What’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done? Go to a remote Greek island and work with endangered horses for three weeks.
It may sound like an attention-grabbing, click-baity title but it is actually what I did this summer! How did I even come across this amazing opportunity? A fascinating website called workaway.info, where people from around the world can post volunteer opportunities in exchange for room and board. There is such a huge variety of jobs on workaway, from working at surf hostels in the Canary Islands to helping on sustainable farms in Thailand, that it can be a bit overwhelming at first.
In looking for my own perfect opportunity for this summer I had two goals: Live someplace cheap that’s near a large body of water. I am an Auxiliar de Conversacion (English Assistant) in Madrid, Spain which means two things: I don’t get paid for three months of the year and I live in a city that can get to upwards of 45℃/ 113℉ in the summer. Anyone who knows me knows that anything over 25℃/ 77℉ is too hot so there is NO WAY I can live in Madrid during the summer. I had searched through dozens upon dozens of different opportunities on workaway when I came across one that made me get all up in my feelings; working on an endangered horse ranch with some of the most docile horses on Earth. If that doesn’t pull on your heartstrings I don’t know what would. It is on the island of Skyros (an island that even some Greeks don’t know about) and the work consists of feeding the horses, cleaning up their poo and taking them on mini tours with small children. It is an island with pristine beaches in every direction and authentic Greek culture. How could I say no?
So my friend Dana and I packed up our bags and after planes, buses and ferries arrived at Skyros. This was my first time in Greece and I had spent the previous few days in the relatively populous cities of Athens and Santorini, so this island of only 4,000 people was truly a spectacle! It was NEVER busy or crowded anywhere, even though this is Greece’s busiest time of year. I could only imagine how deserted the island looks in, say, November. As soon as we arrived, Dana and I met another volunteer, Rosie, and the three of us were inseparable from that point forward.
Sharing the property with the ranch is a breathtakingly-beautiful open-air restaurant where the leafy branches of olive trees act like a roof. Twice a day we ate our meals there and it never ceased to strike me as absolutely beautiful.
At the ranch I worked with from anywhere between 15 people to 30 people depending on how many volunteers were there at any one time. The dynamic was a bit overwhelming at times but yet wonderful since I got a chance to meet people from all over the world! I even got the chance to practice my Spanish (un pocito.) Every day I had the chance to bond with new people in a different way. It really felt like summer camp where kids go and they make their best friends for life. Everyone I met was very charismatic and kind.
On the other hand, it wasn’t all grooming ponies and making lasting friendships. The ranch was a little too laid back, to its detriment. When I first arrived there wasn’t any “orientation” to speak of so important information like “this is where you will sleep,” “don’t drink from that hose,” or “meals are typically two hours late,” weren’t provided. When taken all together it lead to a very frustrating experience. The lack of communication definitely affects the mood of the whole camp and people don’t feel as if the ranch is holding up it’s side of the bargain. We were all volunteers, i.e. people that paid money to come to a remote Greek island and tend to horses for three weeks. The lack of gratitude and communication definitely put a damper on the experience.
The island is a weird size; too small to have any reliable public transport but too big to walk anywhere so all of us volunteers had to rely on the generosity of the locals and vacationers for hitching rides. My analytical brain figured out the ideal number for hitchhiking (2 people) and who to travel with (male and female). Some days we were lucky and a truck would pull up right outside the ranch and haul 9 of us straight to the beach. Other days it was an exercise in keeping your spirits high and hoping for a ride all the way up to where you could smell the sea. It was an experience I’m glad I can reflect on; I do not necessarily ever want to do it again
One rainy day in Skyros I was walking with friends in town when we found a baby kitten in the middle of the road. We didn’t know what to do so we scooped her up and took her to the local vet. The vet said she only had about a 5% chance of living through the night but we weren’t going to give up! We took her back to camp and everyone, being the animal lovers they are, welcomed Shadow (yes, we named her on the spot) as part of the team. Shadow did in fact make it through the night and for the next week and a half she was an active, exploring (and sometime annoying) kitten. Since we didn’t want to just set her free again we found a lovely cat and dog rescue on the island. The owner still sends us pictures of Shadow and all her new friends.
I never thought that three weeks could ever feel so long. Looking back, it feels more like three months. Everyday was bittersweet; new volunteers would join the team while some whom I had gotten to know would leave. I honestly feel as if I made lifelong friendships at the camp and I now know that I want to do more to protect animals and experience other workaway opportunities as well! Good thing I’m off to my next one as I type this post…