Being truly, madly and passionately in Love with the Earth takes a bold and beautiful soul.
It was an idea. That was all. Why not? Everyone else was doing it. Perhaps that was good enough reason not to. But Climate Change was kicking in big time. How could I travel and still step lightly on the Planet?
Melbourne is downright friendly. I’m staying with friends in the inner north where you can find a cute caravan on the street, veggie garden in the front yard and crazy chickens out the back. People say hi to total strangers around here.
Melbourne is known as the city with four seasons in one day so I took my raincoat, sunhat and water bottle and headed along the bike path to CERES, the environmental education centre and urban farm alongside the Merri Creek. I love their slogan:
Our vision is for people to fall in love with the Earth again.
You can fix your bike or learn how to do it. It’s all about community sharing.
You can also volunteer. There’s plenty of projects from constructing a Playspace to Creating a Meditation Space. I don’t have any affiliation with CERES but I’m a sucker for community projects.
I’m going to borrow a few more words from the CERES website:
‘Along with Merri Creek Management Committee and Friends of Merri Creek, CERES and volunteers planted hundreds of trees and shrubs and lobbied governments to clean up the creek. In 1994, after 12 years of remediation work, Sacred Kingfishers returned to nest along the banks of the creek, having been absent for many years.
Now, CERES is an award-winning community place that is visited by people from around the world who want to understand how this place has come to be, and how they can take some of the ingredients back to their own places.’
‘We think the key ingredient is love for each other and the Earth.’
It’s been a massive Summer and it’s not over yet. I slipped out of an impending Winter in Europe and returned to Australia to see friends and family. Within days of arriving in Sydney the city changed from blue-eyed beaches to a smoke haze that caught in my lungs. It got worse.
Drought and fires have been a given in Australia but now it Is obvious that climate change Is driving a Summer of extremes.Our capital city, Canberra, recorded temperatures never recorded before. Precious North coast forests were ablaze and the smoke haze slipped down the continent and settled in the city. I fled to the South coast for some clean air and Christmas with some of my besties. We kept our eyes on the horizon and our ears tuned to the National broadcaster for weather reports and fire alerts even as we feasted on fabulous food and friendship.
I lay in a smoke-filled tent as the year came to an end, scrolling through stories from friends in the face of the fire. The places I loved most were devastated; ancient Eucalyptus forests and Rainforest that had never burned before burned ferociously. There was no point in waiting, surrounded by tinder dry grass and leaves, beneath a heavy canopy of trees. I was totally unprepared. So I packed my scanty possessions then began knocking on caravan doors and calling at tents. While a blood red sky cracked the night, people packed up everything that represented the perfect holiday and began to leave, still uncertain whether to drive South or North. When someone called out ‘Bermie has been evacuated,’ the decision was made and we headed North in a convoy of controlled confusion, our headlights searing through the thick brown air.
The next few hours were exhausting. No-one had slept more than a few hours as fires roared in from the North and the West, creating their own weather patterns of volatile cloud that shattered the air with loud explosions. The town’s power was cut, mobile phone and internet coverage suspended by the emergency authorities, shops and petrol stations were closed due to fuel pumps, automatic doors and tills no longer operating. We bunkered down in preparation for the worst. It didn’t come that day, even when the sky flared crimson then blacked out at 3pm.
The resolutions I made that night were to hug more, to say I love you and mean it. I also want people to know that climate change is real and to work toward realistic strategies like community building and sustainability.
I’m writing this after evacuating from the South coast inferno, to Canberra where the air quality index went into catastrophic, then on to Melbourne where I’ve been battling a lung infection. My story is small compared to friends who have lost their homes, to 22 people and the millions of animals who have died in the path of the fires, to the loss of the magnificent Australian forests and the global consequences of this disaster. While Governments seem intent on short-sighted policies that encourage fossil fuels, deforestation and deplete scarce water reserves for industry we have to make our own future in the best way we can.
If you’re looking for really authentic travel experiences, make friends. There are several ways to approach travel and maybe you’ll try all at different times, depending on the season, how far your finances are stretching, if you want to be in the city or deep in the countryside and what sort of social life you want.
I want to put in a good word for house-sitting. I’ve been lucky and had a few by word of mouth, the friends’ network. A month was ideal, enough time to get to know the locals, explore the nearby villages and do some long walks, usually with a dog attached or leaping through the undergrowth to chase a deer or wild-pig.
There’s house-sitting sites too. Google House-sitting and you’ll find a few. Like WorkAway, there’s a joining fee but they seem to be well regulated.
