Friday, December 19, 2008

Tulum & Sian Ka'an Nature Reserve, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Pensinsula, Mexico

24th - 30th November

Arrived Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula (actually in Quintana Roo not Yucutan State as assumed).

"arrived in tulum yesterday, white beaches, fukin lush. missing you already. and alacran...

we got halfway, by some ruins, and stopped to stay in a roadside hotel. got chatting to the proprietor, a sweet man. he has a dog, a tiny kitten (a month old, SOOOO sweet!) and a very strange mountain pig that looks like an anteater. alacran was very bemused by the latter 2 creatures, running rings around the pig that the guy let run around loose. the guy then took us to the ruins in the dark (just the other side of the road) which was fucking cool as fuck. there was a really steep narrow staircase inside a tower which alacran followed us up. then getting down he got stuck at the top and whined hard, it was funny. i tried to carry him then he realised that wasn't going to work so he just did it. funny as fuck. later, i talked to the guy who asked what we were going to do about alacran, and he suggested taking him on. the other dog was a very fat little sausage dog, so they obviously fed him well. damian and i thought it would be a good place, but we worried about the practicalities of leaving him. so we decided to come back from tulum via here and then leave him, partly because i wasn't ready to leave him. so in the morning, we got in the car, started the engine, and alacran feigned complete disinterest and just sat there looking into the distance a little way away. we called him but he ignored us... he KNEW. so we asked if that was cool to leave him there and then, they said yeah sure, what does he eat? the fact they asked that was another good sign... so off we went, no goodbye cuddles... leaving alacran guarding his new ranch (they have a load of chickens too).

so were satisfied he's in a good place, perfect climate, plenty of space to run around and people passing through to play with.

where are you? did you make it?

i'm looking into coming to xela via belize and tikal cos it's direct - doesn't seem to cost anything more to come through. not done online research yet... if i do it'll be with damian and tori."

Beach at the Fishermans Co-op. Hot sun. White long beaches. Clear cool sea. Palm trees. Paradise.

Left Tulum with Axelle on board as latest crew member bound for Punto Allen at 4pm, arrived 10km short, in the dark to find the engine overheating on the driveway of a (para?) secret unmarked military base looking at first menacing running towards us with combats and machine gun - and got directed by a helpful bunch only one turn further down the 30km dirt road, while we waited 20 minutes for the engine to cool down enough to get to our very own private beach for only the 21 pesos to get in the Sian Ka'an National Reserve.

On the beach, not very private anymore, joined by some jolly friendly local fishermen.

Left beach paradise, said goodbye to Axelle, Enzo and Mariposa, arrived by flook in the pimpest beachfront pad for free!

"so we went down from tulum to punto allen, cos tulum is a tourist trap and charge 80 pesos to string up a hammock, with enzo and mariposa and a nice french girl called axelle we met in tulum. the whole area is a nature reserve, with miles of lush white beaches (with loads of washed up rubbish though) and palm trees, and a lagoon on the other side of the road. you pay 21 pesos a day to be there but then it's free camping (not advertised as such though). we left tulum at 3pm, looking for a place described very vaguely in lonely planet, where you can see the sea on one side and the lagoon on the other. it got dark, then the car overheated (which it did earlier in the day too). strange. so we lifted the bonnet, and a trucker pulled over to help (in the dusk with 1000 mosquitos buzzing around). he noticed the main engine cooling fan wasn't working. we had a fiddle but could figure out what the exact problem was. so after letting it cool (20 minutes), we set off again. 3 stops later, we were a bit further than the lonely planet spot, looking for a spot to camp. we pulled into a track, unclipped the small chainlink fence, and stopped when i saw a mexican in combats with a machine gun running towards us.... and then 3 more. to make matters worse, the car was overheating again, so we had to sit there fro 20 minutes until it had cooled down. they were actually quite cool, it was really dodge at the time, we didn't know if they were paramilitaries, private security (guarding what?) or what... turns out they are military looking after the nature reserve. we said we were looking for somewhere to camp and they suggested the next left. which was a track leading to a private beach, with a bunch of trees and a well! meanwhile, we'd also picked up a couple of giant crabs running accross the road, so cooked them up for dinna. the next day (yesterday), we bought a bag of fish off some fishermen that came and said hello and fished for 50 pesos and had ceviche/fish soup combo and barbequed a couple too on our driftwood fire. lushcore.
this morning, i woke at sunrise (which was outstanding) while having my face eaten off by sandfleas that must've jumped onto my pillow when i dropped it. i had to walk around for 45 minutes until the sun got warm enough and they buggered off. nice sunrise though...
then, it rained and simulaneously i realised there's a leak in the radiator so had to refill with engine coolant (which luckily we have although can use water anyway). not sure how bad, will get it checked out asap, i just wanted to check you were still alive first.
belize looks likely, pretty cheap to get in and out (if the car works that is).
hasta pronto mi amor"

Javier and his (?) pad, picked up Tori (Damian's friend from Colorado), a "boring nightmare" (in-joke, sorry).

