Monday, 31 July 2017

Failed farming, forming a family and being branded a 'backpacker'

I didn't want to write about this, I don't think I'm ready to talk about it and the post-traumatic stress is still going strong. But fuck it. The purpose of this travel blog was to present the shit Trip Advisor hides and the brochures airbrush out.

So there I was last week, stumbling out of my bed towards the kitchen of my disused-hospital-turned-long-stay-hostel with a box of Crunchy Nut, when it happened. The unexpected encounter and danger in the dark.

When a big fucking rat brushed over my bare foot.

I screamed and mounted a table, it scuttled behind the fridge and a Japanese boy called Shun helped me to safety. Vermin violated, mentality annihilated, shoulders weighted and spirit deflated. Thankfully the landlord leapt to action to catch the little ahem.

So far on my travels I've been floating from luxurious place to luxurious place like a carefree Kardashian shitting money out my fake arse. But it's only now I'm settled into a long stay hostel in a quiet mountain town that I see how the world now sees me.

The second you pack that backpack and leave home you're stripped of any status. All past success is irrelevant and you're automatically demoted in the eyes of most.

Despite living somewhere that survives solely on the money backpackers bring to the community - as we complete our 88 days of regional farm work required to extend our visas - you see how half the locals slow down as they drive past you on the street. They stare at you like shit, judge you in your dirty workwear and talk to you like you're an uneducated, worthless, waste.

A hierarchy of social status even our employers entertain.

Last week, while halfway through our working day, we were told to go home as they don't require us anymore. Months before the scheduled season end, no time to even ask why and let down by the people that dragged us a million miles away from civilisation here on an empty promise.

A redundancy which can't be argue because you simply have no right too.

The only silver lining? The multilingual family you form with the other explorers (and rare few lovely locals) that have ended up falling victim to the same cycle. Bank balances may be low but we share what we know and corridors may lack colour but hearts couldn't be fuller. It's inevitable you'll fall, but with these friendly faces filling the bunk beds in your bedroom it's hard to really fail.

The day I arrived in this town I cried as I settled into an empty room, on my own, at the thought of what was ahead. And today, as I unexpectedly leave so suddenly unemployed after eight weeks of pruning apple trees, I cried at leaving what had gone from hell to home.

Thankfully, this time though, I'm heading off to our next farm to finish my 88 days with a car full of newfound friends. After an hour of breaking into the fucking thing because Italian lad Luca locked the keys inside moments before our ten hour drive. A great start. 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Exploited, exhausted and moving deep in the Australian mountains

I thought people were joking when they said Australia gets cold in the winter. The posters don't exactly boast young people prancing round Bondi in their parkas. Misleading bastards.

It's 6:17AM and minus three degrees outside as I write this from a tiny town buried deep in the bush. I'm cold to the bone, the winter clothes I had my mam ship got lost in transit and I'm now living in an old hospital six hours from Sydney. There's no heating, not much hot water and no phone signal. In a matter of minutes the mice roaming what was once a waiting room will run and hide as the ten backpackers calling this home bounce between the billion bathrooms.

A couple of years ago someone bought the building, chucked a few bunkbeds inside and changed the sign from 'hospital' to 'hostel' with a few more renovations.

The upstairs is blocked off with signs shouting the word 'asbestos,' the town has one single supermarket shop and some locals say this place is haunted.

Conditions are so questionable I phoned my boyfriend in a panic during my second week here to stress the fact that I don't recall the last time I had an erection. You know shit is bad when even your cock can't be bother rising for that awkward moment each morning. Shrivelled up as I sleep in a room many have failed to wake up in.

The place is surrounded by mountains, farms and vast stretches of fucking nothing. And random yet raging bush fires too we've since discovered. The world could be reacting to something catastrophic happening on a global scale and we'd be none the wiser here.

Thankfully manageress S and partner T provide both the parental figure we all crave and basic comforts as they battle with the boiler and wrap you in extra blankets. And as shit as it all sounds, it's surprisingly homely. For everything the place lacks it makes up for in hope.

Between the multilingual strangers sharing a bedroom, there's a real sense of camaraderie. I imagine similar to how inmates on death row felt as they walked towards that chair. Because as the clock strikes seven each morning, we're hurdled like animals into a minibus, treated like twats and paid like paupers to work on the farms.

Picking fruit, pruning trees, you name it and we're paid massively below the legal minimum wage to do it. Exploited, exhausted and powerless to do anything about it.

