Category Archives: Wwoofing

WWOOFing at the Permaculture Research Institute

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My interest in Permaculture started back in 2010 and I soon completed my Design Certificate. I think it’s safe to say that it changed my life, the direction I was to take and the learning pathway that I have since followed. Nina and I hosted a PDC ourselves in 2011 and were lucky enough to help facilitate a course in Romania on our recent overland trip. We have since visited many permaculture properties and WWOOFed at smallholdings and farms across the world.

Over the last three years I have also watched many of Geoff Lawton’s online videos, got familiar with the design of his property and hoped that one day I would get to visit the Permaculture Research Institute at Zaytuna Farm in New South Wales, Australia.

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When a place became available at short notice there was no hesitation from me and I hopped on a train to Brisbane, transferred to a car with a previously organised Gumtree Lift Share and then hitched the last 19km from Nimbin to arrive, quite soggy, late on a Monday afternoon. I was pointed in the general direction of reception on arrival and given a detailed explanation of what was expected of me during my stay, the rules of the farm and a few things to be wary of in the snake department – Taipans, Browns and Red Belly Blacks (all very deadly snakes). I got my tent up before dark and was soon happy to be sitting eating dinner with the 10 week intern crew, farm manager, guests (including Bill Mollison) and other WWOOFers.

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I stayed at the farm for a month and worked a week in each of four areas – main crop, small animals, kitchen garden and food forests. The large animals team need more training which was too much to fit into my short stay. My first week involved a lot of food processing as there was large amounts of root vegetables coming up from main crop. Much Kim Chi was made!

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I worked a lot with Adon, adding compost, mulching, planting potatoes, cassava, peas and harvesting turnips, kale, pak choi and potatoes. I got to learn about the chicken tractor system which moves every 2 weeks, leaving behind fertilised rows for planting. It moves through 26 different sections. each containing 8 rows. This means each area gets a twice yearly visit from the chickens. There didn’t seem to be much emphasis on beneficial companions and the bare earth, tillage techniques was not what I expected to see at a world leading permaculture farm.

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During that first week Paul Taylor, an expert on soil fertility, was present on the farm as he was teaching students the soil section of their internship. I managed to skim off a lot of information from him and the interns and was present during the very interesting compost making sessions. This has really kickstarted my understanding of making microbial dense compost – whoop!

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My activities varied more in the second week although I spent a lot of time on main crop. It was very hot down there and very exposed.  I skinned my first chicken, collected buckets of fresh mulberries and wild raspberries, helped lay irrigation pipe with Geoff, did a spot of fishing with Zac and generally got more of an understanding of the farm.

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By week 3 I was tending to small animals which meant feeding and cleaning the rabbits, chickens, pigeons, goats and ducks as well as raising new born chicks. By week 4 I was combining my animal care with responsibility of the kitchen garden with the aim of keeping guests in fresh produce during their stay.

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I learnt a huge amount at the farm from some very inspirational people which included other WWOOFers, students who passed through, Des the farm manager, Geoff Lawton himself and Bill Mollison (who happened to be around for more than two weeks).

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I also have some gripes about the place. I would like to think that the Permaculture Research Institute would be a best practice environment to set an example for students and visitors alike but there seemed to be a distinct lack of people care. Des, the farm manager was grateful for the work of WWOOFers but the rest of the management gave little gratitude. A “thank you” after a months work would be nice.

Given the amount of money that seems to be received from online courses and internships I would like to see the use of 100% organic food on the farm and more awareness about the products they are feeding people – let’s stop with the GM!

I believe that it’s setting a bad example when the WWOOF supervisor is selling corporate products as refreshments to WWOOFers, taking advantage of their need for a cool drink after a hard days work, and yet students were asked to leave the farm as they drank a beer around the campfire on the last night of a $7000 internship – not cool.

Places of learning, especially in the world of community orientated, co-operatitve, integrative, standard setting, permaculture designer manual teaching institutions should be aware that the world is watching and hierarchical, top down rules are most dangerous. I send out much respect to the fellow WWOOFers and students that I worked alongside during my month at the farm but I was deeply disappointed in the people care and lack of respect for the volunteers. I would like to see a feedback system enter the structure of the WWOOF network which could allow WWOOFers to gage the vibe of a host before committing to a months work.

