Amazing Stargazing

If there’s one thing I learnt on Gili Air, it’s how to find the Scorpio and Gemini constellations in the night’s sky whilst half a bottle of overpriced cab-merlot down. That, I think, is a positive lesson. The rest of the zodiac, however… let’s just say they’re a “work in progress” (and, to be fair, I didn’t have my glasses on, so it’s a wonder I managed to find two).

A second thing I came to realise, was that sometimes cutting the cord of people in my life who are no longer serving me in a positive way, doesn’t make me a bad person. It simply means I like myself way too much to put up with your crap. I’m enjoying saying that lately: “I like myself way too much to… *fill in blanks*”. Positive manifestation in it’s perfect form; it’s taken just a week of saying that regularly for me to realise I actually mean it. It’s a refreshing change from the past few years where anxiety over people’s opinions of me got inside my head, or worries that I’d said or done the wrong thing, or that I was unlikable. If travelling has made me realise anything, it’s that I am likable, and sociable, and I love to make people laugh and share in their journeys, thoughts, ideas. Spending precious time worrying about the little niggling insecurities in the back of your mind is futile, because the voice in your head doubting and criticising yourself, isn’t what makes you ‘you’. So love yourselves, people!

My visit to the Gili islands has been pure perfection. As if I thought Bali wasn’t paradise enough, the trifecta of the Gilis (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) are another world away once again. There are no cars or petrol-run mopeds allowed on any of the three tiny islands, meaning the only methods of transport around are horse and cart (which I didn’t really want to buy into), bicycle, or by taking an old-fashioned stroll! The horse and cart is such a tradition on the islands, no one bats an eyelid, but something inside me felt like I didn’t want to put my money into this trade. The horses are worked hard, in the sweltering humidity, pulling heavy carts often piled with a family-of-four plus luggage and the driver, and they always have to go at a trotting pace. I have to be fair and say the horses themselves don’t seem mistreated, especially compared to the terrible treatment of many animals in Asia – their owners do really seem to be fond of them. However, as someone who’s spent their fair share of time around horses, I could see many of their hooves weren’t in the best condition and they were often standing around in the hot sun for long periods of time.

To get more specific, Gili Trawangan (or ‘Gili T’) is very much the more ‘party’ of the three islands. This was my first Gili and to get there I caught a ‘fast boat’ by the company Scoot. Scoot are highly rated and love plastering “the most awarded travel company in Indonesia” all over their boats. I have no idea why. It cost me 600,000 rupiah (just over £30) for one way. This is expensive by both Indonesian and backpacker standards. Our boat left 40 minutes late (not the biggest deal – this is Asia after all), but then it proceeded to break down in the middle of the ocean, leaving all 50+ passengers and crew along with all our luggage violently swaying in the sea for 20 minutes with not a word said about what was happening, just the noise of hammer against metal on deck. The little boy next to me was throwing up in a plastic bag, a 20-something year old girl was crying, clutching at her stressed-looking boyfriend. I just breathed deeply and pretended I was one with the damn ocean to stop myself retching over the side of the boat. After that 20 long minutes, we were sent back to the nearest island to await a new boat, which arrived about 1.5 hours later and was far faster and better. Finally, relieved, we were on our way. I don’t expect things to go wrong, but they so easily can, especially in Asia! When they do, I try to accept that maybe it was supposed to happen this way so something else can fall into place. You’ve gotta have the really bad to make the good even better. Yin yang. Rough smooth. Light dark. On the beach whilst waiting for the new boat, I found one white and one black rock washed up next to each other on the sand. They felt like an omen confirming my thoughts; something saying “this is exactly what was supposed to happen”. I waited peacefully.

I’d booked three nights on Gili Trawangan, and I have to admit that was enough. If a strip of bars and clubs reminiscent of a European ‘girls/lads holiday’ is your scene, you’ll love it. But I’d just spent two weeks partying in Canggu, Bali, where the music variety and choice of venues are amazing and felt more ‘me’, and I was really looking to switch off from the drinking-every-night vibe. That said, I had a lot of fun there, and the Night Market is incredible. For 50,000 rupiahs (around £2.60) you can get 3 kebabs (calamari, snapper, beef, pork, chicken, etc) plus 3 salad sides and homemade sauces, which are MOUTHWATERINGLY good – but be warned, the hot sauce is no joke for Westerners.

I stayed in the Pondok Wahyu hostel – a good way to save money at only around £4.80 per night with breakfast included, but you do get what you pay for! When I checked in, I was told I had a roommate, and I don’t know why I expected a female, but when I opened the door to be greeted by a 6ft3 Polish man, I was a little taken aback! That said, Cezar turned out to be a great roomie and perfect gentleman, and we had a good time cycling around the island in search of the best sunset spots. Our bathroom also had the literal meaning of a skylight – a hole in the roof. It was perfect for stargazing, but not so perfect at keeping the critters in our room at bay.

I also met up with the new best couple I know, Georgie and Alex, and we went snorkelling with turtles, had many delectable meals and a lot of laughs together. Georgie I’ve known vaguely for a long time through a schoolfriend (holla, Bobs!) but it was the first time we properly hung out and I’m so happy to say I have two great new friends after this trip! The openness of travellers is so beautiful. Back home, this meeting probably wouldn’t have happened. But when you’re away from home, meeting someone you know – no matter how small the connection – is something you jump at the chance to do.

