Monday, June 29, 2009

!Section 8 Bar!

Theme Songs of the Day:
  1. "Warriors", by Kymani Marley
  2. "Remind Me", by Royksopp

I'M IN A MF'ING SHIPPING CONTAINER!!



Recycled doesn't have to mean shitty.

Section 8 Bar is hidden down a discreet ninja alley leading into Melbourne's Chinatown.  Made entirely from a pair of shipping containers, old shipping pallets, and a bunch of old boots, the open air bar is a grungy-sexy-chic watering hole that attracts businessmen, students, and dreadlocked bohemian types all at the same time.  

A tiny, decrepit parking lot between some of Melbourne's oldest brick buildings has been recaptured and transformed into a completely funk-tional gathering spot.  It's the kind of place that makes you feel all that much cooler just because you know about it.

Shipping pallets are stacked and bolted together to form a maze of wooden counter tops and benches with balinese style cushions.  A couple of 500 gallon drums make for very sturdy bartops, with upended packing crates making up your barstools.

There are heaters to keep you toasty in the colder months, but bring a jacket because the roof is great at letting in sunlight, not so great at keeping out the rain.  Still, there is something about sipping hot totties and warm mulled wine while your breath vaporizes to a house-dub-reggae soundtrack.  I'm sure the bar would be great in summer months, though I've never been in Melbourne to check it out around that time of year...

The Drinklist?  Any beer list that goes from Melbourne Bitter to Guinness to Budvar to Tiger -with a honey spiced ale from New Zealand for good measure - can't go wrong...  And a cocktail list that includes creations like Passage to India [gin, drambuie, earl grey tea, lemon and a splash of tonic], Your Mama's Cheesecake [vodka, liquor 43, lemon, sugar and cream], and Grand High Chai [vodka, grand manier, chai tea, mint, orange and lemon] is enough to keep you wonderfully distracted until closing time.

Resident DJ Rintrah spins a moody blend of reggae, trip-hop, dance, and reggae every Thursday night, often featuring special guests.  The weekly lineup of DJs and events is often varied, always dope ...and don't be surprised if you walk in on live graffiti, or a random bike dance-off.

If someone doesn't do a version of this back in Honolulu, I am going to bring a couple shipping containers when I come home and find a parking lot in Chinatown to open up shop in!


PARKING LOT


SECTION 8 BY NIGHT


TOASTY MON


BACK OF THE BAR



#          #         #

What's Bothering My Green Conscience?

Theme Song of the Day:
  1. "The Cold Acre", by Augie March - great video clip too!

WHAT'S BOTHERING MY GREEN CONSCIENCE?


There has been something gnawing at me for some time now. Here’s what’s been bothering my green Conscience: ever since discovering Canadian Artist Franke James' blog in the Twitterverse:


Sustainability, that buzz word that is so popular now, is often thought of in terms of green; that is, relating to environmental sustainability and the pressing need for better stewardship of our planet. I’ve dubbed my blog theGreenBackpack for just that reason: it represents the sustainable themes I am exploring through my travels.

But the very icon which I have chosen to represent my travels is made of nylon, in a Vietnamese factory [which granted, supports fair trade practices], but is shipped on an oil-guzzling tanker halfway around the world to a discreet shopfront in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

The plane I have ridden to reach this part of the world has spewed, and will continue to spew tonnes of greenhouse gases into the air during its manufacturing, use, and maintenance of its useful life.

The campervan I have been driving, with its greedy petrol tank and noxious rubber steel radials rolling over oil-based blacktop for endless miles are the epitome of the fossil-fuel-consuming-and-carbon-producing-based technologies that are harming our planet.

The houses I stay in, the food supplies, the synthetic outdoors clothes and thermals, even the boots on my feet have been built with more attention given to the economic profitability than with long-term sustainability in mind.

The Bedfords, whom I have just spent 4 days living and sharing with, embody one form of embracing a more sustainable lifestyle: their choice to move into the mountains and live as far off the grid as possible was born more out of a bid to maintain their sanity, and health, than out of a burning desire to save the planet.

It takes a special kind of courage to go completely against conventional wisdom and take a stand for what you believe in: in their case, that their family’s health and happiness was more important than any material possessions could bring.

They have personal experience of the stress, anxiety, and gnawing sense of discontent that a life based on consumption and accumulation will breed... and by focusing on creating experiences and memories, raising their children surrounded by wild bushland, homeschooling and gardening and building with their own hands, hiking the Himalayas with the children and instilling a sense of curiosity, resourcefulness, and adventure ...lay a strong foundation for living the kind of life - of pursuing their passions - that others will write books about.

But even in the Bedford’s house - which out of necessity has been built with efficiency of resources as its topmost priority - sits toilet paper that is likely made from old-growth forest wood.

Who is going to give up using toilet paper in order to save the planet?

How then can I claim to be exploring sustainability, when the very act of my travels are contributing to the problem at hand?

It seems that the more I raise my awareness about sustainability – reading ingredient labels, purchasing local produce, paying the premium for organic and fair trade produce, measuring my carbon footprint so that I can effectively offset them, seeking out others who are embracing and leading the way in the movement towards a sustainable lifestyle – the more overwhelming the odds seem.

Why is it that a pound of locally caught wild prawns are three times the price of a pound of farm-raised prawns frozen and shipped over from Thailand? And why are bananas grown and shipped in from Eucador cheaper than bananas grown right in our backyards?

What good is it to change my lightbulbs when the all-consuming, never-ending-growth-in-the-name-of-progress fundamentals of our society continue unrestrained? There are corporations out there whose environmental impact exceeds that of entire countries – what chance do we have against the ‘wrath of God’ kind of money they control?
"He who has the gold, makes the rules."
-
The Golden Rule-


Can we really make a difference?

I believe so.

Sustainability is about so much more than saving the environment... it is about all the juicy things that make up this experience we call LIFE.

It is about community, and connecting...

It is about Arts, Music, and Culture.

It is understanding that there is more than enough to go around.

It is about becoming good stewards of the financial, enviornmental, social, and spiritual resources that surround us - rather than 'owners' or 'conquistadors' of the world around us.

