WWOOFing in Lovely Lipsi – Working on an Organic Farm in Greece
After a few weeks on holiday in Greece, it was time to get down and dirty on the farm. When I told someone I went WWOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) over my holiday, the response was, “I did that when I was about 20.” I ignored this comment because I love getting my hands in the dirt especially when it doesn’t involve any nasty herbicides or pesticides. It feels good to grow your own food no matter what your age.
I WWOOFed at Dmitris Farm on Lipsi Island in Greece. The island is home to about 700 inhabitants and in the low season in April, the WWOOFers on this farm are about the only non-residents.
7/4 – Arriving in Lipsi
The ferry to Lipsi was quite uppy downy. Upon arrival I felt a bit nauseous and woozy when Kostas met me a the pier. “Elizabeth? Kostas,” in a perfect midwestern American accent, “I spent many years in the states.” I boarded the back of the motorbike with my big backpack and we were off the the farm.
Lipsi is a very tiny island, only 8 kilometers in length. We drove through the little port town, then past goats, sheep, vineyards, and olive trees with an occasional coastal view. We were to the house in about 4 minutes. At the house in the small basic kitchen were two other WWOOFers, both Canadian, named Monica and Laura. They were eating a stir fry lunch and Kostas made pasta for my not-quite-off-the-boat and hungry self.
Kostas showed us that we’d be using sickles to cut the knee-high grass around the vines. We had to do it by hand because the buds on the 200 year-old vines are very delicate and if we knocked them off, the vine won’t produce grapes. After eating, I joined the women working for about 2 hours in the afternoon. It was sunny and pleasant, but not warm. They wanted to go swimming. Gotta love Canadians. I humoured myself and put on my bathing suit under my clothes anyway. We walked the three minutes it took to get to the gorgeous beach with its pellucid waters. Rocks, not sand made up the shore. Both girls swam, but upon dipping my foot in to the frigid water, I stayed out.
After the swim we walked about 25 minutes to the town. Not a whole lot was going on there. The bakery is the happening place to be in Lipsi, and its free wifi was useful, as there was none at the house. The sun doesn’t set until about 7:30 in April – a bit discombobulating for my early sunset equatorial lifestyle.
Monica, a 26 year-old nurse who lives in a farmhouse in Nova Scotia, was curious about Buddhism. She asked me questions for me and listened intently to my experiences with Buddhism in Thailand. Her sense of humor and openness was very endearing.
We headed back to the farm where we were instructed to pick some wild dandelion greens called horta to be boiled along with the fish and lentils for dinner. I realise more and more that I am suited to being a vegetarian; I just couldn’t clean the fish guts.
After dinner we drank beers and played cards. Monica’s sense of humor, Kostas’ gruffness and chain smoking, and Laura’s one-liners provided plenty of entertainment for the evening.
8/4 – WWOOFing in the Vineyard
The next morning at 7 we made coffee, hot water and fresh from the tree lemon, and ate muesli before going to sickle the weeds in the vineyards. We worked all morning, made lunch and then went back to the field again. We stopped around 3:30. Clouds hung in the sky throughout the day with a slight chill in the air, which made pleasant working temperatures. It began to rain as I went to gather more wild greens. After dinner I was sad to see Monica leave on her 11:55pm ferry. My arms were sore, but I felt as if I’d done a hard day’s work.
9/4 – The Day Greece Supposedly Runs Out of Money and also Holy Thursday.
After a restless sleep, I went to work with Kostas at 8am weeding a garden. It was so full of weeds it was difficult to see where the garden was. After several hours it looked significantly better, but it was testament to how much work a farm is. While weeding, I was accompanied by the soundtrack of goat bells in the distance.
I also helped Kostas decant olive oil from a barrel and washed brined olives of their muck. My hands were delightfully oily afterwards. The wind was picking up and the temperature dropping. I made a delicious pasta lunch with the olives and lemons fresh oregano and tomato sauce.
Kostas and his Greek friend with an Australian accent had loads of stereotypical questions about Thailand: sex tourism, eating snakes and insects, is it like Chinese? etc. It was disappointing to hear that these are the things some people perceive about Thailand.
We tilled, raked, weeded and sowed a field of potatoes and onions. It was beginning to rain and the wind was blowing like mad. It must have been about 10 degrees, but felt like about 0 to my sensitive tropical living self. I put on all my warm clothes. I read in bed under many blankets in the unheated house while listening to a static-filled radio broadcast of Greek Orthodox chanting for Holy Thursday. Kostas talked about going to the neighboring island Patmos for our day off on Good Friday, but we found out the boats wouldn’t be leaving because of the winds.
10/4 – Still Crazy Winds and Cold on the Good Friday Day Off
I slept late (meaning 8:30) because I just can’t handle these cold winds. Laura and took a long exploration of an amazingly beautiful small island. Let the pictures tell the story:
11/4 – Windy Weeding
We cut grass by hand with a sickle, then weeded a stone garden on this sunny, windy and cold day. After farming I walked to the nearby beach.
