After moving down to Chile in December of 2014, we planned out lots of traveling around the country for the first three months. People said that the major cities especially along the coast go crazy in January/February as it is their summer vacation. So we jumped online and searched out some of the options at World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). We thought it would be an interested way to see different parts of the country, meet some locals and work on our spanish, all while learning to live like a Chilean while the busy cities are packed with tourists.
There were some options to work on small organic farms harvesting their crops and doing those kind of gentle activities… they appealed to our yogi and health driven sides but we weren’t sold. We found one where the host was looking for a couple people who loved to rock climb so he would have some climbing buddies during down times… we liked the sounds of that, but weren’t able to connect with the host, not at all surprising in Chile:P Then we read up on one that was a polo horse ranch in southern Chile, we’d be working on the farm (we both love horses and hard work), riding and training horses (both of rode horses long ago and would love to get back into it) and would learn to play polo (a sport neither of us know much about but love the intensity of it!) …. SOLD. Contacted them and planned to go for two and a half weeks.
When we arrived, the farm was nice, there were horses, chicken coops, pigs, cows, and it was just outside a small town so had a grassroots feel. Having taken the bus all night to get there, we needed some sleep, and being Sunday they didn’t have much work to do, so that worked out great. The host family seemed nice and welcoming, one of them knew english so that helped. Then it started… and it kept going… until it got funny… oh man what were we in. Here are some highlights (and I use that term in a … I don’t know what kind of way, you’ll see:P)
We planned well in advance and told them we were vegan (even knowing that in Chile most people just assume that means vegetarian… oh well, we’ll do our best). Yet the first day we got there he said have some breakfast, we just made fresh homemade buns. What we weren’t told is that these buns were going to be our staple food for the next two weeks, three meals a day. Literally if you didn’t want meat, it was bread and water out there. My stomach is still trying to clean out all the gluten build up!!
When you think about working on a horse farm, what comes to mind? Well for us we knew we’d be mucking out stalls, letting the horses in and out, feeding, probably clean some tack, the USUAL things. All good with us. Here were some doozies that were thrown our way:
- “Go climb up on the roof that was just done yesterday and paint all the trim around the second story windows.” There was just so much wrong with this one. First of all the roofing was not shingles, it was some tin stuff that you had to watch where you put your foot other wise you would sink in the metal and leave a big pothole. So picture the two of us walking around like Clark Grisswald from Christmas vacation up in his attic, with obviously no harness or ropes on us to prevent a misstep. And it gets better, we find THREE bumping hornets nests all around the windows we were working on, and when we told our host family, they asked another worker to go up with us and get rid of them. No bug’b’gone, no other sprays, just a plastic bag to smack the nests and shoo them away…. I KNOW!!! So NOW picture the two of us tip toeing around the roof trying not to fall off, not to damage the shingles (and lets not kid ourselves we caused a whole whack of potholes haha) AND swatting bees away from us as we tried to paint this trim. Oh and what better time to do this than 3pm, the HOTTEST time of the day, which made standing on black shingles just a treat! Luckily we managed to get it all done without a scar, but of course there were no thank you’s or “it looks great”… just another day.
- “Here, here, hold her!” – Boy did Melissa get tired of hearing this one. With a one year old girl on the farm who took a liking to Melissa’s sweetness, she was often subbed in as a nannie while the men did all the work. Even for tasks as simple as taking up a horse, walking a horse in from a paddock, or ANYTHING else that was not cleaning or cooking, they just didn’t think Melissa was capable.
- “Pare!” – Coming from a world with quite a high level of efficiency, this week absolutely killed us. The best was bringing the horses in one evening We all walked out to the barn around 6:50pm, but “Pare!” (stop in spanish), they couldn’t come in until 7…. because all the horses standing at the gate really cared about ten extra minutes of recess:S And oh how badly we wish we caught all this on tape. There were about 18 horses at this farm, how long should it take to bring them inside or move them wherever they need to go for the night,
with three people??? A LOT less time than it did. Our one local worker helping us do this spoke no english and seemed to have absolutely no confidence in either of us. If there was a horse tied up to a rail that had to come in, we couldn’t untie them, he did then handed us the rope… apparently that slip knot is a tricky one:S Time to herd this group of horses from one paddock to the next… sounds easy, I’ll grab the gate… PARE… he walks over and unlatches it for me… I bet it was a Chilean latch:S Then here’s the kicker!!!! Our friend heads to the barn…. finally bringing one horse inside… one minute later we hear hooves on the floor…. he’s bringing another one out!! WHAT!!! I thought we were bringing them in??:S This one needs to be tied up for a bit longer apparently. Then after shuffling around 18 horses in 19 different arrangements he tells us the barn is too hot to bring them in…. yet apparently it’s not too hot to tie some these poor horses up to a rail for 12 hours a day :S Even in the shade we were roasting out there! (NOTE: We won’t even go into the difference in standards of animal care from what we’re used to in Canada… very different) So finally after about an hour of what seemed like making absolutely no progress… our friend goes inside. “What’s he doing?” I asked Melissa… “I DON’T KNOW… TAKING A NAP??:S??” That was when we called it and headed inside. Twelve hours of work each day was plenty enough for our three meals of BUNS!
Needless to say, we called it quits after a week. While we did enjoy riding everyday, and giving many of the horses and dogs around the farm a little bit of love and attention that they pretty much never get, we figured we’d lose it if we stayed any longer. This is no reflection on WWOOF itself as we know many people who’ve had great experiences with farm stays, but oh snap did we get a gooder!!!
Whats the moral of the story?? Don’t set expectations!!
ps. Take a peak on our social media outlets to watch Mel in action as she struggles in the art of sheep herding!