Last week we had a few days off from our job at the diary farm in Spain, and instead of hanging around talking to cows we decided to hop on a bus down to Porto, Portugal for a brief visit. It was pretty much two days of travel for one day in the city, but it was worth it because Porto is beautiful (art nouveau and classical architecture with a rough edge), unique (dozens of port cellars and signature sandwiches? yes please), and cheap (killer wines for 2.60 euro per bottle).
If you have the chance, visit Porto! And send me an email if you do, I’m happy to give you a few more detailed tips.
7am: Wake up, raining again!
8am: Still dark, feed cows, shovel poop, hose down milking parlor, make lots of curious cow friends
Noon: Walk the giant mastiff guardian dog recuperating from an injury
2pm: Food food food
3pm: Nap nap nap
4pm: Take pictures of calves for promotion
6pm: (always Bring a) Snack
9pm: Food, Wine
It’s a simple life, but it’s a good one. We worked on a lot of small farms in New Zealand, but our focus here in Spain has been the big guys. We want to start our own farm when we get home, so we need to see how commercial operations do their business to learn how to become profitable. It’s been really interesting to see how much work goes into making this place run. There are about 20 full time staff, including sales, marketing, production, animal care, and maintenance people.
The purpose and management of WWOOFers here is also much different than anywhere else we’ve worked. At small family farms we all ate together, sharing wholesome stories and getting to know each other. Here we’re provided cash and a kitchen and set off to our own devices. There’s less cultural exchange, but Christina is a great cook and its nice to make our own food choices again. Both flavors have their merits.
While smaller farms want help in the garden and someone to talk to, or care about educating young farmers and want some exposure for their kids, here they NEED very temporary workers to do simple tasks for little pay. No one is watching over our shoulders, but we definitely don’t get the fun jobs. But hey, that’s what we signed up for and we bear much of the blame because we speak poor Spanish. Though I do wonder what it would be like if we were more proficient in the language.
Regardless, there’s a lot to learn here by observation alone. This farm sells yogurt all over Spain, so their production, distribution, and marketing is very complex. For example, today we spent several hours trying to convince month old calves to look at us as we propped name tags on them and snapped photos for customers.
We work hard because we enjoy learning and because work exchange makes long term travel affordable. But when we’re ankle deep in poo stew, we couldn’t help but laugh at all the times people say “You’re so lucky you get to travel!”
I can’t believe we’ve been in Spain for a month already! With the help of very patient locals and the iPhone app, Duolingo, I’ve gone from being able to ask for a glass of wine to being able to talk about the pros and cons of NYC public schools, GMOs, and how to make cookies entirely in Spanish. Granted, I can only speak in the present tense and say things like “I much like it very.”
Our time in Spain has been split between cities that make my heart sing and rural towns where we have been climbing or working. We spent a long weekend in Barcelona, a few weeks climbing in central Spain, then up to San Sebastian in the Basque country where we ate everything in sight, and have spent the past two weeks on a farm outside of Segovia. Work, play, eat. Work, play, eat. In our opinion, that is the most satisfying way to travel.