Empty lovers swing representin’ (my life)

Sunset chaser crew

After being advised that Gili Air had a little more life and a lot less couples than Gili Meno (and when I’d already seen some of Gili Meno on my snorkelling trip), I decided that Air was the next stop for me. I’m so happy I went there. Days spent dipping in the ocean, the colour of which I can only describe as the lovechild of the colour azure and milk. Evenings spent enjoying fish kebabs barbequed by the beach, all you can eat sides and happy hour glasses of red. Conversations and time spent with locals which opened my heart and eyes to new ways of viewing the world, from people who have lived a life so different to mine.

My accommodation was called Old Village Gili Air, and I slept on the upper floor of a big bamboo structure, sharing a room with one other girl. The owner was Japanese and you could see that in some of the ways the guesthouse worked. For around £8 per night, you got breakfast included, a clean and very comfortable room with amazing AC, a shared but clean bathroom, and free (iced) tea, coffee, water whenever you wanted. I was so impressed, I’d definitely go back.

Bamboo balcony views

My final word is: snorkelling with shipwrecks and underwater statues, swingin’ in hammocks, delicious food, the most tempting of oceans, incredible people. If you’ve ever considered the Gili Islands – take it from me, you should go. If you’ve never heard of them before… well, now you have, so what are you waiting for?!

Until next time…

Ana x

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Solo in paradise

Here is a draft of a blog post I wrote back in early December 2017 but wasn’t brave enough to publish:

“Haha. Hahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha. (I’m only laughing hysterically because if I don’t, I might just cry hysterically).

If you’d told me when I posted my last blog that by the time I wrote the next one I’d be newly single and travelling solo (in Speedy, of course) in the flat and arid countryside of the state of Victoria, in the sweltering heat with no AC, and not a kindred spirit in a 50km radius, I’d probably have just shot myself then and there and got it over with. However, since I wasn’t given a heads up about the path my life was going to take, here I am. And boy, do I have a lot of time to mull over the life decisions which have brought me to this point.

I’m here to complete the 24 days of regional work I have left (out of 88) which I need to acquire to be eligible for a second year working holiday visa here in Australia. Sure, I could have done what a number of people I know have, and applied without doing the countryside toil… but seeing as a) I already have 64 days under my belt, and b) the universe is seemingly enjoying throwing surprises at me right now, this is something I didn’t particularly want to leave up to chance. Oh, did I mention that I only have until December 20th to get this done? And that I’ve been here a week, in a campsite with no Wi-Fi and barely any other guests? And also that I haven’t even started work yet because there have been thunderstorms every day? Yeeeeah.”

Life had become a little… erratic. Or maybe that was just my mental state. So let me fill you in, from a better emotional place, on the rest of the story.

I’m in Bali right now, and I thought I’d take some time off from the tentative tightrope I’m walking between enjoying generous clean green smoothie bowls and, on the other hand, copious amounts of rum, to write a little about my experience thus far and what brought me here (both literally and figuratively). I find I’m better at expressing myself through writing and reading things back can give me a better perspective on situations and myself.

This is, of course, my first time travelling abroad solo. In case anyone didn’t know, Rob and I broke up last September. I know – I’ve heard it all already: “I thought you’d be together for life!”, “I can’t imagine you with anyone else!”, “WTF!?!”. I’m feeling good with the situation, but maybe those hearing this for the first time will take some time to get used to it. Please don’t ask me questions about it, it’s just one of those things. When you think your life is pretty much mapped out and then everything changes oh, so suddenly, it’s more than a little overwhelming. Without getting into any gory details (as much as that’s probably what everyone wants to know), let me put it here that I wish him the very best in everything he does in life.

Now. Why Bali? Well, firstly, why not? It’s beautiful. Full of young, open-minded, entrepreneurial, good time folk. And after a hectic few months in Australia navigating life after four and a half years with the same person, juggling new friendships and romances and a heck of a lot of hours in work, I felt like I just needed to break free and ‘do ME, girl‘. Nine months in one city whilst travelling is a long time, and I had some of the most fun of my life in Melbourne, but by the end it felt like it was getting smaller and smaller, closing in on me until eventually I felt like I was choking. I definitely wasn’t quite myself – for the last few months especially – after completing my last month of farm work alone in a total hillbilly town in northern Victoria, my only consistent companion being my beautiful van Speedy. A loyal friend (and home) she was, but not the best conversation. Whilst I was up there, struggling with the lack of human contact, I found out that my wonderful Gramma passed away back in Wales, leaving a strange combination of grief and relief. She was 96, her health had been deteriorating for quite some time, so I knew she was now at peace and felt no pain, but I felt so helpless. Due to complications with applying for my second year visa, I couldn’t fly home to attend the funeral, so closure was something I had to get by myself on the other side of the world. I don’t think I did a great job, because I felt a black cloud over me for the coming months, like an itch that couldn’t be scratched, and I felt supremely homesick. Then came the second part of the double whammy. Dan, a beautiful soul I and many others called a friend, passed away this Valentine’s Day, a few days before his 28th birthday. After this devastating news, I just knew I needed to be home and around ‘my people’ as soon as I could scrape together enough money. I had been living with the rainstorm over my head for too long already. If one doesn’t prioritise their own health and wellbeing, who will? Only I can make change in my own life if I’m not happy. I sold Speedy (a task I’d been really half-assing because I wasn’t ready to let go), gave notice to my douchebag of a manager (which felt amazing) and booked to go home via Los Angeles and San Francisco, to catch up with some friends and family en route. I hadn’t seen a soul from home for almost a year and a half. And seeing them was just what I needed. But after a few weeks, there was the question of “what next?”. Stay home? For good? Nah, thanks. I still have a powerful wanderlust inside me, like a wave crashing over and over, that I need to see more and meet more likeminded people. I needed something that home couldn’t provide.

