic to create a peculiarly Balinese symphony. The change in air pressure as the planes fly overhead leaves me flattened and subdued.

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an aeroplane coming in to land at Denpasar Airport

bright star... ? aeroplane

bright star… ? nina, aeroplane & sea

In contrast to the antisocial airport, the beach is full of human-friendly shapes: surfers, mandorla shortboards and the pleasingly symmetrical silhouette of traditional Balinese fishing boats, jukung. Lifeguards in Baywatch buggies ply the shoreline. Dogs on leads buck their owners in a comic play of walker and walked, whilst higher up, on the tree-line, the well-heeled make ready for a performance of gamalan, sipping cocktails with names more redolent of the Carribean than this overpopulated strip of beach that lies terrorised and trembling under the flight path of the Denpasar Bali airport.

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The human magnitude of the beach is astounding: surfers and their girlfriends; honeymooners; gangs of local youth who have come to perve on bule in bikinis; hawkers selling beer; photographers; wedding parties; families; schoolgirls. Amongst the masses there are tetchy parents, who at this late stage in the day have surrendered, like cornered sloths, to the devilish antics of their children: I watch as one embattled father pivots in the sand, permitting his 2-foot son to fill his pockets, hair, underpants and ears with as much sand as his eager hands can gather. Continue reading

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the one that got away…

Richie peeping through the window at the Bali Marina as our boat-dreams sail away

Richie peeping out the window of Bali Marina as our boat dreams sail away…

I write from Bali Marina where Richie and I are staging a stake-out (steak take-out?). We’ve been here three consecutive days for 3-4 hrs at a stretch. Today we’re pushing out the boat, clocking up a total of 9 hours, and counting…

Today we have our sights set on Churaki, a sturdy-looking catamaran. Onboard, 3 middle aged fellas from the Gold Coast/Tweed Heads area. All surfers in their day. Only one continues to ride his board, the other two have resorted to boogie boards and body surfing. No shame in that.

The skipper, Peter, is the founder of Kirra Surf. He and his ‘boys’ limped into port on monday to attend to a couple of engine filters that had become clogged by ‘dirty fuel’. Today, with their engine troubles behind them they’re out shopping for supplies in Denpasar, and tomorrow, after breakfast, they sail for Darwin via Komodo Island. Headlong into trade winds. Will they or will they not take us with them?

We watched slack-jawed from lounge chairs on the open-sided deck of the Bali Marina this morning while they loaded their boat with yellow jerry cans plum-full with fuel. Shirts off. Naked brown skin and bulging beer bellies. A brightly painted timber boat drew alongside and pumped their 800Lt tank full of diesel. We wished we were onboard too, scrubbing down the deck, checking charts; caught up in the muscle, hustle and bustle of preparation. Out of limbo and into the deep blue sea.

try and look casual... stake-out in the Marina cafe

try and look casual… the stake-out in the Marina cafe

We waited breathlessly as the sailors re-robed and marched purposefully off the pontoon toward us… straight into the black 4WD which was waiting, we guessed, to take then to Denpasar for one last attempt at having their sailing navigation program, Sea Map, installed on their brand-new computer. Silently, forlornly, we watch as they walk on by… barely a glance in our direction. Continue reading

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TRAVEL, EAT, SLEEP

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Travel, eat, sleep. Boil mine and Richie’s lives down to their bare bones and there’s little more to them at the moment than these three things: travel, eat, sleep – each element supplied in fluctuating amounts of excess and scarcity.

Among the three, Travel is the undisputed heavyweight champion: the other two, eating and sleeping, are its dependants: we eat as much as necessary to sustain ourselves during our travels, and sleep as much (or in this case, as little) as travel permits. More often than not, we do two of the three activities simultaneously: eating while we travel, sleeping while we travel, and in some cases, dreaming of eating and travel while we sleep.

toying with the idea of sleep

toying with the idea of sleep

Out of the last eleven nights: we’ve travelled from Koh Phangan to Yogyakarta; spent two nights aboard ferries and two aboard trains; had seven changes of bed; entered our 18th and 19th countries in 15 months; and covered a total distance of approximately 3, 500km. No wonder we feel tired!

The panoramas of rice fields and jungle glimpsed from the window of the train from Jakarta to Joygyakarta twist our necks and put our noses out of joint, making us wisftful for experiences we won’t be having, not this time. Volcanoes, crater lakes, rice terraces and national parks beckon from the pages of the Indonesia Lonely Planet, threatening to turn us aside from the task at hand, which is, finding a flightless passage from Indonesia to Australia.

“On our way back to England,” / “next time” / “if we do this jounrey in reverse” I find myself fantasising twice, sometimes three times a day, “we’ll come back here” / “we’ll climb Mt Bromo” / “We’ll visit Ijen” / “We’ll go via Papua New Guinea to the Philippines”. Richie shakes his head, smiling at my optimism. He pretends he knows better but I know for a fact that he too is planning the return journey from Australia to England: first New Zealand, then the Americas from south to north, arriving in Ireland from Canada, from Canada to Wales, then finally across to England. We’re as bad as each other.

