Posts Tagged ‘Work Exchange’

As most of you already know, our first Workaway experience didn’t go as we had hoped. So when we heard back from Susan, a writer, & Dave, a former alternative radio host, documentarian, and lifelong musician in San Rafael, we were excited, but also a bit apprehensive. They were going to be fine with us staying as long or as short a time as we wanted, so we entered San Rafael knowing that if things didn’t quite work out we be able to get out. Fortunately, things with Susan, Dave, & their 13-year-old daughter Tivoli could not have worked out any better.

Tiv, Susan & Dave

Tiv, Susan & Dave

From the moment that we arrived till the moment that we left, we were treated like a new part of the family. We spent the days working and the nights getting to know one another, either at dinner or just hanging out on the patio talking about anything & everything. Susan & Dave could not have been more accommodating hosts and our living situation couldn’t have been more ideal (especially after our previous Workaway situation). We had our own house separate from theirs. It had two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a gigantic kitchen, and a sitting area where we could hang out, read or watch movies. (We apologize for the grainy images of our accommodation – our cheap point & shoot camera was acting up on our last day & the nice camera was charging.)


Our house

The kitchen

Our kitchen

Our bedroom

Our bedroom

Kind of like our last Workaway, Lisa & I had different responsibilities and expectations. I was needed to help Dave with the long list of outdoor projects that he was simply unable to keep up with given their vast amount of land. Lisa, on the other hand, was given the tough balancing act of being a teacher/friend to Tiv. During the mornings they did several fun projects from photography & blogging to bracelet making & painting. Tuesday & Thursday nights, Lisa & Tiv took to the kitchen to cook dinner for the 5 of us. At times it proved to be a bit of challenge for Lisa to keep Tiv focused, but all in all it was a good experience for the two of them.


Our Painting

Collaborative painting by Tiv, Susan & Lisa

Their pets, who we love almost as much as we love Norma & Silverstein!

Their pets, who we love almost as much as we love Norma Jean & Silverstein!

 I spent most of my time outside doing a number of different tasks. Dave and I started off doing most of our morning work together, cutting up logs for splitting & cutting/clearing out quick-growing saplings. As time went on, Dave kind of just let me do my own thing. Some days he had a specific task that he wanted me to get done, other days I was left to my own devices. I did everything from weed-whacking, cutting down trees, splitting wood, & hanging chicken wire (they had a bat problem in their cabana). I also cleared out all the weeds & silt build up in the small canal that ran across their property.


We usually worked until around 12:30 or 1:00. In summer it just gets too hot to be working outside & plus you would be disturbing your neighbors during siesta. In Argentina & South America as a whole, businesses and people pretty much shut down around 1:00PM to take a break from the day and relax. They don’t start up again until around 5:00PM. It is a bit of shock at first to go into a big city or small town for that matter and see no businesses open, but you eventually get used to it and come to expect it, especially when the afternoon temperatures are pushing 100 degrees Fahrenheit.


 Susan & Dave were also gracious enough to take us to almost all the social gatherings of their friends. On Friday evenings they had a few Expat friends over for a friendly, low stakes game of poker. It was a pot luck so everyone brought food. There wasn’t a bad cook among them so we ate some great food. Sunday afternoons, we did pretty much the same thing at a friend of theirs house. Expect the game on Sunday wasn’t poker, but Ba-Chi-Ball. Even though we didn’t have our AARP cards, they let us play. They also took us to a few others parties, including a New Year’s Eve party where was had a great Asado (Argentine BBQ) which included a goat roasting over an open fire and some great people.

Us, Malcolm & Sue At Poker Night

Us, Malcolm & Sue (British Expats) At Poker Night

The Circus - Yeah, that's right!

The Circus – Yeah, that’s right!

New Year's Eve 2013

New Year’s Eve 2013

White water rafting in Valle Grande

White water rafting in Valle Grande

Our time with Susan, Dave, & Tiv was outstanding. They couldn’t be nicer people & they defiantly couldn’t have treated us any better. Our time in San Rafael flew by, but we couldn’t stay there forever. We’ve left San Rafael, but we have more now than when we first arrived. We’ve added 3 new family members that we can’t wait to see again.

SR Family For now, it’s goodbye to San Rafael & hello to Bariloche, the gateway to Patagonia!

