Sour Grapes

Flaming hot monkey lips! Let’s start with a disclaimer. I’m a very lucky person. I’m grateful and I make a conscious effort to complain about less and less. That said, I give to you for the sake of entertainment: The Read more

WWOOFing on the Wine Trail

After a couple of days off in Christchurch, we were back on a bus headed toward a small town in the Marlborough region called Renwick. We would once again be back on a family farm for a week. Here's Read more

Hitchhiking 101

Neither Lauren nor I have ever hitchhiked before coming to New Zealand. However, since no one lives here - 4.4 million people total, 3 million live in metro Auckland - buses only stop in larger towns. We were surprised Read more

WWOOFing at the Winery

After a four hour bus ride and our first successful hitch-hiking experience, Josh and I arrived at Pasquale vineyard just outside of the tiny town of Kurow, in Central Otago. The dynamic at this WWOOF job was a bit Read more

Campervan Fever

After a lovely 10 day stay with Bruce and Kathy at Birdsong, we had almost a week off before our next WWOOFing gig was supposed to start. After a little convincing on Josh's part, I agreed to rent a Read more

Sour Grapes

Posted on by Josh West in New Zealand | 1 Comment

Flaming hot monkey lips! Let’s start with a disclaimer.

I’m a very lucky person. I’m grateful and I make a conscious effort to complain about less and less. That said, I give to you for the sake of entertainment: The fourth WWOOFing adventure.

The gig was working on a vineyard and we were arriving just in time to harvest grapes. Yay! Lauren and I were genuinely excited… until we arrived and were shown the accommodations.

There was a two-story flat next to the family’s home to house WWOOFers. Only problem was that it was already at capacity and our room was a tent in the yard. A leaky tent that had been pitched circa 1991 with lots of weeds growing around it.  The pillows that we were issued looked as though they began their life around the same year I was born and have been sweat upon by a countless number of young farmers since, but no one has ever given them a wash. My olfactory is sure of it. With sincerity, I would have washed this pillow before allowing a pet to use it.

We were shown the flat where most of the other guests were staying. There was a common room with a table, small fridge, sideboard, and a couple of couches. As it accommodates a rotating door of primarily 18-20 year olds who have no incentive to keep the place clean and beautiful, it’s not what I would characterize as “inviting.” You know why public toilets are usually destroyed? Different room, same principle. Speaking of toilets…

The bathroom (singular) was a small room accessible from a roofed, open-air space on the side of the flat. It had a toilet and a small stand up shower. Let’s do some math. 15 WWOOFers, 1 toilet, 1 shower. Moreover, as the toilet faces the shower from two feet away, they can’t be utilized by different people simultaneously. An enumerated commodity only afforded to the very fast or very patient. Queue up!

Did you notice that I didn’t mention a sink in the bathroom? You’re so clever, but not to fret! It’s located immediately outside of the bathroom. Next to the stove where you cook your meals. With dirty dishes in it. So, take a poo, wash your hands, brush your teeth, and knock out that dinner plate while you’re at it. Honestly folks, this is some efficiency I can live without.

There was a list of rules and such tacked to the wall. Lauren and I diligently read through them entirely. It stated that the food was delivered to the guests once per week and that it was our responsibility to ration wisely amongst ourselves. Failing to do so would result in us, “STARVING FOR THE REST OF THE WEEK.” That’s a direct quote and the capitalization and diction are theirs. Whoa, what the fuck is this? Lord of the flies? Am I gonna have to fight the German kid over the last can of beans so Lauren and I don’t go hungry? I signed up to work on a farm. I didn’t sign up to be on Survivor. I envisioned our host playing the role of Jeff Probst with me lamenting the problems of the flat (and tent) because someone wanted too much rice with dinner. Further, all foods were listed and said to arrive on a certain day. Our arrival was two days into this schedule. However, a quick look around the refrigerator and pantry revealed that most of what should have been there wasn’t. I remember the celery looking particularly sad and tired. Alarm bells. They’re ringing. I hear them.

