WWOOF. ...no, it's not the sound of someone trying to imitate a dog. It stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms, or to be correct… .World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
Vic and I decided to become wwoofers in Spain, Portugal and France because we wanted to experience the lifestyles of families in these countries rather than just being a tourist. Anyone can become a wwoofer. Just log on to www.wwoof.org and you will be able to access the site of the organisation which gives you details on how to become a wwoofer. Organic farming is very labour intensive, so wwoofing is an exchange of accommodation and food for your work. Every host has different experiences to offer. On our four month journey we only had three things that we wanted to do in Europe, ie, visit the Alhambra in Granada, go dancing at La Paloma and visit the Gaudi architecture in Barcelona and then the rose gardens at Jardins de Bagatelle and Roseraie de l'Hay in Paris. Anything else was a bonus. After printing out the hosts' names, addresses and email details from the computer, Vic and I gave each host a rating -(1) not very interesting to (5) sounds terrific. We then looked at the areas in which they lived. If it was in an area that we wanted to see, we wrote to them explaining who we were and indicated our desire to come to their farm and this is what we could offer them. Within 8 hours I received my first reply. Please come!!!!
Our experiences were varied. At our first farm in southern Spain we pruned fruit trees and olive trees. At the second farm, also in the south of Spain, I made jam while Vic did some building work and chain-sawing, cleaning out diseased trees. We then had a little side trip to Morocco to experience a comp1etely different culture, this time as a tourist but travelling with the locals on their transport. In the south of Portugal we helped our Portuguese hosts to clean the gardens and planted trees, then we travelled to northern Portugal where we fixed a lot of fences (everywhere we went we had to repair fences) and also helped 75 year old Alicia to plant potatoes. Then on to Barcelona to become a tourist again for a few days.
Our next host for 3 weeks in the French Pyrenees were middle aged hippies who migrated from Germany 24 years ago with a young family. This is where I looked after baby goats and learnt to milk goats while Vic did some welding and general maintenance. They had many visitors to this farm and the family was very involved in the life of the nearby village so we were also included in these activities. Their main income was derived from selling goats cheese at the markets twice a week, so Vic and I would take turns to help Didi sell cheese to the French, with our limited language skills. We laughed a lot!!!
Then on to an excellent organic farm near Nimes in southern France where our work was weeding, tying up tomatoes, thinning raspberries and general farm work including ploughing a paddock. The hosts were very professional in their attitude to organic farming; they also sold their produce at the local village markets. Our last stay was with a lady and her two children on a sheep farm near Les Eyzies in the Dordogne region of southwest France. She made her living from renting out tents in the summer holidays for people who wanted to camp on a farm. On this farm Vic had to cut trees from the forest which were then made into posts ready for us to build a chook house and once again repair the fences. After estimating the materials needed, we went shopping at the local hardware shops for all the necessary items, chicken wire, hinges, screws, etc. Vic also had to do some farrier work on two donkeys whose feet were in very bad condition. Although he is experienced with horses, he found that donkey's feet are so much smaller; he calls them ballerina feet. At each place we stayed about two weeks, except in the Pyrenees where we stayed for three weeks. Many different types of accommodation were offered, from a room in the house to a very comfortable caravan. Meals were always with the family. On our days off we would do the tourist thing, ride bikes (after Vic fixed those as well) and visit the sights. All of our travel was by bus or train; we knew the address and would organise with each host for them to collect us from either the nearest bus station or train station. Our golden rule was to keep in contact with the hosts as often as possible to tell them of our movements and let them know what time of what day to pick us up. We kept in contact at internet cafes when we could and when we got closer to each destination we would ring them at home to arrange a pick up. The main requirement to be a wwoofer is willingness to work in exchange for food and accommodation and to be fit and healthy. Age does not matter. One thing I would suggest: take your own secateurs, hammer or tools that are comfortable in your own hands. We also took our own rubber boots just in case there was wet weather. We wore them at every farm. I arranged our insurance with World Nomads, only available on the internet. All of our hosts could speak English, most were very well educated, some speaking 3 or 4 languages. Vic and I would always try to converse in the language of the country we were visiting, even if it was very rudimentary whilst thumbing through a translation book. The locals appreciate the attempt at their language. Like all natives, Spanish, Portuguese, Moroccans and French people love tourists to take the time to enjoy their countries, their food, their culture and their people. I would recommend this type of travel for those wanting something different because rushing from one sightseeing glimpse to another doesn't imprint anything in one's heart or mind. Buy a postcard instead, or better still watch it on television!
Article compiled by Sheryl Backhouse