A weekend of ski-touring adventures on the Tasman Glacier, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
How insignificant I am standing here in front of a monstrous wall of ice. Yet out of the two of us, it is the hundreds of year old glacier that is now more mortal, more vulnerable than I. It is disappearing. The generations coming after me will never stand where I stand right now. They’ll never see what I see in front of me. They will never feel this sense of awe that ripples through my body as I stare.
They’ll never haul themselves up the side of a crevasse. They’ll never ski new lines of untouched powder, cruise down 20km of uninterrupted perfection. They’ll never wander amongst frozen tunnels, jagged pristine seracs and sparkling shards of ice.
Here, away from civilization, perched on a glacier, we are happy, we are free. Here, we play with ropes, skins and ice-axes. Here, we drink whiskey from hip flasks and crack smiles that make our skin crinkle. Here, we don’t scrub or criticize our bodies and our flaws. Here, we eat what we can carry and earn every step.
Here, blisters, bruises and cuts wrap themselves around our bodies. Here, our muscles thrum with pleasurable aches. We curl up in sleeping bags and see our breath turn to steam. Here, there is nothing more gratifying than holding a steaming mug of coffee between your frozen hands. Here our phones have no signal so we talk to each other, we discuss real things and look directly into each other eyes.
You hear the mountains moan and grumble and watch in incredulity as small avalanches release around you like thunder. You put your trust, your life in fact, in other people’s hands. People who you believe (and hope) know much more than you.
Here, you push yourself to do better, to be better. Here, you feel fear and weakness. You feel the tears and panic brimming up inside body but you force them back down. Here, reality is a distant memory, your to-do list at work no longer seems so urgent, the hard time you gave yourself for your bout of overindulgence seems ridiculous. All that stress and worry you carry around with you every day suddenly seems so trivial. When here, out in the elements, you hold your life in your hands. Here, in the backcountry is where freedom and happiness lies.
But this haven, this refuge for us vagabonds and dirtbags is disappearing. Soon the world of ice will be gone and with it, so will we.
PRESS RELEASE: LOS ANGELES, CA – July 11, 2017
Ex pro wakeboarder, Barrett Perlman, has recently launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for her new action sports documentary, Life After X. The film unveils the stories of the best action sports athletes on the planet as they confess the good, the bad, and the ugly of their industry and life after living under the spotlight of fame and glory. In order to illustrate how the athletes are where they are today, Life After X takes a bold look at how the action sports industry has evolved since its heyday in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Perlman, the executive producer and director, says, “As a female filmmaker and former top professional wakeboarder, I’m in a unique position to be able to tell this story about the action sports industry. I know this story because I’ve lived it.” Since wakeboarding, Perlman transitioned into a career as a television and digital producer. She has worked for some of the biggest names in entertainment including MTV, FOX, CNBC, Snapchat, and more. Through her own experience and interviews with top athletes including Travis Pastrana, Parks Bonifay, Andy Finch, Chad Kagy, Eddie Wall, Chris Pastras and many more, Perlman is bringing to light the differences between retiring as an action sports pro versus a team sports or “mainstream” pro, what mental blocks they struggle with, and the real-world challenges they have to surmount. Media coverage, consumption, and in some cases, participation, have declined over the past decade and Perlman is on a mission to unearth why.
The Life After X team has already faced pushback from several major companies in the industry who don’t want to admit or cover this decline. That’s all the more reason to tell this story. This month, Life After X launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo because Perlman needs help to continue filming this documentary. Production has halted halfway through filming because of a lack of funds. “It’s not that we planned poorly with our money, because we didn’t,” says Perlman. “A financier backed out at the last second and some of that money had even already been spent. That left us without the means to continue with many of the interviews that still need to be filmed.” So Perlman and her team are turning to crowdfunding to help raise money to get them through production. “What’s so great about crowdfunding is the sense of community it evokes. All of my favorite action sports industries are coming together to help with this project,” says Perlman on choosing crowdfunding for over traditional financing. “Plus, when every person who believes in the project donates even the smallest amount, that adds up! Hence how a crowd is able to impact the budget of a project like this.”
