Thursday, 27 December 2012

An Old Soul

On my travels I am lucky enough to meet some incredible people.  People with so much humour, people with an incredible story, people with a fascinating future.  For me, this is the main reason I love travelling.  I am constantly being inspired by others; which encourages me to have more faith in the world, to have bigger dreams and to always hope for more.
Sometimes though, I am even luckier.  I meet somebody who I will forever call a friend.  A deeper connection is made; we are on the exact same wavelength and we both know it.

John.  Born in the USA.  32 years old.  Hilarious.  Honest.  Hairy.
From day one our conversations were unstoppable.  Every one was either filled with jokes, or was meaningful and undoubtedly honest.

My Americn accent grew from stupid-blond-girl to bearded-cowboy; whilst John's British accent was a high-pitched cockney chavs.  It became impossible to have a conversation wih either of us without having these accents involved.

Something else I owe John for is the music lessons.  He was a natural guitarist.  Picked one up in his youth and played songs without even thinking.  He taught me how to play the ukulele without even knowing himself.  He taught me how to listen to music and interpret it in my own way.  We practised together so many days and nights; one month at the farm with him and I felt confident enough to busk in the streets in the next cities I visited.

One thing that made John even more special was his honesty.  All the spare time we had together made long conversations our favourite hobby.  He told me about his past; about being gay and not being able to tell anyone until he was 25 years old.  About his family not accepting it.
He told me about the death of his father two years previous: 40 years old, deciding last minute to attend a school reunion, then falling down some stairs at the school and dying instantly.  John told me how it felt.  How nobody told him, nobody ever said the words, but he knew that his dad had died.
He told me about his siblings and how they struggled so much with the death of their dad.  They each received a small inheritance from him.  John spent it on this trip to Europe.  His brothers and sisters spent it on heroin.  He visited them before he left for Europe and couldn't believe the state they were in.  He said that he would easily have spent it on heroin too, but he knew he needed something more than that to show to his dad.  He knew what his dad was thinking about his decision. "Good for you John. Live your life, live your dreams!"

John had ideas about travelling.  About meeting amazing people, feeling inspired and being happy.  He loved my stories.  His eyes lit up when I told him of my adventures.

Him and Steven ran out of money a month or so back, so they felt restricted in what they could do.  I wish they had stayed and used the ideas I gave them, but a couple of days after I left the farm, they went to the US embassy who sent them home the next day.

Travelling is always a learning curve, as I well know myself, but with John's situation at home I can't help but worry.  I don't want him to get influenced, to get dragged down.  I hope he has enough courage to look after himself instead of putting everyone else before him.  I really believe that he will do what is right for him, it just breaks my heart to think otherwise.  He has ideas and passion, he has life in his eyes, dreams to be lived, and an unforgettable smile that shows all this.  I am so lucky to have met John.  He inspired me more than he will ever know.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Alpaca time!!!

In the middle of the vineyards in the countryside of Western Germany, there sits a little farm complete with thirty alpacas.  How they got there; who knows?  Somehow I got lucky and got to spend five weeks working with them!

When I first signed up to the Workaway website, I got pretty obsessed, sent out way too many messages and got way too many replies.  Staying on the Ashton's farm in France for so long made all my travel plans change, so I arrived at the alpaca farm in Altenbamberg around four months later than originally planned!



Billie and her daughter Julie owned the farm, but didn't always have enough time to look after the alpacas themselves.

So that's where we came in:
John and Steven, a couple from the USA.  They had moved to Germany to find work teaching English, however it didn't quite work out as planned and they were left with no money and an expiring visa.  Billie took pity on them and said they could stay as long as they needed.
Amy, from New Zealand, came a couple of weeks later and fitted in perfectly... even with that funny accent.

Our jobs for the day were to let the alpacas into their fields, feed and give them water, and then clean out the stables ready for them coming back inside in the evening.  Sometimes we would just stare at them for half an hour or so... they were fascinating creatures, totally timid and freaked out like crazy if you tried to touch them.

Me feeding Purple Percy!
Purple Percy was different though.  Being purple in the alpaca world is like being ginger in the human world.  You're an outsider... so you turn to others who show you kindness.  In this instance it meant Percy wasn't so afraid of us.
<<< Evidence is in this picture!

Other jobs we did included cutting down thousands of bramble bushes (and a few rose bushes by accident), stacking hundreds of logs for the fire, and taking the dogs Mellow and Petu on walks (which was pretty impossible when they walked at completely different paces)!

Just to add to our workload, we asked at the local vineyard for a job picking grapes. Of course, the answer was yes and so for about two weeks we were working more or less ten hours per day. A group of Polish people were shipped over to do the work too, which means that wages were low, and it didn't help that there is no minimum wage in Germany! 6.50 euros per hour. The bad back at the end of every day made the money seem even less. But this feeling was countacted when the grape lady would give us a couple bottles of wine at the end of some nights; we would head to the top of the hills and sit down, bottle in hand, discussing the world and watching the distant wind turbines turn round and round. Beautiful!