Happy pictures to follow…

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Wwoofing with Elisabeth

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Nina and I recently completed a two week wwoof in Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast with fermentation goddess Elisabeth Fekonia. Elisabeth has a wealth of experience in wild cultures, ferments, cheese-making, sourdough bread, animal care and tropical vegetable cultivation, all encompassed in a permaculture wonderland!

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The terraced property has evolved from over 20 years of experimentation – Elisabeth admits she had no idea about permaculture when her and her late husband began the project. Since then she’s gained a regional reputation, teaches cheese-making workshops and has written a handy guide on some of the more exotic vegetables that we can grow here in the sub tropicals.

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Whilst on the farm our duties were extremely varied, the exception being the morning pig and chicken feed. Most of what we ate came from Elisabeth’s preservations or the animals including the pork, chickens, eggs and plenty of home made cheese from Lydia’s milk.

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The property’s waste is recycled back into the system. Whey from cheese making feeds the pigs, grey water from the house irrigates the tropical yams, yacon and sweet potato, humanure from the composting toilet adds fertility to the fruit trees and goats keep the Lantana in check.

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Elisabeth also took me out to a Permaculture Noosa open house event. It’s a great way of seeing what systems other people in the area have. We got a crash course in trimming bananas, red claw farming and left with a bunch of macadamia nuts to plant.

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If you would like to wwoof with Elisabeth (and I highly recommend it) you can find her details at her Permaculture Realfood website

March Against Monsanto

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On May 25, people around the world will unite to March Against Monsanto.

Why?

  • Research studies have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects.
  • In the United States, the FDA, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the population, is steered by ex-Monsanto executives, and we feel that’s a questionable conflict of interests and explains the lack of government-lead research on the long-term effects of GMO products.
  • Recently, the U.S. Congress and president collectively passed the nicknamed “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.
  • For too long, Monsanto has been the benefactor of corporate subsidies and political favoritism. Organic and small farmers suffer losses while Monsanto continues to forge its monopoly over the world’s food supply, including exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup.
  • Monsanto’s GMO seeds are harmful to the environment; for example, scientists have indicated they have caused colony collapse among the world’s bee population.

What solutions do we advocate?

  • Voting with your dollar by buying organic and boycotting Monsanto-owned companies that use GMOs in their products.
  • Labeling of GMOs so that consumers can make those informed decisions easier.
  • Repealing relevant provisions of the US’s “Monsanto Protection Act.”
  • Calling for further scientific research on the health effects of GMOs.
  • Holding Monsanto executives and Monsanto-supporting politicians accountable through direct communication, grassroots journalism, social media, etc.
  • Continuing to inform the public about Monsanto’s secrets.
  • Taking to the streets to show the world and Monsanto that we won’t take these injustices quietly.

We will not stand for cronyism. We will not stand for poison. That’s why the world shall March Against Monsanto.

I send this information out to people with the hope that some of you folk can represent in our absence, as will be on Lombok island, Indonesia…

Find one of the 330 cities already participating: http://bit.ly/ZTDsk8

Or you can do some kind of online thing like we will…

by checking the link here http://on.fb.me/ZUxe3o

say no to monsanto!!!

Koh Phangan to Bali

When Nina and I looked up information on how to get from Thailand to Malaysia and then onto the Indonesian islands, resources were limited. The most common answer to our question was “get a cheap flight”.  So I write this blog not just about our adventures, but the logistics too, hopefully serving as a resource for others.  We found this stretch of landscape fascinating, with great places to stop along the way, so if you have time – forget the plane!

3790km and now Australia in our sight...

Koh Phangan to Bali – 3790km. Now Australia in sight…

Koh Phangan

Our budget check in Phuket revealed that if Nina and I were to stay in Thailand any longer it had to be money free. We also felt undernourished in the permaculture hands-on department. That evening we spent hours scouring the internet for potential projects to join. We also wanted to continue south, this eliminated the many opportunities in northern Thailand. After limited responses from the WWOOF or Permaculture Global networks we looked up HelpX – £18 for a two year joint membership. It opened up more options to work on the land plus other opportunities ranging from eco-tourism to home help and teaching.

