Surviving Apulia Part 1

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Europe » Italy » Apulia » Ostuni
December 3rd 2009
Published: December 30th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

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So Far

Wwoof location number 2 took us to a beautiful location in the heel of the boot of Italy. Officially located in the area of Ostuni, the nearest town was actually Cisternino with a current population of 12,000 which during the summer months quadrupled to almost 50,000. Our meeting place to be picked up was the Fasano train stazione at 12.00 as the hour approached 2.30 we finally, after searching for a public phone and only finding ones out of service, had to ask a local for use of their cell phone. This conversation was a bit difficult as I used my broken Italian to explain our situation. This should have been our first clue of the adventure that awaited us on our 4 week stint at the trullo.

The Trullo is the traditional living structure of the Apulia region, built entirely of stone with conical shaped roofs and being mostly white in color if not completely. Apulia is a beautiful region of Italy and was covered with more olive trees than anyone would wish to count. Because of this fact even the harvesting methods were vastly different from those in Tuscany. Here in Apulia there were so many olives that at least half were not even harvested and fell to the ground to rot or became food for birds. Also conversely, the nets to catch the olives were just laid out to catch the fallen fruits which had to withstand the elements. This practice is the opposite that we learned in Toscana and could probably be attributed to the more laid back nature of southern Italy. Of course this was not everyone but a good majority that we saw.

So, back to the so called Trulli reconstruction project we were eager to lend a hand with. For anonymity reasons I will change the names of our host and co-wwoofer while I recount the survival that was our time at the trullo. Initially, both Em and I had a good feeling about our host Cybill and compatriot Olga. Olga was an interesting story having left her home in Germany 16 months prior to travel Europe by van with her dog. Olga warned us to some extent that the description we had read in the Wwoofing book was a little off base. While here we hoped to learn about building with natural materials, using grey water to irrigate gardens and further our techniques of yoga and meditation.

The first day was a busy one, as we were introduced to the two horses one being a bit over weight and the other almost neglectedly skinny with his ribs and rear haunches being visible. As we toured the property with Cybill, we were repeatedly torn from and thrust into different projects, as one after another would catch her eye. As with almost everywhere we’ve visited on the trip, rain proceeded to fall for the next 3 days after our arrival. This left us with plenty of time to hang out and talk about our thoughts on humans and their disrespect for the environment, among other subjects. We also got to spend time in our room in the top of the trullo, our white cave with tribal paintings on the walls. One of our favorite activities was our learning sessions which took place in our cave as we read aloud to each other from The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency by John Seymour. A brilliant book giving lessons on every aspect of the self sufficient lifestyle; including everything from proper crop rotation to beer making and renewable energy production to cheese making. These sessions were a welcomed escape from the chaos that ensued outside our humble grotto.

After the days of rain we were once again able to do some work outside. There was a yurt on the property and Emily and I were told to secure the top made of canvas that was actually made for a tepee and obviously too small for the yurt. We did our best and re-adjusted the top to cover most of the yurt. The next day came a storm from the south-east with major Schirocco winds, which blow from hot Sahara in Africa across the Mediterranean to Italy. This Strom lasted for two days and rearranged the property almost entirely. As for our yurt roof this was taken by the wind and so graciously moved across the property.

One of the projects we took on that we were most proud of was landscaping a section of the property. Cybill didn’t like the look of it and gave us very little instructions on what she wanted so we did what we thought would be best. This section of property was overtaken by weeds, the path had very uneven ground and there was no real landscaping done. We spent the next two days working on this project and were very happy with the results. We created a path with rocks that we collected all over the property making sections where Cybill could create a nice garden the following spring, we evened out the ground where the path began, cleared areas around the trees and bushes so that you could actually walk on the path, pulled up all the weeds along the sides of the path, laid down hay on top of the areas that would become the garden beds so that the earthworms could eat the weeds throughout the winter and create rich soil for planting.

This took us two full days to finish; we worked even through the rain to finish our job and were so proud of how it looked. It was basically the only spot on the entire property that looked like there was some real effort put into the landscaping. Despite all this, Cybill didn’t even bother to walk down to that area of the property for several days and when she did finally see it her only comments were “well , uh, yeah, um….” We got no feedback, no compliments or constructive criticism, she obviously had a different idea of what she wanted but didn’t in that entire week take the time to check on the progress of what we were doing or care to thank us at all for the hard work that we took on ourselves. We created a beautiful area that she could begin to garden in the spring, exactly what she asked us to do, but it was probably too organized looking or too something, who knows. This was very frustrating for us because we really thought she would be happy with our work and this was not the only time she treated us this way.
Cybill had so many projects to do and so little attention span that we would be told something very vaguely like she didn’t really care how it was done, just to do it, then she would come back the next day and say to make it “this” way and she envisioned it like “this” and was never happy with anything. Ugh!!! Another debacle was when we were told to make a wall with old hay bales on the north facing side of the horse’s area, so we moved many heavy hay bales, made a beautiful wall and then had to move them all back the next day to their original positions because she didn’t look like she wanted. This continued through the entire four weeks we stayed on her property. We attempted to look for an alternative place to move, but had trouble with such short notice and decided to stick it out.

Some of the rainy days were spent doing projects inside, mostly cleaning, collecting firewood, cooking food and making malta. Malta was something we were excited to participate in, it was making a type of mortar from all natural materials to use in restoring the inside of the trullo. We mixed earth, water, and natural glue. Once this was mixed to a fairly thick consistency we used it to patch holes in the wall and around the large rocks that made up the wall. This was a process that took us an hour or two to perfect but as we worked with the mixture more we actually got the first positive comment from Cybill. This may be the only thing we actually learned in the 4 weeks of chaos, besides obviously what not to do to improve your property.

I really think the reason Cybill had wwoofers on her property was for company. All too frequently we would venture out with Cybill on a short errand to say get some water or bread from the store and this would turn into a journey of unending proportions. Swerving from the store to the petrol station to the coffee shop and usually involving an uninvited drop in at a friend’s house. Oh, did we forget to mention that riding anywhere in this woman’s giant bright blue truck was a hair raising adventure to say the least. Every time she had something to say while driving she had to turn and look at you never mind the road and other cars whizzing by.

On the lighter side both Emily and I enjoyed very much meeting two of Cybill’s friends Carlo and Reaka. Carlo was from Calabria and Reaka was from Hungary. We would stop by for a visit, only sometimes calling ahead, and join in on some great jam sessions. Carlo was a master of many different styles of guitar playing while Reaka would sing and was learning to play the keyboard very well. Giovanni, a 16 yr. old kid from next-door would also come by and show us up on the djembe(African drum). Emily and I took turns on the djembes, tambourine and maracas while having a great time listening to everyone together. We came up with some really good rhythms and nice spur of the moment tunes. To end part 1 a funny story; after leaving Carlo and Reaka’s house, which is no more than a 5 minute drive away, we got into Cybill’s car to leave and proceeded to make a 9 point turn around in the driveway. I was in the front seat cracking up, as Emily was in the back laughing so hard she was crying even Cybill was laughing. Once turned around Cybill could barley manage her massive truck down the rest of the narrow driveway. We in fact had to stop several times more to maneuver around the final corners of the drive. It took us a good 30 minutes to get home as she had to stop frequently and tell us a story or share a nutty thought.

All for now, the rest of this crazy 4 weeks will come soon...

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30th December 2009

Great spot
It was great to skype you and Serena at Christmas. Looks like you are having a ball. Stay healthy and happy Grandpa John

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