12
Nov 11

New Zealand, Stage 1

Last we left it, I was in Geraldine, NZ, the end of the Canterbury Plains and the start of the hills.

The next few days is now a blur of small towns and nights spent either in a backpackers or camping out, weather-depending. The weather is really variable here: one day it’s lovely and summery and the next is cold and rainy. Winds can be really strong and a headwind will ruin your day. I am going to invent a new ‘factor’, like the windchill factor, except this is just called the ‘wind factor’. For example, and I will make up the numbers here, if the wind is in your face at 40km/hr, then biking 30km ‘feels like’ biking 50km. It takes the same amount of time and takes the same amount of effort. I don’t have the scale quite worked out yet, but I do spend a lot of time on the bike doing math: “If I can walk the bike up the hill at 4km/hr, pushing the whole way will take 16hrs.

There isn’t much of anything between each town I stay in. Sheep for sure, farms and a house here or there, but mostly it is isolated roads, carved through the landscape, through valleys and up the damn hills. If I pass a cafe or something, I usually stop and fill up the water bottles and give my butt a break.

I got sick of always calculating in my head so I started throwing the iPod in the hood of my sweater and now I listen to podcast or songs as I go. Super fun.

Places like Lake Tekapo (That’s pronounced “Tech-a-Poe”, there people.) are gorgeous. The glacial lakes are strikingly blue due to ‘rock flour’: a few fine silt that comes from the grinding rocks under the glacier. It’s so fine that it doesn’t sink and gives the water a bright, translucent blue color. It’s really quite a sight when you first round the corner and see it.

I got to Twizel after a good but windy ride from Tekapo. Due to heavy headwinds, I decided to take the short bus to Mt. Cook. It’s a 70km ride that’s tough on a good day but impossible in a headwind. (One steep hill I went down subsequently I was actually slowing down due to the headwind. It would have pushed me to a stop if I didn’t pedal. Ugh.) The week before, one of the bars in the village had to close because their huge window got blown out from a 180km/hr wind.

I was lucky to get 2 reasonable days at Mt. Cook. It can be hard to get a clear view of the mountaintop (Mt. Cook is the tallest mountain in NZ.) The landscape was amazing. A big flat, rocky plain and countless boulders and rocks strewn around. You can get fairly close to two glaciers but on this side they were a bit underwhelming. Due to them currently receding at a good clip, they are black, covered in a thick layer of rock. Way way in the back, you can catch a glimpse of the white part. But the gully of rocks they leave behind is impressive. The whole landscape is raw and rough.

Sadly, when it was time to go, it was a bit rainy so I was forced to take the bus back as well. Doing that road with a solid tailwind can be amazing..so I hear. So that 140km won’t be included in my distance sum.

The next day was a short 30k to Omarama (o-MARE-a-ma) since the next day was a monster. The next day was my longest to date, 111km (66miles or so). It was a windy day and I had a couple of good hills so after about 8 hours on the road, I trickled into Cromwell, about 60km east of Queenstown.

Cromwell is old gold mining country and now hosts a good collection of wineries and fruit orchards. Part of the old town was raised up a few hundred feet due to the damn being built. The main town in only a couple of decided old.

The week before, I got an email from a Helpx host, asking if I wanted to come by for a bit. I certainly did. It was right about the time I was planning on stopping for a while and they were just down the road, so I said “sure!”.

I spent the last 10 days at the Rosewood Lodges, a mix of backpackers rooms, caravan camping and tent campgrounds. It was built in the 70s to house workers for the Clyde dam and served as a lodging place for a while since then. David and Susan bought it 5 months ago and there is a LOT to do. I spent most of my week happily putting paint on things. I spruced up the bar/cafe part, painting the huge but thankfully low ceiling, taking off years worth of cue stick marks. I then painted red the wall behind the bar. It’s a vast improvement and really gave it some character.

It was a nice week with good work, good hosts and plenty of time for other things. I have been spending a lot of time working on the web application for Newport Biodiesel, a project I started in June. It’s coming along quite well and it’s nice to be learning so much. I am getting to be a much better coder and it is nice to go back and refactor initial code into something more robust and efficient.

I left Cromwell this morning. I was there a couple days more than planned due to weather and projects. I don’t want to help too long or I will lose my hard-won leg strength! So today was a difficult 75km, through a hilly valley and towards the end, a good headwind. But mostly it was warm so I could take off my hoodie and get some sun. Funny, I was regretting going down big hills today because I could plainly see that I would just have to go up them again on the other side. It was almost 7 hours for those 75km.

