A Surprise Return

Once I realized I was ready to go home, there really was no reason to hang around Sydney any longer.  The longer I stayed, the more money I spent and I was running extremely low on funds as it was.  So I searched the web and found the cheapest and soonest flight I could find.  It happened to fall on Friday.  This was Monday.  

I booked the ticket and called my brother, who was shocked to hear I was coming home so soon but extremely excited to pick me up from the airport.  We arranged for me to stay at his place in the city for several days before he would drive home for fall break, by which we would surprise my parents.  

Over the next few days I couldn't write.  There was too much going on inside the apartment and around my mind.  I closed my bank account, paid off my debts and used up the rest of my pre-paid internet.  Meanwhile, my parents were under the impression that I was flying to Perth on Friday.  When they asked who I would be staying with I described them as "a middle-aged couple with a dog", little did they know I was referring to them!

As I sent my last text messages before boarding the plane and losing cell service for good, I was intrigued to read that my parents were meeting my brother and his fiance for dinner on Friday night, the day I was coming home.  My brother excitedly told me everything was taken care of on his end, I just needed to get home safely!

My total flight time was relatively short compared to what Jacob, Matthew and Patricia had endured.  I traveled a total of twenty-four hours to make my trip home, though it felt like much more because of the time hop my body had to endure.  

I flew from Sydney to Auckland, Auckland to Houston and Houston to Oklahoma City.  The first thing I saw when I got off the plane in Houston was, "DOUBLE BACON QUARTER POUNDER WITH FRIES" and just beyond that: "CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE ICE CREAM SMOOTHIE."  I smiled big.  Man it was great to be back in the USA.  

Another great sensation was hearing both Spanish and Okie being spoken on the flight to Oklahoma.  I was back with my people.  Back where I belong.  

After claiming my ridiculously-sized suitcase one last time, I turned around to see my brother and his fiance walking towards me.  We all hugged and laughed and then Grant told me we had to hurry to meet our parents.  Apparently he had been really pulling strings to make all of this work.  They were still under the impression that it would just be Grant and his fiance meeting them for dinner, so my return was to be a huge surprise, just as we planned.  

Grant, Faith and I drove straight to Bricktown where we met my parents at Toby Keith's Bar and Grill.  I took only a few steps towards the table before my mother stood up and rand towards me with open arms.  Happy tears fell gently on my shoulder as she hugged me.  She was truly overwhelmed and surprised.  Next I hugged my Dad who also was surprised at my arrival.  Grant and I had pulled it off.  They had no idea!  

 Back in the arms of my family!

Back in the arms of my family!

Overcoming Conflict

During my first week at Irina's I completed twenty hours of solid writing towards my book.  When I wasn't writing I was helping Irina take care of Rita and when we weren't taking care of Rita I enjoyed seeing the local side of Sydney with Irina.  

 Wattle, a native Australian flower, and the sites of Sydney in the background.

Wattle, a native Australian flower, and the sites of Sydney in the background.

 

In just a week we saw a drum circle, the New South Wales Art Museum, a sail boat race and lots of great live music.  It was all very fun and yet it was all unraveling parts of me.  The truth is, I was exhausted.  I'd been exhausted for the past six weeks.  The entire length of the East Coast trip had been a constant battle for me.  Smile.  Look, more mountains.  Another beach. Say it's pretty.

So why wasn't I having fun anymore?  Was I homesick?  I missed my friends and family but that wasn't anything new.  Here I was surrounded by the world's most beautiful beaches and I couldn't even enjoy it.  I thought a four-day writer's festival would rejuvenate me but I was still tired.  I slept at least ten hours every night but it wasn't my body that was tired.  It was my spirit.  

So I took about three days to write out my present emotions.  I wrote and I wrote and I wrote until I realized I had come to the conclusion of my book; the conclusion of my trip itself.  I was the main character.  I had overcome my main conflict.  Now it was time to go home and jump back in to my real life.  

Australia was beautiful, like a dream.  But that's just it, it was more fantasy than reality.  I struggled to make ends meet, yes, but other than that I had no drama, no lasting relationships, no long-term residence, no town to call my own.  Back home awaited a huge mess of career options, friendship struggles, family obligations and insurance bills.  It was chaotic but at least it was real.  

Finally, after seven and a half months, I was ready to tackle the life I'd been given.  All of my demons had been battled and it was time to go home.  BUT I STILL HAD TASMANIA AND PERTH TO SEE!  There were two more stops on my list!  I wanted to see them but I also knew I would not be impressed with either of them in my current state of exhaustion.  

So I called Maggie, naturally and got her opinion on the whole ordeal.  Her answer was perfectly clear: "Haley, if you aren't having fun then go home.  There's nothing keeping you here."  She was right, I needed to give myself permission to let go of the things I didn't need.  Tasmania and Perth could wait for another time.  I had a life to live.  

On my Own

Alas, our trip as three friends came to an end.  I watched as Matthew and Patricia boarded the train that would take them to the Sydney airport.  They were flying home to the states, back to their family and loved ones.  Matthew had two weddings to be in and Patricia had two little boys who needed her.

It was hard to say goodbye but I knew I was going to be fine.  I have traveled alone many times and I actually find it to be quite a refreshing experience.  My first trip would begin the next morning on a three-hour train headed north of Sydney, to a town called Newcastle.  I had accommodation for four nights in Newcastle so I could attend a free writer's festival.  

 A scene from the writer's festival in Newcastle.

A scene from the writer's festival in Newcastle.

Newcastle was a lovely city with lots of creative mojo.  I walked all over downtown, going from venue to venue for each of the sessions I wanted to attend.  I was busy all day each day with panels, discussions and advice from other young writers.  The whole thing was very interesting and eye-opening.  While I learned a lot of practical advice, the better stuff I learned was things like, everyone struggles with writing and everyone compromises their creativity for the sake of money.  

Because I do not belong to a writer's community, I had previously thought I was alone in these struggles.  Perhaps the best lesson I learned while at the conference was: there is no such thing as a full-time writer.  

After four days of mind-reeling observations, it was time for me to hit the train back to Sydney.  I had another volunteer assignment, this one for a month with a woman and her elderly mother.  I would volunteer 3-4 hours a day and spend the rest of my time doing nothing but writing.  

As soon as I met Irina and her other helper, Mia, I felt as though I was a close friend of them both. They were so welcoming and accepting of me. They got right down to it and asked me about my writing and my time in Sydney. They even happened to bypass the whole awkward “where all have you been in Australia” introduction that I was sick of having. No, the conversation for us three was immediately real and meaningful. We talked about all cultures and what interested us about them. Mia was from Shanghai, China. Irina and her mother from a province near Russia. They moved to Australia in the early eighties as refugees and have been here ever since. Throw in my American background and that made for some fascinating and in-depth conversations.

 Visitors on Irina's balcony.  What a view! 

Visitors on Irina's balcony.  What a view! 

 

Irina's mother, Rita was seventy-three and had dementia. Upon meeting her I knew exactly how to interact. It was a flashback of my own grandmother who had passed almost three years ago to the day. I instantly loved her and I think she loved me too. She said she recognized me, which Irina took as meaning she felt comfortable with me.

