WWOOF – an interactive travel experience

I had gone my whole life without ever hearing about “WWOOFing” until I met one girl who had – after her, every person I met seemed to have tried it. It made me very curious. As a self-proclaimed go-green gal it seemed like a natural thing to try. For those of you who don’t know, WWOOF stands for “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms,” and is a network of organic farms (in a simple sense) and people interested in helping out. With an expanded definition it can include everything from organic vineyards and olive groves, to boutique hotels and goat farms that make their own cheese. Basically, you help out in whatever way is needed in exchange from room and board. Sounds great, no? It is. And let me say, there are farms almost everywhere you’d like to travel.

Awhile ago I planned on going to Morocco to help out with a small hotel but with the recent problems in north Africa I decided on a much more laid-back and relaxed place, Ireland. I had always wanted to see Ireland, I had some free time (a girl can only do so much shopping and eating pastries in Paris), and I have been very interested and curious about sustainable living in the truest sense of the term. I found two great hosts through a very easy-to-use and simple website (small fee required) and was off to the Emerald Isle.

First impressions of Dublin were: grey, a bit hokey, and expensive. Maybe it’s because I was tired and sad I had left France, but all I was thinking was “Oh Steph, you really need to stop doing things on a whim.” However, my pessimism was quickly erased when I boarded a bus and traveled eight hours across the country to (what must be) one of the most beautiful places in the world – West Cork. I was tired and I was grumpy, but, a wonderful lady Julia was there to pick me up when I stepped off the bus and was extremely welcoming and friendly. I spent three weeks with Mike and Julia at their beautiful bed and breakfast on the Sheepshead Peninsula in West Cork and couldn’t have had a better time. I got to hang out in Irish pubs, hone my Guinness drinking skills, and get my butt bit my a crazy goose on the daily.  I met great people who made me feel like I had been a long time friend and were very quick to show me around, take me out, and include me in their lives.

Fast forward past another eight hour bus ride to Dublin, and back again to West Cork (poor planning on my part), and I was arriving at my second host’s place. But, not before getting on the wrong ferry and having to run off 10 seconds before the one I was supposed to be on took off. Welcome to Sherkin Island. The quietest and quaintest place in the world. I am talking Lord of the Rings style. Picture this: 25 degrees, Stephanie dressed in four layers, wearing boots, wheeling a suitcase, a duffel-bag, and a purse, walking up a dirt-road hill. Half of these people only ever leave the Island to buy groceries (but you can also get them delivered on the ferry), so you can imagine how out of place I looked. Why did I think dressing like a Parisian would be a good thing when you are going to be working in a garden? Don’t worry, I redeemed myself by wearing the same blue fleece and grey sweatpants for three weeks straight. Joe and Fiona had a lovely place, right on the bay, a sailboat, and a very eclectic and interesting life story. I learned about Homeopathy, how to grow zucchinis, how to shovel manure for growing zucchinis, and how to run from bulls (practice for Pamplona?).  Combine this with some very unexpectedly enjoyable evenings at the pub, 34 shades of green everywhere you look, and beautiful walks with the dog to the beach, and we have what is called a great experience.

At the end of the day, the greatest thing about wwoofing is the chance you have to meet some very affecting and enthusiastic people. It is not easy to be an organic farmer, not easy to live in a truly sustainable way, but it is nice to see honest people giving it an honest shot. Inspiring. I can’t wait until I can WOOF again!

Sherkin Island