Back at the end of December, after several months of trying to find somewhere habitable to live in London, for the few pennies I was earning & failing miserably, I decided that perhaps this wasn't it for me. Perhaps I wasn't meant to be perpetually miserable, working all the hours God sent, at a job I had entirely lost enthusiasm for & struggling to pay rent on a crappy apartment, I would no doubt be sharing with several other lost souls.
No, it was time to stop trying so hard at things that didn't fit. It was time to go traveling again, but this time, to go alone & finish what I started with La Grande Aventure.
Speaking to my friends about my decision, my friend Lucy informed me about an organisation called WWOOF. An agricultural voluntary exchange. There is a WWOOF organisation in most countries, ranging from Italy to Australia. The basic premise is, you offer your services for free & in exchange, you are provided with food & accommodation.
In order to join this organisation, you must first choose the country you'd like to visit. I chose Italy. Check that there is a host organisation in that country & then pay a small membership fee (mine was €25), which covers you for one whole year & which also provides you with insurance whilst you are on the farms. WWOOF then provide you with the extensive contact list of all the farms they work with. The list is available for download & online & you can search through it via area, accommodation ect.
Each farm provides you with a description of the type of work they do, how many hours of labour they expect from WWOOFers, what accommodation they provide, what languages they speak, when they want help & their contact details. All you have to do is pick one, contact them & arrange to go visit.
Most want help for a minimum of a week & often you can stay for up to a month or more, depending on what you are looking for.
All the farms are different & therefore provide you with different experiences. Some are vineyards, where you will pick grapes & learn about the processes of wine making. Some are olive groves, where you will harvest the olives & learn how to turn them into oil. Every one is different & what you do will also depend on the time of year.
I wanted to experience everything. I emailed a lot of different farms & initially not all got back to me. I started to panic that I would have no where to go once I left England, but thankfully, one farm, Vinciucci, did eventually offer me a space, although, it was to start three weeks after my departure.
Vinciucci is a farm in the south of Sicily, in a town called Ispica. There is a four room bed & breakfast, which is full during the summer months & provides the farm with its main income. A vegetable garden, full of all manor of growth, from tomatoes to pumpkins to melons. Several olive & almond trees & two acres of land, which houses over a thousand carob trees!
My job, harvest the carobs. This involves large bamboo canes & some arm muscle. Every tree needs to be cleared of carob. Branches upon branches, laden with carob, hanging precariously, waiting to drop. Once down, all must be collected. First into buckets, then into large sacks.
Every few weeks, once the sacks have begun to build up, they are taken down to a nearby factory, where they are sold, for a very small amount of money. The carob seeds are turned into flour & the shells turned into food for livestock.
It is not particularly hard work, but under the Sicilian sun, which is over thirty degrees almost daily & well into September, it can be tiring. We usually wake reasonably early & start work around eight o'clock. The heat starts to really sear by midday & at one o'clock we usually stop for lunch.
The food provided here at Vinciucci is exemplary. Often pasta is served for lunch & always accompanied by bread, which is made here. There is always wine on the table & cheese served afterwards. I have gained a ghastly amount of weight since arriving here, but it is simply impossible to diet!
After lunch, everyone retires to their beds for their afternoon nap. I have tried to restrain from doing this though, as my naps began to creep into several hours of sleep, mostly ending in me waking for dinner & feeling awfully groggy & regretful.
Once everyone has resurfaced, we usually take a trip to the beach, or we often go into the town of Modica or Scicli in the evening, where I get overly excited at the prospect of getting my hands on some much loved gelato. As I say, it is impossible to diet here!
Dinner is served very late in the evening, anywhere between eight & ten o'clock. This alone is most likely adding the inches to my...well everything. Dinner is often another dose of pasta, usually followed by another course, often vegetable based. Again, there is always homemade bread, wine & cheese on offer & we always have something sweet after, such as melon, gelato or cake, if one has been made.
Whilst the majority of people here do speak English, Italian is mostly spoken around the dinner table. Despite my previous naivety about my ability to learn Italian, it would seem that I am failing spectacularly to pick it up. Which often leads to a great feeling of isolation at times.
When living in a community based environment, it is very important to strike the right balance. Upon first arriving, I shared a room with a young, energetic girl from Palermo, who had been here several months already. Then there was the French, who'd been here since the beginning of the year & of course, there was Hawt Italian Guy, who arrived the same day as me.
It was a nice, happy balanced environment, within which I felt comfortable & so enquired into staying longer than the month I had arranged. Then Hawt Italian Guy left after just less than two weeks & another few weeks later Palermo went back home. At first I mourned their departures, but then French & I got to know each other better & I didn't feel so sad.
Soon the Spaniard arrived & whilst I did not like him initially, after getting to know him, he soon became one of my favourites. After a short while, French, the Spaniard & I became good friends & I once again felt happy & content.
But, as with every thing, nothing lasts forever & soon the balance was upset again, this time with the arrival of a German friend of French & a young teacher from Switzerland. I will admit that I did not take to either initially & the German has failed to appeal to me at all.
This break in the familiar has greatly disgruntled me & now, after a month of carob harvesting, I am ready to move on. The good thing about WWOOFing is, you are free to leave when you want. Obviously, once you have verbally committed to giving your time to someone, it is important that you are sensitive to their needs too. These are not large corporate farms. They are small holdings, built & run by couples & families, who rely on WWOOFers to help them. If you have made arrangements & can no longer fulfil them, it is important to give fair notice or at least a valid reason.
Overall, WWOOFing is a great way to travel on a budget. You get to explore the country of your choice, learn some new skills, meet new people, engross yourself in the real culture of the country & not have to spend too much money doing it.
My next stop is a wine vineyard near Mount Etna, where I will stay until the end of October. Unfortunately, the vineyard can only offer me a tent for accommodation, which I am not greatly looking forward to. One month of camping is like my idea of hell. But alas, I suppose one should be open minded. Thankfully, I have some time in Catania with Hawt Italian guy to look forward to first, before I throw myself back into the fields.
If you have any questions, just let me know.