Sunday, 12 August 2012

What's Up With Them Cheekpads?


Sunday, August 12
 So I'm sitting in a tiny internet stall between a coconut seller and a bootleg dvd stand in Ketapang.  It's been an interesting first week to say the least.

Yesterday, we were thrown into a massive trench to start the dig of a kilometer long stream to keep the Orangutans from swinging out of the sanctuary (because Orangutans can't swim).  Though it's crazy hard work, it's also quite satisfying, though I'd rather be creating puzzles for the Orangutans who are caged in awaiting a bigger pen (and guilt tripped me into submission).  Right now, I feel like scaling the walls of the IAR adult Orangutan enclosures, and giving them giant bags of leaves, bananas, and twigs, so they don't have to sit in the same place staring out into the street...though it might be an elaborate ploy to kidnap me for their Orangutan prison break.  They're humans...plain and simple, they just have Orange hair, can't talk, and live in the trees.  The fact is, just like us, they need intellectual stimulation, or they go crazy, start plotting revenge or escape, or resign themselves to laziness.  It's strange that often U.S. prisoners in California are kept in the same environment as Orangutans here, with not as much food or stimulation, and longer prison terms. 

I could go on an on about what I've seen.  I'm one of the only white people (Bulays) in Ketapang, so I get cat-called by Hundreds of locals with a "Hey Mister!". 

As for the toiletries, there's a bathtub sized water resevoir, a smaller tub, and two buckets.  One is for showering, the other bucket...for splashing the bum after dropping (more like squatting) the kids off at the pool.  Though I would still prefer toilet paper, or the Malaysian toilet hose (which is awesome), this is endurable for the time being.  It's still better than every gas station bathroom.

There's so much serious, sad things about Orangutans to talk about, since they are so close to being wiped out it wipes every ounce off smile off your face..but for the time being, let me post something that might elicit a chuckle.

 Orangutans:  THE CHEEKPADS

Many folks ask, why do Orangutans have a face shaped like a pancake?  And that is a very interesting question, since we share 98% of Orangutan's DNA, and yet we do not have enormous faces shaped like a satellite dish, though that would make things interesting.

The answer to why Male Orangutans have those "cheek flanges" is straightforward, and kind of awesome.

You see, unlike us, Orangutans don't have flashy cars, skinny jeans, or fancy flats to impress females with.  Orangutans don't need to prove that they're a big man...because they GROW into one.  Literally, like a transforming Pokemon, a male Orangutan 'upgrades' to be maximumly attractive when he develops his massive cheekpads, and grows about 2X as Big.  

These cheekpads don't just upgrade the size of the the uber Orangutan, they give him near superpowers.  With cheekpads, he amplifies his calls, which literally stunts the growth of any other male orangutans who hear it  That's why these playa's of the jungle need 500 HECTARES each.  That's heaps. 

Just imagine now if you're a female Orangutan, the Angelina Jolie of the Sumatran jungle...

You want this? can't haaave this!

Now just think about it...who would you select?
A prepubescent male Orangutan is like this:                         And the human equivalent....

But all of a sudden, that chubby man-boy Orangutan might all of a sudden bust out cheekpads...

In the eyes of a female Orangutan, that's like going from this:

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Into the Jungle

Off Into the Rainforest

The last several days have been a blur of discovery, a tornado of culture shock, seeing beautiful things, and trying amazing Indo/Malaysian food.  But most of all, what I’ve been seeing is the completely bare truth about what is happening to Orangutans in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Touch Down in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, and you will see a spotless, massive airport, filled to the brim with fancy European antique dealers, Western Fast Food chains, and sugary treats that look straight out of Disneyland.  It’s a little bit disconcerting, to see Kuala Lampur airport, because it’s a carbon copy of any Airport in Europe,  Westernised,sanitised, and completely the same.  

Kuching was an interesting place to spend a day.  I excitedly grabbed my stuff and headed out the door to be greeted by Hawaiin style humidity and Summertime warmth.  After gathering all the amazing volunteers, Hanna (from Germany) Katherine (from DC) and Trish (from New Zealand).  Along with the other volunteers going to Matang, we gathered at a flash Western/Malaysian hotel, and then went out to explore the city.

Coming straight from New Zealand to Kuching is a very interesting experience, because the value of your dollar is instantly tripled, which is a pleasant shock, because for about $3 U.S, you can  buy a feast of food which might cost $30 in the states.  Walking down the bazaar in downtown Kuching, you see an repetitive mix of people selling the same cakes, trinkets, sugary snacks, cellphones, knock off watches (one of which I bought) and of course endless rows of slightly outdated Western T-Shirts and pants.  Despite all these cheap trinkets, I was most excited to find the banana vendor.

