Monday, 24 November 2014

Oh Crap!

  I worked on a Workaway vineyard site in central Portugal for 6 weeks and I became a bit of a blood hound - always checking myself to see if I smelled. You know - crap!
  There were the proverbial dogs - four of them no less. Along with those wild and footloose critters, we had a gaggle of nasty, frickin' geese - deadly I tell you and did they ever leave a trail of good tidings all over the place.
  The chickens went every which way but loose and to top it off, the vineyard had 50 sheep that helped fertilize the vineyards, road, walkways and the bottom of my boots.
  For all the time I worked on the vineyard farm, I always wore my rubber boots - rain or shine. When entering the guest house, I left them outside as I didn't want to track any solid and smelly stuff into the living quarters. When entering the main house for meals, I also took my boots off but alas, I would immediately step on leftovers from the dogs' feet as they were allowed into the sundeck and eating area. So much for clean socks.
  Halfway through my vineyard tenure, I took a break to relax in Porto. To make sure I didn't carry any lingering animal leftovers and smells, I diligently cleaned all my clothes and shoes. The vineyard owner picked me up in his truck outside the guest house to take me to the train station and I silently cursed as I had to step between the offerings made by all the animals. I got into the truck, looked at my shoes and trousers - everything looked good so far.
  While waiting for the train on the platform, a stray dog wouldn't leave my feet alone - he came and went and in both directions, stopped and sniffed my shoes. I knew what he was smelling and where the hell is that late train?!
  Halfway to Porto, I had to switch trains to a commuter train which had standing room only. I was tired and half dozing off and kept thinking I was back on the vineyard as I was smelling crap again. I opened my eyes, looked around and right beside me was a mother holding her baby and guess who had a very full diaper? I couldn't get away from the stuff!
  Arriving in Porto, I escaped the lingering farm smell and drowned it with some very nice old Port wine. It worked so well that I took 3 bottles of it back to the vineyard.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Some Things You Miss - But Not For Long

  My mother travelled the world but very seldom ate the food of the country she was visiting. “Ricky,” she would say, “in China, I ate at McDonald's because there is nothing but foreign food in that country.” 
  I didn’t have her apprehension of local food while cycling throughout Europe. My cycling partner and I bought groceries for our home-cooked meals while staying in campgrounds as well as savouring the ‘specialties’ at restaurants and B & Bs. We enjoyed the anticipation of eating local food and the way it was presented although we did get a bit tired of eating ‘white’ bread all the time. 
  We had a bit of a relapse while wandering the streets of Patras, Greece on a hot day within the first month of our six month trip. We were searching for a store to buy ice cream to help cool off when all of a sudden, we spotted her - a woman with not one but two Starbuck’s Frappaccinos in her hands! We caught up to her and asked, “Please tell us - where is the Starbucks?” She pointed to a large square a few blocks away; we thanked her and immediately headed down the street with our mouths watering. 
  Did they taste good? You bet! A Grande Mocha Cinnamon Dolce Crème Frappuccino on a hot day in Greece was fantastic. In addition, the clean, spacious washrooms were adorned with paper towels - what a concept! Paper towels or even a hand dryer cannot be found in many washrooms in Europe, especially when one is cycling. But I digress. 
  Another Starbuck’s location in Greece was a bit of a sanctuary for us as it was located close to the ferry terminal in Athens. Returning from Santorini at 5:00 a.m. and landing in the rougher part of the city, we felt safer waiting on the steps of a cathedral until the adjacent Starbucks café opened. 
 We came across a few more Starbucks on our cycling trip but they were primarily in airports. We found the longer we were on the road, the less we missed our old coffee and eating habits - we enjoyed each country’s delicacies. 
  Sorry Mom, but I didn’t inherit your delicate taste buds.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Workaway Or How to Get That 20 Year Old Out of the House

   My sister and brother-in-law volunteered to cover for me at work while I took a 4 month sabbatical to climb Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro and following that, a 5 day safari with my daughter to the Serengeti.
   My daughter flew back home and I continued on to Porto, Portugal where I stayed for 3 days to unwind and mail my heavy climbing gear back home. I then took a train to Nelas, a small town in central Portugal to work on a vineyard – I was going to become a Workaway.
   I discovered the Workaway website from travel blogs and thought it would be a great way to learn about another country - the people and their language, food, culture, economy and history without spending a great deal of money. After posting a profile of myself, I sent requests to a number of hosts and I chose a vineyard in Portugal. Workaway hosts are found in most countries throughout the world and I picked one in Europe as I was eventually going to tour Italy in my fourth month with a friend.
   I couldn’t have picked a better host for my first Workaway site as I was provided with my own bedroom within a separate guesthouse. My 4 fellow Workaways and I were served a hearty breakfast at 8:00 am, started work in the fields at 9:00, coffee at 11:00, lunch at 1:00 pm and then the rest of the day to ourselves. We worked from Monday to Friday with the weekends free to do whatever such as travelling into the local town to shop or visit a pub; I also took a break half way through my 6 week stint and visited Porto again for 3 days.
   Working on the farm had me pruning and raking the vines, building a large garden, constructing garden fences and tending sheep. All of the Workaways were encouraged to cook at least one meal and we enjoyed eating specialties from our individual countries. The most hazardous part of the job was keeping clear of those nasty geese – I was more leery of them then the lions on the Serengeti.
   I found my second Workaway site at a retreat in Salema which is on the southern tip of Portugal. The owner rents her large home to yoga and art class groups and as it was being renovated, I spent 4 weeks painting, cleaning and undertook minor plumbing and electrical repairs. My free time was spent cycling and hiking in the surrounding mountains and relaxing on the beaches. 
   Most Workaway sites provide free room and board in exchange for working on their site.  Owners will require help for a multiple of reasons such as helping with renovations, shopping, caring for children, ESL lessons and cooking for the household. The ages of Workaways are from early 20’s to singles and couples in their retirement years.
   So if you have a young adult who doesn’t know what to do with his or her life besides eating you out of house and home, present the websites below to your son or daughter. He or she will thank you upon their return after living with people in another country and working beside other Workaways from around the world.
   There are a number of websites that can help one find a temporary job in another part of the world including:
HelpX: .net

This post originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun, July 19, 2014  ©  Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun