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Volunteering

Onto the next island! I did not want to volunteer on Kauai but still wasn’t sure what I was doing. I found an outdated travel book full of interesting sounding places, but it turns out every one of them was closed. Well, now I know why it wasn’t updated. I was looking for a sign and unclear of what to do. The next more mainstream book flipped open to “go camping on Kauai!” Well, I’ll take that as a sign.

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I fall asleep on most planes. This time I woke up to this fantastic mythical looking view. This does not look like it should actually exist.

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Beautiful Anini Beach where I spent most of my time camping. The local story is that the beach used to be called Wanini but the W fell off the sign.

After a stop at a Walmart with a strangely cheap rental car, I was full of camping gear and ready to go. Sort of. I’ve only been car camping in California before so this was interesting. Luckily Hawaii is not full of large, dangerous predators so camping is relatively easy and you don’t have to protect your food or anything. The county of Kauai lets you camp for sixty days on permit and I never made it past that or to the hippie enclaves at the end of the eleven mile hike. My days were spent pleasantly in the water, on the sand, and chatting in front of fires with tourists and more long term beach residents alike.

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Sunset off the side of a road. There were endless dramatic sunrises and sunsets.

I soon tired of moving campsites so often and sleeping inside a tent around lots of people was decidedly less charming than the screen meshed hut I was in before. This time around I checked out WWOOF-ing again as I was ready for a bit more work with the land. I ended up on Kauai Authentic Farms and got to enjoy an even closer knit family oriented community on a homestead farm. This means they grew things mostly for themselves and this meant a Noah’s Ark of a small number of each type of critter and lots of interesting exotic fruits and grasses. The latter is because cows like exotic bites too. Oh and I guess the farmer was testing out high protein grasses for the local college.

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The happy pigs that I had arrived to learn about the butchery of. The bottom one was thought to be pregnant for a few months, apparently it’s hard to tell with pigs. She was indeed, not pregnant but happy to get extra food and pets.

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The season of birthing as this calf was born when I was there. There was fresh, unpasteurized milk to be enjoyed and cheese to be made.

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I think I ate a papaya daily but then one month one of my favorite fruits ever, the wax apple, exploded everywhere.

I had never lived off the grid before and it really turned out to be less of an adjustment for me than I thought it would be to use an outdoor kitchen, solar fridge, and not have a running water toilet. The beautiful screen mesh tarp roofed hut overlooking the ocean and secluded on a hill certainly helped. Similar to the Big Island, I also got to enjoying showering outside amongst the plants in mostly hot water. The bevy of friendly folk and children running around was enjoyable as well.

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Camping the last week with farm landmates teaching me about hunting for sand crabs and how to cook them on what my camera made look like a magic fire.

I’m pretty sure I could starve out there and marveled as the others pointed out so many different edible foraged plants and fishes. Time not spent farming was spent snorkeling, picking fruits, preserving and processing veggies, fishing, scraping opihi clams off the rocks and playing with the kids. It was really great to see a bunch of children trying to get me to climb trees with them and getting just absolutely dirty. Things you see less of in cities. I switch quickly between cities and rural areas, but this experience definitely made me wonder if a homestead farm would not be a bad place to be for a while. Unfortunately this time an ankle sprain I got fjording a river multiple times to a waterfall before I even got to the farm got worse over the course of a few months and I could no longer do farm work.

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An end to this Hawaiian adventure.

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When I did the round the world trip a few years back I said I was looking for a place to be. I remember the friend I made in Honolulu asking me how that went and I recall thinking Hawaii was the top of that list. So many years later as I wandered about more, I wondered why not Hawaii?

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Paradise much? Spoiler: this was my view every sunset for a couple months. And no, I didn’t get tired of it.

I dreamed of it and jokingly kept asking if people wanted to move to Hawaii but I never seriously considered it. It’s so expensive, I thought. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where to go. So pulling a very LA move, I went and talked with my Reiki healer. She recommended talking to her teacher, who was an intuitive artist. Great! I called and she asked if I wanted to talk to any dead people. Wait, what? Oh, you’re a medium! Wait, what is that when it’s not a  thing used on a CBS detective show? In the end it meant having someone else tell me what I wanted but was afraid to do: go to Hawaii with nary a plan and hope for the best.

