- Tuesday, September 03, 2002

You'd think after ~10 days we would have nailed down EXACTLY what we are going to do with the next 2 months in Australia. Well, we are proud to say that after spending over a week working on a farm and chatting with over 12 different people from all over the world, we have only come a bit closer to determining our route through Australia.

We rang up a few WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) hosts looking for work in exchange for food/accommodations. This is after spending 2 days in touristy Cairns which is on the north eastern coast. Cairns is a popular diving destination as well as a take off point for many trips to the rainforest/Great Barrier Reef. In our handy WWOOF book that came with our membership, we found a really neat entry for a WWOOF host who trains assistance dogs for disabled folks. Unfortunately they already had a WWOOFer staying there.. So, we rang a few other folks and found ourselves the very next day on a bus to Mareeba (45 min. west of Cairns on a windy road through the rainforest).

The ~100ha farm was located between 2 mountain ranges in the area known as the Tablelands outside a town called Mareeba. The WWOOF hosts (Luby & Tucker) bought the farm 2-3 years ago in hopes of starting a gourmet coffee farm. The Mareeba region is similar to that of Central America's coffee producing countries, though it is not as well-known. With 3 creature-chasing dogs, several tractors, and quiet living away from Sydney, this venture is a 180 degree turnaround from their previous careers in corporate finance. With the never ending work to do on the farm, Luby & Tucker rely on WWOOFers/backpackers from Cairns to help with the workload in exchange for food, board, and great conversation.

The process of planting/harvesting coffee takes ~ 5 years, so the 1000 mango trees keep things moving while awaiting the development of the coffee crop. We found ourselves weeding coffee plants with a Pommie (English) & Mick (Irish) couple within minutes of our arrival and were rewarded with a sore back and hamstrings after only an hour. It was well worth the soreness as we were fed like kings!!

Our typical days consisted of the following:

8:30-9:30 - breakfast
9:30-11:00 - morning work
11:00-11:30 - tea break
11:30-1:00 - work again
1:00-2:30 - lunch
2:30-4:30 - work
4:30-7:30 - relax
8:00-9:00 - dinner
9:30-12:00 - beer & cards

It was a pretty easy work schedule with tons of breaks. We split our time between weeding coffee plants and pruning mango trees with these very cool pneumatic cutting tools. Why didn't we have these type of tools on our wedding registry? Yard work is no longer a bad word with tools. After 9 days of work, we leave with a good farmer's tan, scratches all over our legs from the mango branches, as well as a much stronger back and more flexible hamstrings.

The best part of the past 9 days is the fun people we lived with in the WWOOFer/Guest house, a truly international crowd (Irish, English, Scottish, German, Israeli). The accommodations were spartan but comfortable and a hot, long shower was always available. Beer was supplied at no cost, which everyone seemed to take advantage of. We drank more beer in the past week than we've had in the past month!!! Free beer combined with the huge, gourmet meals have made our clothes a bit tighter! We thought we'd only stay at the farm for a few days but ended up not wanting to leave the great company. As for wildlife, we did spot a kangaroo on the property (had Kangaroo for dinner too-yum!) and were warned not to go in the creek for fear of being bitten by the world's most dangerous snake-the Taipan!

People rotate in and out of the farm as their schedules permit. We started the week as newbies, learning the ropes from Jo & Toby (Pommies) and Geraldine & Mark (Micks). We we never short on conversation! Once those folks left a few days into our stay, we found ourselves teamed up with an Israeli couple (Assaf & Noa) sporting motor bikes and 2 hillarious German guys (Jorg & Ollie). We all became somewhat addicted to playing the card game Shithead after dinner and spent many a late night hoping not to lose the game 3x's in a row lest we run around the paddock naked! Jorg, a dead ringer for Jean-Clead Van Damme, blew us off our feet with a majic show after dinner one evening. This hobby has served him well on his travels--a great way to meet people and make everyone smile. Good stuff!! Aside from the great company, conversation, meals, beer, and coffee, we fell in love with the 3 dogs- Bushie & Hoover (Ridgeback/Mastiff mixes), and Kato the puppy (Lab/Great Dane). At 16 wks, Kato is bigger than both Chuy & Guinness and provided endless hours of entertainment.

At less than 2 weeks into our trip, it feels like we've been here for months already. Our background makes us prone to plan our 2.5 months of time in Australia, but we've adopted a new philosophy from our fellow wise travelers who were once planners themselves: Chill out, throw out the plan, go with the flow, don't try to see everything/squeeze it all in, find a ride to your next destination instead of the bus, go off the beaten path and don't fill your time with tours, tours, tours, don't follow the guidebook to a "T", wear the same clothes a few times before washing, get rid of 1/2 the clothes in your pack and buy a new shirt when the old one is dead, etc....

All good advice... We are now back in Cairns staying at a $19USD/night hostel and are finally back on e:mail. It was pretty hard to not have e:mail for 9 days...I'm still addicted!! We will be hooking up this evening with the Germans (Ollie and Jorg) over dinner then plan to relax tomorrow and act like a tourist. Perhaps we will book 1 tour to the rainforest/Cape Tribulation ( 2 hours north) and look for a WWOOF host in that area...maybe on the beach?? We will then make our way south towards Brisbane and stop along the way at various beaches and WWOOF if the situation looks good.

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