Big Question Marks

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Throwing a Sickie... well, sort of

Though I've been itching to chuck a sickie for ages (that's Aussie for taking a sick day off work when you're actually fine) but today I was unlucky enough to catch the flu bug that's been plaguing the office lately. On a Friday of all days! Eventually I had enough of the room moving around while I was completely stationary at my desk, and went home to get some rest.

That didn't work so well... I had a bit of a nap in but was woken up by (a) thoughtful phone calls (b) a thunderstorm complete with really loud hail and (c) nightmares about Huntsman spiders [btw: thanks everyone for your comments on the last blog... again our hallway friend has made himself scarce, so no need for the spider-killer spray. But here's a great Oz tourism video to watch, thanks to Sean.] So, forget sleep, I made some soup and got on the internet-- and found some interesting things...

Last week I found a great book on travel writing (something I'd love to do more of professionally) and it's gotten me pondering alternative forms of travel. Many of us think immediately of "holiday" when it comes to travel... whether it's a relaxation trip, week on the beach, or a sightseeing trip. Some of us have experienced the "working holiday", a totally different way of getting to know a new place. It's certainly worked for us! One thing that we haven't tried yet is volunteer travel-- which we would do in a second if it weren't for the enormous membership costs of many organizations and/or big time commitments (weeks/months). If anyone knows of any good links, do let us know!

While checking out the travel writing author's website, I was reminded of WWOOFing (short for Willing Workers on Organic Farms), where you get to stay & eat at people's houses/farms for free in exchange for a few hours of work each day. We've looked into ranch experience/farmstays here (to satisfy someone's cowboy urges) and they're all pretty pricey, but perhaps WWOOFing is something we might try to fit into our big Aussie road trip. Anyway, I wouldn't mind frolicking with sheep for a day! After a bit more searching, I found myself on WWOOFing sites for Italy, Hawaii, and Mexico... where I found my most favourite sample listing:

"I am interested in establishing raised beds for an organic vegetable and flower garden. I cannot be there from April until October and would like to find someone with gardening experience who would make a six month commitment to this project. The house is small and brand new, with lovely curves, sleeping alcove in one large room, kitchenette and composting toilet. Rent is normally $330 per month, but I would only ask for $150 and work trade. It is a wooded property, located in a friendly rancho outside of San Miguel Allende in the high desert country. I bought it 8 years ago, and it has taken me this long to pay off the original loans and raise a small but magical house. There is a well with good water. Property is about 1/3 acre. Have access to irrigation water from artesian spring that abutts property. Now I really want to put in a garden, but I have to go home to work for six months. Looking for the person who can love this spot of earth as much as I do. Rainy season will begin around May or June. Now the country is blossoming sweet perfumed yellow mesquite and guisache."

Anyway, enough dreaming for now. My travel writing author likes to suggest eating meals and staying with local families as one of the best ways to really absorb a foreign culture. Now this is something that weirds me out personally (not to mention the awkwardness of having to get out of eating meat dishes politely!) but I was surprised to learn that there are not-for-profit organizations out there (probably heaps of them too) that organize homestays-- such as Servas, and IMEC (where you pay $3-$7 per night to stay with a family in Kathmandu and the money goes directly to the family). Interesting concept, even just to think about.

And on another note... while browsing the Canadian WWOOFing website I found a really good reason to visit the UK in summertime-- check out this website!
Thanks for reading :) Back to bed for me now. - D.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Life With Spidey

It seems we spoke too soon-- not two days after posting the blog about that spider being gone, "taken care of", whatever... he's reappeared back in our building. Except this time he's decided to set up camp right outside our apartment.

Needless to say, it wasn't a very pleasant surprise to come home from work Monday night and find that Huntsman-- bigger than we remembered, actually-- just chilling out in the ceiling corner right across the hall from our apartment door.

Now, it might be hard to get a good perspective from these photos (it's difficult to take pictures when shaking with fear!) but you may notice the blob of light on the spider (click on the first photo for a chilling close-up)-- yup, it's big enough that its eyes reflect the camera flash. Yikes!

Since no amount of convincing could get Adrian to kill it ("It's got bones! It's like killing a kitten!" he says. Well, if a kitten came in through a vent we wouldn't mind so much.), and Dayle was too afraid it might leap if she tried to whack it with the mop, we pulled out the next best solution-- the masking tape. Unfortunately for us, Oz houses/apartments have a very strange architectural feature in nearly every room: bare slots/vents in the concrete walls placed close to the ceilings, presumably for air flow. Whoever came up with this idea was obviously unconcerned with the critters which might sneak in (some of you may remember a time when a Huntsman wandered into our caravan, through a similar air vent in the door?). And so, while it may seem frivolous to pack masking tape on a trip around the world, it has sure come in handy in desperate times like these.

