A Not-So Cultural Exchange
Our first Workaway of this trip was all the way back in January at a multigenerational family farm in Thun, Switzerland. We were fully immersed in the family and participated in tasks around the house, childcare, moving cured firewood for the stoves on the ancient tractor, prepping apples or walnuts or herbs for storage, etc. Our second Workaway was in Nardò, Italy, at a small horse ranch/bed and breakfast/farmstead, and our days were spent gathering trimmed branches from the olive grove and storing them, tidying the property for the coming high season, grooming the horses, stuffing our faces with homemade Italian food, and socializing with our host's group of friends in the evenings. These days we are in Garndolbenmaen, Wales, at quite a different style Workaway than our previous two.
Our hosts, Tamsin and Tom, have a pack of foster and rescue dogs living with them while they wait for a perfect forever home. There are some family pets as well, of course, but a majority of these dogs are here temporarily--though "temporarily" has become two or three years for some of them. Because of some social tensions between the dogs (all but two are male, and most of them are unfixed for different reasons) and the setup of the property, they sleep in kennels and get time to run around the yard in separate groups. Like most animals with unpleasant pasts, these guys thrive on the security of routine, so the day is organized in a schedule they seem to like. Tamsin and Tom, along with their toddler Kaia, were home with us for our first 10 days so we could really get the hang of things, but they are currently on holiday in the Seychelles with their family for a couple weeks while we hold down the fort.
Jack gives me a quick slurp before continuing his hyperactive run around the garden, while Nook keeps an eye on everybody.
Our day begins around 6:30am (though it's slowly pushed back to closer to 7:00...), when the dogs get fed and let out for a morning lap around the garden. The first group to go out are Jack, Louis, and Nook; two spaniels and a border collie. Jack has a tendency to pee in the kennel overnight, so while they are out, one of us is mopping up the kennel room with disinfectant. We keep track of everybody's poops in an app called "Dog Log." Then baby Blues, a young Aussie, gets his turn outside, and once he's back in, another spaniel named Bugsy goes out.
Those five make up the "outside dogs," as the door to their kennel room is outside. Next are the "kitchen dogs," Jake, Maple, Polly, and Scrumpy. Scrumpy's kennel also has to be cleaned first thing every morning, because he both poops and pees overnight. During the day, he goes potty outside about 50% of the time--his not-so-accidents are completed very quietly and without our noticing almost every time. Feeding the kitchen dogs involves a bit of drama, mostly on Scrumpy's part, but also because sweet Maple has trouble resisting the urge to steal Jake's food. Jake eats the slowest, probably because he's about 16 years old.
Jake, Polly, Maple, and Scrumpy.
Bonus points if you can guess who got a bum scrub just after this was taken?
Last to go out is Zen, an Aussie who is a bit older and calmer than Blues. He's a very good boy and a bit lazy, so he does a short run and then mostly lays down in the grass.
This routine repeats again around 1:00pm, though instead of getting fed, this time everyone gets water. We offer them water later in the day, too, but they all prefer to drink most at lunchtime. We try to play with the dogs a bit longer during this session, but this can be tricky. Jack will eat any toy he can get his paws on. (He will also eat poop. It doesn't matter if it's his own or not. When someone squats while Jack is out, it's a race between us and Jack. We lose about 40% of the time, to be honest.) Louis once had to be operated on for eating... socks I think? Bugsy will steal any object left in the yard, escape, and hide it in some neighboring field. He will then escape and return to it every day and move it, to ensure it will never be found. Zen will shred toys. So... toys are difficult. There's a parvo outbreak in the region, and everybody's vaccines don't make them immune for a couple more weeks, so walks are out of the question. Andrew's genius solution came from a very long piece of rope we found in the garage. Bundled up securely on one end with about 15 feet loose to spare, we have a swingable, throwable, chewable toy that will also never leave the handler's possession. Bugsy can snatch that sucker and try to run, but Andrew's got the other end. Swinging grandly above Andrew's head, Jack can jump as high and as wildly as he likes to try to catch it. It's perfect, and wears everybody out.
Wielding the magic toy for Blues.
Around 5:00pm, we let the dogs out again. Because of all the water drank after playing, there's almost always pee all over the kennel room. (Letting them out earlier sometimes avoids this problem, but then it might show up later. It's hard to avoid the pee.) Finally, around 9:30pm or 10:00, everybody goes out for one last bathroom break before bed.
Oh, and then there are the cats. Tom and Tamsin occasionally breed Ragdoll cats, and they live in a cool little "cattery" in the backyard with two rooms: one for the unfixed girls (five), and one for the boys plus one fixed female (six). An outdoor run hasn't been built for the girls yet, but future Workawayers might take on that project. Past Workawayers built the run on the back that the boys-plus-Blue access. First thing in the morning, if it's going to be a nice day, we'll open up the door to the run and all the windows and turn off the heaters. Litter boxes get cleaned (there are 3 in each room), water gets changed, food gets refilled, and vomit/fur balls/stray litter/pee gets cleaned up. Every few days, the longhaired Ragdoll kitties need to be brushed. At 5:00pm, they get put back inside and the heaters set up for the night.
Pictured: Blue (she looks like our Boots!), Pyp, Oreo, Mellow, and an angry Quinto (who picks fights with the other boys so he has to stay separate)
The animals keep us fairly busy, but even 5 to 6 hours of work don't fill the whole day. Technically, each of us could take a full day on our own and give the other a day off to go out and do something, but that's not really our vibe. We hiked Snowdon and visited a few of the nearby towns and beaches before our hosts went out of town, and we'll get a few days off together when they get back, so we're riding out these 16 days of solitude together. I've done some future blog post drafts, am getting caught up on some journaling, and started a few podcasts. We're making fast progress through Game of Thrones. Andrew's baking a lot of bread and buttermilk biscuits, I'm learning to make naan, and we baked and decorated a whole chocolate cake. Food has been the most rewarding pastime, I think.
My mom asked on the phone the other day if we're bored, or just have a lot of time to fill. I think it's mostly the latter, though the boredom comes. We knew it would; that was a slight part of the draw for a housesitting gig. We're tired. Traveling is exhausting. Since our last Workaway in February, we've crossed 5 borders and stayed in 12 different cities--that's an average of a new city every 6 days--so we've really needed some time to be still.
Frosting our chocolate cake that took many hours to make.
Housesitting, especially with the kinds of pets we dearly miss, sounds like a perfect deal: we spend no money on food and housing, but get a whole home to ourselves and animals to love. However, we've now gotten to see the downside of this arrangement. One of our favorite things about Workaway in the past has been the cultural exchange and relationships we've formed with our hosts and their communities. We've gotten some time with Tom and Tamsin to get to know them, of course, and we'll remember them fondly, but being alone in this country house in rural Wales for just over two weeks is more isolating than our experience was with Rosa or Tiziana.
The trade-off is likely worth it, in reality; we're getting our naps and TV-watching in now, before we see my Nana's cousin in Liverpool, then meet up with my family in Amsterdam, then stay with friends in Paris for the Fete de la Musique until my family joins us there, then head to our fourth Workaway in the South of France, then visit Barcelona (hopefully with my best friend and her parents), then fly to Ecuador to Andrew's sister and her husband's place, then fly to Mexico to stay with his parents on their boat, then drive all the way home in a minivan...
If that run-on sentence was exhausting to read, that was the idea. We have some amazing things coming up, and we need to rest up for them!
Something seems not quite right here.
The sky at 6:30am in Northern Wales.