Post that went unpublished and took a few weeks to complete…
Un / Apprendre Francais
Salut, j’essaie escrire en Francais en petit peu. Je suis merde avec le Francais pour le moment. Alors, bon chance a toi, peut etre tu peux comprendre. (If you know a good place to take lessons in Montreal drop me a note).
Nous sommes trouve un appartement ici and are settling down very nicely in snowy, sludgy, icy Montreal.
Deux / ‘Travailler de Vacance’
Travailler allows me to make projects, get yoga classes, eat out often. It’s pretty much the definition of a “Working Holiday”. But I’m out for more fun/cool/interesting opportunities. I’m looking to help anyone with user experience design, for web or mobile. Don’t be shy if you got a question or wanna get in touch. :)
Trois / Yoga chaud est le merde
Yoga chaud c’est incroyable. Hot yoga is for what Australian’s would call ‘rich bohemiem wankers’ or in Francais, ‘bo bo’, it still is. But I have to say, it’s pretty awesome. A new and somewhat more permanent addition to my routine.
Quatre / Metro Montreal Projet
I’m on a mission: 1. 5 x photographies de chaque gare de Metro en Montreal 2. Make website for you to see the pictures
Cinq / Voyager aux Malaysie, Cambodge, Japon
During Chinese New Year, I rendezvous’ed with my family and we travelled a little together. It was Ho Hang time action packed complete with ups and downs all the way through. 3.5 weeks later, and 36+hrs flights from Tokyo, Dubai, Toronto and finally Montreal, I’m pretty deflated and a little jetlagged. I had a great time but it’s super nice to be back in Montreal, and calling it home! Still new and a little strange.
I wrote previously that ‘Quito is shit’ and that its worth giving a miss. I still believe this is true, but I guess I should explain something I wanted to avoid talking about during this trip.
[ Quito is dodgerama ]
On our second day in Ecuador, we were walking from the Panecillo where at a high point is an kind of attractive looking (comparably to the general scenery of the city) Virgen Mary statue. We wandered into the vicinity and thought to check it out since it was pretty close by. The feeling of the area grew dodgy, but because it reminded me a little of the walk up to the Sant’Elmo fortress in Naples – dodgy looking and quite empty, I thought nothing of it. We came across a stairwell that went directly to the top, but at the entrance saw in stencil sprayed red letters, “Warning, tourist stay away, there are robbers here”. Whilst Tom and I were considering the seriousness of the sign, a German guy nervously approached us and said that he felt a little vulnerable on his own and if it was OK to hang with us. We were quickly acquainted and decided to share a cab to the peak where the statue was located. We found it to be mildly impressive although had good views of Quito. Quito, as we saw, is a huge, sprawling city, residential areas nestled in a long valley along the Andes ranges.
[ Lemme save you a trip to the Panecillo, this is what you see ]
After viewing the statue, we decided that walking down the Panecillo shouldn’t be too bad, considering the distance is pretty short, and that there were three of us. We were wrong. At the very top of the steps, sat three chicos, who as we casually passed drew a big kitchen knife and held it to Tom’s neck demanding our belongings. Everything happened so rapidly, I surrendered my day pack, Tom arguing with them as they were forcibly pulling things from his bag. As they ran away, the German guy took after them. Tom and I just wanted to be out of that area, but I followed after the German, picking up his belongings that were dropped along the way. I found him standing at the top of a steep rough hill, knife in hand, frustrated as he was watching the three guys slide down. From a distance he looked like he was ready to kill. He had managed to wrestle with one, get his belongings back, kicked him around and get the knife(!)
[ Ecuador owes me an iPhone ]
We then walked the rest of the way down, German armed with the knife to his side, all of us shaken up, angry and on edge. And as we approached town, found the first police station to get claim forms for insurance. We presented the knife to a seemingly calm police woman, but her eyes were wide and was reluctant to touch the knife when we laid it on the table.
[ Before the robbery, not so peachy afterwards ]
In the end, we had to be thankful that we were safe. Too bad this experience really tainted my impression of Ecuador, and hence shortened our trip. Any positive experience began in the negative and had to regain some sort of credibility to be enjoyed. This kind of thing was half expected and its something that happens and you get over it. Sigh. And that’s why Quito is shit (this time).