"Last night me and damian gave a lift to this mexican guy just after separating from enzo & mariposa, without having yet found a place to stay, but were planning to squat the beach at a spot we knew. the guy offered us his place to stay, just inside the nature reserve. it's a $300 (that's US dollars) A NIGHT place he sometimes rents out!!!! Wooden, palapa roof, teak floor, 3 lush double beds (between 3 thats one each - jonah still wanted to sleep in his hammock on the porch though). Porch facing the white sand (nudist) beach 30m away. The geeza is a fisherman, today caught 7 kilos of lobster on his own! slightly bad ethically, he's not a member of the local fishing co-op, but that means he can only sell it for 250 pesos a kilo rather than 400. it also means he probably contributes to overfishing. either way, we're having lobster tonight!
So the guy, Javier, is quite a sweet guy, slightly crazy and hectic. So after we got to his place, after a beer, when he started fiddling with an empty beer can, things began to make more sense. We hooked up with a crackhead fisherman! I respected his position though - he explained that it was his thing, and that even if we wanted some he wouldn't give it to us, let alone offer it. It reminded me of the time in Delhi when I met this Russian guy who took me for a ride around the concentric streets on his Harley, then after we stopped off at his hotel and explained to me he was going to jack up in the bathroom, that he was telling me in the sprit of openness (rather than doing it secretly), but that he again wouldn't even consider letting me have any even if i wanted it (which i clearly didn't).

Anyway, swede as a nut, free place to stay. The geeza, Javier, also hooked us up with a mechanic. So the water pump is fucked, to fix it is 500 pesos, another 700 for the part, and 500 to service the fan. Should be done by tonite. According to the guy in the parts shop over the road from the mechanic, there are loads of jeeps around here so parts are pretty easy to come by. So, I asked him to run the computer and do a diagnostic, which is 250 pesos (better than the 300 in Oaxaca) in order to determine which O2 sensor is fucked, cos I forgot. I took the decision given that parts are cheap and plentiful compared to how they might be in the rest of Central America, and that then we can turn the Check Engine light off see if anything else goes wrong, before it causes more damage. I hope that's OK with you.

Dont get salmonella. please.
Tori arrives tonite. Need to find 2 more to fill car to leave for Belize Sunday (day after tomorrow). Party tonite on the beach."

Picked up Enzo and Mariposa who were trying to hitchhike to Belize, left Javi's teak joint, arrived cheapest hotel in Chetumal, on the Mexico-Belize border (Jose Luis Hotel) bound for Belize.
girls underwear photo shoot photographer and his stooges


16th - 21st November San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico

Arrived San Cristobal de las Casas, capital of the Zapatista Uprising of 1994. Stayed at Hostel Posada Mexico, blagged a private room to share for the price of a dorm, dog friendly.

Kicked out of hostel and put in cheaper sister hostel for less money around the corner. Dog happier, less people. Sleeping outside.

Gorge ride on a daytrip from San Cristobal down Cañon del Sumidero in a speedboat. Alacrán loved it as much as I, riding on the bow.

Alacrán got lost. Eve went looking, worried. Dog went back to other hostel.

Dia de la Revolución - against the Spanish.

Left San Cristobal with Enzo and Mariposa, a cute Colorado couple also going to Palenque.

21st - 23rd November Palenque

Arrived Palenque, well El Patchán actually, but who's checking anyway. Dog still in tow. Stopped at Agua Azul, swam in the lush green pool at the top end of the waterfalls despite the tourist tat stalls and the 50 pesos the EZLN charged us and gave us a ticket for just before the 'actual' entrance fee of 50 pesos, Alacran didn't swim.

Staying in hammocks under a palapa at Rakshita's, El Patchán, literally metres inside the National Park boundary, arrived at through a path from metres outside the boundary.