All afternoon Irina, Mia and I worked on organizing the small apartment to fit four people into it. While we worked we took breaks often for tea and chatting. Rita lay on the bed and kept a smile to her face as she listened to us.
 

Mia had arrived just a week before me. This was her first stop in Australia and so everything was fresh and new to her. On the other hand, I was on my last leg and looking to make a strong finish by doing nothing but writing for one month. Irina was very understanding of this and told me that was my main job for the next day. To write

Watson's Bay

On Tuesday we took Pip's recommendations and planned our day around Watson's Bay. First we took a thirty minute bus ride down to the quay and then we rode a twenty-eight minute ferry to Watson's Bay. The ferry was much smaller than the one we rode on Kangaroo Island and that made the rocking much less severe. The boat seemed to go very fast at thirty miles per hour and I had just enough Dramamine in me to realize that the ferry was nice but also that I needed to sleep.

 

The view of the harbor from the ferry was excellent. It was nice to see the city from outside of it. Matthew and Patricia enjoyed standing in the fresh air while enjoying the view. When we arrived we took a look around. There were multiple fish and chip shops all around us but knowing Matthew, we couldn't just stop at the first one we saw.

 

As we searched for a good place to eat my Bertha hunger once again took over. "Ugh lets just eat here" I said as we approached the first restaurant off the ship. To my disappointment, Matthew and Patricia kept walking. I continued to protest until Matthew called me out on my desperation. "Haley, you're desperate right now, you aren't thinking clearly."

 Watson's Bay, Sydney

Watson's Bay, Sydney

 

"Yeah but we might as well just go in one. We don't have to have something that's perfect!" and to that his response was, "wow, why don't you apply that advice to your dating life."

 

For the next ten minutes we joked about my dating life, or lack of, and I enjoyed several cat references at my expense before we finally settled on a fish and chipery called Doyles. It was, as I may point out, the first restaurant we had approached after getting off the ferry.

 Matthew and Patricia in line for fish and chips!

Matthew and Patricia in line for fish and chips!

 

Lunch was quite delectable and the view of Sydney from our table was exquisite as well. After licking the fresh seafood from our lips we wandered inland around a winding sidewalk in search of a cliff Pip had told us about. Eventually we found some sort of cliff covered in grass and complete with benches for sitting. There were several people laid out on the grass enjoying the sun. We sat for a while too and wondered aloud what it would be like to own one of the fancy houses in front of us or to even have a one day's access to their private beaches.

After checking out a portion of the area we took a bus back to our apartment and called it a day.  We were all worn out and Patricia and Matthew had to pack for their trip back to the states! 

Sydney!

We arrived in Sydney around noon on Saturday, yet we didn't actually get out and explore much of the city until Monday. After twelve days of racing down the coast from Cairns to Byron Bay we were just a little bit exhausted. Other than two short walks to find food, we mostly spent our first forty-eight hours in Sydney resting in the comfort of our Airbnb apartment.

 

Our apartment's location was fanastic, though. We were just minutes away from Bondi Beach, one of the most famous beaches in the world. There is a walk from Bondi to Coogee, another nearby beach, that we stumbled upon one day. The entire 6k trail is full of beautiful beaches and Sydney scenery. Though we didn't do the full walk, we did enjoy the bits we saw!

 

Hyde Park

The next day we had regained all of our energies and so we made a full day out of seeing the sites of Sydney. We started at Hyde park and wandered through all of it's valor. This included the Anzac Memorial and the Barracks Museum.

 

 A beautiful site in Hyde Park

A beautiful site in Hyde Park

 

Next we walked through the Sydney Mint Museum and I squashed a penny for my grandpa.

Afterwards we found the Royal Botanical Gardens and though it was quite lovely, we all agreed that the one in Rockhampton was much more interesting. Still, there was a public art display going on called “Skin and Bones.” This told the history of the site, both that their used to be a building there and also that the aboriginal people used to inhabit the land in its natural state. Patricia and I found this rather fascinating.

 "Skin and Bones" at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney

"Skin and Bones" at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney

 A closer look at the shields that made up the exhibit.

A closer look at the shields that made up the exhibit.

 

Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge

As we walked onward and onward we were all surprised when all at once the archs of the Sydney Opera House filled the horizon and left us speechless. How wonderful it was to see such a famous icon. This was one of the scenes I had seen dozens of times but never in real life. To see it in person was truly phenomenal.

 The Sydney Opera House view from the Botanical Gardens walk way.

The Sydney Opera House view from the Botanical Gardens walk way.

 

I was even more surprised to find that the Sydney Bridge was right behind the Opera House. From the looks of the maps I had been studying it seemed as though the bridge was a bit farther from the Opera House. However, they are both huge structures and therefore they look closer than they are. We paused to admire both and then walked around and up the stairs to see the Opera House up close.

 

 Matthew and I in front of the bridge.  We made it!! 

Matthew and I in front of the bridge.  We made it!! 

Inside we found a gift shop full of the most wonderful souvenirs. After we spent way too much we walked back outside and down towards the Circular Quay. I'd read tons about the Circular Quay and everything around it. For months I had enjoyed saying the word “Quay” in my head. It was a nice word that sounded good to me. It wasn't until I said this outloud to an Australian that I realized the word was pronouned “key” and was the old enlgish spelling of the word.

 

El Camino

After viewing the bridge and the opera house we were all quite hungry. Patricia was already missing Mexican food as much as I was and so when google pulled up a Mexican recommendation we were all quick to jump on it.

 

What we found was an amazing place near the rocks called El Camino. Let me just say that this place serves the best margaritas and tacos in all of Australia. I will put my name to it because I have tried margaritas and tacos all over this country and up until now I couldn't recommend much at all.

 Coolest. Menus. Ever.

Coolest. Menus. Ever.

 YUM!

YUM!

The place had a classic rock vibe with spicy influences. The wall had flames painted on it and the chips were served out of an old el camino trunk. The coolest part was the menus, which were printed on the front and back of old records. We all gapped at how well this place would do in Southwest Oklahoma.

 

Contemporary Arts Museum

After a most satisfying lunch we went to the Contemporary Arts Museum. There we walked through an exhibit that examined the idea of time, both the western-thinking linear idea of it and also the idea that it continues on and on through reincarnation and other beliefs. The main description quoted one of my favorite philosophers, Khalil Jibran.

 

Just passed the description there stood a very large clock in the middle of the room. It's tick was loud and the hands moved mechanically to the sound. I watched for a while before Patricia called my attention to the backside of the clock. This was even more fascinating. I watched as the gears shifted and turned with each tick. How humbling it was to see that this was all that made up a clock. Just a few tiny mechanisms and that's all it took to control so much of our lives. We live by the clock. We work by the clock. We live for time and time is always fleeting. Time holds our fears and goals. Time holds the answers. Time will tell and it does. All of this went through my mind as the gears clicked. Left. Right. Click. Click. Click. Click.