One to watch this summer — an expedition dubbed Reaching Lost Mountain is an attempt at a coast-to-coast Pyrenees crossing, powered only by the elements.
One of those adventures, all us sitting in the office on our fifth cup of coffee, shoes off, heads in our hands staring deadpan at a computer screen, dreaming to be up there. Flying. Exploring the blue skies, away from all the politics, corruption and routine.
To run off a cliff and not fall but soar, to feel fear consume your body but instead of crippling you, heighten your senses and elevate your game. This summer a team of 3 will attempt to hike and paraglide from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean. They will combine survival trekking with non-powered flight in what they have called “the future of nomadic travel.”
The team is made up of athletes Rhys Fisher, Fons de Leeuw and Mark Baldwin. With Alice Horwood coordinating the expedition and Josh Horwood capturing it. Their experience collectively makes for a pretty impressive resume, including solo vol-biv trips in the French and Italian Alps, from Berga to Pobla de Segur, from Annecy to Nice and several paragliding competitions. Their latest adventure will see the team cover 450–550km over ten days, kicking off on the 10th of June. If the weather behaves they will fly +300km of it. Then repeat a cycle of “Hike. Fly. Sleep. Repeat”. They hope to cover +100km straight line distance inflight on the good days which would require staying in the air for over five hours at a time.
Weight and pack space are always an issue because they have to take with them everything they need to be self-sufficient. This means carrying and flying with solar chargers, GoPro cameras, GPS emergency trackers, flight instruments, and radios for communication with each other and the ground crew. A tent with down bags, air mattresses, water, camping stoves, and food. Hiking poles, and basic some lifesystems first aid kits. All in all it comes in at over 40 pounds! But when the weather is good, they can fly far in a day, making the going a little easier on the feet!
These guys have tapped into something here and we should all follow their lead and make a conscious effort to live life a little more recklessly.
“That feeling when you are hanging beneath a few kilos of string and fabric, thousands of meters up, and a random vulture flies past you and marks the next thermal which beams you to cloud base…. With modern gear weighing less, the idea of bringing some camping gear and seeing how far you can go over a few days kinda came naturally to the team.” — Mark Baldwin
Here is a taster of what I’ve been working on these past few months… full edits coming soon!
Travel changes everything. The harder the journey the more you learn and by God, India was no picnic… dust, dirt, and chaos. The swarms of people, the pungent air, the constant stares, the rats, the slums, the litter, sitting cross legged on the floor, eating curry with dirty fingers, horned cows and stray dogs roaming every street, the aromas of spices and incense wafting through the air, yoga lessons on the grass, crazy driving, incredible views and food and then there’s me and Tom (my best pal from uni)… a Scottish boy and an Irish girl lost somewhere amongst the madness of southern India.
Day one and a kind local invites us to his home to eat, but we realise too late he’s trouble and we are way too naive, that the world is not all rainbows and butterflies and not everyone is a misunderstood soul, when the “kind local” turns his back on you for the whole night and will only speak to your male friend, when he silences you with the infuriating words ‘ok sweetie’ and puts his hands up to quieten you, his exact and poignant use of pronouns when he refers to you as “she” and “her” are like punches in the gut and his use of flyaway phrases like “even she can teach us something” and all you can do is bite your tongue when you feel like screaming, “I’m right here you sexist twat.” He drives us back on scooters at 1.30am, insisting I ride with him, I can smell the whiskey off his breath as he says it. He drives too fast, a stray cow on the street turns his head and almost annihilates us. He topples his head back in laughter as I ask him meekly to slow down…
In Goa, we rent motorbikes and head off on a day trip to a secret beach with the ultra cool hippies from our hostel; one Indian, two Nepalese, one Mexican, one Portuguese, and one Guatemalan… all men, but this time they are the good kind. We scour the Indian countryside, stopping for a banana shake while they sip ‘holy water’, go skinny dipping (them not me) and we lie back in the white sands sipping beers on the deserted shores. Later, we take a quick ferry across to an island, the most northern point of Goa in the torrential rain for chai, returning at night to a restaurant delightfully known as the Happy Corner to bask in the sound of a cacophony of horns ringing from a Hindu Temple – Indian style live music.
Back on the bikes we hop, weaving down the twisted streets to Arambol to the candle lit beach bars for more beers. It’s all so magical. I am perched on the back of Julio’s bike and we talk and talk and talk as the wind sweeps through our hair and darkness closes in around us. He is a wise man who shares his story with me, with words of wisdom like ‘Never entertain jealousy and boredom is a great thing, because it allows creativity to come to life.” He has been bankrupt three times in his life. He is married but in an open relationship. His wife is working for the Red Cross in Myanmar, while he is setting up a hostel in India. This is why I travel, why conform when you could live like this, without rules or societal pressure, meeting people who live whatever way they feel like. This is freedom, this is life!
Only in India, have I experienced such highs and lows, an incredible day like that is followed by a brutal one… the rules of gender here are so misplaced, the men stare at me but ignore me when I ask a question, and address only Tom, ‘the man’, naturally it drives me insane. There are two prices for everything, one for foreigners, one for locals. Hassle and haggle all day long, a man putting a phone in my face to video me, they are like paparazzi and I am a caged animal in a zoo. Everyone is trying to rip you off, not many are kind just to be kind, everyone has an agenda. I know now how lucky I am to be born a white female from the western world. I have always considered myself working class, with two nurses for parents who have worked their whole lives to provide for me and my sisters. How blind I was, we live like kings and queens compared to the Indian version of working class.
Tonight we board an eleven hour sleeper bus overnight from Goa to Hampi. Packed like sardines on bunk beds. The conductor kindly lets us swap from two single beds to one double so as we are together, but then for his kindness insists we pay him a bribe of 100 rupees… everything has a price and though many preach about karma few seem to practice it. Curtains pulled, windows open on this non-AC sleeper bus, the wind cooling the sweat sticking us to the mat. Shoved and pushed, rolling around freely as the bus chugs on, we know this never would be allowed in the western world. It is like The Knight bus in Harry Potter. We giggle and chat, and try in vain to get some shuteye in this mad world as we are tossed around with every pothole and bump as we hurtle south.
We arrive in Hampi as the sun is setting, the local businessmen swarm us as we try and get off the bus, trying to push us into a rickshaw but we have our wits about us despite our tired eyes and we know it is only a two minute walk to the town. The monuments and temples loom splendidly on the hillside, long tail monkeys run across the electrical wires, while the weary people make their morning pilgrimage to the temple. Hampi is a UNESCO world heritage site, the equivalent of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. We find a place to rest our aching bodies with a toilet that doesn’t flush and a mosquito net pockmarked with giant holes patched up dismally with plasters, we finally fall asleep to the distant wails of chants happening outside as the rest of the world begins to wake.
We make new friends with people who are staying at the same guest house. Candi a strong, beautiful Argentinian woman who takes no shit from anyone, she is travelling with her best friend the delightful Mati. They have been hitchhiking and couchsurfing their way through India. Then there’s John from London, whose kindness has no limits, all the beggars we meet, he buys them food instead of giving them money. I know instantly the three will be our friends for life.
The food is incredible. It feels amazing to eat pure vegetarian, handfuls of floury parotta and chapatti swabbing up the spicy curry; the Veg Thali, Channa Masala, Masala Dosa, Aloo Gobi, Dal Fry, all slapped onto a plate or banana leaf. Using only our hands, it’s a spectacularly messy and uncivilized way to eat but brilliant in the freedom of it. I love it, I gorge and revel in the joy of food once more. Although, be warned I nearly always found a hair in my dish!
A local bus to Hospet in torrential rain through ‘roads’ that can’t even call themselves roads. We sit on the floor of the train station for four hours. The station reeks of manure, I swallow down the vomit that threatens to come up my throat. The rain makes it worse. Out on the street you see the caste system at work, one massive fancy ass hotel and all around it pure slums. We sit wallowing in the stench, drowned in the rain and the electricity goes. Typical. Everyone is in barefoot walking through the muck and puddles. There is a young girl in a green sari with wide brown eyes huddled in a corner swaddled in blankets staring at me. The lights blink in and out when a group of young boys taunt us and get right up in our faces, I thank my lucky stars that Tom is here with me. I don’t know if I could have done it alone and that thought angers me, why shouldn’t I be able to do this alone? Because this world is so fucked up, that’s why. It breaks my heart.
