Everybody likes to travel on a budget. Ok, not everybody, but I do. After researching about low budget travels I came across the website www.workaway.info. It looked like the perfect kind of trip for me at the moment. Travel + free accomodation= getting to know the world and people by volunteering = workawaying. However, my first volunteering experience didn't go exactly how I thought it would be.
You have to pay a small fee to the website, and prices vary if you are traveling solo or as a couple, and you get a two year membership. After that you just need to complete your profile, add some pictures and start looking for some hosts everywhere in the world!
Since I was going from Brazil to Portugal, I started looking as my first workaway experience for a place in Portugal. My husband and I were going to do this together, so we sent e-mails to hosts/places where we would like to volunteer.
Not easy, my friend. Many of them didn't have the dates anymore, or wanted us for another month, or to stay longer or just never answered our e-mail. We didn't give up! We started sending messages to a bunch of hosts, each time being more personal in our e-mails, and always reading others' feedback before applying.
Volunteering – Portugal – when things go bad
One day, one woman who had a farm in Alentejo, the countryside of Portugal, said she could host us for the time and day we offerred. Good, let's go!
By e-mail she said we would have the free accomodation, like Workaway website says we all have, but when I asked her if we had to buy any food, she replied, "yes, but I'll take you to the supermarket". The website says that workawayers are provided at least one meal. That's why I thought her answer was a little weird, anyway, probably we would only go for cookies and sodas.
As previously arranged, she would pick us up at the bus station. After a very long bus ride from Póvoa de Varzim to Porto to Lisbon to Montemor to Évora, we finally arrived. Two backpackers volunteering abroad for the first time. Pretty exciting, huh?
Bags on our backs, hungry, thirsty, cold (spring in the countryside of Portugal is very cold, beautiful, though), looking for a woman we had no idea what she looked like. When we heard our names being called we opened up a big smile to greet her (she was in her fifties), unfortunately we were the only ones. She and the man behind her looked like they were in a real bad mood. I felt like saying I'm sorry to the guy without having done anything by the look he had on his face.
If you think first impressions are a big deal, I definitely agree with you. That was a hint to what we were about to face.
Small talk on the car and she took us to the market. Worst visit to the market ever! The guy disappeared, she insisted she could push the cart, but why was she on a hurry? I didn't know the
market, or what I had to buy, or for how long, nothing! Then she said we needed to buy everything we were going to need to cook and eat. And that's not all, toilet paper too! First timers, we just accepted, but we were completely dissapointed with our reception.
We went to her small farm and she showed us our separate house. Ok, good, big, just us and it had a fireplace. "Oh, we'd like to light it up before going to bed to warm ourselves", I said, "Ok, do you have a match?", she asked us. Oh, yeah, I always have a match in my pocket. What kind of a freaking question was that? I guess she then decided to wake up her social skills and invited us to dinner with them. No mood for that, but sure, we wanted to workaway to share experiences.
At this point, my husband and I were tired, disappointed and hungry. We were very punctual to knock on her door to have dinner together. But the only possible way to get to her house was using the lantern from our phones. She was a "lights on" freak, they needed to be always off, turn them on only in case of extreme necessity. Ok, everybody is a little quircky.
Silence at the dinner table. "It smells so good!", "It looks delicious!". Silence at the dinner table. "Do you drink wine or soda?", "Whatever you guys are having.", "You have to choose.", "Ok, I guess I can drink some wine." Silence at the dinner table. After trying so hard to have a conversation, she decided to talk when I asked her how long she was living at the farm. That was it. Fun night, huh?
After this day, what do you want? Lie down and rest, right? Nooo, our house was dusty, the bathroom was moldy, the kitchen was dirty, and I named the spiders!
She said our first job the next day was to clean the house we were staying. Hell no, I have to clean it now, I won't sleep in a place like this. So, after a long ride, an awkward dinner, I started cleaning the house. Feeling cold, because her brilliant mind thought I carried matches around to light fireplaces I saw on my way.
After cleaning the house with water and dish detergent (the only thing there was to clean a house, otherwise we had to buy cleaning products), we went to bed. Next day, it was pouring rain, so we stayed in. Abandoned. Feelings of regret started to emerge.
The other day the sun came out. So we went down her house to ask what we could do to help them in the farm. She was out to work, so the man gave us instructions to what we had to do. I say the man, because their relationship was a mystery to us. I had to weed the garden and my husband had to spray some type of product on the trees. We imagined we would have to do these things, and I came prepared with my gardening gloves. But, some gardening equipments would be of great help. Not a word from the man. My husband wore neither a mask nor gloves. And the man was surprised when my husband asked him for help on how to prepare the substance he had to spray. We tried to stay positive but it started to look like we were not volunteering but working for free.
My hands and back were in pain after that day and my husband was afraid of having smelled that type of product all day. Next day, pulling out grass, not weed, because it was one meter high, and guess what?, by hand! We found a tiny shovel and garden scissors which helped us a little. We got the impression that since she knew we would volunteer for her in April, in December she thought she didn't have to do anything else because we were coming the next year. Not even a heads up to the big spiders there were in garden. We wanted to learn, to share, to volunteer not to know what slavery feels like.
On the weekend, we decided to take the bikes she lent and went for a ride. During the weekends she was at home, so she decided to work in her farm. However, after a whole week working hard, we deserved our days off, so we went to the nearby village, had a little picnic on the road, and before coming back... we didn't want to come back, we wanted to go away. We thought that maybe she had a bad week, or we had cultural differences. We would give her another chance, because the agreement was to stay there for a month. We were eager to volunteer, although not under those conditions.
When we came back she said she needed to talk to us. She complained we didn't help her! Wait a minute! We worked from Monday to Friday and she wanted us to work on the weekend too? The way she talked to us was very childish, and when we complained too, she said she chose workaway.info because she didn't want to give any support, since she was out working during the week. We did not sign up for that! It became clear to us that we weren't happy there. We packed our bags and said goodbye.
We're travelers! We wouldn't let one bad experience ruin the rest of our trip! So, we went to Évora and booked a room. Best shower ever! With heating! Clean sheets! That's the stuff...
One night in Évora, then we hit the road to Sintra booking a room with Airbnb. After that we went to Lisbon and from there we rented a car to Porto! Planning as we go, it is so not us! But it was incredible!
So, you see, it is possible to transform a bad experience into many good experiences! Plus, I can also warn you that you must be alert to these programs, and only do what you feel like doing and are happy about it. Follow your heart! I never blamed the platform, just the host, let's be clear on that.
However, we had another workaway planned in France, and we would give it a go. That you'll see in the next post, the other side of the coin. What I guarantee is: we made friends for life!