I am now in Roxburgh, on my way to Dunedin. I got in just before the rain started. We will see what tomorrow brings. It’s a couple good days before my next destination.

Thanks for reading.

D



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22
Apr 11

Le Gers


Le Gers is a department (like a county) in the Midi-Pyrenees, in the south of France. Like Tuscany or Napa, it has rolling hills dotted with old farms, fields of colors, horses eating in the misty mornings…like a goddamn postcard. And on the clear days, the mountains dominate the southern horizon. I am around mountains so infrequently that I am awed at what a different landscape it makes. Most of my life has been spent within walking distance of the ocean.
Jamie and Suzie are a cool British couple that settled in the area 16 years ago. They have a classic old house that has been renovated, with nice rooms that they rent out. They are both artists and host painting (watercolor) holidays in the summer.

As with any farm-ish piece of property, there are always many things to be done.
Moved a bunch of logs up the hill. Turned over a couple garden plots worth of lovely clay soil.
Dug a couple of holes for big plants.
Got to fix a lot of those things that had been bothering Suzie for years: properly installed the wire/lamp in the bathroom that had been poorly done for years, then painted the room.
Cabinet door was sagging, so I got it aligned. Magnetic door latch wasn’t holding so I reinstalled it and now the cat can’t get into the food.
Replaced a couple rake handles.
Got them set up with a new website for the B&B business.
Got them off of the old, painful laptop and onto a shiny new iMac. Moved images and music, reformatted the iPod and all the stuff that goes along with such a switch.
Busted out a new garden bench for them. This was a fun project. They have loads of great old wood. A huge oak wine press was in pieces. An old ox yoke. Many great pieces over 4×4 and 12 ft. tall. MMmmmm.
Part of the ox yoke was two big pieces bolted together, one of them having this great, natural curve in it. I thought it could easily be bent in such a way to build a big, angled bench. (For some reason, building a big bench has been on my mind for a year or so.) So when Suzie mentioned she wanted one, I jumped at it.
Construction was pretty straight-forward, with fine tuning for height and depth. It is very solid and stable and they are looking forward to a summer of evening aperos with friends on the bench.


They are right next to Marciac, which is famous for a 2 week jazz festival in the summer. They took me to these impossibly quaint villages and through excellent vistas.
Got to me the nice dairy farmers down the road. Once or twice a week, we would trot on down and buy fresh raw milk. I made a bit of butter out of raw cream.
Met many of their wonderful friends. There is a good sized contingent of British people there and we went visiting and had some wonderful meals. (Speaking of which, Suzie is a great cook and I feel like I was full for 2 weeks, as in Normandy, the work day is generously interspersed with tea breaks.
Oh yeah, and the their friend is a baker who drives around with fresh goods on Tuesdays and Fridays. We had to flag him down a couple of times. It might be the greatest thing in the world.

I met one of their friends who is a master woodworker. He is a pipe organ builder/refurbisher. I got to see his shop, including a set of oak pipes he had just made. And we spoke in Spanish while he showed me photos of the AMAZING pipe organ they spent 3 years rebuilding. Very cool. I have thought for years that that would be a great job and I will be writing to him this summer about possibilities…
They are excellent backgammon players and I gained some skill there.
And the nightly games of Scrabble were sometimes humiliating but always fun. Interesting playing with British people; they have a whole raft of words I have never heard of. “You don’t know what a ‘skibble’ is?! It’s a boy in pantaloons with a 6-pence in his pocket.” So we both learned some new words!
So all in all, a good couple of weeks.
Now I am even further south, in the foothills of the mountains, with a cool couple I met while in Cambodia. I told them then that I would come here in spring on my way back to the US. So I am doing some web work for them and the usual outside projects.
Here for another week and then heading back to Normandy!


29
Mar 11

Spain and Portugal

Let’s catch up since we last left Madrid.

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The time spent in Valencia de Alcantara was good. In my last post, I had just arrived and get straight into the woodcutting. There was a lot of that over my time there as it was still winterish and the big house with high ceiling was heated by fire.

After all that painting in Laos, it was good to run an chainsaw and swing an axe (while ruining both pairs of pants with gasoline and oil).

Other tasks included dismantling and moving a good amount of fencing and digging drainage ditches then filling them with big rocks.

The work was good and the hours easy. Chris and Jill are archetype hosts: not too many hours, respectful of your talents and are happy to provide excellent home-cooked meals in a cheerful welcoming environment. My room was great and the internet plentiful.

I spent the afternoons reading or practicing my drawing. As spring rolled in, it got hot on the back patio and it was a nice heating/cooling cycle of reading outside and then retreating into my too-cold room.

