Living in a Marsupial World
 
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On the hike to Crescent Beach
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Intensely on the town on our one non-rainy day in Melbs
After Mitta Mitta and the departure of my mom back to the states, our mate Gareth and his lovely housemates Bec and Stacey graciously offered us the use of their flat as our Melbourne place of residence. We spent the week camped out on their floor, catching up on blogging and logistical to-do’s. Our guilt for staying indoors was lessened by the fact that it was pouring buckets outside 24/7, which didn’t make for good exploration weather. It was during this time that up north in Queensland, a storm system had settled in for the long haul and flooding was beginning to take hold of the entire northeast coast of the country. 


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Escaping the mainland rain
We witnessed some horrifying images and video from the flood ravaged north – the most shocking of which was the flash inland tsunami that decimated a little town located in the hills of east Queensland. It was bizarre and truly sobering to realize how quickly nature can reclaim an area that seemed out of harms way. What was comforting was the level of response and solidarity the Australian people mustered nationwide to help those affected by the tragedy. To give you some idea of the scale of this disaster, imagine that the area from southeastern Virginia up to Maine was under water. The rains south of Queensland had just begun to flood areas in New South Wales, Victoria, and northern Tasmania when we took the Spirit of Tasmania ferry for the second time, now with car in tow, back to Tasmania for our next WWOOF/Help Exchange escapade. 


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There was some good produce that came from those gardens...
The six weeks that followed flew by, but not in the way you might think. The place in the ether between boredom and insanity – that’s where our time was lost to while helping at (what we’ll call) The Village. It’s not that the workload was unreasonable, or that we weren’t well fed or housed, or even that we didn’t meet wonderful people; it all comes down to expectations. Expectations can be your worst enemy. 

Based on their Help Exchange profile, their website, and communications we had with one of the hosts back in April 2010, by all accounts The Village should have been a working eco-village; a utopian community for sustainable living and tourism, complete with green housing shares, edible streetscapes, and a working café. What we found upon arrival was simply a motel. Granted, this motel was situated on a beautiful plot of land overlooking the water with a few gardens around, but a motel nonetheless.

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The resident lovable goat, Zeus.
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Fresh Garlic Bulbs
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Apparently the eco-village aspect of the property was very much still in phase one of planning and development. The bar and café, which we had hoped to gain a bit of experience working in, was closed until further notice as the chef had walked out in frustration just prior to our arrival. Looking back, we should have recognized the warning signs and turned tail. As much as we wanted to leave, however, it seemed wrong to go back on our promise of nearly a year to stay for 4 weeks. We decided then to stick it out. The location did provide some decent perks, including a pool and hot tub, a full-on commercial kitchen at our disposal, a glorious big screen TV for communal movie time and a good home base for excellent bushwalks on the Tasman Peninsula. With a contingent of friendly internationals working alongside us, we figured it could be A LOT worse. We could have been picking oranges, for instance.


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Because the property was sans café and sans village, our day-to-day consisted mainly of housekeeping, laundry, and weeding. Every morning we would wake up, find out which rooms needed cleaning, and try our luck at room key roulette, hoping that Mr./Ms. Smelly, Hairy, Amateur Chef, or any combination thereof had not occupied our room the previous night. There are a lot of hairy, hairy people in this world, let me tell you, and I don’t understand how some people manage to leave body hair inside the refrigerator and microwave. Or how some people manage to completely saturate a room with bizarre odors after only one night of occupancy. Riddle me that. 

Occasionally we would be met with nicer gifts than BO and body hair: bottles of wine, stuffed animals, two-dollar coins, to name a few. Good or bad though, no matter what, there was usually at least one good story to tell after a day of housekeeping. 


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The sunsets over the bay never disappointed
As the days and weeks wore on with a Groundhog’s Day cycle of housekeeping (and not much else) persisting, our frustration with the Village really came down to the lack of exchange. What separates programs like WWOOF and Help Exchange from modern serfdom and migrant slave trade is the cultural and intellectual exchange anticipated by both host and helper. Aside from the room and board, it really makes a stay worthwhile when a host can share their worldly experiences and knowledge with you, or at the very least, show their appreciation for your contribution to their business or property. 


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We gradually came to realize that our host, let’s call him Steve, would offer no such exchange. A businessman through and through, he seemed most concerned with the money that was flowing in and out of his pocket, and would frequently complain about how costly it was to feed his free laborers their weekly generic brand rations. Steve would also passive aggressively grumble about how the 6-10 helpers weren’t doing enough work, while he himself had never been seen doing any work whatsoever. More often than not he would either be hiding out in his motel unit, making loud business calls, or getting a bit too sloshed on wine. All in all it was not an encouraging atmosphere to give your 100%. 


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Also, we’ve determined after several documented events, that the man is most likely a sociopath. One afternoon as five or six of us were relaxing in the café for lunch, Steve yells across the room to our (very fit and lovely) Canadian friend in the kitchen: “LINZY, YOU’RE STARTING TO LOOK A BIT CHUBBY, MAYBE YOU SHOULD LAY OFF THE CARBS.” After Linzy’s shocked exclamations and the open-mouthed reactions of onlookers, he dismissed his comment as a gesture of “fatherly concern.” A few days later, the “father figure” suggested she pay for a massage offered by a fellow helper by showing Steve her boobs. Twice. Mental images of Steve’s soul patch continue to make me cringe. Finally, when Linzy departed after four weeks of dedicated work, he thanked her and said, “It’s been nice having you here Leslie.” 