This trip is certainly somewhat of a soul search as much as a time to relax and recharge. I’ve already realised that pretty much everyone in the world is walking around not really knowing what the darn is going on, some just camouflage it better than others. Everyone is just trying to navigate this tom-foolery called life and find their niche. Their people. Their ideal job. The place they feel most at home. And it’s okay that I haven’t necessarily found mine yet, because I will, but right now it’s in the pockets of my backpack. It’s on Balinese beaches sipping on a fresh coconut. It’s in meeting a beautiful soul in the morning and becoming roommates by the afternoon. I have no magic wand – I’m just trying to keep afloat in this new chapter of being… little old me. At home, I started to panic that I wasn’t doing enough, achieving enough, working enough. Seeing what people I went to school with are up to made me doubt the decisions I’d made. I don’t have a degree, I don’t exactly know what career path I want to pursue, and hell, I’m definitely not ready for a house, a marriage, kids. And those are the symbols of ‘success’, right? Sure – if you’re happy. But you couldn’t pay me enough to live that life right now. And I’m proud of myself for having the guts to fly across the world on my own and be doing okay. It’s scary and exhilarating. I’m making daily mental notes not to let pressure from peers, society or myself marr the amazing time of self discovery and freedom I’m so fortunate to be able to experience.

So, right now, I’m gonna focus on smoothie bowls ‘n’ rum, and chasing my dream, cuz this beautiful, cultural, eclectic island isn’t gonna explore itself. 🌴

What I’ve learnt in Australia so far

A lot of people embark on long-term travel these days, and experience all those normal feelings one would get before setting off into the unknown: excitement, hope, trepidation. You have ideas of how things will be, but you can never really know, and you can never truly prepare for what your travels will throw at you.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt whilst being in Australia since December 2016.

1. Don’t panic about money.

By February of this year, Rob and I had $0 between us. We spent the last of our money on canned food and rice and made it last. I cried, and then I got over it. Luckily we are on a working holiday meaning we can pick up jobs, so we started picking grapes in local vineyards. The pay was shockingly bad and the 4am starts were tough, but by being savvy with our cash, we eventually replenished our funds enough to drive across the width of Australia and continue our travels. I don’t worry about money now. If I have to spend out on something and end up with no money again, I know there’s always a way. Rob and I will help each other out. I’ll find another job or sell some stuff I’ve accumulated. No biggie. I’d rather have another great memory than a fatter bank balance. And another thing is that Rob and I really don’t need much money – living cheaply, if we’re careful, is so possible and teaches a valuable lesson. As long as I have food in my belly and somewhere warm to sleep, I feel so overwhelmingly grateful.

2. I really can do anything I put my mind to. (Maybe sometimes with a little help).

This sounds cheesy, but it’s true. After my first day of grape picking, I so wanted to give up, but I didn’t. And by the end, I was picking enough daily to earn minimum wage (no easy feat, let me tell you). Rob and I succeeded in measuring and building a shelf in the back of our van for our fridge to comfortably fit on. We removed the old and fitted the new car radio (with a little help from a fellow Welshman). We took our entire dashboard apart. We fitted Speedy’s roof rack with a few borrowed tools from Old Knocker’s scrapyard. We knew nothing about any of these things – but now we do. We drove from one side of Australia to the other. We are unstoppable, especially as a team!

3. I can go out on my own and have a really good time.

I used to get too nervous to go out on my own, because back home no one really does that – and when you know a lot of people, there’s not really any reason to. But with Rob and I working different hours in Melbourne and having a lot of evenings to myself, I’ll be damned if I’m spending them in the flat alone! I now have the confidence to go out and meet people, have a few drinks over some pool and enjoy Melbourne for the social place it is. After losing confidence the past few years, it’s so good to have it back.

4. If the boss is a dick, leave.

It’s not called a working misery visa, it’s a working holiday visa, and my travels are too precious and short to spend miserable working hard for someone who doesn’t appreciate it. I could be doing that crap back home. My last boss was a paranoid psycho and after a month of never getting anything right and being berated because I couldn’t read his mind, I walked out and never looked back. In the normal world I wouldn’t leave a job until I’d found another, but my sanity and enjoyment of life here is much more important than some stupid cash-in-hand job. And guess what? I found another job the next week.

5. Don’t plan too much.

Having a rough outline of must-see places and being aware that my time here isn’t infinite is good, otherwise I’ve seen people waste almost all their visa in one place, but I hate micro-managing everything. I like not knowing where I’ll be in a week or a month’s time. It leaves us free to add things in last minute, like recommendations of people you meet along the way, and keeps things fresh. Going with the flow lead us to buying a van and driving across the country, meeting so many good people and having some awesome unexpected adventures. I don’t know where I’ll be in 6 months’ time, but I can definitely feel the pull of buying a new plane ticket upon me, and I’m excited!

I’m sure I have much more to learn before we leave Australia, but those are the lessons I’m going to carry with me from now on.

Until next time…

Ana x

The small matter of crossing Australia

Woooooooah, it’s been a while. A three-month-while. Part of that is because we’ve been on the road for quite some time with limited signal, and part has been because we’ve just been so darn busy enjoying life! (Sorry, not sorry). ❤

After almost being eaten by two sharks at two different beaches (a Bronze Whaler and a Tiger Shark), picking all the grapes imaginable, stroking two-metre wide wild stingrays, being crawled on by a golden orb spider (luckily not deadly, but man are they freaky looking), drinking way too many overpriced pints, eating my bodyweight in curry at the Soup Kitchen, seeing some incredible live bands I’ll forever fangirl over, and just generally having a fantastic time with lots of new friends, it was finally time to leave Margaret River and make our way east. Due to the wages being so low picking grapes, it was pretty tough to save for the journey, but somehow we had about $800 between us so we thought we’d just wing it and see how it went. Kitting Speedy out with a $100 roof rack sourced from Old Knocker’s scrap yard, jerry cans for spare fuel and lots of tinned food, we were ready for whatever life on the open road had to throw at us.

