A day in the life of a Workaway volunteer

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Just another typical Workaway lunch in Spain…

I realized that even though I’ve highly recommended the Workaway program several times on this blog (and many times to everyone I know), I haven’t actually detailed any of my experiences as a volunteer. So without further ado, I now present to you:

A day in the life of a Workaway volunteer…

What: Young couple renovating old villa to create an agritourism B&B

Where: Small town on central coast of Spain

When: Two weeks in April

8.30 am – 9 am: Wake up, go to kitchen and find M making her usual strong morning espresso for all of us (right now it’s just us 2 volunteering, but when we first arrived, there was one other volunteer from the US) to gulp down whenever we get up. Everyone makes their own breakfast, choosing from jams, butter, fruit, yogurt and bread. We chat a bit about what’s to be done today, then M leaves to go run some errands with C, like getting some more paint or borrowing some tools.

10 am – 1.30 pm: Because of our afternoon work schedule, the morning is our free time to do whatever! So of course, we head down to the beach, just a 10 minute walk away from the flat where we all stay (the villa is just outside of town), soak up some sun and watch the lovely palm trees (I even found dates scattered all over the sand) sway in the breeze. There’s a chocolate cafe (in fact there are THREE chocolate factories in this tiny town, and C already took us on a personal tour of one) on the way back from the beach to the apartment, and I cannot pass by without going in for a luxuriously rich cup of thick hot chocolate. I am so happy now… Our hosts have told us to go ahead and meet them at the house site, which is a fun 15 minute bike ride away, and since we have 2 bikes to use, we pedal on over after changing into our work clothes.

1.30 pm – 2.30 pm: Lunch time at the work site. Yes it’s late, but we’re in Spain, remember? And it might seem weird, as volunteers, to first indulge in a nice long Spanish meal, always with a bit of local red wine or ice cold beer, and then go straight to work for about 4 or 5 hours, but once again, M makes sure we all have another jolting shot of her Italian espresso before we start our work. We sit in the shade of a young kumquat (or is it loquat?) tree, from which we’ve already picked a couple kilos of the tasty fruit (nespero in Spanish) so my boyfriend could make some jam out of it. The jam is so delicious, and now we have it for breakfast every morning. I’ve helped M carry over a plastic table and 4 chairs and set up the food she brought from home. Every day, M makes lunch for the 4 of us, and every day it’s different–so much variety and she’s an amazing cook as well. We are very lucky volunteers. Today, we have a tortilla (Spanish omelette) sandwich on ciabatta bread. In addition to beautifully caramelized onions, there’s a sweet and spicy chorizo type meat (sobresada) inside the omelette (which C made last night), and when we add in some cheese into the sandwich, it is simply divine. Excellent food is definitely a bonus of volunteering in Spain!

2.45 pm – 4.30 pm: My boyfriend and I sit with M under the shade of a big tree near the second little house (which they will begin to renovate after the main house is done) and are using metal spatulas (which I’ve discovered are the most diverse tools in the world) to scrape old cement and grout from the tiles that used to be in the villa. They want to reuse these tiles in the upstairs rooms because it’s quite expensive to buy new tiles that are as nice as these, and plus why throw these ones away? They just need a bit of cleaning up. So we sit and scrape, moving from shade to sun and back, sometimes chatting, sometimes concentrating in silence on our task, which I actually find to be kind of meditative.

4.30 pm – 4.45 pm: Break time! Didn’t really feel like I needed a break at this point, but it’s Spain, life isn’t just about work! M brings out glasses and a cold bottle of seriously delicious horchata to drink, along with some awesome chocolate creme cookies, and I feel like a kid enjoying an after school snack.

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4.45 pm – 7.30 pm: Since it’s much cooler now, and we are all a bit bored of tiles, M says we maybe can do some work on the garden space. She has already marked out the various rows where the vegetable beds will be, so we start digging out the soil, leave it on the side, and fill in the ditch with layers of branches, old clay-like dirt (that was dug up from the cistern earlier that week), some goat manure courtesy of a neighbor with goats, and then cover it all up with the original soil. This is the method that M’s decided to use based on a book she has about permaculture gardening. They are very eager to learn as they go, and we are learning right along with them.

In general, I think the best part of doing a Workaway is the ‘physically exhausting, work with your hands, get yourself and your clothes totally dirty’ type of work that I finally get to do. Working on the computer all day, every day, I constantly yearn for this kind of activity and movement, using my whole body, being outside all day in the elements, feeling the breeze dry the sweat off my forehead, as I help two dedicated and passionate people get a little closer to accomplishing one of their goals in life. It’s a very positive and rewarding feeling…

7.30 pm – 7.45 pm: We help M and C gather up tools and put them away for the night, lock up the buildings and then go back home by bike, with M & C driving home in their car.

8 pm – 9 pm: Back at the apartment, all 4 of us take turns showering off the day’s debris and dust, and then my boyfriend and I prepare dinner (we usually take turns or if someone is more tired that day, the others will make dinner). Sometimes, C’s uncle, an excellent chef, drops by to join us for dinner, and he always brings a very interesting local dish that often comes with a history lesson.

9 pm – 10 pm: Dinner is always full of interesting and enlightening conversation about historical legends of the town, sustainable building methods, or yummy recipes! We usually have some wine that is from a nearby organic vineyard, which we all visited for a wine tasting on a day trip the previous Saturday. We almost always have some dessert, and tonight we are finishing up the fabulous strawberry tiramisu cake that M made from scratch a couple days ago. It is ridiculously good, and I’ve already copied down her recipe, but I wonder if it will turn out as amazing as this.

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Workaway host making wood-fired paella from his grandmother’s recipe

10 pm – 11.30 pm: Exhausted from a long day of work, we retreat into our rooms to relax and digest. I reply to emails or work on an article, but usually just read and am soon ready to fall asleep. Tomorrow is the town’s weekly market, so C is going to take us there in the morning, where we can get some veggies for the enormous WOOD FIRE PAELLA (!!!) he is going to make this Saturday, and also buy some plants that M wants to have for the garden. I’ve completely forgotten that I’m here doing work; it mostly feels as if I’m hanging out with friends who just need a bit of help.

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