Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My First Real Australian Pie.

During our trip to Denmark, we had Australian pies for lunch at the “award winning” Denmark Bakery (it was actually award winning, I only put it in quotes as everywhere we went that day was award-winning.) I had a Vinda-Roo aka Curried Kangaroo with an appropriate kangaroo pastry cut out on top as I felt it was a pretty-Australian-even though-touristy-and-healthier-meat version and Felix had the traditional beefsteak, which really just tasted like mince meat. They were pretty tasty for my first real iconic Australian pie.

According to Wikipedia, because everyone loves and trusts Wikipedia, Australians eat 12 of these national hand-held snacks a year whereas New Zealanders eat 15 a year. 

First Weekend: First Great Southern Roadtrip

After a pretty work-intense, but not-that-bad-manageable first week of work, Friday finally arrived. We were presented with a variety of different options to start the weekend: pizza with Hunter and his family – a chance to get to know them outside of work; a night at the Rocky Gully Pub for a ticket-per-beer raffle and $10 burgers; or a trip to Denmark on the coast, about an hour away, depending on when we get out of work. By the time we got out of work and had our daily internet dose, we decided on the homemade pizza and would leave for Denmark the next morning. It was a good decision. The pizza was delicious and the hospitality was even more welcoming.

We left the next morning in our dinky car. I can’t complain, as we are lucky enough to have any sort of transportation out of this remoteness. The drive there wasn’t too bad, pretty straight forward, but our dinky little car was a bit of concern. It didn’t like to go above 100km (speed limit is 110km) and kept veering to the left. Talk about high-performance-vehicle-coughmonkeymiacough. It took us about an hour to get to Denmark and we were both pretty enthralled with the fact that we were in civilization again!

 Denmark seems like a nice town, pretty small with a  main street running through it, but a bit lively. The shops all seemed to be pretty eco-friendly: cafes with free-trade coffee, award winning bakeries, environmental agencies, boards with notices of shared-lifts and food drop offs, sustainably sourced and organic food stores…We had been told that Denmark was a bit alternative.  I like it.

It was drizzling rain, overcast and chilly, so we decided to skip the beach, obviously, and head towards the wineries, obviously. We followed the tourist scenic road signs with no clear direction of where it was going to take us, but we were on a loop road that seemed dotted with vineyards. We stopped at one called Kerriview (apparently, Frankland Estate used to own them, “disastrously - it was like making wine in the Sudan. But, we do still grow the grapes for their Pinot Noir”). The inside seemed like a safari lodge with a nice but typically-Australian-expensive food menu. We tasted their wines:  their bubbly was good, but there was no production facility on site and most of the wines were made elsewhere – in Frankland and in Swan Valley. That sort of lost its appeal of visiting a winery, and Felix thought the vines outside were probably just plastic for show.
  We next drove along the loop road onto Harewood Estate as I had thought I had heard of them and they were definitely acclimated with lots of awards. The wine maker, James Kellie, used to work at Howard Park/Mad Fish and is also the wine maker at Moombaki. I was driving so I didn’t taste too many and the lady informed us of a meadery where we could have a honey tasting so we set off to find that. We came across another winery (Duckett's Mill - apparently also James Kellie) with a sign for fudge and homemade cheese and since I was driving of course I veered towards the cheese. I LOVE CHEESE. The cheese was all made on site from local cows’ milk. They had their own label jams and mustards, a huge display fridge of different types of cheeses, cured meats, pates, and vacuum-sealed roasted vegetables. We tasted the cheeses on offer and decided to buy a Morroccan marinated feta along with a small bit of hot chorizo, slices of smoked kangaroo, and an emu pate – how very Australian!
We never found the meadery and ended up around the loop back in Denmark so we decided to check out the ocean. Despite the weather, it was a successful first road trip, filled with things that we like: a perfect outting! I feel as though although we may have missed a couple things we wanted to see, but we saw a lot and there are more weekends to go back. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Every Little Bit Helps: A Bit of Appreciation Not to Lose Sight Of.

On our long road trip's way to Monkey Mia, JD started to question what he was doing here in Australia and what rewards his job were giving him. Sounding a bit disheartened, I reminded him why he had applied to the company in the first place, that ultimately his concern and interests were in the reduction of energy, for the good of the environment, and that every little bit he is doing helps, even if the scale of work was different in Australia than in America. Even though the commission and the amount of energy that is being reduce is significantly lower, these Australian companies are participating in a lower-energy scheme in times of need then they usually wouldn't be without the help and advice of JD and his company, therefore making their part in relieving the power grid rather than everyone losing out all together. It’s like the probably-more-than $4 plastic bottles of water in Starbucks that donate, I don’t know, 30 cents or so to water-starved places in Africa. Even though you don’t want to pay that much, or know better than to buy another plastic bottle, every little donation is 30 cents more than they would be receiving without the customer’s help. It’s easy to lose our ways and forget about our priorities or our initial reasoning behind doing something, but generally, or hopefully, every little bit helps.