Checking that Speedy’s tyres were all good in Margs before our big trip!

Our first stop was Esperance. We had always planned to go to this sweet little seaside town on the south coast of Western Australia, and we were glad we did! It made a lovely stop along the way. Sadly just before we got there, a 17 year old girl was killed by a shark whilst surfing, so the sea was definitely off limits, but to be honest I’m a bit wary of the sea here anyway so don’t tend to go in past the shallows… I like my limbs too much (and our own experiences with sharks show that the shallows aren’t even safe!). Free camping is pretty frowned upon, especially in towns and cities, but we decided that local church car parks were definitely our best bet. I mean, people of God can’t turn us away, can they? Well, fortunately they didn’t… or maybe they just didn’t realise we were there… (we like to think we’re pretty stealthy operators, despite the Mexican man emblazoned on the side of the van). We stayed here for two nights getting ourselves sorted for the next leg of the trip, as the next part was the most nerve-wracking bit.

Salmon Bay, Esperance – no filter necessary.

We headed a few hours north to a backwards little town called Norseman (seriously, I can’t believe people actually live there – it looks like the wild west except not at all fun), which is the start of the long drive from Western to South Australia and involves crossing the Nullarbor Plain – a huge expanse of limestone karst landscape, two thirds of which are in Western Australia and the other third in South Australia. We were nervous because this road is so remote. There are small petrol stations and downtrodden motels every 200-300km or so, but apart from that you’re pretty much alone. If you break down (and don’t have much car knowledge like us), you’re basically screwed, and although Speedy had been running well for us since the nightmare issues we had with her at first, we were convinced it would all go to pot as soon as we were out of civilisation. It’s pretty much the only way to get from WA to SA by land, so you do see other campers – mainly retirees in very posh looking set ups – and ‘road trains’ transporting goods from one part of Oz to another here and there, but there can be expanses where it’s just you and the open road, which is in equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. Road trains are an anomaly to us Brits – because nothing takes so long to get from A to B back home that they’d be required. They’re basically huge two-container-long lorries connected by chains, and it’s so scary when one of them is gaining on you in the middle of the outback at night, headlights looking like huge demon eyes staring into your soul through the rear-view mirror.

The Eyre Highway is the name of the road along the Nullarbor Plain, stretching for 1,675 kilometres, and there are small pitstop towns along the way where you can refuel and pay to sleep. When we saw the price of fuel along the way (186c per litre at its highest), we were bloody glad we’d filled our jerry cans up at a very reasonable 127c per litre before getting onto the Nullarbor. We didn’t feel that paying to sleep in a motel car park was very economical or adventurous so we camped in road train pull-ins along the way which were free and suited us perfectly! Some (Australian slang incoming) servos* would let you pay a few dollars for a shower, so we indulged if the option was there. Part of this trip also included 90 Mile Straight, which is the longest straight road in Australia (I’m not sure why it’s named in miles when Australians use kilometres) and goes on… and on… and on… for 146.6km without so much as a slight bend. We thought it might be a really boring drive, but we actually found this arid, desert-like landscape exciting and interesting, and saw some incredible wildlife, like gigantic eagles with two-metre wingspans feasting upon kangaroo carcasses that had been hit by road trains. Because of the lack of artificial light and pollution, the skies at night were absolutely breathtaking too – unreal red-pink-yellow-purple-orange sunsets followed by the entire Milky Way illuminated above, like a light show just for us.

Home is where the camp chairs are.

Part way along the Eyre Highway, shortly after crossing over into South Australia, the road snakes close to the coast, in an area called the Great Australian Bight. There are free camp spots right along the cliffy coast which you cannot believe you’re paying nothing for because the views are worth a million dollars. After a long day’s driving, we’d enjoy the simple things in life: an easy meal on our small camping stove, a glorious view, the day’s sunset, and a cold beer to wash it down.

The cliffs of the Great Australian Bight

On the fifth day since leaving Norseman, we made it to Ceduna, the last or first stop along the Nullarbor depending on if you’re travelling WA to SA or vice versa. We could have done it in less days but we took our time – we’re likely to only do it once so wanted to really soak up the whole experience. We’d made it 2,115 km so far, but our journey was anything but over.

Our destination, which I probably should have mentioned before, was to eventually be Melbourne, but with stops to visit family of mine in two places in South Australia along the way. The first was my great uncle and auntie, who hadn’t seen me since I was 3 years old, and which I can barely remember. We drove from the Nullarbor right down the Eyre Peninsula, stopping at tiny coves along the way to sleep under the stars, until finally we made it back up the coast to the industrial town of Whyalla, where they live.

My Welsh gramma’s brother moved to Australia in the 60s as part of the merchant navy, taking his wife and four children (Andrew, Jane, Martyn and Tracey) to start a new life. The tickets for the two adults cost £10 and the kids travelled free. They came over by ship and had a family passport which was one piece of paper with a sepia photo of the six of them and their names, hair colours, eye colours and heights scrawled in pen. When he showed me the document, I couldn’t believe it, and the bottom right-hand corner was totally charred away. “That was Tracey,” he told me. “She was playing with matches on the boat ride over here and set the passport on fire…” – I know, there are so many things wrong with this statement, but it was the 60s! And to think, in those days you could still get into a country with a half-cremated piece of paper as your travel document!? We had a marvellous time catching up on all the respective family news, exchanging stories and were very well fed indeed! Considering my great uncle’s 81 and great auntie’s in her late 70s, they were excellent and attentive hosts and I will forever treasure the memories we made with them. We also spent some time meeting my dad’s cousin Andrew’s new partner and her two little ones (well, not so little… 11 and 6!) who were so full of life and laughter, it brought a nice dimension to the trip.

