Tuesday, 10 May 2011

what happened?

So now that I’ve arrived in Melbourne after a long delay I thought I’d share a few things that happened while I was in New Zealand. Firstly I’ve made a short video to show you what it was like working at a winery in Marlborough. Although ‘working at a winery’ sounds like a lovely, romantic, dreamy affair where we frolic in the sun barefoot upon the grapes, it’s not, surprisingly. The actual reality of 12 hour noisy night shifts in the freezing cold, going home with grapes down you’re pants (more about that another time) is enough to put the most budding blogger off regularly updating. However, I will say I did enjoy the experience, because I like wine and it was interesting to see how it’s made. Nevertheless, I don’t think I will be making a career for myself in winemaking.

I havn’t gone into the production in any detail really because, well, most of you probably don’t care, but you would be amazed to see some of the things that go into wine. At one point we added dry oak chips into the must pump to give the impression of aging in our pinot noir which I thought was quite cheeky.

(apologies for the bad quality, it was filmed off my phone!)

Out of all the places I visited in New Zealand, which were mainly in the north island, I have to say that the nations capital, Wellington blows the rest out of the water in terms of how cool it is. Perhaps it was somehting to do with the fact I didn't have a cloudy day both times I visited ( I was told it can often rain sideways in the windy winter) but the architecture, artwork, and cool, creative vibrancy of the place was incredible.

huge reflective sculptures at the waterfront
View back on the city from the waterfront

Kids jumping into the clear sea

Some maori inspired art

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island, NZ

A half hour ferry ride from Auckland is Waiheke Island. The natural beauty of the island has made it popular place to live and escape the pace of Auckland. The commute to work in Auckland for islanders is certainly pretty stress free as they cruise across the harbour.

The climate is also ideal for grapes and many wineries have set up there, tours are available from a variety of companies.

 I rented an awesome yellow scooter for the day and explored the island on 2 wheels, it was NZ$ 49 for the day and was well worth the money (Fun rentals were the cheapest on the Island).

The ferry is around NZ$ 30 or 40 return and you can use the return ticket the next day or whenever you like. I stayed at a place called the Bio Shelter on Pacific Parade (NZ$ 25), which was alright, the owner Ivan was a massive hippy and the whole place was geared around being environmentally friendly. Someone has to save the planet but I thought the dry flush toilet (read cess pit in the bathroom) was a step too far perhaps. Bizarrely it didn’t smell though, perhaps that’s because people aren’t too keen on poking their bums down there in the first place. Anyway, it is pretty impressive what he’s done there and he grows all his own food and stuff - no doubt helped along by his customers… the supermarket is about a 15 minute walk.

For more info on visiting the island this site is pretty good.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

S.A. to N.Z...Moving on.

Here are a few of my highlights from the last 2 days in South America, in Santiago, Chile.

Sunset on Santiago, view from Cerro San Cristobel

A few of the cool murals around Santiago

Grapes growing from the telephone lines!
The Beautiful old downtown Architecture

I don’t know, Its kind of weird leaving South America and although the trip isn’t over I can’t help but feel like part a big part of it may be, the cultural differences and stuff, the differences that make just walking down the street an adventure. Sounds kind of spoilt saying that when I read back over it, because after all I’m still on the other side of the world, but let me explain. Arriving in Auckland last night was exciting and as the bus drove down through the clean streets on the left hand side of the road I almost felt as if I was arriving back home, a lot of the vegetation and scenery around the outskirts of Auckland is similar to England and the coins and notes had the old familiar Queen Elizabeth and her snooty nose on them. But today as I wandered around the centre of Auckland and the parks and stuff a few funny things happened as I slowly adjusted to being back in civilization after 7 months.

I went into this internet café and instinctively greeted the Japanese lady working there with hola!, and at another place I ordered my food starting with ‘quiero’ too. Now I’m not saying I’m fluent or that I’m thinking in Spanish or anything like that, far from it, but there are little phrases which just stick and result in some strange looks from the kiwis!