I know there are a couple reasons why I signed up to WWOOF.  One was definitely not to say, “I’m a WWOOFer,” or “I’m here WWOOFing.” OK, but seriously, one reason was a chance to live and eat “for free” in exchange for a couple hours of work each day. This also includes the chance to travel to places I might not normally go to, and meet new people within a new lifestyle in another country. Another was a chance to have a unique learning experience - whether it was learning how to make cheese on a goat farm, or herding cattle (prob not), or learning about organic farming practices, or learning about healing herbs, or being a part of a hippy community, or working on a vineyard - but in all honesty, it was a continuation of a stage I was creating for myself and another opportunity to learn hands-on, as I am a visual learner, by being a part of a production process.

(and really, in serious all honesty, it's because it gives me the chance to be able to stay in Australia for a second year, if I so desire). 

This also includes my way of understanding appreciation. I’m a firm believer that to be able to appreciate something, and to fully respect it, you really have to experience it for yourself. For example, from working in a restaurant, I understand what it’s like to be the dishwasher, to bus tables, to be in the front of the house and the back of the house. From those experiences, I have a better understanding as a customer in a restaurant for knowing why something maybe go wrong or why things go well. This gives me more patience in these circumstances because I know what it’s like to bust my ass and still have things go wrong, or the rewards from a successful, flawless night. To further the example of appreciation and understanding, as I see it, it also means that I may not know what my mother and father went through raising us, until I’m a parent myself. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate them, it just means I can’t fully realize the decisions and choices they made until I am forced to be in that position to make them myself (don't laugh Jess.) I can only hope I can be so good, but I have no idea what it’s like right now. If that makes sense. Anyone that knows me knows that I absolutely adore my parents. And anyone that Really knows me, knows that when I say adorable, I mean it. Stemming from that, I wanted to WWOOF to make this exchange experience a way that I can fully appreciate food/wine by being a part of it’s production from start to finish to understand how its made from a hands on experience rather than just eating/drinking or reading from a textbook (HA! Should I say website? UNISG get your act together)

In terms of appreciation, so far, I have done a lot of manual labour. It’s line work. Repetitive. Almost mindless. I say almost mindless because you’re repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again and it’s easy for the mind to wonder, but actually it’s really imperative to keep up with the work and pay attention. "make attention, people." One pause or change of pattern and the work will fall behind. But this experience will (hopefully) ultimately lead to an appreciation for the work that goes into making wine.
Because it’s still new, I’m still in the excitement mode of the novelty of the process, despite the aches and pains throbbing throughout my body from literally the cramping of my fingers to the blisters on my ankles. The reason for this post is that I was thinking today of the advice I gave JD in the car, and because of all this grueling-tiring-intensive-manual-labour work, I hope I don’t lose sight of the reason(s) behind why I’m here and don’t lose the sense of excitement that I currently have. But I know it’s not a job that I will be doing forever, and that makes it tolerable to endure and manageable with an end in sight (It’s still new, let’s not even begin to think or talk about what comes next after this). 
I sometimes think, as I’m packing bottle after bottle into a box, or picking through grapes, what am I doing this work for when I have a great education, a wonderful background, and a lot to offer. Why am I not sitting in an office like everyone else? Why can’t I be normal? What am I doing here and with my life? But I think about the hands-on education that I am gaining that not many people have: whether it is learning about the in’s and out’s life and work of a winery, the dedication and hard work of the people behind it (especially a family-run estate), the little details no one thinks about as they are drinking or ordering wine based on prices and labels, or just being a part of the process, I appreciate it, and I hope I don’t lose sight of that. I know I don’t have any obligation to stay here, maybe a sense of pride not to give up and no other current option to leave to, but I hope, and I think, that the hard work will pay off and if anything else, the sore body parts will turn into shapely muscles that have never been used before ("heyyy sexy fingers"). Every little bit helps.
So next time you’re in the wine store or "bottle shop" buying a case of wine for your dinner party, or for your Tuesday night on the couch, think about the person who is putting the wine into the boxes, minding the cardboard apparitions, and appreciate it.  Because, I know, now that I have been a part of it, I will. 

Australian Difference #5

You know you're in the middle of nowhere when you don't have to lock your doors at night. You know you don't have to lock your doors at night when the owner of the property laughs at you when you ask if there is a password for the wi fi. 

