Volunteering in Aragon, Spain

The landscape in north east Spain is amazing. Rolling hills and mountains, olive, peach and orange orchards, almond trees, terraces and those pine trees that makes me think of the Roman Empire. The villages we passed by are all at least from medieval times, and the houses are built on top of each other, it reminds me of Italy, except the Spanish villages have slightly broader streets.

Mas del Encanto

We left Barcelona on a bus towards Calaceite located in Mattaranya, Aragon. Our host Sandrine from Flemish Belgium picked us up and drove us to our final destination, a property between the villages of Lledo and Crétas. There, we are welcomed by Jabba the dog, Jinx the dog and Axel, from the Netherlands, our other host.

The house

Their beautiful, off-grid house is built with two stories. The upper floor is Axel and Sandrine’s and the lower has two and a half bedroom and a kitchen/ living room with an isle connecting the two, and is usually used by guests of their bead and breakfast. They have a small house a little down the road in which they also host guests, or workawayers. At this time, they had no guests on the lower floor so me and August enjoyed a beautiful bedroom with a view of the mountains that separate us from the sea. This might be the nicest accommodation we’ve had since we left Pakistan in the beginning of October last year. The land consists of a vegetable garden, almond and olive trees and an enclosure for the alpacas. They have their own deep well and solar panels.

pacaaaas!


At this time, it was all pretty dry, but not desert-dry. The trees around us were green, even if the grass had turned yellow. And the best part was the weather. It was too warm to be outside midday. This amazing weather is not usual for this region in October, and people were a bit concerned that there hadn’t been any rain so far. But for us it was just great!

Swinging from an olive tree

Workaway

So the deal with workaway is that someone who wants to volunteer anywhere in the world find a host via the site www.workaway.info. A host is someone in need of help with a project, specific help or specialized help (like carpentry, media etc), or general help, like babysitting, or general maintenance. The host usually offers food and housing in return for five hours of work, five days a week. The number of hours can vary depending on the work and the host, but five hours a day is the norm. The best thing about volunteering is the knowledge you acquire, may it be a skill, a language, or cultural knowledge. What I like so much about doing volunteering is that you get to live with normal people and you become a guest in someone’s life. You get to be a part of the community in which your host is located and learn about the area through someone permanently based there. If you visit a place and live in a hostel or hotel, at least I feel like more of a tourist, and your activities are restrained to those for tourists. Via workaway we have seen places we never would have seen, and experienced things that “regular” tourists rarely do. You can read about other experiences we have had through Workaway in our Sapna Ranch Post

The work

The work we did at Mas del Encanto was to manage the land. The first days we harvested almonds. Without machines, the way to do it is to place two nets under the tree and hit the tree with sticks to make the almonds fall into the net. Once all almonds have been caught, the nets are folded and the almonds are collected into buckets. We also sorted almonds for countless hours, a job that I quite enjoyed, taking away the non-eatable outer shell of the almond, and throwing away bad ones, branches and leaves. Axel and Sandrine sold the almonds to la Cooperativa, a cooperative that gathered the fruits from the area to sell it for a better price to retailers.

The second thing we did was to prune the olive trees and prepare them for the harvest. Olives are harvested manually in the same way as almonds, with the nets underneath. We cleared the ground under the trees with a weed-whacker and a small hand saw, taking away wild asparagus and wild rosemary which grows in huge bushes. The asparagus plant is quite nasty, with sharp spikes ripping at our skin and clothes.  

August and Jabba the dog

Third thing we did was to clear out the Bodega-to-be. Under the house, Axel and Sandrine are planning to create a bodega to make their own wine and beer. They had collected loads of stuff in this space and we took it all out, and together we sorted what should be thrown out and what should remain.

One day we cut wood for the fireplace. Almond wood is quite hard so it took a lot of effort and a HUGE axe to split the logs. Even with a chainsaw it took a long time.