I’ve been a bit of an overplanner, and being in America seems like as good a time to try making zero plans as anywhere. It’s also a good way to be stuck in an eerily Kona airport for hours as the place empties out in-between flights. Landing in a place with almost always high season and hostels that won’t take you without an exit ticket made for an exciting experience. I scrambled into an AirBnB terrified of geckos running around in the room I was in. Little did I know that part would be come normal.

Well, ok now what. AirBNB wasn’t going to sustain me very long when I aimed for an apartment and missed. I started looking into volunteering again through Craigslist and Workaway. There was a promising spiritual retreat on Workaway that didn’t want people until later and an interesting looking farm on Craigslist. I was being driven to the interview for Workaway when two separate people told me I couldn’t go to the farm, it was known for being abusive to volunteers. The horror stories later even included volunteers being beat with chickens. Don’t subject yourself to poultry abuse. Luckily for me, beyond a couple hours I sat around fretting with the ranch owner running errands, I was ok because she was kind enough to take me in that day.

So began my adventure at the Dragonfly Ranch. It was a whirlwind of two months living in a community with a bunch of mostly young people seeking through various esoteric spiritual methods. There’s an awesome rainbow labyrinth overlooking the ocean on a hill in the sacred triangle of the City of Refuge. The national park there preserves an area that used to be a haven of native Hawaii. If you had some issue or done some criminal act, you would be forgiven if you could make it to the City of Refuge. Accordingly, in a culture full of violent warriors, it was not easy to get there. It was a lot easier to get there now and probably serves a similar purpose where I was, for people to sort some stuff out.

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A pleasant and balmy two to three mile walk or hitchhike to the famous snorkeling spot Two Steps full of critters.

I went snorkeling almost daily and saw dolphins my first week there. I got to see them a few times during my stay. I slept in a screen mesh and tin roofed “hale” (Hawaiian for house) and was surprised when I was awoken not just by sunrises and tropical rain but also the full moon. It was a beautiful feeling to be so outside. It was a great balance of helping out with running the B&B in the morning and then having the afternoons free to hike, snorkel or do whatever I wanted to which mostly consists of being outside. There was a pleasant garden and beans and grains were provided. There were weekly community events that often included the guests. It became pretty unclear who was a guest or not, as it seemed more like a gathering place with various ways of exchange to stay. It was a great place to meet people exploring interesting things. There was some friction as the automatic assignment of women to housecleaning and barring them from maintenance did not work out super well with my skills, but we sorted that out fairly quickly. Gotta follow your nature.

Some of us would band together every once in a while to rent a car and explore the island. It is fairly common to see people hitchhiking around the island though, since I learned upon landing at the airport that the bus only ran once a day to take people to and from work. I soon got used to hopping in the back of pick up trucks with tools, toys and who knows who else. One time my friend and I even managed to hitch a ride with a kayak a few minutes after getting out of the water. These are the vital Hawaii skills.

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Big Island has active volcanoes. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see lava but this sulfurous cloud was stunning.

It was also a great to explore everything else on the big island. This may be the biggest island but it’s still drivable all the way around in a few hours. Beautiful hikes, waterfalls, lush forest, exotic fruits and beaches containing white, black and green sand. Unfortunately my phone camera and the cloudy weather didn’t always make for the best pictures of these. Being somewhere a few months was definitely a more relaxed way to see a place than trying to do it in a week or less though. It was possible to stay longer, I think some volunteers had stayed years or even indefinitely. My curiosity about Hawaii and other communities pushed me onward to see the other islands. I wouldn’t mind living on Big Island, it’s a pretty amazing place. Where else can you see land being born constantly?

Edit: And then I made it back to the Big Island while I was on Kauai and crashed the friend’s honeymoon that I had not made it back to California for the wedding of in the summer. Honeymoons are more fun anyways.

 

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That lava is flowing straight into the ocean and causing a whole mess of steam. I wish I had an actual camera to capture how amazing it was to see waves crashing and sending molten lava flying.