As I am learning, it’s easy to get stuck on the farm and not see the area. I need to get mow proactive about getting out.

My last tasks were fun and artistic. Chis is a singer in a rock and roll band and I busted out Illustrator and made some band posters for him and the band. Nothing like Live Trace to make you look like an accomplished artist. So that was fun and helped to expand my growing art repertoire.

But Spain was only supposed to be a short visit before heading up to France.

Since I was only 9km. from the Portuguese border, I thought it wise to head over and check it out.

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So I left Spain on Thursday and took a bus to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.

It is a cool, old city, steeped in history. For a time, they were the powerhouse of the seas, and therefore Europe. Many famous navigators, the names of whom are well known, sailed from this very harbor. The wealth it brought is still evident in the castle that dominates the tallest of the many hills of the city. The palace and the great buildings and squares attest to the power of the county. And it leaves a lovely city in its wake.

While I didn’t spend enough time there to get to know the whole thing, I went to their famous art museum, and was pleased to see many masterpieces, including a portrait by Ghilandario, who was Michaelangelo’s teacher. The maritime museum was cool, with rooms full of boat models, old maps and navigation equipment (mmm…ornate brassy machines…). Next time I will have to hit the royal coach museum.

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Porto is an amazing town. Very hilly, with winding and twisting roads, built on banks of the river, it’s very picturesque. The old center has been preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage area. There are hundreds of tiny houses with nice patios and banisters. Tiles seem to be a big deal there and many of the facades are covered with excellent tile work. They have a shiny new, nicely run metro system. And finally, a good use of RFID, the disposable metro cards can be reused and recharged as needed. A deal for 1 euro ($1.41). To compare, the London tube is 4 Sterling, which is $6.40 today, for one trip!

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Porto is famous for the eponymous Port wine. Many many major manufactures are right across the river and most provide tastings and tours of their ‘caves’.

Thousands upon thousands of oak barrels stacked in old old buildings, quietly doing their thing. It’s always nice see places where things actually happen.

So Porto is a great town for just walking around. But the weather had other plans and my last day was spent indoors or underground, avoiding the rain.

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A few trains (including overnight) and I am now in Bayonne, France, making my way to Tarbes.

My next hosts live in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. They are are artists and have people stay with them and learn painting. They have a good lift of tasks and I will take every opportunity to work on my painting/drawing.

Until next time, cats are keeping an eye on you!

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05
Mar 11

Extremadura

After a good train ride through the Spanish countryside, I jumped on a bus and an hour later, found myself, properly, in Valencia de Alcantara. It’s a small town of a few thousand people, 7 miles from the Portuguese border, It’s a rough, hardscrable land, rocky strewn with huge boulders, Besides the miles of olive trees, it is obviously a very difficult land from which to reap a life. It’s a poor part of Spain and has seen an exodus of people as they look for a better life. The population of Extremadura, the name of this region, has gone from 3 million to 1 million. That means that the area is awash in old houses and barns fall down. Picturesque for sure, but evidence of a struggle.

But the town and the people persist.

This area is known, but not very well known, as being a wealth of Roman and Visigoth ruins. It’s also known as being one of the best producers of the Jamon Iberica, arguably some of the best ham in the world.

As for me: I am finding it hard to learn a new language. In France, I stayed with a Dutch family. In Laos, it was all French. And now in Spain, I am staying with a British couple. I suppose it is all very international.

I am on a farm a couple of kilometers from town with Gill and Chris, 4 dogs and 4 cats. They are very well traveled and are good hosts. We got off to a quick start as firewood is the main concern right now. The big stone house in which they live is chilly and needs a constant stream of wood. So Chris and I headed out to a piece of land where wood is cut. I climbed a dying old chestnut tree and chainsawed down a few big branches. Today will be spent quartering them with an ax. This particular batch is going to a family in Portugal (country number 23!) and then back to do some more cutting.

They used to run a restaurant and now host cooking events. Monday we are expecting 26 people for tapas lessons.

So it looks to be a good spot, out here in the middle of nowhere. But now the sun is coming up and it’s time to brave the chill and see if there are good sunrise photos on the way…


26
Feb 11

Laos

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I just wrapped up 1.5+ months in Luang Prabang, Laos.

A UNESCO World Heritage site and once the capital of Laos, LP is know for it’s nice blend of Lao and French cultures. It’s one of those towns that is instantly comfortable and you want to stay longer that you thought.

When last we checked in, I was building a new bar out of brick and mortar. It came out well, reasonably straight and level. I can blame the bricks for the wavering of my lines, no two being the same size, but mortar is the ultimate in fudge factors. But nothing like a coat or mortar to cover the sins. It came out pretty well, I think.