It is about serving others: for in doing so, we nurture ourselves, and create a cycle of reciprocity that spirals upwards and onwards ...rather than the downward spiral of decay that a self-serving spirit of scarcity will set in motion.

It is knowing that we are all one family; that when we lash out and hurt another, we are actually hurting ourselves... and that when we lash out and hurt ourselves, we are actually hurting others.

What good is it to save the planet.... if we can't all get along? What good is it to get along....if we destroy the planet that we live on?

It is about playing for the best in the other person, and always seeing another bigger than they see themselves.

It is about leaving the world a better place for you having walked upon it.

It is about pursuing what makes your heart happy and your soul sing...

GOOD TIMES WITH FAMILY
AT LYNCH'S RESTAURANT IN MELBOURNE

It is about sharing and enjoying the resources we have been blessed with... the simple things in life: good food, good people, and great conversation.

...And so I will continue to wander the planet, in search of people, places, and projects [and do my best to minimize my impact along the way]...
...that are making a positive difference in our world.

So that I too, can do my part to make a positive difference in our world.


Question of the Day: What's Bothering Your Green Conscience?



# # #

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tasmania: Day 7 - Of Rain, Guiness Pie and Cheese

Theme Song for the Day:
  1. "The Rain Song", by Led Zeppelin

CHASING SUNSETS


Two words: Guinness Pie. and Cheese. Okay 3 words then…

Cheese, as in: the best cheese I have ever had [and the most in one sitting] at a roadside showroom for cheese made by a family-owned dairy whose 4th generation custodians smile innocent cherubic smiles from their milk cartons.

Guinness Pie, as in: the best damn pub food ever invented! Imagine - chunky beef stewed with Guinness Stout so that the bittersweet hunks of meat melt in your mouth, washed down with ...a pint of cold Guinness, of course! So good and hearty and satisfying after a full day's driving North-> South across the state - that I decide on the same meal for brunch the next morning too. Fan-TAS-tic.

The conversation on the road back was rich. There is nothing better than a road disappearing under you and a good soundtrack to facilitate reflection, sharing, and some good laughs.

Our time in Tasmania was wondrous, an escape into an alternate, past world when a families and communities bonded together out of a common need for survival. A time when the rhythm of life was dictated by the seasons of sow, harvest, stock, survive… and then the cycle would begin again.

There was such warmth in the household; it was clear that like all families, this family had been through its ups and downs and ins and outs and dramas and triumphs, and had come out stronger for the experiences. Their choice to live off the land was literally a choice to take their lives back into their own hands, and has created the bond of mutual understanding that a shared experience creates. The kind of bond that goes without words, that can convey volumes in a quickly shared glance.

The Canadian and I have also created a similar bond through the shared experience of the last few days, but through the sharing of stories: our lives’ journeys to this point. That’s one of the things about travel, it sharpens senses and heightens your experience another, because every moment counts.

How do I bring this back into my daily life, the one where I have bills to pay and phone calls to return and commitments to make? And keep. The life that has consumed the last decade of my life, the life I have left behind.

Through all of that endless mundanity, that terminal condition of western society,
that syndrome that afflicts so many who walk around their lives fast asleep with their eyes wide open, that bastion of insanity, of doing the same thing over and over and over and over, and expecting a different result....

How do we keep alive our sense of wonder, and adventure?

We are alive dammit, ALIVE. And we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Or if it will ever come. But in this moment, we are alive, and we are here to savour every precious flavour, the sweetness of it all, the bitterness, the chocolate-and-coffee richness of it all. And then we are gone.

To sit with someone’s pain is a unique privellege indeed. To sit with someone’s pain and bear witness to their journey through to the other side is quite another. I have gone to the depths of humanity over the last few days.

There is a subtle melancholy about her, a deep sadness and even deeper pain that dwells just beneath her easy-going way. There is a sense of joy, of closure, of celebration that bubbles through in her smile. And in her eyes, you can almost see the twinkle growing brighter each day.

Some days the grief hits hard, and other days the sun shines brightly through her heart. And with each step she holds her head high, eyes up, smiling and laughing, and listening. With such dignity. With such genuine interest in what the other person is saying. With such an understated appreciation of enjoying this moment with a fellow human being. With a slightly bewildered amazement at this gift called life.

She is finding her way back to herself, removing herself from an old world full of memories and expectations and love. Finding her way in a world which has given her the most bitter things to taste, a world in which she finds herself wandering, and wondering what is next. And finding out that she has been given so many gifts, so much richness, so much LIFE…

Now, she pauses, a brief intermission as the next reel is loaded in preparation for the next act of her life. Only she gets to write the script – however she wants to.

No wonder our paths have crossed. No wonder our paths will diverge.

“If you can lose, and start again at your beginnings, And ne’er breathe one word about your loss…”
-
"If", by Rudyard Kipling-

My losses seem to pale in comparison to what she has lost; yet there exists a mutual understanding of what it means to have won - big time - and then lose it all. Though my circumstance looks different to hers, the pain each has felt is very real.

Financial abundance is one thing; abundance of the heart is true wealth. I am truly blessed that the ones that I have loved, that I still do love, and that love me… are still here for me to enjoy.

From The Canadian, I’ve learned that:
  • Dignity is carried, not given
  • Pain can be beautiful
  • Sweet tastes so much better after Bitter
  • Every moment counts
  • Shared silences are healing
  • Everyone has a story
  • Everyone's story has a gift for those who are lucky enough to hear it
  • Listening to someone's story is a gift for the storyteller
At the departure lounge, we sit easily in each other's silence, thankful for the new friends we have made, the lessons we have learned, and most of all, for the shared experiences of the last few days.

Life is beautiful.

# # #


"These are the seasons of emotion,
and like the winds they rise and fall.
This is the wonder of devotion -
I see the torch we all must hold.