You need to be self-contained and obviously, a good level of responsibility is a plus when someone leaves you with their animals, garden and worldy possession. What you get is usually a gorgeous house to stay in rent-free, some instant pets and often fresh garden produce. I’ve managed chickens, turkeys, geese, cats and dogs, weeded and watered gardens and cleaned a swimming pool (my least favourite thing: add chlorine, pump won’t work, scoop up dead bodies).
One gig was an offer from a woman who picked me up when I was hitching in Spain. ‘Oh, so you do house-sitting,’ she said. ‘I’m off to Thailand for a month, would you like to look after my house?’ So it goes, you never know what opportunities come when you’re open to them.
I do. Especially if it’s highly nutritious and comes for free.
It’s part of the beauty of travelling to wild places… the hunt and the gathering of berries, nuts and fungi.
Follow the fruits of the season. Cherries, mulberries, blackberries and plums, figs then walnuts and almonds. It’s not an exhaustive list and there’s a whole range of plants as well. (List to follow on my next post)
And then there’s fungi…
Take a guide book and double check with an app or a pro local with experience in mushrooms and discover the delicious options. The gorgeous orange ones I photographed are called Lactarius deliciosus or Saffron MilkCap and they are truly divine cooked with garlic.
And I want to add that making japatis, unleavened bread made from wholemeal flour and water and cooked on a campfire, is not only super cheap but also a great staple that goes with cooked food or salads. While technically not wild food it’s an ancient art that’s worth rediscovering.
I return from walking the dogs (I’m house/dog sitting again) feeling like a fish in an over-heated pond.
It’s 11 am and there’s a bag hanging from the door handle. While the dogs run for the water bowl, I discover a gift of sweet plums.
At 12, the waft of cologne announces an elderly gentleman from the village. I invite the mystery bearer of gifts inside and talk in broken down Spanish. When a wheel falls off I open the translator but he’s no mechanic. He’s a musician, a poet, and takes paper in hand. Ciruelo: para comerlos 1. lavar las y la piel setira con el hueso.
It’s 2 pm and he’s wearing a freshly-washed shirt. He places almonds on the table. ‘Son de mi arbol’ he announces showing a good set of teeth. He mimes that they are for eating, that I need to crack the hard shells. I show him my hammer before he leaves.
By 3pm I’m thinking about lunch, just like most of the Spanish population, but I’m wilting. Perhaps I’ll eat the plums. ‘Henne?’ comes the version of my name in castellano from beyond the plastic fringes at the doorway. ‘Entrer,’ I reply in mistaken French.
He places the hot silver-foil package and cold can of beer on the table, then disappears into the afternoon.
P.S. I’m vegetarian.
Yikes! I ate the fish!
… Global temperatures are higher than ever recorded. I’m worried. But I figure that the only way we’re going to get through this cataclysmic era is to connect with people and smile as we step lightly.
I just checked the population statistics for January 2018 and there were 52 people in this village. Evidently that was on a good day… so far I’ve seen five in the street, but not all at once.
I’m here to keep the plants alive and walk the dogs while the owners are away. I’ve learned to walk. Big time. It’s twenty minutes up a mountain to the next village (where I hear there are 25 inhabitants) and the capital of the region is an hour away on foot across a ravine.
Day 1: up the mountain to water someone else’s garden.
Day 2: up the mountain and across the ravine to meet a friend.
Day 3: up the mountain, across the ravine, stick out thumb, hitchhike to town, return by late afternoon with full backpack… collapse on couch.
I could go into details about the brand of my tent (the fact that it weighs a tad more than a kilo is a great selling point) or tell you that I have the lightest sleeping bag I could find and it works most of the time, except for Russian Winters and damp river campsites. I also carry very little clothing because it’s easy to find more. But what is most important to me is travelling without personal baggage.
In fact, I find that the longer I travel the more things I discard.
Judgement has been a big one. Not the type that you need when you make decisions about where to pitch the tent or should I swim in crocodile infested waters, but judging other people. It’s a human thing, something we all do, but it feels so much lighter to accept the idiosyncrasies of other people who are mostly trying their best in a crazy world. I’m certainly not perfect at it but I’m practising hard.
People are just people everywhere. Some of us have enough food and shelter, some of us don’t. Some live in safe places while for others it’s a war zone. But we are all trying to get through the day, hoping to make a difference in something small or big. Everyone needs to relax when things are stressful. And we all want to be loved and acknowledged, to be accepted and appreciated.
That’s the start of what may grow into a very long list.