Physicality: Part 2

The last time I was in this much pain I think I had my wisdom teeth taken out and I had a bad reaction to the drugs and threw up, causing dry sockets in both sides of my mouth to form: basically raw holes where the teeth use to be and the throwing up caused the healing to break open and raw-ly expose the holes. Now, after four days of bottling, my fingers have gone completely numb. I have my two pointer fingers taped with Band-Aids, and then taped on top with at least two layers of  adhesive tape for some extra padding, but the pain is still there. Underneath, the skin is chapped and raw, the muscles never been used to quite an extent before. On Friday, the fourth day of bottling, we started at 8:30am, an hour later than usual, and worked until about 4:45pm. By the end of the day, I thought my fingers would give out and I would drop the bottles. I winced every time I had to pick them up, four at a time. But the work continued and the bottles kept coming out and I endured. I had no choice. I couldn’t even use my fingers in an embarrassingly useless effort to scratch my back. If there’s such thing as buff finger muscles, that’s what I’ve got. 

Physicality: Part 1

I’m curious to see how buff my arms will be after this. The first week consisted of the repetitive physical activity of bottling, and then who knows what the rest of vintage will be like. My arms are seriously sore from lifting full bottles of wine for the last two days. It’s like the joke people make about working out, and they lift and imaginary glass to their mouth as their bicep curl. But this is serious wine lifting. Four at a time is tough on the fingers, chaffing and blisters, but two at a time is just as hard on the biceps. No joke. The first day we did 12,570 bottles, the second day we did 5,530, and then more in the afternoon.  The third day we packed about 600 cases…times 12 bottles. And the fourth day, I didn’t even dare to look. But, it was all day, which I am pretty sure accounted for about 13,000 (by our 10 o’clock coffee break we were only at two thousand something….yes, all day).  

Bottling Wine. Wine Bottling.

The first day of work at Frankland Estate and the rest of the week were bottling days. I could tell by the moans and groans that this was not the favorite part of the wine making process and not a great way to start. But, that’s ok, it can only get better from here, right? When I think about bottling wine, I usually think about when we went to see the bottling of Francia Corte and also when we were in Tuscany and saw the old man manually putting the DOC labels on one by one. The first day we were bottling their Rocky Gully Shiraz Viognier 2010.
My new office.

Here’s how it works:
There is a huge pallet piled high with four layers of empty bottles. Felix stood at the beginning of the conveyer belt and had to place the empty bottles onto the line. He was in charge of ripping the plastic off each load, removing the plastic layering between the rows of bottles, and then making sure there was another pallet ready when he was done loading.
The bottles would go down the conveyer belt into the glass-enclosed part of the machine, which cleaned, filled, capped, and air-dried each bottle. If the bottles are not being label at the time, they come out the other side and two of us would have to take the bottles – four at a time – off the conveyer belt and lay them in strategic alternating layers into a metal or wooden crate until it was full of bottles and had to be fork-lifted away and another crate brought in. This was my first job. It was ok with two people, almost a bit slow as each had their own side of the crate to lay the bottles as they came out, grabbing four at a time, but if one person left to check on the machine or anything, it was double time. The machine wouldn’t wait for you and the bottles would start to line up. It was a lot of layering, bending over the sides of the crate to place the bottles at floor level, grasping four bottles at the time causing fingers to cramp and blister to form so that you would have to figure out different positions to wrap your fingers around them and not drop them. I even broke a bottle – oops. I think it was weak glass. Mmhmm. No, seriously.

If the bottles were to be labeled, they would continue on down the conveyer belt, line up and pass an electronic sensor so the labels would come out, wrap around the bottle to secure the stickiness, and end up on a revolving round disc where I (in my second job for some 2010 Cranmore Chardonnay and Bee’s Knees the following days) would grab the bottles, place them within the cardboard partition in the pre-folded case boxes and push them through the tape dispenser machine to be loaded onto a pallet. This job doesn’t have the consistent bending over or painfully grabbing the full bottles four at a time, but it is still monotonous and repetitive and constant.
 My view.
  I had the bottling thing down, and had some iPodU lectures to keep me from boredom and insanity, but still, any second delay causes one bottle to go by and you’re that much more behind. Whether the table needs to be readjusted from the continual pushing boxes through the tape dispenser, or you find a bottle that is missing a cap or a wrinkled label, or the box is missing a partition, or the worst is when the partition is kinda bent and makes putting the bottles into the slot more difficult by rubbing cardboard-paper cuts along your arms and wrists.
 At one point during the week, Jody picked up a case and they all fell to the floor….the bottom tape dispenser had run out. OOPS. How was I supposed to know? But in the end, not too many of them broke, and we were told could take a couple home: score!
It’s definitely hard work, intensive manual labor, continually doing the same movements for hours at a time, standing all the while, not necessarily making the most ergonomically comfortable movements, lifting full 750mL bottles of wine, and every so often hoping for a little glitch in the system whether it is the supply of caps running slow or getting jammed, the bottles coming out uncapped, or just the welcome of a coffee or lunch break. If that’s the worst of it, then I survived it after four long days. But just barely. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