Checked out Palenque. Big ruins. Lots of tourists.
Met a couple of guys on our way out who were from Tabasco, a couple of hours away, and shared their crate of beer. Interesting and amusing cultural exchange. He was a headteacher from a town, and had a small ranch. We invited him to the (crappy) restaurant that was the only one in the jungletown. He (and his family and driver) then left.

Left Palanque behind bound for Tulum with Damian, Enzo and Mariposa and Alacrán, leaving Eve (feeling increasingly frustrated with her less-than-conversational Spanish) to go to Quetzaltenango to start before me at an intensive school, living with a local family for at least a week. Need to try and find a home for Alacrán soon. Arrived Xpujil [pronounced spoojill].

Left Xpujil AND ALACRÁN! He just wanted to stay! Like he knew he was meant to!

South of Oaxaca - San Jose del Pacifico & the Pacific

5/11 - 8/11 San Jose del Pacifico

Discovered the reason I didn't sleep very well is that we're slept underneath some very large power lines. Doh.
Found some mushrooms, trekked off into the forest and got slightly trippy, crazy clouds. Base camp was a lush green clearing by a stream. Scrambled up hillside and surfed down on pine needles.

Later, met Alacrán at another hostel & chilled with some Mexican guys. We got on pretty well. We came back to the cabaña, Alacrán went to sleep outside.

Bumped into Alacrán again, at that time it was Hongo (mushroom). He followed us around all day, we went for a walk, he waited outside while we had dinner at this amazing Italian place called Los Duendes - the leprechauns. Had an amazing steak, local, fresh meat and huge and delicious for 60 pesos - ouch though amazing value. Alacrán slept outside on blanket.

Chilled day, then went to Oaxaca in afternoon to pick up car.

Stayed night in Oaxaca, slept in car outside hostel as hostel was closed when I got back.

Left Oaxaca with 2 hitchhikers picked up from the hostel in the morning to share petrol, arrived back at San Jose del Pacifico to pick up crew - Damian, Eve and Chantelle (Jay and Julia had gone ahead)... and Alacrán (still known at this stage as Hongo). He just jumped into the car when saying goodbye, jumped into the boot of the car and just sat there. Arrived San Angustinillo after tortuous drive through windy mountain roads at night - not Mazunte as we thought! Staying at this guy's house we met after 15 minutes of getting into town, geeza called Antonio. Nice terrace looking over the top of the rest of the village to the sear, sleeping in Jonah's tent. Realised we left skillet in Oaxaca. Doh. Played poker at Derek's bar, Casa Magica, a real nice place with cold beer and good music. First time playing poker, lost 200 pesos. Funny characters, an very drunk Argentine guy, Carlos who runs the Luna Nueva, Ross the American, Shane the Canadian Indian.

8/11 - 15/11 San Angustinillo and the beach

View from our place

Alacrán loves the beach, a mountain dog that's never seen the sea before. Pescadillas - like quesadillas, but with fish. These sellers stroll up and down the beach, selling 4 for 20 pesos. Very addictive.

Went into Pochutla (aka Chipotle) to get supplies, dog worming tablets, flea shampoo. New favourite street food - barbacoa tacos.
Jay made ceviche... mmmm... and then gave us his amazingly sharp Japanese knife. wow.

Nearly drowned. Dangerous undercurrent. Not going out of my depth again until I can swim properly.

Bought lush hammock for 360 pesos (ouch).
Fuil moon. Swam under the moon at night, doing flips into waves. Fun.

Concerned about what to do with Alacrán. We can't travel with him for ever.
DJed with Damian aka DJ Razzmataz at La Barritta. At about 11, the owner wanted me to play more salsa, so did, then everyone left. This guy has a drum kit in front of the system, on which he gets and jams it up. Which was great... for a while.

Another game of poker, only lost 50 pesos.

Left the beach - changed mind about staying until the weekend for the Jazz Festival - and with dog in tow, still loving it. Arrived in Tehuantepec, staying at a nice cosy motel in town, 5 sharing 2 double beds pushed together (no funny business). Dog inside because kid scared of him being playful.

Left Teohuantepec, after checking out Sunday market soon after sunrise while everyone setting up. Lush to see the calm before the storm.


Friday 31/10 - Tuesday 4/11/2008

Friday - Oaxaca, Halloween
Took car to mechanic to have transmission fixed, making increasingly disturbing noises. Cost estimate at 10,000 pesos maximum. Ouch. Called back later, transmission now in pieces and will cost 19,000 pesos - that's £1000 - more money as transfer chain also needs replacing. Barter to 15000, then 14000 pesos. Still outrageously expensive for South Mexico. But they kinda have us by the balls, with the transmission in pieces. Parts cost 4 times what they cost in the US, but no time... hence price.