At the Medieval Fest

At the farm; we were often treated to some kind of party. Germans like to call them "fests".... whether it be Hof Fest, or Medieval Fest, or Let's-have-a-BBQ-and-call-it-a-fest Fest. Mainly they involved lots of beer drinking, sausage eating, music, dogs or horses or any kind of animal jumping around, and on the odd occasion a bongo drum playing session!

I stayed at the farm for a total of around five weeks before moving on. I wish I could write more here about my time there, but I just don't have enough time on the internet anymore, and I'm getting so far behind on my blog posts! All I will say is that Billie and Julie were incredibly kind and fun to be around; and I made some lasting friendships with John, Steven, and Amy... so my experience is definitely one I will never forget!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

I think I auto-stopped through Germany

After spending a few days at Ellie and Mike's in Amsterdam after the Olympics, it was time to move on.  I had already promised to be in Munich the following week to house/cat-sit for somebody on Couchsurfing.  So a quick-stop tour of Germany it had to be.

First stop Düsseldorf.  Forgive me, I can't remember how I got there, it was months ago now!  Hitchhiking ("Autostop" in most other languages), yes. Story, no.

My hosts Robert and Jenni met me at the main station and before I knew it we were on our way to their friends place for a barbeque.  I was treated to my first German sausage and first German beer... among other food, most of which I didn't have a clue of what it actually was.

The following day, Robert and Jenni had everything planned out: a bike ride around the city taking in the sights, then a few hours swimming in the river Rhine and lounging on "Paradise Beach".  I think the cargo ships going by are the reason for the word 'paradise'.  Honestly though, it was the nicest (and first) beach on a river I have ever seen.

Jenni had to work that night, so me and Robert had dinner together at home.  He had super intelligent opinions on politics and world affairs and even had ideas on how to make changes.  He really believed in a consumer democracy; where everything you buy gives you a vote.  For example; buying organic food votes against huge food corporations, therefore they can't affect farming and don't control prices (for instance, the reason why a burger at McDonalds is cheaper than buying fresh fruit and vegetables).  He also had a website where he posts about subjects like this, as well as fun topics and activities to keep it lively.

That evening we went on another bike ride to see the city by night.  We had a few beers in a popular spot before heading home.

With Couchsurfing, it's so easy to only ask people with hundreds of references for a couch, because without even thinking you know they will be a great host.  But as Robert and Jenni showed me, it is definitely worth staying with new members of the website.  They were so hospitable and put so much effort into making my trip memorable.  Obviously, that was also because they are amazing people too.

The next morning they made me breakfast before I headed off to the next city; Cologne (Köln).  I met my host Laura on arrival.  One of the first things she said to me was that she was so hot the night before that she put her t-shirt in the freezer.  From that moment on I thought she was awesome.

We walked around the city taking in the sights; namely the cathedral and the ice-cream which had fallen from the sky.  We then visited her friend who lived nearby.  She was a tiny girl who looked about 14 years old.  She had a baby and a Latin American husband, so I was relieved to find out she was actually 22.  They were really poor; he couldn't find work because of his nationality and visa, and she couldn't find work because she needed to breast feed because they couldn't afford a fridge to keep milk.  Wow.  This just adds to the big list of people I've recently met who confirm that country borders suck.  Despite all this, they offered me a beer.  I politely refused.

We then went back to Laura's place for the evening, accompanied by another friend of hers, Sandra.  We sat on the roof (not a roof you would imagine is sit-able, just a normal tiled slanted roof) drinking beer and talking about travels.  Sandra was in the process of building a boat with her boyfriend.  They learned the skills and techniques at a Workaway somewhere in Germany.  Their plan is to travel the length of the Danube then head West in the Mediterranean to then go round ending in the North of Germany... altogether lasting a few years.  Now that's ambition!  What an awesome idea, I definitely need to do something like that one day!  They have a website where they share their story and, at the moment, the whole boat-building process:

One night with Laura definitely wasn't enough.  I will have to return one day to spend more time with this hilarious girl.  That night we fell asleep to the audiobook for one of the Harry Potter books; of which Laura assures me is purely to improve her English.

I was up at the crack of dawn to start hitching to Frankfurt, 200km away.  Again, I can't remember one single part of the hitching trip.  Either somebody drugged me or it was just too long ago to remember.  All I know is that it was simple and fast.  I met my host outside his apartment at 5pm.  When I say met, I mean scared to death as he jumped round the corner at me.  His name was Meez, originally from Lebanon.  He treated me to pizza at a restaurant that night and we walked around the local area before heading home to watch a film, complete with a bowl full of popcorn.

Meez worked during the daytime so I was left to my own devices the following day.  I took the chance to do what I always do; get completely lost.  I finally found my way to the centre which was filled with expensive shops which I didn't even bother to look in.  I found a big public square complete with a fountain, a very comfortable bench, and the perfect setting to people watch.

When he had finished work, Meez met up with me and took me on a tour of what Frankfurt has to offer.  We walked along the banks of the Rhine and then headed to another kind of bank; the banking centre of Europe.  Huge skyscrapers and a massive € sign were a dead giveaway.  Naturally, there was a protesting camp right outside.  Namely, Occupy Frankfurt.  Meez said the only people left were druggies, so to prove him wrong I went to talk to them.  One second into the conversation I knew he was right.  I look around hoping to see somebody without a shaky jaw, but it didn't happen.  What a disappointment.

