Tag Archives: Camping

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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The Big Hitch (Part 2)

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Steve

Steve had been expecting us in Townsville for a couple of weeks, although he was a bit unsure of the exact date we would show up. Nina contacted him through Couchsurfing whilst we were in Indonesia and we somehow managed to arrive on the proposed date.

Steve worked in the mining industry as did so many of the people we met “along the track”. He also seemed to be a professional couchsurf host having welcomed over 200 people into his apartment in the last 12 months. Nina and I had a well earned shower and joined Steve and two other couchsurfers, Anna and Pauline, for our first square meal in days.

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The following day Steve went off to work and Nina and I explored Townsville’s Botanical Gardens, traditional brewery and seafront walks before we cooked for the crew, this time joined by Steve’s brother Kevin. It was a great introduction to the east coast and after a couple of drinks we even had the brothers reciting patriotic poems and songs of Australia!

The next morning Steve gave us a little tour of Townsville and a view over the city from Castle Hill before dropping us at a suitable hitching point just out of town. We totally love couchsurfing and can’t wait to host travellers ourselves!

Thomas & Jonno

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I’m still surprised at just how little time we had to wait in Australia before people pulled over to offer us a ride. It was no different leaving Townsville. I think 15 minutes, just enough time to eat a banana and take a quick leak, before Thomas pulled in.

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Thomas was a nice enough lad. An Irishman looking for work. As we chatted about the type of work he was looking for it became apparent that a) he’d lost his wallet the previous day containing $3400 and b) he had no driving license and so was looking for cash-in-hand work. I felt Nina squeeze my left shoulder from the back seat and we implied that we weren’t going far…

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It was only 204km to Bowen where we were meeting our next couchsurf host, Jonno. Jonno had originally agreed to host us in Rockhampton but as he was in Bowen that evening he invited us to join him and a group of fruit picking hippies at a campsite for a gathering. Thomas decided to take us all the way there and join in the fun that evening, although I’m pretty sure he was more hopeful of scoring weed that meeting people!

So we ended up sleeping with Jonno in Ginola’s tent after a communal meal, card games and a few late night drinks with mostly French and Italian fruit pickers.

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Kevin (Steve’s brother)

This is where the journey gets quite funny. Whilst at Steve’s in Townsville we met Kevin who is Steve’s brother. Kevin offered to give us a ride the 717km south to Rockhampton when he returned home a couple of days later but we had already agreed to meet Jonno in Bowen. Jonno was returning to Rokhampton the following day so we would travel with him. Whilst with Jonno he changed his plans as an old girlfriend was in town and decided not to head back to Rocky.

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Nina and I called Kevin, knowing that he was coming our way in the morning and no sooner had we awoken, brushed our teeth and packed up our bedding, Kevin had arrived at the campsite fresh from a 5am departure from Townsville. We were really glad to see kevin and his granddaughter. A couple of nights previous we had got to know each other whilst putting the world to rights and we were soon at it again chatting away in the car, only stopping for ice-cream on route, before being shown around the family home in Rockhampton!

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vince (Kevin & Steve’s brother)

Who could belief that within three days we had stayed with and travelled with three brothers! Yes that’s what happened next. As we were coming into Rockhampton, Kevin’s brother Vince called to say he was in Rockhampton and would soon be heading down to Hervey Bay to meet “a friend with benefits”. Kevin immediately asked if he minded taking a couple of friends (which we were by now) the 400km south and Vince was happy to oblige, collecting us from Kevin’s house half an hour later.

Vince liked to talk. And I must say we were very interested. He was nothing like Kevin, who was nothing like Steve, but he was interesting in his own way. We got to hear about his time as a prison warden, his motivational speeches as a soccer coast, his opinions on health cures such as hydro peroxide and mega doses of vitamin C before he embarrassingly disclosed his new “before bed habit” which had recently replaced reading. He made us try to guess and then told us he was addicted to a computer game on his phone where he had to build up a farm!

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We arrived at the turn off to Hervey bay, now in Childers. Nina and I decided to jump out and try the campgrounds advertised for backpackers as it was now dark and starting to spit with rain a little, plus it was better for the next days chances of hitching, hoping that we would make it all the way to Dulong the following morning.

Jamie & Scott

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We drudged into the campgrounds at Childers to find row upon row of dorm style accommodation full of “twenty something” fruit pickers eager to do their time in the country for an additional year on their visa. It was a sorry site, looking more like the campsite on the last day of Glastonbury Festival. We snuck into the communal kitchen to make a sandwich but there was nowhere clean to prepare it, just an Italian skinning up on the bench.

