Sunday, January 25, 2009

Onwards to Oz and the new and improved second half

Australia, here I come. After a great month at home, during which time I got to go to not one, but TWO Laker games, see the inauguration of #44 while still on American soil, and relax with family and friends, I’m off for the second half of the gap year. And there’s been a few changes. The first big change is there will be no Jaime sightings on this page until China. He’ll be staying back to spend some more time with his family for a little longer. So I’ll be traveling most of this second half alone.

And the second biggest change, I present to you the addition of a brand new country into the gap year, drumroll please……. India! With Jaime and I going our separate ways for a time, I decided to shuffle the schedule around. So without further ado, here is the schedule for the second half.

Australia January 25th- February 18th

I’m spending the first six days in Melbourne, staying with a friend my parents made when they were Down Under a few years ago. I’m going to try to check out the Australian Open and explore Melbourne for a few days.

Then since Australia’s supposed to be about organic farming through WWOOF (Worldwide Workers On Organic Farms), I’ll be heading to an island off the coast of Melbourne for 10 days.

The farm in Melbourne: McLeod Eco Farm

I quote from the WWOOF Aus book: “This ‘lost island’ (70% of which is National Park) offers rare & beautiful flora & fauna, including the world’s largest koala population, the Eastern Australian Potoroo, 230 bird species, 600 plant varieties, 100 native orchids, mangrove & wetlands. You can learn all about and help develop our natural, self-sufficient certified Bio-dynamic system during daily work on our 222 ha organic farm. Work includes; harvesting, weeding, mowing, H/H duties, plus other accommodation and farm related jobs. Afterwards you can cycle, play golf, swim in our lake or stroll along our secluded beach, accommodation for up to 10 in clean, private rooms. Work best suited to hard working and cheerful adventurers and those would like to help make a difference.”

What they don’t mention about the “lost island” also known as the French Island are two interesting tidbits I picked up from Wikipedia. One, the population of the French Island as of a 2006 census- 89 people. Number two, uh, Wikipedia why don’t you take it from here? “Most koala populations on the mainland of Australia are affected by the Chlamydia disease. French Island provides the world's most dense and disease free population of koalas, with regular transfer of excess koalas to repopulate diseased areas on the mainland.”

Forget the national park on French Island. New tourist marketing angle: "89 people! Chlamydia-free koalas! Could it get any better?"

After I leave the farm, I’ll have six days to get to and explore Sydney. I plan on either taking the 12 hour Greyhound bus, or the 3 day backpacker’s bus called the Oz Experience to get to Sydney. The Greyhound is about a fifth the price of the backpacker’s bus, but I figure I’ll meet more people and see more interesting things on the Oz Experience. In Sydney, I think I’ll be staying with a friend I met on a one week Switzerland program the summer after my junior year. Then from Sydney’ I’ll head off to…

New Zealand Feb 18th- Feb 28th

I was supposed to be spending five weeks in New Zealand. Now I’ll only be spending 10 days there. I put all that extra time into India. I plan to spend about a week at what sounds like a really cool vineyard. And I’ll spend the other two or three days, touring Auckland, either staying at a hostel or with a family friend.

The vineyard in Auckland: Te Marama Estates

I quote from the WWOOF NZ book. “Te Marama Estates are two small vineyards located 40 minutes south of Auckland in the beautiful Mangatawhiri Valley. Work offered is vine training, summer pruning, winter pruning, harvesting and occasional winemaking. Guaranteed NO WEEDING. We are 30 minutes from beaches on either coast, waterfalls and bushwalks. Accommodation is a separate guest wing, private and comfortable with great views over the vineyard. Fine food, including the best pizza in the world! Nine “hole” Frisbee golf course around the extensive gardens.”

I love Frisbee and think I might want to play Ultimate in college. And how can you go wrong with the “best pizza in the world?”

A little note about organic farming: I always looked at WWOOFing as a cheap way to travel, (free room and board in exchange for long hours of toiling in the field). Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been known to say in the past that I like the accomplished feeling after a day of mindless, manual labor, and I’m open to new experiences. But I don’t really have any real long-term interest beyond this gap year in farming, organic or otherwise.

If you say anything enough times, it’ll start to sound normal. And I’ve gotten so used to rattling off organic farming in the list with volunteering and journalism internship when talking about the gap year, I’ve forgotten how different and offbeat it really is. I’m reminded though (and amused) when people misunderstand my interest in farming and take it for more than it is.

After a quick 10 days in Auckland, I’ll head off to…

India March 1st- March 31st

I’ll be spending the entire month of March in India with the travel group Rustic Pathways. They have a full gap year of different modules and programs in different countries, and a gapper can sign up for anywhere from one module (a la India) to the full year. As of now, I’ll be with four other kids on gap years, traveling through India. We’ll have a one week home-stay in a village near Tibet where we’ll teach English. We’ll trek through the Himalayas for six days at an altitude of up to 10,000 feet and temperatures down in the 20s. We’ll spend some time at a more temperate coastal town, and head to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

And after spending my birthday in the land of Bollywood, I’ll be off to…

China April 1st- May 18th

In China, I’ll be reuniting with Jaime. We’ll be living in an apartment in Shanghai with other people from Projects-Abroad while working on our respective internships (journalism for me, business for Jaime). I decided to sign up for just a month, during which time my whole family will hopefully be coming to visit. The last 18 days after my program and internship wrap up and I’m kicked out of my apartment are still up in the air.

And that will conclude my gap year. I’ll head back to Encino for three months and get ready for William & Mary in August!