When I decided to start traveling and live like locals do, work exchange seemed like the perfect match. Work away is a platform that reunites people who need volunteers with volunteers (details about it in my other post). The hosts give the volunteer board and meals for free, while the volunteer repays them by working a few hours a day, with free weekends. Nice, right? In this case, it is not too good to be true. It is true. So I said to myself:
If I do this, I ‘ll do it in style. I will choose a dream place.
How I did it
So, I click on the website, make an account, pay…..and think where do I want to go? Well, Tuscany is the first thing that comes into my mind, so I search hosts there. I find this olive trees farm, close to the sea and apply. The host replies right away, we exchange a few emails to organize everything and there I am. The D Day. I am on my way to Tuscany, to be more specific, I am gonna stay in a village called Grosseto. It is 20.30, I have lost a lot of time photographing on the way and it is starting to be dusk. My host warned me that it is better to come in daylight, at least the first time, because the farm is hard to find at night. My navigation chokes and refuses to list the village anymore, so I start asking locals. They send me on the right direction, but still I call my host. She agrees to come and meet me half way. Its 22.30. She comes and I follow her. This is how my first 6 Tuscan weeks began.
It was hard to get used to everything that was new to me: the house, the people, speaking Italian, or German all day, the neighborhood, but I knew it is also normal to feel strange the first days. And I did. After all, it was also my first workaway experience and I did not know the rules, as there are not many, and that is also what makes it so pleasant somehow.
So, I have discussed with my host Dagmar about her expectations. She is a strong woman in her 60’s, with the energy and vitality of a 20-year-old woman. She takes care of 15 horses which she had rescued from slaughter or abuse. They have their own sanctuary, and are running wild. She also prepares medicinal teas, elixirs, potions.
I do not ask many questions about what I should do to help. Dagmar only wants some help. So I start taking care of everything. Setting dry leaves and fallen branches on fire – I do that for a week together with another volunteer who was there. Then I cook almost daily, whatever came to my mind. Actually, I prepared often some Hungarian goulash with Tuscan ingredients. Some Hungarian cooks would definitely not agree with me, but it was delicious.
I also cleaned the two guesthouses Dagmar had in the farm. Two beautiful small houses shaded by huge old trees, with a view to the grazing fields where the horses spent all day.
Little by little I got friends with the dogs, cats, horses, pony. I took one dog in particular for a walk, every evening. I volunteered for that, because Nero was chained all day due to his huge appetite to kill the neighbor’s sheep. Me and Nero, who was half wolf, got along very well. We were disappearing one hour every evening on the alleys of the village.
A normal day
A normal day would start with breakfast, together with Dagmar and the other guy. Then Dagmar would leave to take care of business in the town, and I was making sure the house doesn’t set on fire or fall apart. I would often spend my time, reading, watching the beautiful hills, or going to the sea. On weekends I went to see the big towns around, like Siena, Florence. Dagmar showed us the hidden treasures of Tuscany. She took us in some places, I would have never discovered on my own, because I have googled them and there were not mentioned anywhere. I will write about them soon on my blog.
All in all, to summarize, the work was not hard. I was in nature all day, and not anywhere in nature. I was in a small Tuscan village, by the sea. I cannot begin to tell you how the air smelled, and how many colors I have seen on those 50 hectares of wilderness, Dagmar’s property.
What I did not like
I missed more human contact. The other volunteer was a bore, sorry, but he was and Dagmar was most of the time away. So I had to entertain myself, which I did by visiting as many places as I could reach. I had my own car so that was a big plus. I could go anywhere. Of course the car broke and I was left without it for 10 days, but I survived and I have got good friends with the mechanic which is also part of the local touch I like.
What I loved
- First and the most, where the evenings when I was talking with Dagmar for hours, over refilled glasses of Tuscan red wine. We cried and laughed together and she won her place in my heart. I appreciate so much, after all, the fact that I felt like home in her home and her presence;
- The walks with Nero, the friendship with Gingerina – the red cat which was the best friend of Ginger the yellow horse;
- All that I have learned regarding Tuscan cooking, how a genuine olive oil smells and tastes like, how hand-picked fresh spices leave a perfume in your palm, the value of eating as an art;
- The remote beaches I have seen;
- The good night sleep I would get while having the windows wide opened and hearing the nightingale sing. The first thing I saw when I woke up, where the hills of Tuscany. The second, when I went down for breakfast, was the hills of Tuscany. That was always a dream day’s start.
To help you have a great first work exchange experience, I have put up a list of tips. See it here.