Interesting facts about the Alhambra Granada Spain

Reflexions at the Alhambra
There is a lot of water in the Alhambra which leads to a lot of interesting reflections.

6,000 people a day visit the Alhambra. It is Spain’s most visited monument.

It was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889.  The Alhambra eventually became the residence of royalty and of the court of Granada in the middle of the thirteenth century. The first change from a fort to a palace happened around 1333, by the Sultan of Granada, Yusuf I.

The Alhambra was meant to be a paradise on earth.

The main buildings of the Alhambra complex are built on a plateau which measures about 740 meters (2430 ft.) in length and 205 meters (674 ft.) at its greatest width. A visit to the Alhambra normally takes about 2 or 3 hours and most people walk around 3 or 4 kilometers on the way. There are places to buy food and drink inside the Alhambra but most people bring a sandwich or use the  small bars or kiosks.

Visiting the Alhambra
Visiting the Alhambra

In the last 20 years or it has been very difficult to buy tickets for the Alhambra. The problem is created by the very high demand and the restriction in the amount of people allowed into the Nazrid palaces. Some years ago there was a problem with corruption, so afterwards the ticket distribution system was outsourced to ticketmaster. This was very unsuccessful, it is hard to believe how a big name in tickets could do such a bad job. Many people had to put up with a very inefficient, badly run service. Australian very not allowed to use credit cards which caused a lot of consternation. At the time of writing the ticket system is not too bad but buying tickets still requires your full attention. When people go to visit most cities they first book a flight and accommodation then think about where to visit. In Granada people first book their Alhambra tickets then find a flight and hotel.

Granada is not far from a fault line and small Earthquakes are fairly common. In 1821 an earthquake caused damage to the Alhambra complex. Every century or so there are bigger earthquakes on April 19 1956 in the town of Albolote, just outside the city, an earthquake reaching 5.1 on the Richter scale killed 12 people and destroyed 250 homes so the Alhambra has experienced many fairly large quakes in its history. The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 which killed 60 thousand people would have been felt here.

 

The amount of people allowed in the Nasrid palaces at any one time is restricted so it is necessary to buy a ticket which states the time that the person can enter into this part of the Alhambra. The Nasrid dynasty was the last Arab Muslim dynasty in Iberia, ruling the Emirate of Granada from 1230 until 1492. Twenty-three emirs ruled Granada from the founding of the dynasty in 1230 by Muhammad I until January 2, 1492, when Muhammad XII (Boabdil) surrendered to the Christian Spanish kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. Today, the most visible evidence of the Nasrids is the Alhambra palace complex built under their rule.

The loss of Granada marked the end of seven centuries of Muslim rule in southern Spain. Boabdil was the last Arabic ruler who lived in the Alhambra. He negotiated the take over of the Alhambra by the Spanish monarchs. He left by the back door, (la puerta de los siete suelos), he asked that the door be shut forever afterwards. You can see this door on your left soon after entering the Alhambra from the ticket office.

The geometric artwork decorating the interiors of the Alhambra follow Islamic law, meaning there are no depictions of living beings.

The ceilings, columns and walls of the Alhambra are covered with over 10,000 Arabic inscriptions. They contain everything from snatches of poetry and verses from the Qur’an to clever aphorisms, boastful slogans and pious wishes. The Nasrid motto – “There is no victor but Allah” – is the most common inscription.

The mathematical properties of the decorative tile and stucco patterns of the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain have been extensively studied. Although it is disputed,  some authors say that all of the 17 wallpaper groups can be found in the Alhambra. (Wallpaper groups are ways which patterns can be repeated.)

The illustrator M.C. Escher visited the palace twice. The patterns, tessellations and rotational symmetry had a big influence on his drawings.

Patterns at the Alhambra

Emigrating to the UK from the Philippines in 1971

I have recently being exploring the idea of living without money. This has led me to volunteer in 3 different places in Spain. I have used the workaway system to find the places. At the moment I am in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain not far from Guadix. Today it is raining so we can’t work outside and I have been asked to write down some impressions of my first days in England after coming from the Philippines to work as a nurse in 1971.

