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The Rainbow Coast, Western Australia.

And who was it that said Seattle was rainy? Try the Great Southwest of Australia. It's called the Rainbow coast for a reason. Our 5 months in Albany, Western Australia.

Okay. First of all, I will apologize. Forgive me for forsaking my blog entries for the last 3 months. It may not be a decent excuse though, but I have been working my - now very much in shape - butt off, thanks to biking several kilometers in and out of town everyday for work.

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What can I say about Albany? The first words that pop in my head are grey, rainy.. and windy. But I'm not doing this town any justice at all. It has a stunning coastline and after all it is winter here. And what a mild winter it is in comparison to what I'm usually used to. I can hardly complain. It just makes me miss home more. That's all.

We lucked out basically. Five months in a wonderful house, stocked with all the herbs and spices and basic cooking supplies that I could ever need. With a magical veggie garden in the back, where all our daily needs for fresh greens are met. The two chooks, who don't really need looking after at all. They already realize, they are living in paradise. They've stopped laying eggs for a months or so, but now one of them is getting back on track so who could blame them for anything? And then there's the orange tree... even if there's no sunshine most days, the tree is making us feel loved at least. Never tasted such fantastic freshly squeezed orange juice in my life! But the best perk about this gig is.. the three boxes in the back room filled with VHS's from the nineties. What better way to spend your dark, cold, lonely nights?

So this house-sitting thing is working quite well for us actually... probably better then we could ever have hoped. We knew when we arrived in Australia, running out of money was going to happen at one point (it being so expensive here and all). When we figured out this overly expensive country came along with equally high wages, we knew we were going to take advantage and soon. But how to go about all of this you ask? No worries. Working Holiday Visa? Check. And that's all you need. The rest just takes a bit of smarts and effort and maybe some persisting as well. We were initially worried about a place to stay while we would be working. Rent prices were scaring us quite a bit to be honest. So we came up with two options. One: Find work that would include accommodation and maybe also food or.. Two: find a house-sitting gig in a place where finding jobs would be easy - easier. Both are equally as hard to find. So when we found this ad online for a 5 months long house-sitting job in a reasonably sized town along our planned travel route, we jumped on it immediately. We managed (somehow) to convince a 70 plus year old couple, who spend the winter up north every year, to let us take care of their house while they were gone for 5 consecutive months. Needless to say we will be eternally grateful to Harry and Val. They are the ones responsible for us putting away large amounts of money on our bank accounts at an extremely fast rate.

So work, work, work.... What does it feel like? After a couple of years of indulging ourselves in a rather relaxed way of living - traveling the world and not having to worry much about money. It feels a bit numb to be honest. People might think of us as the escapist kind. Not wanting to settle down, not wanting to tie ourselves down to certain responsibilities. Some of you out there would call us cowards for not wanting to deal with the real world (as they would call it). Which I understand. Completely. But see it from our point of view. Why not take advantage of the limitless possibilities out there? Why not get to know this planet for real before it's too late? We just want to have fun and experience all what is out there as much as possible. What's so wrong with that? We'll get tired of it at one point. We'll settle down. Just not yet though... It's way too much fun being a global nomad..

One place where I work at is the Royal George Hotel. A bartending job will stay the same wherever in the world you may find yourself. So it's a good skill to fall back on. This bar in particular has an immense amount of history. This whole town does by the way. What makes the George a different kind of pub to work at is the old fellas. It's a good old local kind of pub. Nothing fancy. I've got my regulars that come in everyday and they are amazingly entertaining and splendid company. The times they have made me giggle with their wild stories from the good old days. I've heard Robert Plant and Neil Young anecdotes from a former musician suffering from severe tinnitus. Or how about this other fella that one day decided to fill me in on a certain part of his past. "That time I almost went to the slammer for nearly killin me own brotha." That was one of the more heartfelt ones. There was still sadness and pain to be read on his face while he tried to explain. In his defense, his brother did take off with his fiancee while he was at sea. Most of these guys once used to be fishermen or working on the rigs or for the Navy. Now most of them are retired and meet up with each other in the pub almost every day. Every single one of them is adorned with plenty of visible tattoos and even though they might look like rough oldies not to be messed with to an outsider, to me they all are cuddly bears with a heart of gold. To see them all lined up sitting at the bar next to one another, mumbling and cursing a lot (ooh yeah... they curse a lot) with their free hand (the one not holding the beer) cupping their ears trying to catch what their neighbor just had said, because the batteries in their hearing aid might have run low again. You just have to see it for yourself, it's very endearing.

Albany was the right choice to make. Even though I did run into some trouble with a local business owner thinking, because I was a backpacker, that must mean he had a freebie to take advantage of me. Well guess what? I might be a backpacker but I'm not a stupid one. Shame on those who try to scam us out of our hard earned money. Luckily I caught on to it from week number one and made my way out of their as fast and confrontational-free as possible. Karma will have it's way.

So yes. I would recommend to every young backpacker looking for another adventure to come to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa and to work their butts off. If they are smart about it, they will walk away with a huge sum of aussie dollars to spend nice and slow in less "dearer" countries.

3 months down. 2 to go.... then it's back to singing my favorite tune. "On the road again..."

Love and Peace,

A Flemish Girl Down Under.

Posted by flemishgirl 09:41 Archived in Australia Tagged winter australia work north money western_australia orange orange_tree working oranges aud albany exmouth couchsurfing cira's royal_george_hotel housesit housesitting chooks veggie_garden mild_winter working_holiday_visa whv

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

The Blue Gum Forest

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

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"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.

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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

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