3 Months.

3 months is the amount of time needed of regional work experience to be eligible to apply for a second year visa. 3 months is the amount of time Felix will be here for his internship. 3 months is the amount of time I lived in Ireland for last spring.

I was telling Elizabeth about Monkey Mia and not seeing any dolphins and not seeing any penguins on Penguin Island she was like well at the end of vintage we’ll take you to see the whales in Bremen Bay in May – if you decide to stay. And I was like do they expect me to stay that whole time? I was thinking maybe a couple of weeks, maybe a month or two and thought I’d continue WWOOFing somewhere else to gain another experience. But, on the one hand from this comment, I liked the trust they instilled in me, and reliability on a continued experience. On the other hand I counted in my head…February, March, April, May…ahhh! That seems so far away. I guess that counts for my 3 months regional work. It could be nice to have it all done at one place, all at once, with a better overall experience of the process rather than short and choppy. It’s a better understanding of the wine making process I’m looking for, after all.

 February. March. April. May.  I can do this. 

Australian Tip #5

Get over your fear of spiders. And bugs. And insects. And creatures.

I saw the biggest spider in Australia YET. I expected upon my arrival to Australia to see a lot of gross, big, nasty, scary spiders and this was it – so far. The first one I saw was caught in a cobweb, just sorta hanging out by the plugs in JD’s kitchen, not very big or malicious looking. But this one. This one was in the drain of the bathtub plug and DISGUSTING. Thick, black coat, creepy poky legs, just pure evil oozing out of it. I throw a towel over it, thinking that maybe it would just slink back down the drain as turning on the faucet could easily have caused it to jump out of the way of the water and on to me. No. Way.Nightmares. Commence. Immediately.
this picture does not give it any justice. the fly is a bit of perspective, but the spider is covering half the drain.
Next morning: Last night I woke up swatting at the side of my bed, and although my eyes were closed and it was completely pitch black, I thought that there was a spider crawling up the side of the bed.
I also fell asleep having an itch on my arm, which I swore was a bug bite of some sort. I kept scratching it, expecting to feel a bump or something, and rubbing my other hand along my arm to squish whatever bug might be up my sleeve. I thought of all the ways this killer bug that had just bitten me could have me running into Felix’s room, rushed off by helicopter to the hospital, or I could just die quietly as I fell back asleep. But. An itch is an itch. And I’m still alive the next morning. 
OK I have to revise this post since written two days ago. I have since seen the biggest spider of my life. This spider is the godfather of all spiders. We had just finished our long day of work, my first day, and Felix was outside reading on the wrap around deck. He says to me, Do you want to see a spider that has graced its presence in our home? Out of the corner of my eye, standing in the doorframe, I see something on the wall outside. And out of the corner of my eye, it’s pretty visibly big. Definitely not, I respond, but of course, how can I resist? It’s like someone tasting something and saying this is disgusting, try it. This spider, was just lurking on the outside wall of our house, staring at us, embracing the afternoon heat of the sun as it slowly lowers past the trees into the horizon, it’s eight legs stretching out from his hairy body to hold onto its vertical disposition. Eight, I counted; to be sure that it actually was a spider and not some other native Australian creature. I scratched at invisible spiders on me, I shivered away goose-bumps, I squealed in its presence. I surprisingly wasn’t as freaked out as I thought I would be, but it was still huge, and it was still hanging about in our home. Our home. It’s more like we are the new yet temporary guests in his home.
(Neither Felix nor I wanted to be in the pic for a sense of perspective)
Just look at those gangly legs, like an awkward 8th grader, knees knocking together....but not at all.

Apparently, this type of spider is poisonous. However, it’s mouth is so small that it cannot bite humans. Good to know. However, the red back spider, a black one with a distinct red line on its back, is extremely lethal. That means, this other spider, which could be somewhere around here, could kill us. Good to know. Maybe the big one, the godfather, will protect us. Or maybe the little contraption that you push a button and it sprays something into the air and kills all the spiders in your house will. GET ME ONE IMMEDIATELY.

And as I write this, a mouse scurries across the kitchen floor. 