Eve dressed in my braces and trousers outfit, looking sharp.

Jay and 15ft tall paper mache dude

Dancing down the streets, crazed salsa soundclash - as soon as one stopped the next started, passing bottles of mezcal around between smiling strangers, failed to find a good bar despite getting sent over to a place with a live band by the bartender of the sister venue - they wouldn't let us in.

Saturday - Day of the Dead, Oaxaca
Morning went to cemetary. Lots of flowers, bright colour. Highlight - awning and patio grave with table and chairs. Symbolic of the light yet reverential atmosphere, where people still smiled at each other and said hello.

Extremely tasty street food - hard to get a handle on what's called what though - empandadas, tlayudas...

Partied at the cemetary/graveyard, with a carnival set up outside, inside with 2 brass street bands playing a soundclash, playing a twisted up salsa/cumbia/merengue mashup, with an experimental jazz vibe thrown in. Hard to dance sensibly to but easy to get down... in the graveyard. The atmosphere was incredible - drinking and dancing and livin it up, in the most unlikely (from a non-Mexican perspective) of places. The Day of the Dead is a pre-Columban festival, celebrating the dead. Replete with skeleton imagery, the dead are treated with reverence and respect, and celebrated as people do best - by having fun.

Watched film at hostel, a great place called Banana Magic Hostel. Nice airy but part covered courtyard, rooftop patio garden, with kitchen, internet, dorm beds for 70 pesos.

Last day in Oaxaca, tried to sort out some film contacts. The 'Cine 8 Cafe' is run by a not particularly political couple, so not much use. Pablo, the hostel owner, is trying to get a friend of his to meet me, we keep missing each other. He's a film buff, probably with some useful ideas.

Decide to leave for San Jose del Pacifico by bus, a few hours South, while car is at mechanic, with some people from the hostel - Damian, a bearded mountain goat from Boulder, Colorado, US , Jay Tostado, a Mexican guy from Tijuana with a very funny name - "Hey man, I'm Jay Tostado", Chantelle, a reserved black London girl, and Julia, the squeamish German psychology student who Jay really wanted to score with (some names changed to protect the guilty).
Stayed at a cabaña, with an awesome mountainside view down the West side of the valley.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Sat 18/10 Santa Monica (if it's blue, you can click on it - places link to a map)
got email from Nicole saying her & Tim (Exile) will be in Mexico City next Friday night - are you in the area. Mexico city in a week. Doable.

Sun 19/10 left Santo Monica, arrived San Diego
Eve tells me how the guy we were staying with in Santa Monica spent every minute my back was turned trying to convince her to sleep with him. 2 Faced prick. I should out him. Or not.

Mon 20/10 left San Diego, arrived Sonoyta, MEXICO!
bought new front speakers $20 from chain car store - proper job!
crossed border rinsing salsa
bureaucracy with car - found banjercito a few km in from border to do paperwork for car. Timeconsuming process but not impossible.

Tue 21/10 left Sonoyta, arrived Navajoa
stopped by police for not stopping at stop sign - let off!
lorries indicating left to motion that it's safe to overtake....????wtf!
Stayed at Palace Motel

Wed 22/10 left Navojoa, arrived El Rosario
applied muffler strips
left leatherman in motel. now other side of mexico but have found phone number on soap stolen from motel.
stopped for speeding, let off AGAIN!- cop said "just make sure you're not doing more than 75, maybe 80mph" - when that's what i was doing when he stopped us.
had 1st margarita. expensive in (other) hotel bar. felt good though.

Thu 23/10 left El Rosario, arrived Huaniqueo (500 miles as the crow flies...)
left early morning - amazing light in morning - leaving so soon allowed us to get as much (superfluous...) stuff done as possible.
picked up manuel, shrimp farmer, co-op 3000
left laptop at motel, drove back 90km with manuel, perlava with tolls & drugsearch (they wouldn't believe that we'd been collecting fresh herbs to put in a bag to make the car smell nice - and found a tiny tiny scrap in the carpet. Eventually convinced them.)
no hotels in huaniqueo, moved to next town, old walled cobbled courtyard hotel (no TV! yeah!)

Fri 24/10 left Huaniqueo, arrived Mexico City
Tim's gig - fucking fat
on tha VIP list innit - Anson Room vibes a bit except full of Mexicans havin it.