One of the first things I did when I got back in the country was try to find a low commitment hands on volunteering opportunity. Much like how I handle everything else, I wouldn’t shut up about it to everyone I talked to until someone had a great suggestion. I’ve been volunteering monthly with Days For Girls’ Los Angeles chapter for a while now. They make reusable and washable sanitary pads for women in developing countries where girls are often kept home from school whenever they have their period.  Imagine having to skip school for days a month!  That’s a serious disadvantage for half the population.  I am excited to hear that they may be aiming a little closer to home and delivering kits to Los Angeles’s own skid row.

Easy to use serger machines that just require you to hold some fabric straight.  I can handle that.

Easy to use serger machines that just require you to hold some fabric straight. I can handle that. I didn’t want to bother anyone so I avoided taking pictures of faces, but everyone is really friendly.

My complete lack of sewing skills and anything related is not a hindrance at all as everything is prepared so well that anyone can contribute. I’m constantly amazed at how much people prepare at home so that those of us without sewing skills can feel like we’re helpful.

Shields are made of colorful patterns and have pockets to hold one or two liners, depending on what kind of day it is.

Shields are made of colorful patterns, snap onto underwear, and have pockets to hold one or two liners, depending on what kind of day it is.

I kind of wonder if people on Etsy sell similar things for those living lifestyles that want to not use disposable products.  I doubt those are made with the sweatshop force of volunteer labor same love.

A complete kit involves multiple liners, shields to hold liners, a bar of soap, instructions, and a drawstring bag to hold everything.

A complete kit involves multiple liners, shields to hold liners and button onto underwear, a bar of soap, instructions, and a drawstring bag to hold everything. Everything is placed into the kit so that you understand how to use it if you for some reason don’t read instructions, like everyone does.

The fabric is a mixture of donations and things the organizers buy with money they fundraise. A lot of these kits go to young teenage girls so there’s an emphasis on bright and fun colors and patterns. I really enjoy seeing how vibrant and different all the kits are. There are designer fabrics tucked in there which is always fun to keep an eye out for.

The finished kits are packed inside the drawstring bags.  The bags are so girls have something discreet to carry their pads around in.

The finished kits are packed inside the drawstring bags. The bags are so girls have something discreet to carry their pads around in.

It’s an easy two hours on the first Thursday of every month at Grace Lutheran Church in Culver City.  There’s always people around to chat with and some tea and snacks on a side table.  I’ve missed a few for various classes and because Etsy craft night is the same schedule at CAFAM, but I always try to come when I can.  I wish this was around and I had found it when I lived in LA before.

The unofficial mascot, because breast cancer awareness shouldn't get all the fun slogans.

The unofficial mascot, because breast cancer awareness shouldn’t get all the fun slogans.

I can’t say this is making me go home and rush to sew anything else, but it does feel fulfilling to go and feel like you’re helping out immediately.  Their Facebook page is updated with where the kits are going and it is very rewarding to see girls from all over the world holding their new kits.  I struggled to find ways to volunteer meaningfully while traveling so I’m glad I am able to do so here.

Moving on from one of my favorite songs to one of my favorite game titles, I ended up spending over a month on the farm.  I was going to leave after the first week, after I celebrated Thanksgiving with my American hosts.  However my credit card got stolen the day before I was planning to leave and I found myself waiting three weeks for it to arrive.  So what does one do on a farm that long?

The view from the far was stunning on clear days.  It was particularly beautiful at dawn and dusk.  You wake up early on a farm.

The view from the far was stunning on clear days. It was particularly beautiful at dawn and dusk. You wake up early on a farm.

You explore the beautiful natural surroundings.

We visited the deserted half finished hotel of a friend of the farm's.  It had a beautiful view of what I think is Cotacachi Lake.  We later returned for a hike around here.

We visited the deserted half finished hotel of a friend of the farm’s. It had a beautiful view of what I think is Cotacachi Lake. We later returned for a hike around here.

You explore the nearby towns full of retired Americans.

Hilarious Latin American stereotypes means there are Barbies that are too young to have babies in the stores.