I remember one of the reasons people at Occupy Liverpool found it difficult was the amount of vulnerable and homeless.  We wanted our doors to be open to everyone; we had to given that we were fighting for a different system built on equality and fairness.  But we were just normal people, not therapists or psychologists like some of these people needed.  Maybe if we had carried on with Occupy, everybody would have been disenchanted and left, except from those who had nowhere else to go.  Occupy Liverpool might have become just like Frankfurt.

Anyway, we ended our night with conversation and another film.  Then it was an early night for me; I had to be up first thing in the morning to get to Munich.

Ok, so now I remember something unique about this particular trip.  I had to get a short bus ride to where I needed to begin hitching.  Only the short ride turned out to be quite long.  Cut the long story short... You know you're a real hitchhiker when you've had a poo in a forest next to a motorway.

I got a ride after a few minutes waiting which took me ten minutes down the motorway to the nearest service station.  Then five minutes later I got a ride all the way to Munich!  Awesome!  The lady even invited me to stay at her house in the future!

I had organised to stay at an old friends place that night; Lisa, who I met in the hostel I worked at in Montego Bay in Jamaica last year.  She had a baby boy since then, so it was lovely to meet him and catch up with Lisa over some food and drinks.  She was going on holiday after that so the following day I moved to Ludwig's house.  He and his family were going on holiday in a few days so they needed somebody to look after their cat.

Here's where the craziness comes in.  They had a little boy, I think he was 5 years old.  After being there for a few hours, he urinated on the floor in front of me.  Then later on in the day, he had a poo on the floor in the bedroom I was sleeping in.  Every morning he climbed onto my bed shouting "Aufwachen, aufwachen!" ("Wake up, wake up!")  One day he urinated all over the couch... When his mother shouted at him he replied "Well the cat does it too!"  For me, he was way too much to handle, his scream was so frequent and annoying that for the rest of my stay I avoided the house as much as I could.

Once they had left for their holiday, I messaged a few people on Couchsurfing to see if anybody wanted to hang out.  A girl named Ale messaged straight back and within a few hours I was on my way to a party.  She was originally from Venezuela, and so were most of the other people at the party... so naturally it was a night full of laughter.  We said goodbye at the end of the night then I asked some people nearby where the nearest subway station was.
"There is no transport at this time of night."
"Come with us, we are going to a house party!"
So there I was, somewhere in Munich in the middle of the night, walking to a house with a group of Mexicans and Venezuelans.  The house turned out to be a tiny room complete with a bed, a couch and a kitchen sink.  Everyone squeezed in and before I knew it we were knocking back tequila.  I was on the first train in the morning and got into bed at 6am.

Ale and I hung out for the rest of the week; going out for food, watching films together, a few nights out, sunbathing in the naked park (mainly just full of old men), as well as attending a Couchsurfing meeting where we just stared at everyone and guessed between ourselves where each person came from.  All in all, I completely admired Ale.  She loved to travel just like I did (with no money, living with only basics) and she was also established in many parts of her life (she had just finished a masters degree in Biology, she had worked researching wild animals in jungles around the world, she was super sporty and took part in three week long triathlons, and she was really intelligent when it came to any political or social issue.  On top of all that she was funny, and really easy to talk to.  Everyone else thought it too; there's not many others quite like this girl.

For the rest of my stay in Munich, the other activities I got up to were visiting Dachau concentration camp (wow, that was depressing!) and visiting my old friend Cati who was back from Mexico (where we lived together for a few months) living with her friends in rural Bavaria.  It was such a coincidence that we were in the same place at the same time.  The same thing happened in Mexico.  It's almost like she stalks me or something ;-)

My journey in Germany didn't end there, it actually lasted another two months or so, as you will see in my next few posts (when I finally get them up!), but it is right to end this post here.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Homeless me at London's Corporate Olympics

The Olympics, in London.  How could I resist?  Anyone who knows me more than likely knows how much the Olympics means to me.  Read the paragraph about Kelly Holmes in the "Inspiration" tab (link) if you don't.

London had been transformed; the stereotypical attitude of unfriendly, closed British people was nowhere to be found.  It was now a city full of friendly, open people chatting, cheering, and enthusiastically waving every flag the world has to offer.  It honestly felt like everybody was friends with everybody.

I spent my days in the parks which were showing live coverage on huge screens.  The crowds were massive.

Mexican fans

I was there for the football final between Brazil and Mexico.  I sat with the Brazilians; they were so enthusiastic with their chanting and singing that it seemed like the whole world's media was recording them.  Surprisingly, they lost 2-1.  Their disappointed faces were followed by clapping for the Mexican supporters twenty metres away who were crying with joy.

I was there when the British men's kayakers took Gold and Silver and the crowd going absolutely wild.

Jade Jones

I was there to see a very normal looking girl named Jade Jones awkwardly explain to an interviewer and a 50 000 strong crowd how she managed to win Gold by defeating the unbeatable Chinese Yuzhuo Huo in Taekwondo.  We were treated to interviews from various British Olympians, all of them seemingly oblivious to the impact they had made on so many people's lives.

