Peanuts

  

It’s amazing how quickly we get used to new situations and find them ordinary. Take, for example, my current life situation which I stumbled into quite unplanned. The past several days, I have been living and volunteering at an eco resort and spa on the south coast of Thailand, not the disco, gulf of Thailand, booze cruise, sun sea sex side of Thailand, but the peaceful tranquility of Chanthaburi, a town approximately 100km away from the border with Cambodia, ripe with fruit and sparkling sea and tinkling cow bells and Thai families holidaying. 

   
I came to see a fellow New Zealander, the lovely owner, who invited me to visit and offered for me to stay longer and work for my keep. I abandoned vague plans to go island hopping and decided to get back to my farming roots, perform some manual labour, catch up on sleep, and enjoy some peace and quiet outside of Bangkok. The city was awesome but also drained me of energy and of funds, and probably gave my liver a slight green tinge. 

  

 Now I’m staying in my own lovely little bungalow with attached bathroom and a real flushing toilet that one can plant ones peachy bum on (for many, this goes without saying, but it’s not a guarantee in this part of the world, no sirree), eating eggs from their chickens, rambutan and mangosteen from the trees, vegetables from the garden. It is just like Little House on the Prairie, my childhood fantasy (no Potter, I haven’t forgotten about you – this was before your time). 

  

My days so far have involved rising early before the heat of the sun is overwhelming, watering the plants, raking leaves, or bicycling down to the farm to harvest the peanuts. Who knew peanuts grew in the ground? It’s one of those things I’ve never really thought about, like, where do nuts come from? I just eat them and know they are expensive and full of fats but mostly the good kinds of fats but don’t eat your body weight in roasted cashews cos that’s too much of a good thing. But now we KNOW! Peanuts grow in the ground, with big leafy green leaves protruding out of the surface, giving away their location. 

   
   
Hahahahaha, I must laugh. I thought I was tough, I thought I was big and strong. But put me next to a compact and muscular Thai woman and this is how tough I am:

She is Asian squatting in the peanut field, her big colourful hat shielding her from the savage sun, steadily hoisting bunches of peanuts out of the dry soil, hiffing them on the pile, sweat pouring down her face and darkening her grey tracksuit top, and she doesn’t breathe a word of complaint or “poor me”. 

I am, meanwhile, just taking a small breather in the shade, my stupid fluorescent running shoes sticking out like a sore thumb, sweat running like a river through all of my crevasses. I feel a little woozy, as though all the liquid inside of me has exited through my sweat glands and all that is left inside is a dry, prune like mass. My hamstrings ache from bending over, my arms and back are protesting at the repetitive peanut-wrenching motion, my shins are scratched from the creepy little vines that have wrapped themselves around the peanuts in attempt to strangle them to death. I am pooped.

  

But I quite love it. There’s something very satisfying about pure physical labour. You demolish a row of peanuts and weeds, sit back for a moment and admire the neatness of your work, then continue. You don’t have to think too much – just get on with it. Maybe you think about the word ‘peanuts’ and say it over and over again in your head until it sounds naughty and you giggle out loud. I like the three cows because they eat all the weeds and peanut shoots that I throw over the fence to them. They’re not fussy. The little things become the most important things – a cup of ice appears and I rejoice! I give up any attempts to stay clean or even to wipe the sweat off my face. How liberating! 

  
I speak no Thai and have absolutely no idea what anyone is saying, ever. One thing, however, that crosses language barriers is physical comedy! When myself and a more elderly Thai man were working together (me bundling together shoots of peanuts, him sawing off the leafy ends with a “Scream” shaped scythe), he pretended to saw off my entire hand with said scythe and then laughed uproariously, beaming a toothless smile and turning around to the others to see if they had seen. We laughed, oh how we laughed. These moments become even more hilarious because you’re desperate for something to connect with the other person over – when you can’t say words, you have to find other ways to giggle.

