Thursday, June 3, 2010

Where are you now?

Our first stop after leaving Heartland Mesa in New Mexico was White Sands National Park: a beautiful place made up of miles upon miles of blindingly white sand and dotted with a few scraggly bushes. After a couple of hours wandering through the desert, we hopped in the van to head to the next tourist destination: Carlsbad Caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns, located in eastern New Mexico turned out to be an excellent place to spend a hot day. Below the ground the slight humidity lent our parched skin a bit of relief from the arid New Mexico weather. In addition to cooler temperatures and damp air, the caverns provided interesting viewing: formations that ranged in appearance from a group of gnomes preparing to take over the world above to delicate icicles clinging to cathedral ceilings.

We did our first overnight trek of the trip that night. We hiked a couple of miles in and camped next to Enchanted Rock. At this point we are in Texas where the air is so thick and warm it feels like breathing in a bath. Feels just like Brissie in the summer!

From Enchanted Rock we drove to our next farm: Munkebo Farm outside of Austin, Texas. Our days here were spent with LOTS of ducks, a male goose who fancied himself a female duck (seriously!), four other "woofers" (Meg, Heath, Beck, and Sean), the owner, Germaine, her boyfriend, Ivan, and his brother, Milo, horses, a donkey, dogs, cats and cows.

We dug cacti, shoveled manure, dug new garden beds and planted herbs and veggies. Our accessories instead of fancy handbags and shoes were a shovel and a water bottle. Our afternoons were typically spent relaxing our work sore muscles and laughing. I laughed harder over the week and a half we spent at Munkebo than I have in years. Along with sore shoulders, arms and backs we all ended up with aching tummies and cheeks from near constant merriment. We were fed really well and when it came time to leave, we'd developed an attachment to the people and the place, though not so much ducks.

Next stop: Surfside Beach, near Galveston, Texas. It'd been a year since either Rohan or I had taken a dip in the sea and we both felt it was well overdue. Though the beaches of Texas aren't as clean (we had some folks next to us leave an empty 24 pack of beer, cans included and the packaging from their dinner lying on the beach) those in Aus, the water was warm and the sun was shining, woo hoo!

New Orleans, Louisiana was our next destination, where we stayed with our good friends Mark and Mary. We got our own room there, our own bathroom and Mark and Mary treated us very well. I discovered my new favorite food: boiled crawfish coupled with daiquiris. If you should be running short on time, you can get your daiquiri at the drive thru or to go. We could've stayed in Nawlins forever, but before either one of us developed a serious drinking problem, we thought it best to keep on keeping on.

We arrived in Tennessee a couple of days ago. We'll be going to Bonnaroo (a massive music festival) in a couple of days, but before that we're heading into the Smoky Mountains for a two night hike. Keep an eye out for updates! Hope everyone is well.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Heartland Mesa

Turtle Back Mountain

In the desert of New Mexico on the Rio Grande sits a mesa (flat tableland with steep edges). The landscape at first quick glance appears desolate. A longer slower look yields sights of life thriving. Flame red like a lit candle, firecracker cacti bloom. Under the delicate leaves of the Mesquite Bush in spring a blue tailed lizard takes refuge from the heat and predators. Over and between the gusts of dry wind the sharp tweets and cooing of local larks, swallows, finches and mourning doves can be heard. Mountains with names like Turtle Back and Caballo (pronounced Ca-bai-yo) fill the horizons.

Rohan and a blooming cactus

Welcome to Heartland Mesa. Current residents: people (including Rohan and me until today), donkeys, dogs, goats and chickens, scores of wild birds, lizards, snakes, rabbits, hares and a few coyote. On either side of the 40 acres we’ve been staying on sits BLM land (public land).

Horned Lizard

Early on in our stay I bonded with Lil’ Ezy (named after the owner of Heartland due to his stubbornness, or so I’ve been told). One morning I got up and walked over to Rohan at the goats’ pen. He gave me a hug to chase away the night’s bad dream. Lil’ Ezy must’ve sensed how I was feeling because he walked up behind me and gently rested his head against my back. Such a lovely way to begin the day!