I was there to witness Britain's Mo Farah run the 5000m final.  It was such a close race that by the last lap the crowd around me were screaming so loud it was deafening.  The noise made in the last 100m must have burst a few ear drums!  He took Gold and I was joined by thousands of other people in the park screaming and jumping for joy.

I was even there for the funniest-looking sport ever... the race walk.

 Now why was I homeless, you might ask?  Well, minimising costs in one of the most expensive cities in the world meant sleeping rough in the parks.  This way I saved money on accommodation and didn't have to fork out for underground train tickets... because I was already where I needed to be!  Most night I slept hiding behind an ice cream stand in Hyde Park.  Two policemen found me one night and instead of being thrown out of the park like I expected, they just wanted to make sure I was OK and that my parents knew where I was.  My nights were very short; the crowds were completely gone only by 1am at the earliest and each morning I was woken up before 6am either by community-service litter-pickers or by squirrels throwing nuts around in the tree above me.  My sleeping bag kept me warm enough most nights but one thing I definitely decided on was the best invention the world has ever had is a bed.  I'm sure you can imagine sleeping on the ground once or twice, but night after night really takes a toll on you!  I really can't explain well enough how amazing beds are.  For this reason, I want to pay homage to the inventor of beds: oh bummer, apparently there isn't one.

On the last day of the Olympics they decided to charge fifty-five pounds for a ticket into Hyde Park.  The only place with free viewing was Victoria Park, so that's where I went... along with probably more than 100 000 other people.  As soon as the closing ceremony began the atmosphere was electric.  I could feel the emotion of every individual in that massive crowd when they showed the highlights of the entire seventeen days.  The music lifted spirits and within minutes the entire crowd were on their feet dancing and singing their hearts out.  I'll be honest now, there were quite a few moments were tears escaped my eyes; it was sometimes just to much to take in.  The end of the games were marked by the fireworks which we could see in the near distance.

What an incredible two weeks.  I am so happy that I got to experience it.  The Olympics is my favourite event the world has on offer, it was in my own country and I was there.  No, I didn't have tickets to any events even though I had applied since the very beginning.  It annoyed the hell out of me when I could see  spare seats in the stadiums.  And yes, there were so many injustices with the money spent on the whole event.  To say that it will benefit London's tourism and our economy is definitely a lie when you take into account that McDonalds, Coca Cola and other such corporations had the monopoly on the entire event, and when you take into account that local businesses were banned from using anything related to the Olympics because they weren't official sponsors.  Some people are calling this the Corporate Olympics.  That is true.  Britain is in a double-dip recession yet it spends 9.3 billion pounds of the tax-payers money on an event that only really benefits corporations.

We came third in the medal table, which is incredible considering that we have nowhere near the population of other countries such as Japan, Russia, and even other European nations such as Germany.  The number of gold medals per million people looks like this:
CHN: 0.14
USA: 0.66
FRA: 1.07
KOR: 1.23
GBR: 1.33

I am so proud of this and also that we made such an incredible show for our own people and the rest of the world.  Other countries are now apparently looking at our sporting system for inspiration.  And that's where the shop window affect comes in: to show off your best items whilst the reality is very different.  Yes we did amazing winning so many medals, but in my opinion our elite sports reflect in no way how our foundation sports are going.  There is nowhere near the amount of funding or facilities, and therefore opportunity, in foundation sports in Britain as there are in countries like the USA and Australia (speaking from direct experience).

I went to a state school as a child and I remember the Physical Education lessons being abysmal.  We had more than 100 kids in one sports hall, sharing four badminton nets and playing with broken rackets and shuttle cocks.  Most kids gave up after two minutes and sat on the benches for the rest of the hour.  The others spent their time hitting the shuttle back and forth in a space not big enough to move from your spot.  We had the same "lesson" once a week for one hour... two years straight.

In my hometown, they recently knocked down the only public leisure centre within miles and in it's place built a car park.

These are two examples of exactly what needs to change.  Our Olympics may have "Inspired a Generation" and I hope more than anything that it will, but unless our government spends more money in state schools and in impoverished neighbourhoods and towns, as well as take the monopoly of football off our tv's and show other sports more often, then our sports system will just continue to be more and more imbalanced.  History shows that it takes much more than inspiration to change the participation in sports... in anything for that matter.  Funding makes facilities makes opportunities for all.  Personally, I would rather have the entire population participating in cheap or free sports clubs than winning one more gold medal at the next Olympics.
That could be possible.  People are inspired, they just need a chance.

The following day I had nowhere to hang out or be entertained, so for no reason at all I headed to the shopping centre near to the Olympic Park.  After wandering around for not even five minutes I started noticing quite a few people who looked very convincingly like athletes.  I stopped by one guy who was sat on three huge sports bags with the Team GB sign on them.
"Are you in Team GB?" I asked him.
"Yes." He replied.
"Which sport?"

