I first found out about Workaway when I was traveling through Europe in 2014 from a couple of Aussies and when I got back to the States I signed up for two years for a very small fee of $29 USD. I first used this volunteering websitein Greece. I applied to several places with hopes of securing a job to balance out my travel budget. I found out very quickly that the Greek community needed lots of help on farms and in hostels, hotels and even private homes, so I started emailing several hosts and received very few responses in a timely matter (which became troublesome for me during my fast-paced trip). Eventually when I arrived in the Peloponnese I received my first positive response from a Norwegian man who had an Olive farm on the Island of Crete. Excited to say the least I jumped at the opportunity and started figuring out how and when I was going to get to Crete.
One week later I arrived in Monemvasia, the Gibraltar of Greece (see pic above) and found out that I could take a ferry from Neapoli Vion to a small island called Kythira just south of the Peloponnese and then catch another very infrequent ferry from there to the largest island in Greece…Crete. Timing was everything for this journey and I had to coordinate it properly so I could arrive at the port town of Diakofti at the right time to catch the ferry that only ran once a week due to it being off season. It was very important to catch that ferry as all the hotels / places to stay were no longer open in the off season. In fact, the entire town shuts down except for one restaurant, mini-market and that’s about it. I arrived there October 5th and was blown away by the beauty of this small town and island. Its sheer remoteness was the main attraction and I was essentially the only tourist there which is what I like. I made my way from the port into the small villa and discovered a Russian ship wreck, a beautiful landscape and a pristine beach all to myself. I wasted no time and jumped into the crystal clear water for a swim.
After an hour of sun bathing and swimming periodically to cool me down I was approached by a German woman named Ingrid who saw my backpack and asked me if I needed a place to stay. I responded that I was catching the ferry later that night and that I needed no place to stay, but she offered me dinner so I obliged. As we walked up the small but main road of the town and away from all of the houses I started to think, “Where is she taking me?” but soon we came to her parcel of land which she had purchased in the 1960’s and forgotten about until 5 years ago. She explained to me that she bought it when she herself was traveling through Europe on a drug infused journey and forgot about it until recently, when she found the parcel purchase paper whilst cleaning her house back in Germany. So in 2010 she headed back to Kythira to see if the land was still available and it still was even though Greek law states that if a land stays unclaimed or not lived on for 20 yrs it can be taken by anyone whom wants it. Luckily for her nobody did. She told me how happy the people of the island were to have her as the newest resident to the small community and how they helped her plant olive trees and other plants from which she could eat from but she would have to wait several years to reap the benefits of these plants. She showed me around her one acre parcel of land and I then realized that she had no toilet, running water or even a structure to stay in…just a 3 season tent that she had been living out of for the last 5 years. And did I mention she is 70yrs old? Yeah…crazy Germans! She prepped a dinning area on a cement slab which she had poured to have a flat place to set up for guests. Not sure why she spent 1600 Euro on that instead of say, a structure of some sort to live in, but she was perfectly content with her choices to live in her tent and did just that. Dinner consisted of vegetables, bread, fruit, olive oil and even white wine all from the island provided to her by the people of the community. After we ate and drank we sat underneath the Milky way and stars and chit chatted about everything from politics to travel. She was a cool lady and I could have stayed for several more hours but my ferry was arriving so I had to say goodbye.
At 5am that next morning I arrived at the port of Kissamos, a small city just outside of Chania, Crete. I walked from the port to Chania bus station and caught the first bus to the capital city, Heraklion. I found a cool hostel (find out name and price link it in when you have internet) there where I laid my head that evening before departing the next morning for a small town just 20km south called houdetsi. That’s where Crete’s most famous music artist, Ross Daly lives and hosts the music festival every year. After getting off the bus I followed the main road up to the town’s end at the top of the hill following the directions provided to me by Jon the Norwegian farm owner. Approaching the farm I heard someone yelling my name. I swiveled around 360 degrees but saw no one so I kept walking. Then again I heard my name knowing now this couldn’t be a coincidence. I turned around once more to see a tall lanky man with long blonde hair waving at me from a small taverna. I headed that way to meet my host and another volunteer named Graham, an English bloke who lives in Adelaide, Australia. They were just finishing lunch when I arrived and they offered me the remainder of the food an a ice cold beer. It was clear at this point that I was in good hands.