Lil' Ezy

To welcome us to the farm Ezy prepared us a desert style barbeque. In a deep pit mesquite wood was burnt down to coals. Goat’s ribs (born and raised on the farm) prepared by Tim from Mississippi were placed in a turkey baking dish, wrapped in wet pillow shams (Ezy’s wife’s) and placed in the pit atop the coals. After putting iron and wood sheeting over the top a mini front loader (see photo) was used to cover the hole. Five hours later the most tender, savory goat I could imagine was unearthed and eaten with campfire roasted potatoes. The goat we ate gave its life to a very good cause.

The boys digging up dinner

Every day the goats, chickens and donkeys need to be fed and watered. Sometimes we do a bit of pottering in the garden, planting squash or beans or beets. A few days ago we started milking the goats. Before we could milk the goats we had to move their kids away from their moms. What a noisy affair that was! First thing every morning and then last thing in the evening the goats climb up on that milking bench to be filled up with grain while one of us coax milk out of teats. Apart from sore wrists, the only drawback is the cheesy goat’s milk smell that just doesn’t seem to wash off.
Milking! If you look closely you can actually see the milk.

Two nights ago the major event of our stay at the Mesa happened. Rohan was over by the goats’ pen (he spent a lot of time there. . .) brushing his teeth and saying goodnight to the goats. I heard him come running back to the car. “I think one of the goats is about to give birth!”

I put down my book and rushed out of bed. The pained bleating combined with moaning led me to believe that yes indeed, Sophie the goat was in labor. Ro ran to get Caroline, the long term “Woofer” (World Wide Opportunity on Organic Farms. It's how we found the Mesa.) at the farm to come see what was happening. For about forty-five very intense minutes we followed the goat’s contractions. With only one hoof and the head hanging out of her, she was getting tired. It was decided that a bit of help was called for. So, I reached in, grabbed the kid’s front legs and with Sophie’s contractions pulled out the baby goat. Sophie immediately proved to be a good mom, helping to clean the baby up and softly carrying on a conversation with her new bub. We couldn’t get the kid to eat, but we went to bed figuring that she’d sort it out. It was such an amazing experience to watch this little life emerge.

Maya resting near her new neighbors.

The kid’s first day (as the midwife for the birth, I got to name her: Maya Twiggy is what I came up with) was a bit touch and go. By midday she hadn’t eaten anything and was weak as can be. We milked mom and fed the baby by bottle, which is not as easy as it may sound. Maya needed to be taught how to suck, but she finally got the hang of it. Each feeding was like the first though, having to teach her anew each time. When we went to bed I was feeling a bit anxious, wondering if the little one was gonna make it through the night.

Sophie, Maya and I

I awoke early this morning and went to straight to visit Sophie and Maya to see how they were coping. Before I went to the trouble of milking Sophie for Maya’s morning feed I thought I would try to introduce her to the teat again. Miracle of all miracles, she sucked and filled her little belly right before my eyes! Looks like little Maya’s gonna be alright.

Sophie, Maya and I

Today we’re back on the road again. The Mesa proved to be a difficult place to say goodbye to (though after cleaning out the kilos of sand in our van, neither one of us are going to miss the dust and wind!). Both Ro and I found ourselves quite attached to the people and the animals. There’s still a big country ahead of us yet to cross and if we want to make it before the end of the year, we have got to keep some momentum. We’re going to Los Cruces tonight and then continuing east. Stay tuned, more soon!

The fate of my Crocs after an hour in a 60 mph wind storm.
Taken by: Sandy Drayton

Sunset at the Mesa.
Taken by: Rohan Smith

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Turning 30 and the Grand Canyon

Hooray! I have made it to 30 years of age! To celebrate we went out to dinner and had a few drinks in Payson, Arizona. A bit of advice to people who may be passing through: don't look for a big night out in Payson; I just don't think it's got the goods. I'm going to be celebrating my 30th over the coming months as we meet up with friends along the way. So, if I'm coming to a town near you, be ready!

We'd picked up our friend Rosita the day before my birthday and the day after we drove to the Grand Canyon. The next morning we were up bright and early and heading out for a hike. With three litres of water, sandwiches and snacks stowed away in our backpacks we were on the trail by 8:00. The morning was chilly, but the sun was shining.

