A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: flemishgirl

Our life is the road.

Life on the road in pursuit of more knowledge about sustainable architecture. Vagabond tales. Our past long term traveling experiences summarized and future plans revealed.

It’s not only the school of life. It’s the school of life on the road. Long term travel will broaden your views and create a certain sense of freedom that you could not get anywhere else but on the road. Your choices are unlimited and you will, that is a promise, discover the real you along the way.

We could not have done this long term travel without the help of programs like HELPX (Helpexchange). All organizations offer information about hosts to helpers for a small fee. They give you the opportunity to work for your accommodation and food while you are traveling. We, honestly, prefer traveling with HelpX over the other ones. It has far superior system of contacting hosts and helpers. While others make you buy books of every country with the hosts listed per region. HelpX.net gives you a profile page online with pictures, videos, self-description and most importantly reviews and a worldwide database. When you have a bunch of positive reviews like us, it really helps establish yourself as a trustworthy helper. By now, we get daily requests from hosts inviting us. Also Helpexchange is not limited like others to organics or farms, it's so much more. It's all about the cultural exchange and experience. You could be a nanny, translator, bartender, pool cleaner, construction worker or a little bit of everything. As a general rule though, watch out for the people out there trying to make an extra buck on your back. Even though we haven’t really encountered that problem, we do realize there’s always some bad apples out there. If you ever feel disappointed and do not wish to stay, the beauty of this project is you can just go. Nobody would blame you, you didn't sign a contract. You are still just a traveler looking for different experiences.

We got introduced to this way of traveling by Brendan, Connor’s brother, who has done helping on organic farms before in Italy. Quite skeptical at first, I think we spent about a week online in search for these kind of organizations before deciding Helpexchange would suit our travels the best. We started our grand world tour together probably right after we met. Being from two completely different parts of the world, we did each have a home yes.. but not one together.
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Connor is a born and raised Seattleite (USA) and I consider Ghent (Belgium) as my hometown.
So we decided to go scouting and see what else is out there in the world. We started using HelpX in the summer of 2009. Connor has always been interested in sustainability and architecture. Now, we had a new mission to not only find our perfect location on this planet, but to also soak up as much knowledge about sustainable architecture along the way as possible. Here’s where HelpX comes in as many of their hosts are very into sustainability and permaculture. Basically all that we wanted to learn was right out there, for us to grab.

Our first experience was an hour and a half west outside of Madrid, Spain.

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Houston did not only tell us all about his solar passive house and future plans for the garden, he was a very understanding host with a massive amount of knowledge as he answered all of our questions patiently. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to start with.

One thing we love about this way of traveling is all the fun we get to have! Talk about a sweet deal when you are asked to babysit a B&B for a month during the summer time in the south of Spain, just outside of Granada up in the mountains. The work we had to do was very little in comparison of what we got in return. Friends for life, sunshine, beautiful scenery, authentic slow life and lots of jumping in the pool!

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After Spain we moved on to Portugal and one of the places we will always remember was Richard and Kathy’s place. Their property was one out of an old fairy tale book. Huge forested area with scattered, original, and a tidbit broken down houses. A river was running right through the property which made it the perfect location for an old mill, which it used to be. Help was needed with fixing up various buildings. It was way too hot to work, so we took lots of siestas and partied in the evening time. It was the season of summer gatherings and they had a large circle of friends so that automatically came along with lots of invites. Making your own pizza from scratch, with all of your own grown ingredients, in your home made outside cob oven is and always will be the best pizza you’ll ever have!

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Distant snowy mountain tops. Luscious green hills surrounding you. A never ending choice of scenic walks and hikes nearby. Old-fashioned slow paced little villages in the valleys everywhere. That’s the Pyrenees. French or Spanish side? It doesn’t matter. They are both equally amazing and very inviting. We had a hard time leaving that place and it is definitely on our list of possibilities for settling down. A funny story comes along with talking about our HelpX hosts in the French Pyrenees.. We were stuck in Barcelona with no idea what we would want to do for the next 2 weeks before we were headed to Italy. I desperately wanted to go hang out in the Pyrenees so we rang up a series of hosts. They all turned us down as they all were already hosting British family members of a fellow host in the area who was having this big christening party. Eventually we found Kev and Beck’s place and upon our arrival they immediately told us, they were going to this christening the next day and we could tag along! So we got to see this famous pig farm and meet the cute little twins. Last but not least, the feasts biggest highlight was the slowly spit roasted pig they slaughtered just for this occasion. It fed about 100 people! Marvelous times in the mountains..

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After our European adventure, which lasted for about a year, we flew back to the States to get married.

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Even when we’re home, we never really stop traveling. We did heaps of side trips and one that I highly recommend to everyone, would be to go to the Northwest, more especially the Olympic Peninsula.

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Where or what’s that exactly, you ask? No worries. These days it’s very easy to explain. Heard lately of this little movie slash book thing called Twilight? No need to say more.. The Olympic peninsula is a beautifully wild, mystic and exceptionally spiritual place. We met an Australian couple who owned a food co-op there and they told us of all the places they had visited in the big wide world, this one was their favorite. I wonder when that moment is going to be for us. At this point I get antsy when I’m in the same place for too long. It’s amazing how easily you adapt to new situations.