Sat 25/10 left Mexico City with Tim & Nicole, arrived Tuxpan, beach on North (Carribbean) coast, late.
car making strange sounds when putting into 4WD. needs looking into (along with the rattly muffler, the nonfunctioning alarm, handbrake, leak, clunky transmission...). still (very) driveable.

Sun 26/10 left Tuxpan, arrived Otumba
dropped T&N @ Teotitlan
beach. swimming. lush.

Mon 27/10 Otumba
sick. must've been dodgy oyster at beach. Or swallowing too much seawater. Or the oil refinery next to the beach.
should've gone to the south coast. beaches are lusher.

Tues 28/10 left Otumba, arrived Love Motel (Teohuacan)
still sick. and getting sick of driving.

Wed 29/10 left Love Motel, arrive Oaxaca
in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead in 3 days.
still sick. getting better. will be fully better tomorrow.

Thu 30/10 Oaxaca
Monte Alban. lush very old ruins short bus ride away.
went with nice bunch at hostel.


Sat 4/10 Sebastopol (California)- stayed at abigail's
worked in garden picking tomatillos
start to fit amp in car - run 12v lead from battery, install phono cable, rewire speakers

Sun 5/10 Sebastopol - stayed at abigail's again
finished installing amp - works a treat - need to get replacement front speakers

Mon 6/10 Sebastopol - abigail's
pm beach - foggy
tasty abalone for dinna and hot tub

Tues 7/10 left Sebastopol, arrived Vallejo
Treasure Island. No treasure except good photos.
stayed at Clint & Emily's (met at Emerald Earth) - good to see them again and talk about EE

Wed 8/10 Vallejo
hanging around to wait for espresso maker I left at EE - Prana leaving from Oakland tomorrow - try to arrange pickup time - got call from Prana, left, didn't bring it. doh.

Thur 9/10 left Vallejo - arrived SF
The Warehouse - cool saloon type pub/cafe/bar on the other side of SF Bay. amazing place, must go back when open.

Fri 10/10 SF

Sat 11/10 SF
critical mass - didn't make it, watch has stopped working and phone is out of battery. :-(

Sun 12/10 SF
burning man decompression. fun. got box (with old car stereo in) back.
good to see the playa on the tarmac...

Mon 13/10 SF
recovery. beach.
Chinese Dumpling Session - sessioned

Tue 14/10 left SF, arrived State Park nr. monterray bay

Wed 15/10 left State Park, arrived Santa Monica
left park early, avoided paying.
The Get To A State Park Late And Leave Early Theory is born with (almost) conclusive proof.
picked up 2 alchie hitchhikers, in their 40s, sweet old couple.
cliff fire. drove back 30 miles to go around. v. annoying retracing steps.
stopped in Santa Barbara to offload hitchers onto local beach posse ( - jolly nice folk).
got drunk with guy we met at decompression and now turns out to also be a coke dealer.

Thur 16/10 Santa Monica
checked out Venice beach.
bad mood.

Fri 17/10 Santa Monica
LA hell.

Friday, October 10, 2008

When is a worker a skilled worker?

Friday 3rd October, noon

Just about to say our goodbyes at Emerald Earth, it feels like we've been here a lot longer than 2 weeks. I'm quite sad to be leaving, I've had the most amazingly grounding experiences, that have fuelled my dreams and excited my fantasies. Is it strange to have fantasies about building mud huts?

And it was my birthday on Thursday, Lisa made a fabulous morell mushroom risotto for dinner, just like I wanted, and stuffed squashes to boot. And the birthday cake was an Eve Special - bananas, brandy-soaked raisins, chocolate. Mmmmmm Mmmmmn.

So I explained a bit about the setup in my previous post. That was quite broad, so I'll say a bit more about the details, from my perspective anyhows. The 2 weeks here were also cut in half by going to the Handcar Regatta to help out our "Producer" friend who "organises festivals".  Maybe I'll start with that.

So we arrived in Santa Rosa on Saturday, the day before the Regatta, to help out with what I assumed would be a busy day for him. Well, nobody on site seemed to know who he was, nor could be discover his whereabouts. Hmmm. We headed back to Sebastopol, and collected our post - the new car stereo and rear speakers. A couple of hours and twizzles of wire later and we could now play whatever music we want as mp3s via a USB stick. Nice.