We introduced ourselves to Alex and asked if people rent a bed or a dorm or what? He shot off to the next block and returned a couple of minutes later to say he had found us a bed even though the other boys in the room weren’t too happy about it. That’s when we met the boys from England, Jamie and Scott. They were paying $173 a week for a dingy dorm bed and were wary of us kipping on their spare mattress for the night. We got chatting and were sharing stories of our trip, their fruit picking adventures and a meal before the night was over. We were up with them at 5am the next morning and as they left for work we made our way to the edge of town.

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warwick, harry & the Nun

From Childers we only had 218km to Nina’s family home in Dulong. It was ironic that we would stand waiting for the longest time in all our hitching days from England to Australia on the last leg of our journey. It was a fresh morning and we welcomed the sun on our backs as we stood for an hour grumbling at the locals who wouldn’t give us a second glance.

Warwick to the rescue! As always – it’s only a matter of time. Warwick pulled over in his big 4×4, towing a boat on route to a fishing trip on Rainbow Island with friends. They’d been planning it for months and as we drove he received calls on his mobile from friends trying to think of excuses for the girlfriends to allow them fishing. We heard all the stories about how he had a reoccurring illness and time with his mates was the best cure. Warren treated us to a coffee and homemade peanut cake then dropped us at a petrol station in Gympie.

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We stepped out of the car and Nina popped in to use the ladies. As she did a man with a nepalese style hippy hoody emerged from the gents. I ran over to Warwick’s 4×4 as I thought I’d left the camera and as I walked back across the garage forecourt the hippy guy was chatting to a Nun in Tibetan buddhist attire. I only know one monastery in the area and it’s not too far from where Nina lives. They disappeared around the corner before Nina reappeared and when she did I said “quick there’s a Nun around the corner, maybe ask them if they’re going our way” and Nina shot off to catch them.

Nina asked if we could grab a ride with them and if they were going to Chenrezig Monastery. They asked Nina how she knew where they were going. Nina looked at the Nun. They told us to hop in and off we went.

The route to the Monastery took us to a turn off 8km from Nina’s family home and by this time Nina had been in touch with her Mum Christina who was super excited to see us and eager to collect us from somewhere. The Nun made us promise never to become a conservative and Harry dropped us at Palmwoods where we waited for Christina.

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christina

As we hopped out of Harry’s people carrier Nina was starting to well up. We had been dropped off at the National Express bus stop by my parents 17 months ago in Thetford and it was quite fitting that Nina’s Mum would be there to collect us for the last leg of our trip.

We felt so surreal. All those months of travel, all the memories, the people, the places and adventures and now we had arrived, stopped. We waited for a while and Christina arrived for our final hitch to Dulong. It was an emotional reunion.

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Thank you too all the folk who picked us up. Hitch hiking across Australia ended up being one of the highlights of our whole trip. It’s a great way to meet real people going about their normal life. We didn’t have a bad experience and actually only had good ones. Yes hitching is about saving money. It’s also about saving carbon. Most importantly though it’s about connecting with people. Maybe it’s easier as a couple as people feel less threatened but I believe it’s easy if you are open.

Every person that picked us up said that they do not usually pick up hitch hikers or that it’s the first time they picked up a hitch hiker and we feel hopeful that it won’t be the last. Since being home we have already collected hitchers and will continue to do so.

From a travel design perspective, hitchhiking, couchsurfing and the occasional bush sleep helped us to journey from Lombok in Indonesia, more than 5000km, over the course of 5 weeks, to Dulong in Queensland, for a total combined cost for accommodation and transport of $74. Who says budget travel is not possible in Australia?

The Big Hitch (Part 1)

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“You can’t hitchhike across the outback” the scaremongers said. “Do you know how many backpackers go missing out there?” questioned the naysayers. “Why don’t you just fly”? we were asked my the conformists!

Well i’m sorry folks but we obviously didn’t take any notice of the warnings and just happened to have had one of the most memorable and enriching stints of our whole journey from Caston, Norfolk, England to Dulong, Queensland, Australia.

Joe

We rocked up at the BP petrol station in Darwin (A) about 11am last Monday. Nina had a quick pee while I guarded the bags. I noticed a chap walking towards the door and as I nipped in for the loo I said to Nina “just ask that guy if he’s heading south babe”.

As I emerged a few minutes later I saw Nina through the window gesturing me to hurry – isn’t it great when a stranger offers to give you a ride without having to stick out your thumb at the road!

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Joe lived in an Aboriginal community. We spent five hours or so with him hearing about his early life at a prisoner of war camp in Yugoslavia, his views on the current political situation in the Northern Territory and the “holes” in Australia. The holes he’s referring to are the mines. “Dotted everywhere” he said. He even pulled in to Pine Creek, famous from the gold rush to give us a glimpse of an old mining town. We stood up at the lookout and peered down into a lake 135m deep where a mountain of the same height used to sit.