Richie, you see, has his heart set on Uluru. Meditating on the red rock would be a peerless way to signal our arrival: “Hello Australia, we are here, please give us the best.” Richie could stage a rave and I’d give Alice a dance performance the likes of which it had never seen, not since Felicia and her feathered friends pulled into Alice in a shiny candy-pink bus. Continue reading

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On a mission in Phuket… in photos

cruising the beaches, yacht clubs, marinas and piers in search of a ride south...

cruising the beaches, yacht clubs and marinas in search of a crewing opportunity south…

that one would do...

that one would do…

... or that

… or that

checking out the competition at the Boat Lagoon Marina

checking out the competition at the Boat Lagoon Marina

spot the cheeky mugs! Putting ourselves out there...

spot the cheeky mugs! Putting ourselves out there…

Crew for you!

Crew for you!

It's not all hard work... strolling in old town Phuket

It’s not all hard work… strolling in old town Phuket

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local cats on the look-out

local cats on the look-out

high glamour in one of Phuket's more picturesque lane ways

high glamour in one of Phuket’s more picturesque lane ways

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a golden horizon of fishcakes

a golden horizon of fishcakes

power (present) & Portugal (past)

power (present) & Portugal (past)

another crumbling facade

another crumbling facade

Richie ogles the jackfruits in the market... eyes as big as saucers

Richie ogles the jackfruits in the market… eyes as big as saucers

dusk... and still 60% humidity

dusk… and still 60% humidity

a late night in the lobby finding WorkX, Wwofi, Couch Surfing and music opportunities

a late night in the lobby finding WorkX, Wwoof, Couch Surfing and music opportunities

Crew for you...

Crew for you…

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Bangkok Cheap Eats

plates don't stay full for long in Bangkok!

plates don’t stay full for long in Bangkok!

As travellers, Richie and I are devoted to cheap eats. Eat cheap, eat local! In Bangkok, where food is fresh, bountiful, varied and tasty, it’s hardly a difficult motto to live by. Nor does it require a spirit of self-sacrifice. By eating the food that locals eat, where locals eat it, we’ve saved ourselves loads of money and disappointment.

On average, Richie and I get by in Thailand on about 200Baht ($6.50) p/person p/day for food: that’s three light meals a day, one or two cold beverages, a sweet treat AND some fresh fruit.

So, dive into the closest alley, market and cafeteria with us and kick up your culinary heels as we take you into the world of Bangkok eats and drinks for under $2.

Eating cheap with the Lonely Planet 

If you’re feeling dubious about eating local or trying something new, the Lonely Planet (or other trusted guide book) is a good place to start. In general, we find their suggestions useful and reliable. In Bangkok we put the Planet to the test by eating out at two of the restaurants/stalls recommended in the 2012 14th edition. Here’s what we reckon:

  • Khrua Phornlamai; Th Plaeng Nam (Chinatown) for pàt kêe mow (wide rice noodles fried with seafood, chillies and Thai basil). Cost: 60B/$1.90.
pàt kêe mow (wide rice noodles fried with seafood, chillies and Thai basil)

pàt kêe mow (wide rice noodles fried with seafood, chillies and Thai basil)

The lowdown: This Chinatown street stall consists of little more than a few woks, a trestle table covered with bowls of fresh ingredients and a handful of plastic tables and chairs.

The pàt kêe mow arrived quickly on sizzling plates. Despite our request that the dishes be prepared ‘Thai hot’ they arrived with only a hint of fire. In order to achieve the required heat factor, we added fresh and dried chilli from the pots on the table, which included the ubiquitous fish sauce, sugar and vinegar.

There was a good amount of seafood in the dish, mostly prawns and squid. The wide rice noodles were not as chewy as perhaps they could have been. The dish was a bit flaccid and lacked the clarity of flavour I’ve come to expect in Thailand. Still, it was an enjoyable and filling meal, the basil was yummy and the location ideal. A perfect place to to sit and soak up the bustling atmosphere of Chinatow. Experience: 3/5 (In Richie’s opinion: 4/5).

blow! It's hot!

blow! It’s hot!

  • Thip Samai; 313 Th Mahachai; 5:30pm-1:30am closed alternate wednesdays, for pat tai (fried rice noodles with egg, shrimp and peanuts). Cost: 70Baht/$2.20.
pat tai perfection

pat tai perfection

Okay, we broke the budget on this one. But it was worth it! When we arrived at Thip Samai at 5:20pm after a hot greasy stroll from Wat Pho, the queue was out the door and down the road. The theatrics in the outdoors kitchen made the time pass quickly: 12 busy staff with woks rocking, flames jumping and food flying. In no time at all we were sitting inside eating. The place was spotlessly clean and the wait staff friendly and polite.

wok 'n' roll, the busy kitchen at Thip Samai

wok ‘n’ roll, the busy kitchen at Thip Samai

Out of the 3 dishes on offer we opted for the pat tai served in a crepe-thin layer of omlette.

The experience took my appreciation of pat tai to a whole new level. Each thread of noodle was separate, al dente and elegantly coated in flavour. We were liberal with the chopped peanuts, basil, bean sprouts, fresh chilli and lime (delivered fresh to your table when you order). No messing about!

Every mouthful a pleasure: the crisp crunch of the raw sprouts, the silky wholesomeness of the omelette, the pungency of the spring onion and the nuttiness of the roasted peanut. A full and memorable taste experience. Two days later, we were back for more! Experience: 5/5.

Our recommendations

 You won’t find the following options in ‘the book’ but we found them ourselves and reckon they’re just as worthy of inclusion.

  • Moo satay (pork satay skewers with peanut sauce) at Nothaburi Market. Cost: 40B/$1.30
moo satay on our very own plastic plate

moo satay on our very own plastic plate

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