Inconveniently, we’ve landed in Panama at the exact same time that thousands of Panamanian partiers have flooded the streets for Carnival. This massive festival happens in the four days before Ash Wednesday. So to prepare for the 40 days of penitence and prayer of Lent, the entire country eats, drinks, stumbles through confetti dusted streets. Not such a bad thing, unless you are a traveler with no plans and no idea why there are men with coconut bras trying to give you lap dances. The bus stations are madhouses and you’re lucky to find hostels with any beds at all. Travelers spill into hammocks and hard wood floors. After nights of fireworks, blaring music, and shaving cream sprayed on my head, I’m ready for Wednesday to arrive…. praying for a little peace on the beach.
Only a farm in Southern California would have a greenhouse built overtop a tennis court and an old swimming pool filled with fire wood. You would dial 1-2-3-4 into an intercom that would swing open an ornate white gate. You would see Larry the miniature pony and Sweet-Ti Pie the soft-eared donkey. You would walk through fields of blooming dahlias and sweet peas to your beach style house. You would chat with the Scottish gardener and the web programmer while making a sandwich of humus and spinach. You would wonder, is this what Californians call farming?
Counting my one week of WWOOFing, yes – this is what I would call farming in Southern California. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a network that throws together travelers with farms that need an extra hand. In exchange for room and board, WWOOFers work 25-30 hours per week on the farm. As the organization’s name suggests, these opportunities are worldwide. For our first attempt at WWOOFing, my boyfriend and I chose a flower farm just a few miles from our former home in Santa Barbara. We cleared fields, weeded them, planted rows of sweet peas, and set up an irrigation system. Not bad for a week’s work. I became a human rototiller. It was quite the workout for me after coming from freezing winter in New York mostly spent in an office chair or in front of a wood stove. On the other hand, it was easier than I thought to adjust to a vegetarian lifestyle. Fresh squeezed orange/carrot juice, ripe avocados straight off of the tree, and vegan sausages (Trader Joes you are a miracle worker).
Although I had fun at the flower farm, I’ve learned a few things that I’d like for our next WWOOFing adventure:
- Choose a place where you will learn something new. All of the above tasks I have already done in my own gardens. I want to learn more about sustainability, organic pest techniques, maintaining complex soil systems, and so on.
- Consider the social aspect before you sign-up for a place. Are there many other WWOOFers who come to work/stay? Meeting new fellow travelers is always an awesome experience. You not only gain connections all around the world, but you also learn that Luna’s Castle is a must-stay in Panama and that “sparrows all up in my pancakes” means way more than it says.
- Check out a farm in a foreign country. Maybe we’ll find a place in our upcoming two-month trip to Central America…
Before the snowy rock gorges of Ithaca become an ancient land in my memory, I better write something down. As most bumper stickers in the area will point out, “Ithaca is Gorges.” And it is. It’s a land of extremes. A world of winter versus summer – a world this little California native has never experienced… and has now left behind.
Since I’m horrible at blogging, let me just do a little word association and call it a night.
Winter: water frozen to rock walls mid-splash; ponds frozen and broken hundreds of times over; geese cutting V’s across the cluttered clouds; fields of white and black; the smell of fires from chimneys; rusted cars sliding through the slush; abandoned barns; vacant Collegetown; numb fingers; pints of beer & popcorn; furry boots and jackets double your size; snowflakes melting in the heat of the defroster
Summer: boat rides on the Finger Lakes; barbeques every night; stunning sunsets of pink and lavender and yellow beyond reason; music festivals, apple festivals, any sort of festivals; green go-getters setting up shop; tomatoes bursting on branches; sleep and sunrise on the trampoline; dips in the lake