WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

In my freshman year at Hope I had the opportunity to participate in an immersion trip that went and did some volunteer work in Jamaica over spring break. The trip had been advertised to me by a friend as an opportunity to experience all the benefits of a vacation while also doing some good for others. As I started planning a trip for this spring, I couldn’t help but recall that trip and the lasting impact it has had on my life. I still see a lot of value in simply traveling to new places and participating in touristy activities, but I knew that I wanted to do something a little different (at least for part of my break). So, I created a WWOOF account.

WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a volunteer organization that connects willing volunteers with farms and smallholdings. In exchange for accommodation and food, volunteers work for about 4 hours each day. I saw this as an opportunity to travel around and do some good at the same time, with the added bonus of saving money and seeing parts of the UK that you would not ordinarily see as a normal tourist.

I searched the WWOOF website for farms and smallholdings with good reviews and characteristics that matched the type of site I wanted to stay at, and I contacted the WWOOF hosts at these locations. After lots of research and communication with these hosts, my girlfriend, Gabbi, and I packed our bags and headed off to a farm in Ayrshire, Scotland, where we spent a few days before picking up again and moving to a farm in southern Wales. In between, we were able to stop for a night in Manchester and a night in Liverpool. I could talk about my experiences at each farm and in each city for hours on end, but I will only touch on each because the break was filled with so many activities.

At the first farm, I spent most of my working hours raking leaves, cleaning a polytunnel, cleaning a chicken coup, and potting plants. I also held a chicken. So that was cool.

Then, in the afternoons, the host would drive Gabbi and me to the nearest bus station and we’d travel to whichever cities in the area sounded the most interesting. For the first two days we were there, this resulted in us exploring the cities of Irvine and Kilmarnock.

On the third day, our host insisted that we take the day off and take the ferry across to the Isle of Arran. The Isle of Arran, sometimes called “miniature Scotland”, is an island west of mainland Scotland. From the farm we were volunteering at, you could see the peak of its highest mountain, “Goat Fell”, across a small strip of the Atlantic Ocean. Instead of working on this day, we woke up early and took the ferry across to the Isle of Arran where we managed to spend almost all of our time hiking up the majority of Goat Fell.

View of Goat Fell from the first farm
A panorama of me partway up Goat Fell

After returning each evening from our miniature adventures, I could always count on playing fetch with the host’s puppy until my arm was so sore I could no longer throw her ball.

Asha, the puppy from the first farm

As I said, after leaving the first farm, Gabbi and I made our way to Manchester for one night: the night of the Manchester City versus Manchester United game. For anyone who doesn’t watch much soccer, these are two of the best teams in the world and are also huge rivals. We stopped into a restaurant that was playing the game and got to experience some of the rivalry first hand. It was incredible. It was crazy. These people take their soccer very seriously.

The next day we were in Liverpool, which is a beautiful city with an interesting history (which I got to learn all about at the Museum of Liverpool). After waking up early the next morning for a run on Albert Dock (where we’d watched the sun set the night before), we headed off to the second farm.

The Royal Liver Building in Liverpool
Sunset from Albert Dock
Beatles statue on Albert Dock

At the second farm, we split and stacked firewood and helped put a new cover on the host’s polytunnel which had torn over the winter. There was less accessibility to public transportation on this farm, so we spent most afternoons playing board games with our hosts or walking through the rolling hills of Wales. One evening, I even learned the basics of knitting!

Polytunnel from the second farm with its new cover

On our way to London to begin the second half of our break, we stopped in Burry Port (where a nice lady in a family-run market gave us free Welsh cakes!) and Swansea. The entire, crazy experience of hopping from city to city and helping with odd jobs on farms was one which I will always remember.

Me eating a free Welsh cake in Burry Port

Living Among the Dinosaurs

On Saturday I found myself eating tiny coconuts and sipping water from tiny shoe-shaped flowers. It was like a miniature tea party!

In fact, one of my favorite memories from childhood was the tiny tea-set that my sister and I shared. Even for 10-year-old fingers, it was teensy. And we would always drink tap water and eat baby goldfish. At that point in my life, real tea was a very grown-up concept.