Well, it turns out we were not needed until Sunday actually after all, which is a little disappointing because we left Emerald Earth, missing the earthen oven making workshop which I was rather looking forward to. The photos show the development of the oven in preparation before the workshops, and after. The seduction of glamour can be deceiving (of helping our 'Producer' friend that is). No matter, the Regatta sounded exciting, and furthermore, Aubergine, the huge vintage clothing store in Sebastopol, was having a party to celebrate opening a bar/cafe in the back of the building - a huge wooden structured warehouse. With free food - my favourite kind of party.

Well, the party was OK, the sound system was a couple of regular Mackie speakers that simply couldn't quite fill the space. The band were good, but perhaps better on a CD than live. The bassist was a good craic to watch tho - the most energetic of them all, bashing out a smooth reggae bottom line. If I had a slightly larger wallet and wardrobe, I would be more interested in all the fantastic vintage wear, but alas I have neither so I tried to restrain my visual appetite.

The Regatta on Sunday was a blast. The dress code appeared to be 1920s inventor with a good dose of playa chic. Ideal for the old red braces and dress shirt get-up, with a marker-pen handle-bar moustache. We personned one of the info booths, selling T-shirts and jute bags and pointing to the food ticket booth a lot. And as for our Producer friend, Joseph is actually a friend of one of the Producers - with a slightly overinflated sense of importance, bordering on the delusional. But a lovely chap nonetheless. And despite his adamance in advance to the contrary, there was no afterparty.

looking at the old cob earth oven mid-destruction

So on Monday we trekked back to Emerald Earth, via a couple of stops to run errands, picking up some Hardy frame templates for the foundation of the new Common House. It's being made up to California Code specifications: an interesting pragmatic choice sewing a gap between visionary utopianism and the 'default' world.

laying the foundation for the new earthen oven

So in the 2 weeks I was there, I dabbled in a plethora of different tasks around the place. Trench digging had to be the toughest - good to get the blood flowing. Hauling, stacking and chopping firewood was fun. Fence bracing - for the new deer fence around the new Common House site - was fairly laborious but a useful skill. Clay waddling the new chicken coop was great - a timeless technique - I think I need more practice, as mine sagged a fair bit. Working in the garden, I moved 17 wheelbarrows of horse manure, and got a good sweat on. I cooked another meal, lunch this time, onion soup with polenta. And I helped out with the child care. The nice thing here is that everyone has a go at helping with childcare, including non-parents.

laying the sand/clay/straw mix for the oven base over the wood-store form

The sauna went on a couple of times over the weeks, a nice end to the day. When the hot tub's leaks are fixed it would be great as a cold plunge bath. The shower suffices for now though. At the end of a day up at the foundation in full sun all day, it's a welcome treat for the muscles. I spent a few days dogsbodying up at the foundation, helping out when I could. In that time, I had a good think about a lot of stuff, and one of those things was about 'skilled' labour. At the moment, there's one or two skilled workers working on the common house. A lot of stress is placed on those shoulders. If one of those got ill, it would set the whole thing back a lot.

laying the oven base

The problem is that most people are unskilled in this line of work. You can't just tell someone to go get on with that portion of the foundation. This interrelated to another problem, which is that one person is the site manager (as well as the main worker!)- that is the person overseeing the whole operation, and knows exactly what's going on everywhere on the site. So he's got to set people up with mini-projects, oversee them to make sure they are accurate and precise, while getting on with stuff himself, figuring out what needs doing in what order, the next task for helpers, etc. A mammoth task, undertaken admirably.

making the door arch

So there are the inter-related problems of skill more generally, and specific expertise on the section that needs work. Now what got me thinking is how do you gauge someone's skill? There is the underlying factor that work on the foundation needs to be very accurate - as it's holding up a building, hopefully to be able to withstand an earthquake, being that we're not that far from the San Andreas fault. I guess it's a process of building a picture - from experience of using particular tools (or at least how they work), and accuracy and precision. The more experience, the less mistakes, the less questions and the faster the work gets done.

completed earth oven

Anyway, these were some of the thoughts that drifted through my head as I dug into (admittedly soft) rock with a pick and a rock bar. And some questions - am I a skilled worker? Does that fact that I know how to use a bunch of tools and I have a good dose of common sense and got top marks in my physics A-Level assessed practicals make me skilled? Probably not. Does the fact that I don't know that the rafter goes from eave to ridge (and then the purlins go on top horizontally) make me unskilled? Probably.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Recipe For Successful Sustainable Living

200 acre plot of land
16 people (firm but not overripe)

Bake carefully in an earth oven for 9 years, stirring horizontally regularly.
The longer you bake it, the tastier it becomes...