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A note about building things in other countries. In France we previously notes the ease of using the metric system but not knowing what was available in hardware stores. And in Scotland we learned about the two tier imperial/metric system. Plywood still comes in 4’x’8 ft planels, but they are denoted in centimeters; so you get sizes like 148.5×223.75, which has all the logic of metric, with the horrible multipliers of the imperial. Ugh.
Here in Laos, I was going to fix a large set of steps and asked for a shovel. I got a shovel. In Laos however, you only get the metal part. They don’t sell handles with their tools. Apparently, it is easier to just make your own out of bamboo or otherwise. So knowing that a subpar handle on any tool is more a hinderance than help, I used the shovel head as a large trowel, hacking at the hard earth for a couple of days.

For the bar, I first had to take down the older, smaller brick bar. This called for a sledgehammer of course. Again, substituting my radius/ulna combination for a handle, I took down the bar. And later, as we will see, when painting, you have a limited palette of 5-6 colors. But we persevere! It’s about challenge and flexibility!

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The brick work done and the leveling of the steps done, it is on to painting.

But first, a note on daily life. I stayed at the pool, which is another business run by my host. I stayed there with Andre, a language teacher from France who was living there, teaching Natalie’s little boy. Lavi is a 20 year old Lao guy that was the day to day worker at the pool. I lived there, upstairs, in a simple room, with a hard, thin futon mattress, resplendent under the mosquito nets and an army of spiders. Living was basic: a leaky, anemic shower with sporadic hot water. A toilet with ‘by the bucket’ flushing and an electrical system chomping at the bit to burn down the place. But we have simple needs. Mornings were contented with a coffee and warm baguette and Thomas Paine on my Kindle.
The pool was open to the public and tourists would arrive around noon, or whenever it would heat up. They lounged about for hours, swimming and drinking smoothies and eating french fries and fried rice. It’s a fine place to spend the day.

As the pool was on the edge of town, I would walk into the center everyday, 30 minutes or so, which helped me slim down a bit. I would get my free food at the restaurant, go online and play with Mia. I met a bunch of characters: French expats, Argentine stoners and travelers from all over.

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I had two big painting projects while I was there. The first was to finish painting the pool. The orange was already done but needed tweaking. I suggested the bold blue, which gave it a kind of Moorish feel, and complimented the blue water.

The house was an ugly and poorly done brick thing and an eyesore for those lounging at the pool. Natalie got it skimcoated with mortar, which helped. For reasons unknown, I suggested that I paint the whole thing. Not like just paint the house, but to decorate it. Not being an artistic painter AT ALL, it made no sense. But whatever.

I got to work, my initial idea being to take advantage of the wood of the building and make people see under and through the building: put the wood up on stilts and be able to see the mountains behind it. (Luang Prabang is up in the mountains of Laos and the mountains in the painting would be the mountains in real life.

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So I got to it. I whitewashed the whole thing, laid out a horizon line and started paining mountains. As it snaked over 4 perpendicular walls, I wanted the corners to melt away and come across as a panorama.
To enable this, it was critical that my vanishing points and perspective lines be very accurate. I spent a lot of time taking photos of the work and laying out lines in Illustrator. <nerd_alert>At one point time, I used a digital projector to put the lines on the wall and used it to trace the lines.</nerd_alert>

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I changes the overall design a couple of times as I figured out how to present the whole thing. Once I figured out that we were know on a high cliff, overlooking a valley, I knew I just needed to give an impression of the distant fields and towns and could then fill the foreground with big, colorful things. I learned on the fly how to make leaves bend and twist. I need to learn shading better and want to find a painting class this summer.

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Overall, it went pretty well. Mostly, I was glad that Natalie had the faith in my to take on such a big project. It was an audacious request but it sure was fun to have such a big canvas. I even had a big practice wall on which to fool around.

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After that, i hung out for two days and did nothing. Then I got on a plane and headed back to Bangkok, from whence I write.

Sadly and strangely, I did no touristy things while I was there. I didn’t go to the waterfalls, or the caves. Didn’t do a boat ride on the Mekong. I don’t know why; just wasn’t interested. I am sure to regret it but ah well.

Next stop: Madrid. I will be helping out in the far west of Spain for a few weeks and then head up to France.

