Thursday, 28 June 2012

Ladang teh take two

I did it, I did that thing that all people do, or are told to do or are asked if they’re doing. I went to a full moon party on ko phangan in thailand. And you know what, surprisingly I had fun.
When ignoring the fluro coloured people, the matching fluro outfits, the fluro lights, body paint and the fluro fucking everything, hip hopping your way around the bottle, tin, plastic covered dancefloor (underneath is beach) and dodging the couples swaying uncoordinatedly to the tunes, I found that a fun time can be had. As always, its not where you are, its who your with. And I had been staying with some fantastic people. I was camping in the spare room of a family that own a restaurant on Haad Salad beach, Jang and Chris, and they had some damn hilarious and energetic Thai ladies working with them, we decided late in the night to hop in the back of a ute and go to the party.
I had a wristband slapped on my arm, and we entered with a bottle of whisky and a couple of tins of chang beer in bag. I hadn’t seen this many white folk in a long time, and I couldn’t stop laughing, god we can be bloody ugly, especially when we’ve digested copious amounts of alcohol. Girls with mascara running down to their bellybuttons and boobs popping out, boys flirting their body about, sweat dripping, breath stinking of too much drink, and a stab in the back with someones uncareful cigarette flick. We went from one stage to the next, and with the bottles passed around generously all ended up a bit wonky legged. After dancing wild at a few different stages till we were sweating profusely, we noted that the beach was scattered with bodies, passed out or making out and decided that we’d too had enough and caught a taxi back to home. I had a long day of travel ahead of me as I was making my way back into Malaysia. An hour sleep, pack of bag, and tap on the door to wake Jang up, my mother for that week dropped me to the boat and caringly sent me off with rice and pork skewers, a bottle of water, and warm, sincere hug. I will miss you Jang!
Ahhhhhhhhhhh hangover! I forgot what you were like, you’re a bastard! You hurt and I don’t like you. This day was long, a 3 hour boat ride, and 12 hour trip in a squishy bus to Penang, I could have gone all the way to Ipoh, but I decided to rest. The room was the size of a cupboard, I liked it, its simplicity and cheapness, but it rained that night, the tin roof so loud it felt like it was raining on my brain. I caught a ferry and 3 buses to arrive at Lenggong, Amy picked me up, and I was back in the serenity of Ladang teh farm (permaculture perak)
Ladia and Amy were going to Japan for 2 weeks, and needed someone to look after the farm. I said that I would be more than happy to come back. It was also a great opportunity for them and i to have their first artist in residency program!
I had a day with them, getting all the last minute advice, and then I was on my own for 3 days. These 3 days, were challenging, and I began to think that I was in a little over my head, but I survived! The farm requires a lot of your time caring for animals, and they had just got a new cow, so It was interesting developing a relationship with this beautiful big creature. The goats were predictably sneaky and difficult, and the poultry, loud clucky and always hungry. The rabbits had just given birth to 6 babies, and a Mother hen one chick. It was a time of birth and it was beautiful.
I had a testing afternoon on my second day, when too many (male) visitors came to check out the land for sale above, and made me feel a little uneasy staying alone on this property, but it wasn’t too
confronting until Billy, the male goat got his neck rope caught in a billion vines. As the sun was setting, the goats had all returned to their room to get comfortable for the night, when I realised that Billy was not with them. I opened my ears and could hear his bleets of desperation, and ran to see what was wrong, after stomping through deep mud sludge, through spikey lantana and down a small creek, I found billy in a small clearing with a hundred or so vines wrapped around his neck. I ran back for the machete, and then back again through the marsh and spikes. It was a bad situation, and it only seemed to get worse. The sun had set and it was dark down this gully. Billy was in panic mode, bucking everything within his reach trying to free himself, and he had managed to get caught on top of a red ants nest.
So it was testing having this one on one battle with Billy, me holding his horns and cutting through the vines, while he is constantly bucking me, whilst slapping off the red ants that were biting aggressively defending their territory, they were in my hair, my clothes, my pants, between my fingers and toes. It was painful. But he was free after one last chop and he did a leap in the air to celebrate freedom. Started running toward his home turned around, gave me a nod of thanks and continued. Whoooh, what a day.
The next day Rizal my good friend from Jatiwangi, Indonesia arrived. I was so excited to see him again, but this meant that I would have to drive the car into town and pick him up. The car is an interesting one, a rust bucket on view, with a paper clip to switch the engine on, and a roll start to get going, but in lives a beefy engine, good wheels, and a heart well attuned to a bumpy as hell road. I made it down to Lenggong, with a few issues, the down was easy, it’s the up I was worried about. A boy on the side of the road with guitar, backpack and flanno jumps in, a smile, then off to the market to get dried coconut for the chickens, chicken heads for the dogs, and some food for ourselves.
View of Kilang and out over the valley
The greenhouse, and building new planting boxes