Deux / ‘Extreme farming’
A main reason for coming to Ecuador was to do some volunteer work at a farm. We wanted to learn a little bit about growing veges, as well as staying in one spot of Ecuador to get a feel of the lifestyle, perhaps also getting some Wwoofing experience. A week into our three weeks on the farm, we met a previous resident, Trini, who mentioned that this farm is an ‘extreme farm’. It’s set on an Andean mountainside, so there’s not a lot of flat ground about, you walk either up or downhill, the crops are amongst grass and other invasive plants and its quite isolated. A lot of the initial designs did not consider permaculture or even farming certain gardening sensibilities. To add to the challenge, the land on which it is built had seen years of degradation from cattle farming and monoculture of crops.
[ Forest garden ]
"SS is an extreme farm" explained and relieved me a little, since this was my first WWoofing experience and towards the half way mark, I began to feel exhausted despite the average of 4-5 hours of work a day.
I arrived ready for work, motivated with ideas and up for anything they could throw at me. On arrival we discovered that the farm was in mid transition, moving to a location about 20min walk/hike away from the original establishment. A lot of construction type work was due.
[ Bedroom, waking up to mountains every day was nice ]
A typical day involved a routine daily chores of feeding animals, watering the garden, cooking lunch for everyone, cleaning and kitchen tasks. Pretty light and nothing crazy. Then there were projects, half of which I spent at the new location, and did such things as collect donkey shit - not as easy as you’d think since the hillsides were very steep with plenty of unforgiving prickly plants like the invasive mora, making mud for adobe bricklaying, moving 50-150 odd heavy adobe bricks around, building rooves for goat pens, digging lotsa holes, feeding goats amongst tall grasses and more mora, and few others.
[ Chooks are bloody weird ]
I learnt early on, that a primary principal of permaculture is to “maximise effort and minimise work”. I had to stop myself from questioning the minor things I saw that contradicted this principal. I don’t know a whole lot about permaculture, but I think I learnt a new perspective on common sense. Well, who doesn’t when experiencing another persons way to live? Some things I didn’t quite agree with, validated by the devils advocate ‘but-thats-just-their-way’ Tom.
[ Nightime cookin’, cos we were hungry all the time ]
In the end, I had to realise that the remoteness, isolation and the capacity of this farm seems quite inefficient but a pretty amazing effort nonetheless. I had to consider that since six years ago when Yves, the owner, bought land that was devastated (intentionally at that, along with a 15 year challenge). He repeats that he began as an anarchist. His first volunteers could do anything they wanted. We saw evidence of failed or half done projects around. At the time, anything they planted would grow a few centimetres if that, wither and die. They are now sprouting things that these mountains have probably never seen, continuing experimenting with non native crops. Through fertilisation of humanure, chicken tractors, compost, nitrogen fixer plants and various other methods that have now rewarded them with a small harvest, flourishing gardenbeds, greenhouses and trees.
[ Yup, that’s a lettuce bed ]
[ Every night there’s a different sunset ]
Trini says that to eat tomatoes grown on this farm, would deem this farm a successful project. The biggest thing I took away from here is the feeling of being more enabled of building and creating something on my own. Living in isolation and without electricity made me realise the potential of ones creativity with such limitations. I now also want to go woofing in different places in the world. I’d like to learn about how farming and gardening works in the different parts of the world. Its a way to appreciate cities, and also to get to know the land of a place instead of just the buildings.
Trois / Vilcabamba
The farm is situated just over an hour hike from a small town called Vilcabamba. A town quite notorious for the growing population in the gringo community, a myriad of some pleasant, a lot of not so pleasant stories of past and current residents. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in this town whilst volunteering, but I gathered an idea having read a local publication, ‘Vilcaflor, The Valley of Rare Fruits’ written by a long time Vilcabamba resident and cowboy, originally from New Zealand, Gavin (or the Kurious Kiwi). I’m not sure how accurate the cases might be but trust that about 60%-75% is true - good enough to call history I say.
In a nutshell, in Vilcabamba the ‘Valley of Longevity’, amongst the gringo population are hardcore environmentalists, conservationalists, a sprinkling of Y2kers, survivalists, fruitarians, retirees and your average kooky explorer who decided to stick around, all of whom prosper on the low cost of living. It is belived that the mineral loaded spring water and ions radiating from Mandango is what causes their lengthened lives, which is evident among the locals, who supposedly live to their mid 100s. The book also tells of various types arriving and almost immediately purchase land, only to encounter a disaster or harrassment (some even murdered).