 


13
Dec 10

Sunshine Cafe



I just wrapped up three interesting weeks on Otres Beach. If you have been following along, you know that Otres Beach is the sleepiest of the four main beaches of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I arrived at the warm glow of the Sunshine Cafe after a long day of traveling and border crossing from Thailand.
Sihanoukville is the main port of Cambodia and it’s main party/holiday spot. Popular with backpackers due its cheap prices, cheap pot and a loose set of morals, it teems with people from all over the world. Well, ‘teem’ is a strong word. I am here for shoulder season, the time between when the weather turns good and when the people show up. It’s quiet, as I have said before. The beach is small, width-wise, with a gentle, 3rd-Beach-ish shoreline. With it’s gentle slope, you can walk out 50 yards or so and still not be hip-deep.
The day starts before sunrise, when the birds in the tree all start chattering at once. Beaches are swept and ashtrays emptied. Coffee is made and cushions shaken out.


A set of regulars shows up for coffee, mostly people building bungalows and businesses across the street.
The first settler shows up around 9 or earlier, parking their ass on one of the sun chairs that line the beach. Many of them will be there all day, coming up for beer and lunch or a break from the sun. Naps are taken, books are read and relaxing is had. The Austrian gents that show up every day, have their tea and get massages. The Irish guy who is here to drink stumbles in from time to time. The coconut boat drifts along the shore, offloading cocos for the cafes ($1 each). We wade in and lug them ashore. The Cambodians and those foreigners that lounge about them are not over-employed. People come here to do nothing, be it getting away from the cold (Lots of Swedes and Canadians) or just dropping out. They come to the beach and do nothing all day.
They come to Otres to get away from the hustle and bustle of the main downtown beaches, jammed as they are with all the same things we have, just an order of magnitude more.
All day, locals ply the beach. They descend upon the new ones like mosquitos. The better off kids sell bracelets on the beach, pre-made or with custom colors, they are cute and charming and know all the right replies. The less-well-off kids from the villages collect bottles and cans and try to avoid the dogs. Now that I know them, I quiz them on their schoolwork or make them do math problems before they can move on.
Fresh fruit, legs shaved, massage, sunglasses, langoustines, sarongs, they are all served up from locals, brought straight to your sun chair, whether you like it or not.
My job was to sit behind the bar, which overlooks the sea, and serve customers, take orders, make smoothies and otherwise do what needs doing. Mostly that was chatting up the guests and reading. The staff/family was really good to me. They are personable and caring and hard workers.
Though easy and relaxing for sure, they were long days, being at the bar all day and into the evening, serving dinners and drinks to the night crowd…which was the day crowd after a shower and a change of clothes.


I had a day off and I went into town a few times, but mostly I stayed on the beach.
I got to join a local Khmer family for dinner in their roadside shanty. We sat on the little patio out front and had some wonderful food, amidst the family and curious onlookers. It was a rare chance for a foreigner to be with a local family in such an intimate environment. I was pleased that I could join them.
I slept upstairs, in the cheapest room you have ever seen, which makes sense, because they rent out for $5/night. But with a fan and mosquito net, it is all you need and perfectly comfortable. Food was great and freshly made to order.
Overall, it is a great place to spend some time. Many worry about how long this little strip of paradise will last, but that’s always the case when you have one in hand. Good people, good and cheap living and a pace that makes one calm. I think I said before, come for 2 weeks, stay for 2 years. I am sure I will be back at some point.

sunset from Donald Booth on Vimeo.


16
Nov 10

Resort: Thai Style

I spent 11 days on the coast of Thailand, near Chanthamburi, helping out at a small resort/spa. Very quiet and a 4 minute walk from a sleepy beach, Faasai Resort is a nice place to relax for a spell.

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After a day or so of pruning and weeding, sussing me out as they were, I got to do a couple of good projects.
Project 1: do a mosiac in cement. After a few design changes, looking to find the right theme, I got to work. In the end, it was’t as elaborate as we were hoping, due to factors like:

  • I was mixing, pouring and designing all by myself. There wasn’t a lot of time for nuance.
  • It was very hot, with still air, meaning that the concrete was kicking off quickly.
  • The stones were big and couldn’t handle intricate designs.

Overall, it’s ok. It’s tough getting the batches to be consistent when mixing on the fly. But it’s a pretty good circle, even if there is a little more yin than yang.

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Then the next 2 full days were spent pouring more cement for the driveway. Happily, there were a couple of guys to do the mixing and pouring. My job was to place, one by one, round stones randomly in the wet cement. This involved a bit of a dance with the pourers, constantly reminding them not to do too much at once because I could only reach an arm’s length.

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Overall it came out well. I am pleased with the consistency of the randomness, if that is a proper concept. Entropy in equilibrium. So after 2 hot and long days, plus one additional day of cementing tiles around a pole, I was ready for a change of pace.

I was then employed to work on a mural. Along a wall in the resort, each staff member had contributed a small painting to the wall. I was tasked with tying it all together and filling in the gaps: My Sistine Wall.
My host thought i was a painter, which I am not, but I gave it a go. I drew inspiration from a book of historic Thai temple murals. I did my best to copy from their old work. One nice thing is that there was no perspective in those days, so accuracy wan’t a huge deal. I used a river to bind together the disparate panels of the wall.

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I added a temple, an owl, an elephant, a boat full of people, and my piece de resistance, the Tree of Life. Probably my best painting to date (out of 3 or 4 perhaps..it’s not saying much) I like how it came out, esp when I figured out how to add shadows to give the branches depth. It spurred my interest in relearning some painting techniques and it would be fun to find a 20ft wall on which to paint a big one.

Beyond that, it was a quiet week. The resort was quite isolated from any sort of town and days were lazy and relaxing; a good place to get some reading and writing done.

We got a chance to go to an important festival at the local temple. It was great to hang out with the locals. As a rare farong, I stuck out quite a bit and was welcomed by all.

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I got to meet a couple of other helpers, making their way in the world. Martin and Maria are from Argentina and were spending time in southeast Asia after a year in New Zealand. It was great to meet them and get some ideas on new ways of living. They made a strong case to head to NZ and I hope for the opportunity to see them someday in Argentina.

While I was there, an opportunity in Cambodia made itself available and I jumped on it. So now, I write to you from sleep Otres Beach, on the coast of Cambodia. Of the 4 big beaches in this party town, this is outside the main action, at the end of the long, bumpy road. Peaceful and relaxed, it’s a perfect place to just chill out. My duties include hanging out behind the bar with the Polish woman that owns the place, just making sure all is well and being on the scene.

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I suspect I will be here a 2 weeks or so, enjoying the pace of life, meeting the cast of cast-outs and castaways that are looking to disappear and drink cheap beer. I feel a long way from home and my cube, and am happy for it. More soon.

D


04
Nov 10

Dateline: Bangkok

What a difference a plane makes!

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I left France after 6 excellent weeks. It was summer when I arrived and heading towards winter when I left. When I got off the plane on Friday morning, my friend remarked that I must have brought winter with me, because it was a lovely 80F and not a cloud. Apparently this was in marked contrast the day before when it was hot and muggy.

And luckily for me, this Decemberish weather persisted. Walking out of the apartment building in the morning, it was that lovely non-temperature: the fleeting second when it is neither hot nor cold, but seemingly exactly skin temperature. It lasts but a moment and mostly harkens to a warm day. But after a chilly France and years in San Francisco, where we get 2 balmy nights a year, it’s a nice change of pace.

Bangkok is a huge city, sprawling and flat, it is more a working city rather than a tourist city. It doesn’t have a ‘downtown’ per se, but just spread out, with districts like Chinatown, or the backpacker’s area, etc.
It’s not macro-picturesque like Rome or Paris, but there are lovely things in the details. Lots of color, flowers and golden temples. And there are many gruesome food markets, my favorite travel places. Pigs being flayed by the dozens and stomachs, hearts and lungs, all available for the frying. But when in an exotic place, so much food but nothing to eat. I was going to get some chicken satay on the street (30 cents. mmm) until on closer inspection, they were actually little grilled hearts on a stick. Pass.

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Like the Indians, the Thai people are generally smiling and welcoming, calling out to say hi and have their photo taken. There are few touts and the tuk drivers only ask once. And taxis are cheap enough that you needn’t bother with the tuks.
My friend lives near an elevated train stop, which makes it easy to get around town, or down to the river. And even better, it makes it easy to get home.

I spent a lazy week getting over jet lag and walking around town. It’s nice to have the luxury ofa place to stay, a friendly face and nowhere to be. And it is REALLY nice to have someone that knows the ropes!

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But for all the cheap food and temples galore, it’s not an inspiring city. It’s a bustling, working city and it makes no pretense of being anything different. It has its fancy malls and high end shops as well as it’s degraded infrastructure and abandoned buildings. Which city doesn’t. I didn’t find it overly photogenic and looked forward to the opportunity to get out into the country and see some green.

It finally feels like and adventure now. UK and France are pretty easy, travel-wise. Now things are decidedly different.

Highlights of the week:

  1. Big kudos for Stacy for doing the right thing and saving 3 tiny kittens on the street.
  2. I gave blood for a sick little girl.
  3. Saw an AMAZING Beatles cover band at an Irish pub in Bangkok. They were unbelievable. Hitting all the notes and fills, looked great and knew every song. Who covers A Day in A Life?!!