But alas, we survive the sleeper train, three beds stacked on top of each other. For twelve hours we lay in our caves to arrive in Mysore, where out on the streets we see cultures clash as the Muslim women stroll in their black burkas contrasting brilliantly against the colorful saris of the Hindus. After sleep, we are reunited with the Argentinians and John, we get a tuk tuk to Chimean Hill, five of us squished in the back of one, I on Thomas’ lap, hanging halfway out the tuk tuk, with Bob Marley blaring No Worries on the radio. We climb 1032 steps to a temple. The hike is a pilgrimage, the colours dabbed on each step in a benediction, a silent prayer. We trudge on, chatting, lapsing into silence as we pull ourselves up the steep incline and concentrate on our breathing. It is a stand out moment, one that I will remember forever.
An overnight bus to Kochi, a man sits next to us asks us for our name and our caste? He asks what religion we are, we say none, he says how come? We say you don’t want to know… The European vibes of Kochi are a welcome break. The boys are playing football, when I bump into Carly an old friend from university in the most surreal moment ever, the world is too small! We go for secret beers and catch up on her life, her adventures in Madagascar and Reunion Island and I just think to myself wow I know some cool people.
Its mad how progress seems to have just stopped in the country, like the 21st century just barreled through and they just cant keep up… or perhaps don’t want to? The electricity consistently goes, the utter lack of sanitation, the people in the shops/markets getting pissed off with you when you refuse to cave to their inflated price and push for negotiation, the rickshaw drivers constantly hassling you. A local woman thrusts her few month old baby at me so as the family can take pictures of the white girl holding a baby. Over the course of the three weeks I’ll have been in over fifteen strangers photos. If you can learn to embrace/handle India, nothing will ever faze you again.
Another bus, this time to the Tea Plantations of Munnar and they are incredible, even in the misty rain. We scale the cliff edges in a jeep to see them, passing waterfalls and miles of greenery; it is nature at its best. Then in typical Indian fashion, the country goes on strike and fails to tell the tourists. All restaurants, shops, buses, tuk tuks, national parks – everything shuts down, we have no food and water for the day.
Our days are numbered, on our second last night we sit on a pier back in Kochi, feet dangling, reflecting on life, when a rat runs across my bare feet. There is a frog in the corner, an Indian man pisses on the side of the street facing us… this is India. Back to the hostel to lie on our backs and stare up at the spinning fan, life is a strange and wonderful thing.
There is only one last destination left before home, Mumbai. The city is huge and bustling, here there is the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. As I look out the dirty window of the local bus, we pass the shanty towns,there is just people everywhere. Twenty five million people in Mumbai alone. Coming from a country of less than 5 million I just cant comprehend this scale. Then onto an overpacked train, full of men, pressed against them, everyone of them unashamedly staring at me. I cannot wait to be anonymous once more, to blend in with the crowd. The train doesn’t stop, just slows down and people make a run and jump and hope for the best…
Our last night in India, we invite the 19 year old Egyptian kid from our hostel to the bar with us, he drinks a double tequila when he’s never drank before. He is drunk almost instantly, slapping his head, talking to himself, we have to bring him home and put him to bed. I whisper a goodbye to Thomas in the middle of the night, the end is nigh, he is off to Cambodia for a year while I will return home to university for one last stab at that dream career.
The time has come to go home. It’s been a whirlwind, a love affair, highs and lows, both easy and terribly hard… worth it though, so, so worth it. Already my glasses are starting to tint with rose. We only have one life, and you must try really hard to live it. I am back behind the bar pulling pints and dreaming of the dusty roads, the host of colours, the spice, the smell of India and the next adventure.
“I urge you to travel. As far and as much as possible. Work ridiculous shifts to save your money, go without the latest Iphone. Throw yourself out of your comfort zone. Find out how other people live and realize that the world is a much bigger place than the town you live in. And when you come home, home may still be the same and yes you may go back to the same old job but something in your mind will have shifted. And trust me that changes everything.”
