Monday, July 28, 2008

The waiting game

One week to go.

Farewell party arranged, renovations almost finished, house sitter has arrived, am fully packed, all I gotta do is get on the plane.

Well there's a few bits and pieces to do, but nothing that won't be done in time, or isn't actually urgent - like painting walls etc. Hazel has, after a few days of bonding with my house sitter Cate, worked it out. She knows that if she goes off for a walk with Cate then I might not be there when she returns. So she's like a shadow at the moment and very clingy. Who says dogs ain't smart?

One week to go.....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


They crack me up!

Yesterday morning the builder turns up, having lost my phone number and wanting to arrange a start date! Well I thought it was Monday. Anyway, he will be there to start tomorrow. At 9 am I ring the windows people to ask just when on Monday they will be turning up. Shocked silence. Tomorrow, 10 am. Great, now we have a Tuesday start.

Last night, builder rings up. Sorry, still got work on current job, will start first thing Wednesday. No worries, at least the windows will be here by then.

This morning 10 am I get a call from the window people. They can't come till first thing tomorrow!!

Tomorrow, wonder what day tomorrow will be.......

Saturday, July 12, 2008

3 weeks to go!

Three weeks till I leave. Having only just arrived back home this week to a garden full of thigh high weeds I'm feeling a wee bit panicky! Then there's the news that the windows have arrived and my long planned renovations can commence. Yes, 2 weeks before I leave the country I will have a builder demolishing walls and rebuilding. He assures me it will only take a week. I will be assuring him that he won't get paid otherwise!! Am I crazy??

The Fiji trip has thrown me a bit as far as the exercise regime is concerned, but am back on track after a decent massage and manipulation on Friday. We're now up to daily walks, minimum of 2 hours duration, plus stretches and exercises specifically focussing on strengthening my legs and back for carrying a backpack. Pulling weeds is pretty good exercise too!

In the meantime I am desperately practicing my Indonesian language skills, that five hour drive to and from Perth was perfect for listening to lots of tapes, but after a while the concentration goes and it's time to listen to a bit of music instead. Might pop em on the ipod and take them walking as well, nothing like multi-tasking.

Lastly, it's that time of year again when I fall asleep in front of the telly every night watching the Tour de France - go Cadel!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Black Gold

A few years back a bunch of pretty savvy investors and a scientist with a passion for funghi set up a Truffle farm in Manjimup in the South West of Australia. Just in case it didn't work, they also planted grapes and hazelnut trees. Lucky for them, all three enterprises seem to be doing awfully well.

The beauty of Aussie truffles is they mature in winter, or European summer, when you can't get a fresh truffle for love or money in the Northern Hemisphere. Both the Tasmanians and the Kiwis have tried it before, but these West Australians seem to be making the most successful bid at cornering the market. With a plan to double their yield yearly, they're on their way to market domination and therefore control of the price. So don't expect truffle prices to be dropping any time soon.

Just in case you're not aware, truffles go for the bargain basement price of $3000 a kilo. Of course there are grades of truffle so some go for a lot more. No doubt postage and handling is included in the price.
So what are truffles? Well they are the fruiting body of a fungus (big scientific name I can't remember) which grows along the roots of trees providing a symbiotic relationship with its host so that the tree gets more nutrients and grows faster and better and stronger. When they ripen they smell like A: male pig pheromones and B: adult male armpits. This attracts them to female pigs who eat them then spread the spores around. So if you're a strapping young male having had a hard sweaty day at work, watch out for randy female pigs trying to eat your armpits!!

In the old days, truffle hunters used pigs to sniff them out, but arguing with a 2 ton randy sow over a cricketball sized piece of dung left a few of them somewhat fingerless. Now they use dogs, trained by former or current members of our illustrious drug detection taskforce - I'm assuming this job pays slightly better than Australian Customs. It's seasonal however, so next time a nice lady with a beagle comes by your luggage at the carousel, spare a moment of thought for her other life as a truffle hunter.
On Sunday, we travelled the one and a half hours down to Manjimup to join a truffle hunt and enjoy a three course gourmet meal, with truffles of course. And wine tasting, and buying truffle products though not any of the fresh stuff, I'm not that extravagant! Scrambled eggs with shaved truffle will now ruin me indefinitely for this simple comfort food. Main course was a beef and truffle pie, perfect pastry with a side of truffled potato mash to die for. Then hazelnut and chocolate slice with truffle ice cream. It was glorious, though I am yet to learn the fine art of photographing my meal before tucking in - I'll get there one day Bruce!