Getting on a plane in Manilla

I first traveled out of the Philippines on a one way ticket 47 years ago. Like other economic migrant workers/travelers, a working visa is a surefire way of securing a kind of travel experience completely different from a normal short term holiday. I first got the idea of emigrating to England from the landlady of my bedsit in Manilla.  The  fees  necessary for the organization of the emigration to the UK was substantial so I had to obtain funds based on the ownership of a 2 hectare paddy field belonging to my family.   I paid an agency 4000 pesos to organise my flight, work visas and job in England. The flight from Manilla to Heathrow took over 24 hours and included a stop over in Hong Kong. I set off from Manilla on a hot and sweaty afternoon and arrived in England on a freezing cold Spring day on the 28th April 1971. I was with 2 other Filipino girls all in possession of work visas as nursing auxiliaries in a geriatric hospital in Maldon, Essex.

Most graduates or student nurses from my country looked to the outside world for jobs that offered higher pay than what they would normally get in the Philippines. Although the country is rich in mineral resources it is kept in poverty due to its colonial status in relation to the United States of America. The government in power at the time was headed by Ferdinand Marcos Sr and he was only looking after the interest of foreign investors who saw the country as a source of very cheap labour. Hence Filipino workers started emigrating as construction workers, domestic workers, nurses, hospital workers and other sorts of hospitality workers. As a neo-colonial country under United States of America most of our educated Filipinos went to the USA looking for greener pastures. From the late 1960s to 1970s the hospitals in England were recruiting nurses from countries like Jamaica, Philippines, China and Malaysia. Hence for the first time in my life I came across the country called England, my new country to be.

We were met at the main door of the hospital by a kind Nurse Barrett, the night nurse on duty, at 11:00 at night after getting off the last bus from Chelmsford. I felt the cold was going through my bones on that night we were walking from the bus stop to the entrance to the hospital. Nurse Barrett took us to the Villa, the nurses’ residence. There was excitement and nonstop talking till 1 in the morning meeting the other Filipino nurses (Linda, Gillian & Aida) who were already working in the hospital.

Looking after the elderly

The following day we met Miss Judd the matron of St Peters Hospital in Maldon. I found the matron very genial and helpful. She welcomed us and went through with us important things we needed to do like registering with the police station in town, our work schedule. One nurse was tasked to show us around, where to get our clean uniform and where to take dirty uniforms back, the canteen and other important aspects of the hospital. After a day of rest from traveling we started work the following day. I was assigned to work in ward P3, women’s ward where most of the patients were elderly, some suffering from dementia, some arthritic and some with general elderly ailments. I found the patients very sweet and friendly. Compared to the library work I left in Manila, my work as a nurse which included personal care of the patients, i.e putting them in the bath, bathing them, or giving them a wash in bed, getting them out of bed and putting them to bed at night time, was much harder physically though emotionally and socially rewarding. The salary was three times more than what I was getting as a Teacher Librarian in one of the big public secondary schools in Manila.

It was exciting and really nice that my co workers in the ward were so friendly and helpful, from the Sister (the nurse in-charge of the ward), the staff nurse and other nurses to the ward orderlies and cleaners. In the canteen the English food wasn’t too bad, the roast meats were tasty but a lot of the vegetable were overcooked. As a bonus a cleaner called May, and other orderlies, always saved us some food from the trolley, although we were not supposed to eat in the ward. They said that it was a crime to throw it away. The Friday fish and chips was always a treat although I found the fish a bit flat in taste compared to the fish we had in the Philippines. To begin with the food was so different from the food back home. In the ward I worked with another Filipino nurse, a Chinese nurse (Dunmok), a Jamaican nurse (Duncan), an English nurse (Kathy), Sister Cornelius, Staff Nurse Downes and Nurse Barrett.
When we were out in town we were greeted enthusiastically by our new friends/workmates if we happened to meet them in the streets. We were invited to our new friends’ houses for tea and taken to the strawberry field to pick our own strawberries. Generally I found people friendly and helpful but occasionally I came across people who reacted strangely to our presence in town.