Hilarious Latin American stereotypes means there are Barbies that are too young to have babies in the stores.

Otavalo is more known for its Saturday market, but seeing as how I went more than once, I also checked out a cockfight.  It's full of drunken Ecuadorian men at 1 pm.

Otavalo is more known for its Saturday artisan market, but seeing as how I went more than once, I also checked out a cockfight. It’s full of drunken Ecuadorian men at 1 pm.

You do some work as well.  I was on a chicken farm, full of 15,000 chickens.  They butchered them the day before I got there but at least I got to see the new batch.

Chicks are adorable, fuzzy and need to be kept very warm.

Chicks are adorable, fuzzy and need to be kept very warm.

Not all birds are good though, as some nice song birds were eating all the seeding plants before we could collect them.

This is the scarecrow I made, we named it Pip after we learned that seeds are called pips in Ireland and England.  Also their most famous brand of orange juice is called Juicy Bits.  The garden is lovely and Pip is lucky I didn't name him Juicy Bits.

This is the scarecrow I made, we named it Pip after we learned that seeds are called pips in Ireland and England. Also their most famous brand of orange juice is called Juicy Bits. The garden is lovely and Pip is lucky I didn’t name him Juicy Bits.

After we were sure birds weren’t eating all the seeds we continued weeding and seeding.

I had no idea beet seeds looked this interesting.

I had no idea beet seeds looked this interesting.

You hang out with the various animals.

Tigger, the orange kitty, is a garden kitty that follows you and stands at your feet while you try to do anything.

Tigger, the orange kitty, is a garden kitty that follows you and stands at your feet while you try to do anything.

The big project that happened near the end of my trip was an earth house cellar so that the host could expand his prosciutto and sausage smoking operations by having a cool shed to store them in to age.

The earth bodega is made of chicken feed sacks full of lovingly hand shoveled dirt.

The earth bodega is made of chicken feed sacks full of lovingly hand shoveled dirt.

I came to the farm to learn butchering and smoking but it was mostly nonexistent or only handled by the hosts.  However he had to leave due to a family emergency and I stayed a few extra days to try my hand at smoking a ham.

My female host was afraid of the flamethrower and I was more than happy to oblige.  What could be more fun than lighting a barrel full of charcoal with a giant flamethrower?

My female host was afraid of the flamethrower and I was more than happy to oblige. What could be more fun than lighting a barrel full of charcoal with a giant flamethrower?

It turns out you still don’t need too many people to make hams and I’m terrible at heavy lifting so I was only useful in the beginning of the day.

My first tied ham.  Further proof you can just about learn how to do anything on YouTube.

My first tied ham. Further proof you can just about learn how to do anything on YouTube.

The hams sure did look nice at the end of the day though.

The hams sure did look nice at the end of the day though.

My cooking duties continued as well.

Although the pigs, dogs and kitties will all eat leftovers I still feel bad leaving them.  So instead I made leftover oatmeal cookies.  Interestingly, all the blogs with leftover oatmeal recipes for cookies involved huge 10+ children families, the very religious, or people who were gluten free.

Although the pigs, dogs and kitties will all eat leftovers I still feel bad leaving them. So instead I made leftover oatmeal cookies. Interestingly, all the blogs with leftover oatmeal recipes for cookies involved huge 10+ children families, the very religious, or people who were gluten free.

While most of my requests were American or things commonly found in America, left to my own devices, most things I eat are ethnic, heavily spiced, and saucy.

Chilaquiles made with red salsa and Doritos.  You do what you can.

Chilaquiles made with red salsa and Doritos. You do what you can.

And once I got done with all the pies and cookies, I got around to things I haven’t made in a while.

Secretly, I'm a five year old and like yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting.  If only I had funfetti.

Secretly, I’m a five year old and like yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. If only I had funfetti.

On my way out the other female volunteer and I got our homesick female host some Christmas ornaments.

Christmas in Ecuador means we get a Charlie Brown like Christmas tree wrapped in a leopard skin blanket.

Christmas in Ecuador means we get a Charlie Brown like Christmas tree wrapped in a leopard skin blanket.

And for myself, I fixed a Christmas present I wanted last year that was sold out.