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HelpX is where we found Guillaume. A young French not-quite-retired lawyer establishing an “eco-lodge” in a beautiful setting, next to the beach on the party island of Koh Phangan. We decided weeks earlier that we’d avoid this island, famous once for underground hippie trance parties, now more known for 20 thousand teens dancing to Lady GaGa with dayglow “full moon” t-shirts! However, Guillaume described his property as remote (367 stairs down from the road) with a project to establish permaculture ideas and appropriate energy technology. The other main drawcard for us was the chance to learn about and help with the efforts on biological pest management systems. 

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Collecting beetles in the field

In much of South East Asia the coconut palms are being attacked by the Brontispa beetle. They lay their larvae in the young shoots of coconut palms. Trees become weak and die very quickly. The beetle was introduced accidentally on imported ornamental palms from Indonesia where it has a natural predator. In affected areas breeding and release of the predating parasitoid seems to be working well with no adverse and actually very positive effects. We were concerned about the introduction of an alien species and suspected there might be some affect on the native flora and fauna but were assured that the results are positive and this technique means there is no use of chemical pesticides. We spent time understanding the breeding procedure, visiting another operation in a nearby village and assembling the materials needed to breed. Unfortunately due to the time taken for larvae to hatch there was no chance to complete a full cycle of the program before our 3 weeks on the island were up. We did however gain valuable experience in the procedure.

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The parasitoid breeding program

Our attention to the beetle project also took a back seat as Guillaume’s water needs understandably became as important to him as anything else. The last of the rainy season downpours finished early this year and his spring began to reflect that. We gave advice on effective techniques to hold water in the landscape – use all catchment, store water high in the property, spread it over the longest distance, affecting the most life as passively as possible. We spoke about earth moving techniques to capture and hold large bodies of water and potentially rehumidify his property. Guillaume also has large roofs with no tanks and a lot of leaky pipes.

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Guillaume explaining his water resources

Unfortunately, some peoples’ idea of eco-tourism promotes aesthetics as more important than careful design, sustainability or the order of permanence. Guillaume was not particularly open to our design ideas which represent designing for water security as top of the list. He had his own ideas, and although we can offer advice, others must walk the path for themselves before the realisation of what can be achieved using PC design. Another great lesson – I have to be the change, not preach the change. My attention turns once again to Australia. Nina and I talk more that evening about our aspirations there.

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On the road again

Whilst I understand that there are many incredible projects using real permaculture design across the globe, I am coming to realise that they are few and far between. The knowledge still has a long way to travel. I wish in the last months we had dug out more of them but our journey has become rather one directional of late, more of a mission to get home above time to explore.

I have seen many examples of projects using the word “permaculture” like we see the word “eco” banded around for credibility. “We have a permaculture garden” used in place of “we grow food” or “we grow organic veg”. I’m happy that the term is becoming heard, as it leads people to ask more questions. It’s only by asking more questions that we find more answers. It’s then that we realise that permaculture is a design system, a set of ethics and principles that integrate not just our vegetable garden but the choices we make in life too. In future I will do more research on the projects I choose to volunteer.

Aside from my disillusionment of peoples’ understanding of permaculture, we had a fantastic time with Guillaume, full of great conversation, enjoyable evening meals on the shoreside deck. Garden and Rice paddy creation. Exploration of the island’s jungle and a chance to meet other expats trying new ventures in a land far from home. Oh yes, and the little boat trip at sea!

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Out in the little boat

We spent many days deliberating in Koh Phangan about our on ward route to Australia. I wrote to at least 30 shipping companies asking for passage with them from Singapore. We contacted yachts in Malaysia through HelpX. We contacted people through Couchsurfing who work for shipping agents in Singapore. We even asked about cancellations for cruise ships (just through curiosity). We applied for positions on ships and cargo vessels, wrote to Marinas and generally exhausted all options before deciding that our best chance of reaching Australia by boat was to get to the furthest place that we can, using public transport, and try from there. Many other people’s last port of call too – Bali. From Bali there will surely be people crossing that little stretch of water to Darwin!