This is the mystery of the quotient -
Upon us all a little rain must fall."
-
"The Rain Song", by Led Zeppelin-



THE CANADIAN,
WITH NEW FRIENDS
AOBA AND MAXIMUS

# # #

Tasmania: Day 6 - Wild Beauty


Theme Songs of the Day:
  1. "First Dy of My Life", by Bright Eyes
  2. "Burn One Down", by Ben Harper
  3. "Are We Different?", by Priscilla Ahn

CAMPING ON THE RIVER FLATS


The morning dawns achingly cold on the flood plains of Taylor Flats.

Blue smoke bellows from the still-damp campfire while I stand on the bank of a river, casting into the flow and hoping for a rainbow or a brown trout to strike. The air is still, and my breath hangs around my shoudlers in a puffy veil.

Kookaburras guffaw in the distance while other birds chatter and chirp and whistle all around me. An industrious little fellow tap tap taps at the skeletal tree standing behind me, pulling out grubs and other goodies from the dead wood.

Poplar trees grow thick along the banks to the water’s edge, and I pick my way upstream searching for breaks in the undergrowth large enough for me to cast from. Back at the campfire, butter and home-made raspberry jam bubbles away on the gridle, while bread smokes itself into toast for our breakfast.

Last night we met Roslyn and Oscar, Peter’s wife and youngest son. I spoke with Roslyn on the phone when we landed in Tassie, or rather she spoke to me through the crackling connection: “Is that you Matt??” She is tough as nails, all sinew and no nonsense, with a warm smile and a heart of gold.

Oscar and his brother grew up on the “luxury campgrounds” and were homeschooled by their parents. He is a confident, well-mannered 16-year old, also tough as nails, all sinew, and no-nonsense. He does have his father’s cheeky grin, and the twinkle in in his eye that suggests he may or may not be about to play a practical joke on you…

On the day that the Board of Education came to interview the children to find out how effective [or not] their homeschooling had been, Roslyn was nervous that they might deem their progress sub-par, and take her children away. Instead, the lady that came out was so impressed that she asked if the boys would come and speak to other homeschool families as an example of possibility.

Roslyn explains to me later that their approach was simple: keep the boys engaged and having fun, and they would learn something without even realizing it. For example, to teach them about mathematics and geometry, they built a shed and had them do all the calculations on site that were necessary to complete the project. They learned the theory and application of the concepts being studied, and gained the practical construction skills while swinging their hammers. At 23 years old, Wilbur now travels the world as a freelance adventure guide; he is currently away in Europe leading whitewater kyak adventure tours in Norway over the summer season.

We get to see more of the benefits of this kind of education first hand when we get back to camp and Oscar invites us to join him and his best mate Alex [who is 3 years older] on the downhill Moutain Bike Track that he and his brother Wilbur have built on the other side of the waterfall.

The track is impressive; a narrow trail winds its way down the mountain, earthen embankments allow you to throw the bikes around the switchbacks, and a fallen log provides a massive railslide that drops back onto the track on a steep, twisting ramp. The see-saw feature they fly over freaks me out and sends me careening off into the bush, mowing down a couple of baby eucalypts along the way.

I opt to take the side route on the final stretch, which drops off a rocky outcrop before slipping through a narrow gap in the trees. It took us twenty minutes to hike up to the start, and maybe three minutes to barrell down, hooting and crashing and laughing all the way down. I am thankful that the 15-foot jump they are still building mid-way down is incomplete… and that despite falling off twice, I survived my first downhill mountain biking experience with barely a scratch!

The adrenaline is still coursing when we return to “camp”, and we are still wild-eyed when Peter shows us the yield of hazlenuts that he and Aoba have gathered that morning. The Canadian has asked that we do a bonfire that night, so Roslyn announces that ice cream, molten chocolate, and home-made raspberry sauce will compliment campfire-roasted hazlenuts perfectly for desert.

Before we head out to gather wood for the bonfire, however, Peter invites us on a bushwalk with him to Levyn Canyon. The 45-minute trek up to the lookout point takes about 25 minutes with the pace that he sets for us, and our breath is taken away when we reach the end of the trail. Wooded valleys stretch to the horizon as a river winds its way through. We are ants perched precariously on the edge of this precipice, dwarfed by the massive spectacle of nature engulfing us. The platform and we stand on and polished trail signs behind us are the only sign of human presence; the work of a single park ranger who has carved the trail out with his own two hands, and the occasional help of a laborer or two.

THE RIVER WINDS THROUGH...

Once we regain our breath, we head back to the car which Peter guides deftly around the gravel roads twice as fast as I would be comfortable driving, to bring us to another trailhead. This one descends into the canyon and crosses the river, where we pass a sign reading EXPERIENCED BUSHWALKERS ONLY, and our motley crew - The Moustachioued One, The Canadian, The GreenBackpack, and the Tokyo Girl - pick our way along the steep trail until we round a bend and stop at a natural stone bench which overlooks dark tea-colored pools that eddy and swirl below.

It dawns on me how foreign an experience this must be for Aoba, who has probably only known the bright lights and ceasless racket of big city life... now we are surrounded by a natural symphony, the water rushing below, the breeze whispering through the treetops in waves, birds cackling and whistling and chirping all around.

NATURE'S SKYSCRAPERS

We sit and munch on the chocolates I have brought, drinking in the view from the canyon floor. The cliff face stretches up 100+ stories above, and you can almost hear the cracking and rumbling of the massive rock stratas which lie at a 45 degree angle from the horizontal rocks which are the adjacent cliff. The river does a huge switchback here, and Peter tells us that at some time in the distant geological past, this entire canyon was formed by the collapse of the massive rockforms towering above. If we were ants standing on the top of the canyon, we are gnats as we look up from within.

We return to "camp" with a new sense of quiet satisfaction, our glimpse of the awesome power of Wild Tasmania lingering in our auras. This is Peter's backyard, and I find myself longing to keep exploring, to discover yet more wild spectacles that few privelleged humans will get to experience in their lifetimes. The wild places of the world don't want to be discovered, preferring instead to reveal their secrets only to those intrepid enough to seek and discover...

Dinner is the vegeterian green Japanese curry that I have had bubbling away all afternoon. The homegrown baby yams added at the last minute are pink and translucent and no bigger than my thumb, and lend just the perfect earthy-sweet flavour to this Asian-Australian bush tucker meal we have just invented.