Lauren and I gave each other the patented absolutelynofuckinway look, placed our bags in the tent and asked the only WWOOFer around how to get to the nearest pub. As we set out, we noticed that our tent had been placed perilously close to the flat’s bathroom. Lauren scrunched up her nose to inquire, “Can you smell that?” With my mind still melting from all that I had seen in the first 10 minutes, I sarcastically bemoaned, “Honey, my nose can pick up tomato vine notes in a Sauvignon Blanc. So, yeah, I can smell the sewage.”

We got blackout drunk making plans to leave in the morning either hitchhiking or possibly taking a taxi to the nearest bus station. I was awakened the following morning with the dew dripping through the tent onto my face. Two seconds later, I was visited by an old friend not seen in a while – the I’m-never-drinking-again headbuster. No time for hangovers, though. My bags have never felt so heavy and I don’t recall having to walk so far with them. Without a word, we began putting strides between ourselves and the indentured servant camp.

Bottom line: our 3 previous WWOOF hosts were great. We lived up to our end of the bargain and they lived up to theirs for mutual benefit and enjoyment. What these people are doing is socially rude and technically illegal. WWOOFing is meant for organic homesteading farms, but New Zealand’s labor laws require commercial operations to pay laborers minimum wage or better. I looked the other way on this with the past winery because I’m a consenting adult and they were housing and feeding me well and laws schmaws – no big deal. However, these hosts are cramming people onto their property (into tents if necessary), putting some bread and cheese out for them to fight over, and then putting them to work. They give WWOOFing and its hosts a bad name by completely exploiting the system and those unfortunate souls who cross their path. And for what? A better financial statement?

In the aftermath, we received some scathing text messages from the host. Apparently, while some other WWOOFers were cooking breakfast, they caught me urinating near my tent before we left. In my defense, the bathroom was unsurprisingly occupied. Further, when I’m formally invited to someone’s home, I use the facilities. But when I’m camping in a tent, I piss outdoors.

WWOOFing on the Wine Trail

Posted on by Lauren West in New Zealand | Leave a comment

After a couple of days off in Christchurch, we were back on a bus headed toward a small town in the Marlborough region called Renwick. We would once again be back on a family farm for a week. Here’s the scene.

Our hosts, Tony and Eva. Tony is an expat originally from the UK and has been in Renwick for about 30 years. He originally came to New Zealand for work and loved it so much that he never left. Eva is from Hong Kong. They met when Eva was traveling New Zealand and WWOOFed for Tony five years ago. She never left. They now have a four year old boy named Louis.


Tony and Eva’s house. We stayed above the garage in a large room on the far right.


One of the resident kittens.


Renwick is known for the vast amount of hours of sunlight they receive each year. After being there for a week, I can confirm that there was only one day that was slightly overcast. The rest of our time there was lots of warm sunshine.

After Tony picked us up from the bus stop, we got settled, had some lunch, and immediately began doing some apple juicing. They have several apple trees on the property that were raining apples. Throughout the week, we juiced approximately 100 liters of apple juice and homemade cider. This process required quite a bit of prep: collecting apples, slicing them up, shredding them, and then using this contraption to extract the sweet juice.


This family will have juice for years after our help! One day, we decided to do an apple tasting with a sampling from 8 trees. It was a very nerdy experiment, but what do you expect from two Tech grads and another engineer? Below are the eight samples. We all chose our top pick based on looks, and then proceeded to taste each one and measure crispness, acidity, brix (sugar content), color, etc. Fun times on the farm :)


Another task while living on Clairvale farm was shoveling horse manure to use as fertilizer in the veggie gardens. Here’s an action shot of Josh :)


We did several other things throughout the week, including lots of work in the veggie gardens, rock sorting on two plots of land, and prepping those plots for Tony to plant grass seedlings. One evening, I felt like we were on some sort of master chef competition show. When we first arrived, Tony and Eva asked us if we enjoyed cooking and we told them we definitely did. We of course suggested Josh’s delicious homemade spaghetti sauce. Next thing we know, they tell us we are going to be cooking dinner that night: homemade ravioli, from scratch, with our spaghetti sauce to go with it. Neither of us have ever cooked homemade pasta, but we accepted the challenge. Long story short, we totally nailed it, but eventually failed due to a faulty ravioli pan we were given to use. We turned the dough into homemade spaghetti noodles instead and eventually had a nice meal.