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Koh Phangan to Georgetown

Getting off Koh Phangan island and onto a train to Malaysia was easy and should be from anywhere in Thailand. It’s cheaper to purchase your ticket in advance at a government ticket booking office yourself. We left from Surat Thani which is a popular travel junction heading south. There is no railway booking office on Koh Phangan and so an agent was necessary, and maybe easier, as the ticket includes transport to the ferry, the ferry ticket itself, and a local bus connection to the train station, plus your train ticket. Total cost of ticket – 1450TB (£33) to Butterworth, the jumping off point to Penang’s Georgetown, in Malaysia. This is the furtherest point south that a ticket can be booked from Thailand. 

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Penang ferry

We were on the 1.26am train and bedded down upon boarding. We reached the Malaysian border control by 6am. They stamped us in with a free 3 month tourist visa and after a little delay changing the chugger, we reached Butterworth by midday. The station was a short walk to the ferry terminal that takes you on a 30 minute crossing to Penang island (about 10p). We stayed in Georgtown for a couple of nights, mostly to try it’s famous food. Indian cuisine meets Chinese in a magic blend of spiced curries, sweets, funky deserts and rotis! We explored the manageable, likeable city on foot, picking up a bargain pair of new shorts at a carboot sale, and taking a few photos around the old colonial part of town.

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Georgetown to Kuala Lumpur

Travel down to Kuala Lumpur was also super easy, taking the ferry back over the water (this time free) straight to the bus terminal. Ignore anyone who approaches you for a ticket and find the bus you need. Once you have, ask someone on the bus the cost before giving your money to a conductor onboard on the driver. This saves you paying extra for the ticket which should be 32MYR (£6.50) The buses run every 20 minutes or so and take 4 or 5 hours with wide seats and a good recline. I think both Nina and I got a bit of shut-eye.

Fat recliner!

Fat recliner!

Nina had lined us up a coachsurf in KL with a very interesting and generous family. We were welcomed with open arms by Reeza, Shukreen and Kanoa. We chatted for a while up on the 19th floor of their tower block before they whisked us out and treated us to some traditional Malay food. We truly wished we had more time in KL to spend with those guys as we shared so much in common and were so fascinated by their interests in media, conservation and faith.

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Our KL family

The next day a big day out on foot was all we needed to explore the major sites of the city. Cities seem to wear us down quite quickly at this stage on our trip, but the food was out of this world and the botanical gardens seemed a world away but only a small walk from the centre of town.

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KUala Lumpur to JAkarta

We boarded the night train from KL at 23.00 to travel to Johor Bahru, having purchased our tickets the previous day at the central station – 39MYR (£8.40). Johor is on the southern Malay peninsular and if you depart for Indo from here it saves entering Singapore. We also found out that the the ferry over to Batam island was cheapest from here.

On arriving at Johor in the morning you can take the number 123 bus from right outside. Tell the driver you need the ZON ferry terminal and jump off there. No need to buy any ferry tickets in advance for this leg of the journey as some websites suggest. Ask anyone where the ticket office is and buy your 69MYR (£15) ticket for the next departing ferry to Batam Center. Bare in mind that although this 90 minute journey seems like another island off the coast of Malaysia you are actually entering Indonesia. We did consider buying a return ferry ticket as some countries ask for proof that you are leaving before issuing you a tourist visa. In this instance we risked it to save money. Nobody cared less and as long as you have your $25 to hand they wave you in with a friendly smile and a 30 day stamp.

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Batan Center to Sekupang bus…

Now in Indonesia and presuming you’re heading straight over to Java you will need to get to the infamous Pelni ferry ticket office. Ignore the taxi drivers and walk straight out of the ferry terminal. Ask for the local bus to Sekupang, price 3,000IDR (20p). This takes you over to the other side of the island. Jump out and ask anyone where the Pelni ticket office is. It’s not at the huge metal shed from where the ship departs. Instead it’s hidden up a hill at the end of the road. We opted for the “Economik” tickets which were 269,000IDR (£18) and purchasing them was simple. No need to worry about this in advance as the ship holds 3,000 people (and probably 3million cockroaches) as there is always room for one more!