Why buy a travel spice kit online when you can fashion one in your retiree town with a daily medicine holder?

Why buy a travel spice kit online when you can fashion one in your retiree town with a daily medicine holder?

After a month settled in, it felt weird to pack up again.  However after that break I’m ready to be moving again, to stop working and to explore.  Onwards to more adventure!

Not just the name of my favorite Cut Chemist song, it’s also the theme of my volunteering the past few weeks.  My first week on the farm the female host had gone on vacation leaving me quite a few cooking duties.  The altitude really messes with how fast liquids evaporate and how fast yeast works and that changes baking a bit.  After over a year of travel I’m quite pleased to have a kitchen to futz around and make a mess in.

When I was coming from the big city, I asked my host what he wanted.  All he said was bagels.  I didn't bring any but I made sure to bake a few batches.  This batch came out much nicer than the first.

When I was coming from the big city, I asked my host what he wanted. All he said was bagels. I didn’t bring any but I made sure to bake a few batches. This batch came out much nicer than the first.  We even had cream cheese here.

The hosts are American which meant my Thanksgiving was spent here, and for the second year in a row even out of the country, I had a feast.

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Good ol’ American food. I even fried onions for the green bean casserole.

Although I’ve hosted Thanksgiving for over ten people, I’ve never had to cook for about six people every meal so leftovers disappeared faster than I’d like.  Some things had to be improvised as you can’t get everything in Ecuador, but I was quite pleased I had a turkey at all as opposed to my chickens and non working oven last year.

Moras, Andean blackberries, make a surprisingly almost cranberry like jelly.

Moras, Andean blackberries, make a surprisingly almost cranberry-like jelly.

Some things I made the next  day as leftovers is one of my favorite part of Thanksgiving.  My host’s request was a turkey egg noodle soup, which I happily obliged.

What is Thanksgiving without leftover sandwiches with jelly?

What is Thanksgiving without leftover sandwiches with jelly on squishy white bread?

Before I get ahead of myself though, we didn’t skip dessert.  Thanksgiving is nothing without the regret of too many plates as you stare down dessert, wondering what you can do since you’ve already unbuttoned your pants.

The world's tiniest apple for pies means the world's slowest pie filling to make.

The world’s tiniest apple for pies means the world’s slowest pie filling to make.

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a pie. Perhaps the only downgrade from last year as someone made a fresh pumpkin pie, I had to settle for a just as American apple pie.

All butter crusts are just more delicious.

All butter crusts are just more delicious.

Three of the volunteers were not American and we explained traditions to them.  I explained that one was being uncomfortably full with seconds, thirds and maybe fourths.  In anticipation, I decided to hedge my drinking bets.

Turns out ginger beer is really easy to make.  Even the yeast in this worked faster than at sea level.

Turns out ginger beer is really easy to make. Even the yeast in this worked faster than at sea level.

One of the volunteers wanted to learn how to bake so I found a Barefoot Contessa recipe that was easy to do.  Everyone liked it so much I made one more during my time here.

Lemon yogurt cake moist with lemon syrup and glaze.

Lemon yogurt cake is never dry when it’s drenched with lemon syrup and glaze.

After bagels had gone so well I thought maybe my former bread curse had lifted and tried my hands at soft pretzels, which I used to do ok at back on sea level.

The first attempt was more bready but the second had a better crust.

The first attempt was more bready but the second had a better crust.

Sometimes I was just helping prep things for the farm or helped to preserve the large amount of vegetables getting harvested in the year round temperate weather.  There was such a variety that nothing really ever got old.

I've made multiple batches of pickled beets.  This board looks like a pixelated murder scene.

I’ve made multiple batches of pickled beets. This board looks like a pixelated murder scene.

Back to my favorite topic and most made dessert here! Pies luckily are not affected by altitude as bad as they lack rising agents.  Granted I’d only made a handful before coming here, I’d eaten enough to be very experienced.  I didn’t have very good luck with any crusts using lard or shortening though as they seemed to disintegrate while baking.  I’m not great at blind baking pie crusts yet I suppose but I did figured out using rice as pie weights is better than beans since you can still eat them afterwards and they taste great

The other people at the farm like my banana cream pie the best but I still think chocolate cream is my favorite.