It was a bit of an eye opener to see hundreds of people at the bazaar downtown and realising that they might be living off 2 or 3$ a day.  Especially since 150 people on the same treat might be selling the exact same trinkets and spongecake.  The only comparison I can find is in Las Vegas, where hundreds of Mexican migrants line the streets handing out stripper cards.  The whole thing makes you realise how lucky you are to come from the West, and how much our global economic system of selling crap reduces people to what I call “spongecake slavery”.  

Despite the corrosive Western influence on Kuching, I was in having a BLAST trying out all the amazing soups, noodley street food, and mouthwatering “laksas”.  The best foodcarts in San Francisco don’t have anything on Malaysian street foods.  

After a long day of exploring, we came back to the hotel to meet our guides, Leo and Dave. Both have stories heroic stories which make you stand back in admiration, and Leo, in particular, has put aside his life back in England to engage in a constant, life-threatening game of tug of War with governments officials, poachers, and soulless businessmen to save as many Orangutans as possible.  If Leo was the CEO of a company, you could see easily being a multi-millionaire.  But his love for Orangutans keeps fuelling him, despite the mountainous scale of challenges, and constant danger and stress.  

Another good thing about Leo and Dave is there is no bullshit when you talk to them.  They don’t candy coat or hide what is happening to them or the Orangutans .  Orangutans are in a fight for survival, and it is only a small group of a few hundred people which are keeping their entire species from being wiped out.  It doesn’t help much that the government of Indonesia or Malaysia can come in at any time and simply kick them out, and various Orangutan charities compete with each other for attention instead of working with each other.  This means that they have to do a constant P.R. dance with international media and the local government to simply be left alone to rehabilitate Orangutans.  

Before we came to Matang, it was a great experience to see Semagogaoh wildlife center, where a few dozen Orangutans inhabited a reserve of a few hundred hectares.  It was an awesome moment to see an Orangutan in the forest for the first time, though it wasn’t completely wild.  One mother and her baby were hanging on a tree above us, completely oblivious, while another youngster Orangutan was hanging 90 feet, performing a mid-air tightrope display which would put Cirque De Solei to shame.

The visit to the Matang wildlife center was another moment which made us all stop, and take in the seriousness of conservation.  When we think of Orangutans, we often imagine they can simply be saved from captivity, and after a few years they can be put back in the jungle to live safely for the rest of their lives.  However, this happy ending smashes up against a harsh truth, because releasing rehabilitated Orangutans back into unprotected forest often puts them straight back into the hands of poachers.  Also, when an Orangutan is lovingly hand-reared by humans, it develops an intense emotional attachment which makes it difficult to survive in the wild. Surprisingly enough, some rehabilitated Orangutans broke BACK into their cage at Matang, because they were bored of being alone in the forest, and wanted easy access to food and shelter.  This often means that the people looking after these Orangutans often have to have a heart-breaking decision to distance themselves from the Orangutans they raised since infancy.  

That being said, what I saw at Matang was a fascinating, and emotionally jarring insight into how connected humans are with Orangutans, and how   intelligent Orangutans are.  One example is the Aman, the massive, gangsta-rapper looking alpha male of Matang.  Before Aman was saved by IAR, he was blind, and kept in a small cage till adulthood.  However, IAR rescued him, and even restored his sight, which changed his life to say the least.  For the first year or so, he was completely ecstatic to simply have the gift of sight, but after a while...he realised that he was being kept in a cage, so he broke out into the forest, numerous times, but he would come back when he couldn’t find food.  Leo says that Aman has a simple, clear message which he is displaying to the caretakers at Matang.  “Thank you for rescuing me, BUT LET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”  What’s so heart-breaking is that Aman can’t be released into the wild, because he was never raised to climb, and hostile locals would shoot him on sight if he attempted to get food near the city.  The folks at Matang face these intense, catch 22 situations nearly everyday, because Orangutans know when they can never go back to the wild, and they become resentful because of it.  They’re so human, they might as well be super-strong people dressed as Orangutans, living in a prison break movie.  

