I decided not to blog about Hawaii – it was sunny, it was beautiful, I made a lei, I danced the hulu – it was Hawaii and I did the typical Hawaiian touristy things! That pretty much sums it up. I spent a lovely few days there exploring the island, but I was excited to get to Canada and give this “help exchange” a go.
So, what is help exchange? Basically, you agree to work a few hours each day in exchange for room and board. The terms are usually agreed before you arrive at your hosts place.
The two main sites that I use are helpx and workaway, both offer a variety of different jobs, from hostel work, to farm work to au pair work. There is also a new site called workingtraveller, (which I have actually started writing for), though I haven’t actually had the chance to use it yet. There is also wwoofing – which is volunteering on organic farms that follow the same principle as the other sites.
So, I arrived in rainy Vancouver, extremely jetlagged and on a mission to get to Squamish by lunchtime. Surprisingly this was quite straightforward. After spending a few hours soaring down the stunning sea-to-sky highway I finally arrived in Squamish.
Having never helpx’ed before I had no idea what to expect. I had heard several horror stories about hosts taking advantage of travellers/ helpers, so I was on my guard. Obviously, I’ve taken plenty of assessed risks before, particular during last years cycle trip. I’ve lost count on the number of times I’ve had to rely on the help of strangers, however that doesn’t stop the insecure feelings of doubt develop in the back of your mind. In most situations when these feelings start to develop I start creating an “escape” plan – I do this for practically everything. Currently my escape plans are all bear related – what would I do if I see a bear on my trail runs? I then run through hundreds of different scenarios. Funny enough, I actually started doing this after watching one too many zombie movies – yes, I have about a thousand survival plans for the zombie apocalypse. Anyway, back to farms and stuff.
I was pleasantly surprised by my helpx hosts. Rolf, host in Squamish, picked me up from the bus terminal and drove us 20 minutes to a rural hobby farm in the Chekamus valley. Squamish area is absolutely beautiful – snowy-capped mountains, bald eagles, rainforests, plenty of hiking trails and alpine lakes. This is also where Twilight was mostly filmed. I was in my element!
The plan was to stay in Squamish for about 3 weeks. I was housesitting for the owners while they went away on holiday. While they were gone I was to look after the house, tend to the farm animals (goats, chickens and rabbits), and clear some wood and rocks in preparation for Spring seeding. The work was relatively easy, and was usually finished by lunchtime, which meant I had the afternoon to explore, cycle and hike. I was even allowed to use the car. The only downside was, after a week or so, I was quite lonely and there is only so much hiking you can do alone. I was quite happy to see some friendly faces by the time the owners returned. I stayed on at the farm for another week after the owners returned, and helped out where and when it was needed. The meals provided were plentiful, organic and fresh. On my last day on the farm a film crew visited the farm to film a GM commercial – a different experience in itself. The directors decided to include the goats in the footage, which meant I was given the job as “goat trainer”. The end result can be found here and here. The commercials were filmed completely at the property, so it gives you an idea of how beautiful the place was.
After helpx’ing in Squamish, I headed down to Langley area, where I had arranged to help out on another hobby farm/ dog kennel. Langley is typical country – wooden barns, fields and small-scale private farms everywhere. The area is flat, but surrounded by the snowy mountains in Washington state in the US, and the mountains north of Vancouver. I soon learnt that the TV show Smallville was filmed there, as well as the new TV series (that I haven’t actually watched), called Bates Motel.
The set up at Langley was completely different; less strict schedules and planning and definitely more random. The jobs varied – tending to the farm animals (sheep, goats, dogs, chickens), seeding, clearing rocks, cleaning floors or windows, cleaning dog kennels, constructing new kennels, accompanying Kira (my host) on her on shopping trips/ craig’s list trips/ hiking trips/ seed buying trips, the list was endless. The first night I was there, Kira and I discovered that one of the sheep was pregnant… not only pregnant, but due to deliver. So we spent the first night delivering our first baby lamb. Amazing!
I was at Kira’s place for 2.5 weeks, and the time flew by. I was sad to say goodbye, but also excited to head to Vancouver, see Michael and start actually working (yes, I don’t say that too often – however, when you’ve just scored a job working in a rainforest, there’s something to be a bit excited about). I’m definitely glad I gave help exchange a chance. I met some amazing people, learnt so much and had some great, memorial experiences.