We take our bodies so for granted. At full health, what it is capable of doing is astounding; it can climb mountains, swim amongst the tides, sprint through fields of long grass… but what about those who never possessed a body at full health, those people who never had the option? When menial everyday tasks are more difficult, every outing is preplanned and climbing a stairs is an arduous task. How would you live your life if your lungs were your enemy? And your days were made up of physio, medication and hospital visits. When you had to consume 12 to 22 tablets a day just to keep you ticking over. How would you live if you were born with an illness that as of yet has no cure? Would you allow it to define you or would you rally against it in defiance?
Chris stops and sits on an outcropped rock to catch his breath on our 2km walk up to the hut were we will camp tonight. I hear his laboured breath, the painful drag in and out. Around us are dirt tracks and a brutally deforested area of Coillte. It is a muggy evening with a heavy grey sky that hints at an oncoming downpour. Chris pulls his backpack up and we walk on, heading into the trees. After about half an hour we reach our destination, a little green hut perched on a small cliff face overlooking rolling green hills. It is truly an idyllic setting to set up camp for a night’s microadventure, anything to liven up the week. We quickly unburden ourselves from our backpacks and lay down our mats and bags to gather sticks for a fire.
When I was in fifth year of secondary school my friend died from Cystic Fibrosis, he was sick his whole life, obviously sick, wheelchair and oxygen tank kind of sick. He died and we were heartbroken. We his friends continued to maintain contact with his family; his father James, mother Fiona and little brother Chris. We struck up a routine of sorts, dinners, drinks and a chat about the good times. The years passed by and one by one the friends slipped away, caught up with their own lives, their own worries and hardships but somehow I remained. I found his family liberating, strong and inspiring. They taught me so much about life and as I grew up they became my friends too. This family is different than any I’ve ever known. They are a joy to be around because they don’t suffer fools. They let you away with nothing; there is no such thing as I can’t and over the years we have lived a life less ordinary. We have kayaked the Slaney together, made it into the Guinness Book of Records for participating in the world’s longest swim, gone clay pigeon shooting, done countless Rubberman challenges and a few weeks ago we went camping for a night in the Wicklow mountains while Chris who also has Cystic Fibrosis was on IVs.
James throws some jacket potatoes into the ash to cook and we set about boiling water over the open flames. He plucks a bbq rack from those DIY bbq kits and perches it precariously between the rocks and logs to cook the sausages and pork chops on while the beans boil away contently in their tin. It’s a feast by my usual camping standards! Meanwhile Chris sits on a picnic table and lays out his syringes; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine… all glittering in the sunset on the pristine silver tray. He begins the slow process, filling them up from the glass vials one by one, lifting his t-shirt to expose the various contraptions attached to his body. He doesn’t skip a beat as he slowly injects the meds into his body, continuing the conversation as if this was totally the norm.
The risks are very real for a person with CF to camp while on IV’s; the lack of a sterile environment, the risk of hemoptysis with no easy escape route and a night spent lying on the cold hard ground is not the most comfortable. Three days ago Chris’s lungs were at 46%, the equivalent of me walking with one lung, yet he doesn’t complain. At 19 almost 20 years old, Chris is a breath of fresh air with his no bullshit attitude. CF does not define him or stop him experiencing all the simple pleasures that others his age have. Yes there are risks, but you have to live your life; “A lot of people with CF get caught up with all the treatments. It’s ok to once in a while to skip it. It’s not going to catapult you back,” he says, adding defiantly “Don’t let your treatments dictate your life. There is some leeway. A massive amount is mindset. If your health takes a small hit for a better life, its worth it.”
The sun lowers gradually but the moon is particularly bright tonight. We stare into the orange flames licking the firewood, prodding the embers occasionally. We sip tumblers of vodka and coke and red wine and we just sit and talk. A cold night ensues on hard ground, wrapped tightly in our sleeping bags to stave off the cold. Bedding down, Chris warns us of his coughing; he needn’t have, after a while he falls into a quiet slumber, unlike his father who will scare any potential predators away with his snores.
