Recently we decided to volunteer at and Ecovillage in Canada. We’ve been pretty comfortable house sitting our way around Mexico, the USA and most recently Canada, but sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. We’ve wanted to get involved in the community a bit more and add some purpose to our day.
With this in mind we looked into doing some volunteering through Workaway.
This is what we imagined
Having recently become all consumed by the idea of building a tiny house, we’ve binge watched George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, sought out documentaries and I’ve got a rather impressive Pinterest board going on. Heading somewhere to learn some new skills sounded like a fun idea.
After scouring through a long list, we applied for a place on an Ecovillage. Learning how to become more socially, ecologically and economically sustainable, sounded right up our street.
I imagined learning how to build sustainably and finding out more about sustainable food production.
Upon arrival my romantic dreams were shattered…it looked like a run of the mill housing estate in the suburbs. This was not quite what I had in mind.
I can be pretty quick at jumping to conclusions, so as we arrived at 10pm at night, I thought I should maybe reserve judgment until the light of day. Sometimes things do look worse at night.
The warning signs kept coming.
I went to the bathroom; there was no toilet roll or towel to dry our hands on.
We got into bed and it smelt like cheesy feet.
To me these are just the basics of making someone feel welcome in your home. Clean sheets, a bit of heat and some toilet roll don’t seem like too much to ask…do they?
In the past I may have started moaning about this to Rob, but over the last year I’ve learnt lots of things and one of them is sometimes I just have to shut up and get on with it. I do enjoy a good moan but it doesn’t really solve anything and can just make an already bad situation even more negative.
I said nothing.
We woke in the morning. It was still cold. I could see my breath as I lay there in bed; this is never a good thing. I had to prepare myself mentally for the step from the bed onto the freezing tiled floor and did a cold dance as I got dressed in record time.
I still said nothing.
After breakfast we were shown around the whole Ecovillage.
A smaller version of this was closer to the reality
My initial impression of a housing estate was correct. In fact, the community aspect of the Ecovillage was that they houses were built close together so that everyone on your street could see into your kitchen. Apparently this was to promote community cohesion.
In our walk around the estate I didn’t see a single other person. People live there, but seem to go off to work during the day coming back in the evening to go home cook a meal and watch TV.
Moving stones, raking leaves and painting.
Not quite the skills I was hoping to pick up. I’ve haven’t spent any dedicated time learning to rake leaves, but I’m pretty sure I’d be ok it if I just gave it a go.
Having still not said anything to Rob, we layered up and headed out into the sub zero temperatures to rake leaves.
After about an hour Rob walked over to me.
“It’s shit, I don’t want to stay.” Was all he said and hugged me.
I was pleased for 2 reasons, firstly he was feeling the same as me and secondly he said it first.
“Me either!” I replied, although my facial muscles were now completely frozen, so it was probably more like a Chewbacca noise.
Rob pretty much has the attitude of ‘Just get on with it’. He isn’t usually a moaner, when he is ill he just gets on with it, when he has a problem he solves it, no moaning required. I knew it must have been bad for him to break first.
Decision made, we then had to find a way to leave.
Rob set off along the road to enquire about public transport to make our escape.
He returned 20 minutes later with the news that there was in fact no public transport for several towns around.
We might be stuck. The more we searched for a way out, the less likely it seemed. I’m sure the owners would have given us a lift, but the conversation of, “We don’t like it here. Can you help us leave,” would have been an awkward one.
The escape route
On this journey we’ve been lucky enough to meet some truly wonderful people. None more so than Lynn and Chris, the last homeowners we sat for in Vancouver. Before we left they’d said, “If you don’t like it (at the Ecovillage), just come back here.”
I fired off an email to them asking if we could indeed return. Immediately Lynn replied with, “Yes of course”.
Relieved but still stuck, and busy tearing our hair out whilst looking for any form of transportation out of our predicament, our mobile started to ring.
It was Chris our saviour! Offering to come and pick us up after he finished work, driving 2 hours out of his way and refusing to accept any petrol money.
We only spent a few days with Chris and Lynn, but they feel like old friends we have known for years. We can’t thank them enough!
Escape route planned, a sense of calm was once again restored.
What did we learn from this?
We were incredibly naive. We have some experience of sustainable living and ecovillages, which were part of the inspiration for us doing this.
We should have asked more questions, found out more about the Ecovillage and what we’d be doing there. Not just assumed they are all the same. The place wasn’t awful, the people we were staying with were friendly.
We could have stayed, hated our entire week and moaned the whole time. Ultimately life is too short to do this, so we chose not to.
Being fair to the folks there, they have a vision to create a community in a society where you often don’t know your own neighbours. Throughout the year they reap and sew organic fruit and veggies from their land and have building projects which we would have loved to get involved with. It just wasn’t the right time of year or the right place for us.
It won’t stop us looking for similar opportunities, we’d just do MUCH more research next time.
The silver lining
Instead we headed over to Vancouver Island and spent a wonderful few days in the very beautiful Ucluelet. We found an amazing space to call home for 4 days. It was cold, windy and raining when we got there, but we were taken in by its instant charm. The coastline reminded us of our beloved Scotland.
Our time there consisted of walking along the dramatic driftwood covered beaches, in amongst the beautiful forests and eating delicious food in cozy pubs by the sea.
The ferry trip over to Vancouver Island is pretty special on a sunny day, apparently you occasionally see pods of orcas and other sea life!
We spent less than one day doing something we didn’t like. It may have improved and maybe it’s a little harsh to judge something on such a short space of time. But first impressions go a long way and boy did it make us appreciate our unexpected adventure on Vancouver Island so much more.
Every cloud and all that….