WWOOFing about Italia!

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.


Seasonal change.

As winter slowly approaches, the weather here in Sicily has started to disintegrate.  When I first arrived at Vincicucci a month ago, the heat during the day was almost unbearable.  Hawt Italian Guy & I would be drenched in sweat, as we battled with the carob trees.  Beating off flies, which would attack you like you were a rotting piece of meat.

Now the weather is more akin to an English climate.  Often I wake to the sound of rain hitting the window panes, only for the clouds to disperse an hour later & the rest of the day to be glorious sunshine & heat.

Other times, like yesterday, I awoke to the sun piercing through the shutters.  After working in the carob fields all morning & afternoon with my fellow WWOOFers, a French woman & a Spanish guy, the sun shining heavily upon us, we came in for lunch & mid way through our pasta, the heavens opened & down came the rain.

After lunch, which is usually served around one o'clock, everyone retires for their afternoon nap.  I went for my rest at two o'clock & woke at six o'clock in the evening.  (I would like to add that four hours is not a common duration period for a nap.)  It was still raining heavily when I went downstairs & everyone had huddled into the living room, including Ugo, the farm's dog.

I do miss the summer months, although, at times they were unbearably hot.  But, this new autumnal climate is somewhat comforting.  I feel as though I am back in rainy England.  I do miss the winter months, tucked up in my pajamas on the couch, covered in a blanket, Pig by my side, film on the box.

Although, this new season is mildly concerning me.  I am due to leave Vinciucci for another farm at the end of September.  This time a vineyard, where I shall be harvesting grapes.  On the one hand, this is exciting for me.  A new experience & the ability to learn the wine making process.  On the other hand, I am being expected to sleep in a tent for a month.  Which would not concern me, were it not for the weather aspect, which I feel is going to rather impair my experience.

Alas, I have Autumn & Winter to get through, before I can come back round to enjoying some Spring warmth.  I may just have to suck it up.



The disconcerting reality.

It's funny how when you're young, life just seems so simple & you truly live on a day-to-day basis.  There's no worrying about the future, or living up to your potential.  It's just eating cereal & looking forward to bike rides.  At what point did all the other bullshit start to creep in & take over & dilute the happiness?

I can blame my misery & uncertainty in life on many different factors.  I can rake over the past, until, there is nothing there.  But I know my own mistakes.  The issue is, I don't seem to be learning from them.

If your one ambition in life is to be happy, how do you work out exactly how to achieve this.  Because, as basic a need as it sounds, it is seemingly harder to obtain.  I mean, I finally left a job I despised, I'm living in glorious Sicily, I have endless supplies of gelato, I should be happy, right?  But I'm not.

How can you truly be happy, if in fact, you don't know what it is that makes you happy.  As to whether I have spent too much time over-thinking my emotions & questioning over & over again, what I should be doing with my life, I feel I may have reached a point where all my thoughts have lost meaning.  Like when you repeat a word thirty times & suddenly the word seems alien to you.

My life has, in itself, lost all meaning.  I have no direction.  I have coasted through the best part of six years & now, I am merely coasting my way around Italy.  Aimlessly adrift.

To further prove my point; I met a very handsomely rugged Italian man, here on my carob farm.  I was instantly attracted to him & thankful that he spoke English.  (Sicilians do not do English.  French, oui.  Spanish, sí.  English, no!)  We spent a week working together, just the two of us.  He was funny & intelligent enough to bring out my insecurities about not attending school.

Finally, things came to a head on the eve of his birthday.  As it happened to fall on the same day as the Ferragosto, the farm held a party, complete with this ridiculous ten course feast & a huge bonfire.  The two of us stayed in each others company all night, got drunk on red wine & then he kissed me under the stars.  Yes, it was clichéd & romantic.

The next day, he made it clear that we should keep our dalliance to ourselves, as he didn't want D, the farm's owner, to deem it inappropriate or question our motives, working together.  In essence, I understood his perspective, in reality, I felt used.  Things were probably not made simpler by our consummating the 'relationship' in his tent that evening.

For the following few days I was thrown into an emotional chasm, only I know how to get myself into.  Here I had a man, a fully grown, intelligent, bearded, potential to wear skinny jeans, although does not, man, who I liked, I really really liked, who I could not publicly display my affection for.  Out in the carob field, or alone in the kitchen, it was all hugs & kisses, but then over the dinner table it was awkwardly trying to avoid eye contact, so no one would suspect.  This was not healthy for me.

It reached breaking point when his friend came to visit & it was so unclear who knew what & how I should act.  Was I just a secret?  I broke.  I threw down my tools, stormed off to another field & broke down & cried.  I felt lost.  Not just with this ridiculously complex affair I had found myself entangled in, but with life in general.

When it came to him leaving to continue his travels, I was further embarrassed by my inability to keep a dry eye.  He looked me in the eye & told me, with all sincerity, that it had meant something.  But had it, really?  When I told him I would miss him, he did not reciprocate the sentiment.  Off he rode on his vespa & never looked back.

I'm twenty six years old & I don't know how to have fun.  How to embrace something & let it go.  I read into everything.  I get too emotionally attached.  I always want more than what's on offer, but then should more become available, I don't want it! 

Perhaps Italy will purge me of my insecurities & force me to embrace life, with all the shittiness included.  Like therapy, but with a tan thrown in.