Now, thanks to my roommate Sav, who introduced me to this drink and the constant presence of tea at our evening meals in Chile, I’m addicted. And a warm cup of tea was exactly what I was craving after Saturday’s adventures.

Let me back up.

On Saturday, my study abroad program took an excursion to La Campana National Park. It’s a magical place just a bus ride away from Valparaiso, where the ecosystem changes suddenly to remind me of Jurassic times.

Doesn’t it seem like dinosaurs would live here? I kept expecting a pterodactyl to come swooping by. This mix of vegetation has been here for hundreds of thousands of years, and the palm trees, or palmeras, are a species unique to Chile. Their presence here has to do with the microclimate in the national park, which receives a lot of rain.

I learned all these things from our tour guides, who were an incredible source of knowledge about the national park. They pointed out tons of wildlife, patiently answering all my questions about rocks and woodpecker species.

The part about the rain, though, I picked up on pretty fast. It was raining all day, starting just after we unloaded the bus in the parking lot. By the time we got back, about 5 hours later, we were slipping and sliding down the muddy hills.

On the plus side, the rain made the waterfall that we went to see absolutely gorgeous! Our guides noted that there was more water rushing down it than they had ever seen.

The rain also allowed us to see some more secretive birds, a tarantula, and flowers that would have closed up otherwise. These adorable bell-shaped yellow flowers generally last about a day, but with the rain, they were filled up to the brim. And they were the perfect shape to take a little sip out of!

The tiny coconuts that made up the other half of my tea party were from the Chilean palmera. They’re about the size of a quarter. Our tour guide found one on the ground and split it open with a rock. They don’t have water inside, but the fleshy white part tastes just like any other coconut!

Overall, I had a wonderful time in the land of the dinosaurs! Despite the rain and the cold, it was an amazing place to visit. And on the way back, we stopped at an authentic Chilean restaurant to warm up with a cazuela (a typical brothy soup) and, of course, some tea.

Are You Alive?

Hello Hope College y Queridos Lectores,

Yes, I am alive. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to pretty much all of you, especially those close who have been awaiting updates from me. Undoubtedly, it has been a tumultuous and invigorating last 5 weeks since my arrival in late February. I arrived with doubts, fear, and much regret because I was leaving behind those who I truly loved. Luckily I was able to see some of my family and friends before I left but many of my goodbyes were rushed and left with many loose and some fallen ends. I would state that before I arrived to Chile, I told myself that I would never be hit by the pangs of FOMO, but as the week of my flight had arrived, I had already began regretting studying abroad. I say all this not to scare those who are planning on going, but this should be all the reason more why to. Reason being is that it made me uncomfortable, extremely uncomfortable.

Personally, not because I was away from home in a culture unfamiliar to me, but that I was emotionally uncomfortable in that I had to recreate or find a community in another country. Detaching myself from my family and friends was something that I needed to do to truly take advantage of the first few weeks of my program. But the first few weeks were wondrous. I have definitely grown fond of my host family and the city. Luckily I had two weeks free of classes to explore and get accustomed to Santiago and was able to visit Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. The video below showcases a little bit of that experience and my beginning workings of my documentary in progress. Right now I am without a camera as my phone was recently stolen, but that is a story for another post! Please stay tuned, I will catch you up to speed!

Week Two Complete! Park Güell, Tarragona, and so much more

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Hello everyone! Week number two is complete here in Barcelona and I could not be more excited to share my recent adventures with you. Just yesterday, I visited Park Güell, a masterpiece of the famous Catalonian architect, Antoni Gaudí. His work primarily was created around the early 1900’s, when Barcelona was flourishing after expanding rapidly through the Industrial Revolution. Interestingly enough, Park Güell is declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Please view the slide show below to see more of Park Güell!

The weekend prior, I went on a mandatory school field trip to the coastal city of Tarragona (I know, a mandatory, free, weekend trip… sounds awful right? (; ). Tarragona is about an hour south of Barcelona and is one of four Spanish Provinces in Catalonia. During the existence of the Roman Empire, Tarragona was the main hub for Romans in all of the Iberian Peninsula.