 

My thoughts meandered more as we walked through the exhibits. I enjoyed a video that showed four people doing nothing but laughing. The idea was that humans are entertained by simply watching other people life. Quite often we will laugh along too, just because. The film was an hour long and though I didn't watch the full hour, I appreciated the concept of time and laughter being intertwined.

 

BBQ with AirBnb Host

After a full day of touring we rode the bus back to our AirBnb apartment in a nearby neighborhood.  Our host's name was Pip and he was a very friendly middle-aged man who was happy to share his home with us.  He suggested that we have a bbq dinner so we could better get to know each other and also the other couple our age who was staying in the apartment as well.  Together we all sat in his living room and had a wonderful time discussing our different cultures, religions and politics.  

Brisbane: Meow Meow

While in Brisbane, my friends and I had the wonderful opportunity to catch a live performance at the Brisbane Festival.  While driving into the city we did a quick google search and came across an intriguing description of a burlesque version of The Little Mermaid.  On a whim, we booked three tickets, showered, ate dinner and walked from our Brisbane hostel to the show at hand.  Below is my review of the show.  Hint: We LOVED it!!  Also, we couldn't take photos inside so I unfortunately have no photos.

 Matthew, Patricia and I before the show.  We clean up pretty well!

Matthew, Patricia and I before the show.  We clean up pretty well!

 

Meow Meow's little mermaid

At first the show was nothing but funny. The audience is introduced to a wailing and scattered, work out mermaid. A middle aged burlesque dancer crammed into and I'll-fitting longerie set that is ripped and haggard as she is. She theatrically wails out the first line, "this is a show about happiness."

 

The next few scenes show meow meow searching for love in all the wrong places. She makes light of a serious issue by pointing out her flaws and including the audience to laugh at them with her. Why can't she find a love that sticks? At first glance we think it's funny because her hair is a wild mess, her hose has holes in it, she's all over the place! But as the show goes on, so does the depth of the subject.

 

About midway meow meow pulls things out of the depths of the sea (her subconscious). She finds all the broken pieces of her past lovers. Out of the hole comes a mannequin's chest, an arm, a foot. She also pulls out a blow-up doll version of herself..complete with a large open mouth and massive inflators boobies. She explains that this was her younger self, eager to please for the pursuit of love. She then puts her younger self aside, near the back of the stage. She also fits together all the broken mannequin pieces to make one mid mangled sculpture, a symbol for all the things she liked from each of her former loves. All she wants is someone who speaks French but sings in German, someone with a great torso and a perfect rack and f course a sense of humor! Is that too much to ask? She says.

Together the mannequin mess and he blow up doll stand silently as symbols for the mess we have made of love. They are not moved or mentioned until later in the performance.

 

Several times, during her babbling and bawling and theatrical performance, she is interrupted by a standard Australian tradie in uniform. He says he's trying to fix the special effects. She wants bobbles and they aren't working! Every time he interrupts her she is irritated and short with him.

 

But then he appears in her fantasy. Meow has given up hope and sold herself to gain a pair of human legs. Love is sacrifice after all right? She gives up what makes her special in hopes of finding love. Deep into the hole she disappears until suddenly, she is brought up in a fish net. She fights and struggles and eventually makes her way to the surface where she awkwardly learns to walk. It just so happens that during this awkwardness a certain Prince Charming is watching. He is dressed in a glamorous romantic get up, complete with a shell covering or glorifying his crotch. He speaks poetically to her before she interrupts him and says his outfit is weird. He reminds her that it is the outfit she chose for her own fantasy and then continues. She stops him again to complain about his lines before he reminds her that she too wrote the lines. Eventually she decides he isn't perfected either. So she gives her blow up doll to him and sits alone to cry. She explains how being perfect and shiny can "wear a girl out". It wears you out! Again, she gives up to exhaustion.

 

During the final act meow is on the verge of a breakthrough. She finally sees the subject clearly! She is about to reveal her insight to the audience when the tradie pops back up to check on the sound system. She tells him to shut up and quickly tries to return to her performance, only to be overly interrupted by the tradie. She stops finally to listen and hears him compliment her singing and ask her out to karaoke. She giggles and then complains about something and walks over to find a cord on the stage. She curses and plugs in the chord and instantly the lights brighten and out from the ceiling come millions of bubbles. They float around us and fill the tent with a light and fun sensation. She bursts out in song as the tradie helps her on to a swing where she gracefully (for the first time in the show) swings and dances and sings. Love is all around us after all. All we can do is love. Everyday.

 

Byron Bay

That night we landed ourselves in the final destination of the road trip portion of our trip. Byron Bay. I don't know about Matthew and Patricia but I had looked forward to Byron more than any other place on the coast. For months and months I had heard about how awesome this place was. Everyone said it was the land of hippies; a cool, laid-back town with beautiful beaches

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The Best of East Coast Australia

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to do a road trip down the Australian east coast with three of my American friends! My friends flew over for a short holiday while I was in my seventh month of my Australian working holiday. Together we met in Cairns and rented a car for our trip. In just three short weeks we drove south until we hit Byron Bay. Throughout our travels I saw some of the most beautiful beaches and scenery in Australia. Here are my top five favorite sites:


 

1. Noosa Heads National Park- After being in Australia for several months it feels as though I've been on a few dozen bush walks and nature hikes. All of these have been beautiful but nothing compares to the Noosa Heads National Park coastal trail. This trail was so unique because it gave the best view of both forrest and beaches. The trail was very well marked and easy to navigate so the sole focus was on taking in the beautiful scenery around us. There were even several coves we hiked down to so we could sit on the rocks in the midst of the ocean spray. Definitely do this walk if you have a chance!
 

 Noosa Heads National Park

Noosa Heads National Park

 

2. Nimbin- I've had a million people tell me how awesome Byron Bay is but to be honest, I was disappointed in Byron. What caught my fancy was the nearby town of Nimbin. Nimbin is the coolest hippie town I've ever been in. The town is small so you only need a few hours but the shops are fun and quirky and the people are laid back and open-minded. We spent the afternoon here and I would have stayed longer had we not been on a schedule. Read our story.

 Patricia on the streets of Nimbin.

Patricia on the streets of Nimbin.

 

3. Airlie Beach- Airlie Beach is another severely underrated location. Most people arrive in Airlie as a gateway to the Whitsundays. My friends saved money instead and spent three days and three nights in Airlie Beach. The atmosphere was very beachy and we really enjoyed walking in and out of shops and restaurants in between our leisurely walks to the beach.

 Read my posts on Airlie here.

 Airlie Beach, QLD

Airlie Beach, QLD

 

4. Rockhampton Botanical Gardens- I was in Rockhampton several times before I saw the beauty in it. Being the steak capital of Australia you wouldn't think you'd find a lovely garden here but the Rockhampton Botanical Gardens are a lovely way to spend a few hours time. Most of the plants are marked so you can learn more about the Australian plant nature while you are there. The best part is that it's all free! More on Rocky...

