A Birthday Gift to Remember

A few weeks ago my sister Shannon turned 40. Last year I knew I was going to be away for the birthday so to make up for it, I thought, what would be a dream gift for this wonderful sister, daughter, mother, cousin, niece, colleague and friend? As Shannon is yet to experience the joy of overseas travel, a holiday abroad would be an amazing present for her to remember forever.

I told family about the holiday gift idea and they were very supportive so I developed a plan to enable this gift without Shannon knowing. A protected OzCrowd fund-raising page, a secret Facebook event and complicit family and friends were key aspects of this plan.

Random Title (Medium)

As the campaign title and main image were publicly visible I chose a generic title and image

Private Ozcrowd Campaign (Medium)

Accessing the fund-raising campaign page required a password

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The New Year in Mar del Plata, Argentina

On the 31st of December I left my Buenos Aires Spanish class early in order to catch a bus 5 or so hours from Retiro to Mar del Plata. Mar del Plata is a coastal city in Buenos Aires Province and one of the country’s main beach resorts and fishing ports. My final destination was a hostel in Playa Los Lobos, a coastal village between Mar del Plata and Miramar.

In Playa Los Lobos I met up with Brazilian friend Joana and we headed back to Mar del Plata to see what was happening there this new years eve. Our original plan was a Couchsurfing party but that was cancelled with short notice. Mar del Plata’s streets were quiet, the wind cold and restaurants either closed, full or expensive buffets. We eventually found an okay all-you-can-eat pizza place.

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Enjoying all-you-can-eat pizza in Mar del Plata

Following dinner we caught a ride back to Playa Los Lobos and joined others around a fire between the hostel and the coastal cliffs.

On new years day Thao, Sandra, Joana and I caught the bus back to Mar del Plata to explore the port area.

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Sea lions enjoying themselves in Mar del Plata port

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Sea lions and seagulls in the foreground and ships moored in the background

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Fishing boats by the dozen in Mar del Plata

Mar del Plata, Argentina

New years day night we enjoyed another night around the fire in Playa Los Lobos

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Colourful artwork covering a Playa Los Lobos bus shelter in front of our accommodation building with its orange roof

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Our 1 January fire was only metres away from these magnificent cliffs. It wasn’t until the next day that we realised high the cliffs were

Journey from Mar del Plata, to Buenos Aires

The region had received lots of rain previously as evidenced by the water lying in the paddocks on the journey back to Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, Argentina

In mid-December I flew from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires to take Spanish lessons and start my Argentinean adventure. Buenos Aires, shortened to Bs As by locals, is a large and grand metropolis with many different neighbourhoods. The architecture, parks  and monuments of Recoleta, where I stayed most of the time, gave the area a European feel. Below are some of my favourite photos of the city.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Floralis Generica, a large sculpture with petals that open and close

Buenos Aires, Argentina

A group of people kneeling (praying?) in front of the imposing University of Buenos Aires Law Faculty building

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentinean steak has a fantastic reputation, one that steaks I ate in restaurants did not meet. Pictured above is the best steak I ate – perhaps the best I have ever eaten anywhere. This tender morsel was cooked at my homestay host Pilar’s relative’s house for a pre-Christmas party

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Christmas eve late lunch with fellow Spanish students (in Argentina dinner usually doesn’t start until after 9pm)

Buenos Aires, Argentina

La Recoleta Cemetery, the home of Eva Peron’s tomb along with that of many other important Argentinians

Buenos Aires, Argentina

There are five sets of pedestrian lights to cross to get from one side of the world’s widest avenue (9 de Julio) to the other

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Another view of 9 de Julio Avenue, this one featuring an image of Eva Peron on a tall building and many traffic lights

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentina’s poor contemporary economic history and import restrictions mean many old cars are still on the road including this classic ute seen in Palermo

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Dining with my former boss who was visiting Buenos Aires prior to moving to the city for her next job

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Centro Cultural Recoleta statues

Buenos Aires, Argentina

A couple playing guitars next to a monument and across from statues

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Dusk lighting the redeveloped suburb of Puerto Madera

Buenos Aires, Argentina

A fashion model in need of a good feed being photographed on a Puerto Madera bridge

I look forward to reuniting with Buenos Aires in a few weeks.

Mariza Epicentro Permaculture Farm, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

Sign to Mariza Epicentro in front of a cactus species used to secure property boundaries

In early December I enjoyed a wonderful nine days on Marsha Hanzi’s Mariza Epicentro permaculture farm. I first met Marsha at a wedding in New Zealand in 2013 and I looked forward to visiting her farm.

Mariza Epicentro is located 20 kilometres by dirt road from Tucano, a regional centre five hours by bus from Salvador, the capital of Brazil’s Bahia state. The easiest way to get there from Tucano bus station is by taking one of the waiting cars (R$60; like a private taxi). 

Mariza Epicentro’s main property has separate several buildings and the farm is divided into different paddocks to keep animals and grow crops. Luis Carlos looked after most day to day farm operations with the assistance of his brother and volunteers. Breakfast and lunch were cooked by either a mother or her daughter and the farm also employed a handyman.

Although the weather was very dry and hot (~40 degrees Celsius every day) the farm felt alive. Wild and domestic animals abounded and the primary farm property was greener than surrounding properties, a result of several years of permaculture.

There was so much life on the property that in the office I took two or three hours to notice a snake skin on the desk centimetres from my laptop. Because the skin didn’t move or make a sound I didn’t see it!