The other people at the farm like my banana cream pie the best but I still think chocolate cream is my favorite.

One way around dough crusts is to make graham instead.  I couldn’t quite find those around here but found a similar honey bran cracker.  Sadly it still took me two attempts to make the crust.

This s'mores pie is as messy as it looks.

This s’mores pie is as messy as it looks.  So was trying to make marshmallows from scratch at altitude!  That alone took three tries.

The hosts like their American classics and I am more than happy to oblige, even if it is a tad more fat laden than I probably would cook alone.  Over time we’ve had tuna casseroles, sausage biscuits and gravy (one of my favorites), and multiple ham and bean soups.

A dish I haven't seen in years since I made it for a potluck, eggplant parmesan.

A dish I haven’t seen in years since I made it for a potluck: eggplant parmesan.

Although I do love American food, particularly Southern, I tend to cook a little more internationally on my own accord.  Here the spices lent themselves better to Mexican, Indian and Jamaican but I also snuck in a Chinese lettuce wrap made with cabbage leaves and orange chicken, except with broccoli and cauliflower by request of the hosts.  I’ve only ever made orange chicken twice now, always by request.  Not because I dislike gringo Chinese food, I just have other favorites.

My baking even extended to taking a whack at naan.

My baking even extended to taking a whack at naan.  It was ok but didn’t have the high heat necessary to really make it great.

While farm work has gotten progressively more intense, I’ve had less energy and pent up back logged dessert urges to get out.  I still made some of my favorites as they can be hard to find or just disappointing.  My chocaholism was full force and I made a chocolate yellow layer cake and some brownies just to alleviate that.  Otherwise it was a lot of pancakes and chocolate chip cookies made with leftover oatmeal from breakfast.

When in Ecuador, use their local Andean fruit.  When around British volunteers, enjoy pie and tea at elevenses.

When in Ecuador, use their local Andean fruit. When around British volunteers, enjoy pie and tea at elevenses.

Well, I still miss my kitchen greatly but this did help alleviate the stress of eating at restaurants on the road constantly and only eating pasta in hostels.  It is likely I did not need so many desserts, but at least my pants fit better now.  I’ve bought myself an old person travel medicine holder to grab some spices and I hope to continue this trend of cooking with flavor as I continue onwards.

After a year of trying, I finally got a Workaway to work out.  I’m on a farm again, this time in northern Ecuador between the tourist towns of Otavalo and Cotacachi.

I don’t really know what’s going on in this statue in Cotacachi. Is there a dice game that involves whips?

The farm is much bigger than my last one and can handle 15,000 chickens at a time.  The garden extends over various plots and contains many different vegetables taking advantage of the mild weather all year.  There are various other animals as part of their permaculture lifestyle.

Pig tractors help with the hard work by tearing up roots and eating them.

And piglets, well, those are just cute.

There’s also cows but no milking for me this time. This one, Sebastian, is friendly and came up to me to lick me all over. He also once ate a bucket of alcohol infused pineapple and got drunk. I guess teenage cows binge drink too.

Mostly I help with the gardening but I was lured in by promises of butchering.  The mild Ecuadorian climate reminds me of Los Angeles and the ability to grow things all year.  I didn’t even realize that was a thing until I moved to San Francisco.  I feel like I’m getting a nice crash course in community gardening.  As for butchering, sadly, I showed up right after the last batch of chickens and the pigs are still too young to slaughter.  There are some hams being smoked and rumors of sausages to be made.

I already miss my old oil can grill but now I want a giant oil can smoker.

Also around the farm are various pets.  I am enjoying being around a settled environment and playing with the animals.

Leaving your electronics out as sleeping cat bait works fantastically.

There are so many gigantic, friendly dogs. Feeding them takes a considerable amount of effort.

As with most generous Workaway volunteer set ups, you work about 25 hours a week.  Here that means I get my weekends off to explore.  I set out for Otavalo early Saturday to witness the many markets that occur.  The first stop was the animal market where people go to buy their critters.