 One of the tallest trees at the Rockhampton Botanical Gardens

One of the tallest trees at the Rockhampton Botanical Gardens

 

5. Tewantin Bush Camp- Just outside of Noosa Heads there lies an awesome bush camp designed for backpackers. For just $15 per night you can camp out in the bush like an original pioneer. Even the kitchen and lounge room are set up in large tents so you really feel like you're camping only with extra amenities. We really enjoyed our stay at the bush camp and thought it to be a most unique experience. Read our experience.

 Here was our room for the night! 

Here was our room for the night! 

 

Overall our east coast trip was quite pleasurable. We also enjoyed Hervey Bay, Surfer's Paradise and Brisbane. Queensland is full of wonderful opportunities and places to see, even for cheap or free!   

Nimbin

Nimbin.  The land of dreadlocks, weed and rainbows.

As the story goes, many moons ago a bunch of hippies were tired of living with the rest of society.  They wanted their own space to do with what they wanted.  This was a group of highly creative and relaxed individuals.  What happened next was they founded a small mountain community and called it Nimbin, which means "little man who lives on a mountain."

The result is one awesome little town full of hippies who live by their own rules.  Everyone is peaceful and laid back and no one tries to upset this.  

Our first taste of Nimbin was checking into our hostel.  The hostel was at the end of a long dirt road on top of a hill that overlooked the most beautiful valley I'd ever seen.  

True to the city around it, our hostel was the best we'd stayed at.  There were no room keys.  No wifi password.  Essentially the only rule was to chill and be chill.  This was such a change from the party-all-night attitude at Byron Bay and Surfer's Paradise.  

There was a small number of people staying in the hostel and most of them had been there for a week or more already which made the experience feel more like a house stay than a hostel visit.  Still, our beds were comfy and the crowd was friendly.  The next morning I enjoyed meeting the long-term stays while drinking tea and discussing American conspiracy theories.  One guy told me he had checked in for a two-night stay and now has been here for four months.  I could totally see why.  I couldn't help but think what a writing oasis this place could have been for me if I had the chance to stay longer.   

 

Before we knew it it was already 10:30. The Nimbin time slip was already happening to us.  We had been warned that it would happen but I didn't expect it to begin immediately.  After packing our bags and telling our new friends goodbye, we drove the short distance into town.

It was awesome.  

 Patricia on the streets of Nimbin.

Patricia on the streets of Nimbin.

Nimbin reminded me of a smaller, ampted-up version of Eureka Springs.  I loved it.  I could have spent the remainder of my trip there and I would have been happy.  Everyone was so friendly.  The shops were painted all colors of the rainbow and everyone had dreadlocks and peace signs. There was definitely a heavy pot culture. Lots of people on the street asked if we wanted pot.  We simply explained we would be in a plane tomorrow and in a car this afternoon. 

 

For those of you wondering, marijuana is still illegal in Australia.  I was told that certain states allow the growth of up to two personal plants on private property but these plants are not to be smoked in public.  

While we were in Australia we were pulled over several times for RBT's (Random Breath Test) this means that the law enforcement will do a random road block, pulling drivers out of their cars and swabbing their mouth.  The mouth swab not only indicates blood alcohol level, but it can also detect if marijuana has been in your system any time over the past 30 days.  If they find anything, you're immediately fined.  Needless to say, we passed on pot.

 I found another place to add my Trader Tom's sticker! 

I found another place to add my Trader Tom's sticker! 

 

After I got my full on hippie shops full of tie dye, toe rings and headwraps, we stopped for lunch. We talked Matthew into getting his palm read by a tarot lady. That ended up a 45 minute adventure that Patricia and I were excused from. Instead we wandered through the shops we had previously missed. When we finished we picked Matthew up and the lady asked me if I formerly did aerobics or gymnastics, I said yes and she told me my tendons wouldn't be fully formed until 28. Mine were overly stretchy and I needed to hold off on sports. The three of us laughed because Matthew and Patricia and I had discussed this very thing just two days earlier. They told me I needed to seek professional help and this lady now confirmed it. I have always worried about the many creeks and cracks of my very young body but I ignored them out of convenience. Now here were two blatant signs that I needed to start taking better care of myself.

 

While the lady was talking to me I couldn't help but hold back giggled. It seemed as though I was experiencing the Nimbin high. My head was light and tingly and the world was wavy around me. Only I hadn't smoked anything. This was a different high. I had taken a quarter Dramamine immediately after lunch because I thought we were leaving. It had now been one hour and the effects of the medicine were in full force. It was time for my nap to take me to a happy place. 

Noosa Heads/Surfer's Paradise

The next morning we woke up and drove a short fifteen minutes into Noosa Heads. This was a cool beach town with lots of shops and cafes along the well-known Hastings Street. We wanted to try some of the lovely smelling cuisine but we just couldn't afford anything. Instead we went in town and found a cafe called “Eat Me” where we had a beautiful lunch for just ten dollars.

 

Though the food was wonderful, the best part about Noosa was the National Park trail walk. All along the beach there is a long trail walk in Noosa National Park that perfectly combines the two worlds of forest and beach.

 A cloudy but beautiful day at Noosa National Park.

A cloudy but beautiful day at Noosa National Park.

 

We walked several k's along this trail, enjoying the beautiful views of both ocean and earth. I couldn't believe the magnificence of the scene around me.

 

The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely drive from Noosa Heads headed south. We didn't exactly have a plan as to where we would end up, but we knew from stopping at an information booth that there were several small and wonderful towns that we needed to drive through.

 

First on the map was a place called Eumundi. We didn't stop but just from driving through I could see that this was an adorable artsy town. Had I been with other art lovers we might have stopped to see some of the galleries.

 The welcome sign for Eumundi was adorable!

The welcome sign for Eumundi was adorable!

 

The scenery for the drive felt like a tropical Arkansas. The roads were green and windy with big beautiful mountain views. Gorgeous multi level houses lined the sides of the road like jewels in a crown. I think we enjoyed looking at the architecture as much as anything.

 

The next town was Mapleton. The town itself wasn't so remarkable but just outside of town we found Mapleton National Park and took a very brisk walk down one of the trails there.

 Matthew and Patricia hot on the trail!

Matthew and Patricia hot on the trail!

 

Outside of the next town, Montville, we stopped and took some amazing pictures at a lookout over the town. The view was fascinating.

 

 A view from the Monteville lookout.

A view from the Monteville lookout.

Our favorite small mountain town was that of Maleny. Here we at lunch at the bicentennial park before walking around downtown. The town was small but absolutely adorable. There were lots of neat shops including several bookstores and an old fashioned fudge store.

 The Maleny Fudge Store

The Maleny Fudge Store

 

There were several neat sites around town that gave Maleny a unique charm. I found it to be quite a liveable area.

 

As we continued our drive through the Glasshouse Mountains we soon found a short hike up Beerburrum Mountain, A.K.A. The death hike. The trail was only 1.4 kilometers including the return, but it was also classified as a class four hike, meaning the entire thing was a very steep incline that was almost impossible to climb. Patricia and I “felt the burn” after only a few steps. Matthew's personal training background kicked in as he tried to motivate us up the mountain. Despite his encouraging attempts we all had to take sever breaks both on the way up and the way down. I wouldn't recommend doing this hike in flip-flops by the way.

