Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Remind me why I'm not skiing in New Zealand this year?

The sacrifices one makes for one's future...

It has been a hard month. It has been cold (OK not Northern Hemisphere cold or even Melbourne cold) and wet for a good part of July, especially on my days off, meaning I've been suffering a little from cabin fever not being able to get out in the garden quite as much as I'd like.

Of course this is totally crazy because in the last month I've actually weeded almost the entire front and side yards and half the back yard, created another huge pile of compost, put seaweed down all over the front garden between all the raised garden beds, and am eating almost exclusively from the patch. And the Great Wall of Drummonds marches on...in between chainsaw massacre sessions on the local wattle species - ethnic cleansing in my backyard!!

But somehow I feel restricted. I feel I should be out there in the real world doing something more exciting than going to work three days a week. Like thumbing lifts up the mountain to TC...

I'm impatient for my new life. One that doesn't involve petty politics and telling parents that their child doesn't need antibiotics for a viral respiratory infection. And I'm agonising about whether I can financially extract myself.

The good news is I have found a real estate agent and as of next week one of my investment properties goes on the market. Whether it sells quickly or not is the question. Until it sells, I'm stuck with the day job.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Further news on The Great Wall of Drummonds

I have been somewhat remiss, because back in October and November last year, after I got back from NZ and before the weather heated up too much, I began construction on the second tier of the retaining walls in my backyard. And only mentioned it a teensy bit in my December garden news. OK, I guess I had a little other shit going on, like losing my best friend, but somehow I completely failed to write a post about the construction. Those following me on Facebook though, did get to see a few photos.

what I began last October...

The lower wall is complete, and has held up wonderfully over the last 12 months, and I especially appreciate having all weather steps to go fetch the firewood now it's a bit rainy and cold. I've still to dig the pond, but that can wait.

new wall going up behind old black wattle which has got to go

The second tier began by placing tyres behind the old stone retaining wall so that I could marry it seamlessly with the rendered tyre wall. I even rendered this area last year so I could prevent the continuous incursion of more sand from higher up the dune ending up down the bottom. Then I constructed the stairs.

see how I placed some tyres behind the old wall?

The stairs are awesome. In fact one of my friends came over last summer and suggested turning this space into an outdoor cinema with the steps making a mini amphitheatre. What an awesome idea!!

Bring cushions and popcorn, future movie nights!

I've decided to move the site for the pizza oven. Instead of next to the seat I'll build it where the mulberry tree is. As much as I enjoy the mulberry harvest, the tree is too close to the house and too close to my clothes line. Thankfully, last year's cuttings have struck successfully so I'll be planting a replacement further up the dune once its stabilised.

bye bye mulberry tree

new mulberry plants from cuttings struck last year

The second wall is much higher than the first one, and I've tapered it back a bit more to make it stronger. Building with tyres filled with compacted sand is a pretty heavily over engineered solution and even without render it's been obvious how effective they are at doing their job. And I love the earthiness of the rendered surface once it's completed.

the beginning of rendering the second tier

I have been hoarding bottles and cans as per usual and will begin padding the tyres in the next few weeks before rendering begins. In the meantime I need to finish off the second tier and construct the ponds for the cascade. For this I cannibalised my old Fisher and Paykel Dishdrawer dishwasher.

bottle supply, not all drunk by me

If ever I bought a more crap piece of machinery it was that Dishdrawer. Numerous conversations with Kiwis on chairlifts in New Zealand convinced me I'd bought a lemon, but that F&P got their act together with the second edition. However, I wasn't prepared to spend the $650 to replace the electronics (because a mouse pissed on them) or the $1500 for a new one, instead finding a second hand Bosch for $300 that's only had 6 months of use. So I pulled out the drawers, threw out the box and now I've got 2 ponds! Lined with pond liner they'll be perfect!

extremely expensive ponds!