Why? Because the Australian government requires backpackers on a one year working holiday visa to complete 88 days of regional work in order to stay in the country for a further year. Which basically translates to: if you wanna stay, go do the shit jobs we don't wanna for a couple of months and we'll let you. It's not very fair but nothing ever is.

Others obtain their visas through work sponsorships, spouses or family members but I felt almost excited at the prospect of throwing myself into something so out of my depth and getting back to the backpacking. Thankfully my dearest boyfriend dropped me off, instead of the ten hour bus here, after apparently getting far too settled in Sydney. Alongside my backpack of essentials I arrived with a mobile gym, potted plant and striped rug among my possession.

So far the single thought getting me through is I am Hannah Montana and this is my time to take the wig off. I've said goodbye to the bright lights and put on my dungarees back home in Crowley Corners. Or something like that. 

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Melbourne misery, New Zealand knob heads & small town mentality

After becoming far too settled in Sydney I recently resorted back to backpacking and resort life and moved myself over to Melbourne for a bit. "The most liveable city in the world," my brother told me after meeting in the airport.

The only slight problem with this statement? He no longer actually lives there himself and was just back for business coincidently while I was in town. So desirable of a place he ditched it and swapped for the other side of Australia.

"What's so great about it here?" I quizzed. "Um, there's loads of graffiti to look at and the clock tower at the train station is really famous." The glorification of vandalism and something that tells the time. Nah, not for me, so off to New Zealand it was.

Swapping the bright lights and big cities for a tiny town around 30KM from anything and anyone, it was time to try experience a different way of going about ya day to day. And fuck me local life is quite something.

There we were, walking towards the local pub on our first night along the only main road when a car screeched round the corner at an unimaginable speed. Missing us by mere seconds it was right dramatic as the engine echoed through the town.

"WHICH WAY DID HE GO?" a local lady then screamed as she fled from her front door. "This isn't happening again," she raged. "Was that your car? What happened last time? What's going on?" - all our questions met by silence as other people poured out from the neighbouring houses to assess the situation.

"He's coming back!" my friend then screamed after hearing a noise in the distance.

Engine roaring, lights growing closer and screams from us tipsy tourist. We jumped towards some bushes as the local bad boy terrorising the town raced back this way.

"That's it," the first lady on the scene stated while firing up her Renault Clio. "Get in."

Before we knew it we were we bunged up in her back seat as she deemed it too unsafe for us to walk and dropped us at the pub before she descended upon the police station.

As the drama became the talk of the town, our AirB&B hosts had something else more pressing to discuss. Taylor Swift. The exact same conversation we'd had every time they'd paid us a surprise visit to the property. Four years ago Taylor had tweeted a link to their son's cover of Shake It Off and it was without a doubt the most exciting thing that has ever happened to them. Ever.

I must admit, I did admire their skill to bring every conversation back to the tweet.

"The weather isn't looking too great today," we'd say. "Oh well funny you should say that! It was overcast like this when Taylor sent that tweet actually have we mentioned she tweeted about our son?"

Sticking with the quiet life, we set sail to some local islands and this small town mentality continued.

Minor inconveniences become major talking points, everyone knows everything about everyone and if something remotely exciting happens, you have to repeat it every five minutes for the rest of your life.

"They'll be talking about this for months," our tour guide told us after interrupting our trip of local vineyards to stop and stare at a distressed sailor. As he wept for his yacht that had been battered onto the beach during a raging storm the night before – there she was doing a Facebook live for rest of the locals to have their say.

Again... small town mentality.

I suppose part of me expected such rural and isolated lifestyles to be world's apart from what I've known living in London? But at the end of the day, no matter where you are in the world, everyone turns to the same shit to survive.

Banter, bragging, bitching, backstabbing, beer, bum sex. The list is endless. Everyone loves a gossip, piss up and mocking the misfortune of others while getting all up in their business.

These small town folk might not be able to name all the Kardashians, order an Uber or pop to a Westfield on a whim. But when you strip back all that shit their lives still revolve around love, laughter and wanting to belong like the rest of us.

That was quite enough of the apparent 'quiet life' for us though and off to stay in Auckland it was. High speed internet, skyscrapers and a good sense of anonymity amongst the millions. Perfect.

Still keen to experience the local way of life we skipped the usual tourist hotspots and spent most of our time at the University of Auckland. We caught a computer science lecture, enjoyed the cheap canteen and shown them how the British do boozing down the Student Union bar.

Home from home.