It is not an easy night and none of us sleep well, we wake the moment light returns, weary, sore and totally spent but exhilarated all the same. We get up groggily and stretch out our aching bodies. The air is crisp and damp and the birds greet us with their dawn chorus. We stuff everything into our backpacks, pull them on and walk briskly out of the woods. Time to go back to reality. A time out every so often is necessary to make you appreciate your cozy bed, the roof over your head, your life and to put those worries that seem so big into perspective. A little midweek adventure to wake us up, shake us up, anything to feel alive to feel normal. If Chris can do it, surely you have no excuse?
Flashbacks of Vietnam flicker behind my eyes with every step I take; litter toppling over the sidewalks, chaotic drivers blasting their scooter horns, the taxi from the airport smashing his car mirror off a parked car and cursing in Indonesian but driving on. The cold showers, the toilets you cant put paper down, the mosquito bites, the monsoon rain as it tumults down…
I find myself once again, alone in a hostel, hauling myself up a ladder to my bunk, tired and agitated with my head pressed against the hard mattress in an attempt to drown out the onslaught of beats pulsing through the wall from the common room next door. I vow to escape Kuta the moment the sun rises, to an island that is more my scene Gili Trawangan.
I am whipped away on a boat to the remote haven, but I feel no thrill as we skate across the sea. I have become a weary traveller with empty pockets and a heavy heart, staying in absolute dumps. This time the dorm room has one single and one double bed. The young locals in charge try to convince two complete strangers to share the same bed, devoid of the knowledge of how our western society works. As I am the only girl I am permitted the single bed, how honoured I am. How do I get myself into these situations I wonder time and time again…
The rain pisses down and the electricity goes. I sit in the darkness, sipping coffee listening to a local strum the ukulele and sing softly. Eventually the generator kicks in like a strimmers cutting hedges beside my head. What you learn about yourself in these situations says it all, to try not to fall into a pit of despair is the key but to embrace the madness that ensues around you. Thunder and lightning clap down around me. The loudspeakers lining the streets call the locals to prayer as I sit in the room with only the bed bugs for company and I sigh. This is hard, how much easier would my life be if I were satisfied to just stay at home. I eventually succumb to sleep against a backdrop of thunder and lightning and Middle Eastern sounding music seeping through the pane less windows.
I venture out for food alone, sitting on a plastic bench in silence chewing slowly, sipping my coffee, and counting the ants crawling around in the sugar jar. There are twelve. I offer to take a picture of a group of adult Indonesians on their holiday. They cannot thank me enough and insist I get in a photo with them for I am and I quote “like a model to them because I am so white…”I laugh and agree in defeat knowing full well I couldn’t look less like a model, greasy hair, smelling of BO, no make up and drenched but I am indeed rather white… I guess I’ll be tucked away in some random photo album forever more.
The everyday life of the locals is beautiful in its rawness and simplicity. The little sacrifice to the Hindu gods of flowers and incense folded in a leaf box left outside their doorstep noon and night. Bicycles and pony drawn carts rattle down the mucky streets, swerving around the puddles or pummeling straight through them. Kids play on their hand built rafts, mischievously tipping it over in the clear turquoise waters of the Pacific and howling with laughter as they melt into its shallow waters. Outside my door boys gather around a guitar strumming youth. Kids cry, mothers bark orders, roosters crow. The sad thing is I know I would love this place normally, it is exactly my cup of tea, the simple life, hard work, engaging your whole body in a task, the wildness, the roughness, the kindness… but I am an outsider and have lost my spark. I am not one of them, a local nor do I fit in amongst the party going tourists blazing a trail of destruction through this solemn piece of paradise. I have succumbed to loneliness, hating the thought of eating another dinner alone. But what are my choices go it alone or don’t go at all?