 This was one of our many breaks along the way..

This was one of our many breaks along the way..

 

When we collapsed in the car afterwards we drove for a couple of hours before stopping again.  Eventually we looked up and found ourselves entering Surfer's Paradise. Matthew and I chuckled as we realized our journey had come full circle. We were back to the beginning. Back to square one. Our first week in Australia was spent in Surfer's Paradise. Everything was new and shiny. We had knew next to nothing about this great country and now here we were again, seven months later. Matthew had just one week left in Australia and by some strange coincidence he was ending it where it began.

 

We called the nearest hostel and found a room for the night. Our roommate was a Kiwi who acted just like the guys on Jersey Shore. He said he had been sober for two out of the last thirty days and he wasn't planning on stopping any time soon. We all laughed at the irony between us and our roommate. He was ready to go all night and we were fighting to stay awake past nine o'clock. As an added effort in staying up, we decided to walk down to the beach. It was already dark out but we couldn't resist the Surfer's Paradise night air.

 

The ocean air was very refreshing. The three of us looked over the edge of the rail and gazed at the ocean. We walked up and down the sidewalks and ended the night with a drink at Beergarden, the same bar Matthew and I had our first Australian drink at seven months earlier.

Tewantin Bush Camp

On the morning we left Hervey Bay we found ourselves engaged in a conversation with one of our ten roommates. He was a Scotsman who was traveling the coast in the reverse direction as us. He told us of a bush camp outside of Noosa Heads and told us it was worth staying at for a night, plus it was only $15 each. With this suggestion we planned our day.

 

First we drove through the town of Gympie where we enjoyed a nice chat with the information booth worker. We also took a leisurely stroll around the park and admired the beautiful ducks and several black swans.

 Black Swans in the park at Gympie

Black Swans in the park at Gympie

 

For lunch we enjoyed $2 cheeseburgers from McDonald's. The sale was just for Snapchat users. Patricia had found the filter on her own Snapchat and that's how we saved money for lunch!

 

Around four o'clock we landed in Tewantin, home of the bush camp. When we pulled up to the camp it was all I could do to keep from making redneck jokes. There were rundown trailers and old tents strung about everywhere. As we drove further in the trees grew taller and the tents grew more uniform and clean. Finally we saw the bush camp which was just that, an old-fashioned pioneer camp complete with a kitchen housed under a tin roof and a lounge area under a green army tent.

 Our private room at the Tewantin Bush Camp

Our private room at the Tewantin Bush Camp

 

Even our room was simply four bunks in a tent. Still, the unique feel was worth the stay. Flashbacks of the outback filled my mind as I remembered the joys and despairs of camping. No air conditioner, no heater and now no bug spray either.

 Patricia modeling our unique beds..

Patricia modeling our unique beds..

 

Before dinner we tried to go on a nearby bush walk but discovered the trail was hard to follow and we didn't want to get too lost before nightfall. The bush was thick and the bugs were thicker so we turned back towards camp and found our way to the lounge room.

 One of the picturesque scenes from our bush walk.

One of the picturesque scenes from our bush walk.

 

Naturally, the other campers were watching an American film about guns and racism in Los Angeles. While watching the movie we made friends with some British campers who were here for a kayak tour that was leaving early the next morning. Apparently we were the only three campers who weren't going on the kayak tour. It sounded really fun but it was a full day of kayaking and we had more coast to cover before the end of the week.

 A bushcamp style lounge room.

A bushcamp style lounge room.

 

For dinner we boiled chicken and fresh veggies we had purchased from a local farm stand on the side of the road. The meal was amazing and very fresh tasting.

 

That night we slept like army cadets in our small tent. Once in the middle of the night I had to walk clear across camp to use the restroom. That was when I remembered the reality of camping wasn't so glamorous. At least I didn't have to use the bush!

 

 

Hervey Bay

Our plan was to stay in Hervey Bay for 1-2 days. However, as you may have gathered by now, our plans never seem to stick. Hervey Bay is the gateway town to Frasier Island, which was definitely on our list. Well, at least it was until we found out that tours to Frasier started around $200 each and that was just for a day trip! So once again our froogality won out and instead we enjoyed the wonderful city of Hervey Bay and the awesome hostel that resided within it.

 

Our hostel was very unique. The front property contained free walking chickens, peacocks and guinnea fowl. There were several ponds as well that contained geese and ducks. The place was so lovely that we spent most of our time just enjoying the free wifi and nature (simeltaneously, of course.)

 One of the chickens in residence at our hostel. 

One of the chickens in residence at our hostel. 

 

Eventually we mustered our strength to make to the beach. It was low tide here as well so the view wasn't beautiful but that didn't stop us from laying in the sand all afternoon.

 

Perhaps the best part of Hervey Bay beach is the pier. Actually there are several piers that jet out into the ocean, but there is one main pier that is nearly one kilometer in length. Matthew and Patricia and I walked the entire length of this pier and by the time we reached the end we were exhausted. The pier seemed to go on forever but along the way we enjoyed watching seagulls and fishermen.

 The famous pier at Hervey Bay.

The famous pier at Hervey Bay.

 

By the time we walked the pier it was nearing sundown. We still had a two hours drive to our next destination and yet we weren't even sure if we had a place to stay once we got there. After a few phone calls we learned that the hostels in Noosa were full and since it was so late our best option was to stay another night in Hervey Bay.

 

So instead of rushing to another town we relaxed at our nature-loving hostel and cooked ourselves a delicious gnocchi, spam and asparagus dish for dinner.

Rockhampton

Just as expected, our time with Jacob was short and sweet. Thursday morning consisted of repacking our bags and getting Jacob to the airport on time. The whole thing was very surreal. It seemed as though I hadn't quite yet fully realized the fact that he was actually here with us, in Australia and yet he was already leaving. I felt like an emotional goodbye was in order, but it was all so quick that it almost seemed...casual.

 

By eleven o'clock Matthew, Patricia and I were on Bruce Highway heading down the coast. This was our main driving day with the longest stretch of road with nothing exciting in between. Matthew and I had flashbacks of our outback excursion. This was similar in the lack of stops yet the scenery was much more engaging. Everything was green and there were green mountains to gaze at.

 

I will say that Queensland is very creative in their driver safety precautions. In the outback we commonly saw signs that would bluntly read, “DROWSY DRIVERS DIE.” The Bruce Highway had a softer approach. Every several kilometers we were presented with a trivia question followed by the correct answer several k's later. This was quite fun for all of us.

 

The longest stretch of nothing lasted for three hours. Our total road time was around six hours. By the end of the day we were in a familiar place—a city we had spent nearly twenty four combined hours in, yet somehow knew nothing about—Rockhampton. Matthew and I shared a twelve hour layover in the Rocky airport on our way to Emerald. We also flew out of this same airport just six days earlier. Needless to say we didn't have a good taste in our mouths towards Rocky, however we kept an open mind and made the most of it.