At the beach I listened. The question: “What is my life supposed to be?” appeared. An answer followed: “Living without fear.” Outwardly it appears that I already do that for the most part, but do I? That gorgeous water at the beach made me think, as the sun beamed on my face while the chilly winds blew.
I walked home feeling content reflecting upon the fact that my life is in fact quite extraordinary. I have not followed the common path and I’m glad. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t have a partner, but then I see just how wonderful things are in the present moment. At times it appears that I am just a tumbling tumbleweed blowing wherever the wind blows. In retrospect, it’s clear that that isn’t the case.
What is my next chapter? Well goodness me, I sure hope there is a wonderful man involved. Perhaps there is a book in this life. It’s not the life for everyone, but it’s worthy of a ‘wow!’ Sometimes one has to pause and just say, “Wow, life is beautiful.”
After listening to the radio that plays Vangelis’ (a Greek) Chariots of Fire and then Play That Funky Music White Boy (for reasons I can’t quite comprehend), Laura and I walked to church in the freezing wind for Easter service at 11pm. Chaos reigned with dynamite blasting off. Inside everyone lit candles. One (at least one) girl’s hair caught on fire. The high heels, bright lipstick and very short skirts made me feel substantially underdressed, but it was so cold I just couldn’t worry about fashion. Although I didn’t understand it, it was an experience to be in Greek Orthodox church for Easter Sunday.
12/4 – Greek Easter
Laura and I had the day off. After a leisurely breakfast we took a long stroll to a picturesque beach on the other side of the island. I just couldn’t get over the turquoise and sapphire waters On the beach I was thinking that it is really my new year. It’s almost Thai new year (Songkran) and with this break, and a new school year about to start, it seems a good time to think about the future. Plans include getting away on the weekends more to local places. I’d also like to go to Pun Pun and Panya Project to continue in the farming spirit back in Thailand.
We eventually arrived back in town where I had the best chocolate ice cream ever. After leaving the bakery, a couple asked us to come look at homemade products from their house. I bought some sweet lemon.
It had been a very quiet and peaceful Easter day. Just as my thoughts about Greek Easter being a festive occasion were starting to fade away, we spotted a lamb roast, loud music, and drinking party. They waved us in. Laura was hesitant, but I knew it would be a fun cultural experience. We were immediately handed Alfa beer and some lamb. I declined the lamb, so bottoms up!
The music was the blaring whiny fiddle type with gypsy vocals. A few people were dancing, but it didn’t last. We kept getting handed beer after beer and I kept drinking to avoid eating lamb. To be polite, I had one little bite of Laura’s lamb, which confirmed my vegetarianism. We watched the lamb carcass get devoured and everyone appeared to be having a good time. I drank about 3 1/2 beers in about the span of an hour. Eventually the raki (local moonshine) came out too. Definitely too much alcohol and not enough food for me, but the whole thing was hilarious.
13/4 – Weed the Vineyard in the Sunshine!
After a dream filled sleep, sunshine filled the sky. It was the first day without high winds, and we continued weeding the garden. For lunch, I did my best to make a Thai dish called pad phak boong using the horta and the giant beans from the garden. Surprisingly, there was fish sauce and even chilies at the house, so it worked okay. I had to include a khai dao (fried egg) on top. Although Greek food is delicious, I am starting to miss Thai food. After lunch, I walked to our local beach and read Jitterbug Perfume and thought about how to conduct my life over the next year, and how not to repeat patterns that no longer serve me.
14/4 – Feeling Energetic and Overdoing It
I woke up after delightful dreams feeling strong, and began swinging the mattock with gusto for weeding from around the vines. It completely wore me out.
Laura and I had delicious lunch in town at Manoli’s Tastes – the best meal I had in Greece, and Manoli is a nice guy. At night, Laura and I ‘laughed and toasted to nothing and smashed our empty glasses down’…only quoting Joni Mitchell. (‘Met a redneck on a Grecian isle who did the goat dance very well…’)
15/4 – Feeling Achy from my Bad Ass Gardening Yesterday
My arms were sore after my vigorous weed whacking. Laura and I sang Joni Mitchell and Aretha Franklin while weeding in the grapevines along with the new WWOOFer. After lunch Laura and I invented ‘cheesefakes’ a digestive biscuit and Greek yogurt.
We hiked off to the far beach. On the way there a little lamb came running up to me. He was like a dog and wanted me to pet him. The walk was stunning.
Upon arriving home, we found that Kostas had dipped into the wine and had also prepared a smorgasbord of dinner for us. Kostas said goodbye, but indicated that he’d take me to the port. He didn’t. At 11:20pm, thankfully the new WWOOFer walked the 25 minutes in the dark to the port with me. The boat was pulling up as we got there. Whew! Bye bye beautiful Lipsi. Hope to visit you again in the harvest season.