The Scariest or Best Walk Home…

The first night I arrived, Felix came home from his first full day of work and invited me up to have dinner at the winery with the two wine makers. I gladly welcomed the interaction. We ate dinner outside on the winery’s porch with a bottle of Rocky Gully 2010 Cabernet, pasta salad, and some of their own olive oil and bread. (“You have our own olive oil?” gasp) After dinner, there was still work to be done from the grapes that were brought in late and were being pressed.  Brian brought over a glass of their work. I tasted sauvignon blanc grape juice that was just brought it and just pressed – just pure grape juice – cloudy and browny yellow – so fruity, so aromatic, so fresh, so yummy!

I walked home in the dark – literally, no other lights around me except the stars above which lightly highlighted the outline of the trees and the tops of the vines against the illuminated night’s sky. All I could follow were the steps of the red gravel under my feet, trusting my instincts from when I walked the path earlier to measure a sense of distance, but all the while staring in disbelief at the wonder of the stars that were so expansive, so clear, as they dotted the pitch black sky like Lite-Brite. Something jumped in the grass right next to me and there were noises rattling when I passed an open shed that housed old tractors – kinda scary – but looking up at the stars and the Milky Way and everything we had read about the night before on our way home from Monkey Mia as we tried to learn about the reasons why certain constellations were backwards and others not visible, all I could do was gape with a smile on my face at its beauty. I’m still trying to learn and understand more about the stars in the Southern Hemisphere, but I am pretty sure I could tell that the cluster of stars that look like a cloud is actually a galaxy and I could point out Orion’s belt even though I had to turn around to see it as we were so much further south than in Monkey Mia. I eventually made it back to the house, rummaging through the lavender with my hands blindly out in front of me, hoping nothing would jump out at me. 

The Start of My New Adventure.

As Mum and Dad excitedly exclaimed, "welcome to your new adventure!" I kinda like that idea of this as my new adventure, and more so their enthusiasm :)

Monday Feb 20 - Ok, so I have arrived at Frankland Estate in seriously, the middle of nowhere Frankland, in Great Southern Australia. After a 4 hour bus ride from Perth, to Kojonup, I got off the bus and laid my bags on a bench beneath a tourist board displaying mostly Aboriginal historical sites and natural explorations of the area and looked around the car park to not knowing who would be picking me up to the realization that there was no one there waiting for me. The bus was surprisingly on time so I gave a little bit of leeway before panic set in and would have to make a phone call. Luckily, shortly after, a car pulled up with a smiling woman waving to me. 
Kojonup, from the one main street that drove through it, despite the fact that it actually had a bus stop from Perth was extremely quiet. We went to the “big” supermarket in town, an IGA, which was noticeably clean, orderly, and well stocked, but empty of mid-day shoppers. If Kojonup was considered one of the bigger towns in the area, I had little expectations of life in Frankland. “I forgot to mention to you in our emails how isolated we are out here,” Elizabeth commented. I smiled somewhat nervously. 
We drove for about 50 kilometers on pretty straight but hilly roads surrounding on either side by huge trees offering the road some shade and blocking the views of the expansive yellow fields behind them, until we suddenly arrived in Frankland. It all went by so quickly I’m not sure I really have a grasp for what Frankland is, or is not. We passed by the local store, which they call “the Bank” because it is overpriced, and I suppose being in the middle of nowhere you can get away with charging ridiculous amounts to desperate shoppers. A community center was pointed out but I am not sure I saw it, there were a couple houses or buildings along the road, but then we turned the corner, passed an agricultural supply store and a sign for the Frankland Golf Course, and then it was gone. We drove for another 5 or 10 minutes and as we came across the hill Elizabeth welcomed me to Frankland Estate as we could see the blocks of vineyards in front of us. I could feel a smile come across my face. I don’t know what it is about the magic of a vineyard: the neat rows of vines line the hills absorbing the soil and withstanding the heat of the sun and cool nights to be ultimately turned into something (hopefully) delicious for people to enjoy. And now I was going to be a part of this process.