Over the time spent in South America I have become expert at avoiding the vendors and trying to check out the prices without their knowing, and avoiding any hassle that I don’t really want to deal with. It’s hard to get used to the fact that, over here, you’re not actually going to get that hassle. Its funny when I look back at how I behaved when I got out the Auckland airport, actually, lets compare events at Santiago airport and Auckland airport.


Ok so it’s the first thing in the morning when I arrived, about 3am, as soon as I cleared customs and got into the airport Taxi! Taxi!, “no gracias” and I go off looking for the two things I need, Chilean pesos and wifi to see where I’m going to stay. Typically the atms aren’t working and I look for another one, weaving a route around the taxi drivers hawking around inside the terminal at each door. After I successfully have both money and an address I walk out the front door, instantly there is someone trying to direct me to his taxi. In my badly pronounced Spanish I’m like “No gracias donde esta la terminal de buses” and he tells me that it’s over there, but they don’t start until 6am… literally lying to me as the bus pulls into the stop, I run after it and load my things on, saying “centro por favor, quanto tiempa?” trying to gauge how long it will take to get to the centre so I minimize the taxi expenditure. I’ll get off after about 40 minutes.


I clear customs but then go through a ‘biohazards’ section to make sure my wooden guitar or the soil on my soles won’t wipe out wildlife or something and then I enter the front foyer of the airport. There are a few people waiting to greet friends and family and I go over to the ATM that works first time. It gives me my card back before my cash ‘that’s the way you do it’, I think. When you go to a machine you want money, so giving you that last ensures that you avoid situations like the one time in Bolivia when I walked off without my card. Fortunately, although on the whole they are desperately poor, the people in Bolivia are so kind and honest that some guy ran after me with the card when he could have cleared my account completely. Anyway, I go out the front door, I’d prepared the hostel in advance this time and remember reading something about the bus being the cheapest way. So I’m looking around for signs. I actually swerved away from the guy running the airport shuttle thing thinking he was going to start trying to convince me to use his services when I knew I didn’t want to, but I hit a dead end. When I go back round and walk past him he doesn’t even say anything. I think ‘that’s a bit weird’ but also find it relieving at the same time. I saw a bus and asked the driver if it was going to Queens street, “yea this is the one mate” “cheers, how much is it?” I reply, “Do you know where the Base hostel is by the way?”  “yea $16, 3rd stop mate”. Amazing, I thought.

As much as street dogs, horns and putting toilet paper in the bin is annoying when you’re in South America, it all kind of goes to constantly reinforce the fact that you’re somewhere completely different, after a while you just kind of get used to it. Here it’s going to be the opposite, getting used to the real world again (ok that sounds bad... the 'world I was used to'). Hopefully though, there will still be a lot of exciting adventures and things to do and see despite the civilised backdrop… Here goes NZ!

Sky tower - people like to jump off this... with bungees of course

Cosmopolitan Auckland

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Lunar Eclipse

Saw quite a cool sight from the roof of the hostel here in Santa Marta the other night. The total lunar eclipse was visible in it's entirety in North and South America and apparently was the first time since 1378 a total lunar eclipse has fallen on the winter solstice.

It was hard to get a decent photo of it and the stars didn't show up which is a shame, but it was great to see the moon turn red as the earths atmosphere refracted the light from the sun, and also - because of the lack of light in the sky, we were able to see a meteor shower too.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Caribbean Coast

To compensate for the lack of posts this last month I've knocked up another little video to try and show you where I am at the moment. I'm working at a hostel in Santa Marta, Colombia, trying to cut down on expenses before NZ.

I don't have that much footage because I don't tend to take the camera to the beach, but one day when we were at Taganga (the next bay to Santa Marta), we saw these fisherman hauling in a catch using these huge nets. Enjoy...

Although it hardly feels like it's Christmas-time here, apart from at the beach front in Santa Marta which rivals Blackpool illuminations in its colourful array of bulbs, Merry Christmas everyone.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Coffee Beans and Chick vs. Chicken

Manizales, Colombia

We visited a beautiful coffee Finca in Manizales called Hacienda Venecia to see and taste how good coffee is made. Please excuse the length of this post, a lot of coffee had been consumed.