I long to belong to a community once more. Travelling solo is exhausting. You can’t even go to the toilet without bringing all your bags with you, just in case someone steals them. But you learn so much about yourself as there is no one else to lean on. Everyone should try it at least once in his or her lifetime. But when all you do is travel alone the novelty wears off. I now dread the inevitable times I will spend waiting around for boats, buses, trains, planes with no one to talk to. When you’ve finished your book, taken your pictures, refreshed your newsfeed for the fiftieth time, had a coffee, had a think. It just gets boring. I find myself people watching, envious of others camaraderie, young love or pals having a rant… meanwhile I haven’t spoken to a single human the whole day except for the waiter to order some food. It’s hard, its really fucking hard, no one tells you this in the mountains of inspirational posts online. I know I am lucky, I know I am surrounded by beauty, and wondrous things but sometimes I just wish I had someone to share it with. Plus I burnt my back on the boat back to Bali… just one of the disadvantages of solo travelling, you cant reach your own back to lather some suncream on.
I have come here with a purpose though to tick an item off my bucket list, to do my PADI open water scuba diving course. The amount of bloody theory to wade through before they let us free is not a good omen. I get to the pool part finally but I do not feel entirely comfortable with the goggles on not been able to breath through my nose. But I persist…. And then finally something clicks and we fall off a boat into the open ocean and my mind erupts in awe. The vastness of its crystal waters, the coral reef, all these creatures you’ve seen a million times on TV just chilling before your very eyes. We float through a shipwreck covered in coral, moray eels and puffer fish glide around us. I am weightless; I am wrapped in my own little bubble and this time it’s a good bubble. It really is just you and your thoughts while around you majestic turtles, reef sharks, eagle rays and every fish you’ve seen in Finding Nemo just go on about their daily lives. It is incredible. We must conserve this. We must do something! I emerge elated and finally things begin to take a turn for the better.
From Gili T, I make my way to Ubud and I instantly fall in love. The houses are treehouses built on stilts and nestled amongst the treetops of a jungle, winding streets curve up and down, inclining and declining steeply. I get lost in the graffiti, the painted murals on the walls, the vegetation intertwining with the art, nature and humans colliding… coexisting. Too soon I must leave the place I should have came from day one, and back I go to Denpasar, for a night to catch an early flight.
I convince a fat taxi man to drive me there and quickly discover that he is a beautiful being of a driver. We talk politics, Indonesia’s democratic government, how the people have so little but are so happy with what they have. He tells me about Hinduism, about the upcoming festival of evil spirits which is followed by a day of peace where no one works and everyone stays inside and rests. I can’t help but compare it to our festivals, the partying of our western world. He lectures me like he is my Dad about the dangers of traveling alone as a girl but then slips in that he thinks I’m very brave to ease the rebuff. I asked him has he ever eaten in the restaurant he sits outside of all day everyday waiting for customers. He laughs in my face, “ahaha no, no Indonesians cannot afford to eat in there.” He works three jobs, he runs a Credit Union from seven am to eleven, then is a taxi driver from eleven onwards and in his free time he helps his brother farm the paddy fields. After an hour we arrive in the city it is late and darkness has fallen. The satnav tells him we are here, but I look up and only see a dodgy alleyway, oh god don’t leave me here I beg. “Don’t worry Orla if you don’t like the look of it I wont leave you here, we’ll find you somewhere else…” We continue to search and eventually we find the place, he walks me to the door and asks are you ok here… I smile in gratitude.
As I walk in to the plush hotel (my treat for the night) and the kind taxi man drives away, a young boy holding a balloon approaches me and gestures his hand to his mouth signaling for food. His mother carries a little girl dressed in rags half starved on her hip behind him. I have no cash on me, I have no food. I am momentarily stunned. Who is this poor family? What is there story? How have things gotten so bad that they are reduced to this? I have nothing to offer, I can only apologize and walk away with my head sagging in anger and sadness, while he stares after me hating me, judging me as I hang my head and walk into a place of luxury that he in his lifetime will never experience.
