• Jill

Our Fab Five (of Workaway)

When we set out on this trip, we didn't have a goal for an "ideal" number of Workaway experiences, but now that we are a chunk of the way through our fifth, I think five is pretty perfect. It's not an even number, but there's more data to collect from than three, but it's also not so many that each stay's individual value gets fuzzy, you know?

But before I get ahead of myself, we left off in our last post in Barcelona. I want to finish painting that picture so you can see the appropriate contrast here.

We had a lovely time exploring Barcelona, of course. The architecture is fabulous and like nothing we'd seen yet in Europe, the weather was lovely, we drank sangria under an umbrella near the beach and tried the famous vermouth cocktails with our tapas. The enjoyable bits, however, were exclusively reserved for out of the house moments--our selected Airbnb, which was nearly the only thing we could get in our price range (getting to the end here, people)--was not what we had hoped for.

Barcelona tapas and vermouth cocktails

It had great reviews, which at the very least could assure you that your belongings wouldn't get stolen and the bed you paid for would actually be there. Both of these examples were true for us. Antonio, who doesn't speak English but seems like a laid-back guy around our age, welcomed us into his home. It was a small, 3-bedroom apartment with one tiny bathroom and a kitchen that was only about three feet wide. Our room had no windows or ventilation system, but we were given a fan. The fan was nice, but even with it on full-blast, if we closed our door even for ten minutes the whole room was unbearably sticky and moist. (Like, Louisiana humid.) So we left the door open nearly all the time, which also meant we could hear whenever our two roommates (Antonio and a girl we didn't officially meet) moved around the apartment at night.

One evening, we had been in our room for several hours into the night, working out our flight itinerary from Cuenca, Ecuador to where we'll meet Andrew's parents in Mexico (a whole ordeal in itself). We'd heard a small commotion from Antonio's roommate at one point, but didn't think much of it. Later, well past midnight, Andrew heard shouting down in the street, and wanted to make sure everything was okay, so he went out on the balcony to look down. Everything was fine on the street, but what wasn't fine was the puddle of vomit he didn't see in the dark, and had squarely stepped in. He hobbled to the bathroom to scrub his feet, and found traces of vomit in the shower, the sink, and the toilet. A very upsetting discovery in the middle of the night, particularly when you're just trying to exist in a space you paid to stay in and the vomiter in question is a total stranger.

The next day, as we returned to our Airbnb from our vermouth-and-tapas excursion, some tenants from our building were leaving as we arrived. They stopped us, and asked which unit we lived in. We tried to explain we were just Airbnb guests, but the one guy continued on loudly and with lots of hand gestures, "You see, the PROBLEM is, people in the building are complaining about, like, food waste being dumped from your balcony?? And maybe water..? People are VERY upset. All the neighbors." (By people it was obvious he meant him.) We asked if there was any chance the food and water waste he was talking about could be...vomit. He nodded solemnly, his nose kind of scrunched up to show his displeasure. We told him it wasn't us, it was our roommate, and that Andrew had even stepped in it last night. "Okay, well, PLEASE tell your person that it is a big problem, because the POLICE have been by TWICE. People are very upset."

Got it. We sent a very awkward text message to Antonio, who didn't respond for a long time, and eventually replied (Google translated), "I will speak to my partner to learn more about the subject." You always expect some sacrifices in a shared Airbnb, but they shouldn't include unexpectedly stepping in one of the permanent tenant's vomit on the balcony in the middle of the night.

The balcony in question, sans vomit.

We were glad to leave that situation--we also weren't sleeping thanks to the level of heat and humidity in our windowless room, and I wasn't sure how much longer our brains could continue with the problem-solving of travel after five nights of no rest. We almost couldn't figure out where to catch our train on time, but then it was fifteen minutes late anyway. Finally we were on our way to Miravet, a small town about two hours away, to be picked up by our new and final Workaway hosts.