What could have been our honeymoon, I guess, was our month in Hawaii (see blog entry - The Big Island). We just couldn’t resist making a stop on the way to Australia, where we are going to be for 2011. The plan is to be working for about 5 months or so. After all we have the Working Holiday Visa and Australia pays great, so why not take advantage? HelpX places so far in Oz have been in Sydney, which was more of a homestay – work in the garden kind of gig, the Blue Mountains (see blog entries - Blue Mountains Zoo & The Blue Gum Forest) and our current one just outside of Daylesford, Victoria. It’s a tale of tipi’s and kangaroos to come soon! Don and Sue, our hosts, own an enormous amount of books and knowledge of everything concerning straw bale building and permaculture. Here’s a link that might give you a better idea what sustainable architecture entails, for those of you who are willing to have a look and learn!
http://www.davidsheen.com/firstearth/english/
FIRST EARTH is a documentary about our evolution towards where we are at the moment and why. It zooms in on the gaining popularity of sustainable architecture and the reason why. Please do check it out!
Pictures of cobbing in Bulgaria with Susan, our host.

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Next is New Zealand and a bit of Asia after we earned a bit of cash here in Oz. Right now, Connor and I have this crazy idea in our heads to take the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow and make our way back to Belgium overland. Sigh.. I know it's all crammed into one entry and it must seem like we're some crazy adventures, but do realize we travel very slow. Thanks to HelpX, we stay in a place from a week till up to a month, discovering all of the surrounding area. It is a very relaxed and perfectly nice way to travel.

Now that should get you up to date!! If you want to hear all about our adventures and hosts, don’t be shy to subscribe or comment, you guys!

Signed,

Flemish Girl Down Under

Posted by flemishgirl 00:42 Tagged ghent barcelona france australia friends spain granada madrid new_zealand pyrenees pool asia belgium portugal seattle pizza twilight helpx olympic_peninsula sustainable_architecture trans_siberian cob_oven

A very rainy hitchhiking adventure from Sydney to Melbourne.

Princes Highway A1 - approximately one thousand kilometers. Goal is to reach Melbourne in 6 days with some decent sightseeing along the way.

rain 15 °C

As a rule, Australia is split up in 2 main regions, north and south. The north has a tropical climate. Season are pretty much non-existing. You have “The Dry” followed by “The Wet”. If you’ve seen the news recently you would know Queensland, northeast Australia has suffered tremendously from “The Wet”. Floods are not unusual there and ‘La Nina’ is causing a extremely wet season. Even New South Wales and Victoria, states with a more temperate climate, are getting doused. Our planned hitchhiking adventure would have been a lot more exciting and not cut so short if it wasn’t for the never ending rain fall.

We did manage to hitchhike and see somewhat of the beautiful southeast coast. The plan was to randomly make our way south from Sydney depending on the rides we got along the coastal Highway #1, also known as the Princes Highway and look for spots to poach camping. First we had to get past Sydney. We got on the train in Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains where we had been HelpXing for the last three weeks.

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Bye to Aurelie, our fellow master cob renderer slash helpXer and the most recognized view of the Blue Mountains. One we actually never got to see because of the low hanging clouds that last day. So we settled for capturing a postcard. Hey, you have to be creative once in a while, right?

This particular train station and town is tiny, so the machine issuing tickets had a limited number of destinations. We quickly realized we were going to get away with only paying 3 dollars each for an open end – pay at your destination ticket. Basically we traveled an equivalent of almost 250 kilometers for that price. So we were off on a kick-ass start!

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Jervis bay is supposed to be one of those elusively beautiful areas and I’m sure it is, but our experience of it was immensely grey and wet. Either way we did have a dry night camping out on the beach of Currarong though and the chips from the local fish and chips shop weren’t half bad either.

All these magnificent places were not really worth stopping for in the pouring rain, but I’ll tell you which ones we thought are not to be missed if blue skies are present.
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Jervis bay (1st picture), Batesman bay, Narooma, Eden, Mallacoota (2nd picture), Lakes entrance (Pelicans) and last but not least definitely go camping in Wilson Promontory National park, an enormous coastal wilderness area with lovely lakes, beaches, wildlife and hikes! You do not want to miss out on that one..
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So because of the wet conditions we had to settle for 3 days of speedy hitchhiking and exploring, instead of a week of sunny activities. Hitchhiking while it’s pouring, is good for one thing though. We met Andrew. He picked us up right when we were ready to throw in the towel. While chatting away during the drive, we mentioned our passion for eco-building and especially building with cob. Once he realized our interests were similar to his, he invited us to spend the night at his place with his family. He couldn’t just let us camp in the rain now, could he? Their house, located on top of a hill overlooking the beautiful valley village of Candelo and filled with all different kinds of cockatoos, was made out of compressed earth bricks and cob. We talked the whole evening exchanging ideas and building experiences.

Another unique moment during our rainy adventure was hitching a ride with a local truckie. He was moving milk from point A to B and back daily. It gets lonely sometimes, he said. So we gladly hitched about 3 hours with this hilariously authentic fella, who couldn’t stop cracking slightly racist jokes.
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All in all, this was a very successful trip. We got were we wanted to be with plenty of time to spare. Too bad about the beautiful places we had to miss. Like they say, tomorrow’s going to be a brighter day, with the emphasis on brighter..

