We found out about a volunteer program called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (Wwoofing) through a couple we climbed Machu Picchu with. They had just finished three months volunteering on an organic coffee farm in Hawaii. They had a fabulous time. You get your room and board for free while you are working so we figured it might be an interesting way to prolong our trip and also learn a thing or two along the way. My grandpa worked on a farm when he was young and I have always wanted to have a similiar experience. We found Ginger´s Paradise in Bolivia and emailed them to let them know we were coming.
Take a look at their website: http://www.gingersparadise.com/ Looks nice right? Food looks good? Well what it doesn´t mention is that they have three little kids, two of which will drive you freaking crazy. It also fails to mention that the family doesn´t believe in eating dinner because this is what causes the western world to grow fat. "We don´t do anything after lunch so why do we need to feed our bodies?" UHHH maybe because you actually do two and a half hours of hoeing after lunch!
Here is Gemma in action:
It was pretty much a nightmare. On our first day, about two or three hours into our first Hoeing session, Gemma asked me how long I thought we´d last. I disappointingly thought I´d only be able to last for seven days. We lasted six. We had planned on staying two or so weeks.
They literally just stuck two hoes in our hand the first morning and pointed out a few plants (or were they weeds?) that we needed to avoid hoeing up and then left us alone to do the work. He came back two hours later wondering were the avacado tree was he´d pointed out to me as an example of what not to hoe. He then found another tree he held up in the air to show us that we´d killed two of the three avacado plants in the area. Gemma specifically remembered hoeing up the second tree. Off to a crackin start.
The farm sat on a beautiful plot of land a couple hours away from Santa Cruz. There was nothing in the town which was a problem when we went to try to find some food for dinner. Christobel, the man of the house, went into Santa Cruz one day and asked us if we needed anything. We told him potato chips and cookies. He came back with neither. Thanks.
Christobel also raised bees on the farm. I was excited to don a bee suit and help him but the first 4 days were cloudy and you need a sunny day to work with the bees. Then Christian arrived. This kid from Colorado who also breeds bees in his back yard. He and Christobel hit it off tremendously and really made Gemma and I realize how much we weren´t cut out for this farming business.
I longed for a different job after three days of hoeing weeds and grass. I was rewarded with the job of using a machette to chop up horse shit. And do you see my outfit? I wish I had a better pic. The sand flies were so bad that even though it was hot out we had to wear long pants and this white dress shirt he gave me. I looked like the leader of a religious cult. This provided many laughs though as I developed my preaching skills and sermon throughout the week.
It was miserable. I really could write about how much it sucked all night. We wore tons of bug spray (which we were informed is man-made poison for our skin) and were still eaten alive by sand flies. We also wore pleny of sunscreen while we were baking away in the fields and were informed that this too is bad for us and full of chemicals. Essentially anything man-made was bad for you according to their 10 and 13 year old. Their kids names were Dizzy, Nova and Ginger. Here they are being annoying.
We did manage to get one day off that we spent having a picnic near the river. It was peaceful and good to get away from the boys. We left when Chris came and found us and told us off for having our room a mess.
We aren´t going to give up on Woofing though. We´ve applied to a farm in the Cook Islands and might try to find a farm near the Caribbean coast in Colombia. I think we can chalk up this poor experience to a less than friendly family who was less than forthcoming on all the details of their lifestyle on the farm.