Maria and Mateo greeted us warmly, and after a quick stop at the grocery store, took us to their home just outside of the little village. Miravet itself sits up on a hillside overlooking the Ebro river, with a castle and old church prominent in the panorama. Maria and Mateo's villa is a lush, carefully landscaped and impeccably cared for oasis, tucked away where you wouldn't expect it. We were greeted when we pulled in by two enormous mountain dogs, Antar and Ziva, and as we walked around the garden and the pond to get our bearings, we began to meet a few of the nine cats that call this place home. Mateo is from Suriname and Maria is from Holland, but the two of them have lived here in this house for 25 years--and the love and care they've put into the place shows. They have a passion for cultivating beauty but also functionality; their garden produces olive oil, fruit, pepper, and vegetables, and they have their own well and solar power system. Sustainability is important to them, as well as eating healthy. Mateo cooks his favorite recipes from Suriname, sometimes with a Spanish twist, once a day for us.

The terrace by the pond. 

We haven't quite fallen into a complete routine, because the life they lead here in Catalonia is full of social surprises. For the most part, we start around 8 or 9 in the morning, and Andrew and I enjoy large bowls of oatmeal with bananas and home-grown pomegranate seeds with our coffee. Work can be anything from gardening (pruning, watering) to painting doors to general cleaning. The length of our work days has varied, depending on what the day brings. On Monday, the big Swiss/Pakistani family that is buying this property all came over for tapas and paella--a party of sixteen--so we worked a long morning cleaning and preparing, and acted as half-partygoers-half-servers for the afternoon. That was a joyous affair with wonderful food and people, and we were rewarded on top of that with pretty short, relaxed work days following. Maria and Mateo are also anticipating a long work day tomorrow, since both guest houses on the property that are rented as holiday homes have a turnover at the same time, so there will be a lot to do.

Last night we were joined by two new Workawayers, a couple from Slovakia a little younger than us. (Mateo had said to us the afternoon before their arrival, "You have to enjoy this last night with just the four of us!" I looked confused. "Mateo, we haven't had a night with just the four of us..." Sure enough, a close friend of theirs popped over for dinner a few hours later, as had happened nearly every night so far.) This is the Slovakian couple's first Workaway, and I think they hit the jackpot. When we were in Italy with Tiziana, a new Workawayer arrived partway into our time there, and this felt similar to that time; showing someone new around the property and introducing them to the routines really affirms what we've already learned in a week. They are both very shy, but seem very nice. I don't think they've ever done anything like this, and I'm really excited for them to discover all the things I've found strange and wonderful and inspiring about Workaway.

The tapas spread before paella...amazing.

A Recap of Past Workaways

Our first experience on this trip was way back in January, in the dead of winter, in the Swiss Alps. In many ways, that could not have been more opposite to this Spanish spot! Snowy, with a cow barn instead of a pool, a couple of kids running around... We stayed with Rosa and Marcus for three weeks on Marcus's farm, where his family had been living and working for 150 years. We slept in the ancient farmhouse that was also occupied by Marcus's parents, Susie and Fritz. Rosa cooked vegetarian Swiss meals for lunch and dinner every day, and we ate tons of homemade spelt bread and a variety of cheeses. Our tasks were a mix of things around the house, helping clean and organize as Marcus made progress with the newest building on the property (a ten year project), mucking out the ponies' barn, watching the kids, and moving cured firewood--massive 3ft logs--with Fritz and his very old tractor. During our time off, we visited the nearby city of Thun, had an overnight stay in Luzern with a train ride to Grindelwald and back, and were taken to meet friends in Emmental and sled, learn about cheesemaking, and more. 

Fritz and his tractor.

With the family, after a raclette dinner.

The farm in the snow.

In February, we headed south to Salento, Italy for three weeks. Tiziana was our host, along with her father Lino, and it was quite a different experience--largely because of the complete language barrier. Google Translate or miming were our only options, until we started to learn a few words in Italian. Tiziana's property had a full bed and breakfast operation that was closed for the low season, a huge olive grove, a horse ranch, and lots of beautiful nooks and crannies. She cooked extravagant Italian lunches every day (there was always wine) and leftovers were usually for dinner. Lino liked to watch TV at dinner, so we got to witness the entirety of the Prima Festival, a national singing contest. We stayed in one of the B&B suites with our own bathroom. Our jobs were a similar mix to those in Switzerland; moving olive branch logs for firewood, cleaning, etc., but I also spent an extra long work day painting horses on the barn. Our off-time was either napping from the whirlwind of activity, or being whisked off into town to meet friends with Tiziana. The kitchen was often full of meal guests, most frequently Sandra and Mimmo, but sometimes a whole crew of 12 or 15. The theme was definitely Social Around Food!

