Long term traveling has it’s ups and downs. For the most part, it’s eye-opening, mind-expanding and an overall delight to the senses. There are also moments when circumstances are stacked against us, and it can be a real challenge to move through them. Then there are those mundane periods that rarely I write about, because they’re boring… waiting for a bus, riding a bus for several hours, waiting till it’s time to check in, blah, blah, blah. And these are all part of the traveler’s gig.
One thing for sure that separates a traveler’s life from “regular life”, is this ability to pick up and change scenes on a dime. If someone or something isn’t working for us in a certain place, then we can simply remove ourselves from that scene and beat it on down the line. Problem solved. When we have a home and a job and we’re locked into some sort of life routine, it’s much more difficult to just remove ourselves from undesirable situations. We have to navigate those challenging waters with others in order to achieve harmony in our life, and for most of us humans, that’s a full time job. For me, this seems to be one of the key differences between my life now, and my life before we started traveling. Of course Haruka and I have to consciously work at maintaining our own harmony, but that’s always come quite naturally to us, I feel. The travelers life, for all of it’s virtues, can sometimes lose connection with that aspect of life that involves developing meaningful human relationships, which is a void that we’ve found can be at least somewhat filled by workaway experiences.
Our latest workaway experience came in the northwestern region of Croatia known as Istra, near the city of Pula. Most workaways have a homestay feeling about them, but this one in particular made us feel that we were part of this family for the 2 weeks that we stayed there. Very quickly we became quite close with Zoran and especially his wife, Suzi and their five year old son, Pero. Suzi also has a teenage daughter and teenage son that more or less kept to themselves, as teenagers tend to do.
Zoran is in the midst of building an addition to their home, so on the weekends, we would help him with various building projects like constructing ceilings and walls for the new structure. He has a day job working as a driver at the Pula airport, so during the week we were given the freedom to work on our own projects at our own pace which was great for us. Haruka’s big project was to restore an old door, which basically involved lots of paint stripping and sanding. She quite enjoys getting into a zen space and focusing on a detailed project like that. My main project was to design and build a compost toilet using an old space capsule-type object that Zoran had scored somewhere, and Haruka also helped me out with that.
The compost toilet, which I’ve dubbed ‘The Space Crapsule’, is essentially a big hole in the ground covered by a floor, which is one side of a large industrial spool. The capsule covers the whole setup, and a sliding shower curtain gives the pooper a nice sense of privacy. There is a hole in the floor for poo to drop through that gets covered when not in use. I crafted a “squatty potty”-style chair that is ergonomically designed to give one the perfect poo experience. Click the link for a hilariously informative laugh! In addition to the hole in the chair for #2, there’s also a urine catch basin strategically located at the front of the chair which sends pee away from the poo, via a tube that directs all of the urine into a bucket behind the space crapsule. Separating the pee from the poo keeps the whole place from stinking to high heaven, and sprinkling sawdust over the poo after each use also keeps things from getting smelly. The pee is the stinkiest part of the equation, so it’s stored in a covered bucket outside the crapsule, and when it fills up, the pee can be poured around the bases of fruit trees on the property to give them a nice nitrogen boost. Once the pit fills up after a year or so, the Space Crapsule can be moved to cover another pit somewhere else on the property, and a tree can be planted in the spot with all of the rich humanure.
While the work aspect of this homestay was rewarding, the leisure time that we spent with this family is what really made our time there so special. They primarily eat a raw, vegan diet, and even though Suzi doesn’t eat a wide variety of food herself, she is a true master in the kitchen, and she’s always inventing new ways to create super delicious fruit and veggie meals. While her focus was on raw foods, she often prepared soups and pasta dishes for us as well. When we weren’t eating, sleeping or working, it was all about beach time for this family. They literally took us to the beach every day that we were there. This typically meant spending several hours from mid-afternoon until sunset to swim, siesta and take in the stunning beauty of the Croatian seaside. The beach they frequent is a gorgeous rocky beach with relatively few visitors, and most of them are locals rather than tourists.
Our times spent sharing meals and luxuriating by the sea gave us ample opportunities to delve in deep on many different real-life subjects with this family, who all speak very good English. Even 5-year-old Pero speaks better English than many of the adults we’ve met in our travels! It is this chance to connect on a deeper level with people that gives a workawayer a different opportunity to experience “real life” in a way that often gets glossed over when immersed in travel life. Out of respect for this beautiful family, I’ll refrain from giving any details, but suffice it to say that they have their fair share of very difficult family challenges. Nothing criminal or horrific or anything like that. Just very real-life, common problems that families face wherever you are in the world. Things that may not always be pleasant but things that we as humans have to work through in life, and it felt very real to have some contact with that aspect of life, and to serve as a sounding board for these very special people. It was a blessing for us, and hopefully for them on some level as well.
Workaway also puts you in a position of being in community with other workawayers in close quarters for longer periods of time than we typically get when we’re just traveling along. And even though these periods of community are significantly shorter than what we had before we started traveling, we still have to deal with different personalities and put some effort into maintaining harmony.
During this particular workaway, we were sharing the space with a couple from Spain, who for the most part, was very lovely. There was however, one instance where they scolded me very hard after seeing a photo of a rock tower that I had constructed at the beach one day. Their aggressive contention was that rock towers are environmentally disastrous because they change the environment and can lead to erosion. In my particular case, I used rocks that were just lying on top of other rocks, and didn’t use any stones that were in direct contact with soil, and after I had my fun, I made sure that the tall tower was fully toppled over (Tibetan Mandala-style on a MUCH smaller scale) so that no one would get hurt by falling stones. While I didn’t then, and still don’t agree with them that stone towers are one of the great ecological concerns on the planet these days (probably much less than their own chain-smoking habit), we all were able to respect each other’s position and let the issue go after a bit of intense arguing. This incident probably served to show that the four of us are not compatible as great friends into the future, but we were able to quell our emotions and find a way to maintain harmony for the next week of our time together, which for me was a very valuable lesson.
As I write this, we’re back on the road, staying in spots for 3 – 4 days at a time, which is wonderful, as we go back into that ever-changing kaliedescope of views, food, people and experiences. I do however look forward to that next chance to slow things down a bit and get that deeper glance into how people live amongst each other. After all, it is this collective reality that we weave together as members of the human community that makes humanity what it truly is. Traveling affords us the ability to witness this multilayered tapestry from many different cultural and geographic angles, and for that, Haruka and I are so very grateful!