After two wonderful volunteering experiences in Turkey, we were keen to find some volunteering opportunities in Georgia. Staying and working with locals gives a real insight into countries’ or regions’ cultures and is by far the best way to travel if you have the time.
We had been travelling for nearly two months and were desperate to stop and refuel somewhere. For a long time we had not been in the same place for more than two days and had not washed our clothes in weeks! What we were really craving though was a real taste of Georgia. Having visited various towns and cities in Georgia, we still didn’t feel like we understood this mysterious place. We had so far met very few Georgians, particularly due to the language barrier and the lack of couchsurfing offers. Compared with Turkey, we still felt out of place and unsure how to feel about the country and how to connect one-to-one with the Georgian people.
Consequently, we decided we to dive in head forward and applied for all the WWOOFing and helpx offers available, of which there were very few and with very little description. Only one host got back to us; a polish guesthouse and winery in the South Eastern region of Khakheti, in the little rural town of Sighnaghi renowned for its wine. With no idea what our jobs would be, only that we would be sleeping in a tent, we hopped on a marshutky (minibus) and delved into one of Georgia’s most beautiful regions.
As the bus entered Sighnaghi we started to relax and knew that no matter what the WWOOFing was like, the amazing landscape would be enough to keep us happy! Sighnaghi is a hilltop town overlooking the Alazani valley and the faraway Caucasus. The handsome houses are tall and red bricked, with elegant balconies and everything is drapped with grape vines.
We were warmly welcomed by our WWOOF hosts, an eccentric Polish couple, a photographer and food stylist. We were immediately presented with homemade wine and ‘chacha’ (Georgian vodka). Our first evening was spent relaxing in the garden, drinking and watching the sun go down over the valley. Hard work! It was dark by the time we remembered to put up our tent for the night. Our host set about helping us, comically drapped in fairy lights. After a few trip-ups and many laughs we eventually succeed at assembling our slightly wobbly accomodation for the next few days!
Our time in the dreamy town of Sighnaghi flew by and every day was different. At the beginning of our stay we were involved in wine tours, tasting events and hosting guests. Our host is renowned for his delicious wine but also for his amazing hospitality and great parties. We helped him cook, learning various traditional recipes, improving our chopping skills, all the whilst drinking too much wine!
On other days we simply helped out with the guests and worked in the garden. We were soon to realise the downside of owning many many fruit trees…you could spend hours picking up buckets full of rotten fruit and the next day awake to find just as many on the ground once more! A never ending task!
We were treated like family here and had plenty of time to visit the nearby sites such as the renowned Bodbe Monastery where St. Nino was buried. Other daily outings included visits to the maker of wine barrels, and to the roadside beer dispenser! Everyday we were involved in the family’s daily routines and had constant contact with the locals. And this is exactly what we were looking for! After our time here we finally had a sense of Georgian lifestyle, what its like to live and work here; the daily ups and downs.
A particular highlight of our stay in Sighnaghi was an evening stroll to the local cemetery. Yes, to the cemetery! In Georgia it is of tradition to celebrate and commemorate the dead by coming to the graveyard with wine and a picnic, to toast and recall fond memories of the deceased. As such, Georgian cemeteries are conveniently dotted with picnic benches! On a warm sunny evening, we sat drinking wine, grazing on Georgian cheese and toasting to life and new beginnings. We had a breathtaking view of the valley and the plains of Khaketi; at that moment we couldn’t have been happier, realising our luck and never wanting our trip to end!
This volunteering experience was different to the previous. Although we didn’t do anything weird or wonderful, the mere simplicity of living like a local and being part of a family was all we could ask for. We have come to realise the difference between this type of travelling and simple tourism or holidays.
There were days here where we simply woke up, bought the daily necessities at the market, the bread from the bakers, and spent the day helping around the house. We could have otherwise been actively touring each and every corner of Georgia – every sacred site and monestary, every mountain – but that isn’t quite what we are looking for. Our current way of exploring the world lets us momentarily wear someone else’s shoes and perceive things in a variety of ways. We have found ourselves walking into the houses of strangers, people we would never meet in our normal lives, and leave with new friends and skills, that we hope to take with us and impact upon our future lives.
Wwoofing or volunteering whilst travelling is something we definitely recommend. It’s not always easy and can at times be tiring and stressful, but that’s all part of the experience. If it’s a holiday you’re looking for, then perhaps it’s best you stay away from Wwoofing. But if it’s people you want to meet, cultures you want to get a taste of, experiences and skills you want to share and exchange, then this is probably ideal for you. What’s more, you save a shed loads of money and get way more in return! If you’re interested in doing something similar, these are the sites we use: Wwoof.net, helpx and Work Away.
We finally left Georgia feeling like we had succeeded in achieving our aim to get a flavour of the Georgian lifestyle. Moving onto Armenia we hope to do the same, but with even less Wwoofing opportunities we are tempted to immerse ourselves in the culture in a slightly different, perhaps more traditional method; hitchhiking. Watch this space…
Have you any experience of Wwoofing? What did you think of your experience? Do you have any questions to ask? Please comment below and remember to like and share. For more photos visit our Flickr page.