Flemish Girl.

Posted by flemishgirl 23:19 Archived in Australia Tagged melbourne rain pelicans milk blue_mountains eden lakes_entrance hitchhiking mallacoota sydey princes_highway truckie jervis_bay nowra

Low impact Building/style of living.

Location : Stekene, Belgium. Carl's hard work. His Hamadryad.

semi-overcast 15 °C

When we went on the HelpX website checking out what kind of hosts were out there in Belgium, we definitely were shocked to find out there were only 4 (this was in spring 2010). Luckily one of those four was exactly what we were looking for. A low impact building project in Flanders.

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After having been backpacking throughout Europe for about 11 months we planned on ending our adventure where it had started. A lovely tiny little country named Belgium, my country of origin. I bet I know what you’re thinking right now… Mmm Belgian chocolates and waffles. Well yes, I won’t deny that we do have those tasty things. But what we are more proud of is our Belgian fries and especially our Belgian beer. Let me give you all just one little tip. If you go to my country, go to one of the many old traditional style pubs and ask the person serving you which local beers he or she would recommend. You’ll have a wonderful beer experience, that I can promise you.

So we went to Carl’s place in Flanders, situated close to Antwerp and right on the border with The Netherlands. Needless to say we were extremely happy when we were welcomed with a visit to the local fries shop and a couple of Belgian beers. Carl aka Wolf had bought a little piece of land located in an historical forest well known for smugglers activities back in the day. His dream is to build a house and incorporate a lifestyle with a low impact on the nature surrounding him and he knows his stuff. An enormous amount of reading and other research had finally brought him to design his own little perfect spot on this planet. He constructed a website where he explains every single detail about the project and where you can follow his progress. This link will take you to one of his posts that talks about the stage we were involved in. http://www.hamadryad.be/?p=58
If you are interested in finding out even more, I can highly recommend downloading his brochure that is if dutch is one of your languages though. Browsing his website will give you a good idea too.

The part we were able to help out with, was constructing the wooden skeleton of the house. We didn’t use any mechanical machines that would cause harm to his land, which created a very interesting, mathematically challenging and sometimes dangerous work environment. Don’t worry, we weren’t harmed in any way except for numerous mosquito bites. Carl made sure, he was the only one involved in risky business. When we first arrived there was only one beam up. The foundation and the chimney, which would be the central point that would carry all the weight, was already in place. Our accommodation was in a trailer on the property and Connor helped finished building an outdoor kitchen. Collectively decided so there would be less fries shop visiting and more home cooking. Eventually towards the end of our stay, Carl’s girlfriend moved in along with her chickens and cats and it all started to look even better! A perfect picture.
The next stage, which we unfortunately weren’t around for, would be putting in straw bales as walls and finished off with cob rendering. Next to a green roof and even an underground ice cellar, there’s so much more to this low impact project.

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Carl’s project is a beauty and I sincerely hope everything works out as it is supposed to. Next time we will pass through my home country again, one thing that’s definitely on the list is to go visit and talk about all that has been going on over a couple of delicious Belgian beers.

Flemish girl.
(I’d kill for a cold Duvel right about now.. )

Posted by flemishgirl 23:26 Archived in Belgium Tagged the netherlands forest belgium border fries waffles straw_bale belgian_beer fries_shop smuggler ice_cellar green_roof

The Big Island of Hawai'i

30 outstanding days on only 300 bucks

sunny 25 °C

Our whole month of November was spent enjoying every single minute of it hitchhiking, camping, couchsurfing and helpXing around the Big Island. It was definitely the first time we’ve encompassed all of these alternative means of traveling in one journey and it turned out to be the best trip EVER! The only money we spent, was on beer and food..

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We had one minor setback, being that the airlines had lost our tent. Well that is, part of our tent. So what does every normal person do in that case, except for getting furious and demanding the tent back as soon as humanly possible? You go to Walmart and buy a shitty version of what should have been your ultimate camping gear. The airlines eventually decided they were not reliable (Boo that Delta!) so we grew some balls and contacted the tent company online. They loved our story and were willing to help us out by sending a replacement for free. Now that’s cool! Thanks Kelti! Camping is allowed everywhere despite what the tourist related media tells everyone.

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It is common knowledge on the island that as long as you behave and clean up after yourself, you can camp wherever you’d like. They just want to keep that little fact to themselves though so their local secret spots will not be overrun by tourists. We understood this perfectly and played by the rules. One well kept secret was Kiholo bay on the south Kohala coast. We camped and swam right in between the green sea turtles.

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Hitchhiking has never proven to be so easy as on this island. Sometimes people even stopped to ask if we needed a ride without even sticking out our thumbs.