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The holding pen

We waited in the “holding pen” for a few hours as it was not clear when the ship would leave. It was clear, however, that although there are some “first class” cabins available, this was a journey for the working class of Indonesia. Mostly families, some looked like they were moving house even. When the flood gates finally opened there was a stampede towards the boat as guys ran past with 40inch TV’s stapped to their heads and Mum’s dragging kids, packed lunches tucked under their arm. We arrived on 4th deck with the other sardines and packed ourselves in for the ride. 36 hours, sleepless, dirty, alive with infestations, screaming TV’s, continual chain smoking, 24/7 fleuro lights and mostly unbearable humidity. This trip is not for the faint hearted. We made some nice friends though and enjoyed some time in the crew area sharing family photo’s. We later heard that for double the cost you can take a private cabin.

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JAKARTA to BALI

We arrived early into Tanjung Priok harbour in Jakarta, 5.00am, following the crowds, asking occasionally, the way to the bus terminal. From here buses go to either “Kota”, the central station, or “Senan”, another popular departure point. We headed for Senan on the “local bus” for 20,000IDR (£1.30). I think we paid double as our bags took up a seat! We heard that you can take most onward trains to Yogya from Senan…

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Senan station

No seats were available when we arrived at Senan station and given how wrung out we were it was probably a good thing. We sat with a very patient young fella,  with great English, to figure out our next move. Everything pointed towards a guest house for the night, a little exploration of Jakarta and a train leaving tomorrow at a reasonable time. That’s exactly what we did and booked our tickets with the helpful chap for the 13.00 to Yogyakarta the next day – 90,000IDR (£6). We’d been told “Yogya” was a great place to break the journey east with the impressive Borobudur temple complex and surrounding volcanoes.

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Volcanoes from the train window

The train ride through the Java countryside was spectacular. Rice fields tumbled down the hillsides, backdropped by Volcano peaks and jungle. I thought we would see more palm plantations as described in the shocking documentary GREEN but I was pleased to see people out on the land using no mechanised techniques.

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Hand cultivated rice fields

The onward train journey from Yogya also meandered east through mostly rural landscape, arriving late in the evening in Banyuwangi, once again booked independently at the train station – 34,000IDR (£2.50) – making a 13 hour train journey very reasonably priced. It was late when we arrived in Banyuwangi and we took a room before a simple ferry crossing the next day onto Bali island to complete the 3790km journey. Ferry ticket 6,000IDR (40p).

Cost, Time and Vehicle Summary

Koh Phangan to Butterworth – £33
Butterworth to Penang (and back) 10p
Butterwoth to Kuala Lumpur – £6.50
Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru – £8.40
Johor Bahru to Batam – £15
Batam to Jakarta (including local buses) – £18.20
Jakarta to Yogyakarta – £6
Yogyakarta to Banyuwangi – £2.50
Banyuwangi – Bali 40p

Total travel costs (not including accommodation or visas) – £90.10 (Could you fly for that?)

Our travel time (including stopovers) – 13 days

5 local ferries
1 passenger ferry
1 long distance bus
4 local buses
4 trains

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BALI

We are now in Bali making regular visits to the Marina looking for onward travel to Australia, hopefully completing the last stage of our journey without flight. It’s a long shot. So far we have had encouraging days at the Marina followed by times of dashed hopes, watching fellow Australians leave port for Darwin. Maybe someone will take us before our visa runs out on the 16th May. Hopefully our poster will work, wish us luck…

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Do you need crew to Oz?