Being used to living in Manila where there were always people about when I went out of my house, I found life in Maldon very quiet especially at night. When the shops closed there were very few people walking in town. The opening times of shops also had to be borne in mind when planning activities. The shops in the Philippines were always open late at night. I found life a bit lonely in my new country compared to life in the Philippines. I thought of my friends back in the island of Catanduanes, my original home. The warmth and joy I felt when I was in the island, surrounded by family and friends. Just being happy, nothing to worry about.

A typical street in Catanduanes

People in the Philippines are normally spontaneous but I found my new life in England becoming structured and rigid as we had to fit into our own new schedules and that of our workmates and new found friends. I missed my family and friends back home. After 6 months I suffered from headaches. My doctor prescribed me some anti depressant pills but after a while I stopped taking then because they made me feel worse. I never went back to the Doctor and instead resolved to look after myself properly.

I found the system in my new country much more efficient than that of my home country, and found the people seemed more disciplined than the people I left back home. On the surface, there seemed to be less corruption and bribery compared to the situation in the public offices in the Philippines. I don’t blame the Filipino people for being what they are as that’s what happens when people have been dominated by another country. Colonialism really messes up the natural evolution of the people’s way of life and how they organise themselves in their own country.

The landing of the Spanish expedition to Sulu by Antonio Brugada.

In 1521 Spanish ships led by Magellan came to the Philippines looking for gold (which they found loads of!) and spices. They brought with them the bible (their version of God!) though we already had our own belief systems in nature. Thus followed 450 years of Spanish domination and mistreatment of the peace loving Filipino people, facilitated by the introduction of Christianity to the islanders. In the north of the Philippines, the mountainous areas, where the Spaniards were not able to penetrate, the Filipino people were able to retain strong traditions and authentic characters.

Previous to the arrival of the Spanish ships Filipino people were already trading with the Chinese, Arabs and Indian people. With a strong resistance from the native people Spain was finally overthrown by the Filipino people only to be dominated by another country, United States of America. The 1898 treaty of Paris, Spain ceded Philippines to the United States of America for $20 millions.

I stayed living in England and made it my home I eventually got married had 3 children did many jobs such as taxi driver, librarian etc. It has been an interesting journey. I have returned to the Philippines on several visits over the years.

Luckily I obtained a British passport in 1997 and hopefully my documentation is in order. Thankfully I am not in the same boat as the people from the Caribbean who are now being threatened with repatriation back to Jamaica after 45 years of paying taxes in the UK.

I feel sad that the need to escape from economic hardship has meant that people had to leave their family behind, young children being forced to grow up being apart from their parent or parents in pursuit of money to survive. I found that people just want a happy and fun life, free from problems.

I thought there must be a better system than the money system that rules our world now and that is what I would like to explore now.

The rain has stopped. Now we can go back outside to weed the strawberry beds.

Travelling solo in Europe – A year abroad.

Hannah in Sevilla at the Plaza de España.

I’m an 18-year-old Australian, just finishing a year abroad in Europe between high school and university. I have backpacked alone and these are some of my tips and tricks for a first-time backpacker, geared towards travelling in Europe.

1. If you want to go travelling you should.

I found this year was the perfect year for travelling as I’d saved up, had money to go wherever I wanted and see things I’d only studied. I had just finished all my years of school and didn’t want to go straight into university. My year abroad has made me grow up and learn to live independently, use money well and helped me gain more understanding into what I want to do in my further studies; I even completely changed the course I wanted to study and realised that I wanted to learn another language!

2. Travelling can be daunting

particularly when you are young and travelling alone, but there are many ways to begin your trip so you don’t get overwhelmed. The first month of my trip was an organised program, so I was with the same group of people and staying in the same place which really eased me into my trip. Other ideas are beginning your trip with friends to get your bearings or if you have family overseas, start by seeing them and then going off on your own.

3. There are ups and downs of travelling alone.

I found that travelling on my own worked for me because I had complete control over what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I met so many people, travellers and locals that I wouldn’t have met if I was with a group of friends and it took me out of my comfort zone, I learnt to cook and I learnt to manage independently. There were no arguments or different viewpoints so I felt very free. The biggest downside was probably loneliness. I had times where I felt that even though I was always meeting people, I never really got to know anyone or have more than that “first” conversation. Thankfully many solo travellers were very understanding as they felt the same way sometimes.

