Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mission Impossible: Finding work in Blenheim - Jobs, Jack's and Cyclones.

Having seen most of the South Island, after the stay in Christchurch we made plans to start work and restore our savings again. Up we went, along the coast with a pleasant stop in Kaikoura and to Blenheim. The area of Marlborough is famous for its wineries. Vineyards cover every inch of land.

With such a plenty of production going on, it should be easy to find work – one of the hundreds of vineyards must have need of some helping hands – or so we thought.
Roaming the area around town and stopping at every vineyard we could access left us with just a few phone numbers to call. We had an offer to work for a winery: night shifts, twelve hours every day, seven days a week, nonstop until may. No thanks.
For most vineyards, the grape harvest had not really begun yet, or if it had, they already had all the people they needed.

Everyone we met predicted an early harvest due to the nice weather this year. So we stayed optimistic and settled in Jack's Backpackers, an eternal construction site of a hostel, but with a lot of charme (it's a nice old building) and an awesome manager who is a backpacker herself. The atmosphere there is amazing, it felt more like a huge flat share with nice people than a hostel.

Endless phone calls and days later we still didn't have a job, and a lot of “Call me back later, we might start the harvest next week” answers. So what happened? It rained. A lot. The harvest was delayed further and further and it got quite frustrating.

Our next hope was one of the work hostels, which organise work for you if you stay at their place (and mostly pay a ridiculous amount of money for it.) They supposedly had work, but only two weeks later. And after a week in the hostel being surrounded by lazy and incompetent backpackers (because that's obviously the kind of people who need a hostel to get them any work), loud techno music and weed smokers all day, everywhere, we had enough and fled back to good old Jack's.

Now, of all the countless vineyard contractors we called, one actually needed people. Yeah, we thought, finally we have a job. And we can start tomorrow morning, isn't that awesome? So, we got up excited at around 4.30 in the morning to get there, along with a bunch of other desperate backpackers, waiting in front of the manager's private home. Two hours later, we actually started work, because the plants were still wet (surprise!), got a short and unmotivated safety instruction in broken English and went to work:
Cut the grapes off, throw them in the box and better be damn quick about it. Contract rates, 40 cent per vine, fighting to put your marker on the next bay first and running, crawling and breaking your back and legs to end up with minimum wage at the end of the day. Of course we didn't, because beginners are slow and the minimum rate is not so easy to reach.

The end of the story: we spent the rest of the week sitting in the hostel curing our backs and waiting for our boss to contact us about further work – without success. Bad weather, no harvest. Then he just stopped answering our calls. There were no other jobs available either. Several other travelers we met had the same problem and went through with the same day to day rhythm of endless calling and accepting delays and rejections.
We tried and tried and finally realised: Blenheim must be cursed.

Just as we decided to leave, all news channels started sending out warnings about Cyclone“Lusi”, a tropical storm approaching New Zealand and being expected to hit quite hard in Auckland and Northland – and also in Marlborough. Cursed place indeed.
We sat it out during a very cosy weekend with all the Jack's family hanging out in the hostel's living room, sharing self made cakes, music and the secret of making bracelets.
In the end, Lusi brought us a little bit of wind and a few rain puddles instead of the expected flying trees and floodings. Quite a tame little cyclone, this one.

To round up our Blenheim experience, the cursed town made its apology to us with a cute farewell gift:
The very moment we were hitting the street out of town, we got a call from the local cinema we visited earlier in the week. “Congratulations, you just won 20$ cash out of the weekly draw!”.

We had a good laugh and turned back into town to get our goodbye bill. We guess that Blenheim wanted to say something like “Took you long enough, guys, now take the money and get the hell out of here!”