So between our guilt and fear preventing the murder of our new neighbour, Adrian's other motive for keeping old Spidey around is a new harebrained theory that maybe the critter can help us predict the weather-- perhaps a little crazy, but we have noticed our spider friend hanging out on one wall when it's sunny, another on a rainy day, and upside down on the ceiling when it's windy. [Though maybe we could figure this out by looking out the window, ahem.] And while we do keep willing our spider friend to kindly exit the premises and continue his creepy ways OUTSIDE, we feel a little bad for him. Perhaps he's terrified of getting swept away by the gale-force winds we've had all week-- winds that have pushed our new balcony plants into a slant and have carried away (without any trace) an empty bag of potting soil and a tray of birdseed we'd left on the balcony. We don't really want flying Huntsmans now, do we?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Spring flowers... in September

It's a really weird thing, coming from Canada, to feel spring fever in September. Last year at this time we were on the road in Queensland where it's forever hot, like Australia is supposed to be-- according to tourist brochures anyway. But after surviving winter in cold-weather-denial-city Melbourne, with all of its uninsulated housing and people wandering the streets in t-shirts when it's 4 degrees, the arrival of warm spring sunshine really does have us excited!

Yesterday we took Daisy on a mini road trip out to the Dandenongs, a smallish mountain range on the eastern fringes of Melbourne, about 45 minutes from our suburb. We'd spent this week getting her all fixed up for our road trip-- she was a little overdue for an oil change and service. We called up the really good mechanic who fixed Daisy up that time she wouldn't start back in June, and she's now running better than ever. Richard the mechanic said she's in fabulous shape for her age and should have no problems doing the 18,000 km we hope to cover. She's even got a working horn again, so we can amuse ourselves by honking at sheep in the Outback. Plus, Adrian surprised us both with his secret soldering talents and now we have full stereo in the car as well!

Daisy did well yesterday in the mountains too-- we'd been reading about the Dandenongs for a while and thought it was about time to visit. We were surprised to find such a different scene not far from the city-- roads winding through rainforests of giant ferns, enormously thick trees, and cute little villages. We were hoping to do a little bird-watching-- the area's known for having Lyrebirds, which can imitate nearly anything-- but no luck this time. (Check out a video of one here!) We took a mosey through William Ricketts Sanctuary, the interesting former property of a nature-loving sculptor who, inspired by his years spent with Aboriginal people in central Oz, created a forest wonderland of pathways dotted with ceramic sculptures of people, possums, and other creatures which blend perfectly into the forest. His poetry was a little nutty, the faces sometimes a bit creepy, but the concept was pretty cool.

And while poor Adrian ended up at work on this sunny Sunday morning, I got to spend a couple of hours getting our balcony garden started. There was quite a bit of weeding to do, and a couple of pretty dead plants to pull which didn't survive the winter, but we were lucky to be left with a very hearty mystery succulent plant in one corner. Aside from that, it was a blank canvas. We'd picked up a few flowering plants from a little market yesterday in the Dandenongs-- not nearly enough, I've realized-- but we now have one of our three flower boxes planted and ready for the nice weather. We'll take pictures of our new flower friends as they grow (fingers crossed they thrive!)
Our newbies, left to right: Linaria "Fairy Bouquet"; Blue Marguerite; Parade Roses.

* There are a lot of conflicting opinions online about when the 1st day of spring is here in Oz (we've read everything from the 1st of August to September 23), we're pretty sure it's September 1. The other way to tell is that there are now many people wandering around in flip-flops (or thongs, as they call 'em here). We've even seen some guys in board shorts, and a few bogans in a grocery store wearing tube tops and shorts yesterday... that's the real way to tell the season in these parts.

Another sign of spring

Yep, we thought we could escape them in the city... but an old friend has come back to haunt us.

It wasn't nearly as huge as some of the Huntsman spiders we'd seen while living in our rustic little cottage in Stanthorpe, but after looking up at the stairwell ceiling one day on my way up to our apartment and spotting it, I haven't slept the same. I ducked every time I had to run underneath it. A snail on our mailbox door made me scream. I saw this critter move from corner to corner, happy that at least it was lurking on the floor below us, until one day this week it was gone.

We're not sure where it went, but I'm still finding myself checking the upper corners of every room, of the laundry room, and not sticking my hand into any dark cupboards... -D.