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Joe dropped us in Mataranka (B), 422km south of Darwin. With only an hour or so of daylight left we decided to stay the night and walked into a camp ground. We’d sent our tent and sleeping bags home from Cambodia thinking we wouldn’t need them and so asked the staff if they had any spares but in the end laid out our ponchos for some kind of damp-proofing and squeezed ourselves into the one replacement bag we’d bought in Darwin. It was a cold cold night. We got a little sleep and were up with the sun to try for the hitch south.

Aaron

As we walked from the caravan park to the centre of the village we spotted a road train parked up for the night. Nina joked that it would be cool to ride in one as they look so invincible. This one was facing Darwin though and so we stuck out a thumb as the sun came up.

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A couple of minutes later a guy appeared from the truck eating a bowl of multicoloured cereal. I wandered over for a chat.

“Morning mate. Heading up to Darwin are ya?”

“Nah mate. Turnin’ round, heading down to Adelaide”

“Ah yeah. Don’t spose you can take a couple hitch hikers can ya?”

“Yeah no worries. I can drop you off at Alice anyways. Just gotta wait for fuel and check me tyres. Chill out for a bit.”

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Aaron’s road train was 52 meters long and had a weight limit of 122 tonnes. The road trains travel a fairly constant 100 kmph and usually don’t break for kangaroo’s. Aaron had a fridge, freezer, microwave, fishing rod and a DVD player amongst other things but there was only one spare seat which meant Nina got to ride on the bed.

Aaron was an Adelaide boy. A picture of his wife and daughter faced him from the sun visor. He sees them once a week if he is not away for longer. He was a nice guy working hard for his family.

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We travelled for 6 or 7 hours with Aaron, 542km south to the Three Ways Roadhouse (C), the turning point east for Queensland. I was amazed by the beauty of the scenery, the red soil, the termite cathedrals, the subtle changing flora. It was so alien to me and so interesting. The odd ute, truck or caravan passed us by but otherwise it was a very peaceful place.

We arrived at Three Ways Roadhouse at about 15.30, keen to keep moving. We met Charles there on his way to Brisbane but he was jammed full. We walked around the corner onto the Barkley highway and out went the thumb in hope of a few more km before the day was out.

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Norman

Meeting Norman was a funny encounter. We were standing out at the Queensland junction having been picked up there once already only to tell the Singapore family who collected us that they were going the wrong way. They turned around and dropped us back where we came from. The next vehicle that came along was Norman. He was doing a u-turn right in front of us when I somehow managed to engage in a conversation through his window.

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“Which way to Queensland guys” he asked, looking fairly bemused.

“This way, the way we’re going” I answered. “Do you have a bit of space?”

“Errrr, yeah hop it. You’ll have to move that junk and sit on the esky mate.”

Norman had been driving since 4am straight off the back of a flight from Vietnam. He’s a bus driver and was relocating from Darwin to Cairns. He told us how shattered he was and he’d be pulling in for the night at the next place. That happened to be Barkley homestead, the place we’d heard of and were hoping to get to…

20 minutes along the track he realised that he was doing a u-turn for a reason and   whilst chatting with us along with his tiredness he had forgot to get fuel. So back we went to Three Ways for our third visit and a refuel, before turning east to Barkley Homestead as dusk drifted in.

It was dark by the time we arrived at Barkley. Easy to sneak in, lay down some cardboard and pull over the sleeping bag, helped greatly by the friendly irish trio who leant us a tarp for damp-proofing.

We were up again before the sun and waiting out front for the early hitch, hoping to catch those people trying for the longest daily distance with the brightest start to the day. We chatting with another road train guy who was not keen on taking us. There was also the cycle crew doing a 15000km tour of Oz. Obviously no room there.

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Just as the sun appeared on the horizon, Norman appeared from the camp grounds. He drove straight over to where Nina and I were standing and said “just gotta get some fuel guys and I’ll pick you up.” He did his famous u-turn and returned a few minutes later looking somewhat perkier than the previous evening.

As we set off towards Queensland we felt like old friends, safe in the knowledge that we would push a long way east with Norm that day.

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After another night under the stars, this time in Hughenden (E), a flat tyre and a couple of stops in old outback towns, Norman dropped us in Townsville before he headed up to Cairns. We had spent three great days together, chatted our way across 1540km of Australia, exchanged books and emails and finally arrived on the east coast of Queensland!

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Solstice in Heaven

Today is the longest day of the year, summer solstice, and according to Nina’s trusty journal it’s also the 150th day of our travels. It seems like a life time ago that we left England, the many changing landscapes that we have passed through adding to the fortunate yet artificial feeling of ever lasting adventure.