The sign welcoming us said please call for appointments, as they do not get very many visitors stopping by for tastings. This is not Margaret River, which they call the Napa Valley of Western Australia, where vineyard after vineyard welcomes open cellar doors for free-for-all tastings. The road, their driveway, was cinnamon dusted dirt and I chuckled to myself at this introduction to a new life. As we drove up to the winery, Elizabeth pointed out all the different varietals on the vines and then as we approached she said, “I told you it was just a big tin shed.”

my new home!! 
We drove on through more rows of vines to the little house where I would be staying. Somewhere off a dirt road to the right was where Hunter and his family lived, and over the hills a barely visible house where Elizabeth and her family lived appeared quickly, and I couldn’t even see where the mother and father of the estate lived.
the house in the distance, a 5 min walk from the winery.
My new home is simple and basic, but perfect. The front door is led from the dirt road by sprouting purple lavender and a huge rosemary bush. Inside, there’s a fully equipped kitchen (fully-equipped with a mouse too), a dining room table, a TV with four channels and a DVD player with 1 DVD (Milk), another room with an old fashioned fire place and a couch, three bedrooms (one’s attached to the bathroom) and a wrap around veranda. We’ve already met our roomies: a black spider in the drain, a ginormous Huntsman spider lurking on the walls outside, the noisiest swarm of black flies, a mouse and apparently a rat, there’s a field of grazing sheep that will become our lunch, gawking guinea fowl I’m sure will be part of our dinner but, I have yet to see a snake. It’s perfect!
The view of our backyard from the porch. We moved the couch outside and many nights so far have been spent sitting on the couch until the sun goes down and then the stars come out. 
It’s still too new to know how I feel about the remoteness. Work will be consistent and nice to have a routine and responsibilities while at the same time hopefully learning. It’s really nice to have my own room and little home for once. I just have my backpack, so the simplicity of it is quite appropriate. I am feeling intimidated about the wine work, not knowing what I’m supposed to do, or what I’m supposed to know and what’s expected of me, but I am anticipating hard work, despite the magic the vineyards exude, work is never as glamorous as one might think. I’ll be up early cleaning casks and folding boxes to case dozens of wine bottles instead of sipping on the fruits of our labour and frolicking amongst the vines. Maybe because I have no obligation to stay here and initiated this experience on my own, I am looking forward to the change of pace, the new experiences, and the different lifestyle, despite how much I enjoyed the “city” life of Perth. It would be nice if we at least had a cell phone reception at the house (tin roofs apparently reflect the signal) but maybe it will be nice to not be so reliant on technological communication that become so easily dependent and time-consumingly distractive. It’s definitely an “author’s quiet” which mum and dad will like as they encourage me to write a book :) (as you can probably tell by the amount I write via Word then copy and paste onto the internet when I have the ability to – writing is like my social outreach into the black hole of cyber space where someone might be listening/reading with the possibility of a response/interaction)  

 The sunsets are Gorgeous!
The vines and vast sky.

Somehwere in me since I reached out and was invited to have this opportunity, I have felt good and right about this new move, this new direction, and this new adventure. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Last Days of Perth and a Road Trip to Monkey Mia

(the little outburt of land in the very top left hand corner is Monkey Mia, Frankland is somewhere in the unidentified land in the very south, above Denmark, below Kojonup, to the left of the Y in the white road.)

 Right now I’m on the bus to the Great Southern region of Australia. A four hour ride to my next step and all I can think about is the whirlwind of the last few days. I guess I have absolutely no idea what to expect on this next adventure so it’s easier for me to think about what has happened and what has led me here. Tuesday, Valentines Day, was a day to celebrate getting a WWOOFing opportunity and to play bingo at the Claremont Hotel. Wednesday was filled with errands and departure preparations and then some more-celebratory beers and oysters in Fremantle. Thursday was more organizing and packing. Then that night there was Frankland Estate’s annual Riesling release event at Must Wine Bar in Perth. The event was quite busy and I started talking with a German couple who had been living in Perth for years and had actually been down to Frankland Estate.  The chatty wife was very opinionated about her Riesling, refilling her glass frequently so I learned a bit about the wines from them. There were three different Rieslings from Frankland Estate, from different vineyards on their property, which resulted in all three of them tasting completely different. One was quite light and easy to drink, the next was a bit more complex with fruitier notes while the third was much sweeter and had a fuller texture like most people would associate with a Riesling. There was also a French Riesling from 2001 that was reminiscent of petroleum – depending on your taste is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s kinda funny like the wine wheel describing wet  cardboard: who actually knows what this taste likes….(!) Apparently that is a sign of an aged wine and definitely an acquired taste. I introduced myself to Hunter, one of the winemakers who was the son of the family and then met Brian, the husband of the woman/brother-in-law I had been emailing with. I also met Felix, the German guy who was also working at the winery with me. He is studying wine and this work is part of a three month internship. He has worked on vineyards before and is actually fully studying wine, not just WWOOFing so I think, and hope, that I will learn a lot from him. They were all incredibly enthusiastic and extremely friendly. It really eased a bit of my hesitations and I actually left the bar really excited about the new opportunity I had ahead of me to work with these guys.