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In the course of planning for our trip, we knew that in order to extend it for as long as we were hoping to that we would need to make use of two programs. There is CouchSurfing, a site designed to link up travelers in need of a place to stay for free with hosts that allow them to stay in their house/apartment on their spare bed or couch. The second option is a program called WorkAway. This site is dedicated to families, people, hostels and other organizations who are looking for volunteers to help with projects big and small around their property. In exchange for that work, the volunteer is allowed to stay, usually for free or a small fee, on their property (either in the house or in a tent outside the house). In addition to this many workaway opportunities feed their workers for a least one meal a day, if not all meals for workdays. Programs like this allow travelers on a tight budget, like us, to extend their trip much longer, while meeting interesting people along the way.


On November 14th, we left our hostel in Santa Cruz, Bolivia for our first workaway assignment. The family was located about 5 km outside of the sleepy, laid back town of Samaipata on 1 hectare-acre of land on the steep cliffs going down to the river that runs through that valley. Based on the workaway page, we knew they needed help clearing land and general help with house work. We definitely had some preconceived notions about what we would be doing. We knew ahead of time that we would be sleeping in a tent and that the family was vegetarian. We made the assumption that this tent would be right outside their house, that we’d be eating in their home, that we’d be able to shower (in their house) at the end of a day of work, and that when we needed to use the bathroom that we would be able to use the bathroom in their house. As it turned out, our preconceived notions couldn’t have been farther from the truth.


When we were dropped off at their property that afternoon, we had to hike down their long dirt driveway. Where we met their other workaway volunteer, Ignaz from Germany, who was staying in a tent inside a mud hut on the hillside. He took us to meet Udo, also from Germany, and his son, Aoni. Christina, Udo’s partner and Aoni’s mother was in town getting supplies. After dropping off our stuff, Udo gave us a tour.


To be honest, we were a bit taken aback by what we saw. The bus, which is pictured on their workaway page, doubles as their house. It has a small kitchen, table, and two separate bedrooms. It looks much nicer on the inside than it does on the outside. The shower was not on the bus, but in a cut out area in the brush. It was just a hose with a shower head on it, with hot water only for a few hours in the afternoon. The bathroom (see below) was a five gallon bucket with a screw on cap connected to a 1 gallon drinking contraption for liquids. The property in general was very, very beautiful, with great views all over, however, as we went to bed that night we didn’t know if we were going to be able to handle the absolute lack of amenities.


The next morning we decided that we were going to suck it up and try to make it a couple weeks. On my end the work was actually quite fun. My first day I started work on another tier of their garden. Despite battling rocks all day, I did enjoy myself. The next day I helped Ignaz & Udo finish the barbed wire fence along the road. Although it was treacherous land to be working on – we all had the ground drop out from under us on a number of occasions & I was attacked several times by fire ants – I really had fun! Lisa, on the other hand, was not too enthralled with her daily duties. She ended up helping Christina around the bus, doing dishes (using as little water as possible), helping with meals, & doing general “house” work. In the end, she felt more like a house wife than anything else & thought she’d be doing more of the “hands on” jobs. She did get to work on their “tile” shower floor, which was a mosaic of flat rock & mud & she enjoyed that particular project.


Breakfast was bread, tea/coffee, oatmeal and on 2 mornings eggs were available. Lunch was the biggest meal of the day, usually a casserole/stir-fry. Dinner was bread, tea/coffee & oatmeal. All meals were eaten outside by the campfire pit, with dinner being eaten with the fire going. After dinner we sat around the fire and talked. It took a bit, but we started to kind of get used to the routine. We worked 2 days and then had a day off. Although it was going to be tough, we planned to honor our commitment of 2 weeks. However, something came up that prevented us from doing so.


First, I didn’t sleep at all one night, and then the same the next night. That third night, I don’t think I sleep at all either. I was really nervous about how work was going to go this day, but I ended up getting a reprieve. Some friends were getting together to swim at this amazing waterfall. Although I was still dragging, at least we weren’t working. We woke up the next morning, Lisa after a good night sleep, me having not really slept for the 4th night in a row. As soon as the sun came up, I knew we needed to leave, that I was going to be no help for them in the condition I was in.


We both felt very badly, mainly because Christina & Udo were such nice people and they had treated us both like family from the first moment we set foot on their property. It took a little bit to sum up the courage, but after breakfast Lisa & I told Udo & Christina that we thought it best if we left that morning. They couldn’t be more understanding and both did their best to make us feel as good as possible about our decision to leave early.


Long story short, our first workaway experience didn’t go quite as we had planned, but we’re not giving up on workaway. Around the beginning of the new year we are planning to do an assignment in Mendoza, Argentina. As long as they have indoor plumbing, I think we’ll be fine.


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