Friday, March 18, 2016

HelpX 2: Wongawallan

             Our first awesome HelpX experience having whetted our appetite, we decided to let HelpX pick our next destination. Spending weekends in Brisbane meant we wanted to stay on the Gold Coast. So we scouted a few HelpX posts, and we were lucky enough to get a reply from one host. At that point, we had no idea just how lucky we were. And they had no idea how unlucky they were.


             These hosts had a property near Coomera station, so we hopped on a train on a Monday afternoon, and got to see the Gold Coast countryside again from the train windows. Our hosts have vast acres of land nestled between hills in Wongawallan, where they are in the process of building a house. My pictures don’t do it justice, but this was the Australia we had envisioned, wild, isolated, serene. Rather than put us straight to work as would have been fair, Dan brought us to the local swimming hole for a dip. In a sign of things to come, I spilled beer in the car while trying to pick up his phone. I wiped it off with our towel. For the next week and a half, I was going to be functioning without a brain. But I digress.  The wide yet shallow creek was warm from a day in the sun, but just perfect for us to cool off in with a beer in hand. After a while we headed back to the property, and we sat down for a lovely family dinner. Once again, HelpX had come through for us. This kind of traveling, meeting great people, made to feel part of the family, eating delicious home-cooked meals, and discovering locations held secret to the average tourist, is definitely for us.

Rosie lost her best friend two weeks ago. They were inseparable.

Of course, there is work to do. However, HelpX hosts seem to be careful not to scare away helpers, so even the work is either fun or not difficult. For Dan we had to spray weeds, water plants (I broke the nozzle of the hose), collect rocks (Hi-ho, hi-ho…), line them up along the driveway, and then, the best part of all, we had to cement them into place. That meant mixing cement ourselves, and pouring it ourselves. Here not only did I manage to drain the battery of the mower I was using to haul rocks, I also let cement dry in the mixer and had to chip it out. We also got to work at Jo’s mom’s house, where we cleaned her pool, dug up some plants and leveled the soil for turf, and then we got to the fun part: the water-blaster. There were tiles around a pool stained by weathering, and all they needed was a little high-powered pressurized water to bring them back to life. The blaster was so strong I had pins and needles in my arms after using it. The dirt didn’t stand a chance. Neither did the pool. The water blasted most of the dirt straight into it. So much for cleaning it. Even worse, I sectioned the hose feeding a sprinkler while digging… I also forgot my shorts between locations not once, but twice. I had become a walking calamity.

 For those of you who haven’t become a Dumb and Dumber character, the best part of working like this is that nothing ever becomes routine. Jobs vary from host to host, but also from day to day with each host. The problem is that you never feel competent at any single job. I’m terrible at mixing cement. I’m terrible at most manual labour. I can only cling to the hope that I am getting less useless with each finished job. In the end the job got done, though not as much as our hosts deserved.

Surfers Paradise under attack. Where are the Watchmen when you need them?

            Since working only lasts 4 hours a day with most HelpX hosts, we had plenty of downtime to enjoy our new surroundings. They were nice enough to drop us off at Surfers Paradise one morning, where we headed for the beach. This was our second walk along the beaches of the Gold Coast, and this time I jumped into the crashing waves. It was a beautiful day, the air was hot, and the waves were big, just a perfect day to spend a morning on the beach.

            The fun didn’t stop there. Our hosts were determined to make our stay unforgettable. So on our last day, Dan took us for a ride on his boat. He dropped the boat in the Coomera River, and we headed for Stradbroke Island. Stradbroke has an interesting history. There are two islands, North and South, which used to be connected at low tide. There was a leper colony on the island, and when its inhabitants died, they would be left in the channel between the islands at low tide. Come high tide, sharks and other creatures would feast on the remains. Now though, there is a nice little café on the southern island, where we stopped for a meal and drinks. Of course in cafés in Australia kangaroos and goannas are also regular patrons, so we got to feed a drooling kangaroo who refused lettuce but loved french fries.

             After that we took off on the boat again racing against the tide that was going out. Then, adventure came to grab us. Or rather it grabbed the boat, which got stuck in shallow water. We were facing the very real prospect of being stuck there for hours until the tide came back, unless we could push the boat to deeper water. We all got out and hauled the boat closer to shore, hoping to find a channel, no luck. We hauled it out back towards the opposite shore, still no luck. We were running out of options, there just aren’t that many directions to haul a boat when you’re stuck in a river. It’s either right or left. But finding deeper water is apparently like plugging a USB, it only works on the third try. Somehow, hauling it back towards shore again, we hit the channel we had hoped to find but missed the first time. With sighs of relief, we jumped back on the boat and headed home just as the sun was setting.

            Throughout all of this, we got to know our hosts, and we’re better for it. One is an accomplished businesswoman who immigrated to Australia from the UK when she was just a backpacker. She built herself up and became quite successful, eventually running her own company and managing dozens of employees. The other manages to wake-up every day for a job he hates, but the money keeps him in it. That takes more determination and heart than I have. After a day’s worth of dirty, grueling work, he comes home and builds his house… I found myself admiring both of them and what they’ve accomplished. They had had two pretty rough weeks before we got there. They lost a beloved dog to a nasty tick that no vet could seem to find. A week later, wild dogs ate one of the two goats they’d picked up from a shelter. On the third week we arrived. These people deserved better. Leaving them on Friday, Squid and I both felt the heartache of separation you’d feel from leaving good friends. Luckily, I would see them again soon, because I’d forgotten my camera on their property!

               They only started working on the property a few months ago, so there’s plenty left to be done over the next several months. If you want to help these good people, you can find these awesome hosts on HelpX.

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