Spiderwebs are heavy with drops of dew and the mist that hugs the fields is tinted pink and apricot as I stomp down the lane in my wellies carrying a bucket of grass – breakfast for Rocky, the paralysed calf. Not your average holiday activity? Damn right.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit Australia. Super exciting, but I’m not exactly swimming in cash. So I signed up to the wwoof scheme – Willing Workers on Organic Farms – and started emailing potential hosts.
Under the scheme, you volunteer on the farm in exchange for food, a place to sleep, and the chance to learn new skills. You can stay from three days to six months, and it’s a great way to really get under the skin of the country or area you’re visiting, to meet local people and forge connections with them.
It’s also a good way to balance the cash-haemorrhage that can occur in a typical tourist week of hostels, surfing lessons and beer. There are wwoof hosts in over 100 countries worldwide – including the one you live in.
Farming may not be everyone’s idea of fun – it can be physically demanding and tedious. But it’s provided me with some of the most memorable experiences of my trip.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve picked and planted and washed and dug and painted and built and demolished and had endless conversations with eight-year-olds about worms. I’ve gone wild swimming in creeks, hung out with alpacas at a country fair, toasted marshmallows over a campfire, eaten fruit that looked like an alien, and been told in all seriousness that the end of the world is coming soon. And of course, there was Rocky; watching as, day by day, the fussiest cow in Queensland learned how to use his legs again.
I’ve met people who will stay friends for life and others who I would cross a six-lane motorway to avoid. It’s been an incredibly rich, rewarding and intense experience. I’ve learned things I never would have if I’d spent three months in hostels, even if those things weren’t always positive.
My advice for potential wwoofers: be prepared for any eventuality. The wwoofer’s handbook provides some information on each host, such as hours of work, length of stay – but doesn’t include key facts that you might consider useful, such as “incredibly religious” or “eats beef with every meal”.
Be prepared to have your views challenged and to know when to adapt, when to resist, when to maintain a diplomatic silence. Be prepared to work at your relationship with your hosts. Oh, and be prepared for ants. Lots and lots and lots of bloody ants. Vacuum-seal every particle of food – it’s the only way you’ll keep it safe.
I’m ending my stint as a tourist-farmer fitter and healthier, equipped with new skills and an arsenal of anecdotes. I’d recommend it to anyone. So if you feel in need of a nice long spell away from your desk – consider signing up to wwoof, and see what adventures you can have.
To find out more about wwoofing visit www.wwoof.net
Follow @badgerontour on Instagram for more antipodean adventures