And now, a sleepy 3.5 hour bus ride down the coast, I type from a sleepy cafe next to the beach.

I am spending 10 days or so on the coast near Chanthamburi, helping at a resort/spa place a short walk from the beach. Butterflies and birds abound, tropical and lush and very quiet.

And I made a new theory after I had been here 4 minutes. Let’s say that the size of the spider represents the complex. And the size of the web represents the irrational fear. Well, the one across from my little bungalow has given me huge complex wrapped in a super-size irrational fear. The thing is a monster in this horror movie web. And it’s the tropical type: long spindly legs and a long thin body that stands high off the web. Ugh. Now I can’t walk anywhere without looking around for them on every plant, waiting to pounce.

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So the sun has fallen and the orchestra of the forest has begun, with the crickets as the drones and birds of the strangest song chiming in. 4 hours in and my legs are once again mosquito bitten to distraction. Bitch and moan. To be sure, it will be a nice week or two here in Chanthamburi.

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26
Oct 10

Goodbye Europe

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How time flies…

Back in Paris, at La Sancerre, my ‘usual’ spot in Montmartre.

I have wrapped up six lovely weeks in Normandy and I leave with reluctance. Only the morning frost, and therefore the coming of winter tell me it’s time to go.

The time in Putange was well spent. I spent four weeks at the top of the property, working on the cattery.

This entailed converting a 3 room concrete building into something warm and comfortable. Jeremy was a huge help, spenting days and days drilling into concrete and affixing wooden beams with bolts. Then I followed as the sheetrock installer, cutting, fitting and screwing in, after installing the insulation. To date, I have failed to mention that when I say the top of the property, this entails hefting each and every beam, plank of plywood and piece of sheetrock from the main house, up a woodsy trail probably 4 stories above the main house. It was sure nice have a lot of helpers around the the sheetrock lifting party. (27 sheets in all).argentan-14-6.jpg<argentan-5-8.jpg

As this is a prefab building, it wasn’t really designed to be walled up and I don’t think there is a truly flat sheet or 90 degree corner in the whole place. After that, including the ultra-fun ceiling, held up in part with plastic ties, the other helpers were gone. I built a sub-floor and insulated the floors and then installed plywood and drainage. Cemented in some blocks to hold up counter top we bought.
Cut openings in the metal doors to take the cat doors and painted them. Installed a couple pieces of new glass. Painted the outside with this thick, textured paint.
So now it is pretty well ready for our hosts to tile the floors and walls.

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Repainted a sign.

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I spent my last week building a bridge. It was made out of 4×4 oak beams and some plastic treads. A simple project, i took some planning to make it level in all directions, solid, float above the cat tunnel and hook up nicely with the metal steps they had bought. Poured a concrete slab to level out the steps. In the end, everyone involved was quite pleased with the results.

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My hosts were fantastic: a loving family, gracious to their helpers and now good friends. I was well fed. Too well, sadly but c’est la vie. We ate out of the garden and the helpers each cook once a week, so there were chances to taste other styles. Got to meet their daughter and was charmed by the granddaughter. I have an invitation to come visit them in Zurich when I am next in the area.

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The last three weeks were pretty quiet after the other helpers left, but it gave me some quiet time and opportunity to work on some writing jobs I picked up.

I got to see Mont St. Michel, St. Malo and the Bayeux Tapestry, all within an easy drive of the house.

When I got here, it was summer for sure. As I leave it’s quite cold and winter is approaching.

Well, i didn’t subscribe to this new lifestyle to shovel snow, so it is off to SouthEast Asia in 2 days. I will headquarter in Bangkok for a couple of months while I volunteer around the area. It should be nice and warm! I have 2 weeks set up at a resort/spa on the Thai coast 2 hours out of Bangkok. After that, I don’t know. Might tourist a bit. There are far fewer hosts in that end of the world, so we will see what I can drum up. Might meet a friend in Shanghai in January and another in Vietnam later that month. After that, I might head down to New Zealand whilst it is their summer.

But first, France is in the midst of turmoil. There are widespread and sporadic strikes throughout the country. I managed to make it to Paris on the train today. A nation-wide strike is rumored for Thursday, the day I fly, so we will see how things go. Fingers crossed.

Expect more reports from Thailand as it is a new country on the list for me!

‘Till next time.


10
Sep 10

Goodby UK, hello France

On the train to Dublin, having just wrapped up my stay at Tullywood farm. I would that I could stay longer but I am getting pulled to France as if by instinct.

Well, more that I want to maximize my time there before I head to Thailand at the end of October.

