Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Misadventures in WWOOFing - ah, it wasn't that bad really

Am back in Ireland now for over a week and wishing I was somewhere else. After such a long holiday (17 days if you include the weekends - haven't had a holiday that long for 15 years) I thought I'd be full of energy and get right back in to the swing of things but I'm really struggling. I'm going down to Clare for the Irish Seedsavers Apple Day this Sunday so maybe getting out of Dublin again for the day will help.

So, to the WWOOFing, basically the whole farm thing didn't really work out. For a start it wasn't a farm, it was two 21-year-old students who live in a hut on the side of a hill overlooking the town they go to college in (and it was really loud, even just the noise levels from the town were very stressy). And then I'd say I probably have a bigger garden than they did and they'd harvested all their herbs weeks ago so bang went my thoughts of maybe learning a bit about that side of things. They were just looking for help with building and renovations. While I accept that that is part and parcel of what needs to be done on a farm and also that I'm at fault because I didn't ask ahead of time what exactly their setup is and what I'd be doing (didn't want to put myself off really) I do think they should have volunteered some more information and give me an idea of what I'd be doing and what to expect. Like for example the fact that it's nearly an hour's walk uphill to get there and there's no access by car. That there was no running water or electricity. Composting toilet was on a platform above a four meter deep hole (good from the point of view of safety that they covered the hole over but nonetheless a bit scary to use) and at the top of a very steep trail. I’m all in favour of composting toilets but they also told me I only needed to use it for..em..number twos and that if I needed to pee I could just do it anywhere so long as it wasn’t too close to the house. Not terribly hygienic. And a bit wasteful to be honest - I’d have preferred to be given a bucket to pee in and asked to add it to the compost every day, at least then it’s not going to waste. And I wasn't too keen on the pet rats either to be honest.

I arrived at the train station to be met by this very young guy with a bike and he said we'd be cycling for about 10 minutes and then we'd have to walk and it'd take maybe 20 minutes and then expressed surprise that I had a big bag with me (and I was so proud of myself that I only had one bag with me, a rucksack and not the big giant type!). I explained to him that I'd injured my foot a year ago and had gotten very out of condition but he didn't seem too bothered. Finally made it up there (it probably does only take a very fit person about 20 minutes, but for me it was twice that). Anyway, all that walking uphill and down on the first day more or less did my foot in again so I worked for the half day I arrived and full day the next day (carrying wood down the hill to outside their hut, spent hours pulling nails out of it and also spent a few hours sawing trees into logs so yer man could build steps into some of the steeper trails - all the time thinking "so much for three to four hours work in return for learning about farming and a quiet country holiday"!) and all the time pretty scared because all of the trails around the place were so narrow and steep (have I mentioned before I'm not too good with heights? I didn't even have walking sticks with me, which while not practical to use while hauling wood, would at least have given me a measure of security sometimes). I have some photos but my brother has run off with my camera again so will post them at a later stage.

So, I told them I wasn't going to stay any longer, mainly because I didn't want my foot to get even worse and partly because, as one friend said to me the other night, "when you're in your thirties, you not as bothered about just saying you've had enough". They didn't seem bothered and when I said I felt he'd probably get work done just as quickly without me agreed. All in all a disappointing experience but I think I will try again and next time make sure to be very careful to find out what's in store for me.

And what does one do when standing in a train station in Germany and not needing to go home for another 12 days? It went something like this -

Me to train station person: when are the trains to Lübeck-Travemünde? There are three stations there? I'll check which one and be back in a second.

Runs to telephone to ring friend: H., did you move into your apartment at the weekened? (H. only moved up there in June and had been living in a guesthouse while looking for a place to live)

H: Yes, I did.

Me: Okay, if I come tonight will you have a place for me to stay?

H: Oh. It would be my greatest pleasure to see you.

Me: Okay, which station is it? Thanks, see you later.

Runs back to counter: It's the Hafen station. Great, train leaves in two minutes? On my way.

Made it onto the platform with about half a minute to spare, got onto train (the holiday ended up costing me quite a bit more than planned but was worth every cent) and just about six hours later walked into the restaurant on the Baltic Coast where H. was working. Great to see him again and I stayed there for a week. There are not many people you could just turn up like that and be sure of a welcome and I am very lucky to have a friend like that. I had to hang around until midnight as he had to work until then but by nine it wasn’t too busy so at least he was able to come out and sit with me for a while. And to cook for me - I was really hungry although I offended his cook’s sensibilities by asking for a Bauernfruhstuck, which is basically fried potatoes with ham and eggs - to me the ultimate in comfort food after a long, tiring day. To him, an insult to be asked to cook it. Ah well.

I stayed with him for a week, although he was working from 9 every morning and usually until about 10.30 at night. Still I had a good time, sleeping late, pottering around, going to the market to buy loads of nice food, cooking for myself (or going to the restaurant to let him cook dinner for me), drinking lots of different teas, listening to the radio (found a good classical station among other things and there were loads of programs about Pavarotti on which I really enjoyed), going to the cinema, I found a wool shop and spent loads of time knitting. I made him a lovely scarf to wear when it starts to get colder there but forgot to take a photo of it. I also went to Lübeck one day and to Hamburg another day. Wasn’t too keen on Lübeck but Hamburg is lovely. I’m very tempted now to try and move back to Germany but I’m trying to wait and see if that’s just a post-holiday feeling or if it will last a bit longer.

So, after all that I went back down to Frankfurt and spent the last four or five days with my friend there who I had stayed with at the beginning of the holiday. I had a fantastic holiday and think things worked out well in the end because I would never normally have taken two weeks off and just spent them visiting friends and chilling out. I think that amount of time sort of makes you feel obliged to “do” things but it was exactly what I needed.


Laurie said...

Wow, what a total BUMMER about the farm experience. At least you did get some good restful alone time - to me that is worth gold. I would never have had the nerve to try WWOOFing, going to a strange place working for people I didn't know. They should have been upfront about those kind of challenges before you made your plans. I admire your courage for trying it.

Laurie said...

You know, thinking about this a bit more, I think that you should report this experience to WWOOF. If they didn't really have a farm sounds to me like they were looking for free labor. You should at least have some kind of agriculture or plots in transition or SOMETHING for a farm worker to do, not building paths or carpentry. Maybe you'd save someone else some misery.

karl said...

sorry about the wwoof'n trouble. i'd report them also if you felt that they misrepresented themselves. nice way to turn lemons into lemonade.

Moonwaves said...

The thought did occur to me but I'm not going to take it any further. I think they are just very young and inexperienced and I certainly don't think they'll ever arrange for anyone to come over without giving them more information first.

At first they said I was not their first WWOOFer but later they mentioned I was the first to contact them "through the list". They've had a few other people already but they were always friends or friends of friends so obviously the idea of giving more information was somewhat moot, as friends would have already known what the place was like.

I'm just chalking it up to experience and not planning on expending any more energy on them.

And, Laurie, you're the very person who basically did go WWOOFing and inspired me to try it out. I'd never heard of it before reading your Spannochia reports! :-)

Laurie said...

Actually, I wasn't a WWOOFer. My friends who led the trip to Spannocchia were, though. I don't think I would have the stamina or courage to try it! But I did look at their information.

Glad you're okay with it - I would still be mad about it, but that's me!

Val Grainger said...

Hi I have read your blog and like it...interesting about the woofing! I am a wwoof host in Somerset GB and have also been wwoofing....where I also had some mixed experiences!

Work can be boring, lonely and long when working on a farm or smallholding and often the hosts are busy people! BUT what you have to do should be well explained beforehand and you should be in your comfort zone with the jobs undertaken!....give it another go closer to home!