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Saturday, June 26, 2010

What Lies Beneath

May 2-7, 2010
Kokonga, Central Otago
Two nights in a Dunedin hostel filled in the time between Crazy Americans in Waikouaiti and the next wwoofing host, Potato David, in Kokonga.
That Sunday night was supposed to be an early bedtime in the backpackers, but 6 new chatty roommates had other ideas. The night prior was a big party night for Aerin & I, as the ‘big’ night in Dunedin is best had on Saturdays. Sometime Saturday night/Sunday morning I strolled into my hostel after lots of dancing, drinking, and a late night snack, and checked the clock: 2:25am, not too bad. A nice sleep until 9:45am gave me nearly a full night’s rest, or so I thought. The next afternoon I met a friend for picnicking in the Dunedin Botanical Gardens, and an excerpt of our conversation follows:

Jessie:       I got home just before 2:30am, not too bad. How about you?
Mikenna:     What?? Umm, Jessie, that’s not possible… I left you at 3:30am to walk home.
Jessie:       Are you sure? Is your cell phone set to the right time zone?
Mikenna:     Yes, I’m sure. I walked into my place at exactly 3:59am; I remember looking at the clock on the wall.
Jessie:       Uh oh, um…. (pause, pause, more pause…) Oh no! I read the clock wrong!! I switched the big and little hands!… It was actually 5:10am!!!

Part of me was embarrassed, part ashamed, and part a little proud of my partying elasticity! This quality, however celebrated, did not at all assist me in my next WWOOFing job: Potato Farmer.
On Monday morning a 2.5 hour van ride to Kokonga (like coconut, but with a ‘nah’ instead of a ‘nut’) began amusingly enough when the driver asked us where in Kokonga we were headed. As relayed by our host, we told the driver, “The white house…the one next to the church.” “Oh, yes, of course, that’s the only one there.”
Big bustling Kokonga, population 8, with plenty of open space, but jam packed with 20 tons of potatoes behind church and the white house. The house is actually light green, but the garage closest to the street is white, so that qualifies as a white house, I suppose? Our new wwoofing host David, estimated that Aerin & I will dig up 1.2 tons of potatoes while we were there for the week. (Are you saying Holy Shit right now, because I did when I heard that.) Thankfully there was some sarcasm hidden in that expression, but it wasn’t at all apparent until after the first 4 hours of digging.

David is a hoot of a Kiwi who eats potato side dishes for at least 2 meals a day and likes to teach all sorts of things from potato peculiarities to hilarious NZ slang. He’s also a part-time tour guide for bigwig international executives, and runs a marketing company. Busy dude, so why potatoes? A week went by, and all David had as an excuse for growing potatoes was that he was told he couldn’t grow potatoes in Central Otago. “Too hot, too cold, too dry, too rocky…” This area of New Zealand’s South Island, Central Otago, is known as having the hottest & the coldest temperatures during the seasons, while also being brutally dry and full of rocky terrain with mountains on all four sides and underfoot. Lucky for us it was only Fall (seasons are reversed in the Southern hemisphere), and I wouldn’t have to endure full-on winter in the coldest of colds. That seasonality didn’t seem to matter much though, as 4 of the 5 potato digging days saw blistering frosts each morning. The only thing colder than the rows of potatoes outside was the house on the inside. The house was built in 1938, and felt like it was reverse insulated. There was a fire plume, which served to warm up the kitchen and living room areas, with a door separating the meatlocker-esque bedrooms. This plume was also the only thing that warmed up the freezing water, so out of the 3 of us, only 2 could take a bath each night. Oh goodie. Aerin & I came in each night coated in dust and dirt, thanks to the rough dryness of the land, wind, and turning over ground all day long, and a bath was gloriously necessary. We relinquished ourselves to using the equivalent of a dish sink of water so that we could all be clean for dinner, and it was heavenly each and every time. It was amazing the quantity of dirt washed off of our minimally exposed skin, as we were well wrapped up from the cold. Washing our hair, however, was a questionable chore that did not occur all week. Out of fear of our hair literally freezing on our pillows while we slept, and the lack of available warm water, we regrettably opted out of that luxury.

Turns out we didn’t dig up 1.2 tons of potatoes (thank heavens), but we did dig up over 500 pounds in 4.5 days! If I ever underestimated potato farming in the past (or if I ever even thought about it), then this was my payback. Potato Farming Is Hard Work!
Suiting up in several layers of clothes, hat, boots, work gloves and spades (aka shovels), we hit the paddock with energy and strength every day. Each morning Aerin & I received our list of potato variety, quantity, and customer, and then headed out to the back paddock. The first day we were brimming with enthusiasm for potatoes. The second day still very enthusiastic. Third day, enthusiasm waning somewhat. Fourth day (and after a killer back-breaking 8 hour day prior), we had no desire. Fifth day, back to enthusiasm as it was a small digging day, but even better, it was Delivery day and the last day!

At the end of potato delivery day, Aerin & I were dropped off in a bit larger town (hard to get smaller) a few hours away in Wanaka, with a nearly 5,000 population. It felt like New York City in comparison! That night’s shower included the BEST HAIR WASH EVER! It was so good that I washed twice (partly out of necessity). This night was also the very last night that Aerin & I would spend wwoofing together. She was bound back for America to Georgia Tech summer studies, while I wwoofed on. Plenty of tears were shed when I drove off with my next wwoofing host, and she took a shuttle bus to the airport. Travel companion, goodbye.

Hope you enjoyed these carbohydrate days with me! Jessie

PS- For the curious, potato varieties dug: Purple passion, Heather, Agria, Van Rosa, Desiree, and 3 varieties of heritage Taewa (non-GMO).

Kokonga potatoes

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