4. It’s a good idea to look into doing a variety of different things

especially when going on a long trip. Everyone is different: I met someone who had just been backpacking for a year and she was loving it but I was completely burnt out after two months. That’s one reason I incorporated Workaway into my trip. Workaway is a website for volunteers that has so many amazing aspects. You can do a variety of different things such as working at hostels, on farms, with animals, nannying, etc. in a country that interests you. It is an incredible cultural exchange and you will learn about a different way of life, work skills or perhaps something you want to pursue in the future. You stay grounded for a few weeks up to a few months, and the people you work with become your friends (combatting one of the downsides I mentioned earlier) and teach you new skills. I have done two this year: one month in Croatia in the summer on a self-sustainable farm and an olive harvest in Spain. Without Workaway I don’t think I would have been able to travel for the length I did.

5. Dont rush.

This is something I wish I had read before I left. I was so excited in my first few months of Europe that I went from place to place every two or three days. It was completely exhausting and expensive. I would leave the hostel at 7am and not return until 10pm, trying to pack so much into my day that I ended up too tired to be amazed and astounded at what I was seeing. Rather than two or three nights in each place consider four or more nights, especially in bigger cities. This means that not only do you have more time to see anything at a slower pace, you also have time to relax, sometimes have a late night and be able to sleep all morning and connect with people properly.

6. Try not to overplan.

It is difficult to believe before you leave that it’s actually really easy to travel as you go and not book far in advance (depending on the season – in the middle of summer you need to book a little further in advance whereas off-peak seasons you can book a day or two in advance). I remember going through “Europe on a shoestring,” a fantastic Lonely Planet travel guide, freaking out because everything looked so beautiful and I didn’t know where I wanted to go or how to get from place to place or what to book. My parents told me to calm down and I would quickly figure it out while travelling, and I didn’t believe it at the time but it became very easy very quickly. I knew I wanted to do an anticlockwise loop around Europe (Western and Central) and that I was flying into Madrid and that was pretty much all. When I arrived in Madrid, I did some Internet searching, talked to other travellers about what they liked close by, found a 7-hour bus to Lisbon and that became my next stop and it went from there.

6. Hostelworld and GoEuro are your best friends.

Hostelworld is a really fantastic and easy to use app that you can use to book your hostels. You can read other people’s reviews, compare prices and see how close the hostels are to the center of town. Definitely read reviews and pay attention to the reviewers’ ages. In Europe I didn’t have much trouble but in Ireland I accidentally booked “homeless” hostels because I just booked the cheapest place rather than backpacker-friendly places. It is ALWAYS better to spend more money to be somewhere you feel safe and comfortable as if you don’t feel safe at your hostel, it really affects how you feel about the city or town you’re in. It’s also good to pay attention to different things the hostel offers: it could be a free breakfast, kitchen, a bar, right in the center or even a pool. Also treat yourself occasionally: go for a private room in a hostel or Airbnb (in Bosnia a private room and ensuite in a hostel was 18 euros) as sometimes you need some alone time and a good sleep after sharing a hostel room with 6 or more people for a month to get your spark back. GoEuro is a fantastic site to compare bus/train/flights to your next place. I generally used buses to get from place to place as it’s far cheaper, more comfortable and safer (I’ve heard some stories of things getting stolen on trains), also lots of buses have Internet, including Flixbus which was my favourite way to travel and has many connections and very, very cheap fares. SkyScanner is great for cheap flights (Ryanair is fantastic for budget flights, it cost me 20 euros to get from England to Ireland!).

7. Busabout and Interrailing

I looked into both of these before I went and decided they weren’t right for me. Interrail seems good for groups and smaller trips but it’s very expensive and both restrict your trip to certain destinations and I found it was just as easy to book buses as I went and I didn’t miss smaller towns that other travellers told me about along the way that I might not have been able to see otherwise. Busabout has many perks: they take you to lots of destinations and right to the front of hostels, good for solo and first-time travellers because you meet lots of people on the bus (mostly Australians apparently!) but it seems cheaper and in many ways easier to just travel as you go. I can’t say much more than that because I didn’t use either but I think it definitely depends on the individual person and it’s good to look into it.