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Lots of hippies on the Big Island and as you can guess also a large quantity of certain substances. Rides resulted frequently in free beer, free food, free advice and this one particular time an invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner by a remarkable man. Donnie is a retired professor, member of WWOOF and runs a ‘salad’ farm on the hillside on the Hamakua Coast. During the ride to Hilo, he immediately started to educate us with local facts and how to be a successful grower. On the way back to his place for the festivities on that day, we got invited again twice by locals. Suffice to say we found this island a very friendly and welcoming place. Nobody judges here. Everybody just lets his freak flag fly. Especially on the Puna Coast, where one can find many enlightening guru’s and their groupies. Time’s different here too. There’s no such thing as being on time. You’re on Hawaiian time. Everything’s a lot more relaxed.

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There wasn’t much couchsurfing to choose from, but we managed to stay with 4 different hosts and they were all equally as kind to us. We will without a doubt hold Bob, our lovely host in Hilo, in our hearts forever. We stayed with him a couple of times while passing through. He knew how to throw a party! Thanks to this online network we also got to stay overnight in the backstage room of Honoka’a’s ‘30s theatre. We made heaps of new friends. I realized inserting the word heaps sometimes into my vocabulary makes me fit in a bit more here in Australia. :)

Now our helpX experience on the island was certainly very fitting for Hawaii. We were staying for a week within a vegan community. The original members and their stories go way back, so I can accurately say they probably started to whole movement. Our work involved simply daily tasks and in return we learned a whole lot about Veganism. Including some delicious recipes! We had a view of the ocean and Maui from our little love shack in between the papaya and avocado trees. It all felt very Hawaiian for sure.

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Another very memorable moment during this trip was our 3-day hike into Waimanu Valley and one to treasure forever.

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You start your hike from the Waipio Valley lookout at the end of the road. Unless you get a ride from someone with a four wheel drive, you’re going to have to suffer through a very steep descent into the valley. Anyways it’s worth it. We met this local kid who’s family still lives down there and he gave us some useful tips for Waimanu, which is the next valley over. To get there we suffered 5 hours of constant up and down hiking as once you go over the big valley wall there’s still 12 gullies to make your way through. And the hardest part of getting there was not the much feared steep ascent of the first valley wall. It was the steep descent into Waimanu. My legs had given up somewhere halfway down, but somehow I managed to make it to the campsite. There are some amazing waterfalls to hike to in the back of the Valley….. this place was magnificent! So worth it!

When you are on the Big Island one thing you certainly can’t skip is Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park and if you’re lucky there could be a surfacing lava flow you can walk up to and be in awe of mother nature’s creation. We tried to save that for the end, but as it turned out when we actually got to the park there was no lava to be seen anywhere any longer. We did see, when we were couchsurfing on the Puna coast, the steam clouds coming from the spot where the lava hits the ocean water and the heat waves coming from the new lava surface.
If you want to go to Hawaii, go to the wondrous Big Island. It has it all. Postcard picture beaches, rainforests bursting with fruit and waterfalls, immensely green valleys and green sand beaches, petroglyphs and last but not least a live volcano. Why wouldn’t you go there?

Love & Peace,

Flemish Girl

Posted by flemishgirl 18:30 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls beer volcanoes valley camping hawaii national_park petroglyphs couchsurfing helpexchange.net big_island hithhiking vegan veganism green_sand_beach sea_turtles kiholo_bay waimanu waipio

The Blue Gum Forest

Hiking and camping in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia. Katoomba - Blackheath area. The Grose Valley.

sunny 30 °C

"You guys have plans for New Year’s yet?” Our French friends and fellow helpXers asked us this question and we shrugged our shoulders. “We are going to see the massive fireworks show in Sydney. Do you want to come?” We didn’t really care much about going back to the congested city to see some pretty lights. We kind of just wanted to enjoy the sunny weather and our days off. I find New Year’s celebrations to be highly overrated. You are in the Blue Mountains only once so we preferred to rather be hiking and camping in nature than be spending heaps of money on costly drinks . And that’s exactly what we did..

We were going to hike from Perry’s Lookout on one edge of the Grose Valley to Govett’s leap Lookout on the other side. We decided to split the hike up in two parts and camp overnight in the illustrious Blue Gum Forest. The hike itself actually only takes about 6 hours. But it’s an awfully steep descent from Perry’s Lookout and there’s only one site, Acacia Flats, for camping allowed along our planned route. It was also very grueling to hike back up. I got in trouble trying to achieve that last part. In my defense it was almost 35 Celsius outside and immensely sunny.

Once you get to one of the famous and very crowded, especially on sunny days, lookouts, you'll immediately understand why they call it the "Blue Mountains". The gum trees (different kinds of eucalyptus) show this characteristic blue haze that is not only to be found here in Australia of course. There’s lots of Blue Mountains throughout this world. I think that the blue haze probably has a scientific explanation that has nothing to do with gum trees in particular. But seriously.. how magnificently blue these mountains look.

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So we started the hike at Perry's Lookout after our lovely Helpx host dropped us off. Margaret really enjoyed showing us around and always offered to drop us off and pick us up anywhere in the area so we could go explore. This amazingly steeper than I thought downhill part had many astonishing views but my knees were starting to tremble a bit.

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Finally after about a full hour or two we got to The Blue Gum Forest. These towering eucalypti seemed to exude mystic vibrations. It is quite the spiritual hike through these magical trees.

