Saturday, October 30, 2010

3 Days in the Wop-Wops

Written 12:00 PM Saturday, October 30, 2010
Kennedy Bay, Coromandel Peninsula

Posted 4:30 PM, October 31st (Happy Halloween!), Whangamata

Well, our experience of the last few days has certainly been a different one. We have only lasted a little over three days at the organic farm in Kennedy Bay, in remotest backwoods New Zealand. I thought I was from the backwoods, but where we ended up for our workstay turned out to be even more remote than where I grew up, and we were given relatively little warning. It hasn’t all been a bad experience, but we aren’t going to gain much by staying longer, so we’re heading out tomorrow to make our way to the Taranaki region to look for paid work and maybe stay in one situation for a couple months.

So here’s the saga: after leaving Whitianga on Wednesday afternoon, we came to Coromandel town via the most terrifying road I had been on to that point in my life. No more than a lane and a half, gravel, no guardrails when you need them, and curves so tight that I repeatedly thought we would scrape the sides of the van if we had to pass someone there. Matt was at the wheel, and managed it admirably, but we are now in agreement that we will no longer take any of the roads marked in orange in our atlas. Unfortunately, the only way to get where we were going on the other side of Coromandel township was on another one of these roads. We were told that the farm was “near Coromandel town” and the directions we were given were to “follow the gravel road over the hill towards Kennedy Bay for 20 minutes.” It turned out that these directions were rather deceptive, given that it took us around 35 minutes to get over the hill, and this road now claims the title of most terrifying I have ever been on. We had the presence of mind to turn on the video function on the camera, but I cannot get blogger to post the video, so I'll have to figure out that one later. 

There were some great views from either side of the top of the pass, but I can only think that living on this side of the mountain means trouble when there is a medical emergency, and I can hardly imagine a schoolbus coming down that road every day. It is beautiful in its own way, but getting to town is such a chore that it’s just a little too remote for me.

 Above: Coromandel town and Hauraki Gulf from the top. Below- Kennedy Bay and the road we drove to get down into that valley.

After our harrowing drive, we found the farm and pulled in, to find that the situation was rather different than advertised, or rather that we had not been given the proper expectations. It turned out that our accommodations were our own van, parked at a campsite in the bush, a 30 minute hike from the house via a 45% grade quad track, or by our host driving us over the long way via the main gravel road. To get to the campsite, we had to make our way through eerily deep muddy ruts in the road, and by driving through the river. Yes, through it:

Our welcome was an evening trip down to the beach, which was beautiful, and since everyone else had eaten dinner, while they drank we were handed a wok and some eggs and ham to fry up over the fire. The longer we’ve been here, the more disenchanted we’ve gotten. I appreciate the different lifestyle to some extent, but I find it hard to keep up when there is no particular schedule for the day, and food comes sporadically, and we seem to be given more booze than actual food for our payment. I haven’t learned anything new about gardening or farming as I had hoped, and the work has been very hard physical work. Yesterday we worked for about six hours, clearing out the old overgrown orchard, weedwhacking (I operated a weedeater for the first time in my life, so I guess that’s a new skill), mulching, and digging huge holes for rotten fish leftovers that our host had obtained for fertilizer. Given that we were told we would be doing 2-3 hours of work per day, we’re not feeling that it’s entirely fair to work such hard work for such long hours in exchange for a campsite that we’ve had to put a lot of work into just to make livable, and our meals tend to be whatever we can cobble together from the box of food our host drops off every couple of days. I’m a planner, and like to know what to expect, and our host does most things by the seat of her pants, and changes plans on us all the time, so it’s difficult for me. Matt and I were already both feeling pretty uncomfortable with the setup, and when yesterday’s lunch wasn’t ready until two hours after we were told it would be, and the afternoon’s “a few beers on the beach” turned into a drunken rager and our only way home was in a truck with a driver who had had a few drinks, we decided it was probably time to go. We’re not gaining anything by being here, besides a good glimpse of how we don’t want to live.

I’m trying not to be judgmental, and I don’t want to sound so disapproving; it’s simply not how I want to live, and we were given no previous notice that this was how it would be. Our host is obviously happy with her lifestyle and has some great things going on, and I’m sure there are many WWOOFers and workers who will come here and have a great time, and I’m glad for that. If we were given more of a set schedule and proper expectations, I think we could enjoy it too, but we’re also hampered by the fact that we can’t easily get to town and have any time on our own, and it’s pretty much expected of us to go along with whatever drinking or partying is going on, with little notice, so we don’t feel like we have a lot of freedom.

There are definitely some fun things about being here- I don’t want to sound totally negative. We are camped with three other workers, all of whom are awesome and a lot of fun. Jamie and Kate are a couple from London, also with a campervan, who just arrived in New Zealand after 5 months in South America. Nick is from Florida and is finishing up a six month stay in New Zealand. We have had a really great time with all of them and will be exchanging emails and hopefully staying in touch. They are all hard workers, and they fit more easily into the lifestyle here, so I’m really glad for them on that account- I wish I could enjoy it as much as they do, but it’s just not how I’m wired. The campsite is rad in its own way, but it’s hard to fight the feeling that we’re squatting on the back forty. We’ve done a lot to fix it up- we suspect that since our host has only reclaimed the farm in the last few months, we are the first batch of workers she’s had, because the campsite wasn’t particularly habitable when we got here.

 The bamboo shower block that Jamie built. Just needs a solar shower now.

 Jamie and Nick cooking dinner.
 Fire ring that we built on our first night.
 Kate painting the outhouse, after I swept all the cobwebs out of it (me being the only one of the five of us who isn't freaked out by spiders).

 Today we are stranded in camp because it’s raining and because our host wanted us to work here today, since she’s too hungover to do anything on the farm. But it’s been raining all morning, so I’m in the bach here (colloquial for one room camping shack), with some candles going (no electricity-glad I had the laptop charged up), at least managing to do something productive. Matt and I made the decision this morning that we’ll head out and back over the mountain tomorrow morning, and stay off the orange roads forever after that. We had thought that we would be near town, so that we might be able to work on finding paid work, but we are so cut off from everything here that it’s nearly impossible to get a start on that. We’ve only had one (soapless) shower since we got here, and it’s really difficult to get laundry done, and hard to keep the van clean, so we’ll have our work cut out for us getting things cleaned and reorganized once we hit civilization again.

Once again, I’m sorry for the rant- there’s positive parts of this experience, but mostly I feel like I’m wasting my time here. I find it really hard to respect many aspects of the way our host lives, and we’ve already seen her and her family exhibit racism and homophobia and some other behaviors that are really not in line with our values. But I am glad for her that she has reclaimed the land- her father owns it and abandoned the farm 30 years ago, so the fruit trees are all established and just need to be made healthier, and she is already earning money from her roadside stand and by selling via the market in town. They do well on the self-sufficiency front, sourcing most things for free, hunting wild pigs for meat, and growing so much fruit and veg fresh. I’ve had wild pork and mutton and loquats for the first time, and been introduced to some new recipes, but today we’re in camp eating our own food and cooking it with our own fuel because she hasn’t given us any new supplies.

So tomorrow morning (Sunday) we’ll make our way out and start wending our way towards New Plymouth, the biggest city of the Taranaki region in the southwest of the North Island, where hopefully there will be jobs, and where there is almost always surf! I will always look back on these last few days as a learning experience, and hopefully be able to laugh at it looking back (honestly, we already are laughing at the ridiculousness of some of it).

1 comment:

Heather said...

Whew... I hope you find a better fit in your next locale!