Today was one of those days where I woke up, having no idea where I was going to be in the evening. Even now, as I sit in this unfinished house on a fold-out cot in my sleeping bag, alone except for a Japanese WWOOFer named Kiko down the hall who barely speaks English, I'm amazed at my ability to just "roll with it" that I've had to develop to survive the wandering, vagabond ways of the backpacker.
I left the YHA at 8:15am this morning, and walked down the street and over into Cathedral Square to catch the Akaroa Shuttle bus. Inexplicably, the shuttle bus was not the twenty-seater mini-bus with the words "Akaroa Shuttles" plastered on its sides, but a bright red bus which pulled up on the corner in front of us, with a small paper taped to the window reading "Akaroa Shuttle". I'm not sure how we were supposed to figure that one out.
On the bus I met a Québecois girl (with impeccably good English, as she now lives in Kansas), and we sat together and enjoyed listening in on the conversations of the twenty French (Parisian) students the shuttle bus picked up from a local high school as they tried to practise their English. Akaroa was originally a French settlement on the Banks Peninsula, and the French influence can still be felt; indeed, many of the street names are French (e.g. Rue Lavaud, Rue Benoit).
I, however, was not going to Akaroa; I got off in Little River, a town of about a thousand people about a forty-five minute drive from Christchurch. Here I was met by Glen, my new WWOOFing host, driving a Honda that I think might actually be older than Frank's (we're talking early 80s here). By coincidence, Glen's Japanese girlfriend, Ivy, had just gotten home from being away fruitpicking, and she was on the same shuttle bus as me, so Glen ended up picking up the both of us at the same time.
Today I had my first hands-on experience with sheep... oh, yes, I've only been in New Zealand for over four months, I don't know how I managed to get this far without getting down and dirty with one of their 33 million sheep. On the way up to his place Glen had to stop at his neighbour's and separate two rams from about ten sheep, as they were being picked up and taken to another farm. To do this, Ivy, Glen, and I went into the paddock, and herded the sheep into the barn area, where several pens are connected by a narrow passageway (called the race) and swinging metal gates. Upon entering the race, the sheep can only run through one at a time, and the metal gates can be swung to suddenly seal off one of the pens at the end, sorting the sheep (provided one has a quick and strong arm to wing the gate over). Glen controlled the gates, and Ivy and I herded the sheep around the pen and into the race. We had to repeat this several times until we got both rams separated out. For all of you who have this image in your head of sheep being cuddly, docile creatures, you couldn't be farther from the truth. Sure, lambs are cute, but a bunch of confused, panic-stricken sheep being herded down a narrow passageway? Look out! They jump, they kick, they bite, and they throw themselves at wooden gates with enough force to snap wooden boards (I saw it happen). I was glad when the farmer showed up with his truck (and trusty sheepdog, Jess), herded the two rams into the cage on the back, and drove off.
Piling back into Glen's car, we drove the remaining three minutes up the unsealed road to his house. Well, I'll call it a house; "glorified one-room summer getaway" might be a more accurate description. Glen bought the property (four acres on the side of the valley) from an older couple, who used it as their weekend getaway. As such, the house itself is actually one large room, which functions as the kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom, and office; an attached annex, which houses the fridge, microwave, and freezer; and a lean-to, which doubles as the front entrance and WWOOFers sleeping quarters. Glen has running water, but no hot water; to take a shower, one has to go out back and down to a shed (with only two walls) and fire up the gas heater, which then heats 6L of water for a shower one must take standing in an old bathtub outside. There is also no flush toilet, and no out house either; instead, Glen has a camping toilet (like the ones found in RVs) that sits in his tool shed, and he takes the whole thing down to Little River once a week and empties it.
Having said all this, you'll likely be amazed to learn Glen has a phone, electricity and broadband internet. As a result, it's kind of like camping, but camping with your computer. Here's hoping I'm able to survive (I'm only here for five days; I leave on the 14th). Glen also managed to double-book his WWOOFers; I'm currently sharing the lean-to with Kiko, a very friendly and pleasant girl whose English is about as good as my Japanese.
Whatever my impressions of the house, Glen's property certainly is beautiful; he has a lush vegetable garden, numerous fruit and nut trees, and a creek running in a little gully just below the house, crossed by two foot bridges and just full of places for flower fairies to come out and play. I went for a hike this afternoon up the hill, and took some pictures of the beautiful views out and across the valley.
My first task this morning just before lunch was to wash, scrub, and lay out huge pieces of seaweed Glen had collected at the beach to dry. After an initial misunderstanding (I thought Glen wanted to eventually eat the seaweed, much like Skye did when we went and collected some in December; turns out he just wants it for the compost), I gave up meticulously trying to scrub most of the sand off, and settled for simply removing the worst of the salt. It wasn't exactly fun, however, as the seaweed had been collected five days ago, had been sitting in a wheelbarrow ever since, and was definitely going a little slimy and smelly.
After a lunch of pasta in cream sauce (with mushrooms, that Glen apologised for, as he didn't realise I don't like them; I just picked them out and gave them to him to eat ;-), Glen went down to the Little River school to do some maintenance work, Ivy went with him, and Kiko and I picked beans, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, and corn-on-the-cob from the garden, and then used hedge trimmers to attack some bushes which were starting to crowd out the garden walkways. When he came back Glen was impressed with the amount of work we had done; I'm getting the impression he doesn't expect as much from his WWOOFers as some of the other places I have stayed.
After a dinner of tortillas (and accompanied by a soundtrack of disco music, followed by The Vandals - don't ask - ) Glen drove Kiko and I over to his neighbour's house to spend the night. His neighbour is currently not living in the house - it's undergoing renovations - and Glen explained (very apologetically) that seeing as it was Ivy's first night home he was hoping to have an "intimate evening" (I think we all know what that means). As such, I find myself spending tonight in the house of someone whom I don't know, and isn't even here. Oh, well... there's a flush toilet, and I got to have a hot shower, so I'm definitely not complaining. Glen's going to be back tomorrow morning at 9am to pick us up, and we'll be off to work in the garden.
It's now after midnight, and I'm exhausted, so I'm off to bed. Night!