 

The hostel we stayed in was very quite and friendly. The man at the front desk pointed us towards the downtown district for a steak special. Being a big player in the beef industry, Rockhampton is known for it's steaks so this was a must-do. What we found was a five dollar steak special at a groovy place called, The Giddy Goat. Steaks were five dollars and each side was one dollar. This was a great bargain that we all took advantage of. The steaks were decent and the price was delightful.

 A famous Rocky steak! 

A famous Rocky steak! 

 

Afterwards we took a stroll down the dimly lit streets. The shops were all closed, (which was fortunate because we wouldn't have been able to afford anything in them anyways.)

 

The next morning we found more reasons to change our attitude towards Rockhampton. The city had a free zoo and botanical garden, both of which we took advantage of. The Zoo was one of the nicest I've seen. It was clean and well kept. The paths for walking were well groomed and the animal displays were unique.

 Parrots at the Rockhampton Zoo.

Parrots at the Rockhampton Zoo.

 

We enjoyed looking at parrots, ducks and swans in the bird exhibit.  Afterwards, Patricia got to see her first Aussie kangaroo and I saw a first too. One of the kangaroos had a baby joey in their pouch! This was a great thing to see!

 See the little joey?

See the little joey?

 

I also got a close up view of a wombat, something Maggie and I didn't get a good glimpse of at the sanctuary on Kangaroo Island.

 Patricia and the Koala seat

Patricia and the Koala seat

 

Aside from the monkeys and otters and koalas, I was also very impressed to see a dingo for the first time. This was another good addition to our list of Australian animals we'd seen.

 A dingo! 

A dingo! 

 

After the zoo we strolled on towards the botanical gardens. I was glad I had spent so much time learning about plants and vegetation with Chris, because I felt as though I respected the gardens much more. We each enjoyed looking at the fascinating different types of trees, bushes and flowers. There was even a wonderful Japanese section, complete with a waterfall.

 One of the tallest trees in the Botanical Gardens. 

One of the tallest trees in the Botanical Gardens. 

 

Before leaving Rocky we had a familiar tuna sandwich lunch on the bay to enjoy the view. Our drive from Rockhampton led us to Hervey Bay, the gateway to Fraser Island.

Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach is the gateway town to one of the world's prettiest group of islands, The Whitsundays. Originally, we wanted to spend our days doing a tour of the Whitsundays. But by the time we arrived we realized Airlie was way less expensive and just as cool as the Whitsundays. 

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An Australian-American Roadtrip

Monday morning was another early one for our group. We picked up at the rental car at seven and celebrated when all of our American-sized suitcases fit in the trunk without problem. Being young and broke we decided to skip the car insurance, something that the clerk pointed out as a “Four thousand dollar gamble”. This gave us plenty of leverage to keep Matthew on his toes while driving the seven and a half hours to Airlie Beach. Every bump in the road was a potential “four thousand dollar threat!” Every wrong turn. Every pothole. Four. Thousand. Dollars.

 

We started our trip by eating a four stop breakfast at the first place Google recommended. It was called Spoons and it was amazing. Patricia and I had French Toast, Matthew had a brekkie roll and Jacob had a great omelet.

 Breakfast at Spoons in Cairns, QLD

Breakfast at Spoons in Cairns, QLD

 

On the road everything felt very familiar. Aside from the palm trees and mountains, the stretches of long flat land looked like Oklahoma and the music we all agreed on was none other than Red Dirt. Oh, I had missed this music. Jacob was playing DJ and Matthew, Patricia and I took turns yelling out our favorite Red Dirt requests for the playlist.

 

At one point Patricia and Jacob insisted on playing ONLY Turnpike Troubador, to which Patricia shouted out “this is the FOUR THOUSANDTH Troubador song! Change it!” We all had a good laugh at that one.

 

Throughout the ride I felt a blending of America and Australia. Matthew and I shared facts about life and travel in Australia and Jacob and Patricia told us the latest news from Oklahoma, like the fact that Lawton was getting a Fuzzy's Taco shop and Casey Donahue was playing in Wichita Falls soon. It was good to mix the two and catch up on everything we had missed over the past six months apart.

 

 Just as any great Australian road trip, we had to stop and take a picture with the giant roadside attractions.  This one just happened to be a mango! 

 Jacob, Patricia and Matthew holding up the giant mango.

Jacob, Patricia and Matthew holding up the giant mango.

 

The view was mostly tropical. There were miles and miles of sugarcane and banana plantations and big smoky mountains covered in thick hunter green coats. When we made it towards central Queensland the roads curved around a led us down a beautiful path that had trees on each side of it. Just as the trees opened up we were greeted by a sign that welcomed us to Airlie Beach.

 One of the beautiful parks in Airlie Beach 

One of the beautiful parks in Airlie Beach 

 

The town was way better than I had expected. Up high on the mountains were dozens of beautiful two story beach homes, to the east there was a big beautiful ocean full of fishing boats and yachts and all around us, in the middle of town there were beach shops, live music venues and dozens of restaurants and travel shops. The excitement was centralized and charming and everything was within walking distance from our accommodation. We all stared in facinsation before vocalizing our thoughts.

 

“This place is awesome!”

 

“I could chilll here.”

 

“I think this is going to be a really fun town.”

 

As we walked into our two-dollars-extra-special room we were all amazed. Apparently the two extra dollars paid for quite a bit. The room was very spacious and included our own private bathroom, a mini fridge, a television set and a private balcony. It was more like a hotel than a hostel and by far the nicest room we had stayed in yet. We each chose our beds, Matthew and Jacob taking the bunks and Patricia and I splitting the queen, then we looked at the view on the balcony and decided this would be a great place to spend the remainder of our time as a foresome together. We'd be here for three nights and then we would take Jacob to the airport right outside of town. It would be a quick but fun few days.

How I Afford to Stay in Australia

I've been asked a time or two, “What is a Working Holiday?” Actually, I've more accurately been asked “what in the world are you doing,” and “how do you afford to stay in Australia for so long?” I think the common misconception is that I quit my day job so I could come to Australia and lie on a beach all day doing nothing. While that would be wonderful, it's not exactly what I'm doing.

 

Before I explain what a working holiday is, I'd like to explain what it isn't. First of all, my parents didn't build up a trust fund for me to travel on. They don't send me money every month and they didn't give me a large inheritance in order to make this trip possible. I worked a full-time job for two years. Of those two years I spent the last eight months saving 35% of each check for this trip. On top of my regular forty hours, I also held a part time job for six months leading up to this trip. 100% of that income went into savings. On top of these two jobs, I also spent several Saturdays building up and tearing down my booth space at art shows where I sat in the sun all day in hopes of selling a few paintings. As you may have guessed, these earning went straight to the pot as well.

 

In all, I was putting back close to $900 each month. While this sounds like a lot, I will mention I had to pay a $1000 flight here and a $1500 payment to the travel company who is sponsoring my trip (more about that later) before I ever left the states. I also booked our first week's transportation and accommodation beforehand. So before I ever left Oklahoma, I had already put down $3000 of my hard-earned money. The remaining bit in my savings account was what I lived off of for the first six weeks of traveling. This paid for hotels, busses, flights and meals along my way to Kangaroo Island, where I would begin working again. I'd also like to mention that my tax return and Christmas bonus covered things like my final phone bill and a small sum to cover monthly fees in my checking account back home. If you look at it this way, I worked really hard for six-months in exchange for six weeks of travel. After that, I went back to work.