And that's how I spent the rest of my day... searching for athletes!  I met two women from the South African rowing team, two Japanese kayakers, a Chilean discuss thrower, a Czech 400m runner, two Tanzanian long distance runners, and a gorgeous Algerian wrestler.

Me & Denise Lewis

I stopped after a few hours, sitting down on some steps for a drink.  Something caught my eye and I jumped up to ask another lady for a picture.
"Yes, just one minute hunny."
"That's five pounds please"
I was pretty star struck so I didn't have anything funny to say in reply to her joke.  After all, it was the Olympic Champion from Sydney in 2000 and now one of Britain's most famous sports people; Denise Lewis.
Wow, now I really had topped off my experience!

"Inspire a Generation"
Let's hope so!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Another side to Voldemort

Every single time I hitchhike I am completely surprised when somebody stops for me, as if it has never happened before.  I grab my backpack and run towards the vehicle and for those few seconds I'm filled with excitement, wonder, freedom.

That's one good reason to do it. Another one is that you can travel everywhere for free. But the biggest reason is the people you meet along the way. The risk you feel is completely flattened when you are met with the generosity and kindness of this stranger who owes you nothing but wants to help you with everything.

After being settled on the farm for so long, this risk felt a little bigger than usual. Five minutes after Katie and Luc dropped me off, my faith was restored and I was running those few steps towards my first ride north.

It was a French guy (I can't remember his name). He spoke a little English but when I tried to explain that I had been working on a farm he had no idea what I was saying. So the noises came out:
"Oink oink"
Then I ran out of noises for the animals they actually had so I did a "Mooo!" just to amuse him.

He dropped me at a péage outside Toulouse and was so worried about me crossing the motorway that he walked me across himself.  I stood with my "Paris" sign for almost two hours in the sweltering sun without one person stopping. I sat down under a tree to get cool then a woman came up to me with a baguette and some meat all wrapped up. I said thankyou a hundred times then before she had even left a man approached with a map showing that he was heading north. Who knew that sitting under a tree would get me places? Apparently it does!

I got comfortable in his lorry, ate my food and then found out his name... Voldemort.
"Voldemort??!!" I shouted.
"Nein, Voldemar." He replied
Sounded the same to me but apparently it had no T.
He was Polish. So we spoke German. I know that makes no sense, but that's what happened.

For the rest of the day we very slowly headed north, taking massive detours into countryside towns to pick up various loads. We were a little team; he drove and I map-read.

At 8pm we stopped for the night at a service station. We sat at a picnic bench drinking beer whilst he cooked dinner. Voldemar's speciality: asparagus wrapped in ham with creamy vegetable soup on top. That night he let me sleep on his bed in his truck whilst he slept in the passenger seat.

The alarm woke us at 5am and in no time at all we were on the road again, making much more distance than the day before. Every station that we stopped at, Voldemar would ask other lorry drives if they were going further north than he was. Not any lorry drivers though, he said he only trusted the Polish to take care of me. By mid-afternoon he had found somebody going to Belgium: his name was Gregor. He was young, energetic, funny, and spoke perfect English. The radio played full-blast for the entire trip and we sang along at the top of our voices.  At 11pm we stopped at McDonalds and he bought us two cheeseburgers each.

An hour or so later, Gregor had found a replacement driver... Polish of course; he had strict instructions from Voldemar to give me to only the Polish.  His name was Paul and he was heading into the middle of the Netherlands.  By this time i was hitching in the middle of the night for the first time in my life, and I felt perfectly fine.

Paul's phone rang and it was Voldemar with a message for me:
"Tell her I'm so proud of her for getting so far."
I'll tell you what; in the Harry Potter books they completely miss out how caring Voldemort is don't they?!"

All the trucks usually stop driving at night so Paul couldn't find anyone going to Amsterdam.  We stopped at a service station and he didn't dare to leave me alone.  I told him that I had done this a million times before all around the world.  That made him smile but didn't reassure him enough, so he stood with me until I found my next ride.  Two dutch businessmen heading towards Rotterdam.  A short ride later I was now hitching in a taxi into the centre of Rotterdam.  (Now there's one to add onto my list of achievements!)

It was 3:30am and I was just 75km from Amsterdam.  So of course, this is where it all went wrong!  I stood for about three hours in one spot, only a taxi offering to take me for eighty Euros, and a car full of teenagers stopping to tell me they hated Amsterdam.  I started to walk, following the signs towards the motorway and after about three miles it became apparent that I had been stood in the wrong place that entire time.  For the majority of the walk (bare in mind I was carrying 18kg worth of my life on my back), I was toying back and forth with the idea of stealing one of the many bikes that weren't locked up.
"Right, just get the next one you see."
"Ok not that one, but definitely the next one."
I'm proud to say that my morals got in the way of stealing, no matter how much I was hurting.

Just to level out the good/bad balance in the world, I illegally hitched on a motorway slip road.  It took literally two seconds for someone to stop for me: a tiny Chinese couple.  I spoke to them for almost five minutes then fell straight to sleep.  I woke up some time later with the man quietly saying:
"Ok we here now!"
I apologised for falling asleep and they just giggled in reply.