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

Mariza Epicentro’s guest accommodation block

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

My washing hanging on an outside line

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, BrazilOn of the outdoor ‘long drop’ toilets Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

My room in the guest accommodation quarters

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

A dry field, part of Mariza Epicentro’s newer, secondary property

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

The half moon during the day

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

Cacti flower and buds

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

An amazing sunset

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

With farmer Luis Carlos; we got on very well even though not having a common language

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

The open cooking, dining and socialising building

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

With Marsha on the last morning of my stay

Marsha started Mariza Epicentro as a challenge to show that permaculture can work in marginal country. Over the years Marsha has enriched the land, planted  and added buildings, with more improvements in the pipeline. For anyone interested in sustainable agriculture or self sufficiency Mariza Epicentro is a fantastic place to visit.

More photos and text from my time on Mariza Epicentro:
Wild Animals
Domestic Animals
Around Mariza Epicentro
Food and Crops Part 1
Food and Crops Part 2

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Food and Crops Part 2

Continuing on from Food and Crops Part 1.

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, crops and food

This species of cacti is grown in the Tucano area for both animal and human consumption. The shrubs behind the cactus are grown for a windbreak

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, crops and food

The final cashew fruit left on the Mariza Epicentro trees. The monkeys later devoured this fruit

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, crops and food

Kamyla and Marcio playing with fallen cashew tree leaves. We bagged the leaves from a neighbouring farm for incorporation into Epicentro composting

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, crops and food

A corn paddock we harvested. The corn cobs are harvested dry and hard. Note the cacti planted as a second crop

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, crops and food

The corn harvesters standing behind the trailer of bagged corn

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, crops and food

Luis Carlos’ brother and Kamyla harvesting cassava by digging out the edible roots

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, crops and food

Acacia pods and blossom on a tree. The acacia pods are harvested for feed

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, crops and food

Marcio driving the car towing a trailer load of firewood. Driving through the sandy road with the trailer took multiple attempts

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, crops and food

A huge unripe cashew nut. The cashew fruit will develop above the nut

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Food and Crops Part 1

Mariza Epicentro grows many crops organically and following permaculture practices for both animal and human consumption. These include corn (the primary crop), cassava, cacti, cashew, mango, pumpkin, herbs and vegetables.

Every day a cook prepared hot breakfasts and lunches in addition to a light morning tea. There was no formal evening meal although leftovers from lunch were often available.

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Food and Crops

Lunch: salad, pumpkin, meat, beans and rice

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Food and Crops

A chilli plant shining in the late afternoon glow

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Food and Crops

The kitchen sink piping leads to the mango tree and immature banana and coconut palms, eliminating the need to use precious water specifically for these relatively thirsty plants

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Food and Crops

Lunch on another day including polenta (coarsely ground corn; bottom right of main plate) made from corn grown and ground on the farm

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Food and Crops

Removing corn from the cob

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Food and Crops

Plantain, cassava, rice, lettuce, pork offal and beans

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Food and Crops

Luis Carlos straining coconut as part of the process to make coconut oil. The coconuts are harvested from the ground at another property in the district

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Food and Crops

The corn huskers and graders: myself, Luis Carlos, Kamyla and Marcio

Around Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil

Photos from around Mariza Epicentro, including a hike to a nearby ravine and a memorable visit to the local village bars.

Around Mariza

Man riding a donkey on the dirt track next to Mariza Epicentro

Around Mariza

On the Sunday morning Kamyla, Marcio and I braved the heat and hiked to a nearby ravine

Around Mariza

One of many lizards on the ravine walls

Around Mariza

Myself, Kamyla and Marcio in the ravine

Around Mariza

Interesting rock formations caused by erosion in the ravine

Around Mariza

Marcio and Kamyla walking back from the ravine to Mariza Epicentro. Note the leather off-cuts used to stabilise the sandy track

Around Mariza

Sunday evening is the main night out in the local village. There are two village bars next to each other and neither of them have any advertising whatsoever on the outside. Every local knows they are bars so why advertise?

Around Mariza

Outside the first bar

Around Mariza

The bar area of the first bar. The poster to the right of the television is advertising a duet concert at a local farm. Duets are popular in this region

Around Mariza

A donkey underneath a mature cashew tree

Around Mariza

Vultures near the bus stop where I caught the school bus from Mariza to Tucano. An animal had died overnight and more than twenty vultures were hanging around the carcase vicinity

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil: Domestic Animals

Mariza Epicentro kept several species of domesticated animals including pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, cats, ducks and Geraldo the goose.

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

Chickens eagerly awaiting a feed

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

The juvenile pigs enjoying food leftover from the kitchen. The wooden contraptions around their heads are designed to stop their heads getting stuck in fences

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

Geraldo the goose is one of the most moody and irritable things I’ve come across. He attacked people who came near him, managing to bite the cook

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

The farmers and volunteers inspecting a sheep and goat trough at Mariza Epicentro’s secondary property

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

One of the cats eyeing off cake

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

Geraldo the goose bossing a duck. Cashew leaves frame the photo

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

Cats at the food bowl

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

The billy goat showing disdain

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

Volunteer Marcio feeding the goats and sheep lower grade corn cobs

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

Two sheep, one with wool and the other without. Like the pigs, one of the sheep has sticks around its neck to stop it from getting its head stuck in the fence

Mariza Epicentro, Tucano, Bahia, Brazil, Domestic Animals

Goats running around with a neighbouring property in the background