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View of the Mediterranean Sea from Tarragona.
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Amphitheatre of Tarragona

I found this trip not only educational, but also an excellent way to build relationships with other students. I was able to meet Garrett and Charlie, two soccer players from Wofford College in South Carolina, whom to no surprise, I have a lot in common with (For those that do not know, I play soccer at Hope). I also met a lot of students from the Midwest, since nearly one-third of my entire IES program are business students from the University of Indiana.

At the end of my previous blog, I set a few goals for myself. One of these goals, was to find a soccer team to play on. After jumping through a couple of hoops, I have managed to achieve this goal. I am now officially a member of FC Lokomotiv Chill. The team has Amateur status and plays in the BIFL – Barcelona International Football League. Players in the league vary in age and ability; some being former professionals and others, well, not so much. All and all it is an excellent way to further my craft as a soccer player and participate in a game that I love, soccer.

We had our first friendly this last weekend. Although we did not get the result, it was great to finally get out and play; especially at a wonderful stadium of a 4th Division side, CF Montañesa. I am looking forward to the challenges and adventures that will arise in the next week. That is all for now, hasta luego! IMG_1007

Goodbyes and Hellos

I’ll start this post by saying: I definitely picked the right country to do my study abroad. The pace of life is slower, tourists don’t flood what few city streets exist, and nature dominates most of the land.  The snowcapped mountains expand much of the island, leaving a trail of sparkling blue glacial lakes where the glaciers once stood.  Every way you turn is a new and spectacular view, and you can’t help but marvel at the creation God has displayed before you.  I love to sit and imagine in those moments just how much fun He must’ve had in creating this earth and how fortunate we are to enjoy moments like these…these beautiful, peaceful, blissful moments where the silence is deafening.  I love these moments.

Lake Tapeko
Lake Tapeko: a magnificent blue glacial lake

From Christchurch, we drove south to Queenstown, a place comparable to Aspen, Colorado. From there, we continued south to the southern most tip in New Zealand, Invercargill Bluff.

Only 4,000 kilometers from Antartica
Only 4,000 kilometers from Antartica

 

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Following Queenstown, we took the scenic route back to Christchurch, but, unfortunately, the rainy weather prevented us from seeing much of the Southern Alps.  We did take a short hike up to Fox Glacier despite the rain.  The glacier has retreated so far in recent years that it is now only accessible by helicopter drop-off…a true testament to the impact global warming is having on nature’s wonders.

Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier
Fun fact: There are more sheep in NZ than people
Fun fact: There are more sheep in NZ than people

We spent the last day of our ‘holiday’ in Christchurch, seeing the city, and exploring the east coast some.  We were really surprised to find such little shopping in Christchurch for it being the largest city on the south island, but locals informed us the 2011 earthquakes wiped out much of the city and they are still in the process of rebuilding. Many roads are closed, most buildings are held up with scaffolding, and box cars block much of the damaged buildings from collapsing onto roads.  It’s hard to see such a beautiful place have to recover from such devastation.

A beautiful cathedral under construction following devastation from the 2011 earthquakes
A beautiful cathedral under construction following devastation from the 2011 earthquakes
Art College all boarded up following damage
Scaffolding supported many damaged, yet to be fixed. buildings

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We ended the night early with lamb burgers and the inevitable packing/rolling/smooshing of all the accumulated souvenirs and keepsakes over the last couple weeks.  An early morning calls for an early bedtime.  Tonight, I cherish my last night of heat: heated beds, heated towel racks, and heated rooms. _____________________________________________________________________________

For the past two and a half weeks, I have played the role of tourist with my parents.  We spent over 30 hours on a plane, visited over 10 cities, drove 1,700 miles in the car, and made countless memories.  And, tomorrow I say goodbye to my parents and hello to the 13 other students who will become like family.  Actually, tomorrow is filled with a lot of goodbyes and new hellos.  I say goodbye to my tourist lifestyle and hello to ‘local living.’  I say goodbye to central heating and hello to layers.  I say goodbye to the luxury of daily internet connection and hello to human connection.  These goodbyes (particularly central heating) are all going to be difficult, but I’m ready to embrace these new hellos, to experience something outside myself, beyond myself.  I’m ready to let myself change, to let myself become someone new through these experiences.  I’m ready for Hello.

