We chatted a while with Ludvig, a Swedish boy who was volunteering there, and learned that lots of international people in their 20s or so were volunteering at Blue Duck. Warriors, they called themselves. We later met Lotta from France, Lyssa from New York, a girl from Belgium, a guy from England, a couple Kiwis, and some other people I didn't quite sort out.
Since we were only staying one night, we were allowed to set up on the front lawn, so we erected our tent under the casually watchful eye of Dan, the owner of the farm, who then came over to chat. (Bethany thinks he was impressed with our tent skills, and I won't argue.) He told us a little about the farm, it's 10,000 sheep, 1,000 cows, and 25 or so dogs. He noticed our instruments and asked us to play a little later.
The afternoon passed in restful activity; we practiced some music, made lunch, took a nap, caught up on journaling, gave each other massages, etc. All the little things.
Then a magical thing happened. We got invited to the staff get-together. An exclusive party. Dan told us we could trade music for a cold beer. In the end, we earned ourselves three cold beers, dinner, a couple mixed drinks, a few cigarettes, and excellent company until late in the night. They loved the music, and we all seemed to see eye-to-eye on so many things.
They were pretty hilarious, too. At one point, while it was still early, one of the paid workers was getting the last of some sheep out of a field. He was whistling away to the dogs and not making much progress. When Bethany asked how he whistled like that, Dan pulled out a small, triangular contraption made of plastic from a string around his neck and, smiling, started making various whistling sounds. Even from that distance, the dogs recognized his air of command and started pulling their weight. Soon, the only one left in the field was the original whistler. Turns out, he's quite good at taking a ribbing. He lost a radio out in the bush the other day and no one will let up on him for that one either.
As dusk began to fall, one Warrior, Jack, offered to make everyone nachos. Dan let him inside the cafe (although apparently Dan is no longer allowed to touch anything inside of said cafe) but there were not the proper Nacho fixins. So Dan obligingly drove us and the girls to the Warriors house while the boys took the four wheeler. While part of me wanted to ride in the four wheeler, it was nice to soak up some of Dan's farmer knowledge, and I learned how to recognize when bees are about to find a new hive and what to do with a bull that has broken the fence and wandered into your garden for the third day in a row. Apparently, the trick is to move it to a field that is farther away. It was also on this car ride that we learned that it might have been more dangerous than we realized to break into that little abandoned house on the hike yesterday, and Bethany and I kept looking at each other with a mixture of fear at could have happened and relief that nothing did.
At the Warriors house, we played more music (We'd been basically ordered to bring our instruments) and just chatted, talked about traveling, and enjoyed each other's company and some food, the preparation of which was amazing in two ways. One, Jack remembered that Bethany is gluten-intolerant and offered to make rice as well as noodles, which was sweet but unnecessary. And two, it was amazingly tasty despite the fact that most of the ingredients came from cans. An impressive culinary feat.
Dan returned after checking in on his family and regaled us with tales of Mellie, the tiny old bachelor who had lived in the house we were sitting in until the day he died. Mellie was one of 18 children and, even more than the farmer we had met earlier, his life was this valley. As a child, he would go into town, a small, sleepy village called Tamaranui, once a year. He and his siblings got all dressed up in their best clothes for this two day journey and each got one shilling to spend. He was also a funny old bastard, a tiny little man who loved to ride big horses. There was a lot to be learned from Mellie's example, though, as Dan admonished us when we laughed a while. He lived his whole life and never wanted for anything. Everything he needed, he grew himself, with the exception of a few trade goods like flour and sugar.
It was a really lovely moment, learning about the man who died in the corner of the room at the age of 94. I got the feeling that Dan didn't often hang out at the Warriors cottage and that our new friends were happy for the opportunity to bond and share some free time together.
In the morning, Jack and Ben offered to take us along as the collected some horses. 'Not a proper muster, which would be worth missing your canoes for, but should still be fun,' they told us. After short deliberation, we folded up the tent and made sure our stuff was organized, then hopped in the four wheeler and headed off down the road. And I've got to say, there's nothing quite like watching a couple of attractive country boys sweet talking some horses into a bridle and leading them down the road in front of you. Although a 'proper muster' would have been exciting, I'm sure.
Dad showed up with the canoe rental man, Gavin, and it was time to bid farewell to our Blue Duck Friends. Ben did us one last favor and drove us and all our gear down to the river in the four wheeler. I felt such a sense of belonging and inclusion there that it was really hard to leave, despite the fact that the river journey was one of our most anticipated sections of the trip. We might very well return at the end of the trip, and I will hope to God my allergies don't act up. After all, I'm only allergic to the 10,000 sheep, 1,000 cows, 25 dogs, 3 horses, the hay in the fields, and the dust on the roads. Maybe I can work in the cafe...