I had finally made it!
The longest journey I have made so far in one go: over 1295km in 46 hours.
High five for me!
And for Voldemar!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Farm life with the Ashtons - Part 2

My memories continued....

Clearing the sheep house and getting absolutely covered in poo was pretty disgusting to say the least!  They pooed so much that after only a few days their whole house was full again.  I found Katie sitting in there one day with all the sheep around her.  I sat down too and we spent hours talking to the sheep and cuddling up with them.  Some wanted to practically sit on you whilst others were scared to death and jumped every time a blade of grass moved in the field opposite.  When Katie said they would be the ones to be killed and sold, it was so funny when the started acting more confident; "Scared? Who's scared? No, I'm fine. I'm fine!"

Pom Pom the donkey.  He always wanted to be around people, so even when we were digging the trenches in the barn, he was stood right next to us.  He was super intelligent too; if the barn gate was left open for even one second he would escape and make his way over to the food pen and kick the door constantly hoping to get in.

Vide Greniers (car boot sales).  Every Sunday all the women neighbours would join Katie and I, jump in two cars and head off to the nearest Vide Grenier.  I could never see anything of any use at all, but Katie and Dee were experts at finding ancient antiques to fit somewhere in their old barn houses.

The pigs - Maggie and Pablo.  Maggie was really sweet but Pablo was the scariest animal I've ever met!

The rabbits - Salt and Pepper and Mr Malone.  One of the ladies had babies but we didn't see them for weeks until one day two almost fully grown rabbits popped up from nowhere!

The potager!

All the hours spent in the potager.  If I picked every last weed out of the ground then a day later it would be full of them again.  We planted hundreds of seedlings, most of which I had no clue what they were.  There were thousands of lettuces, I know that!  Every time a neighbour came round to visit we would pawn some of on them.  I never thought I would be so interested in producing my own fruit and vegetables in the future until I came here.

Coming to the end of cherry season meant only one thing... the three huge cherry trees needed to be picked.  I admit I did eat quite a lot of them whilst I was picking.  The next day I had picked the stones out of the majority of them... after about three or four hours my hands were stained red and I almost felt like being sick because of the strong smell.  It didn't take long to get over that though, I think we had cherry pie for dessert the very next day!

Sometimes I got up super early to feed the animals to give Luc and Katie a day off from that.  If you were even five minutes late they would all be baaaa-ing, naaayy-ing, cluck-ing, squawk-ing, snort-ing, and everything-else-ing.

The new Workawayers arriving.  After a month and a half with it just being me and the Ashtons, it was pretty strange for the first few days.  It was so different having other people around that I thought I wouldn't get used to it.  I gave myself a slap one day and changed my attitude towards it all; and they all turned out to be wonderful people once I opened up.
Max & Britney
Max from Chicago - He was so fun to be around and we had so much in common.  By the end of his visit we were stuck at the hip.
Nick from Chicago too - Probably the strangest, completely immature, funniest person I've ever known.  His party trick of sucking in air and farting it back out had everybody in total shock and laughing harder than ever.
Britney and Mike from Canada - They were super cool and so easy to be around and chat to.  A big reason for me to travel to Canada in the future.
Karen from Canada - She only arrived a few days before I left but we had some great conversations as well as a lot of laughs on band night.

Kate's mum and dad; Brenda and Doug.  They were supposed to arrive a week or so ealier but Doug got ill.  All the hoping and wishing worked; they finally arrived and everyone was so happy to see them, including me!  They were just the nicest people and it was so nice seeing them around their family.

Luc's 39th birthday (sorry to spill the beans there Luc!) We threw a party for him that night and everybody came.  He was super happy with the huge card that the kids and I made for him and everybody had signed.

The Jellybobs, AKA Tracey, Andrew, Sam and Will.  The Ashton's friends from back in England.  I had heard so much about them before they came to visit that I think I was as excited as everybody else about them arriving.  They turned out to be just as friendly and fun and I was told.

Band night. The nearby town put an entertainment night on for everybody. We had a meal whilst a big brass band played to us, we danced on the chairs and sang along, almost nearly got in a fight with some snobby British people, and "Ooooed" and "Ahhhhhed" at a huge firework display.

After only about three or four weeks at the farm I had gotten to know everything so well that I felt like I had been a farm girl my whole life.  I could find jobs without having to ask, I knew how to use my initiative to fix things, make things, build things.  When I think about all the skills I gained I am tempted to make a farm CV for the future!

Two and a half months passed and I finally decided to leave the Ashton's farm.  On my last night, people came round for drinks and pizzas... and to say goodbye.  I tried to say a little speech about how much I had loved being there but instead I stumbled on my tears.  The guestbook I had made for the Ashton's had everything I wanted to say in it, so I made Kate read it out loud.

I left the farm not because I wasn't enjoying it anymore, I definitely was.  In fact I felt like I could have stayed forever. But there are things I want to do elsewhere in the coming months.  I think it got to the point where I felt comfortable in leaving because I felt like I was so close to them that I would always be welcome back as a friend.