Finally! I’ve found llamas in Ecuador. Como se llama?

This is the big leagues with lots of big cows.

Known here as cuy, they’re a delicacy eaten grilled on a stick for special occasions. They’re also pretty darned cute.

I went to a few vegetable/fruit markets and picked up a few things.  I passed on the Otavalan goods as I really didn’t need any leather or llama wear.  After my market adventures I visited a condor park.  My host mentioned it was 20 minutes from town but not that he meant 20 minutes by the car I don’t have and the non existent bus.  No, instead I went on a bizarre adventure traversing through farms.  Every time I asked a townsfolk where to go, the would tell me my original direction was dangerous and point me 90 degrees the other way.

At least the view from the condor park was beautiful. The condors themselves always look scraggly to me.

Sunday I attempted to climb a 4800 meter (15000 foot) mountain, taller than anything in the continental US.  Apparently my inclination for sea and vision sickness extends itself to altitude sickness as well.  I still got to enjoy some great views as I made it only halfway up the mountain and the clouds soon rolled in to cover everything.  The other snafu is on the way up a dog nipped me in the calf.  Luckily he just got my pant leg covered in drool teeth marks but didn’t break through.

The last marker I saw although the rest of my group let me know I almost reached 4000 meters. The highest I have ever hiked.

On the way down, a “shortcut” led us past some adorable critters.

Gardening was usually my morning task and the rest was cooking and baking for those here.  My adventures in high altitude kitchen wizardry and the school of learning the hard way will be a whole other post.

It was an accident, the way most of my volunteering efforts seem to go.  I applied to a bunch of farms in Hungary and they were the only ones who even bothered to respond to tell me no.  One did drag in a week or two later, another rejection.  I had decided to head south, making a break for the much warmer Croatian coast.  This Angeleno doesn’t know what to do out of temperate, warm climates.  The farm was also a hostel so I figured why not stop there.  After weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and then Budapest, I could use some country downtime.

They came to meet me at the bus stand and told me there was some volunteer work all of a sudden if I was interested.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into.  I hope everyone is so lucky as to have a great first (and every) WWOOF-ing experience.  WWOOF stands for worldwide opportunities on organic farms.  While I won’t turn down an organic apple, I had originally chosen Workaway as my site of choice because I really don’t care what kind of farm it is.  I wouldn’t be volunteering on giant corporate farms either way.  Turns out I have about the same luck either way, so there may not be too much more of this in my future.

But more importantly, onto the harsh farm work to break my urban romantic notions of farm life!  Actually, I expected all sorts of ridiculous physical hard labor and feel like I got the better end of the deal.  I will gladly accept delicious, hearty home cooked Hungarian food and a roof for what turned out to be not too bad at all.  The first task was cutting down dried cornstalks devoid of corn to be used as goat feed.  The giant stalks go into a machine that shreds them into goat edible chips using a giant belt attached to a device that looks like it existed in the steam era.

The view during a break in the acacia grove from the hard work of cutting and tying dried corn stalks in the fields.

The nearby church tolls its bells three times a day to let you know the work day has started, ended, and when to get lunch. If I kept bells on me, they’d constantly be going so I could constantly eat.

Luckily I got the really hard work out of the way first.  The rest of it was easy compared to this first day of tiring labor.

The view from the drinking patio which was quite pleasant on the many warm days. A good place to catch a sunset over the hills.

A lot of the tasks seemed more for more learning benefit.  Nothing says city slicker like my obvious confusion about plants and farm animals.  However after a week and a half, I now know how to milk a goat.  It did take a few jolting tries that involved a few goat kicks to get it right though.

One of the hosts, Alan, milking a goat happily munching away on grain and fruit in the milking stand.

I also learned how to turn unpasteurized goat’s milk into cheese the slow natural way without rennet. I’ve been wanting to know how to make cheese all trip. Turns out making small quantities is only a few minutes of work a day.

Little did this urban kid know that male goats came without horns and female ones could have horns. This was good news for me because this male goat started getting a little cuddly but then started head butting me when I ignored him. He looks so silly and innocent when he’s just standing around sticking his tongue out.