The next 6 days were great but challenging, this was a really amazing opportunity for me to experience owning a farm, and all the responsibilities involved. The goats were sneaky as hell, they really enjoyed walking up the hill to graze on the fresh mountainous grasses, but the loggers did not enjoy there company, so we were on constant watch to not let them pass, this was a draining job at first, but after a few days a bit of routine was developed and their movements were somewhat predictable. Until of course one day when we lost the cow and the goats, a big run up the hill following the soft droppings they had left along the way, thinking to ourselves surely the cow couldn’t be up here with them, cows hate hills! But not this one, it wanted to be one of the goat family, so yes it had followed them all the way up the hill and its head was popping up with the 12 other goats knowing they had been sprung, and were going to get in trouble!
When we were not feeding the animals, chasing the goats, playing with the pups or planting and harvesting, Rizal was making a junk percussion Jam space, and I was painting some banners for a new yoga space at the farm. We had so much room in the kilang( tea drying house) to get creative it was great. We played music and talked about life, cooked amazing meals and relaxed in our spare time. And there was nothing I enjoyed more than being able to wash every day in the fresh water flowing down from the mountain to our personal Jacuzzi.
The sunrise and sunsets here were magnificent, One day Rizal and I were playing music outside looking over the mountainous ranges, when a monkey came and visited us, high up in a tree. I heard a loud noise across the river, just next to the Sugarcane plantation and I thought it was another monkey, it would have been a huge monkey! And after closer observation we realised it was a wild elephant feeding on bamboo, I was jumping up and down with excitement, I had never seen a wild elephant in my life, only in zoos or in Elephant farms in Thailand and Indonesia, it was such a beautiful experience to think I was living in a place where an elephant will walk by of an afternoon, I was truly in the jungle, and it felt great.
cats whiskers, such a beautiful flower

the plantane almost ready

Lachumi, the farms new escape cow.

new life!

new life!

new life!