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So after much admiration from us both we set up camp. There was an abundance of wildlife present. Especially the birds blew us away. We explored the area and found ourselves a giant flat rock in the middle of the Grose river to hang out on.

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Another animal that we encountered for the first time was the Mountain Dragon. They were everywhere and not shy at all. After snoozing on our rock, my husband woke me up and signaled me to keep still. Right there on an adjacent rock there was a Mountain Dragon, silently snoozing himself. He was quite huge and didn’t seem to mind us. By sunset time the forest really seemed to come alive. The most extraordinary colored birds came to take a dip or sip from the river, while singing their equally colorful songs. The only disappointment of the whole hike was the five lane wide ant highway that had formed itself across our tent diagonally. We had to fight some of those flying big ones off and moved the tent a bit further down. Problem solved. It did freak me out a bit though to be honest.

The next morning we woke up bright and early and hiked further up the tracks to have breakfast at yet another beautiful spot on the river. Don’t forget to bring a water purifier or tablets, people! Fresh water is not always healthy to drink for us humans. The water in the valley for example was contaminated and we would have gotten sick if we didn’t have those tablets with us.
After about 4 hours off climbing up, first gradually then the irregular sometimes steep steps of Rodriguez Pass and eventually the steps up from Bridal Veil Falls to Govett’s Leap Lookout, we finally arrived at our destination. But not before we spotted two very rare Black Yellowtail Cockatoos. That made our day!! We’d heard so much about them. They’re supposedly worth 50.000 dollars each on the black market.

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I had to catch my breath for a while. It was after all extremely hot outside. Not a cloud in the sky. We made it up there by noon. Now, I blame it on the weather but all we could think about was to walk to downtown Blackheath and grab a pint in the local pub. And that’s exactly what we did.

The End.

Flemish Girl.

Posted by flemishgirl 03:05 Archived in Australia Tagged mountains trees birds water hiking australia mountain river blue valley steps falls gum forest katoomba dragon pass color dragons lookout ants steep rodriguez campervans leap eucalyptus blackheath grose govetts wicked

Meeting Oscar.

No animals were harmed writing this entry.

sunny 25 °C

While I’m writing this blog I’m overlooking the whole of Melbourne ‘s distant horizon being set on fire by a very exquisite sunset. Currently I’m staying at a HelpX place that is a B&B located on top of Mount Dandenong. It is the highest point of Dandenong Ranges National Park and located 40 odd kilometers east of downtown Melbourne.

Choosing not to stay in the city any longer was probably the best decision I could have made this time of the year. Since the Australian Open 2011 is taking place right now at this exact spot. Not to mention the floods and shitty weather who have driven all the tourists and backpackers into the city. I was there the day before yesterday and let me tell you that the sight and experience of it made me fear for Australia Day , 26th of January. My Goodness.. I’m going to the countryside for sure before that comes along.

As there are no guests staying in room number one, I have the opportunity to hang out by myself in the room for a couple of hours whilst enjoying the view. I can see downtown and the bay perfectly and all that is considered greater Melbourne area. Right now the sky’s turning an extremely intense color of red, but in 20 minutes or so from now when the lights will start to come on, this view will blow your mind just as much as during the daytime. You’d probably think you’re in LA honestly. That’s exactly what it looks like.

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Excuse me for not even having mentioned my friend Mister Cockatoo yet. He’s hanging out on the balcony. You are not supposed to feed wild birds cause it makes them dependent, I know. But he’s the house cockatoo. I don’t think he’s got a name but I named him Oscar, after Oscar Wilde.

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Mister Cockatoo likes to just prance around with his yellow Mohawk fiercely sticking up. He keeps on looking at me with such curiosity. Cocking his head in all directions just like a real cock-atoo is supposed to do. In my imagination he lit up a cigar and shook his feathers and asked me: “How about a glass of cognac, dear.” So immediately I realized he was reminding me of Oscar Wilde for some inexplicable reason.

I almost completely forgot to mention the sustainable part of this entry. My, my..
This B&B who charges 250 AUD per night has compost toilets in all of the rooms. The guests might sometimes react a bit baffled. But they get their water from a rain catchment system so they opted for saving some extra water. Smart, very smart and very sustainable.

Anyways nighttime has fallen over Melbourne and I feel like I’m high up in the air, seated on a plane, slowly circling over the city. As this vista is making me remember many landings during the night in numerous large American cities.
Oscar has gone to bed.
And I’m thinking about doing the same.

Goodnight,
Flemish Girl.

Posted by flemishgirl 02:59 Archived in Australia Tagged cockatoo sunset mount park australia city day national balcony b&b oscar dandenong helpexchange.net wilde

A little something called a hostel.

rain 24 °C

One thing you might not have known about Australia but you definitely need to is the standard of living here is quite high. Think Scandinavia. A month’s wage for an average nine to fiver down under will be triple yours. So automatically everything becomes more costly. Backpackers will return home having had to cut their trip short or having spent a whole lot more than originally anticipated. That’s where the extremely popular Working Holiday Visa comes in. Australia has it down!