It seemed like most of the things have been harvested but some of the plants were still producing well into the fall.  So there was a lot of picking, eating, and preserving going on.  Turns out picking tomatoes growing on the ground looks a lot like the strawberry growers I used to see on the side of the road.  How their backs and haunches don’t constantly hurt is beyond me.  We also preserved pots and pots of pears that took a good bit of work to peel and core.  I can’t say I’ve ever successfully grown enough of anything to need that many rounds!

A good greenhouse effect. I tore the dying tomato plants and weeds out to give the remaining eggplant and pepper plants a better chance.

A lot of the more regular tasks involved making sure all the animals were in all the right places at the right time of day and happily fed.  You don’t really get a day off from this one.  It’s a good chance to live out the Old MacDonald song though.

Here a cluck, there a cluck, everywhere a cluck-cluck. These guys were post-factory adoptions after they were too old to be productive enough. They still lay a few eggs here and there. Hens sound like hissing cats to me.

On sunny days the goats, geese, sheep and sometimes one of the dogs would be led up to the fields to munch on grass and run about. It could be more work getting them back in the stables at the end of the night.

Putting the animals away at night was actually easier than I thought it would be as most of them happily ran into their shelters or lined up outside waiting to get in.

When I was a kid my Mom warned me that geese are dicks because one nipped her pretty hard. She was right, geese ARE dicks! These guys have been hissing and chasing me all week.

Indonesian running ducks are extra slim, standing taller than most ducks I’ve seen. They’re great for gardens because they’ll eat bugs but not vegetables. As a bonus they’re also apparently delicious. I want one the next time I have a garden.

Also on the farm were one cat and two rather hyper dogs.  The cat was particularly friendly around milking times, hoping to catch some spare goat’s milk.  Sorry cat, that’s for our tea and cheese making.  He only got some when a goat became infected so it wasn’t good for human consumption.  Cats weren’t the only ones eating well on a farm though.  I enjoyed so many wonderful home cooked meals that were a real breath of fresh air after months of eating in restaurants.  Especially in a peasant culture like Hungary, this seemed like the best way to discover foods I didn’t even know about.  There was lots of sausage and sauerkraut to be had.  However it was also refreshing because I had a salad just about every night, which I also haven’t really had for months.

Why must this cell phone picture look all suspicious and grainy? Those are some giant squash though! You can’t tell from this picture, but they were probably almost two feet long and well past American edible squash range. The top two remind me of Chinese squash.

The gigantic squash were turned into lecso, a red stew like thing consisting of lots of peppers and whatever other vegetables as filler, and fozelek, a sort of cream of vegetable stew/soup/side.  Apparently Hungarian squash are tender at much larger sizes.  Kohlrabi are also popular in this area and I had a lovely soup of it with liver dumplings.  Move over sweet potato fries, because kohlrabi fries were pretty tasty.

Every morning brought a delicious spread of fresh breads and rolls from the market that morning and homemade jams and preserves. This is a sour cherry studded chocolate brioche that was delicious when toasted.

The husband of this duo is British and they spent some time living there, so I got to enjoy lots of tea.

A staple in the fridge were Pottyos, a very Hungarian chocolate bar filled with quark cheese. Apparently it started in Russia but never caught on there like it did here. It’d be tastier to bring along if it didn’t need to be refrigerated. I think they sell them in China now.

The Hungarians eat a lot of pork so my going away feast consisted of a delicious pork meatloaf that comes studded with hardboiled eggs accompanied by homemade pickles. It was delicious out of the oven and just as amazing as a sandwich.  That’s fozelek in the upper left and lecso in the upper right.

The time really flew by as I got into a groove of some farm work, lots of tea breaks, enjoying many delicious new foods, and reading from the extensive English library.  I may very well have to return in the future for a longer stint of this.  My hosts did let me know they often get two to three requests a day, so I may not have much more volunteering at new places in my future.  I realize now that like interns, volunteers need a lot of supervision and time to become useful.  I guess they’re not really the quick free labor most people expect.  Oh well, I’d happily come back to this farm.  I’ll just have to watch out for those nippy geese and lovesick goats!