The lonesome wolf or the people person : visions of myself in Canada

When you travel for a long time, and I mean really TRAVEL, not visit, not be a tourist or a beach bum, but hard core traveling, sometimes, you are confronted with the idea you have of yourself.  Suddenly you have to take a hard look at what you thought you would be. At what you profess you are. And it never happens during grand actions and spectacular views. It’s never while walking barefoot on a beautiful beach. It’s not even when you reflect on yourself and your life (because let’s say it, that happens a lot when traveling). It’s more of a sudden confrontation with yourself, happening for a tiny shitty reason. For me it was during my time working in an hemp farm in Canada. I usually had a room in my boss’s house, but they were going away for the week end and I had no way of getting back there after work. It was decided that I would then sleep on the farm, in that old van they had there. My boss’s wife showed me how to get the “kitchen” out of the trunk, how to tie a bag of water to a tree to have a shower, where the “toilets” were. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am no princess. Life on the road taught me to be tough, and suck it up. But it was kind of cold, the van was really bare, and I was miles away from any kind of civilization. Well, except from that caravan down the road, where the worker for the field next to mine lived. Now, these were my options :

20160618_185447-staying in my van for the week-end. Working the fields, eating some hard core farmer soup in my hairy ugly bear sweat-shirt and plastic boots, talking to no one and seeing no one, being tough and lonesome.

-Or I could grab my six pack of beers and head down the road. Knock on the caravan door of that stranger and be like : hey, I got beers, we both are in the middle of nowhere, you want to share a meal ? Connect, for better or worse, with another human being. Make a friend for life, have another story to tell or meet another douchebag.

Here’s the thing. I always thought of myself as highly un-sociable. I mean, of course I like some people. I have friends. But let’s face it, those friends are usually the ones no one talks to. That dude by himself in the corner at the party ? now that’s my guy. But human kind in general ? People ? Ugh, people, of course I didn’t like people ! People fundamentally suck. I was not social.

But here I was. Confronted with that fascinating choice. Stay by myself, and I always enjoyed being by myself. Time to think. To process stuff. Or go and meet someone. Someone who, for all I knew, would be terrible company.

And I took my sick pack and my plastic boots, and I headed down that road. Knocked on the door and met Rosa. And it was wonderful. We had beers and she cooked diner for me. I knew her for 20 minutes and she was telling me her whole life story. She made me so comfortable, and we laughed and we shared and we became fast friends. She refused to let me sleep in that bare empty van and I stayed over at her place. We had breakfast together and the next day we went for a walk after work (with beers) in the forest. To this day she still emails me with the glorious details of her life and I love her for it. I am sure we will meet again.

And of course I don’t regret for a second my decision. But I have to face the consequence. I’m not talking about a beautiful friendship. I’m talking about what it means in terms of who I am. Not who I thought I was, or who I claim I was. But who I truly am. I am a social person after all. I like interacting with other people. I mean of course that doesn’t change the fact that I can be gloriously rude to people I don’t like. Or that if I am not interested I cannot bring myself to give a damn. I can still give the dead stare, be dismissive with assholes and have no patience. But I guess I am less of the lone wolf I thought I was. And, just maybe, that’s not such a terrible thing after all.

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My time as a farm worker in Queensland

“Girls, you’re working too hard ! Time for the smoko”. These were beautiful words, heard every day on the farm. The smoko was this tradition, once during the morning shift and once during the afternoon one, to sit down with the boss, drink hot tea and eat cakes and biscuits. Ah. Life on the farm.

I think I’ve already mentioned my glorious arrival in Yallaboroo (here).The bathroom, the meal, the goddess. Well, things were pretty much at the same level of perfect and fuzzy the whole time I was there.

I was hired as a farm helper and I loved the whole experience. The place was about an hour away from any kind of civilization. You had this gorgeous view of the valley from the kitchen and the back porch, nothing but fields and mountains in the background. After the massive yummy farm breakfast, I would get into the door-less car (my favorite ever), the dogs would jump in with me and we would drive to the teenage cows. Hungry little fellas, I would give them seeds and molasses, which smelled disgustingly sweet and always ended up all over my clothes.

After that it was driving the land mower, trying to do straight lines, then picking it all up with the wheelbarrow. I remember one time when I unloaded some of the grass by hand, a little baby snake sneaked out between my fingers. I was ecstatic “oh look, how cute and adorable !”. Turns out it was a brown snake and even at that age it could done some serious damage. Oh well. What doesn’t kill you.

The day was filled by fetching the chicken’s eggs and feeding the ducks. Painting the house, cleaning the cars, moving the cows. It was 11 o’clock smoko where we talked about life and travels and adventures. It was afternoons spent at the beach where my coworker would go for a jog while I would just lazily sit in the sun, reading my book and chasing little blue crabs. Evenings by the fire with the weird neighbors, petting their enormous puppies. Or at the table with the boss and her husband, sweetly annoying their teenage son who tried to be tough with his cowboy boots.

I loved the job, the remoteness of the location, the simple lifestyle, the beauty of the nature and being able to work outside all day.

And I really enjoyed the time spent with my boss. I was full of admiration and awe. She grew up on a farm even more remote than this, at about 4 to 5 hours from the next town. She was homeschooled by her mom and yet she was so social and curious about everything. She was living in the middle of nowhere yet had pretty clothes for the evenings and she took care of herself. She read, she was always upbeat and she treated me like the best of friends.

I loved the sense of community that you could find there. They all were very good neighbors, even though it was a 20 minutes’ drive to get to the next house. They were there for each other and made time and had drinks. It was such a different kind of life. And yet the bonds were deeper and the need and willingness to get human contact was that much stronger.