Bring in young travelers from all over the world and allow them to stay in the country for a whole year. You can even earn points by working some time in agriculture and get an extension for a second year. So Oz has all these foreign youngsters running around spending their hard earned cash at a faster rate than they would have if they didn’t have the opportunity to just get a job whenever they were running out. Plus they will go for all the shitty jobs Australians don’t want to do anyways. Make them pay taxes like anybody else and voila… they can go spend again.

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And Australia scores! This could only be considered as a win-win situation, wouldn’t you agree? Now, where are all these backpackers going to go. Who’s going to help them find a job? Where are they all hanging out while looking for employment? Where do they go to make friends and have a good time? The answer is very simple. It’s a little something called a hostel. Hostels are the gateway to anything you could need. Even more so here in Australia because of the huge backpacking culture. Hostels in the major cities for example are thriving and therefoe an extremely lucrative business. Enormous buildings with endless hallways filled with one muggy dorm room after another. Grubby carpets and slow rotating fans. Buzzing vending machines in lonely corners. How much for one night you ask? Let’s say about 25 AUD per night and there’d be a minimum of about 100 beds in your standard hostel. You do the math! You can be sure to be booked full during summer as the northern hemisphere is trying to escape the cold of another icy winter.

There’s a reason why I, personally try to avoid staying in hostels. For one, I’m getting older and I do not wish to be kept up during half the night because this 18 year old can’t hold his liquor and is puking his guts out right outside my door. When I was still single and traveling by myself I got my use out of hostels but nowadays I’ve got everything I need right by my side. So when I do stay in a hostel, it feels without a doubt more like an inconvenience. This time around the necessity of finding one of these impersonal crowded places was because of the rain. It’s has been coming down non-stop for about a week now. We were supposed to go camping in one of these gorgeous national parks, but let’s be honest. That’s not exactly a whole lot of fun in the rain. We decided to cut our hitchhiking slash camping trip short. Being miserable and drenched was not on our list. We could have gone couch surfing but that requires a couple of days of emailing back and forth. Especially for big cities like Melbourne. So here we are..

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If I was asked to write a review for this particular hostel, it wouldn’t be a very positive one. It obviously has grown out of proportion and has become exactly what every hostel should try and strive not to become. There’s nothing welcoming or pleasant about a place like this. A lobby crammed full with cute little Asian girls chatting away on their laptops. A kitchen lounge area where packs of single young males are loudly displaying their testosterone levels. A bar and restaurant with so called cheap prices, but in reality they charge more than the pub next door. Staff that moves around like zombies. Wireless internet access should be free, but this one charges 10 dollars a day. Towels should be free as well, but here they charge 2 dollars and a 5 dollar security deposit. The kitchen area should be accessible to anyone, should they ever need to use it at any given time. It closes between 10pm and 7am. And the list goes on. Every aspiring hostel should do their utmost to not become such a soulless place.

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I must admit that the thought of starting a business like this crossed my mind a few times by now though. I would envision a more secluded place like the Big Island of Hawaii where we just were or maybe an elusive, beautiful country like New Zealand. It would have the maximum capacity of 20 guests. Five rooms with 4 beds. Each room would be decorated differently with memories of all of our travels in mind. There’ll be no MTV playing on a flat screen in the back ground, but there will be a extensive library and tremendously comfy couches. There’ll be colorful inviting hammocks in the backyard hanging in between our fruit trees. A wide porch surrounding the building for socializing over drinks during the most gorgeous sunsets. No curfew and no extra charges. I could daydream all day, every day about a potential little paradise like that…

Signed,
A Flemish girl down under.

Posted by flemishgirl 16:26 Archived in Australia Tagged melbourne city hostel dorm backpackers beds aud

The Blue Mountains Zoo

Helpexchange in Blackheath

With being from a flat, boring, grey country like Belgium and all, I'm sure you'll understand when I say that I feel like I've been living in a zoo for the last week. Up here in the Blue Mountains instead of your everyday Pigeons you have Kookaburras who's call sounds like drunken monkeys laughing at an extraordinary volume. I saw one diving down right in front of me the other day catching something in his large beak thrashing his head repeatedly from left to right. It took me the full minute gawking at the action going on about 2 meters away from me to realize that he was trying to kill a 30 cm long yellowish snake. I had to step back and had to stop myself from letting the word murderer escape from my lips. He was actually doing me a favor. I certainly didn't want to step on a snake in my backyard. So I let him swallow it in peace. There's plenty more of these weird sounding colorful birds that you can spot everyday just flying about. It seems so unreal to me. Almost as if they all just escaped from their cages. There are crimson Rozella's and plenty more other kinds of Rozella's, they look like big colorful parrots. Then there are Lorrikeets. Also similar to a small parrot. My first rainbow Lorrikeet I spotted in Sydney Harbor (our first Aussie HelpX). I was in awe of seeing this beautifully rainbow colored thing flying around in our garden. I'd never seen such a thing in the wild.. Certainly didn't expect to see it in a big city like Sydney. Just the other day we saw Kangaroos jumping around on the road. They have signs here. Watch out for Kangaroos crossing. You get it.. like deer?
So I'm new to this part of the world. My understanding after 3 weeks of being here of how this country is divided up, goes a little something like this. Australia is a big island right? Well you can divide it up in 3 parts. The first is the coastline, that consist of big cities and suburbs. Next is the bush. Now the bush is a second wide circle, filled with National parks, beautiful woods and wildlife with smaller cities and villages, very much all spread out. Then last but not least there is the outback. What they call No mans land. It's all desert and wilderness containing heaps (Australians use the word heaps a lot to describe a unknown large quantity) of deadly creatures.
Well that's my description of it.