After a week David, a new volunteer arrived, he is from England, and is “permaculture travelling” he has just spent 5 months in India visiting various permaculture/sustainable farms, and then came to Malaysia. We shared stories and had great conversations about the food of different countries, and travelling. At the age of 22 this boy was something else, so intelligent and switched on, it was a pleasure meeting him, and if anyone reading this is interested in permaculture in different countries please use his blog for guidance.
With David at the farm it made things a lot easier, with dividing the jobs, a change in conversation, and listening to his knowledge on the specifics of planting and bush food, it was great to learn from him, we drank lots of interesting teas, and ate healthy food.
Ladia returned from Japan, and in a bamboozle of being grateful to be home and an influx of new ideas, sure enough, 100 new small projects were underway.
Rizal and I were supposed to do some workshops with children and locals in the next following days, but due to bad advertising and the farm being so far away from anywhere no one came. We were a little sad, we had built a great junk percussion area and were all prepared for some stencil fun. But that’s how it goes I guess, nonetheless we had a sunset performance where we all participated in some singing and playing of music, including Amy playing her new accordion found in a junk shop in japan (beautiful!) and followed by a delicious feast.
After a couple days of painting and cleaning, Rizal, David and I decided to head to Taman Negara Perlis a magic rainforest on the border of Malaysia and Thailand, we stayed in a dorm 2km into the lush forest for a couple days, and one day walked to Thailand and back to have breakfast and so Rizal could extend his visa.
Perlis is truly a special part of Malaysia and I highly recommend anyone travelling here to visit this place. It is located just outside of a small village, and the locals are so friendly, lending us there motorbikes and enjoying each other’s company. We had a night where Rizal played some experimental music to some of the local children, and a day where we went on a beautiful walk through the jungle to a massive cave up in the mountain dripping with beautiful large stalactites. There are no tourists here, so visit while it’s pristine and empty! But please be respectful.
After this short trip, Rizal and I sadly said goodbye to David “safe travels, don’t die”and caught a bus to Kuala Lumpur, where we almost froze to death under an open speaker. Arriving in the early hours, we sat at a coffee shop and awaited the sun to rise.
My pumpkin patch, planted one month before this photo was taken,
they grew so amazingly fast, the soil here is magic

following the elephants path through the forest
The massive Kilang and me enjoying some painting.

the crazy car

what a ride!

the main street of Lenggong

Junk percussion space ready to go!

A beautiful afternoon at sunset playing some music

Sunset performance

The goats came by to have a peep at Rizal playing,
as you an see this mumma is heavily pregnant!

Anarchy, the most special dog i'v ever met.

Goodbye Landang! a heaven above the clouds.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

south thailand

Thailand. How to get there from Malaysia overland. Well there are multiple entry points, but the media talks it a war zone, so some kind of anxiety arose about which way to go. I wasn't necessarily worried, but my mother was, and the worrying about my mum worrying played.

Option 1. fly- no! its too close for flying, but you do get 30 days on entry free.
Option 2. cross overland to Thailand by bus, (because of overland crossing you only get 15 days entry, so I applied for a visa in Kuala lumpur beforehand and you are given 1-3 months, very simple process.) border crossing Bukit Kayu Hitam, and then to Hat Yai to catch bus onward. This was a 'safe' place until it was bombed a week before I planned to leave. 
Option 3. Boat it. From Langkawi catch boat to Ko Lipe, boat to Ko lanta and then boat to Krabi, or Phuket. This option sounded good, a little expensive, but I thought it would be nice to island hop again. 

The day I was leaving for Langkawi, there was a massive earthquake near Sumatra and Tsunami warnings. 
Not only was I in danger of being bombed in the south of Thailand, nature was out to get me too, and who knows the aeroplane could have had an engine failure and crashed. 
Humans! And our preciousness of life and safety. 
I caught a bus from K.L to Hat Yai. Hat Yai was fine, a normal city with normal people, just unfortunate for them that this bombing occurred, I am sure it has slowed their tourist trade. I came to the decision that the most dangerous thing about this 12 hour bus trip was the extremity of cold air flowing from the vent broken open above my head. It was brain freezing cold and I was lucky I didn't freeze to death that night!