The second week they expected massive rains in this region, and in past years, these rains has destroyed terraces and roads, so we were assigned to dig trenches to lead the water away from important infrastructure. The soil was quite dry and very hard to dig in, but both of us enjoy working with soil, so this was a fun task!

Sunset

Our schedule started at 9. We got to cook our own breakfast, so we got up with the sun at 7:30 to do yoga and then ate at 8 am. We worked until 11 when we had a break, and the day finished at 2 pm. At this time, we were starving, not yet used to the Spanish lifestyle with a late lunch.

We had two days off per week. These days we didn’t do much, reading, painting, walking around the beautiful area…

Me and Jabba going for a run

Cultural exchange

One part that is promised when workawaying is cultural exchange. And we got a lot of it, even though we stayed with northern Europeans. On one of the first days already, Axel took us to a dance party in the village of Crétas. In this village they have two bars, so we started with a beer and then went to the communal house, where they had a DJ. Outside they had radio-cars and of course we gave them a go! In this area of Mattaranya, there are many international people which have settled. Loads of people from the Netherlands and Belgium, but also from the UK, France, USA and we even met one woman from India. They have moved there because of cheap property, to escape the excessive control of their respective governments or for the weather. This area and the state of Catalonia was (and is) strongholds for the Anarchist movement, and these ideas of no authority are still strong in this region. At this party we met some of Axel and Sandrine’s friends, the crowd was very mixed. From teenagers to their grandparents. People we dancing regardless of age and we had an amazing time. They sold mojitos for 2 euros a cup!

Another time we went into Crétas for their annual Fiesta de Fuego, the fire festival, where the locals dance with the fire devil and drink aqua diente (home made liquor).  This was by far the most interesting experience we had during our Euro trip. It all started with a fire show with both fire jugglers and lots of firecrackers and fireworks. There was a marching band, playing medieval music on flutes and drums. The whole village had gathered in front of the church, where, to the medieval tunes, people dressed in joker-like devil costumes climbed out of the church tower down to the ground. Then the whole equipage danced through the village, following the very creative fire devil’s dance and the marching band. One would run up to a fire devil and dance under the sparks from a firecracker. At one point there was a devil on a small bike, with sparks flying all around. Axel had warned us not to wear sensitive clothes because they were sure to get burned! And they did. At the end of the village was the grand finale with fireworks and more dancing. I don’t’ know if any of you love fire as much as I do, but there were really a “devil-vibe” going around, with fire glimmering in everyone’s eyes, old and young. People of all ages participated in this very old tradition. It was amazing.

I cannot talk about this area without mentioning the wine. Almost everyone had their own bodega, where they made delicious wine that cost nothing! I think I bought five liters of wine for under five euros! If we didn’t have so much luggage I would have stored up on this delicious wine and brought home buckets of it!

Fuck you money

We had an amazing time with Axel and Sandrine and many good conversations. Axel’s main tip for anyone who wants to leave the system and go off-grid is to work for corporate for a few years, to get the “fuck-you money” to be able to live a nice life away from your society of choice.

Sandrine, August and Axel

Thank you so much Sandrine and Axel for feeding us and housing us and teaching us some loco Spanish ways! ❤

The reason why so many foreigners live in this area, and other areas in Spain, is because during Franco’s reign, he wanted everyone to live inside the villages, in order to have more control. This left many fincas and farms outside the villages empty, and the mentality that it’s not good, or even dangerous to live on the countryside persisted until this day. So there is lots of vacant land for cheap money.

Axel drove us to the town of Valderrobres to catch a bus to Zaragoza, and from there to Madrid. We spent  10 days in Madrid where we met our very good friend Jonas who moved there over a year ago to start his own business. We also met friends we made in Pai, Thailand, and it was amazing. We were lucky with the weather. Since Madrid is a usual tourist destination, I don’t want to make a separate post about is so here are some photos:

Lots of Love

Linnea & August ❤

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