So now we're in Blackheath. A small town in the Blue Mountains. Beautiful place and definitely a lot cheaper then Sydney.
Our host is building a cob house close to town and we're helping her out. We got some previous experience and were welcomed with open arms. In other words, she takes good care of us. This time around we're using some different building techniques.

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The outside walls of the house for example are much thinner then the cob walls we've helped made before. Our job right now is mixing a clay mixture with straw to fill up the walls with. This is called the light clay/straw method. It is an infill system.

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The insulation aspect of it works perfectly fine for you doubters out there. These methods have been around for a looooo-oong time. So if you think modern building techniques will do a better job, you're wrong. A lot of the modern building materials used are industrial and filled with chemicals you are living and breathing every day. I wouldn't want my kids to grow up in a death trap, do you?
These days green building techniques are being combined with conventional ones and people are starting to see the benefits.
We're not completely there though, but it's a start. If you're interested there is an abundance of websites and books out there for you to read up on. I'll give you a popular one for amateur builders right now, www.greenhomebuilding.com. Just so you can browse and get an idea.
Light clay/straw keeps your house cool in summer and hot in winter. It is incredibly stable in temperature and changing slowly as temperatures change to extremes outside.
So basically we are playing with mud all day and guess what? It's extremely fun!

More updates on the cobbing soon.

Love and Peace,

Flemish Girl

Posted by flemishgirl 20:32 Archived in Australia Tagged mountains birds home nature green blue building wild kangaroo cob cobbing

Anicha

A dear friend of mine made me aware of this powerful word just recently. I had to look it up.

It is one of the essential doctrines or three marks of existence in Buddhism: all of conditioned existence, without exception, is in a constant state of flux, the absence of permanence and continuity.

So basically there is ONE nice sounding word (next to the English version = impermanence) for the saying "Everything is always changing. What arises will pass."
Now how intriguing is that? Try and think of combining this thought with sustainability.
I was planning on introducing what "Our trying to be sustainable as much as possible while traveling" was all about in the first initial entry bit, but it would have gotten too serious too soon. Lots of other organizations or whatever else out there using the term "Sustainable Travel" are talking about using green energy, trying not to leave a carbon footprint, taking alternative ways of transportation, not leaving a mark on a certain place you visit as a tourist. I agree with all that has been said.
But my definition of "Sustainable Travel" would be "Balancing the need to travel with the need to improve my quality of life and the ones around me".

So sustainable energy, what exactly does that mean?
It means meeting our needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs with renewable alternative resources of energy.
Without trying to sound too much like I'm preaching a certain way of life, I just want to show you guys how we try to encompass this into our travel style. It's not hard.. just a couple of basic rules and you're already making a huge difference.
The worst in my opinion is that we can't really go without the use of airtravel. You can look it up if you want (and trust me you'll be surprised), but I don't want to focus on the bad stuff here. Try to go about using airtravel in a positive way while limiting your carbon footprint.
Don't go flying like a maniac back and forward, be smart and save some money this way as well.
Plan ahead and look for cheap online deals. And yes we do pay our extra luggage fee. Don't get me started on that!
Walk more! You'll see a lot more stuff and you'll bump into local events or notice details you didn't even know about.
Hike some spectacular nature and camp anywhere you can get away with it.

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Don't forget about the golden rule: Pack it in, Pack it out!
Go Couch Surfing! It'll save you precious money and that way you don't have to feel trapped in one of those overpopulated hostels. You'll meet locals and get some inside info. You'll make lots of new friends. Some of them will prove to be long lasting friendships instead of numerous meaningless encounters in the crowded and loud hostels.
Eat local stuff. That way you are helping out the local economy and not forcing the prices up.
If the region you are visiting allows it, for example like Hawai'i where we just spent a full month, you can cut your food costs in half by using the old hunting and gathering techniques. Locals went out shooting some wild pigs and turkey for thanksgiving. (We had some. It was delicious!) There is an abundance of fruit in lots of subtropical parts of the world and Hawai'i was no exception.
We've had Coconuts, Macadamia nuts, Noni, Lilikoi and Guava who where in season and to be found anywhere on the island. For FREE!
If it's fallen on the ground, it's yours.

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We hitchhike when we can. It is actually quite easy. Stick out your thumb, whistle a tune and there you go. It should be said that it doesn't always work everywhere and it certainly helps to be picked up if you're a girl or with a girl.
When hitchhiking has proven to be too hard, go and use the public transportation system. Trains, buses, trams, ferries etc..
Try NOT to rent cars. Instead look up if there's a rental relocation program where you are visiting. You'll save money, but your footprint will be larger.
We thought about buying a car in Australia for a year. We quickly abandoned that idea after entering the country. Oz is definitely not one of the cheaper countries. Gas and insurance were two of the main costs and these things tend to be very expensive here.