A real telling moment was when we visited the Quarantine area, where rescued Orangutans were being kept in makeshift cages as volunteers were simultaneously scrambling to build them new ones.  One of the Orangutans, a rescued captive, had developed a close emotional bond to Leo, and wanted to get his attention by shouting “OM!” (‘Uncle’ in Malaysian).  Though Leo said he needed to make him non-dependant of human contact, he still gave the youngster his hand.  A look of love washed over the Orangutan as he held Leo’s hand, seeming to say “I miss you”, and slowly, he let go of Leo’s hand when we needed to walk away.  

Though Leo might be able to hold an Orangutans hand in trust, I sure won’t anytime soon, because they have the power to snap an arm bone like a twig, or bite off your fingers.  It takes years to build that trust with an Orangutan, and takes alot of contact, feeding, and caring for them while they are sick.  Imagine having a 5 year old with the strength of the hulk...and that’s what your being challenged with while raising a growing Orangutan.  Though Willie Smitts might be able to caress any Orangutan he comes into contact with, I’m definitely not ready for that.  That being said, if I see a gesture of thanks from an Orangutan and Ketapang, I hope to find a way to return it without damaging it’s chances of returning to the wild.  

Along with rescuing Orangutans, the folks at Matang have to deal with an overflow of rescued sunbears, gibbons, and macaques, which all need space and cages.  However, Matang Wildlife centre gets little direct help from the government, and has to rely on the generosity of volunteers to run on a shoestring budget.  I really want my fundraiser to go well, because I see the NEED they have, and how they can use any funds.

By now, Leo, Dave and I have had a few hours of conversations, and my respect for both of them has done nothing but grow.  Though we’re from different corners of the earth, and have different callings in life, we all want the same leave this world as a place where humans will cherish the worlds most precious creatures, and where everyone will rediscover their need for nature, and their connection to it.

The bus ride into Pontianak, Indonesia was a different beast all together, and put me face to face with poverty, and “the third world”. In the morning, we set off on a 7 hour bus ride through Borneo till we would finally reach Pontianak.  I’ve never seen anything like this in my whole life, and I’m sure my brother had some similar culture shock moments biking through the poorest areas of Bolivia and South America.  

For what seemed like a journey back in time, we passed endless palm oil plantations, government checkpoints, and deforested patches of land.  Seeing all the villages along the way was spellbinding, because you say them cutting out a living on the edge of what seemed like endless jungle, and yet STILL there billboards of Jennifer Aniston, Coke, and cellphone ads.   Strangely...I kind of liked these places, because I could imagine how quickly they could be changed into permaculture eco-villages if the need arose, but that’s a discussion for another time.  The poverty was pretty shocking though, because kids were bathing in toxic brown rivers and fires were lit everywhere, filling the air with acrid grey smoke.  From the Indonesian border to Pontianak, you never stop seeing people, as far as the eye can see.

 It also felt pretty crazy being really tall for once in my life, and there were alot of eyes on us whities on the bus going to the middle of Borneo.  The bus ride was a bit of a crazy journey, because we saw every stereotype of dangerous, drunken driving, and swerving and honking as we bumped and grinded down the Borneo highway.   This is an interesting journey, and I think that I’m going to see first hand, how the conditions of the people in Indonesia reflect onto the survival of Orangutans.  

There’s plenty of more to type about, but I’m going to stop right now, because there’s some Indonesian food to try, and a squat toilet with a bucket to use for cleaning the bum...that’s going to...interesting.  

Friday, 3 August 2012

Off to Malaysia and the...THE ORANGUTANS

So I'm sitting in an airport in Sydney at the moment.

For those of you who may not know, it's in Australia, a small island known as "New Zealand's Evil Twin".

I've got a few hours here to kill, so I hope by typing I can stove off some jetlag.  So in just a few hours time, I'll be off to Malaysia off to my great adventure amongst Orangutans.  They'll be REAL apes, unlike the ones in the last Indiana Jones movie...
A Wonderful Film

So I'm a bit nervous, as I've never been to a non-English speaking country besides Germany.  But that doesn't really count.  I'll have to navigate markets of people trying to sell me parrots and endangered species, but I reckon I'll survive.

To prepare for the Orangutan Rescue center, I'm reading up on some good ol' Orangutan Psychology.  Hope I'll pass what they call "the bite test".

So....Off I go, I'll be giving more updates soon!

I too have stared at a pumpkin in such a manner.

Orangutan Release Video:
Orangutans Released into the Wild

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Gearing up for something BIG

July 28,

At the moment, I find myself welcome at a wonderful place with alot of soul.  Toi Toi Manawa is a 90 acre permaculture centre run by two enthusiastic organic farmers, Kailea and Andy.

