Getting the next year of our lives organized was the bright side of wwoofing at an agriturismo in Tuscany. More on the results later. The not-so-bright side? Agriturismos are rural properties whose livelihood comes either partly or mostly from hosting paying guests. It’s a no-brainer that wwoofers help with the most pressing projects. It’s also a no-brainer that the most pressing projects at an agriturismo have to do with customers (i.e. cleaning) more often than farming. Since we wwoof to learn about farming (many do it as a cheap way to travel), we tend to stick to real farms. Exception made; lesson learned.
How did this wwoof spot draw us in? Lies! – in the form of non-existent building projects and an over-exaggerated description of the accommodation. “Wwoofers stay in a camper down by the river where there is a swimming hole” had me dreaming of heavenly swims under the Tuscan sun three times a day. Reality? Wwoofers stay in a camper a few hundred feet from the house which is somewhat closer to the tiny stream in the woods that has knee-deep pools you can almost float in.
While the accommodation issue isn’t so important, the mis-represented building projects (a.k.a. learning, a.k.a. the whole reason we made the exception) took the cake. I specifically named in my email to the host the specific projects listed in his farm description that attracted us. Did he reply, “Oh, I’m not really doing those projects right now, but come anyway because I want your labor hours”? No. He did not. The end result is that we showed up, eagerly inquired as to the projects, were informed each time that “I’m not really working on that right now because…”, and spent our time doing droll work. I weedwhacked the campground, then the entire property, weeded, and refinished the host’s outdoor dining table. Pat watered, weeded, and cleaned the kitchen and bathroom. The latter jobs were cleverly phrased as “please clean the areas you’ve used,” but one could add, “including the weeks and months worth of dirt build up you didn’t contribute to.”
But all these disappointments were balanced by the fact that 1) we’d pre-arranged to take advantage of our host’s inability to spend time with us by sorting out our long-term plans, and 2) we were in Tuscany!
We’d hitched successfully from Rome – first with a wonderful young couple on their way to a classic car show, then with a smattering of fantastic locals. At one point we were dropped in Pienza, a serendipitous treat! Tuscany is full of castle-topped hill towns – basically antiquated fortresses dotting the formerly violence-prone countryside. On a walk one morning before wwoofing, we took in views of all the hill-top villages within 50 miles of our little agriturismo! Pienza was especially well preserved, with gorgeous old buildings, stunning views from every edge of the village, and heavenly liquorice and pistachio gelato.
At the agriturismo, after our wwoofing work was finished each day, we spent the rest of the time taking some huge steps for our lives. We’re happy and thankful that we’ve gotten to travel so much. In a perfect world, we’d return to the U.S. with a nest egg so we can take our time deciding where and how we want to “settle” down. Of course two years traveling has involved mostly spending money, not saving. The plan? Wages in Australia are heaps better than the U.S. – usually quoted as starting at around $20 an hour even for simple things like bar work, cashiering, cleaning, and admin. Ask any Australian about the economy, and their response is likely to be along the lines of, “what recession?” For my man and I, as our time to take advantage slips away (you can apply for a working holiday visa until age 30), finishing up our world tour with a work stint in Aussie was the most lucrative option. We plan to mix in a bit of travel during and after, and then we’ll return home and get going on “normal” life.
So, after a week-long flurry of internet research, forms, flight booking sites, and paperwork our fate is finally sealed! In the fall we’ll return to the U.S. from Europe, spend a few months seeing our loved ones, then head for Australia in February where we’re allowed to work for up to a year. The plan also includes a major perk: we’re going to Hawaii on our way to the Outback! I finagled some cheap tickets by breaking the flight into separately purchased legs. Cheap flight leg #1 and cheap flight leg #2 occur about two weeks apart, requiring us to endure a spell on the warm winter sands of America’s island paradise. Thank you, universe! ♣
See cheese covered in hay and leaves, bizarre sculptures, and Tuscan landscapes in this Facebook album.