HYPNOTIC

We take turns simmering in the woodfired bath; house rules are that whoever is in the hot tub gets waited upon hand-and-foot, “As you wish…” Everyone outside of the bath house sits and stares into the fire, talking about past and future planned adventures [and misadventures], and even start to sketch out a vague plan to hike in to Cradle Mountain and back from Loongana when I return to Tasmania.

Aoba entertains herself by slicing cross-sections of the bonfire smoke rising into the night sky with her bright green laser beam, whistling Super Mario Brothers to herself and munching on potatoes roasted in the glowing embers. I can only imagine what her internal dialogue would be, 18-years old girl raised in the Tokyo metropolis in the middle of the Tasmanian bush and only enough grasp of English to understand fleeting glimpses in our conversations..

Roslyn and The Canadian have convinced Peter to break out a bottle of homebrew honey mead which has been “cellared” for a couple years. The amber liquid has a velvety texture, not quite as viscous as scotch, yet smooth enough to coat the sides of the glass when swirled. It smells sweet like honey, not the sickly sweet of desert wines, or the artificial sweet of soda pop, but a subtle, delicate sweetness imbued with a hint of citrus… and the taste? Divine. Almost spiritual. If one were lucky enough to sip from the nectar of the gods, than surely this would be it.

Maximus curls up in my lap and drifts off to sleep, twitching and eyelids fluttering as he starts to dream of chasing birds and sticks and severed wallaby heads. The conversation fades and becomes more intermittent, each of us losing ourselves in the hypnotic glow and crackly of the bonfire, connecting with some deep part of ourselves from eons past, when ape-like men huddled around campfires in caves.

Glowing embers float up and away into the milky way yawning above us. I realize that have discovered a formula for inner peace:

Homebrew Honey Mead
+
Vegetarian Japanese Curry
featuring Home-grown Baby Yams
+
Fire-Roasted Hazlenuts on IceCream with Molten Chocolate
and Home-made Raspberry Sauce
+
Woodfired Bath-house
+
Bonfire
+
Awesome People
+
Amazing Conversation
=
Bliss


# # #


BEDFORD'S BACKYARD


RIVER CROSSING


THE CANADIAN


CHILLIN' ON THE STONE BENCH


AOBA [TOKYO GIRL] CONTEMPLATES NATURE


ROASTING HAZLENUTS


BLISS

# # #



Tasmania: Day 5 - In Search of Sushi

Theme Songs of the Day:
  1. “Fire Coming Down the Mountain”, by The Gorillaz, live in Harlem with Dennis Hoper
  2. “El Manana”, by The Gorrilaz
TAWNY FROGMOUTH AT NIGHT


Who’s bright idea was it to go spotlighting on the back of the ute for wildlife at midnight on a 3 dog night [as in degrees Centigrade!]?!?

…oh yeah, I was the Ideas-Man last night… the wildlife around these parts is very intelligent; smart enough to stay in on a cold night, anyways… we only spot three wallabies, nothing like the abundant wildlife scattering from our headlights experienced on the way in.

The morning is balmy compared to the windchill of midnight on he truck bed with the midnight wind screaming in my hair, spotlight turned up to the tree canopy searching for glimpse of the elusive, rare, and very rare species of Drop-Bear and Hoop-Snake that are rumoured to be active in these parts.

I spend it with a steaming cup of tea in one hand, and a slimy tennis ball in the other, exploring the luxury campgrounds again while Maximus leaps and bounds alongside me like an oversized, muscular Mexican Jumping Bean [another rare species fumored to be active in these parts].

Today’s mission is to head back into Ulverstone in search of sushi supplies. Aoba’s arrival has sparked my culinary imagination, and I’ve offered to gather the necessary ingredients to make okonomyaki, a delicious sort of Japanese savory pancake made with shredded cabbage, batter, minced beef or pork, Japanese mayonaise, bonito flakes, and a special okonomyaki sauce that is like a mild teriyaki.

Ulverstone by daylight has quite a different character; it is Sunday so the main street is empty and the church’s parking lot is full. We find a morning latte at Smiley’s cafĂ©, where we meet none other than Mr. Smiley himself, who amuses himself by attempting to welcome us with his best Caadian accent. “Hau wood yoo like yore coafeeee then, ay, young laydeeee?” he drawls, then laughs heartily at his own joke. Aussies love Canadians…

The supermarket doesn’t carry the Japanese batter mix and other special ingredients for us to make okonomyaki – I forget that we are in rural Tasmania. We are surprised to learn that nobody in town sells fresh fish, and so head down the road to Penguin in search of good sushi.

The road to Penguin follows an old railway track along coast, just a few feet from the rocky beaches, and as the sun glints and sparkles off the blue water I feel like I am driving through the opening scene in a roadtrip movie. The town of Penguin is nestled into a small nook in the coast and has the feel of a lazy coastal holiday town. There are winged tuxedos everywhere on the main street, cute and kitschy, all grinning and winking, and one in particular is very happy to see The Canadian.

There is no fresh fish to be found here either, so we press on to the port of Burnie, which is said to have a deep water harbor to rival Devonport and Hobart. This is a logging, woodchipping, and papermill town, and the first thing to be spotted as we round the corner and approach the town are three massive piles of woodchip sitting on the docks, each at least 5 stories high.

Peter tells us later that he has seen miles and miles of woodchip piles twice as large sitting idle deep in the forests around his property. The effects of the Global Finanical Crisis [known in Oz as "GFC" - sounds like a really bad fast food restaurant chain...] are felt even in the wilderness of Tasmania, just waiting for a stray spark to send them up like piles of gunpowder in a Loony Toons cartoon gone tragically wrong.

The stark contrast of the pristeen wilderness we have come down from, to the huge industrial machines and belching smokestacks that are in and around this town is disconcerting. It sparks an inner dialogue questioning how economic and environmental sustainability can ever reconcile each other when we live in a system that places financial profitability and growth above all else.

The road back is full of questions, and as I enjoy fresh sushi with new friends this night, I am thankful for being with good people surrounded by wilderness.