Tonight I happened to haggle with a hunter, and chucked a massive wild boar in the car, and now it's hanging on a willow tree outside, waiting to be butchered in the morning.  By this time tomorrow, it shall become HELLA MEAT and provide heaps of delicious, wild-boar flavoured protein for the next few months.  I hope by consuming this beast, I may absorb it's tenacity and ability to forage in the woods.

Anywho, this month has been interesting.  Alot has happened, many things have changed, and in just a few days I'll be off to a freaking Orangutan Sanctuary in the middle of Indonesia (WUUUT!).  I'll talk more about that later.

So a little more than a month ago, I decided to head south, and do my duty to upload gigs of videos in Christchurch for the permaculture conference, as well as finish my fundraiser video.  Though there were 100 reasons to stay up North, I was called down South, and down South I went.  It was only fitting that on the way back, I ran into all the permaculture crew at Awhi Farm in Turangi (Including Jo, Brian, Georgie, Kelvin, Matua, and a few others).  We had a massive meal, they said goodbye to me, and off I went.

Unfortunately, the dreaded stomach flu hit me mysteriously, and I spent several days moaning around Wellington, and nearly crapping my pants on the ferry back towards Christchurch.  Luckily, I made it back to Ilam in one piece (without crap pants).

What stomach flu does to a man

It took me about a week to recover from the Ol' stomach flu, because it stealthily creeps back if you don't starve yourself for three days.  Luckily, I souped my way back to health, and quickly got in to the swing of fitness again.  Despite all the amazing organic food I've had, I felt lazy and sluggish up in the North Island because I wasn't exercising for a few hours a week. Doesn't matter how well you eat, if you don't get out and exercise, you'll stay in lazytown with the fatties, and I ain't one of them.

Silly Random Story:

Rich and I decided to take a break from our odd jobs and do some location scouting for his film at a park Wildlife Sanctuary.  As I walked down the main path, I looked to my right, and saw what appeared to be people...naked people.  Turns out it wasn't just people, it was old people...having what I guess was their bi-monthly forest sex.  It was an awkward moment of eye contact to say the least.

Back to "Normal":
A strange thing happens when you leave all these amazing permaculture places, you feel like you have been pulled away from something important.  Though I was utterly grateful that my friend Rich let me stay at his place for a month, I felt that I was putting my life on hold by staying in Christchurch for too long.    It's an amazing city for students and construction workers, but my journey lies elsewhere, and I felt the need to get on up out of there, and get back to permaculture.

I've seen the promise land, and it is filled with Biochar!

However, before I could do that, I needed to finish my big fundraiser video, and what is that you ask?

Next month, I am going to Ketapang Indonesia to work at an Orangutan Sanctuary, and I intend to give something great to these Orangutans, and the people who care for them.  Earlier in the year, International Animal Rescue accepted me to work at their center in Ketapang, Indonesia, and when you get that chance...there is no way to turn it down, especially considering how threatened Orangutans are.

 I'm going to fight to make sure my fundraiser is successful, because I want to do something real to help the Orangutans at the centre.   I won't make any money off of it, and won't make back my travel costs anytime soon, but that is what service is all about, giving and expecting nothing in return.  What I want to do with my fundraiser is leave the Orangutans and the people that care for them a gift that will ensure their ongoing care.  If I do one thing good this year, I hope this will be it.

The Big Orangutan Fundraiser

The One downside about going to the Borneo rainforest is the 14 SHOTS you need to get.  Though I don't mind vaccines, my arm felt like a pincushion, and those shots aren't cheap. Neither is the Anti-Malaria meds (Malarone).

After two weeks of Phelpsing' out at the  local swimming hole I started to make my way around to planting Rich and Ness's backyard garden, though it's a pretty ghetto-licious design.  Maybe after a few months away from Christchurch, I will know if I'm a master garden planner, or a garden destroyer, depends on the strawberries planted in the strawberry tire.

                   Fun Fact (urinating near a lemon tree for several months will make it grow monstrously huge, a good third world fertiliser technique)

Note to folks, the lemon party technique will not be used with any permaculture consulting I'm involved with in the future.

So off I headed to Toi Toi Manawa, and I was delightfully surprised by what I found.  Toi Toi Manawa at this stage is basically a blank canvas for what is to be an incredible Permaculture Education Center.  The main building is incredibly well built and insulated (a first in New Zealand), there are two massive compost toilets, plenty of shipping container rooms for students to sleep in, and 90 acres of land to experiment on.  Though I've wanted to plant Shitake Mushrooms here, I decided to research using Biochar on the property instead.  Pretty pleased with the 10 year Biochar plan I typed up for the center.
Toi Toi Manawa

You don't realise how much you need the outdoors till you've left it, and come back again.  It feels good working outdoors, using your hands and your brain to improve the landscape, one small step at a time.  Though work with business and film requires incredibly fast paced coordinating to get right, work on a market garden requires persistence, patience, love, and observation.

