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“Permaculture? I thought this was a biking blog!” I hear you say.

Well, in my mind at any rate, there are some pretty strong links between the two.  I guess you could say cycling is the ultimate form of sustainable transport – whereas Permaculture is all about sustainable agriculture (the term is a contraction of the two words “permanent agriculture”) and indeed, sustainable living in general (whatever that means, these days…)

I actually learned quite a bit about permaculture while on our Americas bike trip, from the inspirational Oaxacan Warm Showers host Pablo Ruiz, on whose farm we stayed for a total of over 3 weeks.  Ironically, although I am Australian and have always been interested in “self sufficient farming”, up until then I had only a vague notion of what the term “Permaculture” really meant.  Suddenly I found myself, there in Mexico, learning all about what’s going on here in Australia!  I read books and watched videos, got incredibly inspired by Geoff Lawton’s explanation of “food forests” and looked into doing some more formalised study with the Permaculture Institute of Australia.

Interestingly, I met a lot of other cycle tourists who also had a dream of a self-sufficient farm somewhere some day.  You’d think these two ideas would be completely contradictory: the one so nomadic, the other so settled – yet many of us it seems dream these dreams in parallel.  Perhaps what cycle tourists and permaculturalists really have in common is a desire to live simply, a love of the earth and an intention to tread lightly on it.

All of this brings me in November to Jordan, to do a 2 week Permaculture Design Certificate.  Why Jordan, when I could have done this in Australia?  Well…. it’s an easy stopover on the way home from the UK, with dates that fit another period of voluntary unemployment, I’ve carefully chosen my teacher, I reckon if you can grow veggies in the Dead Sea valley then you can do it pretty much anywhere, and…. let’s face it…. it ticks the travel and cultural interest boxes to boot.

The lasting impressions are of dust and draining heat, flies flies flies, long classroom hours where I struggle to concentrate and keep my eyes open – I’d forgotten, I don’t learn well this way. There’s a LOT of information and perhaps later I’ll sift through assimilate make sense of it but right now I’m …. just …. so …. tired …..

Nights on the roof, blessed cool breeze, don’t even bother with the tent but lie looking at the stars. Sleep grasped briefly is hard to hold, stolen by the insistent ear buzz of a circling mosquito, the midnight screech of time-disoriented roosters, a dog bark that triggers an endless cacophony in response, hundreds it seems howling into the night on and on and on… then a cat fight, even the ducks join in the racket and finally as I’m looking at the inside of my eyelids and drifting off in the pre-dawn there’s the loud-speakered early morning call to prayer…

…Then a quick early morning blast on the bike, with a stick to fend off aggressive dogs before nine to five in a classroom, heavy lidded in the draining heat, wanting so much to learn learn learn but in reality, sadly, counting the days.

20121026-DSC_0124View from the site. Towards the end of the course we are asked to plan and present a Permaculture Design for the property seen at the top right of this photo.  Challenging stuff.

20121026-DSC_0131I pitch my one-man Terra Nova Laser Competition tent on the roof with difficulty – it isn’t free-standing – but in the end I don’t sleep inside but alongside it, using it only to store my stuff.  This tent is fabulously lightweight but I think personally I’d rather put up with a few extra hundred grams in exchange for easier pitching and better durability. To each his own.

20121026-DSC_0132Fellow students Rhea and Christian relax in the heat, reading to one another from their e-reader – much as Tom and I did all the way down the Americas.

20121102-DSC_0149During our one day off in the middle of the course, a few of us go and visit the farm of a local student.

20121108-DSC_0151People from all over the globe and all walks of life, brought together by a common interest in permaculture, and taught by Geoff Lawton (front row left).

I think an attempt to define Permaculture remains beyond me; if you aren’t familiar with it and are interested please see www.permaculture.org.au for more information.