Wednesday 25th September, 2pm

This place is very cool. How I justify this, I guess is down to a mixture of the people there and the structure of the place. There are 11 full or becoming-full members, their 4 kids, 3 work-traders and us at the moment. The members are all in their 30s, the kids are aged 2-5. Their histories are diverse, but share a desire to live rurally, and developing living practices to be as self-reliant as possible.

What I find really interesting is that this position is quite a nuanced, and tricky, one. Radical, alternative, sustainable, utopian, whatever label you apply, there is a real sense of living the change you want to see in the world. And that is the tricky part. The manifestation of the dream, the utopia, can never be a perfect one and precisely how that is done, the translation of the image, the vision, into the everyday, and how people cope with that, is a process of compromise and pragmatism. This is what armchair activists call hypocrisy in a negative condescending sense.

For example, infrequently (not since I've been here though), the solar and micro-hydroelectric power sources are supplemented by a petrol generator. But they are off the grid. So here is an unsustainable practice that could be called hypocritical. Nonetheless, energy use is minimised and lifestyles are have been transformed towards those that are less energy-reliant. Sometimes power tools required to build the new common house, it's foundations, frame and roof are used. But minimally. This is a community of people that are not luddites - technology exists and it is harnessed appropriately - but there is a level of awareness of the resources required and used that you just don't get living on the grid. The meter that ticks away, as long as you pay the bill - usually by direct debit, so that you don't even see how much it costs, let alone be able to comprehend that energy use in fathomable terms - such as gallons of petrol, or hours of sunlight.

Cob making - stomping clay with sand and straw

None of the residents have been here since the beginning. One has been here for 9 years, when the community at the time settled on the land. The previous attempt ended in one guy living here, mostly on his own, for the previous 5 years. What is interesting about this is that although the mix of people changes, and the talents and energies and skills change, there must be something that evolves through this, what makes the place what it is.

The meeting room in the new common house

So my second justification for why the place is very cool is the structure of the place. The land is owned by a co-op, first off. The 'land council' oversees the maintenance of the land, and includes all full members, and also ex-resident members, and also the lady who bought the land and sold it to the co-op in the first place. The council operates by consensus, and is non-hierarchical. They meet quarterly.

Several unorthodox watering techniques are practiced here

Then there is the resident council. This includes all current residents (duh). This also runs by consensus, and is non-hierarchical. They have weekly business meetings, on Mondays, for a couple of hours. There are full day process meetings roughly monthly. And there are weekly sharing meetings, on Tuesdays, for 2 hours. This part I find really interesting. Here, they talk about what people have liked, what bugs people, and generally checking in with the group about what's going on in people's lives. I think this is a really crucial part to any successful community - having the opportunity to get things off your chest, and how you feel about things. Although they are aware that you can't separate business from emotion in quite such a way as is structured here, some overlap goes on but this is what works better for them, and makes sure they actually get a fair amount of stuff done.

The meetings are facilitated on rotation, and for each functional area of the community (e.g. garden, workshops, etc.) there is a focaliser (and backup). Each household has their own space, not owned by them but occupied solely, with enough distance between households. There are 6 natural build dwellings, ranging in small sizes, all cool as fuck. They are designed to the landscape and the climate, with an earthen floor that get winter sun but not summer sun, big South and South East windows, cob and straw bale walls, a fresco wall, visible timber frames, central hearths set into cob, etc etc. Oh they're so beautiful!

A small selection of harvested tasties

They eat lunch and dinner together every day, cooked and cleaned on rotation. And it's damn tasty. They are mostly pseudo-vegetarian - like me, they rarely eat meat and when they do it's local and organic. Last night I cooked hamburgers, flame-grilled mushroom burgers, steamed minty new potatoes, and tomato salsa. No quinoa, which has been in every meal for the last 3 days. Lots of raw food - fruit, vegetables, and in the States they call unpasteurised foods - milk, cheese, yoghurt, juice - raw. I can't recall whether we can get unpasteurised milk in the UK. But it contains loads of enzymes and bacteria that help the stomach, and nourishes the immune system. Kids fed on raw milk hardly ever get ill. And there's loads of fermentation going on. From soaking legumes (like beans) overnight in slightly warm conditions, to home-made sauerkraut, home-made yoghurt, those good bacteria are getting a good crack of the whip here.

The new chicken coop with clay waddle walls - lucky chickens!

Looking forward to the weekend, going back to Santa Rosa (right next to Sebastopol) to help out at the Handcar Regatta, before coming back here for a week... and my birthday, lest we not forget. Birthdays are made for hamming up, I say.