8. Budgeting

I think I must have searched through so many sites about this and again it’s very much up to the individual. I can tell you that my budget was 50 euros a day and that was plenty. I mostly spent less unless I had a big night or a flight but it mostly evened out in the end to 50 euros. My budget meant I could stay in good hostels, go out for a meal once every couple of days, see all of the tourist attractions that cost money that I wanted to see and treat myself to delicious gelatos in Italy or a pint (or five) in a pub. At the start of my trip I was very tight with money but relaxed as I went. It’s always a good idea to find the places you want to go to in advance as most museums and galleries have certain times when they are free or reduced (IE the Prado in Madrid is generally free between 6-8pm) and many tourist attractions are reduced if you are a student and have a student ID or something showing you are a student (I had an email saying I had been accepted by my university). Time versus money is also something to bear in mind. I walked everywhere at the beginning of my trip which is a great way to see more of a city but also means you might run out of time to see all the things you really want to see! Public transport is generally very easy and super cheap, and if you search on Google maps from your current location to where you want to go, it will tell you the best route to use.

9. Food. Go out as much as your budget allows!

The food from each country is as much a part of your travelling as the attractions or people. Talk to other travellers and ask hostel staff to recommend their favourite restaurants. Do a quick Google search to see what the food specialities are in the city, country or region where you are. Go out of your comfort zone: try spiders in Cambodia and snails in Portugal – you might be surprised! It’s very easy to spend a minimal amount on food when you’re not eating out so you can treat yourself, and if you avoid tourist hotspots you can find cheap restaurants with delicious, authentic meals. When eating in, I found going on a big supermarket shop when I arrived in a new place the best way to go. Make sure you buy a variety of foods to keep you healthy and energised. I generally bought a cheap tub of yogurt and muesli for breakfast (if the hostel didn’t provide one), a baguette with some ham or cheese and veg for a packed lunch before I went out and then had simple meals to cook in the evening such as baked beans and potatoes, easy Mexican wraps, ingredients for pasta sauce, lentils. As long as you get some proteins, carbs, fruit and veg you’ll be alright (if you just live off pasta and rice, you’ll very quickly become tired and grumpy) and making something to go with them is really easy. Definitely try and find hostels with kitchens. Also I always forgot about sugar! It sounds weird but a gelato (delicious and only 1-2 euros) or something similar can really boost your body when you’re feeling a bit tired and sore.

10. Finally, packing.

The smaller the better. My backpack was approximately 10kg. I could take it on the plane with me and I haven’t even worn all the things in it. I also had a smaller day bag for a book, journal, water bottle (really important! go for a light, metal bottle that is at least 500ml so you stay hydrated especially in the heat – there are lots of places to fill up water and you sometimes have to pay for water in restaurants in Europe), wallet, phone, charger and a packed lunch. I’ve seen people with all sorts of unnecessary things, huge amounts of makeup, hairdryers and straighteners, big wheely bags which seemed to make travelling a lot more difficult (they’re fine for small trips but after a few months you will wish you hadn’t packed everything, especially as they might break or get stolen). A backpack/rucksack is the most efficient thing to have as it’s easy to carry around (remember those cobbled streets!) and easy to access and put in lockers in hostels. I also found dry bags or storing cubes are lifesavers so you can easily find different items of clothing without taking all your clothes out. A lock is really important as most hostels provide a locker but only some have locks and if you don’t want to carry your passport and valuables around with you then you can keep them safe at the hostel. Pack multiple bank cards and store them in different places (and some emergency money) so if one gets stolen you have access to money. Always know where your things are and keep your eyes on them (even when you go to the toilet!) because people do steal other people’s things and many people I’ve talked to have had things stolen from them. There are You can pack certain things which will Various things can You can pack certain things to help you save space: LUSH sells shampoo/conditioner bars which wash your hair well and are very compact and small and not liquid, a travel towel is very compact, plastic or dry bags for dirty clothes. Try not to pack special clothes/items because it’s very easy to leave them behind but pack lots of knickers and socks. A good way to save money on washing clothes is to wash knickers and socks in the sink with soap when they get dirty and just do a big wash when all of your clothes need it (check prices as some hostels are a ripoff for clothes washing compared to a laundromat).