I rolled out the door, pulling up my trousers whose button had mysteriously popped on arrival at the truffle farm 4 hours previously! A bit of standing around to let the food settle then the drive back to Australind. We stopped in Donnybrook to visit the biggest kids' playground in the southern hemisphere, built with a donation from a local farmer and free for all kids of all ages to enjoy.
The soup for tea was nice, but it would have been just that bit tastier with a touch of truffle in it!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Leschenault Estuary

I left Fiji on Saturday, flew down to Canberra for a few days to spend with mum and celebrate her birthday, then flew to Perth arriving Tuesday night. A trip to the Indonesian Consulate Wednesday morning to drop off my visa application meant I now had till Monday to head down to Australind to visit Brenda, Neil and family. On Thursday morning Hazel and I headed down the Kwinana freeway to visit the cold rainy south west. We arrived in time for hot soup for lunch!

Friday dawned with a rain soaked backyard but the promise of a few hours of sunshine and I was in great need of some decent exercise. I'd taken mum's pooch for a walk or two in Canberra but I really needed a good few hours to get my fitness back on track. So off I headed, this time with 2 dogs on leads and a generous supply of doggy bags, for a 3-4 hour walk up the Leschenault Estuary.

Sure the weather was grey and overcast most of the time, but it wasn't cold and it didn't rain. The path up the estuary goes alongside a road, and sometimes there is only the verge to walk along, so well restrained dogs are a must. Hazel actually behaved so well I let her walk the whole way off her lead, but Breacon was a different matter all together. He was great as long as we weren't too near the road, not really a problem as there were lots of places to explore and many swimming opportunities for 2 energetic pooches.Being wetlands there is no shortage of birdlife, many allowing me to get relatively close for photos, though the dogs' curiosity tended to scare them off. Even so, I manage a few good shots.
After an hour and a half, when the road turned inland and away from the estuary, we turned around and walked back to Brenda and Neil's. All up it took 3 hours and I felt I'd got the muscles working again. A good stretch and an afternoon walk to pick up Zoe from school managed to work out any aches and pains so I'm ready for more.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


10 days, 15 Americans, 2 Aussies, and a luxury dive boat in tropical Fiji. Will it all end in tears, and if so, whose fault will it be?

Being one of the Aussies, I always approach these trips with some trepidation. There are afterall only 2 types of Americans: really nice ones and absolute pains in the arse. There is never any middle ground, and in the strict confines of a dive boat, even one of the latter can ruin a trip. Trust me, almost every trip has one.

Yes, although there are lots of painful aussies, they rarely cough up the cash for an expensive dive trip so the likelihood of meeting one on a boat is pretty remote. Luckily, most divers are on the democratic side of politics (or smart enough to keep their conservative mouths shut) so there are rarely alternative opinions voiced about the fool currently holed up in the White House.

Having a fellow Aussie on the trip allowed us to undermine the american lingo so that by the end of the trip we had them all speaking in a passable strine accent. "Best trip evah" became the catch phrase after Eleanor returned from one of the early dives ecstatic over the beautiful coral and fish life to exclaim in her best strine: "best dive evah!!" The dive sites only got better and better, so you can imagine the increasing refrain as we returned to the boat after each dive. There were declarations over which schiff driver was the best evah, that the crew food was the best evah, and of course that the kava was the best evah. Occasionally Eleanor had to be slapped for descending into a poor imitation of a yankee accent but she otherwise did a fine job of our plan to take over the USA as the new superpower (under King Kevin ha ha!!).

The diving was an eye opener for me. Having spent the last 3 years diving in Indonesia where the biodiversity is amazing I wasn't expecting too much. I've dived the Pacific (GBR, Vanuatu, Lord Howe Island) before, unlike most of the Americans whose only diving has been Cozumel and/or the Carribean. But the coral reefs were so healthy, so colourful and covered with fishlife, and the sheer enjoyment of every new discovery by my diving buddies made this a really memorable trip.
Then there was the boat and crew. What an amazing family the crew of the Nai'a are, I feel like I made so many new friends and was made to feel so welcome. They sing like angels, they have fierce kava faces, and at the end of a kava party when only the australians and fijians are still going strong, all conversation turns to football - rugby union and league that is!!
So did it all end in tears? Yes, lots of them. Tears of farewell, tears for new friendships, and tears for the wonderful warm hearts of every Fijian I met in those 10 beautiful days in that little piece of paradise in the Pacific. I'll definitely be back!!
You may have to wait awhile for the underwater video though........