…I also met cousins (and dogs) I’d never seen before in Nairne (near Adelaide) 😀…

The next place we found ourselves in was Adelaide. I didn’t really know what to expect as some people had told us it was boring, but we found it so nice! It’s super pretty and clean, with plenty of greenery, lots of parking around the city, a huge central area with lots of eateries, coffee shops (my shocking new addiction) and pubs (my usual and completely not shocking addiction). I think coming from Cardiff, a small and easy-to-manage, walkable city, Adelaide felt like home in a way. We stayed here for two nights just conspicuously parked in residential streets and drank a whole lot of Captain Morgan’s spiced rum.

After a fabulous week staying with more generous family – my dad’s cousin Andrew this time – the itch to get back on the road was in full swing. We packed up Speedy once again and set off, this time following my dad’s footsteps and ticking off one of the things I’d wanted to do for years before coming to Oz: the Great Ocean Road. I’m a firm believer that it’s impossible to get a true sense of a country by flight. Convenient and quick, yes, but nothing shows you the heart of a place like traversing its landscape, especially camping along the way. As you can imagine, it didn’t disappoint. (Even in winter).

A week passed, the nights got colder, and we arrived in the buzzing metropolis of Melbourne feeling slightly nervous at our lack of funds and very limited knowledge of the city. We were acutely aware that we needed to find jobs and a place to live fast. We holed up in a caravan park north of the city for a few weeks sending out CVs and enjoying the city (cheaply). One day, about a week after we’d arrived in Melbourne, I got a call from a guy who needed a receptionist for his massage studio which is based in a nice part of the city. I’ve worked there for about 3 weeks now, and I love it! It’s varied, enjoyable, equal parts busy and quiet, and I like talking to different people each day. This Saturday, I have a trial shift for a weekend bar job where I’ll be taught how to make cocktails – a very essential skill! Rob works in two branches of the same pub and is on good money, so things are going well for us at the moment. We put Speedy in temporary retirement and moved into a studio flat last week which feels like complete luxury after the van! Melbourne is an incredible city, mixing old and new in every area, with a lot of things going for it (loads of amazing Asian cuisine, live music, awesome street art and a billion coffee shops, to name a few!) and the area we live in reminds me of a mini Bristol. We’re definitely hibernating here for the winter so don’t plan to leave any time soon 🙂

Until next time…

Ana x

Al-bany & no-money

You can really tell a lot about someone’s personality by the way they behave when they’re picking grapes in a hot, sweaty, time-restricted environment. Whether they slyly snip the juicy bunches at the end of your panel when you’re ‘not looking’, knowing fully well they’re costing you money by doing so. Or whether they leave them. Whether they give you the last empty bucket in the row, even though it means they’ll have to wait a minute to get another one – potentially costing them money. Whether they inflict their music choices on everyone, or have the decency to bring headphones. It’s really a lesson in people, if people watching is your kind of thing. (It’s definitely mine). That said, of course there are lovely people there as well as bad, and we have been fortunate to meet some really good eggs, which certainly helps the time pass more quickly.

If someone had told me a year ago I’d be getting up at 4:30am to pick grapes in Australia for an unknown number of hours a day (it ranges between 2 and 10, and you don’t know how long a day will be beforehand), and earning a grand total of, on average, $50 per day before tax for my time and effort, I’d have laughed. Wages in Australia are known to be great – minimum wage is just over $17 per hour (that’s £10.50). I thought I’d be rolling in the dough by now. In reality, I’m the poorest I’ve ever been in my life and I’m not sure how I’m going to get out of it. The east coast is slowly slipping further and further into the distance…

***

I’m going to rewind a few weeks now and update you on happier, richer, more carefree times, before we signed on to slave labour in the vineyards! Rob and I had got a bit of cabin fever in Margaret River before we found work, so decided to go on a little road trip to a town called Albany in the south of WA, stopping at a few places along the way.

We spent a night sleeping in a small rest stop off the highway, thanks to our app ‘WikiCamps’ which lists all campsites, caravan parks or just general places to park your camper or erect your tent around the whole of Australia. You can set it to list free camping spots only – a huge help to those of us not in a position to pay $40 for a night at a caravan park. The next morning we woke feeling pretty sweaty, so we quickly set off in search of food and fun. We stumbled upon the quaint little town of Pemberton. All the buildings are made from wooden slats with porches stretching around them, and there are only a couple of shops on its main street, one of which we managed to get some cereal and milk from for breakfast. We wanted to explore the surrounding area, so we journeyed along a road with humongous forests either side and came to a clearing with a toilet block and a path leading into the woods. Following the path for 100m lead to a wonderful sight: before us was a glorious freshwater lake we could swim and bathe in to our hearts’ content! The best things in life are free, especially when they fall into your stinky laps when you need them most.

Our first official destination was Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, which we actually stumbled upon by accident and then had to get a closer look. It was only $9 entry each which we felt was pretty fair. It was built in 1895 and is situated at the most south-westerly point of Australia. It is met by two seas: the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean. There were 3 lighthouse keepers who lived in little weather-beaten houses right by the lighthouse with their wives and children, so there was always someone on duty when the others were sleeping. I learnt a lot about what the lives of lighthouse keepers and their families would have been like back in the day (rugged, tough and isolated) and have a newfound respect for them.