Jon paid the the bill and we headed to the farm, walking down a steep path with several dogs in tow onto his 4 acre property. I immediately fell in love with it…endless olive trees, a camper van where Jon lives, two yurts where he houses his volunteers and some times just friends. He showed me around the farm pointing out different trees, showing me both yurts, the toilet and the shower. He explained to me the next days work and showed me where I would be staying…a couch in the larger yurt where Graham was also staying. I unpacked my things and set up my sleeping bag and headed up to the camper van where we hung out in the evenings. We chatted for several hours getting to know each other over a awesome dinner prepared by Graham. He was an excellent cook from whom I learned a lot.
After dinner Jon provided us with some red wine to drink (his favorite beverage) and several glasses and several hits of hash later I was very comfortable with my surroundings. We headed to bed around midnight to get some sleep before the next days work.
8am the next day we got up and headed up for breakfast and coffee at the camper van. Jon explained what he needed done and he wanted me to get firewood from all of the limbs that had been clipped off the Olive trees just weeks before. I worked for 3 hours until we broke for lunch at which point he said that we wouldn’t be working in the heat of the day since it was very hot and we were only expected to work 5hrs a day anyway. We took a siesta and then headed back out at around5pm to continue working until dinner. Graham once again prepared a delicious vegetarian meal and made it clear that he liked to cook and would be cooking every meal. I had no complaints and neither did Jon since we were both not as advanced as Graham was in the small but function-able kitchen.
In the days to come I became more and more comfortable with them the farm and the two dogs that Jon had on the farm. We helped Jon clean up below the olive trees to prepare for the pick, cut more fire wood, made some hangers out of fig tree branches to hang our clothes, burned excess bramble bushes, fixed chairs that he had on the property, started a foundation for a tool shed, dug ditches for water drainage on the steep parcel of land and even built a table with a sink that we made out trash rummaged out of the dump just down the road.
Many nights were spent in the camper van drinking red wine and retsina, me smoking my hash, playing a German card game called Bohnanza, and watching IT Crowd and Black Adder, while our afternoons were spent at the local tavernas eating and drinking Greek beer which Jon paid for most of the time unless we ventured out on our own (which we did several times in order to get WiFi since Jon didn’t have any). He was a minimalist, with solar powered electricity which ran out at a moments notice, a shower underneath an olive tree out in the open on top of a couple pallets that had hot water only in afternoon since it was heated by the sun, and a toilet which was just a hole in the ground with a smooth wooden seat.
The weather was great, the comradery was even better and all was grand until the monsoon hit roughly two weeks into my stay right after a French couple had arrived to volunteer. The rain and wind was so furious that the yurt became water logged and eventually turned into a giant water fall. Water was coming in from the roof, the walls and everything got wet. At one point I considered pitching my tent inside the yurt but then soon realized that I would have no where to secure the stakes, so I quickly packed up all my stuff, put my rain flies on both my bags and pulled out my tent rain fly and laid it on the couch and wrapped myself and sleeping in it like a burrito to stay dry. Several times that first night I had to dump water off me on to the floor as it was seeping through the rain fly and getting my down sleeping bag wet. The next few days that followed were filled with many viscous storms only making the situation worse. Any break in the storm that provided sun allowed us to pull out our stuff and hang it to dry only to quickly move it back in before the next storm hit. Eventually the French couple had enough and left the three of us to clean up the mess that storm had created.
Due to the steepness of the parcel the water washed away a lot of his land and road that he had built to get his camper van on the property, so much so that it became a priority to dig drainage ditches to reroute the water or it would wash his camper van away. But it didn’t help…the water would just erase the holes and ditches that we dug in minutes. We tried many different things but they all were unsuccessful, and sadly our time on the farm was coming to an end. We helped Jon with what ever we could before we left and I felt bad about leaving but my journey had to continue on.
I can say with certainty that I made two life long friends during my stay on the farm and will return to check on Jon and help again next summer I hope. I would certainly recommend Jon to anybody looking to work on a farm via workaway. It was a great experience that I learned a lot from. I only hope that the next time I come to visit things are better for him and that my next volunteering job lives up to this one.
3 weeks doing Workaway in Crete for the olive pick