 The same with the kids – they speak to me as if I understand what they are saying – bless their souls. I obviously do not understand, I am a fool. So instead of talking to each other, we have established relationship through laughing at the cows, imitating animals noises, doing high fives and feeding the cows big bunches of leaves then running away screaming before they can get us with their big nasty horns. These are fulfilling and educational relationships that reach me on my level. 

   

When the work is done, I return, panting, to my room, drink 1.5 litres of water, and shower away the filth. I have a newfound respect for these Thai people – day in, day out, working hard in the heat, smiles on their faces, no complaint. If they do complain, I don’t catch it, cos I don’t speak Thai. 

For now, this is my new normal. “Nut” so bad.

Peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts peanuts (say it with me now)

  

Brenazet

I am all settled into my home for the next 3 weeks; Brenazet, a camping and gités site run by a delightful, energetic Dutch family. It always takes me a few days to adjust into anywhere- figuring out what goes where, who does what, what is expected of you and how to make the horses go into their stables at night…. But I think I’m going to fit in just fine here.

I am sleeping in a little wooden cabin with another helper, Izzy, who has been here before and returned for a little while after a slightly disastrous helpx in the south of Spain. She calls this her home away from home, and i can see what she means, it’s so cosy and homey! Ron, Mariken, and their two sons Igor and Nikola have brought a touch of Dutch into the French countryside.

Our cabin has a log fire, a terrace with little chairs to sit in and read our books, comfy wooden bunk bed type sleeping quarters and a little kitchen to make tea and things….

It is a lot colder here than it was in Spain, I had to borrow a jumper from Ron to keep me warm. My first afternoon we took a trip to La Bosse, an amazing lake somewhere near here (so disoriented, who knows) and did some al fresco yoga. The last two days have been filled with gardening, tea, amazing organic food (including chocolate avocado mousse which is so good) , cleaning the gités, walking the dog, doing yoga in a paddock amongst the bugs and the animals, and reading my book. The yoga class was taught by Mariken, all in French, but I feel like I understood most of it- I knew ‘left, right, inhale and exhale’, and that’s pretty much all you need. I did find myself bending into awkward shapes to be able to see what she was doing on occasion. But yoga is a pretty universal language, and it’s always nice to see how different people teach. Outside yoga is the best, even if we did get a bit of hay fever.

Happy to be here, grateful for the peace and quiet of farm life, it reminds me of my childhood! And I have realised my fear of chickens pecking me to death has not lessened…..Mariken is the best cook, everything is so healthy but hearty and satisfying! Today for lunch we had vegetarian burgers, fennel salad, greens and herbs from the garden, and a curried cauliflower dish. We just had supper and she made a sugar free almond and rhubarb cake, so good!

Today we went foraging for flowers and for the lunchtime salad, I learnt all about the edible plants and flowers that grow amongst the grass. So if i am ever lost, I know I can just pick some plantain and I won’t go hungry! My mum would be so proud – yesterday I weeded a flower bed and a vegetable garden, wore gardening gloves, got stung by nettles, ate nettle soup, wore her giant purple jumper and then picked some mint from the garden to make tea. Mother, I am becoming you!

In the morning I’m doing my own yoga on our terrace, with Izzy for company. I missed it for a day and I could feel it in my bones!

Anyway, it’s probably about time I showered.

,

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Gités
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The stables
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Yoga with child
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Vege Garden
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My cabin
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Cosy (Hyggelig?)
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Bunk beds!

Bean there…

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Lunch by the casita

I may be becoming a chickpea…

For lunches here we tend to forage in the garden, raid the retreat shop or scavenge from food that has been left by other guests. It’s delightful, but ingredients are limited so we’ve been eating a lot of beans. Lentils, chickpeas, broad beans, you name it. It gets a little repetitive.