Now on to the really fun stuff! One of the great things about Clairvale farm is that it is smack dab in the middle of the Marlborough wine trail, which is mainly known for Sauvignon Blanc. Luckily, Tony had two bikes for us to use so in the afternoons we could take a ride and do wine tastings. Here’s the scene.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 4.24.15 PM

The purple markers on the map above are all of the wineries we visited during our week at Clairvale. One day, we all took a picnic lunch and visited two vineyards.

Here is the menu of our tasting choices at Forrest Winery, which is owned by two Doctors. I loved the Gruner at this winery.


We had our lovely picnic lunch on their patio.


Next, we were off to Spy Valley. Turns out, Josh is quite the wine connoisseur. During one tasting, he picked up notes of a tomato vine. I looked at him like he was nuts when he said that, and then the lady doing the tasting for us told him he was exactly right.


Me, on the other hand, I just try and look like I know what I’m doing :)


Here is the actual Spy Valley base. Looks kinda creepy, eh? Also known as Waihopai Station, this base is part of the UKUSA consortium of intelligence agencies that intercepts and monitors all forms of communication. Those two giant white globes house the satellites.


Another one of our favorites was a place called Highfield.


They had quite a delicious sparkling wine that we enjoyed a bottle of while overlooking vineyards and mountains.



Finally, here’s an action shot of Josh riding home after lots of wine tasting :)


After a week of working and wine-tasting, we were off again on our adventure. From the map, you can see the point we hitched from. After almost an hour and a half of waiting, we got a ride to Nelson, a small beach town not too far from Renwick. It was time for a few days of R&R before heading to the North Island for our fourth and final WWOOFing gig.

Love to you all!


Hitchhiking 101

Posted on by Josh West in New Zealand | Leave a comment

Neither Lauren nor I have ever hitchhiked before coming to New Zealand. However, since no one lives here – 4.4 million people total, 3 million live in metro Auckland – buses only stop in larger towns. We were surprised to find that hitchhiking is very common and the expected mode of travel for WWOOFers and young travelers trying to reach rural towns. Consequently, we’ve hitchhiked four times so far. Here’s the scene.


We’ve picked up some pointers from other travelers on how to successfully (and safely?) hitchhike.

  • First off, and this is obvious, be on the side of the road with traffic going in the direction you need to go. Noobs could get this wrong.
  • Don’t be in the center of town – group mentality will prevent you from getting picked up and most people are likely local and not going where you need to go.
  • Get out of town in the direction you want to go so that the traffic passing you is likely going where you are trying to go – or at least likely to get you closer to your final destination.
  • Stand somewhere you can be in sight on a straightaway to give potential rides some time to quickly contemplate picking you up – don’t stand just around a corner.
  • Have a convenient place for the person to pull over just beyond you.
  • Have an excuse prepared in the event that the person(s) who stop creep you out.

Thus far, in four hitchhiking adventures:

  • Shortest wait time: 5 minutes
  • Longest wait time: 1 hour 25 minutes
  • Total time in car with strangers: 5 hours 30 minutes
  • Total distance traveled: 453 kilometers (281 miles)
  • Best nickname of someone who gave us a ride: “Squiddy”

Our longest ride was 3 hours back to Christchurch after our second WWOOFing gig. We were picked up by Grace and Livvy – two hungover college girls traveling back to school for the week after partying out of town over the weekend.


Our families will be happy to know that it is not likely that we will need to hitchhike any more and that it all went great without incident.

Love to you all!


WWOOFing at the Winery

Posted on by Lauren West in New Zealand | Leave a comment

After a four hour bus ride and our first successful hitch-hiking experience, Josh and I arrived at Pasquale vineyard just outside of the tiny town of Kurow, in Central Otago. The dynamic at this WWOOF job was a bit different than our first gig in Wainui. Over the two weeks, we would be working for Renzo and Petra (employees of Pasquale), but living with Mel and Andy (a family living in a house on the property). Here’s the scene.