The image haunts my mind that night. I vow to never forget it, to do something, to appreciate my world, what I have but as I step foot back in Australia the next day, back to a world of comfort, back to my reality… the memories start to fade and my worries snap back to the trivial things; back to appearance, back to money, back to gossip and every time my memory is jogged I groan in defeat. I berate myself that I once again was weak and succumbed to a lifetime spent worrying about things that in the grand scheme of things do not matter. I am alive, I am healthy, I can do anything. But already knowing that this is a vicious circle that I have experienced hundreds of times, by this afternoon as the sun sets I will be lying on a couch with a bag of crisps perched on my stomach, watching Made In Chelsea or some other shite and wishing I could be like the people on the screen in front of me…
Regional Work… the bane of my life. Eighty eight days in the middle of nowhere, $350 a week, working six days a week. The things we immigrants will do to stay in a country.
In order to qualify for a second year visa in Australia, you are required to complete a three month stint of ‘regional work’ in rural Australia. It must fit under one of the following headings: plant and animal cultivation/fishing and pearling/tree farming and felling/mining or construction.
I decided to get mine over with as quickly as possible, so one month in to my new life in Oz I packed my bags and moved an hour south of Perth to a place called Serpentine, to sweat it out on a breaking yard (horse racing stables).
The ‘town’ of Serpentine was to be my living hell…The kind of place where it’s so small that you don’t have to name the shops they can just be called exactly what they are: General Store, Pharmacy, Tavern etc…
Possums clawed the roof above our heads at night, ants sucking on every spillage and dropped crumb, young horses freshly separated from their mothers head-butted, bit, kicked, cornered and ran at me daily.
Frogs, huntsman spiders, hundreds of daddy long legs, cockroaches, mice, brazen flies that don’t budge when you try and scatter them shacked up with us in the on site accommodation – an old farmhouse with patio doors that wouldn’t close and more cobwebs than a haunted house. And a constant threat of bushfires when the temperature racked up.
There was no wifi and bad reception but we got our daily dose of entertainment from our housemates, exes who regularly pulled out knifes, machetes and the odd samurai sword on each other. Once even a bottle of tequila stuffed with tissue paper ready to set alight and throw into the other ones room. Rife with racism and backwards thinking, there was no point in trying to reason with them, so I set back and enjoyed the show.
The days passed slowly, monotonously in the pressing heat, our routine 4am starts shoveling shit, feeding horses, filling water buckets, on repeat. Disappointed by the realization that this dream of mine of living the rural life in a cabin in the woods may not be all its cracked up to be.
Still I had a roof over my head and food in my belly. Once again as in Vietnam, I am learning to appreciate the finer things in life. Speeding down the dirt tracks in the Ute with the windows down and the music blaring. Head lolling back at night to take in the vast sky with so many stars you cannot fathom it. Driving to the beach to eat fish and chips and watch the sunset. The isolation, having time on your hands to see how you cope on your own, daytime napping in an air-conditioned room, lessons learned, character built and buffered. Muscles toned. New cuts, bruises and scars to add to my collection – all souvenirs of my experiences.
Sharing a room with an English girl, a gem of a human to endure it with, to share my woes. Through our shared experience of this place we are bonded, a friend for life. Our daily excursions were the only thing keeping our spirits from collapsing. The falls, the dam, the lookout, the Buddhist monastery, all the burritos… flashes of goodness in the midst of all the chaos.
Apparently I was one of the lucky ones, since finishing tales have trickled through of people stuck hours away from civilisation out in the outback with no towns or cities in range to escape to. The stories of fruit picking, labouring in the hot sun from dawn until dusk, been paid $9 per bucket picked but when it takes four hours to fill just one.
So once again I succumb to nostalgia… was it really that bad?
You have to do it if you want to stay in the country (unless you can get sponsored) so I’ll let you be the judge of that…
Here is what you need to know:
Basically you need to do 88 days/3 months work at an approved location that is classed as regional Australia. Jobs are listed on Gumtree but ask around, check Facebook groups such as Backpackers Jobs In Australia, do your research. The most common jobs going are fruit picking or packing, farms and nannying. If you can find full-time work, the 88 days includes your days off. So it’s three months’ full-time work or just count up your 88 days if it’s part-time. You can do it all one with one employer or several, the choice is yours. My advice is to try and get it done as soon as you land, it takes the pressure off and you can enjoy the rest of your stay. Also you can afford to be a bit pickier because you have time on your side. I wish you the very best of luck with it, please do let me know how it goes!