I'm sad about having to pull out the wattle at the end because it's in the way. They are short living trees so there's no point trying to keep it and there's some very nice looking wood I can use for firewood. Next year anyway, if I'm still here. Just because I'm retiring doesn't mean I'm necessarily jet setting off straight away....

that tree in the foreground has to go

So next weekend I'll be wielding the chainsaw and doing some much needed tree lopping. I would have done it this weekend, but we're now experiencing storm front after storm front, making garden work sporadic, if not totally impossible. There's quite a lot of dead wood and trees on the block, and now that most of the dune is stabilised, I can get in there and really go to town.

wow, before steps it was just overgrown sand dune

That's next!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Why Lonely Planet Indonesia stinks

I love guidebooks. They are your entry into a place, are usually more honest in their assessment of a location, its accommodation and what's on offer than tourist office advertising paraphernalia, but are not always accurate as to prices. I forgive them that, the delay between research and publishing sets up an inevitable disparity as prices change dependent on the market.

What I cannot forgive them for is their tardiness. A guidebook that is continuously updating and republishing needs to not just rehash the same old information. It needs to find new places to visit, explore the places in more detail and offer more options. One word of advice to anyone wanting a guidebook is to get an old one, don't bother buying a new one, because the only difference between old and new will be the prices. And even the new prices are inaccurate.

Because I travel slowly and research possible destinations using multiple sources I often hear about places not mentioned in Lonely Planet.  Gunung Padang, for instance. Mahat Valley is another. Besides LP there are Rough Guides and there used to be Periplus Guides, who published the most detailed regional guides. But none of the guidebooks these days do more than rehash and update the old information. Rough Guides no longer produce anything but a Bali and Lombok Guide, meaning your only option for the rest of Indonesia is LP. Periplus is still a great bookshop to browse in when in Indonesia, especially for maps, and if you manage to find one of their old guidebooks in a second hand shop, grab it for me will you!

Some people will say that keeping some places a secret from the guidebooks stops them getting touristy. I think that's crap, people need information to make choices about where they want to visit, and no-one can possibly visit everywhere. Also, why shouldn't my tourist dollar be spread more widely? And, if 200 million Indonesians know about a place, but it isn't in a western guidebook, is a few extra western visitors going to make it more touristy??

So what exactly do Lonely Planet researchers do? It seems to me they mostly find new hotels for us to stay at, and in Indonesia they seem to only find mid budget and higher. They also seem to specialise in finding eateries that serve western meals, because apparently us Westerners can't handle eating the local food too often. (Then again, it's easy to find the local food, not so easy to know where to get western food I guess). It seems that either the focus of the guidebook's market has moved to flashpackers, or the researchers can't stomach a place without air con and western comforts. I suspect it's the former.

I see so many backpackers on the road, carrying their oversized luggage, trying to find a place within their budget. There are lots of places offering clean, friendly rooms for less than 100,000Rp, but they sure don't feature often in LP. So the backpacker, who has had to negotiate the intricacies of the public transport system, and keep an eye on their possessions in a crowded bus, has then to trawl the streets for a bed, because they can no longer rely on LP to give them a helping hand. Cheap places don't have websites, but that doesn't mean they are dirty and unworthy of staying in. The flashpacker, on the other hand, often pays for the conveniences of better transport, and he or she knows where they're staying, thanks to LP and having booked ahead.

Perhaps budget backpackers are no longer a big enough market for LP, and from my reading of travel blogs and conversations with travellers on the road, I may well be a minority in not requiring western comforts. At least the budget backpacker is a resourceful soul, who can find his or her own way, but it would be nice to have a little helping hand. It certainly no longer exists in the guise of a guidebook.

This little rant isn't in any way meant to be attacking people's choices. If people want a higher level of luxury and convenience than I need that's totally fine by me. My problem is that a guidebook that purports to be a one stop shop, and began as a guide for the budget backpacker, is no longer catering to that end of the market.

If all I can get from Lonely Planet is an updated list of mid budget and flash accommodation and eateries, and the same old rehash of tourist sights that I can find in a second hand book from 20 years ago, why should I waste my money on them?

Any one else feel the same way?