So we’ve been getting a bit creative with our resources, and today for lunch we made chickpea burgers with salad from the garden. They were astoundingly scrumptious and healthy so I’m going to share…

2 garlic cloves
1 red onion (we used white onion because we are scavengers)
1 jar chickpeas, drained
1 handful parsley
Juice of one lemon
Handful of spinach
1 egg
1/2 cup rolled oats
Pinch of salt

Chop all of the vegetables up finely, add in the oats, chickpeas and egg, squeeze in the lemon and add the salt. You can either pulse it a few times In a food processor or just mash it aggressively with a fork, like we did. Make into four balls and fry in a pan of olive oil (we used the olive oil made at the retreat). Serve with pita breads or by themselves with some hummus and salad.

You like?

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Chickpea burgers!

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Zoe and Megan
Zoe and Megan

Last night we made daisy chains and drank some local red wine by the pool. Wine here is so cheap yet so good, it would be rude not to!

Megan gave me a poor travellers haircut of a remarkably high standard, we were both quite pleased. Just don’t look too closely…

In other news, in the last two days I have seen two snakes, and I genuinely had nightmares about snakes last night. They were everywhere I walked. Today I came across one basking in the sun in the courtyard, then it slithered into some bushes. It has made me think twice about weeding… Yesterday we went hiking and saw one on the road, I squealed loudly and probably interrupted it’s nap. I’ve never seen a snake in the wild before, it was alarming, and now we make sure to keep our tent firmly zipped…..

 

 

Beached.

Saturday was my first day off, but like a good girl I arose early to do yoga, only to be told it was too windy to do yoga outside, and that we would do it in the evening.. Not a wonderful start to the retreat, but we can’t control the weather, and apparently the wind is the one thing they dislike about living up in these hills. They call it ‘The Big W’..

So we took the guests on a trip down to the beach in L’Ampolla, a fishing village with lots of tapas bars and holiday shops. You can automatically tell the difference between the Spanish people and the holiday-makers; the Spanish women lie sprawled topless in the sun (even when with family, which I find super awkward), and the foreigners are pasty white, and wriggle around on their towels trying to get their swimming costume on whilst revealing as little flesh as possible. Myself included… Although I do wonder what it would be like to just strip off and lie there, completely confident in my right to lie nakey in front of strangers. Makes me squirm just thinking about it!

I nipped into a cafe to use wifi with some of the guests (got to grab it when I can), explored the little town and then basked in the sun for a while, applying sunscreen whilst trying to ignore the fact that a massively overweight hairy man was lying on his stomach directly in front of me,like a beached whale, playing with his beard, surreptitiously staring at me behind his tinted shades. His umbrella blew away but he was too fat to get up and chase it in time. Ha.

That evening we did our yoga, followed by a paella cooking workshop led by Cherry who is our host Sarah’s mum. Cherry is an Ayurvedic teacher and a paella expert, and cooked us up a vegetarian and a seafood paella for dinner.

Traditional paella spices are saffron and pimiento, which is a very popular spice particularly in Catalunya, the region we are in. The reason that saffron is so expensive is because of the manual labour it requires to produce it. Stems of saffron come from tiny fragile plants that only grow in one region of Spain, by individual farmers who then have to pluck the stems one by one from the flowers, which is especially difficult in typically windy weather….

The difference between paella and risotto is that you do not stir paella. Once you stir it, it’s no longer paella! We used local seafood from the bay; mussels, clams, king prawns, and all the vegetables used were grown organically by neighbours or by Cherry herself.

Originally this dish was a sustenance dish for people working on the land during the Spanish Civil War; they would shoot rabbits (they all had guns during Franco’s time) and take whatever vegetables they could find, cook it up in the morning then let it increase in flavour over the day. They ate with their hands, scooping from the inside out. We ate with gigantic wooden spoons which was exciting. We also got to sample a vast amount of local red wine from a giant vat, which pleased us all tremendously.

Yesterday we did an Ayurveda workshop, which was quite enlightening. Ayurveda means ‘the knowledge of life’ and is all about the different mind-body types (Doshas) and how each person has a unique combination of the three Doshas. Vitality and health require your dosha to be in a balanced state, which can be achieved through diet, exercise, yoga, meditation, and massage. We did a little test to find out our dosha, discussed what this meant about us, and learnt a little about Ayurvedic diet and massage.

