Sunday, February 28, 2016

Our First Experience with HelpX


      We arrived in Australia at Coolangatta airport on January 31st, 159 days after setting off on our voyage around the world. Five months and six days after our initial departure, I needed a holiday from the holiday. I needed to work. That may sound strange, but teaching over the past 7 years gave me a sense of accomplishment that I couldn’t often find in travelling. Trekking to Everest Base Camp can’t exactly be a regular occurrence, and cooking or massage classes aren’t always affordable, so I needed to find something to do that made me feel useful. The person who came to pick us up at the airport was going to help me do that.
      Shortly after joining HelpX, I got a message from Kathy saying she could use two helpers for garden work in an eco-village. We would be provided food and shelter in exchange for four hours of work a day, which is typical for HelpX. She would pick us up from the airport, and we could grab a lift whenever she was going out, so that we could explore the surrounding area. That sounded like a pretty great opportunity, and we jumped at it. We did not regret it. On the contrary, HelpX might provide the best way to visit Australia, which is huge and expensive.

The Best Way to Visit Australia

Swamp hen. These guys can run, swim and fly competently.
For six days we would be able to keep our costs near zero, visit the very “off the beaten path” Currumbin Valley, work among kangaroos and ibises and swamp hens, birds that sounded like fighting monkeys and other birds that sounded like laser guns, learn about gardening (Maybe I’ll stop killing all my plants now?) and best of all, live with an Australian family and feel at home. It helped tremendously that Kathy, her daughter Vanessa and their bird Melasky are wonderful to be around, and perhaps not all HelpXers can be so lucky, but if things aren’t working out for you, you can always hop on to the next host.

Working Among the Kangaroos

We immediately discovered how rich the bird populations of the Gold Coast are. There were birds everywhere, and some were even as large as dogs. It was a novice birdwatcher's paradise. On top of that, every evening and almost every morning, kangaroos would come munch on the grass across the street, or sit in the shade of a tree in the front yard of the house. They would eat, lie there, hop around, fight and scratch. Kangaroos love to scratch, especially their bellies with both hands as if they were digging for something. It’s hilarious. Kangaroos are adorable, even when they fight. Since we were working outside, they would entertain us while we pulled weeds or hacked away at overly vigorous and resilient basil bushes.

The Backwaters of the Gold Coast

In our time off we would wander into a part less travelled of the Gold Coast. The eco-village we were in likely isn’t on any tourist map. But the creek that runs through it is lovely, as are the forests in the highlands surrounding it. Follow the creek and you’ll end up at a beach, with a view of Surfers Paradise in the distance. There was also a beautiful café right in the eco-village. Between the abundant wildlife, the trails, the beaches and the café, there was plenty to keep us entertained. If we were feeling more indoorsish, there was always Netflix.

Now doing this may not provide you with the kind of excitement that say, swimming with sharks would. But after six days of spending close to no money, buying that shark package will be a lot easier to justify. That’s why I think HelpX is the best way to visit expensive countries like Australia.

Following the creek towards the beach.

In the distance, Surfers Paradise.

Small-dog sized Ibises forage in an expanding circle.

It's not just the birds that are weird, so are the trees.

Caught in a shower.

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