Suddenly, it has become much easier to see why Peter made the decision to come build a self-sufficient life for his family, “luxury camping” in the bush.

# # #


BUSH TUCKER: SUSHI!


MAXIMUS DECIMUS MERIDIUS




# # #

Tasmania: Day 4 - "Here: Loonagana"

THEME SONGS FOR THE DAY:
  1. "Society", by Eddie Vedder, from the Into The Wild soundtrack
  2. "Indifference", by Ben Harper and Eddie Vedder


PETER BEDFORD:
THE MYTH, THE MAN, THE BLOODY LEGEND


Urgh. After 10 hours on the road yesterday I'm not sure it was a good idea to stay up until 5am drinking wine with our Couchsurfing host and new friend, Peter Bedford... but geeeez his wine is good!

Home-made from blueberries, raspberries, and loganberries grown organically in the garden patches right outside the main house, there are jugs of new batches bubbling away in the kitchen. We made a pretty good dent in their supply getting to know each other last night...

Surprisingly, I'm not hungover, just tired from being on the road and then staying awake for so long. Guess that's what happens when you drink wine that is made from organic fruits, with no preservatives or additives - the wines taste clean, crisp, and fresh, like we are nuzzling from the bosom of the earth.

Aside from sharing our stories and drinking copious amounts of wine, last night - or rather, this morning - we learnt how to find due south by lining up the stars of the Southern Cross with the Pointer Sisters [with Peter's bright green laser pointer which seemed to touch the stars], and were given a tour of the place in near-total darkness. When I finally rise at around 10am, I
jump out of bed eager to explore the place in the daylight.

FROST ON THE GROUND IN THE MORNING


The sun has cleared the mountains and the temperature hovers near 4 degrees C, only one degree warmer than last night. I walk down to the dam to get a better look at the "luxury camping" compound that Peter has built for his family over the years. A builder by trade, the building have all been constructed of materials reclaimed from old tear-down houses in the area, or timber milled on-site from the few trees they felled to create the clearing in which the houses sit.

BEDFORD LUXURY CAMPGROUNDS


For the first 18 months or so, the Bedfords would hike in from the main entrance and camp around the fire pit seen in the middle of the photo. The fire's embers were kept glowing 24 hours/day to give the family warmth and cooking capacity until a double wood-fired oven, barbeque grill, and covered dining table were all added later to finish out the heart of the compound. The original structure, which can be seen to the right, was built; then the family moved their tents into this shelter.

THE ORIGINAL HOUSE


This structure was later expanded into what it is today: carpets cover the original earth floors on one side, and a wood-fired stove sitting on carpet-covered brick floors warms the cottage from the other. It feels like a writer's cabin in the woods, complete with a corner desk that overlooks the dam and is bathed in sunlight each morning.

INSIDE THE BATHOUSE

The bath-house can be seen to the left of the photo above: inspired by the bathtub cauldrons used to skin slaughtered
pigs, Peter has built a wood-fired hot-tub out of brick and a reclaimed cast-iron bathtub. Fresh dam water is used, the color of weak herbal tea from being seeped with eucaplytus tannins. A chimney pipes out all the smoke from the fire, and a very high-tech system of pulling the plug to drain water while turning the tap to let in more cold water is used by the bather to regulate the temperature and prevent themselves from becoming boiled soup.

The veggie gardens sit above this area, well fenced to keep out unwelcome guests. The growbeds are raised, sitting on the north-facing aspect of the gentle slope everything is built on, and are a combination of worm castings and compost that has been cultivated on-site over the years. Most of the veggies have been harvested, though a few heads of lettuce and other yummy munchies can be seen growing; the seasons are shifting and the winter veggies will be grown in the two hothouses that have been built.

Peter uses what he calls "organic worms", which live in worm baths that sit in the shadows of a grove of eucalyptus at the edge of the compound. These worms are happiest munching on a combination of kitchen scraps and horse manure, and differ from regular earthworms in the quality of worm casting they produce. Buckets sit at the bottom ends of the worm baths collecting "worm tea", which is a nutrient-rich liquid fertilizer that is used throughout the gardens.

THE KIDS' HOUSE

The "main house" that we pulled up to last night is the most recently built structure on the premises: also built almost entirely from reclaimed building materials and timbers milled on-site, it features heated floors. A concrete slab was poured with copper pipes laid throughout that connect to a modified wood-fired stove in the middle of the house. Water fills a chamber surrounding the fire chamber, and a small pump helps circulate the water to keep the house warm in the cold winter nights.

The north-facing wall is almost entirely glass,
bought for $100 from windows reclaimed from another tear-down house in the area. Growbeds line this wall, about three 1/2 feet off the ground so that tomatos and other veggies can be grown inside the house throughout winter. It's also a handy feature to be able to throw your dry scraps right onto the garden to be composted. Originallly intended to be the "kid's house", this structure has become the main living area, with a large kitchen bench to hang out around, and plenty of room to hang out wet gear.

A flat screen TV and impressive collection of dvds and video games look like any other suburban kid's living room, though these kids are hardly what you'd call any other suburban kid. Wilbur is 23 years old and is currently in Norway leading whitewater kyaking expeditions, while 16-year old Oscar is away with Mum whitewater kyaking somewhere near the Walls of Jerusalem national park in the middle of Tasmania.

We strike out towards the waterfall that can be heard in the background, and follow a large trek leading away from the ompound. The stream at the top of the waterfall is narrow enough to jump across, and seems harldy capable of producing the roar of falling water humming in our chests. There are a couple eucalyptus trees here that would take four men holding hands to span its circumference, and soar majestically 30 stories above the forest floor.

At the bottom of the falls, we are humbled by the sight which greets us. Only a handful of humans have ever born witness to this place, Peter tells us later that the locals didn't even know it existed until he moved in and discovered it himself.

We are standing at the bottom of a small canyon, whitewater falling in slow motion over glistening black boulders that are almost perfect squares, tempting me to climb this beautiful natural staircase. Massive tree ferns lining the canyon walls create perfect acoustics for the water to gently echo around this room, and we stand in silence for quite some time in awe and gratitude of this discovery. It feels wrong to cheapen the moment by snapping photos, so we quietly say our thanks and move on back up to the house.