 I think we need more of that, and less people racing to an early grave surrounded by a pile of real estate investments, like this guy:


Though I've been trying not to read to much news, it's absolutely insane looking at what's going on in the state.  DROUGHT across the entire continent.  Colorado is on fire.  It's mind-numbing and enraging that the politicians who's states are ON FIRE do everything they can to say "climate change is a hoax".


Don't even get me started on the U.S. Elections.  Though I'm hoping all of congress is throne into the hole in The Dark Knight Rises, I'd rather vote for the disappointing Obamanator over SATAN CHILD EATING MITT ROMNEY.

Romney laughing at burning Mountain Gorillas

I don't think I need to say anything about this guy...  He says climate change is a hoax.  He's a massive tool.  He keeps his family in an Mormon compound, He says 'corporations are people', he believes woman should be controlled by men and abortion should be outlawed, his company destroyed lives.... AND he's a creepy, plastic, hypocritic figure head of corporate fascism.

Meanwhile, Obama is busy schmoozing out with bald-headed real estate investors who pour champagne on him, but I'd still vote Obama over Mitt Beelzibub Romney.

Though I am utterly content experimenting up here at Toi Toi Manawa...I had to go back and see the new Batman movie...'Dark Batman Knight who Rises' or whatever it's called.  It's an unknown, small budget indie film that just came out.

  I'm embarrassed to say it, I kind of got tears in my eyes at the end of the film.  It felt like seeing Star Wars for the first time.  Plus Bane shot up the Stock Exchange, which was awesome.

Though some people said the movie was Anti-Occupy, I think Nolan snuck in some insanely obvious jabs at slimy stock market traders, cops, insane rich folk and middle eastern women?!
Anyway, in one scene, two stock market traders are moaning about not getting the right rye-pastrami sandwich, then one of them gets shot in the face...comedy gold.

Well, it's about time for me to get the heck off of this computer.  By this time 7 days from now, I'll be in the middle of Borneo, blogging about my sensuous experiences with Orangutans...but in all seriousness, according to Willie Smitts, they'll stare into my soul, and instantly know whether I'm not a good person.  Hopefully I'll pass the Orangutan test.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Fun times Across NZ

June 20,
So the week after the PDC kicked off with a bang, Maria and I reunited to start our cavalier adventure across New Zealand.  We didn't know where we would end up, but we wanted to travel without spending any money on the touristy things.  By travelling and WOOFing with folks practicing Permaculture, we found a whole lot of hospitality and unique experiences that couldn't have happened otherwise.

Our travels all started in Te Moata, where we decided to bushwack our way towards Cliff Kuti cabin, an awesomely isolated buddhist hut right on a cliffside facing towards the ocean.

  Little did she know that my obscenely heavy backpack was actually filled with King Salmon (playas club!). we made Sushi in a cabin in the middle of the forest, which was pretty cool.  Despite the drafty winds, I managed to survive till morning, and we scrambled down the cliff face towards the Te Moata waterfall, which after a steep, jungly descent, makes the trip worthwhile.

I was machete'ing through the forest like a crazed Indiana Jones, or a reasonably competent Vietcong jungle scout. Needless to say, Maria stayed kept a few feet behind me, which was probably a wise choice.

Even though we were surrounded by pixie-esque fantails, waterfalls, and buddha statues, the wanderlust started to kick in after a couple of days, so we said goodbye to our good friends Eric, Tomoya and Kuiyka and headed up North to Coromandel.

For a few days we were hosted by the always amazing Jo and Bryan up at Koranga falls Eco-Village, which had some pretty inspiring houses all around, but a lack of young people around.

After 2 weeks travelling since the PDC ended, I almost felt spoiled seeing so many sights, and not settling down for a bit, so we decided to find a WWOOF host a bit further down South in Papamoa/Te Puke.