Tullywood was a good experience overall. Joe is a hard working brick of a man who has built the farm almost singlehandedly from the ground up, at the same time running a business and raising a family.

There is a ton of work to be done on any farm at any time and Tullywood is no exception. I had to ask Joe, when describing a project: “Is this in the next 5 days or the next 5 years?”, because he’s got lots he wants to do.

The work we did was productive I think.

First we poured a concrete slab that will run along the farm house. Many of the projects are in anticipation of  hosting parties and other gaggles of children and also corraling the various animals on the farm, so gates and railings are of prime importance.

Then we started the outdoor bathroom/shower complex (‘brick shithouse’ would be apt here). That entailed moving a deceptively big pile of  firewood. “Deceptively” meaning it didn’t look very big but we were both amazed at how long it took and how big the resultant stack of wood was.

Then level a foundation and ran a couple courses of cinder brick. Then fill the hole with all kinds of trash (“fill”) as to reduce the amount of concrete we had to mix and shovel.

Next build in the piping and drainage for said toilets and shower.

Then concrete in the slab, ensuring proper slope to making draining and cleaning easy.

And that’s where it stands before we had to let it dry, then got sucked into other projects and then had 3 days of rain.

We also poured the first of three slabs in for the deck on the house.

They were quite pleased to get this stuff done as they had been talked about for years and were finally coming to fruition!

Other projects: Restoring a rusty old weathervane.

Disposing of a couple of dead goats.

Painting the doors of the farm shop. (Lesson 2: Always take before pics!!) A couple of the doors has old varnish on them and the front door was bright red. They also inheirited a couple of nice benches that needed a quick fix and some paint. I spent a few days priming and painting said items, and they were happy to take my recommendation of black trim, which looks great, might I say!

You can’t run a farm without a bit of shit and I shoveled out an old stable that can only be described as Herculean. This was an old stone stable building that has been around for probably 150 years or more. It was used as a trash depot+ pig sty at some point in the past and I shoveled out a thick layer of dried crap. And if there is joy in such work, it stems from the fact that when dried for a period of years, it comes off in nice big slabs, and it doesn’t weigh much. Thank the lord I didn’t go with my first plan of wetting it down first.

Then, being a fan of power spraying, I cleaned the walls and floors with a kick-ass power sprayer, creating a toxic sauna of pig shit and mist. Of course, I had a gas mask, gloves and goggles on for sure, but it was a relief to get out of the shower than evening. Such is life on the farm, and it’s all for Tara’s soon-to-arrive hackney pony, regaly named Noddyvice Gladiator. (For sure that is spelled incorrectly.)

And to bring it all together, I got to make the new farm sign. A fun task, it brought together math, woodworking, painting, Adobe Illustrator and carbon paper! It came out quite nicely I think and we managed to get a few sunny hours to install it. My only hope it that it passed the Signs by Goff muster…

I got to restore a couple smaller pieces, did some strimming and other menial tasks. Baked some bread, lasagna and cookies. Introduced little Tara to backgammon and chinese checkers. I was also happy to pass on my iPod Touch to her, as it was here prime want and it was only making my bag heavier. She is very happy to have it (as is her father!) and has loaded it up with anmial games and sounds. I wish her well in her new boarding school life.

Some nerdy things as well: got the wireless working smoothly, including getting the wireless printer to work correctly. Adobe will be happy to know that I started weaning Julie off FrontPage and into DW.

All in all, a good experience on the farm. My hosts were kind and gracious and the bacon withdrawls have already started. I was well fed and housed but pleased that my new pants that were too tight when I left are now quite loose! They took me on a couple nice drives around the area, seeing the lakes and old abbeys and castles. It is quite green as we all know, and near Sligo, some lovely glacial valleys and escarpments. I got to meet some good characters and to see some other ways of living.

Again I was reminded that I seem to be a good fit for this helpx lifestyle. I got a raft of horror stories about others they have had in the past and they were pleased to have compentcy on the farm. So much so, that after figuring out the foci for the ellipse for the sign, and drawing it out nicely with the classic loop and pencil trick, Joe had to restrain himself from taking the jig saw out of my hand, not being used to his helpers being tool savvy. I took it as a compliment.

I will be in Paris this afternoon where I loook forward to visiting my chocolate guy again (some of you will sigh as you recall the Parisian mints…). After a weekend in that fair city, I am off to Normandy, to an estate between Caen and Le Mans, where I willl spend the next month or so, building an aviary and other things. I look forward to the change in scenery, language, food and lifestyle. It doesn’t really feel like traveling when everyone speaks English.

So goodbye to the Celtic states and onto France! (more pics on Flickr)