Tonsai beach

Too many hours on a bus and I finally arrived in Krabi, tourists everywhere, ignoring the overpriced restaurants selling western food, wifi and a slice of Australian normality, I had one word on my mind, Tonsai beach. Talked up as an oasis, after 2 weeks on a farm in the forest, and a week in the jungle of Kualalumpur, I was ready for beach times. 
The local bus trip to Krabi was jaw droppinly gorgeous, limestone cliffs staggering out of the ground almost floatingly like. I wanted to hop scotch my way from one to the other until I arrived at the beach like I used to when I played ......what was that nintendo games name? I cant remember, but I think I was a dragon?
I was clearly on my own again, my mind coming out with fun scenarios, and leading me to day dream and drift into memories of the past.
I arrived to the boat and piled in with copious other tourists, couples, couples taking photos of themselves with the tropical backdrop, couples holding hands and giggling at each others pulled faces in pictures. Women wearing the shortest shorts, and displaying the smoothest shaved legs, faces glowing with makeup, the token buddhist necelace or thai writing tattoo wrapped around their wrist/ center back/ ankle/ back of neck. Yes, I was already becoming cynical, but I was in thailand, one of the most touristy get away places in the world!
The boat pulled into a beautiful bay surrounded by stalactite dripping cliffs, arrived to Tonsai beach and I was the only one to hop off. Wow. Apparently the beach next across named 'Raileigh' is a popular place in Thailand, but many are unaware of the serenity of Tonsai. This place was great, I was able to find a cheap bungalow, and walked around this gorgeous bay surrounded by cliffs enclosing a sweet jungle, I felt like I was a lost boy living in a magical jungle from the book peter pan. The people here were interesting, active, fun and adventurous. A large majority of people staying here were climbers, extreme sport athletes, and I give it to them, these cliff faces were brutal! They would wake up early, climb various places for the day and then chill out at the bar at night, smoking spliffs and drinking alcohol, how can such stoners regain the energy for a day of climbing after 3 hours sleep, I have no idea, but they did it well. (They were not all like this, the ones that I met were) 
There were also the yoga junkie type climbers, getting to bed early and keeping amongst themselves. Stretching, balancing, and playing yoga in front of the beach bars, just so everyone knew how amazing flexible, fit and balanced they were. 
I stayed here for a week, swimming, drawing, writing letters, adventuring and sharing travel stories. I met some amazing, beautiful people, a boy that has hitch-hiked from Belgium to Thailand on his way to Australia, he hitched through Pakistan! Another boy who had just spent 6 months in India, a very intellectual boy studying economics, but his attitude toward life seemed to be completly warped after being introduced to yoga and meditation in India, enlightened almost. Some of the best fire twirling i have ever seen from a young fairy from America, and a beautiful woman named Nati from Argentina, that has been on the road for 7 years. Currently base in New Zealand, but now in Thailand for a getaway.
Oh Oh Oh Oh! The night of all nights, snorkelling at night in the warm waters with 3 other beautiful women running our fingers through the electric blue phosphorescence that was glowing so thick that I felt as though the ocean had become a sea of blue velvet. Unforgettable.
Nati and i got along great and we decided to travel together for a bit. We hopped a boat, bus, bus, boat to the island of Ko Chang, not the popular one in the east, but the deserted one on the west, near the islands of Burma. I think there were about 10 other tourists on this island, it was a real getaway. The beach black sand and water not overly inviting. I had a rather unexpected experience here one night, where me and a friend stumbled across a sild puppy maybe 1 week old that had been savaged by one of the other dogs on the island, I ended up holding its breath till it was out of pain, and this act really shocked me, anyway, I wrote a poem about it, its in the post below. There are many wild dogs on this island and during the wet months they tend to become cannibals with having little food around the island to hunt and no tourists to feed them. 
Ko Chang Kacil was a nice place to chill out and have alone time, but not an overly interesting place, after 3 days we left and I headed to Khao Sok National park, while Nati went to Ko Phangan where I was to meet her in a couple days.

Tonsai beach

Can you see the tiny climbers?

Tonsai oasis
Boat to Ko Chang
Ko Chang, friendly dog that played in the waves during the day and slept on our verandah at night.

Khao Sok National Park
Wandering and wondering..