Pasquale cellar door and cafe.



Mel & Andy’s home. Our room was in the attachment on the left.


Greenhouse with lots of yummy veggies.


Our host, Andy, with his two sons, Jimmy (14) and Fergus (9).


Work on the vineyard began bright and early each morning at 8am. Over the course of the two weeks, we had several different jobs.

First up, sewing up holes in the nets in an effort to minimize birds feeding on the vines. Unfortunately, Pasquale had a rabbit problem as well, so no matter how many holes we sewed, there were always new ones each day.


Pinning the nets together on the outside rows to keep birds from perching on the vines and eating the grapes.


Bird scaring! Unfortunately, no pictures of this one, but we basically walked down rows of vines banging on buckets and screaming to get the birds out from under the nets. Once this was done, we put big rocks all along the edge to hold the nets down.


Our final outdoor task was thinning bunches on the vines. We learned that for the Pinot Noir grapes, a wine maker prefers quality over quantity. By manually thinning out unripe bunches, this allows for fewer bunches to ripen quicker and easier.


On a few rainy days, we spent time inside labeling bottles of wine. This is a shot of Lydia (another WWOOFer from Germany), myself, and Petra (German that we were working with at Pasquale).


Josh boxing up some wine, with Renzo (Pasquale General Manager) and Lydia in the background.


In the afternoons, we had plenty of downtime to relax. A couple of days we even cooked tea (Kiwi word for dinner) for the family. One evening we had a picnic on the river.


Josh and Fergus playing a game of chess.


Another night Andy took us fishing and Lydia caught a rainbow trout that they cleaned up for an appetizer the following evening.


On our final full day of our two week stay, we finished up our work and headed to the cellar door for a wine tasting. Here is a picture of Josh and I with Petra, who was kind enough to do the tasting for us.


This is a shot with another WWOOFer, Pia (from Austria), Mel (our lovely hostess), and Josh.


We had quite a few lovely sunrises during our time in Kurow, and I finally managed to snag a good shot of one on our last morning there.


After enjoying the lovely view, Josh and I cooked scones with homemade strawberry jam and beignets for everyone.


After packing up and saying goodbye to the sheep….


…it was time to once again put our thumbs out in our quest to hitch a ride back to Christchurch.

Love to you all!


Campervan Fever

Posted on by Lauren West in New Zealand | 1 Comment

After a lovely 10 day stay with Bruce and Kathy at Birdsong, we had almost a week off before our next WWOOFing gig was supposed to start. After a little convincing on Josh’s part, I agreed to rent a campervan and go on a little road trip around the south island. I wasn’t too excited to sleep in a minivan for 5 nights, but it’s much more economical than hotels in NZ and it allows for much more freedom! We had our plan all mapped out, which included leaving Christchurch and heading over Arthur’s Pass, then down the west coast to the glaciers, and eventually making our way to Queenstown and Mt. Cook before heading back to Christchurch.

Here’s the scene. Josh in the driver’s seat…on the wrong side of the car :)


Our sweet ride…we were indeed happy campers!


Our first day we drove from Christchurch to Greymouth, heading over the beautiful Arthur’s Pass.





We arrived in Greymouth and found a holiday park to stay in for the night. Before settling down, we drove to town and found a wine shop and some pizza! Here is our dinner setup.


This is where our plan gets derailed. Unfortunately, we came down with some sort of flu, and ended up staying in Franz Josef glacier town for several nights. This was quite a bummer since we had plans to see so many places, but sometimes you just have to rest! After a few days, we finally had some energy back and went to check out the Fox Glacier.




Our time was running out and we needed to start heading back to Christchurch. The only good thing about being sick is that it allowed for a reunion with our friends from the first WWOOFing gig in Wainui!

Here is a shot Colin took when we reunited in Greymouth.


It wasn’t exactly what we had in mind for our week on the road, but it was a great experience with lots of lovely scenery! :)

Love to you all!


WWOOFing in Wainui

Posted on by Josh West in New Zealand | 2 Comments

Our stay with Bruce and Kathy at Birdsong Retreat and Wellness Center was nothing short of fantastic. We were also lucky enough to be there with three other WWOOFers who were a pleasure to work alongside and even more fun after hours.