The first thing we noticed when we got to Albany was that it’s so much more accommodating to backpackers than Margaret River. Being a wine region, Margs can be a bit snooty and big for its boots – for example, it’s illegal to free camp anywhere within the Margaret River/Augusta Shire and anyone caught doing so by the rangers is lumped with an automatic $100 fine PER PERSON in the vehicle. There are also no free showers anywhere apart from cold ones at the beaches which you’re not really allowed to wash in. There are signs in every public toilet advising there’s a $500 fine for anyone caught washing their dishes, clothes or selves in the sink. To use the library’s free wifi, you have to sign up with all your personal information and provide photo ID. It’s pretty intense.

Albany is totally different. It’s almost like backpackers are encouraged to come and stay! There are actual free campsites all along the coast down there where a vehicle can stay for up to 7 nights at a time. They work on a first come first served basis, so you’ve gotta get there early in the day if you want a spot. The site we stayed at was called Cosy Corner and was right on the beach. We actually stayed for 9 nights because we got along with Keith, the camp warden who signs everyone in/out. It was amazing waking up with no mobile reception, going for a swim in the sea or a jog along the beach and wiling the day away reading and tinkering on the ukulele. I also had the pleasure of watching a guy play a massive bongo drum on the beach when I went there at dusk to sit and ponder life for a while. The sound was magical; before I knew it I was in a trance-like state staring at the waves with amazing tribal imagery running through my mind. It’s a moment I feel blessed to have experienced.

Our little spot at Cosy Corner free campsite

It was heaven opening the van door to this & the sounds of the ocean & birdsong every morning

Albany also provides free wifi in the library – no signature on the dotted line required – and hot showers for anyone to use in the middle of the town centre. These are an absolute godsend to anyone living on a budget and out of a van. They’re not the cleanest, especially the later in the day you go, but who actually cares? You don’t sign up to live in a van and travel the world if you’re scared of slightly grubby places – and the hot water makes certain you leave feeling squeaky clean.
One of the greatest days in Albany for us was when we visited Albany Wind Farm. I’d said I wanted to go there since before we even left the UK, so it was great to make that happen. In spring, there are gorgeous colourful wildflowers blooming everywhere around there. We weren’t there to see those, however it was a glorious hot day when we went and there was a lot of wind as you’re right on the coast (ideal place for a wind farm, hey?) so you can really see the wind turbines in action. There’s a lot of information dotted around, about the turbines, wind power and nature which we found fascinating, and also a nice walk along the cliff edge where the views are astonishing. I was so in awe of our planet that day.

We met some real characters whilst in Albany (when do we not, right?), one of which was a nice guy, 30-ish from Cambridge (UK), called Sam. We spent a drunken night at the White Star pub, followed by a jaunt to THE official worst club in the world with him (Albany’s only one – with no competition I suppose it doesn’t feel the need to improve?) and decided to get some greasy after-hours munch. Hungry Jack’s burger joint drive thru was open but refused to serve us without a vehicle. Thinking we were so clever, we acquired a discarded shopping trolley, me in the trolley with legs flailing and Rob driving – complete with revving and screeching brake noises. Sam was lurking behind asking for a ‘Whopper Meal’ (wrong restaurant, mate) and I was demanding chips-cheese-and-gravy (also not on the menu). We must have been there trying to get fed for 40 minutes. Needless to say, our attempts were futile and we ended the night with grumbling stomachs in our respective vehicles.
The next morning was a bit fuzzy but we decided to “carpe diem”. After a tasty brunch and a steaming mug of tea, Rob and I drove to a place recommended to us the night before called The Gap, which is a natural rock formation overlooking the lively swell of the ocean below. Where the sea has eroded the rocks, it has left a 25 metre drop down – it’s quite impressive and the waves are captivating to watch. With the sea spray, wind and slight drizzle, it was the perfect hangover cure and we left feeling rather invigorated!

Nature made a bridge 😃

Then, it was time to return to Margs. We missed our mates and were desperate for work to begin as we were running very short of cash. We waved goodbye – but not forever – to Albany and set off on our merry way.

This brings me back to the present day. Work has begun and we’ve hit the ground running. We’re earning anything from $2.30 to $3.00 per 10kg bucket we pick, trying to balance enjoying ourselves (cheaply) with trying to save to make it to the east coast. Picking isn’t easy, but it’s certainly character building – which is what I keep telling myself whilst I’m doing it! I’m going to sign off here, and leave you with a few pictures of the friends we’ve made at the vineyards so far!

Wasps’ nest in the vines 🍃

A cute little bird’s nest [unrelated to the next picture]

With Paul the baby bird 🐦

The cutest little chook ever. Discovered alone & cheeping in the vines, the harvest machine would’ve killed him. He’s being taken to a local lady who looks after birds. Good luck Paul!

Our new friend from today. We accidentally drove through her web at work & she survived ON THE ROOF going 100km/h on the highway all the way back to Margs! She has now been moved to a new home in some local shrubbery.

Until next time…
Ana x

Margaret River: blues, Bowie & a yogi’s houseparty

If you’re reading this, you have the right password, yay! Due to unforeseen circumstances the blog will be for just friends and family until further notice. I appreciate your understanding!

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We were so utterly excited to be on the road again. Music loud, windows down, eating well and discovering new places – that’s when Rob and I are truly happy and at peace with the world.

