WWOOFing So Far

September 13, 2009

Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will sit in his boat and drink beer for a lifetime.

Outside a house in Wanganui, NZ

After this week, I can add “falling off a horse” and “getting electrocuted” to my list of life experiences. Don’t panic over the second: it was just an electric fence and the shock was limited to my arm. Still, the left side of my body is still rather sore. Oh, and did I mention these both happened in the same day?

I wanted to try WWOOFing in New Zealand ever since I heard of the concept; after all, who wouldn’t enjoy room and board in the country and being fed delicious natural foods in exchange for a little outdoor work? Best thing in the world for you. After my five months back in the states, I had had plenty of time to peruse the WWOOFing guide and narrow my list of choice farms to one in Northland, and one in Wanganui, both areas I had not yet visited.

Sirocco Lodge in Kaeo seemed like a great choice: open country, horseback riding, and the chance to meet other WWOOFers. How mistaken I was…

Took the bus from Auckland early in the morning (confirmed my arrival time twice with my host). Kaeo isn’t exactly main street in a metropolitan area; in, there is just the one street. So when I arrived at precisely 2:10 as scheduled, I was surprised to not find anyone waiting for me. Also had to endure the stares and taunts of passing students as they must have wondered who this crazy backpacker was, waiting in “downtown” Kaeo on a Sunday morning.

In any case, after thirty minutes roadside and snapping the main strap on my backpack, I called my host’s mobile; she was stuck out on a boat in the middle of a lake, but assured me she would be there soon. Now, I wasn’t really resentful or anything at this point; mistakes happen, and other opportunities arise. I just had a bit of a walkabout in Kaeo (though EVERYTHING was closed on a Sunday) until she arrived at 3:45.

Still, there was nothing to be done for it; I resolved to approach her with a positive attitude, in the event that she might spread the word about this wanker WWOOFer: “Started complaining two seconds after I met him in town… bloody Americans.” She in turn made up for it with her outgoing personality and a huge lamb dinner with some friends of hers. If I could have muted the conversation, I would have sworn I was in west Texas: the country clothes, the salt and pepper mustaches, the rustic house, even the lines on their faces brought on by years of outdoor work… all the same.

The next day, a German girl joined our ranks, and together we cooked up a feast of sausage and vegetables. Even met up with her outside our trailers to observe the constellations on a clear night; there might have been sparks, had the language barrier not been a bit thicker than usual – hard to gage, that girl, even under the light of Venus.

I suppose I saw the first indication of trouble the following day; our host was apparently a distributor of vending machine stuffed animals, and had to make her rounds to cities within a 200 km radius. Now, I had no problem with this; she’s a businesswoman, and had to hold another job on the side to make ends make. My concern was just how she acted after that morning: like it was a huge inconvenience for us to be on her farm, and as far as she was concerned, nothing in her schedule was flexible. Not the best way to accommodate WWOOFers.

In addition to that, I noticed she was speaking very condescendingly to the German girl (due to the difficulty understanding the Kiwi accent). I was practically an intermediary between Kiwi English and textbook English. This wasn’t so much of a problem… it’s just that if she were reacting to one German girl who spoke near-perfect English in such a way, how would she handle those with lesser abilities? Not all WWOOFers are fluent, after all. This treatment didn’t exactly raise my opinion of her, or WWOOFing in general; this was my first experience.

The following day. We finally get to saddle up and try our hand at some riding in Northland. Sweet as. I had mentioned to our host that I had ridden horses before – I am a Texas boy, of course – but that it had been a few years, and I was far from an accomplished rider. Apparently something was lost in translation between English and English, because she got the impression I was vastly skilled in the noble art of horseback riding. Yeah…

Let’s just say the trails were steep and very muddy. My horse, Spartacus, bucked me off during a difficult ascent and galloped away past my host. Not exactly my proudest moment. I would have been quick to offer apologies over my mistake, had our host not quickly spat out in her most condescending childish tone:

“I knew that would happen we started out. I thought you said you could ride. You put us all in great danger.”

Silence on my part, struggling to hold back retorts. I pretty much shut down emotionally after that, even to my fellow WWOOFer; we did share our complaints over common ground a few times before my departure, but I had practically given up on this farm, this host, and WWOOFing.

Thankfully, I now know not all hosts are resentful of help on their property, or the presence of foreigners. I’m down in Wanganui, near the sea between the North and South Island, staying in the home of a healthy, intelligent family. And hey, there may even be someone better around the corner. Good on ya, mate.

More Information
WWOOFing in New Zealand

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2 Responses to WWOOFing So Far

  1. Ryukyu Mike on September 16, 2009 at 3:47 am

    Looks like yer off to a great start ! Was wondering why I hadn’t heard from you in awhile.
    Keep up the great writing; I’ll be back.


  2. cecile on October 1, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Thanks for this post!! I was planning to go to Sirocco Lodge. After what I have read, I change my mind! Good luck with your journey !!!…

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