We chose to descend on the Bright Angel trail. By the time we got to Indian Garden, four and a half miles down, my calves were already complaining. Too bad for me because we weren't even a third of the way through our 15 mile hike.

About five miles in we moved onto the East Tonto trail. This trail was relatively flat, lined by scratchy little shrubs and cacti. We got to see both Prickly Pears and Claret Cup cacti in bloom. The blossoms are only open for a couple of days a year, so I felt pretty lucky. Bright reds and pinks stood out against the relatively colorless ground.

Along the Tonto trail we came upon an oasis. Even way down in the dry canyon, frogs have found a way to make a life for themselves.

Walking along and watching my feet to ensure I didn't trip over rocks, it was easy to forget where in the world I was. Each time we paused for a rest or I stopped watching my boots the grandeur was overwhelming. Soaring canyon walls and deep valleys were all around. At certain points one misstep could send you plummeting to your death.

Plummet to our death we did not. After 11 hours of hiking we hauled ourselves up the last hill of the Kaibab trail just before dark and onto an awaiting bus. We all made it, but it was llllooonnnggg haul. Had we known it was going to be so long, perhaps we would've chosen a different route. As with so many of our travel experiences, it's something I'm glad to have done, but I'm not sure I'd do it again.

From the Grand Canyon we dropped Rosita off at the airport. Last night was a bit lonely without her. She sure did make a good travelling companion.

Our next stop is Apache National Forest on the Arizona/New Mexico border. Then to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico where we'll be "wwoofing" at our first farm! More to come soon!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Another Perspective

For those of you interested in a different perspective on Rohan and my travels, check out his blog: We're going to try very hard to avoid overlap on photos and opinions.

This morning's visitor to our campground.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

On the Road Again

As I write I can hear the running water of Beaver Creek. We are in Coconino National Forest in Arizona, also known and the Red Rock Area - quite an apt name. Ever which way we turn there is a towering steeple of, well, red rock. And this update comes neither from a dirty little internet cafe or a McDonald's parking lot, but from our campground. Bless those modern conveniences!

Lake Isabella

We left Paradise and did a massive drive on our first day. We went through Kern Canyon and had it been warmer, we may have stayed there for a night, but it was freezing, quite literally. Instead we pushed on through and after 13 hours of driving we arrived in Death Valley National Park. Our first day in Death Valley we played super tourists. We went to the salt flats at Bad Lands (lowest place in the world at 292 feet below sea level), took Artist's Drive and walked around Zabrinskie Point. The wetness of the salt flats surprised me. It felt kind of like walking on snow, though the salt crystals don't melt. Instead when they get between sandals and feet it feels like walking on broken glass (must've been what Annie Lennox was talking about. . .).

Bad Lands Salt Flats

Because it's spring time, wildflowers are everywhere. Yellow, pink and purple color the landscape. We were lucky enough to see a bit of wild life. Four burros, a coyote and a herd of Big Horn Sheep crossed our path.

Desert Flowers

Death Valley is enormous and there's so much to see! Unfortunately this desolate wasteland, miles from nowhere is not an original place to visit. Vista points were shared with heaps of other tourists, peaceful walks left us sandwiched between noisy kids and campgrounds were wall-to-wall RVs running noisy generators. Ugh!

Mesquite Dunes

Artist's Palette

The sheer number of people in Death Valley finally spurred us on to our next stop, Mojave National Preserve. Here there were a lot less people. The dry desert is covered with a variety of different cacti and drought hardy bushes, with cute little bunny rabbits hopping between them. Unfortunately neither Death Valley nor Mojave had a shower available, so after five days without we decided we simply must get clean.

Barrel Cactus, Mojave

That brings us to now. Last night I showered and after five days without felt close to bliss afterwards. It's the simple things, really.

Our current campground is near Sedona and we heard rumors of a farmers' market there tomorrow. It won't be the same as waking up late and strolling two blocks down the street (ahhh, Chico), but I'm excited about the chance to chat with some local farmers and pick up some fresh, seasonal fruit and veg.

Sedona, Steeple Rock

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Dash of Magic

Some of my favorite shots from my travels.