You can read more about this stage of our trip, our time at Bali Marina and more on Nina’s great blog – http://typotraveller.wordpress.com/

Overland Travel Check-in

This week Nina and I completed our monthly travel check-in here in Astana. We departed England back in January and on the 23rd of each month we try to complete our check-in. An important part of permaculture design is to accept and respond to feedback. For a land-based design this involves observation of your garden or farm and making changes to things that can be improved to benefit the whole system. It’s no different with our travel design really, just that our tweaks may be behavioural or logistical…

We use the four questions taken from my diploma guild meetings and talk to one another for a short time whilst the listener scribes some notes to refer back to. It’s very important that the listener does not respond, we call this active listening, so that the talker gets the opportunity to voice all their thoughts. Here are the four questions;

What’s going well for you?

What are you finding challenging?

What are your next achievable steps?

What are your long term visions?

Answering these questions really helps to celebrate great times, grumble about what’s getting you down, understand some actions to get the next thing done and also dream about the future. It sounds a bit geeky but we find it’s been a very valuable part of our overland trip.

We also tagged on another element to our check-in which involves understanding whether one another’s needs are being met. We have a big list of our needs and ask each other if we feel they’re being fulfilled. If the answer is “no” then we may give a suggested tweak to make sure that need is met going forward. Some of our needs are… music, nature, solitude, spontaneity, warmth, community, intimacy and the list goes on….

So it’s 9 months since we left England. Geographically we are around half way to Australia. We have spent time in Morocco, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Georgia, Russia and now Kazakhstan. I feel it’s a good time to refer back to the goals we set out in our travel design. Are we walking the talk? Are we doing what we set out to do? This is another important part of permaculture design. Observe and interact. Accept and respond to feedback…

Our goals as set out in January…

  • to get to Australia in the most environmentally responsible way – well we could walk or cycle but we never really considered that option. So far we have taken buses, boats, trains and hitch-hiked along the way. On arrival in Australia we will calculate our carbon footprint and sequester it using new techniques we have learnt.
  • to have fun, enjoy the experience and remain healthy – there is absolutely no way that this journey cannot be an enjoyable one. There have been challenges but every day is a new and exciting experience.
  • to learn about other cultures and people’s way of life – living with families and working on farms in different countries is helping us gain a greater understanding of this.
  • to gain new practical skills and traditional understandings – building in Morocco and teaching on a PDC in Romania have been my practical highlights. Communicating with no local language is also a great new skill that I’m enjoying.
  • to use skills and resources as a gift or exchange – help in the gardens of our hosts and swapping seeds along the way is a great way to remember the people we have met so far.
  • to engineer opportunities to incorporate my diploma – this is certainly one of the more challenging goals but so far I have made designs in Spain and Italy with more work to follow in China
  • to express creativity – playing at the Beglika Festival in Bulgaria was fantastic and having the time to experiment with music and writing is a real privilege.
  • to Wwoof in each country we pass through – we didn’t manage it in the countries that we transited through but have in all the rest, learning new skills and making new friends.
  • to connect with wilderness and natural surroundings – Greece has certainly been my wilderness highlight – trekking through the Vikos Gorge was spectacular.
  • to inform and report on important and interesting topics – hopefully my blog is doing that and I also like to add useful info to the Lonely Planet travel forum to help others along the way.
  • to remain within our allocated funds – it’s a squeeze doing this journey on such a shoestring budget but we are just about on budget. Couch-surfing and hitch-hiking have been essential for that.
  • to spend some time with friends and family – one day with my parents in Venice, the PDC in Romania, travelling with Sam and meeting folk in China…
  • to support one another, honour ourselves and harmonise our needs – I feel this is the most important goal and one that so far is making the journey a full and rich experience.

I am thankful that I was introduced to these processes through my permaculture tutor, the PDC’s that I have attended and the co-creation of this life with Nina.

Another Day in Tbilisi

I woke this morning to the sound of a crying baby and her yelping mother. These two have been relentless since the day we stepped foot in “Katuna’s Homestay”. The cheapest place in the city, use of wifi (important whilst searching for new information on how to apply for our Kazakhstan, Russian and Chinese visa’s), a comfy bed and access to the stove (essential to Sam’s coffee needs).