Duck face Number 457.
I had such a good time.  It shows in the fact that I have never stayed anywhere as long, except from home of course.  I would love to be able to explain why but I don't think I can.  How can you sum up people you feel like you know so well?  Katie and Luc have all the traits that I love in a person.  They are funny, happy, positive, caring, loyal, and very very humble people.  Everybody adores them so much and instantly I did too.  One thing I admire most about them is the life they are providing for Phoebe and Romy. They don't see it themselves, but the attitude they have towards bringing the kids up is spot on in my eyes.  They are two young girls who already have bright, individual personalities and I'm sure they will grow up to be very special people who everybody wants to be around... just like their parents.
Everybody I met during my time on the farm were really happy, positive people.  Of course, everybody has their problems, but these were the kind of people who didn't let them get in their way.  It's so admirable to see that other people live like that.
It's also an amazing feeling to walk into unknown territory and two months later feel like you have another place to call home.

Farm life with the Ashtons - Part 1

Too many clothes and the sweltering sun made me feel like I was being microwaved as I sat outside Lannemezan train station waiting for my host Katie to pick me up.  For months and months I had been dying to leave city life behind and find out all about farm life, so the Workaway website [link] gave me the perfect opportunity.
"I'll pick you up in a red four by four at 12 noon."  She had emailed me.
Bang on 12 noon a woman jumped out of a blue Citroen and ran towards me with open arms.  A completely different car but a quick guess suggested this must be Katie... otherwise I really don't know where I've been this whole time.
We got back to the farm and I met the rest of the family: Katie's husband Luc, and their two daughters, Phoebe their 12 year old and Romy their 8 year old.  Then I met the four dogs, four cats, forty sheep, two pigs, six chickens, two geese, three rabbits, four horses, and one donkey.

Now I would love to write about each separate jam-packed day but I stayed for so long that it's quite difficult to think day by day.  So instead I'll do a collection of my memories (like I always do when I've left it so long to write here)!
One important thing to emphasize is that I went intentionally for around two weeks and was still there after two and a half months.  I think that says a lot.  Katie asked me right at the beginning if I wanted certain working hours and days off or if I just wanted to be part of the family.  Without hesitation I said family and that's exactly what I became.  I hope everything that I write about my experience on their farm shows that.

Here we go! Enjoy!...

Phoebe jamming on the guitar whilst Romy and I sang along.  For most of my stay it was the same three songs... I know every single oooo and aaahhh of Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye.

Phoebe had her first ever gig one evening in a bar nearby.  I took so many photos and videos of her that someone in the audience asked if she was my little sister.  I said yes just to un-complicate things, and because I was so proud.  If she doesn't make it as a famous musician in the future then I'll eat my sock!

Digging trenches for the three new walls in the horses barn.  Katie going crazy with the pickaxe and reaching 60cm down before Luc and I had even reached 40cm.  We were so tired after three straight days of digging that at one point we caught ourselves obliviously gawking at the cement mixer turn over and over.

The doggies:
Enrique; the perfect name for him.  A beautiful, white Pyrenean Mountain dog with the personality of a little girl.
Ebony; a Newfoundland who followed Kate wherever she went.  Loved it when you hugged her with all your weight.
Jody; an Alsatian who obeyed every word you said to her.  If I was to get a dog in the future it would be one just like her.
Archie; the terrier who can only be described by one word: Crazy. He was busy all day long: "Where's my ball?  Oh my god I can't find my ball.  Oh it's ok my ball's here.  Maybe I'll move it over there.  Ok I will.  Right, it's over here now.  Is that ok?  Maybe I should move it there instead."

Nights at the duck farm.  By far the best duck and chips I could ever imagine eating.  The little old woman reminded me of my Granny too.

Bashing new fence posts in the ground around the field.  Me and Katie together took about fifty hits to get them in, then we were embarrassed by Danny alone only taking ten hits.

Me & Dee
Jo, me, & Nick
The neighbours are some people that I will never forget.  Mostly all British; ironic that they went to France to get away from Britain, but all admitted they were happier for the fact they had these friends.  They were all so friendly and welcoming.  I always joked with Kate about her description of most people; "They have the biggest hearts...", but I have to say she was absolutely right about these people.  Phil + Dee (the coolest and classiest lady I've ever known), Keith + Dot (we had the northerner connection going on), Jo (the funniest person alive) + Nick (people say he's quiet but he didn't shut up around me!) + Jade (needs to get her backpack on and come with me), and Chris + Paul all adored the Ashton family, and rightly so.  There is such a positive vibe going on in that small corner of France... who would ever have known?!

Strimming grass, strimming grass, and more strimming grass.  That strimmer was everybody's worst enemy.  I helped a neighbour with their grass... it was taller than me and took two days to finish!

Romy's dance show.  The concentration on her face was just adorable.  Some of the other little girls did completely the wrong dance moves.  Kate was laughing so loud... she definitely ruined that man's video recording!

Bike rides with Luc and Nick.  We went off road and every time I would almost slip off the cliff edges.  Mild exaggeration... but it was scary anyway!

Sleeping in the new bell tent with Phoebe and Romy.  We told ghost stories and got so scared that we all had to sleep together.