Wendy was one of the amazing folks I met up at the PDC, acting as a surrogate "Kiwi Mum" for the week.  I was pleasantly surprised that Maria wanted to keep travelling with me, since I felt like doing farmy-permaculture things instead of jumping out of a plane with a snowboard while skateboarding with a pizza in the other hand.  Regardless, I was stoked she was with me on the whole WWOOFing journey.  Having a sparkly german maiden as your companion always brightens your day :p

After we left Marias place we made our way to Te Puke, where we woofed at the the Biodynamic Witchcraft Sorcery Kiwi-Farm owned by Glen Atkinson.  Needless to say, the whole place had an enchanted, wizardly vibe to it.  If you ever hear a master of biodynamics give you a personal lecture on astral bodies for several hours, it's hard not to get caught up in the exciting/crazy possibilities of it.  Half the time my mind was blown, the other half...My brain hurt.  Needless to say, Biodynamics surprisingly makes alot of sense, especially in comparison to the warfare we wage on the soil, which we call conventional farming.

Pictured: The Basic theories of Biodynamics
   Anyways, the experience in Te Puke was awesome. After traumatizing Maria by making her see Prometheus, we were off again to Papamoa, to WWOOF at Trudy and Jaunty's place.  Trudy and Jaunty were amazing hosts, who has several acres and 2 kids who they were raising without the crazy influence of Justin Bieber and MTV.  It felt really good to be working outdoors; to be planting, harvesting, and weeding.  When I get back to the states I'll have to tie in some of the things I've learned into a Permaculture Consulting practice....yah....that's the ticket!

Anyway, we had one last big adventure in us, and decided to head up north to the Bay of Islands.  Last time I was here was with the mom, pops, and my grandma Betsy a bit more than 3 years ago.

We decided our last big event to do was to go sailing.  If you don't know about the Bay of Islands, it's insanely gorgeous, and acts as a sailors hub for sailing to and from Fiji and Samoa.  Maria was about to hitch a ride on a Katamaran to Fiji, but unfortunately, they didn't trust German sailors :I  Though we couldn't go sailing because of a rapist wind, we still managed to have a good ol' time up North.  

At this point, it had been nearly three months since I left the South Island.  Though I was having a great time,guilt and travel fatigue started to set it.  I think the bigger issue was that I had experienced what could be done with Permaculture, and felt the need to put into practice what I had been learning. It's strange that even in one of the most gorgeous places on Earth, with someone you care about, you can still get an overwhelming urge to call the trip to an end, so that's what I did. 

It was pretty sad breaking the news to Maria that I had to go down South alone.  Though I wanted to have her come with, I knew she wouldn't have a good time if she was waiting on me to edit videos while I crashed at my friend Rich's house.  So we talked, hugged, and decided to do a few more days of WWOOFing down south.  

I think it was very proper that our journey up North ended like it began, up near Lake Taupo.  Our last trip was to the Hot Waterfalls near Taupo, and it was a relaxing way to end the trip, knowing what would be ahead...besides 'thronin' out' with Game of Thrones.

Anyway, I'm gonna miss Maria when I head down South, but I'm sure we'll run into each other again.

Until the next adventure, I've got Orangutans to wrastle with, and Permaculture to explore.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Permaculture DESIGN COURSE!

May 30 2012, Te Moata, Tirua, New Zealand

You know you've found something good when you sit enthralled in a classroom for 6 hours, and then stay up till 3AM with a pile of colored pencils, as if you were a kid doing an arts and crafts projects.

For the last 2 weeks, I've been in a place I do not soon want to leave, with people I do not want to leave, and I've experienced magical, life-changing things here at Te Moata.  However, it's not just the people, and this place which has inspired me, it's what I've been doing here: a Permaculture Design Course.

Earlier in April, I worked at the Annual Permaculture Convergence, which lit a fire in my mind about the possibilities of Permaculture.  So when I heard there was a 2 week permaculture design course
happening in May, I signed up without a second thought.

 At first, I was somewhat dissapointed that I wasn't able to take my first design course with Permaculture Super-Celebrity Geoff Lawton, but I was still extremely excited for what might be in store.  After spending two weeks in the steel beast known as "Auckland", I was craving nature like a Southerner craves Jenkem.

Geoff "Cool Guy" Lawton

Geoff "The Bulldozer" Lawton, smoking green as he greens the desert.

The drive to Te Moata took me through through backroads, sheep trails and leering Woodsmen till I finally arrived in Tairua, home of the super flash Wharakei caves, which I might have spelled wrong.

Sweet caves

After climbing over large hills and valleys, my car finally reached the elusive Te Moata, guarded by a large, warm-hearted giant named Dave (who runs the place), along with his wonderful wife Jessie.  The trip down the driveway to Te Moata is like an Indiana Jones ride, with giant boulders, mossy ancient rocks, and Faintails darting over your head. Once you get to middle of Te Moata, it takes a moment before you take in how truly beautiful the place really is.  