Decompression II - Sebastopol

Friday 20th September 2008, 1.30pm

Another week gone, I've fully decompressed now. Currently writing this in Sebastopol library, with a crowded booksale going on behind me. I just overheard the most comical argument about a 6-inch squared tabletop space. They really get into their booksales here.

So last Saturday I drove all the way back down to Sebastopol from the Redwoods, a good 7 hour drive. We imagined it to take a little less, and had hoped to get back in time for a beer festival that our Burning Man friend, Michael, was working at, for Ace Cider. We missed it, and hit Ace's pub. Later, we checked out the later-drinking establishment, The Underwood, as Ace's closes at 9pm on weekdays and 10 at the weekend. Jeffry, the slightly eccentric English landlord has trouble with the neighbours - a story not dissimilar to our local haunt at home, The Cadbury. However, it does mean that people can get up in the morning, and there's always the Underwood.

Bar bacchi is the American bowls. Played on sand, on a shorter pitch. Lots of fun. My bar will have one. Better than skittles. Afterwards, we headed to a house party. At last, what I had been waiting for. It happened to be that a load of 'Burners' were involved, and full playa regalia was called for. As if I need an excuse to dress up. And, in the DIY nature of it all, there was a great bar outside, serving tequila that took with it the end of my memory that night. I awoke in Michael's living room, and sprung up to find a fry-up. Which, they do here (The Apple Tree in Sebastopol - and the US in general) in style. Full English, plus pancakes. Mmmm Mmmmn.

Sunday through Tuesday nights we parked up at the local campsite. A nice, friendly place, warm showers, $20, fairly standard fayre. Ordered a new car stereo, with an aux in at the front, and a USB slot. Perfect, with a USB stick we have all the tunes we need. And, for good measure, some new speakers for the back...

Wednesday night we moved to a friend of Michael's with a nice place, with a cracking orchard, on the outskirts of Sebastopol. He also happens to be a festival Producer, and has just got back from Earthdance, one that he worked on. He's asked us for help at his next, The Handcar Regatta, in Santa Rosa on the 28th. Handcars are railbound human-powered contraptions that look like a lot of fun. Sounds like a gas.

Yesterday, the lethargy of inaction began to take its toll. So, we checked out some WOOFing in the local area, and came across Emerald Earth via a bulletin board for Mendocino and Sonoma Counties in California called It's an intentional community, in Mendocino County. They have 200 acres and the land has been owned by a non-profit corporation (which I guess is a similar legal structure to a co-operative in the UK) since 1989. They just emailed back saying that they're having a 'work party' this weekend, for which we are welcome to come and join. We want to stay for a couple of weeks, which without the work party would be tricky, but they can get to know us then, and then we'll know if they want our help for the next 2 weeks.

I'm intrigued by this place. Although we'd set out to help on a farm somewhere, it seems this will be a great opportunity to see an intentional community at work, and get some experience in natural building techniques, which this place is quite famous for. They run regular workshops, training in a variety to techniques, such as cob-oven making, timber framing, clay waddle and straw bale walling and organic gardening. It sounds like a fascinating opportunity to watch a community in action and learn from them. One small step to helping my dream of setting up such a community back home become more real. We leave in an hour. I'm excited.

Big Old Trees And A Beautiful Coast

Friday 12th September, noon

Have just arrived in Jedediah Smith State Park in the Redwood National and State Parks in Northern California (click here for map / route). Some very old trees here. Going walking soon.

Left San Francisco Monday, arrived in Sebastopol. Went to the Ace in the Hole to meet a friend I made at Burning Man. A Cider Pub! Ah, home away from home. The Joker, at 8%, is dry, refreshing with a clean finish. Oh joy. Tuesday we hit up the Armstrong State Park on the way to the Redwood National Park (although there are redwoods all along the coast), going for a beautiful good longish walk of about 6 miles. That stretched the muscles nicely. Wednesday we took the coastal drive up the 1, along a magnificent stretch of coastline second only to the Dorset coast. Fond memories of walking and fossiling can't dislodge the top spot. Thursday morning we left the State Park we arrived at by nightfall the previous day, and having got up at 8am we managed to escape without paying. Nice. $20 for a parking spot for a night is a bit much really. Thursday night we arrived at Klamath, got excited about the big salmon barbeque they were having 'Friday', which became Saturday so we left for here, the cold and the fog making this place a bit macabre.