Nina and I are trekking in the Vikos Aoös National park, Epiros, Greece. It’s the north western region of the country, up close to the Albanian border. It’s another place we’ve landed in due to the kind hospitality of friends. We were invited to stay at Angelo and Birgitte’s house in the small village of Paleochlori nestled in forested hills, inland from the port of Igoumenistsa. After two weeks there our attention turned to the national park a couple of hours away. Nina plucked this little gem out of the Lonely Planet, hearing that not many people visit the region and that it’s filled with natural beauty, including a third of Greece’s flora, together with traditional villages and monasteries.

Leaving our most heavy items in Ioannina, we donned our backpacks, sleeping bags, tent, a bit of food and set off for 3 days trekking and camping with a rough itinerary of connecting ancient hamlets, traversing the world’s deepest gorge (according to the Guinness Book of Records’ depth/width ratio), visiting a monastery or two and plenty of swimming, much needed in the 30 plus heat.

Four days ago the bus from Ioannina dropped us in Monodendri, one of 45 villages in the Zagori region. The old houses here are all made from local stone, as are the streets, walls and churches. It has the quaintness of a Cotswold village yet more dramatic in it’s isolated setting. We walked to the 15th century monastery, just outside the village, from where we could look down into the gorge we would walk the next day. Close by we found a nice spot for the tent and, with a little concern about the wild boars, snuggled up for a good nights sleep.

We woke at the crack the dawn, packed down the tent and set off excited by what we may find. The first task was to descend nearly a kilometre down onto the gorge floor. It was already becoming hot but luckily there was plenty of tree cover. The old paths here were used to connect villages before roads were put in more recently. The gorge itself is 20km long. We joined it a little way along and walked around 12km along it. We’d heard that there were bears and wolves here but hadn’t really taken seriously the possibility of seeing one. It took an hour or so to descend and on reaching the bottom we stopped for some breakfast on the dry, rocky river bed.

The walking from here was not difficult, although challenging. The path had to climb to avoid rock faces that descended into the river below. The sheer scale of the gorge was breathtaking and the diversity of plants and habitats made every step of the way interesting. There were plenty of frogs, lizards and beetles. The whole place was humming with insect life. We even stopped to take in a family of weasels playing on the rocks and the only other people we saw that day spotted a small brown bear on the path. We read that there are 1750 recorded plant species in the national park and it feels like a very stable eco system. Geologically though, this is not the case, with the occasional sound of rocks pitching themselves into to ravine below, though not every rock finds the bottom.

Half way along the gorge we came to the source of the spring fed river that continued ahead. The mountains here are caustic which means they hold vast amounts of water within. In winter this forms glaciers inside the mountains and throughout the year they melt to produce the most stunning aqua coloured watercourses. Unfortunately though, this means that they are also extremely cold. Nina managed a five second swim but I only just got my feet wet. The river that we were to follow from here just added more beauty to the already picture perfect surroundings. Rainbow trout now added to the flora, a sub species that have adapted to the extreme water temperatures by spawning all year round.

Our path split from the gorge after a few more kilometres and we begun the climb up and round more forested mountains, clinging to the hillside, before opening out onto flower meadows and eventually the small village of Mikro Papingo. We’d made it to civilisation after a very hot 17km. A welcome fountain greeted us and we cooled down before enquiring about a spot to camp in Makro Papingo – the next village. A barman in the local restaurant pointed us to the village football pitch and we set up camp in the dark.

Yesterday we went easy on ourselves. First stop was the incredible rock pools between the two villages we’d found last night. Nina was keen for an early morning swim but once again I only managed a rinse off in the super cold waters. A small human intervention made a beautiful pool from an otherwise trickling stream through the rock.

We hitched a lift the next 7km to a village where we were hoping to wwoof. The Zissis brothers ran a hotel and restaurant there using their own organic veg. They were the only wwoof hosts in the region and we had contacted them a few weeks earlier. Unfortunately (but in the end fortunately) they had nothing much to do about the place. They instead offered us a free room for the night and lunch, drinks and dinner with the family. Greece already has that welcome feeling that we experienced in the villages of Morocco. We explored the village on foot before a well needed bed.

This morning we walked down the hill to join the Voldomatis river as it continued it’s path from the gorge. We are in awe of the beauty of this region and the unspoilt wilderness. Today we followed a path 10km or so along the river edge. We met one other couple, seasoned Aussie walkers, who obviously knew all the worlds best places to walk. We couldn’t argue that this was one of them. Nina swam again. I chickened out again. We sat and looked at the amazing scenery around us, happy that we are here but sad that to think that most rivers in the world are polluted by industrial and human waste or bad agricultural practices. We’ve been drinking the water from this river for three days, we’ve walked it, we’ve watched the trout, the birds and the dragonflies. The banks are covered in trees, to the waters edge. Nobody is messing with this landscape and that’s why it’s thriving!

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