Electricity for the entire compound is generated from one turbine at the base of the falls, and is pumped into a converter and battery store room where power levels can be easily monitored. Sitting around under one light bulb in the middle of the night no longer seems creepy once we've walked down to the turbine and followed the power cables all the way back up to the house.

They don’t get many visitors this far out into the bush, as Peter explains, “those who are meant to find us, eventually do…” This afternoon he is picking up 18-year old Aoba [pronounced “Oh-bah”], whose Couchsurfing sister has arranged for a two-week stay to get her out of the city and broaden her horizons.

She barely speaks English, and I am lounging naked in the hot-tub when she arrives late in the afternoon and is given the tour. “Can I take photo?” she says, and I nod vaguely through the clouds of eucalyptus steam.

Who woulda thought that I would be snapped nude by a Japanese tourist out in the wilderness of Tasmania?

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"KIDS' HOUSE"
AND VEGGIE GARDENS


STORAGE SHED, CUBBY HOUSE AND FLYING FOX


MAXIMUS PLAYING AROUND THE DAM


WOOD-FIRED OVEN


OUTDOOR DINING TABLE


BUNKHOUSE




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Tasmania: Day 3 - "Guns Don't Kill People; People With Moustaches Kill People."

Theme [Road Trip] Songs For The Day:
  1. "Ramble On", by Led Zeppelin
  2. "Never Going Back Again", by Fleetwood Mac
  3. "A.M. 180", by Grandaddy

ROADTRIPS ROCK!

Today's mission is to make the four hour drive up to Launceston in time to meet up with another traveling friend for lunch, then make the two-hour journey up through Devonport to Ulverstone, where we will find our way to the Bedford's property in the mountain bush in time for dinner.

The drive up through Tassie's Midland Highway takes us through the agricultural center of the state. The sky is filled with puffy, backlit clouds, the asphalt disappears quickly beneath the campervan, and the iPod is cranking out some great road tunes.

Trucks shake the van as they thunder past in the opposite lane,while the gently rolling hills and greenery stretch all the way to the m
ountains carpeted in dark green eucalyptus stretch on the horizon, punctuated every now and then with a craggy cliff face yawning skywards. These mountains beckon silently, persistently: "Come, explore us, hike us, wander us...there is much to discover."

AUTUMN IN LAUNCESTON

Launceston sneaks up on us at around 2pm, and the autumn sun is shining brightly. This town looks and feels very much like Hobart, with its short, squat buildings and no-nonsense vibe. Autumn is still very much in effect here, and the afternoon sunlight sets the orange and yellow leaves ablaze. I am always so impressed with Autumn, and the warm, brightly shifting hues that celebrate its arrival.

We make contact with Aisha, a friend of Jill's who has just completed a week's worth of WWOOFing on a horse ranch in the area we are headed towards. There is time to kill before she can meet up, so we find our way to the public library for some quick internet access to check email accounts after two whole days without internet access. I am amazed that I have survived 48 hours without updating my Facebook status... hanging out @ home for the last few weeks, I have been updating my FB status 20 or 30 times daily, cliffhanger updates and deep thoughts such as "eating toast" and "gone out for another coffee" and "why do we have toes anyways??"...

100 new emails later, I find myself being kicked off the computer by an annoyed librarian, so I head out to catch up with the girls who have gone ahead in search of lunch. Launceston is a wonderfully small city - more like a country town - you can almost see horse & carriages being driven around the wide streets here. I pass a group of Harley riders relaxing in front of a two-story brick government building with tudor windows that is right out of an old British colonial movie. I walk around a few city blocks with my mobile phone thrust infront of me, snapping pics every 10 steps or so, fascinated with the long shadows and dramatic lighting that the afternoon sun is casting.

Aisha is catching Jill up on her travel adventures since the last time they saw each other, and they are poring over highlighted maps in their guidebooks when I find the cafe they have been hiding in. We slow down to 5km/h and push her out of the back of the campervan to drop her off at her hostel and cheerfully wave goodbye in the rearview mirror on our way out of town; it is 4:30pm by the time we leave Launceston and strike out for Ulverstone.

The LET'S GO IN AUSTRALIA guidebook says that the best view of Devonport "is from the rearview mirror", but as we approach this town the sun is setting dramatically right in front of us. Nature's lightshow is expansive and brilliant and dramatic and calming all at the same time, and oooohs and ahhhhs bubble from my lips unconsciously as the spectacle unfolds.

SUNSET ON THE ROAD TO DEVONPORT

Problem is, the late departure from Launceston mens that we arrive into Ulverstone, another quaint coastal town [from what can be seen], well after dark. Now we are faced with the task of finding our host, who lives deep in the mountains on a self-sufficient compound that he has built to escape from society. What's more, he doesn't really want to be found. The directions to his place are somehwat cryptic:
"Not easy to find, its better to phone with a map in front of you. If your in Ulverstone head to Sprent, Castra, Nietta, Leven Canyon, go past Leven Canyon until the bitumin, continue for 4.8 Klm, we are on the right just past 6 or 7 letter boxes that will be on your left."

In hindsight, the directions actually make perfect sense... though not while winding through unfamiliar narrow roads in the darkness from Ulverstone. The road gets progressively narrower and more unsealed, and a couple of logging trucks barrel down past us, their bright lights looking like alien motherships in the complete absence of streetlights. The campervan shudders as the roar past and I pull nervously onto the shoulder to give them a wide berth.

We take a turn marked LEVYN CANYON and the road surface is no longer sealed - not quite blacktop, but not quite dirt road. A few turns in and I slow right down to about 40 km/h as the bouncing bottoms of some small furry creatures bound away from the headlights. Pairs of glowing eyes turn away and become bouncing tails disapperaing into the night.
They look like plump, oversized rats on pogosticks, and for the longest time we are unable to catch a good look at them. We find out later that they are wallabies, very plentiful in this part of the world.

