At last. End of 3 unique months of mango farming
Trip Start Dec 22, 2008
9Trip End Ongoing
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Welcome to my first Travel Pod entry. I hope to keep you all up to date with things over the next few months.
I am now in Darwin, having been rained off for the last few days of work, due to a Tropical Monsoon passing through. Here was me thinking that getting away from England would avoid constant rain. But lately.. Not a chance. So I'm just awaiting a flight to Asia on the 22nd Dec, to start 2 months of exploring through Java, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Borneo (for the long awaited Mt Kinabalu climb and some orang utan spotting. Can't wait: woo hoo). But for now I would like to share my experiences of the last few months working through the mango season, located outside of Darwin (Northern Territory), Australia.
After 3 months of one of the most physically challenging jobs that I am likely to do, I feel that the fourth coming 2 months, exploring south east Asia, should put me right again. Although with some knowledge of the areas I will be going, I'm certain that relaxation may not always be a part of daily life. But anything could surely beat my average day and lifestyle of late and at least I am acclimatised to the heat!!
Let's see if I can paint a picture that could possibly give you some idea of my life recently. Well let's look at the fact that the nearest town that I lived, was a place called Humpty Doo (Northern Territory) and if anyone would like an example of a community of toothless simpletons, then here's that in a nutshell. Enough said!!!.. There's more! So Outside of Humpty Doo, on our fairly remote Mango farm, there was a semi permanent, hmm..?.. How should I say?.. 'camp?' No..? That's it..! A Gypsy camp, which we called home!
So apart from the last 3 weeks, my home within this mango plantation and camp was nothing more than a shipping container! Have no illusion, the ones that go on the back of the cargo ships were the very same thing as i had for a room. Oh yes, but it had air con, so that surely makes it fine. Then throw in there some bunk beds, wafer thin foam/stained mattresses, myself (unstained), 2 Irish guys,an Ozzy gent and you get something that could only compare to an under-privileged boarding school accommodation, dating back from the 40's.
Around 5.45am was the norm for getting up, to gingerly tread the 100 or so metres to the camp toilets (of which if the journey is done in the dark, treading out there in areas that inhabits probably 5 out of 20 of the most deadliest snakes in the world. Believe me, I've held going until the morning, and it stings!). So work began after shaking out ones work boots in-case of any scorpions or toads taking refuge etc
In some form of rest bite, most of my time was spent in the relatively less brutal conditions of the Mango packing shed (which I recommend any fellow traveller to seek out first, if thinking of working with mangoes) and even scrounged some cleaning of the camp. This option meaning only 30 degrees and humid, compared to working outdoors in nearly 40c, in the direct sun and still humid! So that was a bonus, especially for 6-7 Days a week and 10-12 hr days!? But lately it's been all outdoor work, as we moved to another farm called 'Bonza Mangoes' and it's where the real fun began. With work beginning at around 6.30am and already its 70% humidity and 25-26c., it's onto the Ute (mostly me driving around the farm, yippee!!!), with the guys on the back resembling something like a band of Taliban warriors and into the paddock. So for the next 10 hours (unless there was interruption by way of a tropical down pour, which would test most high-tech wet weather gear.) it was a long day of work in the increasing heat. By 7.30am all the work clothes are soaked through with sweat and there's the constant feeling of why am I doing this work. But no-one would ever complain out loud to the ever present male, egotistical Northern Territory attitude of; If you have a slight gripe about being a bit tired, or being a touch hot, or can't operate certain tools (that you have never used), then you are somehow less of a man! Oh yeah, it's a 'real' mans country out here!? But I've seen Broke Back Mountain and Deliverance, so I know what really goes on.
Yes, generally long trousers, long sleeve top, boots and a wide brim hat (thank you Jill) are recommended. Of course, an unusual choice of clothing from a normal point of view and not what someone would even dream of wearing on such a gloriously hot day, especially doing that sort of work. But you learn fast and the reasoning is not only to keep off the sun, it's maybe a 'slight' saving grace from flies that require the patience of a 100 year old Monk (oh the flies, how they love to intrude your nostrils, mouth, ears and eye balls). Then there's the mosquitoes, ants, scratches from branches, mango sap that can burn skin and oh... -Whilst mentioning ants -..These nasty little sh*ts will out and out attack you in numbers, and openly leap from branches just to get at you for even daring to wonder amongst their area. Having had a number of them find their way into my clothing, namely my pants and falling onto my hat and face, I wondered why their bite was so harsh. But it was pointed out to me that they were in fact not biting me, but peeing on me and that's what creates the sting! So with the day going gloriously, it's topped of by ants urinating all over me. Hmmmmmm. Is it a wonder why (aside from sadists) its only backpackers in desperate need of cash,(or in the hope of getting a second one year visa), who do this job!
