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Published: March 19th 2014
RainforestWwoofing; tips and tricks. The difficulty of the first wwoof.
An example of the dry season rainforest up in Queensland.
Wwoofing’s not always as easy as it sounds. You’re a stranger in a strange land and on someone else’s property. I know it was tough for me on occasion anyway. Be sure of this though: whenever you feel like you don’t belong or are out of place or missing home remember that just because you are a backpacker, that doesn’t mean you should have to put up with being taken advantage of, or settle for conditions that are less than adequate. Of course, choosing the right place is often the hardest part, and if you get it right, you shouldn’t have to worry about any of the above. Communicating with your host before you commit is a good idea to make sure you know what you’re getting into and whether or not you are compatible with their lifestyle. This was a lesson I’d learn the hard way.
My first host was in the rainforest near Cairns, about an hour on a local bus service out of town and away from civilisation, there to meet up with him and get a ride into their property. Fortunately there was another girl going at the same time, otherwise the whole thing would have felt a whole lot more dodgy. Especially on seeing the guy and his car, both of which to be fair looked dodgy. I didn’t know people still drove cars like that. Anyhow, we both threw our bags in the boot and went along with it for the time being. It was when we arrived that we were in for the real shock. They lived in a handmade shelter, closer to what I would call a shack than a house because not all the sides were closed off to the elements. A range of debris and wildlife (including a golden orb weaver spider) were free to come and go. There was a rudimentary kitchen with a fridge where we were shown our specific wwoofer drawer with our things to eat. Namely bread, conserves, ham and cheese. Not having wwoofed before I didn’t realise that this was not common practice and in fact frowned upon by other hosts. You should feel like one of the family and not a nuisance, that’s the whole point.
Then we were shown our sleeping arrangements, which was a two man tent. There was a sleeping bag each over a thin ground mattress and about as much space as a Nissan Micra. Add to that the bathroom being shielded by a less than satisfactory curtain and you have yourself a trifector of disappointment that led to the other girl quickly changing her mind and returning back to town as soon as the next bus was due. I was concerned that I’d already wasted a lot of time and money in Cairns though, so I decided to stay at least a couple of days until I could find somewhere else. Plus, at least there’d be more room in the tent now. Though I do wish she’d’ve stayed.
So me, the other girl and the woman of the place, went collecting firewood until it was time to wave her off and for the rest of us to have dinner – beans and corn chips. Vegetarian. Wwoofer’s job to do the dishes which I don’t mind, but I’m used to being the cook and not the dishy. Not having quite acclimatised to the bugs etc. of Oz yet, I was set on edge by the spider in my tent and a little perturbed by the bandicoots at night. I had a torch to get me to the loo in the dark. Can you tell I’m not a camping person yet?
The next day was perhaps the lowest point. Very little sleep with all the wildlife. Was set to washing windows which were filthy, covered in spider-webs etc. I don’t mind cleaning but at least give me the right equipment, an old newspaper and environmentally friendly (i.e. useless) cleaning stuff does not help me get the job done. Then I was taken by my host out into the forest to be shown where to do some weeding. Weeding the rainforest!? Literally, I mean he wanted me to get all these super-weeds out which I think not even a strong man could have done some of them without proper tools, and be quick about it. I was hungry and sweaty come lunchtime then had to go back out and do some more. At least out on my own I could moan to myself about it. Roast veg for tea about finished me off. After all the hard work – hard for someone my size – no carbs, no protein, just veg. My light at the end of the tunnel was sorting out a new wwoof for Saturday.
The next day was equally outrageous. I mean I was trying my best with what I was given (which at breakfast wasn’t much because the jam ran out) so as my diary of the time put it, ‘I was disinclined to be jovial when my hosts were on at me for not doing enough work’. There are a set number of hours for a wwoofer – between 4 and 6 – depending on how hard the work is I suppose. These people insisted on 5, fair enough, apart from the food was inadequate and the work was more suitable for a JCB than a small English girl. I could have cleaned their place or something and been more use, but they were saying it wasn’t viable for them to keep me if I wasn’t getting what they wanted done. After I’d spent half the day in the forest battling the beasties and doing irreparable damage to my back pulling out super-weeds. Perhaps I should have sucked up the pain in my wallet and headed back to Cairns with the other girl. Anyhow, I said I had one more day, I’d give it another go, and under my breath thought, geeze, I’m hardly depriving you of much now am I? Also, I had a cold. You can’t reason with these types though, because English wasn’t their first language so I risked coming off as rude if I started defending myself in the Northern vernacular. I understand people choose different ways of life, but you can’t invite people into it who will naturally have a range of backgrounds and expect them to immediately conform to your lifestyle.
One more day in the forest, knowing with absolute clarity that this had to have been as bad as it gets, though I could at least store away the experience as a warning to others to follow your instincts about a place, and if you’re not happy, leave as soon as you can. This, I did the next day and the first thing I did on getting back into Cairns? Hungry Jack’s for a burger, then into town for gelato. Then caught the Greyhound to Innisfail to meet my new host, who I knew as soon as I spoke with, that the next week was going to be vastly more enjoyable than the last.
The key points are: read the wwoofing book entries through carefully, call/email your host for more information and to establish a rapport, research the area if you can so that you know what you are getting into, if you are not happy or feel uncomfortable, leave. But of course, if you do find, as I did with the next three places I went to, that you get on with your host, are able to do the work and experience new things that make your time interesting and enjoyable, then remember to have fun – wwoofing may well be a once in a lifetime experience and the people you meet along the way will be unique and forever captured in your memory. Wwoofing can be, as I think it is supposed to be, fun!
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