The Finca is at 1300m altitude and has 160 hectares of Arabica coffee plants – this makes them quite a large producer in comparison to the average Colombian coffee farm, which are around 5-10 hectares. There are two main types of coffee, Arabica and Robusta. Robusta is generally grown between sea level and 800m, but because Colombian farms are at a higher altitude only Arabica is grown.

Arabica coffee is generally considered to make a higher quality roast, with greater flavour and aroma. Our guide, Alex, explained the production process of washed Arabica bean from cultivation and picking through to processing and roasting.

Roasting some fresh beans!

For more information on the tour visit


Plants are grown from seed in bags of composted coffee berry flesh. They use the berry flesh because it is a nutrient rich waste product of the production process, and the seedlings remain in these bags for four to six months.

Preparation of the seedlings

Compost pile
An older plant after pruning


Since Colombia is near the equator the climate is such that the plants produce berries all year round. This contrasts with other countries such as Brazil where there is one distinct harvest season. In Colombia, you can therefore see red and yellow berries (those ready for picking) and green berries, flowers and buds (developing berries) all on one plant.

Despite the consistent temperature, there are two main harvest periods in Colombia. High season is between September and November, when 75% of the picking is carried out, and March to May, when the remaining 25% are picked.

According to the guide, teams of 40 to 60 people do the picking with one supervisor per team whose job is to oversee the process and control quality. In the high season, Hacienda Venecia have between 400 to 500 workers on the farm. One team can pick between 5000 to 10000kg per day depending on the season, and the pay varies between 300 to 1000 pesos per kilo – again, this rate depends on the season due to the abundance of beans and therefore the ease of amassing a greater quantity.

Working with the average figures though, this would mean that 1 person picks 150kg per day, earning 97500 pesos - about £30.


Get ready for more facts and statistics. The berries are received and the quality of the batch is assessed. You don’t want too many green berries in the batch because these produce ‘quakers’ when roasted. Other problems that affect the quality of the harvest include insect damage from broca – a type of insect that eats the berries, and fungal infections on the berries before or after processing.

Collection area
Red and Yellow Berries
The beans are collected and washed down into a deep vat some 5m deep. When in water, berries with insect damage tend to float because of the hollow centre the broca cause and therefore these can be easily separated.

Separation Vat

The remaining beans are passed through machinery that removes the first fleshy outer layer of the berry – this wastage goes to the compost pile. When berries are picked the sugars of this fleshy layer cause fermentation to begin and therefore whilst the picking of berries is done during the day, the processing takes place the same night to reduce the damage caused.

Flesh removal machinery
Once the outer layer is removed, the beans need to be dried to prevent infection and fungal growth. At Hacienda Venecia, they opt for an oven process as opposed to sun drying, here the beans are gradually dried over a period of 18 to 24 hours at a temperature of 40 to 50 degrees. The beans need to have just 12% humidity before they are ready to be put into bags. They leave the second shell on the bean for protection during storage and exportation.

Coffee mountains

Wet beans pre-oven
Checking the humidity levels
A bag of 70kg costs about £125 and these are exported where the rest of the process (shell removal and roasting) is carried out to produce the brown coloured coffee bean we recognise. Their top three markets are Japan, Belgium and Canada.

The finished product
Coffee bean with inner shell
And with shell removed - this is what roasted coffee beans are made of

Sacks ready for export

According to Alex, the biggest importers in the world are obviously the U.S. but much of this is simply roasted and exported on again. Per capita, the biggest coffee drinkers are apparently the Philippines and Demark, the latter are also the biggest importers per capita.

The aroma and taste of coffee varies in a similar way to wine, the myriad factors affecting which include bean variety, climate, soil characteristics, roasting etc. and we had a lot of opportunity back at the ranch to explore this.

Good coffee beans
... and the quakers
Coffee taste & aroma wheel

Monday, 8 November 2010

Streets of Cali

Today Rich and I wondered around Cali, Colombia, in particular the older area of the town, San Antonio. There is a park at the top of the hill with a view over what is quite an ugly city. However, I found that in wondering around this part of town you uncover a more arty, bohemian side to the concrete jungle that is Cali.

If you're in Cali and you're trying to find this area, the easiest way is to find the massive intercontinental hotel and walk around the area behind it, you can find some great cafes there too.