The Goddess pool, or as I call it, frozen-ass water pool.

The retreat, which looks like it belongs in a movie about Buddha, is right in the heart of native bush forest.  The entire place is surrounded by fantastically unreal streams and moan inducing trails. You can spend a month at Te Moata, and still see only 1/2 of what it has to offer.

I was nervous at first to meet everyone.  Though I saw a few familiar faces, I knew it was going to be an interesting challenge to maintain a good connection with 10 strangers in a retreat for 2 weeks straight.  However, with a bit of conversation, I saw how a shared sense of concern for the future guided us all there, because we wanted to learn how Permaculture can restore the environments and lives which the modern world has put in jeapeordy.

Our instructors were two amazing teachers, Daniel Tohill and Trish Allen, who had been practicing permaculture around New Zealand and Australia since before I was born.  These two were Permaculture pros, and our job as students was to absorb as much information into our spongey brains as possible until we needed to run out into the garden like compost junkies.

I can't remember the last time I was truly excited to learn something in college, but each lesson on Permaculture perked my interest and imagination into what could be possible.  Swales, contours, and ponds can be used to turn deserts into lush forests and grasslands, entire orchards can thrive with just rainwater, zones can be planned to make your property nearly self sufficient in food.  The list of things we learned extended far into the realm of possibility, but every lesson was extremely useful, and made complete sense.  If our country's farmers, community planners, and government officials were forced to take a PDC, they might finally emerge with a better understanding of how systems work together.  Better yet, if the world used Permaculture principles to re-imagine society, we could tackle climate change, food shortages, and poverty while restoring our environment.
*pleasurous moan*

Measuring contours, like a boss.
The cozy classroom

Each day, we would spend about six hours in the classroom learning everything there is to know about permaculture.  Though there is no way to become an expert after 72 hours of learning, it gives you a great grasp of the basic principles, and an idea of what is possible.  The other parts of the day we spent socializing with the rest of the folks who attended the course.  

At first, I was scared that there was no way I could keep building a positive relationship with all these people over two weeks, and that my personality would  eventually wear thin on them.  Luckily though, I was wrong.  Being at the center for 2 weeks with the same people forced me to make deep connections to everyone, and get to know their character, and their story, instead of just having a conversation for a few minutes, and then retreating to the ol' comfort zone.  It was absolutely amazing to feel that I was strengthening my relationships with these people the longer the course went on, instead of drifting away from them. We soon realized that we were all kindred spirits that were here for the same purpose, though all had different ways of reaching our goals.  There was Tomoya from Japan, Lien from Belgium, Tom and Sara from Taranaki, Colby and Eric from Oakland, Justin, Stefan and Noura from Wellington, and Wendy from Papamoa.  Everyone had something to share, and something to give, though I was the only one who couldn't play guitar :I

This Kid learned how to work
the Derivatives Market,

This kid learned guitar

It's an amazing how much you can learn about a subject when you are absolutely enthralled with it, and have good teachers, good partners, and a great atmosphere.  This PDC was like an entire year of Enviornmental Studies crammed into two weeks, though the best part was when we got to get our hands dirty; making compost heaps, building a pizza oven, and crafting a new design for gardens throughout the property.  Oh yes, and there was some possum skinning for good measure.  They're invasive species over here, so it's alright to gat them en masse, as long as you feed their precious innards to the hawks.

Before the final stages


So as the PDC wore on and on, the focus turned from permaculture to people. As we were given our assignments of Te Moata garden, we had a flurry of inspired heads clashing together, and collaborated in a great way to come up with some far-out designs.

This is my first attempt at a permaculture design, don't y'all judge too harshly.  I felt pretty good for both of these, considering I had 1 night each to do the designs.  
I wanted to make a leaf shape for the garden, but instead it looked more like a mad octopus eating a clown, should work well though.

My freehand design for Dave and Jessies place, Mushrooms, strawberries, and fruit everywhere! Bwahah ):p

What's not shown, a mountain of colored pencil shavings.

As the PDC drew to a close, we were left with one event which cemented how beautiful working with folks in Permaculture can be, and that was our concert night.  We each had to come up with a big performance for the final night, and we were just as interested in the performance as the design.  

As Tom and I were the hosts, I figured, what better way to introduce the concert than as a Monsanto Shareholders conference!

