Thursday, 29 September 2011

Freighter Booked

Our freighter journey across the Atlantic is almost booked! Around the 21st of January we'll be travelling from Charleston to Antwerp aboard the MSC Flaminia. The ship is not quite as big as the Hanjin Yantian, but still large at 299m long, with a capacity of 6750 TEUs. Whenever I think of MSC though I think of the MSC Napoli, which run aground off the Devon coast where much looting ensued (we probably still have a packet of oily biscuits found on a beach). Hopefully the MSC Flaminia wont reach a similar plight.

This time we wont be the only passengers as the other double room has already been booked by some people on a round-trip. I find the prospect of not being the only passengers quite exciting. It's also reassuring to know that other passengers are braving the winter storms. Once again we're booking through the NSB Reisebuero-

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Travelling onwards

When I was at White Spruce Farm Craig said I was like the 'Littlest Hobo', a dog off of a Canadian children's TV series- making friends, packing my bags and moving on. Well here's the song, which is apparently also the theme tune of my travels Not sure if the travelling light part rings true though!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Good Nature Farms

Since the 4th of September I've been WWOOFing at Good Nature Farms on Vancouver Island. Joanne and Richard are from the US and have been living at the blueberry farm for about eight years, with their son Luke, his wife Ashlee and their two girls Lyra and Elena living in a self-built house next-door. They are all very interesting people, surrounded by even more interesting people. Richard has a high-tech recording studio in the shed, has recorded (musicians such as Miles Davis), composed and played music throughout his life. Joanne studied dance and now writes articles for the local paper, does some healing/therapy in the room upstairs and lovingly tends to the blueberries. Her and Bob Dylan's former wife used to write letters to each other, and there is a dish in the kitchen cupboard that was given to her from Yoko Ono (and I touched it!). Their daughter Hayley is a singer who has reached the top 50 in Canada and is going to LA to teach the cast of 'Glee' to surf. Yet they are such down to earth people that you would never be able to guess that they were surrounded by all these famous people. If I knew anything about famous people I'd probably be even more impressed.

Through them we've met, albeit briefly some really interesting people ourselves. Gary who delivered wood the other evening is originally from Germany and tried to escape from East Berlin, got shot, thought he was dead, woke up in hospital (after having been dragged by someone to the west), saw a picture of Canada on the wall and emigrated to Canada. A lady who comes to buy blueberries ran three ironmans in a row over the weekend (an ironman is a ridiculously long swim, bike ride and run). Coming to collect blueberries as well were two older ladies who partly stopped the clearcutting of Cathedral Grove (old growth forest near the farm) by camping out among the trees.

There have also been many WWOOFers on the farm, most given a nickname by Richard (who gives himself the nickname Dr. Zeuss and whom I give the nickname Santa Clausu). For a few days there were seven WWOOFers including the two 'monsieurs' (Damien and Mickael) from France, Toni from Germany and the 'mudman' (Andre) from Holland. Now there are just four of us, Hero and Fumie from Japan, 'Lenny Penny'/ 'Pender' (Fraser) from Ontario and 'mother divine' or 'MD' (me). We also had some help from Tom and Amanda, who worked in rentals at Grouse Mountain and whom I must have taken to and from work numerous times over the winter.

There are twenty rows of blueberries at Good Nature Farms, with maybe about twenty bushes in each row. Most of them are the same variety, but there are a few different ones hidden in between. These are the biggest and tastiest blueberries I've ever come across. Normally the blueberries ripen steadily throughout August and September, but since it rained a lot this summer they didn't really ripen in August. The sun has now been shining steadily (with some rain in the last few days) and they are ripening all at once, so we've been picking, picking, picking.

Not all of the blueberries are ripe though, so you have to keep tasting them to see if they're sweet before you can pick from a branch. This sounds like heaven eating all these blueberries, but it's not. I have never eaten so many blueberries in a day, let alone for twelve days in a row. Eating too many blueberries gives me blueberry stomach, makes my tongue tingle and sometimes makes me lose my sense of taste. I get excited when I find a sweet one on a branch, because I know I wont have to eat another for a while. In a way I feel like I have entered blueberry rehab and I have come here to overcome an addiction. I love(d?) blueberries. Now I feel as though I could go through life quite easily without eating another one!