I had plans to meet up with my first “friend” – the Irish guy who worked down by the Swan Bells. Since meeting him that first day, I had gone back a couple times while in Perth just to chat and we finally exchanged numbers. We met at the Cure ("come here for your hangover cure") where he was out with his friends. It’s funny in Australia – the Irish bars are only filled with Irish people. And it doesn’t matter if it’s 2:30 in the afternoon on a Monday or a Saturday night. I don’t know if it’s because Irish peple just like to drink together. Pajo, let’s call him, calls Irish people sheep: they all flock together. He thinks that they give themselves a bad name to the Australians because they say there is no work in Ireland, making the place sound horrible and poor, but Pajo, his roommate and his girlfriend, and other people he knows actually left their jobs to come to Australia so it’s not like there’s nothing there for them. But anyways, there we were, him from Dublin and me “just moved here from Donegal,” hanging out in the Irish bar like all the other baa-ing sheep. We left though to go to the Brass Monkey – a pretty well known beer bar in Northbridge. They next day, with nothing better to do, we continued our joke-filled tour of Northbridge. As my first friend in Australia, I had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs on my last days. 

Two sausages are frying in a pan. One sausage says to the other, gee it's awfully hot in here. The other sausage responds, AAHHH A TALKING SAUSAGE!
(this joke also works with muffins in an oven)

Saturday morning, JD and I left really early for our road trip up north.  We were driving over 800 kilometers north to Monkey Mia in an attempt to swim with the dolphins as it was one of the things on the “list” to do in Australia. JD kept thanking me for the trip, but I swear it was his idea to go there. I had read somewhere that it was only about 6 hours, not 8 or 10…Even with speeding (the speed limit is 110  on the highways) it took us about 8 and a half hours. JD drove for the first couple of hours out of the city and then I drove for about 5 until I uncomfortably couldn’t drive anymore. Driving north out of Perth, the towns got smaller and more hick-ish with great distances of cattle farms and grain fields in between. At times it appeared very “outback-ish” but we were nowhere close to what the Outback actually is like. After we passed Geraldton, the empty expanse of land really exposed itself. The red clay soil lined the sides of the road and on either side of the road, dry prickly low bushes covered the land. My eyes of course were peeled for kangaroo’s, always, but only a few lying on the side of the road could be seen, drying out and half eaten.  You're welcome for the description. 
We drove through an area called Wildflower County that apparently is just blooming with colorful wildflowers between July and November. I can only imagine how impressive it must be. We drove on and on, as the names on the road signs slowly were crossed off as we passed them, overtaking massively intimidating road trains and speeding as fast as the little rental Toyota Corola could handle and bear it’s "high performance vehicle ability" until only Denham and Monkey Mia were left.  We entered Shark Bay, Western Australia’s first World Heritage area granted in 1991 for matching four natural criteria: it’s stromatolites, seagrass beds, extraordinary scenery, and fauna: 26 mammal species, 13 reptiles threatened to extinction, 3 types of rare birds, 12% of the world’s dugangas, and a large loggerhead turtle rockeries.* 

*According to Scoop Mag (the same one I think that told me it was only 6 hours away).

As we came over some of the hills, the dry land cleared away to absolutely breathtaking aquamarine water and crisp white sand lining the coast. It was so pristine, so empty, you could really understand the appreciation for the World Heritage protection of the area. 
Signs for people crossing were everywhere, but where were these people coming from, and where were they going?

Denham was a quiet sleepy town on the water with a couple hotels and boats docked in the water. We drove on though, for another 24 kilometers to Monkey Mia. It had a cooler sounding name and we only do the cool things. Monkey Mia, is basically a little resort community. There is the Monkey Mia Resort which has villas, camping site, hostel accomodations, and caravans. There is a small pool and hot tub, tennis courts, games to rent, a bar and a restaurant, beach access and of course, the opportunity to feed dolphins. Monkey Mia is the only place in Australia where wild dolphins will come up to the shore to bed fed daily, rather than seasonally. Except for Sunday, Februrary 19th. That was not one of the “daily” days. Apparently they will come to shore between 7:30 and noon, but on this particularly day, when we were there, there was a warm current filled with fish so the dolphins were out to sea and didn’t need to come to shore to be fed. They seem to be smart animals, habitual animals, so they know to come back if they want to but since Monkey Mia is part of the World Heritage area, they do not encourage the tourism of the site into making the dolphins circus animals. I liked that and commented on how easily you could see the place bening like a Club Med with daily activities like water yoga and kids camp but it was more of a relaxation spot for travelers – a little out of the way, but definitely a worthwhile reward.