The three Doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. I am quite a strong Pitta, but I have little bits of the others in there too… The unique balance that each person has determines their constitution, body type, and mental and emotional strengths and weaknesses. It tells you a lot about why you are the way you are, why certain things irritate you , why you like the foods you like and also gives some insight into your relationships….. And it also gives you the tools to keep yourself balanced. It’s useful for looking at other people as well, and for understanding that they are that way because of their dosha.

So many fun things are being learnt! Today there is a bit of a storm, so we are hiding in our tents reading books. It’s hard work getting into the routine of doing yoga every morning at 8, and the classes are fairly intense so my body is a bit achey at the moment. I couldn’t even push myself up into wheel this morning, my arms are so fatigued!

There’s not much to do here when it rains….. I will use my allocated internet time then possibly do a sleep.

Buenos nachos!

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Siesta, Fiesta, The Besta

So sorry for the lame title. It was the best I could come up with today, and at least it rhymes!

I feel like Cinderella! Today I actually got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed the tiles with a brush.

But it is a labour of love! I love this place! It is so sunny, so Mediterranean, so olivey. If you know what I mean.

Yesterday our five hours of work consisted of scrubbing the shower block from top to bottom, because it was caked in dust and insects, having been unused during the winter. Then we moved on to the casita, a little mini house for guests (and us) to relax in. We carried mattresses and doors on our heads and did many unintentional squats which I feel today in my hamstrings. Today we scrubbed the outdoor kitchen, which was covered in the dust that manages to get everywhere here. I have taken to wearing the same working clothes everyday this week, because they get dirty so quickly and we currently have no washing machine therefore I must preserve clothing. I advise all people to stay at a safe distance during the hours of 9am to 2pm, until I change into cleaner, better smelling attire.

This is the unglamorous part of retreat life. It takes a lot of work to make it look good, and run smoothly for the guests. Especially an Eco retreat, where water is precious, toilets must only be flushed for number twos, and solar power is the main source of energy. So when you go wees, you must not flush and you must also not put the toilet paper into the toilet, you must put it in a bin. It really challenges your habits, and makes you extra cautious when changing rubbish bins. It’s not all sunshine and massages. Although…. That totally comes into it. Us helpers are lucky because we only work 5 hours a day, whereas Sarah works tirelessly in the hot Spanish sun to get everything ready for the opening on Friday. I think this week is the hardest in terms of cleaning..

Once guests arrive our jobs are to lay out yoga mats, partake in morning yoga from 8 to 9.30 (if we want to), serve breakfast and eat with the guests, do light cleaning and bed changing in the tents, pump water and help out with any other random tasks. We also get the opportunity to make some money, by running workshops, giving massages or doing dinner nights, where we cook for the guests and they pay us a set price.

Megan (my fellow helper) and I are planning a vegan three course meal for the weekend, to give us a little pocket money. Not bad, not bad.

Last night, we took a trip into the largest nearby town, L’Ametlla de mar, and wandered the streets while Sarah went grocery shopping. It’s more of a fishing village, with tapas bars looking out over the fishing boats in the docks. We felt very Spanish, sitting at an outside table at dusk, drinking chilled red wine (I know) and eating tiny little salty fish covered in olive oil and garlic.

At the moment my afternoons after finishing work consist of lunch (with greens from the garden), changing clothing, lying by the pool for two hours in a sun lounger reading my book or trying to upload photos ( a struggle), checking my emails for 20 minutes, doing yoga outside, taking the dogs for a walk,showering, reading,eating, sleeping. I am so pooped every night, I forget about the possibility of wild boars or ants infiltrating the tent.

I feel so bronzed, it almost feels unnatural after an English winter. My limbs are no longer blinding to passers by. I am currently lying in the sunshine, towel over my face so that I can see the screen, listening to the goat herder herd his goats like a boss. You know he’s around in the hills when you hear the goat bells tinkle.