I’m sure I could keep going on about different things to help you travel but you will find most of them out along the way and that’s one of the best things about travelling! You learn so much and do so many things from seeing Picasso’s Guernica in Spain to hiking the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia. You will meet amazing and like-minded people and experience different cultures and traditions. Things will definitely go wrong: I had all my valuables stolen in Cambodia, missed buses, had the weirdest of people in my hostel rooms, gotten bedbugs, been lost in a city with no phone and nowhere to sleep, you name it but you will learn from them and try not to freak out because you will be able to figure it out and from it you will learn how to deal with similar situations in the future. My parents call it “character building”. I promise you’ll laugh about it when it’s all over. My year of travelling has been the most incredible experience of my life and I definitely now have the travel bug. Seeing the world is one of the best things you can do and I would recommend it to anyone of any age.

This article was written by Hannah Robinson from Melbourne Australia when a snowstorm stopped the olive harvest in the south of Spain on the 11th December just before the end of the trip which will end with a family reunion in Australia.

Facts about Granada Spain

Alhambra Sierra Nevada
The Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada in the background

The average height of the city of Granada is  738 m. The population is about 240 000.  Granada was originally called Gárnata which could mean  “hill of strangers” in Arabic.  Granada is about 65km from the Mediteranean sea.  One of the nearest beaches is  at Salobreña which would take 55 minutes by car.  There is a ski station 35km from Granada in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  The Alpine World Ski Championships were held there in 1996.  There are 105 kms of alpine skiing runs.  It takes about 45 minutes to get from the centre of Granada to the ski station. The ski season normally lasts from the beginning of December until the end of April.  Andalusia has a very high proportion of sunny days even in the winter and usually there are beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures. It is possible to ski in the morning and sunbathe at the beach in the afternoon on the same day.

sierra_nevada
The Sierra Nevada Mountains. The hook at the top is veleta. The highest point is Mulhacen at 3,479 metres.

The most famous monument in Granada is the Alhambra and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Spain with about 3.2 million visitors per year. The Alhambra is a hilltop palace and fortress complex which combines fortifications,  gardens,  churches and several palaces. The name Alhambra comes from “red castle” in Arabic.  Construction started in the 9th century with a small fortress and then went on for many centuries. The first palaces were built in  1238   and  were home to many leaders such as caliphs, emirs, sultans, kings and their entourages .

The Moors invaded Spain in 711 AD and they ruled  for over  700  years,  at one time they ruled as far north as France.   The principal cities of Moorish culture were Toledo, Granada, and Seville.  Eventually the Christian rulers in Northern Spain recaptured Spain. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile recaptured Toledo. Cordoba fell in 1236, and one by one the Moorish strongholds surrendered. The last Moorish city, Granada, was captured by Ferdinand V and Isabella I in 1492. The last moorish ruler of Granada was Boabdil. The Alhambra was handed over to the Spanish monarchs on  2nd January 1492 without bloodshed and  Boabdil was allowed to leave peacfully. His family were given some land in the Alpujarra area of the Sierra Nevada. As he was leaving he sighed and looked  back in longing for his Granada palaces, his mother said to him “Weep like a woman over what you could not defend as a man.”

Sacromonte Alhambra
Photo taken from the Alhambra. On the left you can see the Albayzin and the Sacromonte.

At the time of the reconquest of Granada Christopher Columbus was looking for sponsors to fund exploration to discover the “New World”. The Spanish monarchs agreed and he went on to discover America.  There is a statue of Christopher Columbus kneeling before Queen Isabella at the end of the Gran Via de Colón in Granada. (his name in Spanish is Cristobal Colón).

Granada has hot dry summer and cool winters. In July and August the temperature is often over 40C. In 2017 several all time temperature records were broken.  On July 12 the temperature reached 45.7C.  Granada has a fairly low humidity so high temperatures are not as uncomfortable as they could be. In the winter frosts are not uncommon but if it is sunny the temperature can be warm enough to sit out in a “T” shirt, it cools down rapidly as soon as there is cloud.  November and December are the wettest months however the amount of rain can vary significantly from year to year and droughts are frequent.