What’s WWOOFing? Here’s a link. In short, you agree to work 4-6 hours per day on an organic farm. In exchange, you get room and board. In most cases, everyone wins and this definitely went in the win column.

The front garden at Birdsong overlooks Akaroa Harbor – Banks Peninsula, east coast, south island. Here’s the scene.



Our gracious hosts, Bruce and Kathy with their sweet dog Nina. (photo by Colin)


The gentle mountain man from Alaska, Colin. I caught him jammin’ one day after work. He’s a great photographer and I’m including and crediting his photos.


The youthful, hippie spirits from Oregon, Nathan and Amber.



We enjoyed weeding, planting, blackberry eradicating, felling trees, composting, and building new planting beds. Here’s some of the action.



One of two large, new compost piles – complete with biodynamics.


The new bed required a lot of ditch digging and hauling logs and dirt from other parts of the property.



One night, once the wasps had returned home for the day, Bruce and I suited up and tried to kill all of them with fire.



The kitchen is a happenin’ place at Birdsong. We were forever cooking or making kombucha or… something. One day it rained, so we made chutney and relish.


Colin filleting a fresh salmon from the harbor.


Bruce making homemade absinthe.


I cleaned lots of seaweed from the harbor and it made for a great salad. (photo by Colin)


Colin’s stock for seafood bisque.


From wild potatoes we found hiding in the garden, we pieced together “The Potato Breakfast Casserole” complete with hot sauce and fried bacon.

_MG_8878Bruce makes great pizzas from scratch. (photo by Colin)










There were LOTS of cicadas during our visit. Sometimes it bordered on deafening in the woods.


Kereru (wood pigeon) – they liked hanging out and watching us work in the garden.


Lauren and I in the flowers.


The whole crew.


In the end, we were 7 americans (Bruce and Kathy are expats eight years removed from San Francisco) working on a farm in New Zealand in a small town of no more than 400 neighbors. Most days were great weather to be working outdoors. Lots of fresh air. We all took turns making dinner and cocktails at the end of the day. We were a “work hard, eat well, and have a drink” kind of group. I learned about organic practices, permaculture, other people, and myself – and probably some other random stuff, too.

Love to you all!


79 Hours

Posted on by Lauren West in Random | Leave a comment

After four and a half months, it was time to say goodbye to Asia, for now. Next stop: New Zealand! We endured over three days of travel (79 hours to be exact), including boats, buses, taxis, planes, and metros, to get to our first WWOOFing job in Wainui, New Zealand. We left the lovely little island of Gili Air bright and early Monday morning on a speed boat, and arrived in Wainui around 3pm Thursday afternoon on a shuttle bus from Christchurch. Along the way, we had a layover in Sydney, where we did a bit of sightseeing!

Here’s the scene.

Me in front of the Sydney Opera House. I’ve seen it about 1000 times in photographs, and it looks exactly the same in person!


The Sydney Harbour Bridge & Queen Mary 2 cruise ship. The Queen Mary 2 is the largest ocean liner to ever visit Australia. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a shot of the whole ship, but it was huge!!


And finally, some street art in Sydney…


Love to you all!


People of Indonesia

Posted on by Josh West in Indonesia, People | Leave a comment















Love to you all!



My Underwater World

Posted on by Lauren West in Indonesia | 2 Comments

Since we’ve been in Gili Air, I’ve tackled my SSI Open Water Diving Certification, Advanced Open Water Diving Certification, and I plan to complete the Nitrox certification before we leave on Sunday. The Advanced course is five different dives, two of which must be a deep water dive and a navigation dive. The other three are your choice. I chose a night dive because the thought of it absolutely terrified me (and it turned out to not be scary at all and my longest dive yet of 56 minutes), Nitrox dive (more O2 in your tank so you can stay deeper for longer), and an underwater photography dive. During this course, I saw a ton of cool things, my favorite being a 2.5 meter long white tip reef shark!! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the camera on that dive.

