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Workaway: A Fantastic Way to Learn About the World

Let’s say you want to put siding up on a building and you have lots of boards of varying lengths. And from these boards you need to cut them down to four different size boards, nine boards of each size.

And since the boards are very expensive, you want to have as little waste from each board as possible. So you have to figure which size boards can be cut down to which needed sizes with the least amount of leftover board.

And because it might rain at any moment, you want to have the boards cut, prepped, and put up as quickly as possible.

This is not an abstract math problem that you find in a book, but an actual real-life situation I got to figure out on one of our workaways!

You may laugh at the idea of me getting excited about a real-world math problem, but other than shopping math, I really haven’t had to do basic arithmetic solving problems like this in my life. So I was very excited to have the opportunity. It was a bit of pressure to have to make quick math decisions but I think I did ok.

The only thing was that I lost track of how many boards of each size I had marked out, so it ended up that our host had to do a bit of work at the end to finish up the correct number of boards. But I think I was ok for the first time. But that's according to me. I think our host would just roll his eyes at that.

Workaways are a fantastic way to get immersed in a country and in a community, and learn what life is really like there. We have done a total of five workaways on our journey (six if you count the failed one we did in Nepal when we only stayed two days) and three of those five workaways were in Australia and New Zealand. In these workaways, we’ve been fortunate enough to stay with hosts who have brought us into their lives, introducing us to their communities and treating us like long lost friends.

People choose to stay in specific workaway locations for anywhere from a few days to a few months. We made the decision to stay at our workaways for ten days. It seemed like a good amount of time. If it wasn’t great, we would be leaving soon enough and if it was great it would leave us wanting more. With a ten-day workaway we would also have time to see the country in other ways with other experiences.

Now that we have finished up our last one, we realize that ten days was an excellent decision. That amount of time allowed us to get to know our hosts and the community, get to do a bit of work, feel settled in for a while, and then move on. In each situation, the ten days passed by incredibly fast and we couldn’t believe that we had completed our stay so quickly.

I’ve already written and posted photos of our first two workaways in Greece and Israel, so in this post I’ll concentrate on our last three.

About an hour north of Melbourne, in the state of Victoria there are beautiful rolling hills and old gold mines.

There are a series of small towns that are on a tourist circuit with wineries, chocolate shops and art galleries.

Many people are moving to this area from Melbourne to start a new lifestyle outside of the city, so these towns seem to have a very diverse, and educated culture.

We stayed with a lovely couple who were about our age and we were thrilled to discover we had some common life experiences, including a love of long-term travel. We instantly clicked and over the ten days felt that we became great friends.

They have a bed and breakfast that has extensive and beautiful gardens. They have restored the old house on the property and built a new straw bale home.

They have made it a priority to live as sustainable a life as possible, using solar power as much as possible and collecting rain water in giant tanks.

The work at Sean and Anne’s was great. They had us re-do a footpath in their front yard, including regrading, re-lining, and then putting a gravel bed on it.

The gravel pile was down the hill near the entrance to their five acre property. Over the course of three days, Jay drove the tractor down to the pile and put approximately seven hundred shovel-fulls of gravel into the tractor cart, drove back up to the path, dumped gravel, and then I spread it while he went to get more.

We then cleaned up, weeded and mulched two large flower gardens.

We were pretty proud of the end result. It looks pretty good, doesn't it?

We also built a scarecrow to keep the wallabies away from their vegetable garden. I don’t think it will work, but it was a fun idea.

During our stay, we had many great conversations about life over tea, lunch, and dinner times. We were made to feel like part of the family and Sean and Anne included us in all the activities they did.

We were welcomed to join in the “happy hour” they had with their B&B guests, joined in conversations when their friends visited, and they took us pretty much everywhere they went.

After our five to six hours of work each day, we had our afternoons free. One day we walked to a nearby chocolate factory and had ice cream sundaes. (No, I did not eat both of those. One was enough, thank you)

On other days they took us to the towns of Ballarat and Daylesford, and showed us around Lavendula, an old settler’s home that had beautiful gardens and fields of lavender.

Over the weekend they took us to the Daylesford Chillout parade, its version of a Gay Pride parade, which was really cute and fun.

and they took us to their monthly community social gathering where we met a lot of their friends and neighbors, who all made us feel so welcome.

One highlight of our time in Victoria was discovering the animals of Australia. On our very first day there, Anne took us to a golf course where we saw lots and lots of kangaroos.

There was a wallaby in their yard that we saw several times.