The most interesting barrios (neighborhoods) in Granada are the Albayzin, the Sacromonte, Realejos and the central area around the cathedral.

Look at some fun facts about Granada

 

Travelling by volunteering. Workaway and Helpx

Travelling by volunteering.

How to Travel with little or no money?

It is not universally known that it is possible to travel for long periods of time with very little money by volunteering. Until about 2005 the main way of voluntering (except for working on a Kibutz in Israel) was called WOOFing or Working on Organic Farms. WOOFing existed pre-internet. Each country had a list of organic farms and both hosts and volunteers could find each other by subscribing to the newsletter or list of hosts. The information provided by the hosts was very basic and contained just a short description and contact details. Here is a link to the modern woofing site
The original idea was to get free board and lodging in return for a few hours work on the farm.

The volunteers Making Pizzas on a Farm
The volunteers Making Pizzas on a Farm

Around the year 2002 two new sites appeared which offered a much more modern user friendly system of putting volunteers and hosts together. They still exist and here are links. http://workway.info and http://helpx.net

The emphasis was no longer just on farm work, a host could offer any kind of work including childcare, hostal and hotel work, construction, house sitting, office work etc. Workaway suggests that there should be around 5 hours of work per day, five days per week in return to board and lodging. This is very flexible and the host can offer any combination of requirements.

Girls digging a pond.
Girls working hard.

By the way. Another thing to take into account is that volunteering could be an excellent way of learning a language. If you spend two months on a farm in France where there are no English speakers your French is going to improve a lot more than if you had spent a lot of money on a French course.

I have spoken to lots of people who have done this type of volunteer work all around the world. These sites offer a really good way of having interesting experiences without spending much or any money but it is not for everyone.

There are a very wide range of possibilities. On the one hand some places are commercial companies using volunteers as cheap labour in a cynical exploitation where they really ought to be paying people to the other extreme where the volunteers are pampered, given gourmet food and treated like welcome guests. Don’t get me wrong, I am not dividing them up into goodies and baddies. I have spoken to people have had a wonderful time being cynically exploited, for example, working in a backpacker’s hostal in a city centre or working in a large group on a farm where there is a good social life.

The moment people hear about workaway they immediately realise that they can get work done for free. This can atract the wrong people. The worst form of exploitation I have heard about is probably childcare, the minimum form of renumeration for childcare is aupairing where the childcarer is guaranteed at least a separate bedroom from the child and some time off. There are plenty of workaway hosts looking for gullible suckers to look after their children for free where it is necesary to share a bedroom with the child.

Collecting Goat manure
Collecting Goat manure

One thing to be aware of is that if you are doing volunteer work you have to take responibility for your own safety. Make sure that all ladders are in good condition, you wear safety glasses and don’t take any risks with machinery. Many people don’t know that concrete is very corrosive and if any gets into you boots it can cause serious burns.

A volunteering experience should be about a symbiosis between the host and the volunteer with both sides beleiving that they are getting a good deal. Many of the volunteer hosts are involved in some sort  of alternative lifestyle and you will often hear words such as permaculture, gardening, yoga, vegetarian, alternative building methods, spiritual, house renovation, solar power etc. There are also a lot of places offering accommodation such as bed and breakfasts who need help with the chores.

All of the websites showing host information show feedback left by previous workers so bad places will quickly be rooted out. If you are thinking of doing volunteer work this is the advice I would give. Read the information very thoroughly. Make sure that if you are a facebook junkie that the host has a good internet connection. If you don’t like being in the middle of nowhere choose a place near a town. Be very honest when you write your profile. Make sure you understand exactly how many hours per day and how many days per week you are expected to work and if you don’t agree don’t go there. Ask what you need to bring. If you are lazy and hate working don’t volunteer as a worker.

The rest of this post may contain advertising:

There is another site which I have found the other day.  It is for people looking for house sitters, some of them  have pets. Also homeowners can advertise their houses. It is worth a look. Click here for more information about house sitting.

If you like the idea and have a go at volunteering . Good Luck