Here’s the scene. This is a map of the Gili Islands and approximate locations of several of the dive sites that I’ve been to so far. A couple of these I’ve visited on multiple occasions.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 4.20.47 PM

Below are some of the shots from my photography dive at a site named Han’s Reef off the coast of Gili Air.

Map Puffer Fish



Moorish Idol


Blue Spotted Stingrays



Porcupine Fish (not inflated, but you can still see the quills)


Scorpion Fish (they tend to blend in but he is highlighted in this photo and upside down)


Several Lionfish on right and bottom


Spade Fish


Underwater selfie!! (but I couldn’t smile)


Other cool shots








Love to you all!


Loving Life in Lombok! (Gili Air)

Posted on by Lauren West in Indonesia | 4 Comments

For the past two weeks, Josh and I have been lucky enough to spend our days on a tiny, lovely little island off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia, Gili Air.   It is currently rainy season, so when we planned to leave Bali, the fast boats weren’t running due to weather.  That left us with two options: fly from Bali to Lombok or take the slow boat. Since we’ve enjoyed slow boats previously on our travels, we opted to go that route.  It turned into a twelve hour travel day, and we definitely won’t be taking the slow boat back to Bali, but what was waiting for us when we finally arrived made it all worth it! Here’s the scene. Our lovely slow boat (aka cargo ship carrying baby chickens and other trucks).


Now on to the good stuff! Gili Air is so small that you can walk around it in about an hour.  There are no motorized vehicles, only Cidomo’s (horse carts). After traveling around India and Southeast Asia for four months, it’s extremely strange not to see a motorbike anywhere :) No more dodging cars, tuk tuks, and motorbikes for a while!


Since the first time I went diving eons ago in the British Virgin Islands, I’ve always wanted to get my Open Water Scuba certification.  Before coming here, I read that Indonesia had amazing diving and twice as many marine species as the Great Barrier Reef. Since it is so inexpensive (relatively) here to get certified, I decided to go for it! We stayed at the Manta Dive bungalows because they were the top rated dive shop on the island and their bungalows also got great reviews.


Here is a picture of our bungalow that we spent our first week in.


Our lovely outdoor bathroom with a hot salt water shower. Is it weird that I actually like the salt water shower? :)


So, after a week on Gili Air, we had booked a room on Gili Trawangan, which is a 30 minute ferry ride away. Everyone we met on Gili Air told us not to go, but we felt we should see what it was all about. It’s the most visited of the three Gili’s and has a reputation for being the party island. We stayed in a hotel located on a giant coconut farm, away from all of the hustle and bustle.


Instead of spending the full seven nights we planned there, we were back ‘home’ on Gili Air after four nights. Thankfully, Manta Dive had a room that was available for the rest of our time in Indonesia :)


We thought you might be wondering how we were spending our days here, so I’ll take you through a typical day on Gili Air. Wake up and have breakfast (included in room price) at the Waterfront Restaurant overlooking the beautiful water.  Breakfast included a fresh fruit juice, coffee or tea, and your choice of several different food options.


At some point during the day, take a nice stroll around the island enjoying the scenery.




Lunch is usually at one of three restaurants, but our favorite is definitely Scallywag’s Organic Beach Club. Here is our favorite bartender, Mira! We’ve definitely become regulars here.


Scallywag’s also has nice beach chairs out back that you can use during the day.


How can you fight this water?



After lunch, more beach time, snorkeling, reading, or blogging.  There are tons of pretty fish and coral just in front of our hotel.  I wish I had an underwater camera!! You’ll just have to take my word for it :) Late afternoons are either happy hour at one of several beach bars or a 90 minute sunset yoga class.


During our first week in Gili Air, we did some of this. Scuba diving in the pool before heading out into the open water!


I kept going…


…and going…


…and then I got my SSI Open Water Diver card!! Josh also enjoyed diving, but decided he didn’t really want to spend three full days doing the certification…


So, until Josh drags me off of Gili Air kicking and screaming in about 10 days…I’m going to sit back, relax, and enjoy these views every day! (and hopefully get my Advanced Open Water Certification)


IMG_4472 Love to you all!


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