An Italian Weekend.

It was the first time that I, personally, had left Spain for another European adventure within these months abroad. Many of my friends had left multiple times, but with there being so much to do and see in Spain, country hopping was not something I had much time for. Or money if I’m completely honest :).  With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring Rome and learning about the civilization that so much of our world, today gets its roots from.

Rome is amazing. The architecture. The atmosphere. The language. The Food. Everything. This trip was something I had dreamed about since before coming abroad, and had planned, with 7 other friends, 2 and a half months in advance!

We did so much. A few highlights include the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain (which is unfortunately under construction), the Spanish Steps, Colosseum, Vatican City Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, we saw the Pope, The Roman Forum and The Palentine. Not to mention the pizza, pasta, gelato and my personal favorite: cannolis.

The Colosseum was less than a 10 minute walk from our hotel!
The Colosseum was less than a 10 minute walk from our hotel!
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Pope Francis speaking to those in St. Peter’s Square.
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A quick break down by the river.
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The Roman Forum and Palentine
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St. Peter’s Basilica, where we also attended Sunday mass.

The rich history and excitement of the city was enough to make me want to stay for months! Obviously this wasn’t possible as the 3 day weekend came to a close and we hoped on the plane back to Alicante.

With just over a week remaining in my abroad experience I’m struck with a million conflicting thoughts. Am I excited to come home? Do I want to stay? Answers: yes. I’m eager for the Holiday season and to spend time with family, as well as get back to Hope and enjoy the presence of wonderful friends and get back to a normal routine. Yet, I can’t fathom saying goodbye to all the wonderful people who I have met here and accept the fact that I won’t see the majority of them ever again. Crazy. And to think about packing. That I dread. Nonetheless, it’s time for that to all begin.

My gratefulness for such an experience are never-ending. A few friends and I were just talking about how this abroad experience is something we’ve looked forward to for years, and then with the snap of a finger, it’s over. But I already know that the impact is greater than I could have ever imagined. And for that alone, I am forever thankful.

Ciao!

Pucón

This past weekend, my program organized a trip for all of us to a city in southern Chile called Pucón. We’ve been planning this trip for a while, so it was pretty exciting for it to finally arrive. The city is lovely, about 1.5 hours away from the ocean to the west, and 1.5 hours away from Argentina to the east. There’s an incredible volcano as the backdrop for Pucón, which makes the view breathtaking.IMG_0523

The bus ride there was twelve hours, but it was overnight in a relatively comfortable “semi-cama” seat, so most of us got some sleep. We rolled in about 8 am on Friday and headed straight to our cabañas to drop our things off. The cabañas were a lot nicer than I imagined, with two bedrooms of bunk beds, a full bathroom, a master bedroom with a master bath, and kitchen and living room area. It was even complete with maid service, so we weren’t expected to do our own dishes. (A college kid’s dream!)

That day, we went to visit the Mapuche, which is a tribe here in Chile. They were very warm and accepting, making us lunch and even showing us how to craft using their techniques. Then we were given options on what to do Saturday and Sunday. Both days there were free activities, which involved going to the termas (hot springs) on Saturday and going to the National Park for a nine kilometer hike on Sunday. But there were also activities with a tour guide company, in which you could either hike the volcano, go white water rafting, or ziplining, and the program would pay up to 20.000 CLP (about $40) for one, and any other was on you. Lots of people went up the volcano, but the termas sounded more fun to me, so that’s where I was Saturday. And Sunday I went rafting and ziplining, which were both awesome. Rafting was hilarious, and our guides kept trying to push us in and making us laugh. And ziplining was breathtaking, going over the river and being high in the sky.

Everybody left Sunday evening to get back Monday morning, but a friend and I stayed the night to spend the next couple of days in Chiloé, a little Chilean island about five hours south. I’ll update again once I’m home from Chiloé!