The trip from Rockingham to Margaret River took between 3 and 4 hours, through a host of national parks with sometimes towering, humbling forests and other times vast, arid expanses of land either side of the road. It was a nice drive, actually. We stopped at a town called Bunbury on the way and, to our shock and dismay, discovered our beloved 12V car fridge wasn’t working. We’d only had it a week! After all the problems with Speedy, finally getting her back on the road, we couldn’t be in for more bad fortune, surely? Thankfully there was a Super Cheap Auto chain store nearby (the shop we bought the fridge from) so we paid them a visit. It was a faulty charging cable, which they replaced with no questions asked – “too easy” as the Aussies say!

We felt like the most smug pair of travellers to ever grace the land when we stumbled upon some free. indoor. showers(!!) in the town of Busselton. There was even a lock on the door! And okay, they might have been lukewarm and possibly not the cleanest of places. But it was so hot anyway, the water felt perfect. Grinning like Cheshire cats, we could preen, shave and scrub to our grubby little hearts’ content, and I don’t think the smile left my face that whole day. We also had a huge fresh seafood platter that evening with a few beers. When all runs smoothly, life on the road is oh so sweet.

Just chilling in a ma•HOO•sive forest, no biggie

On arrival in Margaret River, we instantly felt a welcoming warmth from the place and people alike. It has one main bustling highstreet with all the shops one could want or need. The focal point of the highstreet is The Settlers Tavern (“The Tav'”), a pub specialising in local beers, wines and live music – it’s consistently busy. It was always going to be a hit with Rob and I, having two pool tables and a tasty varied menu. We went there on our first afternoon in Margaret River and there was a brilliant bluesy band called Howlin’ On Shores- I’d highly recommend checking them out if you like old school blues. Their music instantly transported me to the era of cowboys in the southern American states. That night, there also happened to be a David Bowie tribute act on, starring Jeff Duff: an Australian cabaret singer and former transvestite who embodied Bowie for the evening. He had a great voice and stage presence and the band behind him were also incredible – the pianist could sing, the drummer could play guitar, the guitarist could drum, and they switched roles for some of the songs. We boogied all night, and met a lovely and eccentric Scottish lady called Lorraine who is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Bowie’s greatest fan. She bought a framed photo of David to the night because Jeff Duff, although a true talent, doesn’t particularly look like Bowie, so we had a Bowie shrine I think the man himself would have been pleased with! We’ve become firm friends with Lorraine since and she has helped us to no end – giving us somewhere off-road to park the van (because Margaret River is super strict when it comes to free camping), laundry and cooking facilities, a toilet and even a cheeky hot shower when we really need it. She has such a huge heart. She also has the best balcony on earth. It’s my idea of Heaven – full of succulents, cactii, flowers, mismatched old furniture and trinkets. It’s such a relaxing space, we’ve nursed a fair few hangovers away there over a green tea, with the birds tweeting above.

There’s a star man… waiting in the sky 🎶

Lorraine’s place

We also met a lovely local called Dave the night of the Bowie tribute. He has a wicked sense of humour and an even better taste in music. A week or two after we’d met, incidentally it happened to be January 26th (“Australia Day” – but if you read my last post you’d know my thoughts on that), he invited us to his friends’ housewarming party. It was set in its own land out in the sticks (a great place to murder someone) so we caught an Uber there. He said it would be fun, there was a live music act and the more the merrier. Well. The party was interesting, to say the least. Fun? You can make your own mind up.
It was set in a multi-million dollar home which reminded me of the starship enterprise, all white walls, bright spotlights and chrome, full to the brim with aged 60+ ‘hippies’, yogis and arty/musical people – the sort who don’t believe in shoes and preach organic, wholesome living, yet are secretly loaded and seem to have more money than sense. (The homeowner was a millionaire yogi – am I the only one seeing the hypocrisy here!?). On more than one occasion, Rob and I side-glanced at each other as if to say, “How the hell did we end up here?”

As I see it, ‘hippies’ by definition should be all about one love and respect – but I’ve never felt so unwelcome anywhere in my life! I would like to say that Rob and I get along with people of all ages, but especially those in their 50s and older, it’s just something we’ve noticed over the years! We always seem to make new friends who are a bit older than us wherever we go, because we love to hear stories of people who have much more life experience than us – that’s how you grow as as person! So I can only see the problem being with these guys – not us.

One stand-out moment was when the owner of the house’s gorgeous little granddaughter – she couldn’t have been more than 3 years old and had been so well-behaved all evening despite not being given anything to occupy her – was playing shops with me. I thought I’d give her some time, seeing as nobody else was bothering to, and she was so sweet! She happened to put her bare feet on the wall behind her. Her grandfather – yogi bear – came striding over, reprimanding her for potentially dirtying the wall. Seriously, dude? That’s what’s really important here? I’d just be pleased my granddaughter was enjoying herself…without shoes, too, that’s gotta be worth at least 10 yogi points. We voiced our honest opinions to Dave whilst sneaking off behind the parked cars on the edge of the land (I think we spent most of our evening there, it was much more fun just the three of us) and he laughed uproriously and admitted, “I knew! I knew it would be awful! I needed you guys here – no one else is on the same level as me!” The bugger. We couldn’t help but laugh too. We stayed to enjoy the live music – a husband and wife acoustic duo – they were extremely talented, although their names escape me as I was a few beers down by this point…

That guy Dave knows how to rave \o/

We managed to extract Dave eventually, and headed back to The Tav’. We stayed for a beer and then headed to Dave’s place which he shares with a friend – the yogi’s brother, incidentally. We chilled in the garage playing old school rock tunes and drinking until the wee hours, and when the sun started to come up we thought it was time we make the walk back to the van to snooze.