Awake to gibbon calls, the forest is up and my head is awaiting balance. Sitting up it spins into place, a rush of blood from its horizontal being. A foot on the floor, and a slap of a frog on the wall, frightened by my soft step fall. A stretch and large embrace to the green outside, wading through the fruit flies enjoying sweet bananas, i too join them for breakfast.
My cabin is alive with striped squirrels, scratching and flitting about, the air is singing with birds and beetles
and all is damp from the morning dew. A mellow morning of thoughts, observations and little action.
A lunch of rice, and yellow bamboo curry, served by a lady with a comforting bonnet on her head. 
Walking the road, adventure awaits, a day of introduction to the jungle of thailand. 
The path is red clay, edged with glowing blue ferns, unlike ive ever seen before, the blue goes un noticed to most, they are close to ground dwelling, and it was only when flicking a leech that i saw their luminous beauty, with red fallen leaves hugging their stem, it provided obvious opposition.
The patterns of this nature are retro in range, from candy striped bamboo, army patterned rubber trees, and a carpet of red, yellow and orange.
Alone on this path I am overwhelmed by the grandeur of nature. At times hearing a growl behind me, my heart stopping at the sight of a tiger, but seeing that its the rub of thick bamboo creaking in the wind. A loud thump of an elephant passing, and my eyes find a fallen coconut. I halt at the tail of a large snake shifting away into the bush, on closer inspection I meet a flicker of iguana eye stealing my attention from fright. I tune into the sound of metal being cut in the distance, and am surprised to realise its not machine but a small birds call. The imagination has a sense of humour. When did I become so frightened of nature. People pass on stories of close encounters and death, and I realise how infinitely small and fragile I am in the whole web of creation. But if I was to live my life in fright, would I ever leave my room, bound to sleepless nights, and captivity. So walking on, fear free, finding a waterfall to wash the sweat away, clear my feet of leeches, and fulfil my salt, sugar, water want. The birds and butterflies became used to my company and soon i was just another rock against the many boulders lazing in the sun drying off. 
This nature is big, and I am just a speck of rain on a leaf drifting from the canopy down into the crowd. Falling with noise, I go noticed, a heavy foot fall, a loud stomp in the swamp, I said goodbye to the forest and returned to my bungalow.