To discover this in the first week of being in Vilcabamba, I became really curious and intrigued. But as reality sank in, slowly began to feel strange and freak out. Anyway, someone ought to make a documentary on it, or maybe even a T.V drama series, there’s some juicy material no doubt.
Quatre / Photographing without a camera
I had to deal with the frustration of not carrying a camera on this trip. So many prime moments and I guess this could be due to the shock of having been robbed and being intimidated of confrontation when photographing. We were lucky that Ryo gave us a point and shoot, we wouldn’t have pictures at all otherwise. But next time, cheap lomos are gonna do the job I think. I have to also appreciate travelling with someone who pays similar attention when comes to photographing. And that at least brings some satisfaction - a view, shared glance, unspoken smirk. One we didn’t miss…
Cinq / So now what?
I’ve come away with a few things – I want to Wwoof again, I’m ready to take photos again, and lots of them, super eager to start projects and things in Montreal. On our way from Cuenca to Guayaquil, we drove through a national park called ‘El cajas’ which had some of the incredibly stunning mountain views. I think if I were to come back to Ecuador it would be to hike some of these mountains perhaps even camp out there. I’d probably go spend some time with Ryo again in Quito, (gaze deceitfully at the Virgen Mary statue), then make my way to Cuenca, and then to Vilcabamba to visit the nice people I met there, and also explore the coast. Guayaquil tops Quito in the city filth charm. It was so noisy where we stayed, Tom mentioned that its more noise in a day than we heard in 3 weeks on the farm. It’s said to be pretty dangerous, and the pollution is noticably present. OK, a positive point about Guayaquil, a nice end, the park where the iguanas and pigeons hang out together.
[ Iguana, pigeons ]
[ Iguanas in trees ]
Oh, also the fact that we left Guayaquil to Montreal, only to find ourselves reading that there was an attempted coup and all airports and borders had been closed. Made Montreal feel much much nicer, a safe haven, a pretty city to come home to, exciting and new projects to come. Phew.
Quito is kind of shit. Don’t go to Panecillo, the Virgen Mary statue is not worth the visit. Neither is a lot of the city in my opinion. Everything just feels dodgy, which I’m usually OK with, but for some reason this place is bit different and might take some time for me.
Deux / Highlight
Seeing Ryo, friend from Tokyo. Ryo got a job as a web designer in Quito working for a Galapagos tour company catering for Japanese tourists. I’m really happy to see Ryo to be excited and passionate about his job – so he should be, he gets to go to Galapagos for free!! Also always good to know someone in a place like Ecuador, and also have the opportunity to eat Japanse curry in such a country!! If I come back to Quito, I think it would be for the Galapagos and not Quito city.
Trois / Highlight
Hotsprings in Banos. A really nice experience, to be in a hot pool situated in a spot nestled by big mountains with ~15m waterfall in sight. Maybe not as charming as Japan, but still definitely an experience. After having visited enough hotsprings, I think I should start recording my experiences and have some sort of rating system perhaps. We also found a cute cafe here that serves really great sandwiches and fresh salads which is a rarity.
Quatre / Highlight
Izhcayluma, German founded and managed ‘backpacker’s resort’. Awesome place equipped with pool, dining area with the most spectacular view of mountains and the valley of Vilcabamba. This place serves decent meals (I had a delicious Bavarian stroganoff spetzle last night), cheap massages, hammocks everywhere, pool table, ping pong, such luxuries of first world comforts that I think few Ecuadorian hosterias can offer. It’s also built amongst some pretty flora and fauna - birds, butterflies, bugs, frogs, flowers and plants. (Had a shower with a little frog the other night, it was camouflaged well, but his eyes gave it away). To top it off, we’ve met some really cool people, some of which we have shared some great stories and conversations with. Also it’s really nice to meet people from Melbourne. It’s been about three months and that homesickness is seeping in, but, as a conversation had about ‘missing Melbourne’, there’s also always that thought you get when you arrive back and discover you want to leave again. huh! But I think its a few certain somebodies as well as the food/coffee hankerings that really get to me. Oh well, I’m here now, and I’ll get home sometime later.
Cinq / Lowlight
I’m big on food, and part of travelling and learning about the culture of course has a lot to do with the food. Unfortunately, Ecuadorian cuisine isn’t anything to harp on about really. In fact, I’ve just recovered from a small case of food poisoning, from some half fried chips I suspect, in a place in Banos which consequently then prevented me from seeing much of Cuenca. During the bus ride to Loja the 2 days after I was actively daydreaming myself out of Ecuador, thinking about Korean BBQ and Japan :S Which is kind of sad, but there’s still time, and much more to learn about this culture. This trip is merely a first impression.