I was Tim Poots, senior vice executive of multi-level marketing for Monsanto, along with Doon Strunts, my assistant.  We had to give a very important corporate powerpoint on the dangers of permaculture, along with pumping the crowd up, like a freakish, Tony Robbins seminar gone wrong. 

Either way, the event was amazing, and it was incredible to see the things that people could come up with in such a short period of time; skits, rapping, jason mraz'ish songs, and games galore. 

Though the 2 weeks at Te Moata was over before I knew it, the lessons, and connections I had stayed with me.  I found a new path I wanted to go down, and ways of living and working which can support my future, help people, and help restore our degraded environment.  There's few things as eye-opening as a PDC, and few things as inspiring.  It's time to jump down this rabbit hole, and plan something big with my permaculture lessons; perhaps one day I can consult worldwide, create a Biochar industry, and even reconstruct entire communities.  The sky is the limit, and the world needs everything that I saw in those two weeks.

Thank you everyone at Te Moata :)
 May 26,

Later in the week:
After the PDC, I stayed at Te Moata a few days with Kuiyka, Eric, Colby, and Tomoya doing some woofing.  Little did I know that Maria was actually, and completely randomly, 10 minutes away from Te-Moata. Now I have to pick her up, and convince her to come with me, so we can see some amazing sights, and do some woofing along the way.  Hopefully I'll be able to share some more awesome adventures soon.

-Raleigh (& Maria)

Also: skinning a possum to make comfy shoe insoles, and hawk feed.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

May is Always Awesome!

Ahhh, May, you are always my favorite month.

The month that I graduated High School and College, my Birthday, the beginning of Summer, and something great.

May was jam packed with adventures; skinning possums, climbing mountains, permaculturing, exploring new zealand with friends, and enjoying the hell out of life.

After the convergence, I hastily made my way back to Wellington, to explore the city, and work on a film "How to meet girls from a distance".  One big reason I had to come back was to see "American Superhero movie BANG BANG"...or the "Avengers".

There was the team leader Iron Person, who espoused the values of economic progress, and was very snarky.

There was Flag Man with Shield, who, along with Jesus, cried on 9/11.

Then there was other folks, such as Green Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson spy., and Australian with Hammer.

They fought aliens from Space.

I have to say, I'm most excited to see the midnight screening of "The Room":


The Room is pure, raw cinema.  A must see for those who respect the art of film.

So I left Wellington on May 1st with Maria, who, with cold german persistance, convinced me to do the Tongariro crossing with her.  I was actually quite excited to come back to Turangi.  This time I could go to Awhi Farm, and then go on a spastic bing of adventures.
After being told by the I-Site not to do the Tongariro crossing, we decided to take the opposite way over the mountain, because I'll be dipped if I bow before the tremblings of beauracratic office dwellers.

The Tongariro was a blast, it was a 7 hour hike up around Mt. Doom, but was surprisingly warm and not filled with American tourists.  Lots of Germans though, but at this point, I have come to understand their words.

 It took 5 hours to get to the top, but t'was well worth it.

The best thing about Turangi is the sheer amount of amazing places, if you know your way around.  You can spend a day climbing Tongariro, go back and have an amazing meal at Awhi Farm, and then head off to a secret hotspring in Lake Taupo.  My favorite place was Butchers Bridge hotspring, where you could sit in a half hot/cold pool, while grabbing some spa-like mineral mud.  You go in stressed, you leave more relaxed than a sloth.

It was hard to top Turangi, but we headed off North to Ragland for one last night before having to go to Mordor (Auckland).  Ragland is a beach town, a town of waves...I can't really come up with any puns so I'll just say it was cool.  The best aspect about the Solscape retreat was the AWESOME Earth-huts, which were designed by Jo and Bryan at Awhi farm.  They stay ultra-insulated, cool in summer, warm in winter, and these crazy Dr. Seuss like Huts cost about $5,000 to build.  The technique is called "Earthbag", and all it needs is people, sand, concrete, and wire framing; if you want to be extra flash you can stick bottles in as windows.  My dream would be to have these huts all over the world, shit would be awesome.  Imagine these build into the side of a hill...BOOM, hobbit hutt.

After I almost burned down the pizza oven at Ragland, we finally got some decent bread. (note, fire is lit IN the oven, not UNDER).
Bread goes in to flaming oven...

                                                                    Ah shit.

Anyway, we headed off towards Auckland town, and Maria went off to her Bird Sanctuary, while I slept on Cheyne's couch and edited 1 month no regrets.

After that, I was extremely excited for my next big adventure, the Permaculture Design Course at Te Moata :O