The trees roots were as tall as me
A hat made of jungle leaf
Ko Phangan
The full moon island, i was a little scared to come here but it must be beautiful! And it was, a great place with inumerable gorgeous beaches and friendly locals.
I stayed here for 10 days. 
The first 3 at a bungalow with Nati and her boy man friend thing Ben. Having great converstaions, sharing stories and checking out the island on hired motorbikes. They left for the north and I went to stay with a beautiful family that had previously been living in Coffs Harbour for 20 years. My friends from home Benita and Kareenas ma and pa owned a restaurant on one of the beaches here, Chris and Jang, Chris ran the bar and Jang the restaurant, and its one of the tastiest places to eat Thai that you'll find on the island, its called centre bar and its located on the beach Haad Salad. I was planning on sleeping in an abandoned shack hidden away on the corner of this beach in the rocks, when Jang said, No! you must stay here with us! I stayed for 5 or so days, helping out with the waitressing, doing a big painting for the dive centre, learning how to cook thai style and going on a few adventures with Chris and Jang. Jang is a wonderful woman, and it felt nice to be around a motherly natured person, she is the most loving person always there to give you a hug.
I too had an unexpected adventure whilst staying in Haad Salad. One day I started walking the beach and got to the rocks at the edge, inspecting the rock pools, I ventured onward and on, eventually getting to a gap in the rocks, having to take off my pants and cross through the waist deep water to continue. 
Not knowing that this gesture of crossing was what probably led me to keep on going all the way to the next beach. It sounds like a simply achievable thing, and at the time I was completly disillusioned by the inevitable complexity of it. What began as flat softish rock, became chunky and uncomfortable, not wearing shoes and it being the mid of the day, the rock was not only pointy but burning hot, however for some strange reason I kept on walking, maybe it was the adventure of it, or maybe I just had nothing better to do. I climbed on and over and around, feet stinging and sweat dripping for 2 hours, and this is where it started getting tricky. I climbed up and over a very complex wall and I was unsure that I would be able to turn back and climb down it for it was near vertical. I had done it so I decided I would just keep on going. I realised I had no water left in my bottle, and hoped that it would only be another 30 minutes of climbing till I would reach the beach. It was another 3 hours of climbing till I got their. This headland was high, and the rocks did not hug the water, some of the parts I would climb my way around hugging the edge and find that the rock stopped, have to hug my way back and then find a way to climb up and over and down because of a stupid 3 meter gap in the just above sea level rock. (sorry this is really hard to explain but im trying my best) 
You may be thinking why did she not just swim this 3 meter gap, and yes that would be the easiest thing to do, but alas I had my backpack with passport, camera and money, so I had to do everything the hard way.
I could see the beach and I could see how much headland was left, but I had the hardest climb in my last hour. I had become so dehydrated and sunburnt, my feet stinging from the burn of the rock, but it was the spinning of my head that worried me the most. I came to a sheer cliff face, and I had to climb over this cliff face to get to the beach, there was no possible way that I could turn back, and this cliff face was so intimidating, I almost started to cry. I felt stupid. I started the climb and all that was running through my head was tips that I had received when in Tonsai from the professional climbers (that use rope and caribeeners attached to bolts (friend) secured in the wall) the gaps in this wall were minuscule and I cant believe that I actually had the strength to hold on and climb up this thing. 30 meters high and I had one more gap to find a hold of, surprisingly I had stopped sweating, but my mind hadn't stopped worrying, each movement I assessed everything, but all that was really running through my head was, "Ellie your a fucking idiot, you could die doing this" and "Why did you not tell anyone you were going for a walk around the headland in case you do die and no one finds you" and " wow this situation is somewhat similar to the movie 72 hours" and "could I cut my arm off if it got stuck under a boulder" and "concentrate ellie, you could die!"
So the last step was very difficult, the rock was made from this ridiculously flaky sandstone and I didnt trust it. I felt around and found a piece that didnt break when I pulled, 'it would have to do' there was really nothing else. The wall was on a lean toward me and I had to fling my leg up and over onto the 30 cm terrace I found. This crazy strength entered me from somewhere and I was able to use my arms and leg that became more flexible than normal to pull myself up. I could not believe I had made it. It wasnt over thought, I had to scale a very thin edge of dirt across and over the cliff for about 50 meters, the dirt was falling from each step and I had only plants and roots to hold onto, the fall was far. I came to a small crevice and climbed up to the beginning of forest that lined the face down to the shore. This crevice was where it almost finished for me though, I only had roots to pull myself up and the trees had died so the roots became brittle and started snapping as I pulled myself up. I slipped and grabbed in the dirt, a thick root entered my hand and I pulled with all my might till I was laying on a pile of dirt, leaves and pebbles. I saw the forest and it was so thick of branches but I didnt care any more, I slid down the forest floor on my bum, branches scratching my arms and legs and arrived at the rocks, shook a caterpillar from my hair and made a dizzy scramble 100 meters, finally reaching the beach looking like a crazy woman. Yelling at the top of my lungs 'IM ALIVE!' I felt exhausted but liberated. A fisherman walked up to me and asked where I came from, I said Haad Salad, he laughed and kept walking. Running into the water fully clothed, I was not satisfied with the bath temperature water so I stumbled to the nearest restaurant walked to their fridge, grabbed a bottle of water and drank a lot, drinking, breathing, water, oh nothing had ever tasted so good.
This experience was one of the stupidest, but most empowering things I have ever done, I never really knew my own strength till this moment. 
I crept to the road my feet in pain with each grain of sand, and hitched a lift back over the hill to Chris and Jangs restaurant. 
It took 5 minutes. 
I was in pain for the next 3 days my muscles have never been worked so hard.
I got a Thai massage which was almost as much a workout as the climb itself.
I thanked the spirits for looking out for me.


The beginning easy part of the walk
Making decorations at Jangs restaurant