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!