The road drops away on one side, and treetops can be made out at eye level - we are skirting the edge of a valley, or perhaps the sheer edge of a canoyon wall; we cannot tell in the darkness. After the two trucks, there are no other cars to be seen, and the houselights on either side of the road become fewer and further between, until eventually we are buzzing along in near-total darkness, with only a slim sliver of moon and the twenty meters or so of headlights lighting the way.

After an hour or so, we slow right down to make a sharp corner at the bottom of a switchback, and spot a lone house up a hill to the left. The sign says FIRE BRIGADE, and this touch of civilization gives us a surge of renewed confidence that we may be on the right track.

The night is teeming with wildlife, and as the bitumen (asphalt) ends, the campervan clatters on over corrugated dirt road and even more wallabies scatter out of headlight range. I swerve to avoid a large possum that looks like a cross between a large cat and a racoon, and is sitting adamantly in the middle of the road. A ghostly shape whispers through the air in front of us, and for a few moments we follow a tawny frogmouth hunting along the road on silent wings.

The road gets rougher and rougher, until it is clear that we are creeping along logging tracks now, massively wide tree trunks dimly visible through the thick underbrush caught in our headlights on either side of the road. We've gone 16 km past the end of the bitumen into the mountains, and I notice that the petrol tank gague is reading 1/4 full... time to turn around before we break an axle or run out of gas or get bogged or... HIT A WOMBAT..!

...a fat little ball of muscle and fur waddles calmly across the road directly in front of the van, and as I hit the brakes he doesn't skip a beat as he calmy walks under the front wheel well and off into the night. It is well known in Australia that if you hit a wombat, he is likely to do more damage to your vehicle than you are to it... this is an animal who evades his predators by burrowing into the ground and presenting his bum to his attacker, whose teeth are unable to penetrate the tough, bony hide there.

video
LOST IN THE BUSH


We continue back the way we came, deciding to ask directions from the last house we saw before the end of the bitumen, keeping our eyes peeled for those 6 or 7 mailboxes referred to in the directions. There are more possums and wallabies on the way back out, and some Tassie devils even lope along side the van for a few meters, do a couple of confused circles as we stop to get a closer look, then decide to explore the underbrush off the side of the road. As we near the end of the dirt road, a couple of very unhelpful cows look very bored when we stop and ask for directions and shrug us off without so much as a grunt or moo.

The Fire Brigade turns out to be an older white-haired couple who eye us suspiciously as I jump up and down to catch their attention. He sizes me up, this wild-haired, unwashed, brown-skinned traveler doing jumping jacks outside his window in the middle of the night in front a a rental campervan that reads HAVE A DEVIL OF A TIME on his driveway... he decides that yeah, he could take me... and comes outside into the cold to see what I want.

"Bedford is it?" he says, looking me straight in the eye. Then something like "Yeah, figures..." under his breath before he proceeds to give me directions on how to find the cluster of mailboxes at the side of the road that will tip us off to the entrance to the Bedford property.

5km after the end of the bitumen, we just make out the mailboxes at the edge of the headlights, and find tire tracks leading off into the woods to the right, so I gun the engine to get the van up the embankment. The "road" is rocky and the van slips and slides underneath us as we twist and turn and finally crest a hill. A cold, solitary light can be seen shining through the trees up ahead. The van slips down the slope and the headlights show us a junked car next to a horse shed, building materials scattered around the yard, and old Toyota 4wd parked backwards against the main house. The digital clock in the van blinks 10:07pm.

A moustached man in a beanie is moving around under the solitary compact flourescent lightbulb that lights the place, and as I kill the engine Jill says, "Good thing you didn't wear your moustache t-shirt today..." We jump out of the van bearing gifts, wine bottles in hand and are greeted by a happy, slobbering, leaping juvenille bulldog and the moustached man, who has a glass of wine in one hand.

I notice a severed wallaby head squinting up at us behind the two, and gulp as I reach out my hand to introduce myself: "We've brought wine!"

"Finally found the place didjya?" he says quietly. "Yeah well it's not easy is it....I'm Poida, nice to meet ya. Come on, let's have some wine and then I'll give ya a tour of the place!" he says, with a handshake as hard as rocks.

Above, the moon has set, and the Milky Way stretches out across the entire night sky, silhouetting the tall eucalyptus trees that close in all around us.

I smile and blow warmth into my hands: Welcome to Tassmania.

'NUFF SAID.



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Tasmania: Day 2 - The Tasman Penninsula

Theme Songs for the Day:
  1. Oompa Loopma Remix, by G-Penguin
  2. O Fortuna, composed by Carl Orff

THE TASMAN PENNINSULA
1 1/2 - 2 HOURS' DRIVE EAST FROM HOBART


I love the smell of coffee and chocolate in the morning.

It is the Breakfast of Champions, and for my money, certainly beats that other breakfast of champions and artistic types all over the world: coffee and a cigarette.

Ahhhh chocolate.... food for the soul...

O, chocolate, how do I love thee, let me count the ways...


THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY:


As we drove around the neighborhood last night looking for someplace to park the campervan, I kept spotting purple roadsigns reading "CADBURY" in that delicious cursive font that graces their chocolate bars. It was only because of the better judgement of my navigator that we did not camp out in the parking lot of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, just 4km up the road from the caravan park.

THE MORNING VIEW FROM
"TREASURE ISLAND" CARAVAN PARK

I walk along the dark waters in the cold morning to stretch sleep-twisted muscles, backlit clouds roll in overhead, while a wispy white cloudbank sweeps over a craggy rock face looming in the distance behind me.

This morning's mission is simple: get to the Chocolate Factory for a
chocolatey morning meal with the fabled Oompa-Loompas, excuse me, "Little People" as they preferred to be called in this part of the world. There are no Little People to be seen anywhere on the premises and I use my Sherlock Holmes skills to deduce that they must be nocturnal, like so many other species of unique Aussie fauna.

The "tour" turns out to be a 30-minute audio/video presentation about the history and processes of the factory [who knew that chocolate is not fattening when consumed on a Thursday!?], Willy Wonka was not there [in fact I was nearly thrown out at the mention of his name; he owns the other chocolate company that begins with "N" and ends in "E"], and apparently rivers of chocolate dow not run through fields of candy at this chocolate factory. I thought it best not to ask if we could see the Great Glass Elevator.