In a couple of days, we will be heading up to Sacred Suenos. A two hour hike to a farm from Vilcabamba for a few weeks. Living the farmer’s life of some sort, I have a couple of ideas of what to expect but really, we’ll see when we get there hey.
OK, I should finish on a minor highlight, my favourite thing here is mora juice, blackberry blendy slushy super fresh…
Montreal is unreal this summer. Since being here, it has been a common occurrence to stumble into a crowd of people partying, a festival with live music and impressive street performances, crazy thrift store/cafe with huge pit of clothes for $1 while offering up free espressos and ice tea with fun jazz, jive and blues, board games and pot luck evenings, and the loveliest and most colourful people you could ever meet.
The other day I went to visit a friend who has an amazing collection of 60s-70s electronic artifacts, we ended up helping her with a stop motion video for her entry into a competition to live in the Museum of Chicago for a month. Day after day of fun pretty much.
This is Marilyn in her living room.
The last week, we went to Quebec City using Allostop - a very convenient and well organised car sharing operation within Quebec - economical and ecological way to travel. Then we continued on to Rimouski, where we hitched a ride with a really nice fellow who took us just over 200kms to St Anne Des Monts! And luckily enough we then managed to get another ride with a family on their way to their campsite into Mont Albert - where we stayed in a cosy refuge lodge nestled amongst grand mountains of Gaspesie National Park for couple of nights.
Planning a hike
Peak of Mont Albert
The hiking was great fun, I had never hiked such rocky terrain for more than 2hrs at a time, but I got super high on dopamine after the big hike! I reckon if I kept it up, I could get addicted :S After 4 days, we hiked 40kms combined: Mont Albert, Mont Jacques Cartier, Abri de la Serpentine, Mont Olivine, camped for 3 nights amongst pine trees drank fresh water from the mountains, and in the end ate straight pasta, *hrr grunt*.
On the way to Mont Olivine
The 10hr bus ride overnight was a little uncomfortable, but I felt surprisingly energetic and on a fitness high when I arrived back. It was good timing though, since we were running out of cash in an ATM-less area, and I was beginning to really miss a decent meal. Was becoming rough for me towards the end, but a good warm up to South America, it will be interesting huh. [Couple more pics from Gaspesie]
Camp and playing with fire
We leave for Quito on Saturday morning. Our itinerary to South America is as follows, I think I’ll start to throw in pictures and stories as I go along:
14th August || Montreal > Quito 18th August || Quito > Cuenca 20th August || Cuenca > Loja (At Sacred Suenos for volunteer work) 20th September || Loja (Sacred Suenos) > Manchora ~ September || Mancora > Cajamarca ~ September || Cajamarca > Huaraz ~ September || Huaraz > Huancayo ~ September || Huancayo > Macchu Pichu ~ October || Macchu Pichu > Cuzco ~ October || Cuzco > Arequipa ~ October || Arequipa > Juliaca or Desaguadero (Lake Titicaca) ~ October || Desaguadero > La Paz 19th October || La Paz > Montreal
I have to say World Nomads is pretty awesome, bit lacking in the customer service though. Took them more than 24hrs working day to reply to my inquiry and it was a mere cut/paste reply from their website. Bit weird, since the process, design of the website and purchasing is pretty intuitive and super helpful. It was almost a pleasure to use - I was really expecting a prompt and personable reply to fit the package, well can’t have everything hey? Apart from that minor criticism, the idea of travel insurance that understands that you may decide to ‘live’ elsewhere apart from the country of residence is pretty unique, since I’ve been turned down by most companies. Also kind of makes me feel nice to know that it’s built by Aussies. WN would be the kind of company I imagine I’d like to work for (apart from Lonely Planet, to hang with The Caddies and Manderpants).
Anyway, I don’t know whether to be bummed about not being able to vote or not, since firstly I have no idea which party will be of any more benefit to the myself (or the country) and if it’s really much of a difference either way. It’ll be interesting to view this from the outside.
I bought a new Ukulele, now I have to practice my moves.
I’m working on iPhone stuff with a pretty awesome team at Lonely Planet. They’re essentially the same team that developed the first LP iPad application - who pulled of a phenomenal job if you ever get to see it. I get to work pretty closely with Steve who’s probably PROBABLY, just about one of the best designers I’ve ever worked with, not to mention, all round awesome dude who is also a photography nerd. Its not often you get to collaborate and interact with such inspiring people, and LP has them. Nice to know that I’ve finally found a good place that suits me, in Melbourne. It leads me to think about what it’d be like in Montreal. We’ll see what happens.
