This was an unexpected adventure at the end of my eight-month journey. You see, I was all set to spend the month of April in Melbourne, Australia, painting another house for my next host (I have to remember to take that skill off my workaway profile), yet fate felt differently. I must have been extremely tired when I got off the plane at the Melbourne Airport, for the customs agent managed to weazel a lot more information out of me than I wanted to give. For instance… where was I staying and what was I doing in Melbourne? As someone with a tourist Visa coming to Australia for a work exchange, the appropriate lie is to say that you are simply visiting a friend. Part of the problem was that I didn’t have my host’s address, and somehow the phrase “house painting” escaped my lips, and after seven months of dealing with this type of red tape, I should have known better. Essentially, they did not like the idea of any work being done without a work Visa, and I was eventually detained and brought to a detention center for a total of 30 hours. I found myself surrounded by several other international detainees of various cultures and backgrounds in a compound with a well-stocked mess hall and plenty of diversions including a futbol field, volleyball court and billiard tables, not to mention unlimited channels to choose from on a shared, widescreen TV. Despite all these potential distractions, my possessions were taken away and I couldn’t ignore the five meter tall, barbed-wire fence encircling the perimeter, but thirty hours is only thirty hours and I was eventually deported by the Australian government and shipped off to the nearest U.S port… Los Angeles.
So, here I found myself back in my home country a month early with the highly-anticipated plans of visiting my best friend from high school, Jud Roberts in Denver at the end of the month. Painting another house in Australia was supposed to hold me over until then. Visiting Jud a month early was not an option. He had just started a new job, and things were more than a little hectic in his life at the moment. I was faced with the decision of booking a flight home early and missing out on seeing my friend, whom I hadn’t seen in ten years… or seeing if I could explore California for the month of April… hmmm…
Twenty five years ago or so, I had spent a night in San Francisco on a long layover… hardly a substantial stay, and although compared to Australia, California initially did not sound like the last exotic adventure that I had hoped for, yet I will never regret my decision to stay.
I am a planner by nature and this trip proved no different, but it has also challenged that nature. Everything, right up until Melbourne, had been planned out before I had even left Vermont back in August 2018… yet after Vietnam, nothing had gone according to that plan. I did not go to China, which consequently changed the hosts I had in New Zealand… but after I left those beautiful islands with its wonderfully unexpected stay, I was thinking that I was finally getting back on track in Melbourne. I admit that I had felt a few moments of absolute frustration in the Melbourne Airport, but I also surprised myself how I barely batted an eyelash and began researching possibilities in California.
Almost right away, a workaway host living in Mariposa, CA named Rex had replied to my plea for help. Within the same day of stepping foot on native soil, I was introduced to Rex’s eccentric, VW junkyard scattered across a few acres of the beautiful Sierra Madres in the midst of a budding Spring. Rex is the type of guy who has a big smile for everyone he meets, and claims that he can never say no to a workawayer who inquires about his very particular program. There is not one ounce of judgement in his bones. He only started re-vamping his life a few years ago from one with a regular day job and mortgage to a full-time gardener, work exchanger, and off-grid liver. As a vegetarian, he mainly provides for himself by relieving the local, Mexican farmer’s markets of their “perdido”, shrink, or otherwise unsellable produce. Rex usually walks away with a cart-load of fruit and veggie crates per week, more than enough to feed him, his workawayers, his chickens, and his compost. Of course, he never referred to anything as “his”. He always corrected me by saying “ours”.
I was very excited to find that my sleeping quarters would be one of the many abandoned, VW micro-buses on the property. I picked a nice, white one near the communal fire pit. The entire site was set on a large, flat outcropping of rock nestled above Rex’s huge garage. The flat rock was a perfect studio space for the many art projects that my host heavily encouraged.
There were plenty of other daily chores to also keep me busy such as watering the garden, seeing to the chickens, and gathering firewood. It was also a daily challenge of organizing, sorting, and coming up with new and inventive food preparations with what fate awarded us from the farmer’s market every Saturday.
Of course, Mariposa is less than an hour’s drive from the Half Dome Village of Yosemite National Park. Rex was more than happy to give us his own personal tour. I was pretty sure I would not be seeing anything like this in Australia, nor was I very familiar with any western U.S. national parks, but I could now knock this one off my list.
Halfway through my stay, Daisy (another unique California name, especially for a 32 year old man), a friend and fellow workaway host of Rex’s, arrived with four of his own workawayers in his rennovated school bus with three solar panels mounted on the roof and running on veggie oil. The ever-generous Rex had given Daisy permission to use all of his welding equipment to fabricate a large luggage carrier on the back of his bus, the latest addition. This was done with the valued help of Ignacio, or “Nacho”, a welder from Chile. Using his unique mode of transport, Daisy had the interesting idea of hosting workawayers on the road, but when he wasn’t traveling, he was hosting in San Francisco, not far from Haight St and Ashbury (of course).
When the luggage carrier was finished, and I had thrown a fresh coat of black rustoleum on it, Daisy and his crew would be heading back to San Fran. Since my flight to Denver to visit Jud was out of San Francisco, Daisy was more than happy to bring me along… so saying my fond farewells to Rex, I boarded the “Uncle Daisy mobile” and headed into the city. I had four days until my flight, but my new, impromptu host was nice enough to put me up in his apartment and show me around the city. Daisy’s operation was very similar to Rex’s, in that he visited many farmer’s markets, taking their throw-aways… in fact, he had originally introduced Rex to this method of reducing food waste. Daisy even used some of this produce in a nearby food kitchen project known as “Curry without Worry” run by a local Southeast Asian contingent.
Easter spent in San Francisco this year was certainly one of the most interesting I’ve ever experienced, and another advantage to being relatively this close to home was that I was well within business travel range to my brother-in-law, Paul, whom I managed to meet up with and visit San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. In no time at all, I was on my way to Colorado, also visiting my best friend, Jud.
I am finally home now, looking back at a whirlwind of amazing memories spanning the last eight months. I am so grateful to each one of them for all the patience, growth, and joy they’ve afforded me. Only now do I see that my host, Sunshine in Takaka, originally from west coast of the U.S. and the first of my deviations from my original plans, would eventually be pointing me in the direction of sunny California and its unexpected bliss. I think that it is safe to say that my next expedition will lend itself more to the wonderful risk of spontaneity. Sometimes, you just have to let the road choose your way.