The last few weeks have been the most testing. We've moved from one tin shack to another and experienced more insects than I care to ever repeat. Work's been unpredictable, as its rainy season and the rain is almost certain to disrupt the day and inevitably the amount of pay received. Also knowing that time is nearly up to leave, but still the time drags SO, SO SLOW.
With months of all this behind me, the work has taken its toll on fatigue levels, patience and constant soul searching of justifying current lifestyles. It's not always so lovely sharing accommodation, but I'm glad my 2 Irish side kicks still remained throughout, to keep me sane and humoured. The only addition being a German guy, Oh and a Korean, which the only noise that comes out of him is an ungodly hacking/coughing noise from his chest to his throat. A noise so disturbing, that it would make a male lion turn and run in the opposite direction and quiver under a tree. This was regular and disturbing and was received in great disgust by us, his room mates. But realising this probably won't stop until he either dies, as he sounded like he might have possibly had TB anyway, or the German guy (who was closest in ear shot to him) would alternatively end his life. In the end we took a submissive humoured reaction and quietly and sometimes openly laughed amongst ourselves with every outburst from our phlegm filled friend.
Another memorable feature was all kitchens on these camps, which are open to the elements, except for a roof. Meaning things (insects in vast quantities) that looked not of this world, would dive bomb into your food, fall into the pots cooking on the stove and would somehow find ways of finding their way into most sealed packaging. Then the savage and ever hungry mosquitos would remain relentless throughout and were of such size that could almost carry a small child away. They apparently were oblivious to the insect repellent made to 'deter' them. It made meal times an enjoyable, if not emotional experience throughout!?
But when all is said and done, I wouldn't really change a thing. I have picked and packed mangos, which is an experience in itself. Then pruned, chain-sawed, hacked and chemically sprayed the Mango trees. Then have probably lived in the most basic that it comes within the developed world. Its all character building I have to say. I've gotten the chance to drive some interesting vehicles, got fitter and stronger, not touched a drop of booze in a while and worked hard and earned good money and more importantly have grown hair that almost resembles Ken Barlow off Coronation Street. Also, If anyone wants a new fad Hollywood diet to market, then I recommend anyone to this work, in that heat for a bit. The pounds just fly off!!
I've gotten to work with some interesting local people, some particularly interesting hillbilly co-workers, with names like Weed, Simmo and Weasel. A few of which sporting a beard that could hide a whole Alaskan salmon behind and they smell like they probably have done just that.
Or even chaps with fingers missing and that all generally could do with a bloody good wash and a trip to the alcohol rehab clinic!
But I've met some great people and have made friends that will keep in touch with. I've driven a Ute, which I always wanted to say I've done, Ha ha. I now also know and please take this on board.. That whenever I, or you eat another piece of fruit, or definitely anything with mangos in it! Please spare a thought (AS I WILL) for what it actually takes in order to get that piece of fruit in front of you and into your worthy mouths. All in all, for the moment, it certainly beats 9-5, the commuting traffic, cold winter and the worries of bills etc. Hey, what's the few risks of dangerous snakes, constant insect bites, shared rooms, dirty kitchens, porter loos, 60 hrs a week to no work at all if it rains, brutal temperatures, in-bred towns with nothing to do even if you can get to them!
No, I have liked it still in a way, that on my return to Oz in March I'll look for work in Tasmania in either apples or cherries. We shall see..!
In the end, it's paid for a few months in Asia, where I am looking forward to some Jungle hiking, cheap food, beaches, hopefully some voluntary work, exploring and getting stuck into some good books without being so tired that I fall asleep after one page. So with definitely enough money to spare for my return to Australia, it was really worth every moment. Almost! Ha ha
Thanks for reading and I'll update you all from Indonesia, where I have got a week to cross the island of Java and spend a third Christmas out of the UK! Last year was -10 in Canada and this year +30c. Bit different! Variety is the spice of life.
Enjoy a few photos. Sorry not got too many of the outdoor mango work, as there was never really a good chance for taking photos, or taking a camera out without destroying it, or sweating over it.
Bonza mates and have a great Christmas!.
Where I stayed
Arnhem Fruit and Bonza Mangoes!