Insiders' tip: the coffee in the cafe is forgettable, but the hot chocolate is amazing!! Check out the vintage posterboard advertisement that reads CHOCOLATE SAVES LIVES ...and stop by the gift shop to buy $50 worth of non-fattening-on-thursdays chocolate for like twenty bucks...


THE ROAD TO PORT ARTHUR:


Next stop: Port Arthur. Once the most feared penal colony in Australia, in high school I read a novel titled "Come Danger, Come Darkness" about a teen who is sent there from England for stealing a loaf of bread and escapes. The novel captured the harsh conditions endured by the convicts, and the stark contrast of this brutal human place set in the swirling mists of the Tasman Wilderness. I've been curious to visit ever since.

LOOK CLOSELY: YOU CAN SEE
GHOSTS OF TALL-MASTED PIRATE SHIPS
MOORED IN THE SHELTER OF THE BAY

It takes about an hour to get to the first distraction - a turnoff to Pirate Bay, Devil's Kitchen, and the Blowhole. The photo on the roadsign sells me in 3 seconds to take the next turnoff, and shortly thereafter we crest a turn and hear angel choirs singing as the view reveals itself. Unlike fast food menu pics, roadsign photos and postcards never capture the majesty of being enveloped by a sweeping vista in nature.

The road winds down to the water's edge, and we are greeted with a different roadsign: "WELCOME TO DOO-TOWN". Twenty or so endearingly quaint cottages in various stages of ramshackle are clustered around the small harbor at the end of the Bay, with names like "MUCH ADOO ABOUT NOTHING", "DOO ANYTHING", and "DOO F#&K ALL" [sic]. Sheer awesomeness. There are absolutely no people in and around the town.

The Blowhole is suitably impressive, a tunnel about 80 feet long, with an almost perfectly flat roof carved out of the sandstone leading from the ocean to a small pool which surges with the waves rolling through the tunnel. From the right angle, it looks like a very miniature ocean that has simply appeared in a rocky outcrop in the bushlands behind the beach, complete with tidal wave action and all. The oceans are calm today, so now and then the Blowhole half-heartedly spits up a lazy tendril of oceanspray.

Five minutes up the road from Doo-Town is the Devil's Kitchen, which is what I am excited aboot [sorry, The Canadian's accent is rubbing off on me...]. Lucifer is out today, or sleeping deep in the narrow cave we can see far below, while the ocean feature he has sculpted through his kitchen sends a wave or two at a time rolling through the massive canyon sounding like a giant sheet of paper slowly tearing.

The tallest trees you see at the top of the photo at right are 2-3 stories high...a natural sink and kitchen bench can be made out from our vantage point, and there is a rock shelf that makes up the floor which extends out 60-80 feet past the base of the cliffs, where Peter later tells us that they drop straight down as deep as they are high.

We hit the road and cross the narrow isthmus
[seriously, how often do you get to use the word "isthmus" in a sentence??] of Eaglehawk Nest, where a pack of monster bulldogs on shackles just long enough to touch each other once guarded the crossing so that escaped convicts could not get through. That's what the statue of a massively rabid bulldog said, and that's the story I am sticking with. It is said to be true.

As I coax the campervan through the twisting roads towards Port Arthur, I can't help but think that were I an escaped convict, I would like nothing more than to carve out a patch of bushland here and live off the land... The waterways touch both sides of the road in places, the eucalyptus grows thickly to the water's edge, and the afternoon sunlight streams through the gathering mists.

When the roadsigns finally announce Port Arthur, we drive past 3 empty parking lots before pulling up in front of the vistor center entrance. The tours range from half-day walks to 3-day experiences, complete with breakfast & dinner packages.
It costs $2 for a brochure and there are pricetags on everything else in the place. This is not the experience I came to Tassie for, so I quickly decide to leave before they charge us for breathing in the historic air.

Besides which, there was a Tasmanian Devil Reserve that we passed on the way in that looked like a whole lot of fun.


TASMANIAN DEVILS:


Three words to capture the essence of the infamous Tassie Devils.

Ferocious. Precocious. Capricocious. ...nope. Let's try again...

Lost. Dazed. Confused. ...yeah, that's it:



I am told that they are indeed quite feral and ferocious when feeding, but the Tassie Devils we meet this afternoon may have gotten into the Koalas' stash of the good green stuff that makes them so rasta-mellow... These guys lope around their enclosure amicably with silly gaping grins and vapid eyes, pausing often to remember what they were doing again, then doing little circles before loping away, thrilled to be coming around the corner to meet us again. Hours of entertainment for the whole family!

We meet three Locals at the Dunnaly Pub that evening, which I again cleverly deduce to be the original watering hole for convicts who managed to escape and avoid the rabid hounds of Eaglehawk Nest.

"Have a beer mate, you deserve it..." and again I imagine myself as that escaped convict, this time sitting at the bar top relishing my newfound freedom and wondering, Tasmanian-Devil-like, what my next move is going to be.

Anyways, I ask these three guys where we can go to get a good feed around here before 6 o'clock, and I don't miss the glint in their eyes as they glance at each other before answering: "Awwww yearh, nuh ...the foodssh roooly good he-yahh....youse should staaay it'd be well worth itt.... we come he-yah ev'ry Thursdeee noight!!"
. They are pissed as farts [American translation = "quite drunk"], enamored with The Canadian's blonde hair and blue eyes, and very entertaining, so we decide to stay and have a couple beers with them.

The Locals promptly decide to celebrate by stoking the fire to keep us warm, and proceed to fall over each other stuffing the fireplace so full of oversized logs that it may qualify for a bushfire instead of a
glowing hearth of embers. In Tasmania, they don't use a fire poker to move the logs, they simply kick the fire around with their boots. And plumbers' crack is never attractive, but quite hilarious in the right context.

Oh, and they make a really great drop of port in this part of the world:

A RATHER NICE GLASS OF PORT


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