 the view from our beach side hotel room.
the beach.
 The water was incredibly warm and shallow and clear. Monkey Mia is in a little hamlet so there were no waves, although the current was quite strong. The sea floor was covered with different types of shells and you could see little fish swimming around you. JD thought he felt a jellyfish in the water, saw a turtle, and a long water snake while snorkeling. Oh and apparently there were sharks in the water, but they were well fed so they didn’t bother with the humans – good to know!
Is that water deep or are you just really short? OMG YOU'RE SO TALL!
 But I don't wanna get out. 
 We had veggie burgers and salt and pepper squid for dinner then played pool with the greatest comeback the Black Widower ever saw and defensive fooseball. I lost both, even with knowing JD was trying to play down his coughmadcough skills. Some beer, white wine, and two tequila shots later, we went to the beach and laid down to stare at the stars.
The sky was absolutely stunning. I have never seen anything like it. And I can't even describe it to you to give it justice. From lying on the sand, looking out onto the sea’s horizon, there were stars just inches above the horizon - I had never seen them expand so far. They stretched all the way over us and behind us as far as we could see, not a cloud in sight - that thing that looks like a cloud, oh, that's just a galaxy, clearly visible to us right now. The Milky Way wrapped around the middle of the sky, directly above us, laying a belt of twinkly clusters of stars amongst the brighter ones. JD was soon snoring*, but I could’ve just stared out upon that sky for the entire night. The clarity of it’s expanse was really was unbelievable. The area around us, in the middle of nowhere of the World Heritage site, was so pure, so clear of pollution, the sky just shone.

*details like these are not only funny, but definitely part of the story and experience. 
 The next morning, a dip in the sea and then we waited by the jetty for the dolphins to arrive. The jetty was full of people standing, then sitting, then dispersed onto other day activities with the dolphin's no show ("they are definitely going to get fired"). Everyone had their eyes peeled from the shore to the horizion, as people pointed at every bird that swooped and fish that jumped making a splash, with the sun sparkling upon the little wave breaks, but none of these were dolphins.

We were two for two: no peguins on Penguin Island, no dolphins at Monkey Mia.

There were howerever a flock of befuddled emu’s wandering around, sometimes chasing each other, sometimes going up and pecking at the grass in front of sun bathers. At first they were a touristy novelty of intrigue and after less than 24 hours they were almost annoying and in the way with their jutting beaks and huge feet. 

“Hey guys, how’s it going, whatcha doing, hey guys, wait up”
….picture Will Ferrell in A Night at the Roxbury….as an emu.

It really was beautiful. We had planned on leaving at 12 and ended up leaving at 2 – 1 because the restaurant for lunch didn’t open until noon, 2 because it was way too hard to leave the sun and views for another 8/5 hour ride and 3 because we couldn’t leave without having a pina colada.

Back in the car, back to speeding and testing the car’s limits in the middle of nowhwere, back to passing the caravans of packpackers, pack to passing the tremendous road trains, back to driving until you're numb and stuck to the seat, back to chugging sugar-free Red Bulls and eating chips until your stomach hurts, back to the shuffle dance party of the iPod, and back to the not-so-clear-aired sky of the city.
So now, after that whirlwind, I am sitting on the bus not really sure where I’m going or what to expect. I am not nervous, I don’t really feel anything to be honest. Just sort of going with it. It’s like, it’s going to happen, there’s nothing you can do about it, and just let what happens happen. There’s no point in fretting, everything works out the way it is supposed to and maybe I have a good feeling about it. I am not scratching or pulling at my hair – that is a good sign. I suppose it helps that I met three of the people I will be working with and Elizabeth seems nice on email. I think if anything, I am nervous about what I have to offer. Sure my letter was heartfelt and personal and passionate and I should have a lot of knowledge from UNISG and the amount of wine I've drunk but I don’t know if I actually have the tasting ability to really know what I’m talking about nor do I have the slightest clue about actual wine making. I am hoping to be trained and learn about the production process. I guess I’m really not worried because I have no  obligations here. I don’t have to stay if I don’t like it. It will be nice to work during the morning, to have a routine, and then if I want to work in the afternoon I will be paid for it. Felix the German guy said that during vintage there is always a lot of work going on but there is also a car so if I want to use that and explore the area I can do that too. Valley of the Giants, Walpole, Denmark, Albany, 40 wineries in the region, Mt Barker, Australia's (or the world's?) oldest mountain range, a couple national parks, Australia's whitest beaches in Esperance, also a salt lake, isolation, remoteness, learning the in's and out's of the life of a winery, tasting pure grape juice, unpolluted air to stare at the stars....seriously, what is there to not look forward to?!