Aaaaah, Schpain.

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How did I get here??

I wrote this blog post the day after I arrived, but didn’t have enough internet to post it. I can’t be bothered changing it so am going to post it anyway…

By Jove! I may have found myself in a little piece of paradise!

Saturday evening I arrived in L’Ampolla, a town about 2 hours south of Barcelona along the coast. My host, Sarah, picked me up from the station and we drove out of town, up a winding dirt road into the mountains, until we reached Casa de Carrasco, home for the next 3 weeks. The retreat is set amongst olive, almond and carob trees, and they make their own olive oil.

Sarah and her partner Martin run this place as an affordable yoga retreat, where people can come and camp, or stay in the ‘stables’ accommodation. They’re in the middle of a big renovation of the house, which is over 200 years old, so this next week is going to be a lot of cleaning, finishing off renovations and getting the retreat ready for an influx of new and repeat guests over Easter weekend.

I’m staying in a safari tent, and I’m like, so excited. It’s massive and you can actually stand up in it. It gets cool at nights but really warm during the day, today it’s 24 degrees with a light breeze, and I am cleaning fridges.

They have a very deep, square swimming pool, where you just kind of plop into it, straight up and down, no gradient. To clean the pool I get to get in it and suck along the bottom with some kind of magical water vacuum.

They also have mountain bikes, a bounty of hiking trails, two dogs and three cats. Daisy is a big black Labrador, and Stella is some kind of yellow dog…. She took me for a walk last night. Daisy just lies in wait around every corner, then quickly rolls onto her back and waits for a belly rub – when you go to tickle her she grabs your hand with her paw and won’t let go.

It’s so alarmingly quiet here, after being in towns and cities for quite a while. Last night I went to bed and lay there listening to all the weird, non-car noises. Apparently there are all kinds of creatures out in the hills, I hope they don’t come knocking on my tent door in the night…..

Sarah welcomed me last night with some local red wine, a home-cooked meal and a chat about all sorts of things. We start yoga classes when the guests arrive, but in the meantime I can do my own practice on the outdoor yoga platform.

This week the pool is getting refilled, the washing machines are getting hooked up and the internet is getting turned back on, but in the meantime I have to hand wash my knickers in a bucket and climb a hill to get reception. I kind of like it that way though. Sorry in advance if I take a while to reply to messages.

Today I had a lunch of lentils with broad beans, radishes and spinach picked from the organic garden, then I continued to scrub the fridges for 2 hours. Now I think it may be hammock siesta time. Oh did I forget to mention? There are hammocks in the trees. Yep.

Maybe this all seems so much better because of my last HelpX experience. Having been through the weirdest month of my life, this is pretty much paradise in comparison! I am rather dusty and I probably smell weird but at least I’m not surrounded by people who believe in aliens and the such. It’s always a bit strange coming into someone else’s life and fitting into their routine, but it’s so much easier when they are nice people!

I did see a really large beetle thing humping another really large beetle thing. I felt like I was intruding so I just slowly closed the door again and left them to it. Who am I to come to their house and intrude on their sexy siesta?

That’s all for now, limited interwebs. Here are some pictures….

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Gluten-free in Paris? The least of your worries.

Paris is awesome, but there are many a creepy weirdo. On Monday I was at the Citè Universitaire for a full day interview. During one of my nervous wee breaks, I was standing at the sink washing my hands when a man came in (shocked me at first, then realised that of course, the French have communal bathrooms). He stopped in his tracks, looked me up and down and said;

“Ooooohheeeee. Damn. Dammmmn. Can I say something?”

“No. No you can’t.” (Unfortunately I only said this in my mind).

“You have the most beautiful legs….” (not a common compliment directed towards me, so naturally I was suspicious).

“What’s your name, girl? Tell me your name, I want to get to know you better”…

I gasped and ran for the door, careful not to slip in the urinal zone.