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Miami and the cult of the fake

Before I actually went to Miami, I had two very distinct, very specific visions of what Miami was like.

  • This glamorous place with palm trees everywhere, cool parties, tan people and also the kind of pretty pastel buildings you can see in Scarface
  • Since Miami is in Florida, it was at the same time this place full of retirees here to buy big ass houses and enjoy their golden years in the sun and the sweat

Big shocker, it was neither of those. I know Miami sounds cool, but honestly, and I am not one to say that lightly: I did not like it one bit. Miami is ugly, trashy, fake and in your face. Its streets full of restaurants and bars with music so loud, even at lunch time, that you can’t talk to the person right next to you. Its filled with big ass shiny cars with trashy gangsta music blasting throughout the day.

It’s all these girls roller blading at the beach with fake boobs and a shitload of makeup on their faces, even though it’s 35 degrees and it looks like they are melting. Even the shop mannequin have bigger than life boobs there !

Miami is also decadent and poor at the same time. They have this huge district with only luxury stores. The streets are beautiful and clean, everything is shiny, they have street art and fountains, beautiful people walking by. And LITERALY the next block is all empty, dirty buildings and empty pieces of land in between, with poor people and empty beer cans everywhere. For me there was something indecent about such luxury and such misery right next to each other. And no one cared about it, either way.

I know, I know, but what about the palm trees and the sun ?! what about super famous Miami Beach ? Now, I know that my judgment here is not 100% honest. That I am completely spoiled by my year of pristine empty beaches in Australia. But Miami beach ? Nah. Nothing special. Too many people. Not FANTASTIC like the beaches of Western Australia or Queensland. I know. Spoiled brat.

But I just didn’t feel the vibe. And you KNOW how much the vibe is important when getting to know a new place. I didn’t like the people that much either, you could talk to someone forever and not ONCE would they ask about you. I’m pretty sure one time I talked to this woman for about an hour, and she told me all about her ex-husbands, and that she was inhabited by the spirit of an old Hawaiian dancer (she demonstrates her skills too) and she didn’t even ask for my NAME. How amazing is that ? How perfectly shallow, self-centered and egotistic.  What’s the point of meeting someone if all you talk about is yourself. Honestly.

And the American laziness and wastefulness was somehow exacerbated there. I was so shocked the first time I went to a hotel breakfast. Everything was in plastic and you just threw it all away at the end, plates, cups, mugs, everything. That and their AC cars that they leave running even though they are not in it, so that they can come back to a fresh and cool environment. The never ending lines at the Starbucks drive-ins because they are too lazy to get up and get their coffee. I mean the whole place was a big stereotype of how Europeans are seeing hard core Americans. Fake, lazy and egocentric.

I don’t want to be too dramatic. There were some things I truly enjoyed about Miami. Like the Wynnewood district with the gorgeous street art. And they were definitely some things I enjoyed about Florida. Like the Everglades and the Keys.

But in the end, Miami will always stay in my memory as the cult of the fake.

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Street art in Wynwood district, Miami. Only thing I loved

Swimming with whale sharks, sparkles in my eyes

I guess I must have mentioned this somewhere before, but my favorite animal is the shark. I remember the first time I saw one in a random aquarium somewhere. I must have been about 15. I didn’t expect anything, it took me by surprise. Instant, delirious love. I was fascinated. I just sat there and watched them for hours. It was so utterly and deeply relaxing. I guess it’s about the elegance with which they move. The casual dignity. It’s also about the symbolism of it all. They never stand still. Ever so slightly, they move all the time. And they can’t move backward, they can only move forward. Isn’t that the whole point in life ?

So, when I arrived in Mexico, it’s the only “day cruise” expedition that I signed up for. Swimming with sharks. And not just any sharks either. WHALE sharks ! Amazing, beautiful HUGE whale sharks. I was so excited.

The boat ride to get over there was pretty rough. I’m usually a pretty seasoned sailor, but by the end I was throwing up just like EVERYBODY else on the boat. Fernando (our guide) asked me if I wanted to go first. I was like “yeah” and then throwing up and then “HELL yeah”.

The whale sharks were pretty impressive, so massive, right next to our tiny fragile boat. One of the women of our group refused to jump “nope, nope, I see them now, I’m good, I’m good”.

So you just sit on the boat, wait for a shark to be RIGHT there, and your guide says JUMP and you can’t hesitate; you just jump right next to the shark. And it is AMAZING. I mean yeah, physically it is rather hard on you. You have 3 or 4 jumps of about 10 minutes, so that there’s not too many people in the water. We jumped 2 by 2 with our guide. You have to swim pretty fast to keep up with the shark if you want to see something. It’s very disorientating. Too many things happening at once. Then you go back on the boat, you throw up big time and when it’s your turn again you just spit, put your mask back on and jump again. No rest for the warriors.

So yeah, everybody was pretty sick and exhausted afterwards. But during. It was surreal, amazing, beautiful. These creatures are peaceful and graceful in a way I couldn’t have imagined. I was lucky, our guide kind of liked me best (probably because I was the only one doing that by myself). So he was always grabbing my hand and pulling me closer to the sharks so I could keep up, and see the most of it. The sharks didn’t give a damn about us. I mean I’m not even sure they registered our presence. The just kept on moving lazily forward.  With their cute little spots and distinguished presence. It was one of the most surreal experiences in my life. When I got back to my hostel and my best friend, I was pale under my tan from too much throwing up, but my eyes were shinning bright. I couldn’t wait to call my mother and give her an heart attack by saying “guess you swam with huge bad ass sharks today ?!”.

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PS : sorry I don’t have any pictures. I was too busy living the dream.