Each day I pick between 20 to 40kg of blueberries. Lenny Penny holds the all time record of picking 55kg in a day, but it also made him lose most of his enthusiasm for the said task. Initially we also had to pick off all the unripe berries to allow the riper berries to sweeten. We also have to remove all the mummy berries from the field and throw them into the fireplace. Mummy berries are berries infected by the fungus Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi, which causes berries to go grey and shrivel up. If left they will further infect the crop by sprouting in the spring and spreading through spores. Joanne and Richard add cardboard and mulch to the soil after the growing season in an attempt to reduce the spread of the fungus.

Aside from blueberries they grow quite a few vegetables on the farm for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) veg box, have some turkeys, many chickens and chicks that don't seem to lay so many eggs, a lonely gander (that reminds me a lot of the lonely gander at home) and two dogs (the somewhat stiff and old Buddy and the young and energetic puppy Polly). There are lots of beautiful fences and gates, some made by past WWOOFers, which inspire me to make some nice gates at home.

As well as blueberry picking I've been picking strawberries, helping to prepare the veg boxes, helping to clean the bed and breakfast, walking in the wood with Polly, Buddy and various people, helping to cook lots of different dinners, baking lots of 'divine' desserts (hence the name) such as carrot cake, meringues, apple cake and blueberry cake, washed lots of dishes, swept the floor and been taken on some trips by Joanne and Richard.

The WWOOFies, as we are collectively called, have visited the 'Goats on roof' tourist shopping market where there are goats on the grass roof, had a look around the Buddhist temple opposite the farm, walked in Cathedral Grove, been to Parksville beach, swam at Qualicum beach and walked around Little Qualicum Falls. At the temple we met Tenzin, who used to be a monk and travel around with the Dalai Lama. He also had a small part as a skater in the film 'Seven years in Tibet', which we watched the other day.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Not Plane Simple

I'm trying to sort out how we're going to get home from North America. We've got a deadline for getting home on the 2nd March, when our granny celebrates her 100th birthday. But this definitely isn't as simple as going on the airtransat website.

Firstly, we want to go across the Atlantic in February. Thinking about it February is probably one of the roughest months of the year on the Atlantic. The looks I get from people when I tell them we're planning on crossing in February does nothing to raise my confidence. Barry, who was one of the volunteers at Cathedral lakes and used to work in the Dutch navy, told me tales of being seasick on the Atlantic and how some people would rather die than endure their seasickness. It doesn't help either that Fred, from one of the freighter travel agencies just wrote the following to me: 'some [freighter lines] will not accept passengers in winter fearing injuries in north Atlantic storms'. Crossing the Pacific with just one day of feeling mildly seasick will probably feel like a dream if we cross the Atlantic in the middle of winter for 11 days!

Second problem is that there aren't actually any passenger freighters that leave Canada anymore. My excitement a few days ago was short-lived. This means that we'll have to go to either Philadelphia or Charleston, South Carolina, where we can get a freighter to Antwerpen. And seeing as we're not even sure if they'll let us back into the States on our visas (because you have to leave North America before reentry) this might be a big problem. If we're not allowed back in the States then we'll really have no other option but to take a plane. And the giving up flying and going around the world without flying will have failed. Unfortunately there seems no way for us to know whether we'll be allowed back into the US or not, so by the looks of things we'll just have to turn up at the border with our freighter documents, details of our bank accounts and some good luck.

The question now for us is whether we should try to go home before the worst of the winter storms hit and therefore for me to give up on visiting the farms around Vancouver Island that look so interesting, or just to hope that we'll be able to find our sealegs in February. Dilemmas and decisions....

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Back in Vancouver

Right now I'm staying with Jenny back in Vancouver, writing emails, sorting out my visa extension, planning where to venture on Vancouver Island, dreaming of other places to travel to, trying to work through the immense pile of stuff we've accumulated through our travels, hoping to go for a walk, trying to work out where we can get a freighter from (there seems to be one that goes from Halifax, so if they don't let us back in the States it wont be a problem!) and allowing myself the odd moment to relax.

And I'm trying to put off going down into the city to buy new shoes (the hole in my shoes is now far too big to be acceptable), cash my tax return check and do some food shopping. There are people being busy everywhere, so many more than in the winter. I can't help thinking that the people of Vancouver go into some kind of hibernation in winter and as soon as the sun shines they fill the streets. After spending the last months in very isolated places it's going to take a while longer for me to enter into that noise and commotion.

I'm also getting excited about my next stop- Good Nature Farms in Coombs, near the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, where I'll be picking blueberries for the next three weeks. And after that maybe to an orchard on Denman Island or an earth house building society on Hornby Island...