Yes, it is a university and I understand they want to encourage equality… But seriously, sharing loos?

Also, who hits on someone in the bathroom?

Anyway, that was the worst part of my weekend in Paris, along with the two Spanish girls who thought it was okay to come into our hostel room at 3am, turn on all the lights, have a chat and take a shower… And also the Brazilian man who slept on top of me (not in that way, you naughty kids) and snored like he was suffocating.

Things were mostly really fun, and I’ll admit it was a bit of a foodie weekend. I think I enjoyed it all the more having lived off soup and salad for a month in Devon.

On Friday night we arrived late and the only food we could find was a tapas bar, so we ordered a few things. When they came out we were slightly disappointed – tiny salty fish with their eyes still in, a bowl of potatoes and a plate of cheese slices. I am very against eating things with eyeballs, but we washed it down with some vino.

Saturday morning we wandered the streets of Bastille on a self guided walking tour. In a guide book we had found this place offering buckwheat crepes in a little cafe in one of the neighbourhoods – I like to think it was our little secret but as it was in the guide book I guess not….. All their ingredients were organic, free range and locally sourced where possible.

When we got there it wasn’t open, so we came back an hour later and it was packed. We ordered crepes with cheese, ham, caramelised onion and an egg on top:

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Of course, tea in a France was extortionately priced so I just HAD to have an organic coffee. It put a spring in my step.

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We walked along the Seine, I gawked awkwardly at people engaging in full-on PDA’s and wrinkly old men running with their shirts off. I was weirdly jealous of people rollerblading in the sunshine – it took me way back to the days when I would don my roller skates and do laps in the garage with a broom. I would say I was “sweeping for mum” but I was really just imitating Pippi Longstockings.

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We walked around the gardens at the Louvre and found a nice spot for a nap..

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That night we went out for a Tibetan meal- I know, I know, we really should have had a French meal, but I’d never eaten Tibetan and there were little Buddhas everywhere so naturally I got excited.

The next day I awoke with excitement at the prospect of a visit to a local gluten free bakery. If you are ever in Paris and feel sad because you can’t eat their lovely gluten filled pastries, GO HERE. I had a blueberry muffin and a detox tea, because it was breakfast and I couldn’t quite handle the thought of a full- blown chocolatey tower. They also baked fresh bread on the premises, so I nabbed a few for our picnic later.

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Yum!

We walked for a while in the sun (I was mildly sweaty, such a HAWT day!) and eventually found the markets in Bastille, loud and crammed with fresh produce, old men yelling and small dogs. I found a friend on the ground, sausage, a fresh pressed juice (orange, carrot and ginger), and a man from a stall gave me an orange segment and said I was beautiful. Those frenchies, such charmers. One man asked us where we were from, and once I said New Zealand he just kept repeating it and laughing hysterically. We must have a reputation?

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We walked down the river towards the Louvre again, had our picnic, then decided to abort our plans to walk to the Eiffel Tower in favour of catching the boat. Despite being blinded by the sunshine (not a common problem this time of year), we enjoyed sitting down for a while and watching all the people on the banks of the river getting excited about spring. The Eiffel Tower is too big to get into my camera lens. You get the gist. I was there last year with friends and we climbed it; this time we just sat on a park bench and gazed.

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My lovely companion Sue left on Sunday night and I left our hotel to stay in a hostel for a further two nights. Cue snoring Brazilian and rowdy Spanish girls.

I had a job interview for a job with an active travel company on the Monday- it was a fun and exhausting day but I sadly didn’t get the job. It just obviously wasn’t meant to be! So I consoled myself with a green juice and some interesting reading in a famous Parisian juice bar. It’s called Juice Bar, just so you know.

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So basically, we went to Paris and ate heaps. Good times. If you’re heading that way, don’t worry about finding gluten free options, worry about the communal bathrooms and the old men. They’re smooth, with their oranges and their smiles.

Au revoir!