Grappa with Tiziana, friends Mimmo and Sandra, and Workawayer Chris

Bruchetta... pasta... wine... grappa.... 

My barn painting project. 

We then had a fairly long break from Workaway until May, when we made the trek all the way to North Wales. This was our most unique experience for a couple of reasons, the biggest one being that we were housesitting for half of it. Tamsin and Tom had 10 rescue dogs and 11 rescue/breeding cats that required quite a lot of care, on top of their two year old daughter and Tom's full-time job. We had a room down the hall from the kitchen, and while the toilet and the shower was our own, our bathroom also housed the washer, dryer, and dishwasher. While they were in town, we took turns cooking dinner every couple of nights, and exercised the dogs four times a day. The cat chalet was cleaned twice a day, and the longhair cats brushed regularly. Each dog's poop was recorded in the Dog Log. While the family was out of town, we were on our own, and stayed put in the house for two solid weeks--we watched significant number of Game of Thrones episodes and cooked a lot of unnecessarily complex meals. During our days off when the family was there, we hiked in Snowdonia National Park and visited local castles. Our total time there was a month and a few days.

Hiking Snowdon

We lost count of how many baths Scrumpy needed.

The family as we said goodbye; can you tell yet another cleanup was needed?

Our most recent Workaway, for three weeks in July, was near Perpignan in South France. Laurene and Holger have done up their house in Thuir entirely themselves, and they now have a few outdoor DIY projects going on. Our room was a cute little space in the attic, and the main bathroom was shared by all of us including their teenage son, Liam. They had a pool in the back, and were a less than five minute walk from the center of town. While Laurene and Holger were away at work, we did housework and a few small projects outside (including a terraced cactus garden), and in the evenings we worked with Holger on a roof frame for their future outdoor kitchen. There was a lot to do on our days off, including Les Déferlantes music festival, beach days in Collioure, and exploring little nearby towns and castles. We really worked on our tans in South France, and finished Game of Thrones season 8 on their big TV, with snacks, at the enthusiastic insistence of Laurene.

As close to the power tools as I get

Beach day!

Laurene and Holger <3

Wrapping Up With Workaway

And now we are here! Five out of five; we've been grateful for our experiences and--even during the less fun moments--don't regret our decisions to use this platform and join the families that have had us. Do I like having our own apartment somewhere and only worrying about ourselves? Of course, I'm a normal introvert. But I also love getting to be a part of peoples' lives and homes for a few weeks, trying new foods, living new lifestyles, and making new friends. I would have never had the opportunity to ride Ashar to the Mediterranean coast, or hike the tallest peak in England and Wales, or dance into the wee hours of the morning with 15,000 French music fans. I would have definitely never experienced setting the table for a full crowd of wonderful people to eat homemade raclette/seafood pasta and fire-grilled fish/German-French fusion barbecue/tapas and paella. The conversations around the table are priceless, and the multitude of things we've learned from each person we've met cannot be expressed. I think if I had to sum up my conclusions based on Workaway in three words it would be "people are good." 

So you've probably gathered by now that Andrew and I are huge advocates for this style of travel, but it's not for everybody. However, if the whole concept intrigues you, consider hosting Workawayers! If you have a spare bedroom, the ability to provide all necessary meals, and a project or set of tasks you could use help with, why not bring the world to you? You can put all the information you'd like Workawayers to know (what their room would be like, dietary restrictions or lack thereof, work expected, etc.) and read reviews of the ones who reach out to you. Plan on about 20-25 hours of work a week, all food provided though you certainly don't have to cook it all, and to be willing to take guests to the bus stop or local attractions during their time off, depending on your location and access. Ask your guests to cook a traditional meal once or twice, share their favorite music, or simply chat about the world. Andrew and I have no doubt that we will host travelers ourselves once we have the setup for it, so we can give back to the community that has given us so much. 

- J

Coco out for her evening squak.


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