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The lovely Aline at her beachside birthday dinner!
Our sanity’s saving grace came in two forms: fellow helpers and the excursions away from the Village on our days off. The other internationals (and a few domestics) we met were wonderful, and offered us solidarity as well as memorable evenings of shenanigation. The “French” contingent in the early weeks, consisting of lovely people from Belgium, France, and Quebec, made sure that at least a few terrific crepe parties ensued. Antonin, from France, was especially eager to teach Ben the fine art of swearing in French. He even had Ben practice during a Skype call with Antonin's mother, who luckily found it hilarious. Group dinners, which occurred at least three times per week, were always a blast as helpers were the chefs and we had at least a few gourmets among us. Our friend from Taiwan, a restaurant manager back in his home country, whipped up some fantastic meals single-handedly, including a two amazing variations on roast pork. Steve's scrooginess would let up a bit, so the wine flowed fairly freely these evenings. Often the festivities continued back at our shared unit with music and international Children’s Pictionary (which is harder than it sounds when English is your second language).


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A Julie Chaffarod photo: les Américains dance for crepes!
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Crepe party! From left to right: Annette, Antonin, Ady, Aline, and Julie
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Julie strikes a pose in front of Uber-Australia Woman
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At the town Regatta afterparty! Jiwon, Julie (Br), Julie (Fr), Mar, and Linzy
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A man of many talents: Ady the Chef, the Masseuse, and the Hairdresser!
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The master chef in his element!
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Antonin cleans out the trash can
Movie nights were always a popular activity as well as movie making, as one of our young French friends used his budding cinematic talent to create a training video for new helpers at the Village. Most of the time this was the bane of his existence, since the administration wanted to suppress his creativity and make the most mundane film ever not imagined, but he pressed on and we were happy to oblige his youthful spirit with some ACDC-themed filming sessions. 


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Picture from Julie's camera. Her caption: 'antonin using my camera while I vomited'
Ventures outside the Village never disappointed, as we were able to explore parts of Tasmania we hadn’t seen before. The Village did give us the opportunity to partake in a three-hour boat tour of the Tasman Peninsula, which we gladly jumped on. Aside from the rough seas and a bit of seasickness for our friend Julie, the ride was beautiful and we were privileged to see a number of different animals - Australian and New Zealand fur seals, albatross, dolphins, and a lonely penguin - not to mention some incredible ocean cliffs and scenery. 


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Rounding one of the peninsula points, this one covered in cormorants
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Fur Seal!
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Torpedo Seal strikes again!
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Male seals quarreling (or possibly performing a duet) at 'The Bachelor Pad'
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Ben stands near the cliff edge on the hike to Crescent Beach
The two of us also took some wonderful solo expeditions around the peninsula, to Crescent Beach and to Cape Hauy. Both hikes were beautiful coastal walks over ancient vegetated dunes, blowholes, and steep cliffs, and allowed us to experience some truly unique ecosystems of Tasmania. The Cape Hauy walk in particular allowed us to climb over some awesome rock formations we had seen previously from the boat tour - rock islands and pillars known as the Lanterns, the Totem Pole, and the Candlestick (the latter two are hugely popular for local and international climbers). 


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Investigating a blowhole
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Cape Hauy Hike
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Hiking out towards the Lanterns
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Overlooking the Lanterns and the Candlestick
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On our final week, on our last day off, we finally took advantage of the local boathouse kayak rental and had a perfect day (re: wind and weather) for a long paddle around the nearby bays. We went along for several hours in one direction, but despite the relatively calm waters, ran into some enormous rolling swells. This day just so happened to be the day after the second Christchurch earthquake, so we were curious if we were experiencing the effects. We then changed course and went across the inlet to a bay on the opposite side known locally as White Beach. After resting on the sand for a few minutes to soak up the late afternoon sunlight we headed back in, but not before Ben tried his luck at fly-fishing out of the kayak. After what seemed like just a few casts, he caught what we later discovered was known as a “rock cod” – apparently the nice name for them, though we thought it was a rather beautiful fish. We totaled six hours of kayaking that day and felt fairly tenderized afterwards, but in the best of ways.


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Amel and Ady
Once our required four weeks at the Village had passed, we were eager to move on, but had to spend another two weeks stationed there to set up our next WWOOF stay and to continue the arduous task of selling our car. Although the work and Steve certainly left something to be desired, we were happy we were able to meet some truly awesome people from all over the world. Many thanks to our fantastic Belgian, French, Taiwanese, Canadian, Korean, British, Italian and Australian friends for making our stay worthwhile! Safe travels and hope to see you again soon!


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Ady, Julie, Aline, and Antonin (photo courtesy of Julie!)
Aimee
4/5/2011

Love it. Just love it.

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Dad
4/12/2011

Marielle and Ben, Great to see the visuals on your 6 weeks at the John Muir-Norman Bates motel. Marielle, great haircut! To both of you: if we see one more, yes, just one more jumping shot, we will have to respond in kind on our own blog.

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