Our first kookaburra was on the electric line on the way home from the golf course,

and we first heard the sound of the kookaburras the very next morning as we started to work.

We heard and saw magpies and rosella parrots. And more kookaburras. The rosella parrots were bright blue and red and the magpies were black and white. We soon learned to recognize the sounds each of the different birds made and enjoyed the serenading.

We had such a nice time with Sean and Anne. We worked hard and felt a sense of accomplishment with what we had done. Even though we felt that we could have easily spent more than our allotted ten days there, it was time to move onto our next adventure. We said a heartfelt good-bye

and moved on to Apollo Bay and the Great Ocean Walk. (blog post coming soon) We definitely count Sean and Anne among our new friends and we hope to stay in contact with them.

This workaway experience confirmed that with the right match, workaway was a great way to get to know the people in a country. Being at Anne and Sean’s showed us that there was definitely a place for us in this crazy network of people looking to make connections.

Yes, they had work they wanted to get done, but the amount we put in was at least as much as what we got out of it: A warm, comfortable place to sleep each night and three excellent meals a day; but more importantly, we got to know local people who brought us into their lives, introduced us to their culture, friends, their story and history, and gave us what we had dreamed we would find when we decided to do workaway.

Our next workaway was with Sandi in Tasmania.

Sandi had reached out to us a year ago when we had just signed up with this organization, and Jay was so excited to read his profile and the way of life he had. Jay was really looking forward to going to Tasmania and staying with him. Sandi's profile indicated that we would be doing quite a bit of fishing, sitting on the veranda overlooking the town, and drinking wine.

And, of course, doing a bit of work.

Well, Sandi is quite a character, and it took us a day or so to adjust to his ways, but we soon found a good pace and rhythm with him and enjoyed our stay immensely. With Sandi and his circle of friends we discovered a different side of Australia. He and his friend Wendy regaled us with stories of old time Tasmania, the bush (forest), and the early settlers’ way of life.

We heard words and phrases, and expressions that we had never heard before. We were constantly asking them to explain and decipher what they were saying. Their accents were crazy interesting and I hope they weren’t offended by how often I tried to mimic their way of speaking.

Our first introduction to Sandi was at the Launceston airport when he picked us up and brought us over to his car. The “ute”, which we learned is short for utility vehicle, was an old pickup truck that had seen many years of service. Like since the 1970’s or something. It was old.

It was an hour and half journey through the countryside (or bush) of Tasmania to get to St Marys, where he lives. And what a place he has. A house perched on a hillside, overlooking the town.

And past the town are open fields filled with cattle and sheep, and beyond that are hills filled with the uninterrupted forests of a national park.

While sitting on the veranda in the back of the house, the sun rises on the left, and sets on the right. And we were just a few kilometers from the ocean. We saw every kind of beauty from this veranda, including rainbows (thank you Jay for this amazing picture)

and this unbelievable cloud inversion: (the white stuff is a cloud)

Sandi is a horticulturist by training, and had a 40-year career in the field, in both the public and private sector. He knows quite a bit about plants. (and everything else)

He has on his property: apple, pear, nectarine, peach, pleach, apricot, and plum trees.

He has hazelnut, chestnut, walnut trees. He has raspberry bushes, herbs, strawberries, lots and lots of vegetables, including corn, tomatoes, beetroot, and beans. He is growing grapes, and many other things.

Work included propagating grape vines, cutting back raspberry bushes, transplanting strawberries and picking lots of fruit and vegetables. Jay especially loved feeding the neighbor's cow every day, filling up buckets with rotten fruit that was laying on the ground and watching the cow run over to the fence for the anticipated treat.

After four days of work, we helped Sandi welcome his friends; a family of five, including three children, ages 17, 15, and 8, from southern Australia, who were on a road trip, traveling in an old caravan through Tasmania.

They stayed with Sandi for three nights and on Thursday and Friday we went fishing with all of them, off the bridge in Scamander, right by the ocean.

I managed to catch a fish that was too small to keep,

and also, in a freak bit of hook maneuvering, managed to catch an octopus, which we also threw back.

Jay almost caught a cold.

Back at the farm, Jay and I baked apple pies and chocolate chip cookies in an attempt to participate in the great amount of cooking and baking that was going on to feed all eight of us.

The eight-year-old boy found a special place in both Jay’s and my heart. He was so cute and wanted to hang out with us all the time. It was really fun to have a little boy around us again.