Reliving the past:
Making a voicemail for Phoebe's phone shouting "Wasssssaaaaapp!" from the Scary Movie film.  We had to re-do it over and over again until it was just right... I did exactly the same thing with my sister Beth when I was about Phoebe's age.
Another time, Romy and I stayed up really late telling countless "Knock knock" jokes and laughing so hard that everybody could hear us... My sister Darsey and I did exactly the same thing for about two years straight when we were younger.

Mr Goose

Mr Goose and Baby Goose.  Mrs Goose had been killed by a fox months earlier so it was just them two left.  They ran after everybody who went near them and would bite hard if they got the chance.  One night Baby Goose got killed by a fox and straight away I could feel how sad Mr Goose was.  I spent hours sat down near him just talking quietly and he eventually came to me.  After that I was the only person who could walk up and stroke him.

Samatan Market.  The kids and I asked for some chicks and ducklings and Kate caved immediately.  Back at the farm we put them all in the same hutch and the next morning three of the chicks had been accidentally squashed by the ducks.  We took the chick that was left inside the house and hand-reared him.  We named him Squeaky... because he really didn't EVER shut up squeaking!

My duckling Eeyore.  After a few days she turned out to be pretty small compared to the other ducklings.  I took her inside the house from then on so I could look after her and get her bigger.  When everyone else had gone to bed I would get her out and let her run up and down the table.  She got so tired after about ten minutes that she would climb in my hand and fall asleep.  One day a neighbour came round and accidentally left the door open to the kitchen where Eeyore's house was.  One of the dogs knocked her box down and played around with her so much that she died.  I was so distraught and couldn't stop crying all day!

Part 2 is coming soon...!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Caught In A Moment

My next destination was in the south of France but hitching out of Paris turned out to be pretty difficult.  I gave up trying because of my time constraint of meeting my host in the south the following day.  After a train journey to Bordeaux and one hitching ride from there, I made it to Toulouse.

I went into the nearest bakery to ask when it closed.  Well, I didn't ask in words, my lack of languages got in the way of that.  I communicated with actions, as always.  She said they closed in an hour.  I asked if there was anything she would be throwing away.  Click!  She understood what I was saying.
"J'ai je be je be jai?"  Or something along those lines.
"Oui" I said.
One minute later I was saying thankyou and walking out with three free pies in a bag.

I walked down to the square in the centre of the town and got talking to a man with a huge smile on his face who reminded me that the results of the election vote would be announced in half an hour.  I sat down in the square, gobbling up the first bit of food I had eaten all day, whilst watching the crowds form.

I took a few videos to capture how the next hour or so went.
The hundreds of people in front of me went crazy when they found out the had a new president; François Hollande.

(The video is pretty somber compared to what was really going on)

Now why on Earth would I write a whole blog post about France getting a new president?!  Because this one is pretty different; he's a socialist.

That night the Euro fell quite considerably.  Socialism satisfies needs and demands; it provides more jobs and services all for use instead of private profit.  It cares much less than Capitalism about the "almighty economy".

All of this means massive change for the people of France.  It was so exciting to see so many people come together and use their power to change their country's future.

"1st, 2nd, 3rd generation of children all exploited."
"Open your heart and your eyes and your heart will follow."

People were out in the streets with their entire families with all types of flags and banners.

It seemed as though every single car was beeping its horn to the same tune.  Just as I thought the beeping had stopped, someone somewhere would start again then within seconds the whole of the town was roaring.

Nobody could take the smile off their faces.  Not even me.  I know hardly anything about French politics but if any country in the world overturns capitalism then my cheeks must surrender to the pain of smiling too much.

I settled in the train station hoping that I could sleep there for the night.  Yet again there were so many homeless around; all with the same hope as me for that night.  The station closed at 1am and the guards threw everyone out.  I thought I was on the same route out as all the others, but then a young family and I were shown a warm room in the back where we could sleep for the night.  Being the model citizen that I am I gave my sleeping bag to the mum so she could wrap her two kids up.  She snored through the night.  As did her husband; twice as loud.  Four hours later I was rolling up my sleeping bag... which was accompanied with two huge patches of wee (well that teaches me for trying to be a good person!)... and I was heading back to the main station again for opening.

I don't know where all the homeless went for that four hours but sure enough they were back on the same seats they had left behind earlier that night.  I bought myself a 20c coffee and sat down.  Then my guilt built up so much that I splurged another 20c for a drink for the man sat on my right.  Apparently, all the homeless in Toulouse can speak English.  I got talking to another man who was testing out the city as a place to stay.
"Yeah I really like it here. It's warmer than Paris and the people are nicer."
Everybody kept moving around changing seats, so for a while I was sat next to a lady who was eating a kebab and who couldn't stop laughing.
"She's loopy." The first guy said. "...On crack I think."

My day and night had merged into one.  They had been so long I could hardly think straight anymore.  I was so taken the night before at the joy of the new president and the morning later I was sat talking to a bunch of people who, rightly so, couldn't give a sh*t about all that because all their positivity had probably been shattered a long time ago.  What can François Hollande do for them?  What can he do for anybody, everybody?  I'm optimistic.  And from the moment I got caught up in, it seems that most of the French are too.