 

While my Facebook pictures may show all the fun in the sun parts, I also work very hard to stay over here. I spend about a third of my time working (work three months = travel one month). Some of the work isn't even paid, it's just in exchange for room and board. The bottom line is just as the Bible says, if you don't work, you don't eat.

 

I worked as a manager on Kangaroo Island for three months. It was monotonous, hard work. I did things like pulling black hairs off of shower walls, scrubbing toilets and handling the crabby customers who didn't like the burgers I cooked. I had a five minute time limit on my personal showering and more than once I had smile and listen as old ladies read off a list of everything I was doing wrong. While working during this three month period I didn't spend much either. Food and accommodation were included in my paycheck and the only shopping I did was a few small purchases like watercolor paints and drawing pens. At the end of my job period I had saved around $200, which was enough to travel on for another six weeks.

 

During the first three weeks of travel after Kangaroo Island I am proud to say I spent a total of only $350 dollars. That's $116 a week! This was possible because my friends and I traveled very sensibly through the outback. We stayed at free campsites, cooked our own meals and avoided expensive tours.

 

My ten day trip to Bali cost less than $500 total and that is because Bali is a very cheap travel destination, also, again, I was very froogle. However, by the end of the Bali vacation I getting low on my finances so Matthew and I began looking for work. What we found instead was volunteer opportunities. Many people are happy to house and feed backpackers in exchange for 4-6 hours work around the property. This is helpful because it saves me money on having to buy a room at a hostel or a $15 meal. I call it, the art of remaining financially neutral. I'm not spending any money, but I'm not making any money either. After a few weeks of coasting neutral, I did find work in Queensland, where I worked eight hour days, six days a week for three weeks. This brought my account up enough that I am now able to enjoy three weeks of travel with my friends. After these three weeks I will in fact, go back to work so I can finish my journey around the country.

 

Some of you may be surprised to learn that I haven't struck it rich while in Australia. I've learned to live on less. A lot less. I have one suit case and out of that suitcase I live. When I first packed my suitcase I thought it was nearly impossible to live off of so little. Now that I am six months in, I feel like I should have packed a lot less. Things that I love like make-up, hair products, jewelry and art are simply not in my budget while I am traveling. I also don't have room for these things in my suitcase. This means I haven't bought any fancy things or new clothes while I've been over here. If anything I've gotten rid of clothes and sent jewelry back home! The idea is that I spend very little except by way of traveling from one destination to another. This is what makes the dream possible and keeps me over here!

 

All this to say, I'm not on a year-long vacation. I'm not rich. I wasn't rich before I left and I'm not going to be rich when I come home. Despite the beautiful beaches on my Instagram posts, I'm spending very little while touring this beautiful nation and what I do spend I work really hard for. This is a Working Holiday and this is what I am doing. Working on holiday.

Garden. Pray. Love.

During our three weeks in Emerald I did a variety of jobs. I did everything from spring cleaning to gardening and from mustering cattle to staining furniture. Matthew kept even busier than me. He ran a chainsaw, sprayed fertilizer around the vineyard, built a pond pump and designed a mulching area as well.

 

For me, I think the most rewarding job was helping Chris in her flower gardens. I have wanted to learn more about gardening flowers but haven't yet had the time to do the research. With Chris I learned the art of gardening and how it can be done by anyone with a willing hand. She taught me about pruning and retraining vines, transplanting plants and mulching. I also learned how to move plants around so they are appealing to the eye. Many afternoons we would look at one flower bed, find the plants that were overgrown or clustered and then move them to a less crowded bed where they could shine brighter. At the beginning of our stay I didn't know many flower names at all, but now I feel as though I know most of the names of Chris's flowers and I have begun my own list (complete with a Pinterest board) of the types of flowers and herbs I'd like to plant when I return home.

 

My enthusiasm for gardening only grew throughout our stay in Emerald. I caught myself dreaming of walking through beautiful flowers and plants and I even painted several watercolor paintings of different types of flowers (Check my Instagram). Yes, I think Chris might have awakened in me yet another hobby.

 

 Pink Lavender, from Chris' garden.

Pink Lavender, from Chris' garden.

 One of her many beautiful, vine-covered archways. 

One of her many beautiful, vine-covered archways. 

 

Each day we'd come home from work at five and I would cook dinner for Matthew and David and I. After which we would watch a show or two on TV, play ping pong with Grant or sit around a campfire. We didn't do anymore touring because Matthew and I were trying our hardest to save all of our money for our upcoming east coast trip with Jacob and Patricia. They would be arriving in just a few short days and we would be partaking in another three weeks of travel. Every. Dime. Counts. When you're budget traveling.

 

So on our few days off we were happy to sit around the accommodation, making phone calls to our friends back home and reading whatever books we had left from our last hostel visit. This was particularly easy to do because for the first time on our seven month journey, we had our own private rooms! Mine had a desk, a closet and everything. I haven't been so excited in a long time (okay, since I saw the huge easel). This small gift of privacy gave me plenty of time to read and write, things I had missed enormously while rambling around the top end of Oz.

 

In my little room, I finished reading Eat Pray Love. Though I had to make myself read it, (I'm not usually a fan of best-sellers) it was actually a really good book. To my surprise I found Elizabeth Gilbert's journey quite similar to my own in many aspects. I have spent many hours laying out the structure for my book about my travels and Eat Pray Love mimicked that closely. I'm not sure if that is a good sign, meaning I know more about writing than I thought, or if it is a bad sign, meaning my storyline may be too similar to other books that have already been written. Either way I will spend a month putting my words on paper beginning in October. But first I must head north to Cairns for a three week road trip with some AWESOME American friends!   

The Future of Farming: Agricultural Robots

Since Matthew and I finished our work with Chris and Neville on Thursday, we took our last day in Emerald as a chance to finally see these robots where David, Grant and our new roommate Hans spend most of their waking hours.

 

If you'll remember from previous posts, I explained that Neville is a farm financial advisor. He and Chris have invested in a new invention which will bring agriculture into the new age.  These robots perform much like the small automatic vacuum cleaners that wiz around your house cleaning for you. The robots I am talking about, however are much, much larger.

 

These robots are going to replace much of the heavy machinery needed to run farm operations.  They are designed to roam around farmer's pastures, locate weeds and spray them all on their own. The technology is new and so the inventor hired people like Grant to code and program the robots, while people like David weld the metal together and make sure everything is structurally sound. This project has been going on for several years and is now in the final stages of working out the kinks. Neville has been flying across the country, pitching the business idea to different companies. I had heard plenty about these robots and so the chance to see them was something I didn't want to pass up.