We didn’t work on Thursday or Friday, but Saturday should have been a work day for us. For some reason, maybe because we didn’t really have “off” time on those days, since we were entertaining the family and their son for hours, and baking up a storm, and just being part of this big family, Sandi insisted that we do a hike we had indicated we were interested in.

We climbed up St. Patrick’s Head, an old volcano cone and enjoyed stunning views of the area,

being able to see all the way to the ocean.

It was a great hike that included some rock scrambling and meeting other nice hikers on the trail.

This short hike was a highlight of our stay in Tasmania.

The rest of the time we worked with Sandi at his friend's home, digging up and re-doing her front garden. (which means her front yard) It was a big project and we all worked very hard to get it done. We were rewarded with amazing food and baked goods that Wendy prepared, and fascinating stories of growing up in Tasmania.

One other fun thing we did was visit Sandi's friends who have a farm, which included an olive grove, and we had tea in the garden, which doubles as the horse paddock.

They have created an entire ecosystem, with geese and horses that eat the grass and provide the fertilizer for the olive trees.

It was hard to believe that we did all this activity and met all these people in only ten days. But the days flew by, and too soon it was time to say goodbye to Sandi and his friends. We hope to see Sandi someday in the US.

From Tasmania we flew to Melbourne and then on to Queenstown New Zealand for the next epic adventure. And after we finished the Milford Track (see blog post here), we moved on to stay with Dean on the North Island of New Zealand.

We had the most wonderful, most interesting cultural experience at this workaway. Dean is restoring an old inn, and has a “motley crew” of workawayers helping him out.

We joined an Australian couple in their 50’s who had sold everything they owned to travel the world and do multi-day hikes “for the rest of their lives,” a Belgian guy who wanted to use his vacation time to do volunteer work around the world, a guy from Tennessee who also sold everything he owned to travel around the world. He told us that the travel he did provided meaning to his life and for the first time in his life he felt that he was doing more than just existing and getting through each day. And finally, there was the 19 year old British woman who wanted to have a non-traditional lifestyle and was doing work and volunteering in Australia and New Zealand for a while. The Australian couple left only a few days after we got there, but the rest of the crew bonded with us and we got along great.

This was the first time we had a workaway with other volunteers (not counting the Nepali one), and we loved this group.

Dean has a fantastic community of friends who welcomed us with open arms. We enjoyed visiting his neighbors, sharing a beer or two, and just shooting the breeze.

I had to record their conversations because their accents are phenomenal. I could just listen to them all day long. Sometimes I couldn’t decide who was harder to understand, the American from Tennessee, or the New Zealander. I had to listen very carefully to figure out what everyone was saying.

One of the days at Dean's was ANZAC Day, and I was thrilled that he offered to take us to the sunrise ceremony in town so we could experience what ANZAC Day was like. It was pretty moving to see how the small town solemnly remember their boys who died during WWI at Gallipoli, as well as the local men and women who died during WWII and Korean War.

It was at Dean's that I got to do that amazing math problem that I described above. Otherwise, I ended up being pretty useless when it came to skills in helping to build so I was mostly put on assistant duty.

Jay painted one of the rooms, and helped fix and install windows. I helped put up insulation in the walls, and did some gardening and I assisted Jay as he put up a chicken-proof fence around the garden. Each day brought new tasks to do, new challenges and problem solving that we took very seriously so we could help Dean with his enormous project.

Staying with Dean was a fantastic experience. He was such a great guy:

The Dudley was magnificent at both sunrise and sunset.

As Jay and I reflected on our workaway experiences, one thing that stood out for us with all five of our workaway hosts was their commitment to their projects.

Each of them have a dream, and are inviting volunteers to come and help them make their dream a reality. We feel like we are living our dream of traveling around the world, and it brings so much meaning to us to be able to help them and be even a small part of making their dreams come true.

We saw how each of these hosts were DRIVEN to work on their projects, and how they had dedicated their lives to building something meaningful for themselves. Each and every one of them rose very early in the morning, began work, and continued to work late into the afternoons. It was quite clear that these projects bring meaning to their lives, and make them excited to get up in the morning. Not one of them groaned when the alarm went off, and not one of them celebrated when it was Friday afternoon. It was quite remarkable how passionate they were about their projects and it was a great experience for us to see this.

And now that we have left our last workaway of this journey, we can confidently say that doing workaways was an excellent choice for us, brought meaning to our travels, and we very strongly recommend that people do a workaway while on the road. It's a GREAT way to see the world!!!!!

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