The Tav’ is basically the best and only place to meet anyone in Margaret River. We heard about the local soup kitchen there after getting chatting to an English expat who runs it. His name is also Dave, he’s lived here for almost 30 years. He’s in a band, and he’s a bit of a pillar in the community. He’s basically a cool ass guy and has a lovely wife and a gorgeous pooch called Sonny too (a New Zealand sheepdog). They do a $5 vegan curry night every Monday and Wednesday at the community centre, which is great for backpackers living cheap and those without much money. You pay, get a big plate of delicious homemade curry, and it doesn’t hurt to help them clean up too. They’re always looking for help so if anyone reads this and goes to Margaret River in future, it’s a great thing to do!

With Margaret River being such a hub of musical and creative energy, Rob and I got a bit carried away in a music shop and decided to impulse buy a ukulele. This was a great idea. We’re already learning a few songs and thinking to maybe busk along the way when we’re a bit more confident. Watch this space!

We have applied with a few local agencies to do some grape picking work when the harvest starts, which should be in the next week or two. It’s all weather dependent, because obviously the grapes need enough sun to ripen, so we’re waiting on their call. This work is classed as ‘regional’, and if we complete 88 days of this type of work, we will be eligible to apply for our second year working holiday visas – which is definitely an option we want to have. We are also running a bit low on cash at this point, so could really do with some fresh funds!

I’m so happy Margaret River is going to be our home for the next few months. It’s definitely a place you find yourself blending into the furniture of, which is probably why I’ve met so many expats who have been here 20/30/40 years and don’t ever want to live anywhere else. I’m looking forward to seeing where the next few months take us.

Until next time…

Ana x

Australia Day

I will begin with one of the most haunting, moving, beautiful and sad poems I’ve ever read.

The sunlit ripples widen in the soft and gentle breeze
‘Til they reach the distant shoreline where the dark and silent trees
Seem to stop as though they listen to a faint and distant sound
While their shadows write a requiem on bare and stony ground;
But I fancy I see shadows of a very different kind…
And the shadows of Jiguma haunt my mind.

Ten thousand years of history on nature’s shelves are piled,
A sad and tragic record of a people free and wild:
A people long forgotten… of their homeland dispossessed, their sacred totems plundered and their liberty suppressed.
These empty shells, symbolic of the life that once they had…
And in the middens of Jiguma make me sad.

I stand on the ground made sacred by a thousand tribal feet
And breathe the air of freedom from invasion or defeat;
But a thousand voices haunt me, and I seem to hear them say: “We loved our freedom also, but you took it all away. You used your freedom to destroy, our liberty to kill”.
And sad voices of Jiguma haunt me still.

Rock lilies shed their fragrance on the river’s southern shore,
Where once the tribal elders sat to teach their sacred lore;
No marble slab extols the deeds of tribal heroes slain,
No written record tells a tale of happiness or pain.
The grey barked witnesses could tell of secrets dark and deep;
And the sad forgotten story makes me weep.

I looked into the dream time as I walked along the sand,
And I fancied I saw traces of a wild nomadic band.
Imagined there were imprints of the Picaninnies’ feet,
And I heard their childish laughter where the sea and river meet.
But a dream time and the present are a million years apart…
And the silence of Jiguma wrings my heart.

– Author Unknown

So, January 26th is ‘Australia Day’. Traditionally an excuse for everyone countrywide to have a day off work, eat, drink and be merry in the sunshine, I couldn’t help feeling a little ashamed to be British when the day rolled around.

January 26th 229 years ago marked the day the British ships landed ashore Australia, home to the oldest living race on earth, and started a process of murder, torture, enslavement and rape known as ‘colonisation’. The Brits of the past tried every tactic they could to wipe out the Aboriginal people of Australia, including stealing indigenous children from their parents and paying white men to sleep with the Aboriginal women to, disgustingly, breed the race out. Thankfully, it didn’t work, as this race has a connection with this country dating back 60,000 years.

It’s a day with a very dark past which I didn’t feel like glossing over by drinking alcohol or waving flags. Whilst I see nothing wrong with being proud of the country you live or were born in at all, I personally feel that celebrating Australia Day on this date is not showing the indigenous people of Australia the respect they deserve.

Since being in Australia, it has been interesting, and sad, to see how Aboriginal people live in the 21st century. I’ve only spent time in one major city so far, but I was saddened whilst in Perth to see that many of them live in a vicious cycle of a lack of education, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and joblessness. Pretty much all of the people I’d see shouting in the streets or drinking in local parks were of Aboriginal origins. When discussing this with white Australians, the main impression I was given was that their governments give a lot to the Aboriginal people, such as free housing, government grants and free healthcare, yet it’s constantly thrown back in their faces. Whole areas of tax-funded housing in Perth specifically built for Aboriginal people were burned to the ground in protest by the indigenous group, and I get the sense that some of the population is fed up with this attitude.

I can’t help but wondering whether years of being made to feel like the outsiders, the unwanted race, the nobodies – years of persecution – has hardened this racial group to the point where they have no interest in whatever the white man offers them? I am personally not surprised that it’s become this way. Hate breeds hate, and I haven’t seen much compassion, tolerance or understanding from many Australians towards Aboriginals thus far on my trip. (Not to say there aren’t Australians who feel the same way I do, I just suppose I haven’t met them). In fact, trying to have an adult conversation with a number of different people about the origins of Australia Day lead to some very heated conversations; I was told I had no right to an opinion because I’m not from Australia; or I was simply confronted with total indifference. No one seemed to care about the past.

Aboriginal people are trying to get the date of Australia Day changed, as to them January 26th is Survival Day, and to many campaigners, it is known as Invasion Day. I stand with them. It’s going to take a lot more than that to apologise for the wrongdoings of the past, but it’s a start.