 

When we arrived a Dutch intern named Dini greeted us and showed us to the office where she and Grant did computer work. Grant focused on programing while she focused on testing the machines. After a quick look at Grant's impressive keyboard setup, we headed to the barn where I saw my first Case International combine on Australian soil. Just beyond the combine there was a buggy with a box of chemicals on the back of it, Dini pointed out that this was the original prototype for the robots.

 Grant, explaining his keyboard to us.  (Sorry it's blurry..)

Grant, explaining his keyboard to us.  (Sorry it's blurry..)

 

As we continued walking we eventually stopped at the sight of two orange machines that were properly named Charlie 1 and Charlie 2. These were the third generation designs that were currently being tested and improved. As I stopped to stare and take it all in I realized that I was literally looking at the future of world-wide agriculture.  This was innovative technology that was barely on the market, yet it was such a great idea I knew it wouldn't be long before it was the market.

 

 Charlie 2, the latest and greatest model from Swarm Farm.

Charlie 2, the latest and greatest model from Swarm Farm.

Dini began answering my questions about the machine as quickly as I fired them.  I learned that the machine operates on a GPS similar to that which runs tractors now days. The GPS learns the coordinates and measurements of each individual field and the obstacles that lie within the field. This gives the robot an exact area to cover.

 

At the opposite end of the computer parts there is what looks like a chemical sprayer or a boom. Just under each sprayer there are small white boxes with a form of technology that scans the earth in search of certain plants. When a plant (weed) is found, the scanner tells the system to spray the needed chemicals while avoiding the plants around it. Here lies the magic.  The machine is able to both spot spray and blanket spray meaning the work it can do is versatile.  Not only could a farmer spray for weeds with this technology, but they could also set up the robots to go out and spray an entire field of crops with fertilizer.  

 

The entire system is designed to free up the amount of work and machinery it takes farmers to spray their fields.  An example of this is sod farmers.  Sod farmers grow grass with the intention of cutting it into strips and selling it for people's front lawns.  One important rule for grass cutting is that it is supposed to be cut at night so the grass won't burn from too much sun exposure.  A small time farmer doesn't have the time to work all day and all night, neither do they have the extra money to hire someone to come cut during the night.  With this technology the farmer can rig up the robot to spray fertilizer on the grass during the day and then at night he can switch out the end piece and set the machine to cut the grass overnight while he sleeps.  This is how one machine can help raise the efficiency for a single family farm.  This should maximize results while minimizing human error.  

 

After grasping the back end of the machine, I moved to the front and asked Grant to point out the insides of the machine. Inside I found a ton of wires, a wifi modem and the workings of the GPS. There was even a small computer which holds all of the codes Grant writes and submits via wifi connection. Brilliant!

Each wire ran from the computer to the sprayer, specifically knowing how much to spray when and where depending on the coding entered into the machine.  There are even depth and humidity sensors that tell the machine how deep to plow and plant.  This is all possible by changing the back end of the machine.  

 The brains of the machine.

The brains of the machine.

 

It is a hydrostatic machine. Meaning it's all run by hydraulic systems rather than axles and transmissions. (While I've had many lessons on the mechanics of all this, I won't embarrass myself by trying to explain it all here.) 

 

On the front of the machine there are bumpers that automate a halt should the machine run into anything. This is where I really started to see the vacuum robot analogy.  While this is very handy should the machine run into an unidentified object, it is also the last defence mechanism for the machine.  With the GPS and sensor technologies it is unlikely that the machine will run into things.  As I mentioned earlier, major obstacles within each field are programmed into the system before it ever begins working.  You wouldn't want to tear up a new machine! 

 One of the front bumpers.

One of the front bumpers.

 

In the middle of our tour a friendly face introduced himself as Andrew and shook hands with both Matthew and I before retreating to his office for a Skype meeting. I later learned that Andrew is the brains and operation of the entire project. Being a farmer with a background in sales of sorts, he and his wife came up with the idea to increase the efficiency of farming. The idea started with his frustrations of the recent farming trends that he calls “a race to see who can get the biggest and fastest equipment on the market.” But what Andrew is doing at Swarm Farms, is creating a machine that is one sixteenth of the weight of industry standard machines.

 

Because the robots are small and lightweight, they can do a more detailed and efficient job than the larger machines. The robots are also designed to run slowly and smoothly 24/7 so they can ensure high quality results. Andrew's vision is to bring the technology age where it hasn't quite gone yet—to the farm.

 

The commercial launch just began in March of this year and Neville, being the Director of Business Development, has been a huge part in getting the business off the ground. Grant, too, has been a major part of the developing. I learned his official title is “Mechatronics Engineer.” Talk about a great post-college gig!

 

As I tried to soak in the hugeness of this operation, I couldn't help but think how lucky I was to see the ground roots of this operation up close. I have no doubt that this is a very real future for agriculture. Investors in Japan and China have already shown interest in the technology and I will delight in the day that I see these robots swarm around Oklahoma.   

To learn more you can check out www.swarmfarm.com. 

Grape Stuff

For several days Matthew's job was to tend to the wires that surrounded the grape vines in the vineyard. For hours on end he would tighten the straps, check the irrigation system and ensure each wire was exactly where it should be. On a few occasions I helped as well, getting the smallest taste of grape farming.

 The vineyard.

The vineyard.

 

One day at lunch Chris explained the difference between a table grape vineyard and a winery vineyard. Theirs was a table grape vineyard and I had been wondering the difference for a while. Apparently winery grapes need cooler weather than table grapes. She also explained that table grapes require a lot more attention towards disease control, as their focus is round, healthy, good-looking grapes, where as wineries kind of thrive off of disease and use that towards the wine making.

 

Matthew asked how the process of grape picking goes and so Chris continued to give information. She explained that 6-8 pickers are brought through an agent. The pickers would arrive in late September to pick the grapes from the vines. The whole process of picking is very strategic. The handling of grapes is very fragile work because if the grapes get bruised or bumped too hard the outer film will bust, making a less eye-appealing grape. Pickers have to learn quick and be quick, for they get paid by the box. If the pickers don't catch on to the system of things within the first week, they are often released from work.

 

Each picker fills a wooden box full of grapes as they work through the vineyard. As the boxes are brought in to the shed, Chris and a couple of other helpers weigh the boxes and record which picker picked which box. She then periodically does quality checks to make sure the pickers are accurately handling the grapes. After going through the appropriate checks, the grapes are put upon pallets that go into a cold room, where the temperature of the grapes drops to 4 degrees Celsius. This stops the ripening and seals the grapes. From there a truck will pick up the palettes once a day and take them to a distributor in Melbourne or Sydney.

 Matthew, checking the wires and posts.

Matthew, checking the wires and posts.

 

I found the whole process fascinating. The only thing I could compare it to was wheat harvest back home, except this harvest was done mostly by hand and ours mostly by machine. I'd never been around much other types of harvesting but it seemed to be the same concept only different specifics.

 

Just before the harvesting the grapes will undergo very strategic monitoring. They will be sprayed every other day and each spray will be intelligently recorded for industry standards. Matthew sprayed the grapes several times during our stay but not nearly as often as every other day. While it would be interesting to see the actual harvest, we will be long gone by then.