We are here in the Georgian capital for our third bed-down since leaving the relaxing city of Batumi 10 days ago. It’s visa application time and so far it has been a mixed bag. The next few countries on our journey require differing types of visa’s and application processes. Throw into the mix that we cannot get one without the other, erratic embassy opening hours, chinese holiday closures, Georgian election day, payment in different currencies, language complexities and a general lack of information on the internet. We’ve read the advice about getting visa’s in our home country but due to the nature of our journey it was not possible. So we are here in Tbilisi at the mercy of the above.

We submitted our Kazakhstan visa last Monday with a 5 day wait for collection. I had prearranged for us to do some volunteer work at Georgia’s only registered Wwoof host during our waiting time. A welcome break to spend 3 days in the gorgeous Georgian countryside with Jean-Jacques and Inken on the Momavlis Mitsa (Future Earth) farm. A couple of hours by minibus from Tbilisi, Jean Jacques is growing his own biodynamic wheat for sourdough bread which he will sell in the city markets, along with ample veg and animals.

Sam and I spent the first day helping to build the new bread oven, emptying tonnes of sand from the inside mould and building a supporting wall. Nina worked with Inken in the garden, biting her lip, hoeing weeds and breaking cracks in the soil created by sun and lack of mulch. Day 2 saw us all making new raised beds for the commercial salad crops and our last day was more building for me and Sam, a new chicken run, while Nina and Inken made jars of jam and compote for most of the afternoon and evening.

We returned to Tbilisi on Friday and collected our Kazakhstan visa. It seemed quite straight forward once we had it in our hands. We returned back to Katuna’s Homestay knowing that on Monday we could now make our way to the Russian embassy. Our Kazak visa is proof enough that we will only be transiting through Russia. Nina and I went to the puppet theatre to see an interesting performance about Soviet Georgia. The weekend was hotting up in the streets. Voices eager to be heard before election day.

On Monday we headed to the Russian Embassy and were surprised to find that Nina’s form had to be submitted in Russian (because she’s from Australia – figure that one out) but there were plenty of administrative staff on hand to help (20 Georgian Lari). After some misunderstanding about the costs and some disappointment at hearing that processing time would be 10 days (more time back at the farm) we were surprised to hear the gentleman ask if we would like to keep our passports while they process the application.

“Maybe you want to go to Armenia while you wait?”

“No thanks we don’t really have the money for that” we responded.

We left the embassy happy that another application had been handed in and we could return to the farm for another weeks volunteering and some free living…

“Guys. Hello. He just offered us back our passports! What does that mean? Chinese visa!”

We walked to the Chinese embassy for more information, forfeiting our minibus back to the farm, thinking we could go back to the Russian embassy, ask for our passport back, apply for the Chinese visa in time to get back our passports ready for presenting them to the Russian embassy on collection day next week (a 2 hour window). The Chinese Embassy was closed – National Day. Open again in two days. Another stay at Katuna’s Homestay. We returned back yesterday with our tales between our legs, another 2 nights stay, a bit more screaming and yelping with the added excitement of street celebrations on what is now voting day.

Today we will try to gather information on applying for a Chinese visa here in Tbilisi but it doesn’t look so good – we are not Georgian, nor do we have a Georgian resident ID card – two of the requirements. I will be glad to rejoin work at the farm tomorrow.

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Ermitaj

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A few days ago we finished a two week Permaculture Design Course at the Ermitaj in North West Romania. I have experienced this course as student, host and now as part of the facilitating team. It has been a very rewarding, challenging and eye-opening experience. Nina and I joined Pascale, Sam and Judith to form a teaching team in a friendly and supportive environment, the perfect place to start my teaching in Permaculture.

The Ermitaj is run by Philippe and Adriana in a lovely valley. It’s the third PDC they have hosted and we had a full international crew and students along with a healthy Romanian contingent. A jammed packed two weeks full of Permaculture ethics, principles, methods and practical sessions including building a synergistic garden, rocket stove, 18 day compost, jams, tool care, natural plastering, contour mapping, soil tests, pizza night and plenty of design time.

The course was finished off with a talent/no talent night and we received some great feedback before certificates were handed out and fairwells to new friends. Many thanks to a great team, great students and a great host.