Boudhanath, Nepal

Hampi, India

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Lang Tang, Nepal

Darling River, Australia

Jodhpur, India

Cathedral Bay, New Zealand

Rajasthan, India

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Chico, USA

Chico, USA

More to come soon, our next adventure is just around the corner!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

San Felipe, Baja California

So, yes, I've been electronically quiet lately. After nearly a year without full-time work, I have returned to the reality of it. I'm a preschool teacher these days and despite the challenging nature of the job, I'm enjoying the experience. That said, after a day with the kiddies, I'm absolutely knackered! As a result, little writing is happening.

It is the break from working life that seems to inspire me to share. Our trip to Mexico just after Christmas was a well timed respite from my new job. And the idea was to escape the grey, gloomy winter and get some sunshine. Five years in Brisbane has spoiled me for cold weather.

We started the drive on Boxing Day. Much of the daylight was spent driving through the farmland of central California. Fruit and nut trees, mandarin, orange and lemon groves, row crops and a seemingly endless stretch of freeway carried us to the Mojave Desert.

Even in the dark, the landscape change was evident. The Sierra Nevada now lay to our west and the warmth and water of the coast left on the other side of them. We spent our first night in La Quinta, arriving hours after dark. Exhausted, we fell into the van at a campground located on Lake Cahuilla. The view when we woke up in the morning made the day long drive worth the effort.

We got up early and made a run for the border. Breakfast was a couple of tacos de carnitas at a Mexican restaurant so authentic no one spoke English. We did not dilly dally and found ourselves at the border early in the day. The crossing was uneventful: passports casually glanced at and then we were through. Not even a stamp!

Once in Mexico the streets narrowed and the signs switched to solely the Spanish language and the metric system. We followed the signs through Mexicali to San Felipe. Once out of the city proper, after some farms, the land seemed to give over to miles of desolate sand.

J. Maarten Troot's "Lost in China" on cd continued to entertain as we arrived into San Felipe. To our left aqua waters lapped at white sand beaches and the sun shone down as if upon salvation itself. I could already smell the salt and feel the warmth on my skin as the cold of the last few months drained away.

Unfortunately, by the time we'd set up camp, clouds had emerged from seemingly nowhere and taken over the sky. Any idea of warmth I had was snapped up and carried away by gale force winds. The sparkly water had turned to a grey, roiling mess. Still, we'd arrived at the beach. In Mexico!

Our campsite was pretty cool. We parked our van next to a palapa that overlooked the ocean. When it was sunny, a camping spot right on the ocean seemed ideal. With the weather turn, our spot meant cold wind, cold air, cold. The next day and a half of crummy weather we spent wondering why we'd bothered to drive two days, meanwhile stuffing ourselves with cheap tacos and Tecate.

Oh right, cheap Mexican food and Tecate! Not to mention the fact that because San Felipe is a fishing village, fresh fish can be yours for few pesos. That's reason enough to drive two days, isn't it?! The morning that we awoke to bright sunshine and its warmth, we decided that yes, it was a brilliant idea to drive all that way. It is glorious here!

Because we came during the off season, the town was fairly quiet. A few vendors wandered up and down the boardwalk hawking silver, trinkets from Peru and masks from Oaxaca, fisherman chatted up gringos with the hopes that they would pay to go out on the sea and many of the main bars were closed for the winter. This didn't hurt my feelings. Who wants to spend time in Mexico in a bar called "Rockadiles"?! Sounds too gringo for this gringa.

One night after a beautiful day of sunshine and sun-baking, yep, in bathing suits in winter, we met three Canadians: a geek who reminded me much of my close friend Rob, a musician reminiscent of a moody ex and a Communications Expert who automatically felt like a kindred spirit.

We all had such a good time chatting and drinking together that we agreed to meet the next day, New Years Eve. Many drinks and some fancy-shmancy Mexican food were consumed and we almost made it to midnight together. Unfortunately, the moody musician chucked it and things dispersed from there.

Just after midnight Rohan and I found ourselves sitting on the beach in our chairs, beers in hand recounting the year passed and predicting the year to come. May the ride continue!

Happy New Year to all!