There are lots more detailed tips that I would like to talk about but this entry is supposed to be about sustainable travel and not only about cheap travel.
Although trying to do it cheap tends to immediately make your travels a hell of a lot more sustainable.
How's that for a trend? :)
Anyways, these are some serious tips on traveling on the cheap folks. Keep them in mind!

Another way of traveling that has brought us to some pretty unexpected, beautiful and far away places (without spending any money what so ever) is this marvelous online organization called Helpexchange.
Signing up costs you 20 euros for a 2 year membership. Think Facebook. You have a profile and hosts have profiles (same with Couch Surfing).
Say you want to go to New Zealand for a couple of months. Go online and check out some hosts.
You work an average of about 5 hours / 5 days a week doing all sorts of different things in exchange for a free place to stay and three meals a day. (some people do it differently, there is no general rule for this, reading profiles thoroughly and emailing your questions are never a bad idea) I'll name a few of our HelpX-experiences, so you would realize how awesome this actually is!
In Greece we stayed in a stereotypical old fashioned village for a month helping out with the olive harvest.

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In Bulgaria we had our own new year's party in our yurt with new friends made in this tiny ass (go back in time a 100 years) old Soviet town. All thanks to Susan our host, who was one of those memorable experiences. She taught us not only how to cob, but much much more.

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In the foothills of the beautiful snowy mountain tops of Bavaria, Germany. My job was to spoil two pregnant, ready to pop, mares and train the little ones so they would be ready for the kids to ride them.

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I'll share more stories with you guys in future entries.
A lot of these HelpX places are in the country side and are focused on being self-sufficient. Some of them are organic farms. Others specialize in something else. But what you can be sure of while using HelpX as a way of travel is you'll pick up new knowledge every day. See how they run their farms. See what they use as an alternative energy source and has proven to be productive for their specific situation. Learn about gardening, flowers, herbal medicine...
Learn how to make your own cheese, soap, wine and beer!
Who doesn't want to do that!?
This way you are taking a little load off of their shoulders by just being there to help out, and you'll get some love and delicious food in return. In our case, you get to see what works for you and what doesn't. We get to test everything out. Big farm or little farm? There are so many different Eco-building techniques. Straw bails, Cob building, Earthships, what's the layout of the perfect solar passive house? You get the idea??
So we can form a more solid idea in our heads of how we want to built our own little paradise on this earth.

If you are going to follow this blog, you'll hear all about our experiences in detail.
I promise you, you'll pick something up. Even if it is just an idea for a recipe.

Please comment or ask about anything you'd like to know.
It's not only fun for me to do this but it makes me feel content that I'm able to share this with all of you

So to get back to the word that caused this whole entry about sustainability.
You'll be gone yourself.. one day too. So promise me one thing.. Make the best of it, will ya?

Love,

Flemish girl

Thanks to my loving husband who takes the time to edit my entries. Thanks for helping me get rid of some bad grammar and typos.

websites mentioned:
www.helpX.net
www.couchsurfing.org

Posted by flemishgirl 22:18 Tagged travel work surfing cheap couch volunteer exchange sustainable hawai'i

Looking for my paradise...

Stories from a Flemish girl traveling the world with her soul mate. They are in search of the perfect piece of land to start building their dream house. But while doing so they are learning all about being self-sufficiency and sustainability.

28 °C

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"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is the gods honest truth!
Think about it. How many of us dream of traveling around the world?
How many of us have envied others who have taken off one day and done it?
How many sat back while mumbling if only they weren't so busy at work?
If only they had the time or money?
If only this.. if only that... BE REAL, folks!
To travel the world is not a question of money or enough time off. It's all about your willingness to just go ahead with it all and take the plunge into the unknown!
Okay. Okay. I will admit this. It has to be kind of in your blood. You got to have an adventurous personality and not be too attached to something back home. Or you can do it like me. Meet your husband while traveling and take him along for the ride.
Long term travel does not have to be expensive. The way we are doing it, doesn't really cost us a whole lot. Granted you have to make money somehow at some points during your travels (which we'll talk about later) to fill up the never ending hole in your wallet. But there are ways to make those well earned dollars (or euros) last for a very long time.
These ways will also make your experiences a hell of a lot more interesting and more real.
Maybe you just like to pay big bucks for some relaxed "reading by the pool with a cocktail in your hand - never really leaving your hotel" kind of holiday. That's perfectly okay. Really. Once in a while we all like to just do nothing and enjoy the relaxy-taxi (as I call it).
But what I am talking about is long term exploration. Leaving everything on hold back home. Wondering what is out there. Wanting to meet these strange but wonderful cultures in person.
It's not easy for an individual with these dreams who doesn't have the know-how to just get up and leave.
And that is why I'm writing this blog.
We want to share.
We want YOU to know OUR secrets.
We want you to gather the knowledge we have gathered.
So you can enjoy it as well.
So you can explore the world and open your eyes.
To be happy and free, just like us.

Love and peace,

Flemish girl.

PS please note my first language isn't English, actually English is not even my second language :)
This blog for me is about spreading some love.

Posted by flemishgirl 20:55 Archived in Australia Tagged travel backpacking dreams cheap_living

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