I like discovering new perspectives of thought. I’m constantly seeking new ways to encounter discoveries of this sort. These couple of weeks, things have been spawning in places I’d never imagined, like mushrooms after a big rainy day. Picking time.
I just realised I haven’t yet been to Animal Orchestra the entire time I’ve been back in Melbourne. I need to go there at least once before I leave.
Reading up on Buddhism and watching a lot of videos of Rinpoche Tsem Tulku. I really want to meet this guy, I got a lot of questions…
Back at LP! It’s fun here. Working on some iPhone stuff with great people. But only for a couple of weeks, and then its the last little stretch before take off. wow.
Mushroom hunting in the pine forest was fun, and the BBQ was tres deliciouso. Melbourne has some great hiding spots.
Driving 15mins to the restaurant, waiting 45mins for a table, giving up and then driving to another restaurant was worth the yum cha-dim sum demolition in the end.
First iPad contact this week. Certainly goofy, as it feels like a giant iPhone - guess that’s what everyone’s said huh? I could see how it would be a lot nicer than carrying a laptop round the house, which is what I’m doing quite often these days, since the Internet brings me everything I need: entertainment, information, communication with people. An ideal set up if I had a home base, would probably be an iMac (work) and an iPad (leisure). But for now, the Macbook fulfills both of these things (work/leisure) quite adequately. So I guess, I don’t really need an iPad.
"Quel impression vous avez de la situation politique et economique en France a present?"
I’ve ramped up the doing, and slowed down the reading. As a result, I discovered about the volcano in Iceland a lot later than most others. So I guess Iceland is outta the question huh? Wonder if I’ll even get to Europe when May comes ‘round, hmm.
I borrowed a bunch of travel DVDs from the library, did I mention Sydenham - the once concrete shithole, devoid of community/plant life, arid, depressing, rubbish scattered suburb, is now PUMPIN’. At this stage, Sydenham seems to have become one of those just-add-department-store kind of metropolis, full of of hipster school kids, newly settled migrants, soccer mums, and everything in between. They’re roaming into cafes serving lattes and luxury chocolate beverages, huge globo gyms, libraries with RFID chip technology, beauty salons and sassy mediterranean restaurants. Going to the library that day blew my mind. Well, I rode home chuckling half in disbelief, half disappointment for not having seen this coming this sooner. I suppose, I haven’t been home for the last 3 years, and even before then, living here in these cookie cutter housing estates discouraged me from exploring. It took forever to walk anywhere. Cars still own the roads, and don’t owe enough respect to bike riders. It feels as if bike riders were expected to use the foot path.
It’s interesting to stop and observe the results of development. But only now, I’m beginning understand how I could work around some systems (ie. ride a bike, instead of depending on shit busses and cars), make use of them (library has wireless, books could be better, but what they currently have is a great start), explore small businesses in the area (really great turkish/vietnamese food/deli’s here and growing by the year). I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next 5 years. I won’t be here to take not of the progression. But this suburb may just be ripe by the time I’m ready to settle again.
Camera Clinic seemed to have performed a tidy surgery on my lens. Looking forward to shooting again. It sure has been a while, but a backlog of film is yet to be scanned!
Jono (my not so little brother) turned 23yrs old yesterday! Holy crap!
Worked at ABC today. The people are lovely, Elsternwick is lovely, Noko is lovely and thus it was a super lovely day. I really like that I get to work with some of my best friends, get introduced to their friends and colleagues, and see what they get up to. Nice way to see off Melbourne, by doing a roundtrip of work places/projects and hanging out at different areas of the city.
Salut pauvre type = I’ve been doing a bunch of reading, and just getting used to pronouncing French words, but not really remembering anything. My brain is a sieve tonight.
My mum told me yesterday, that wiping the dishes caused for increase in the spread of germs from the tea towel. I wish she discovered this when I was in primary school. Not only is it unnecessary, it was probably the second worst chore, next to taking out the rubbish at the time. I actually don’t mind wiping the dishes now. She’s totally got the 180 degree-advice-remix down to a T.
My final weeks of Melbourne, I’m going to attempt to explore it like a tourist would. Anyone with recommendations or would like to join me (subject to selection process), drop me a line.