I’m back! After three weeks pretty much entirely without internet, and most of the time also without cell phone service, I am back. I missed you guys…and internet…
It was a great three weeks, but started out challenging me as a traveler. I had to go back to the basics. Whats the rule of traveling? (all together now…no? no one? Ugh, alright…) Be flexible. Well talk about practicing what you preach. Working in Puglia started with the most direct demand of flexibility I’ve ever encountered.
Remember how I wrote about heading off on an adventure to Work Away in the southern Italian region of Puglia? Well from essentially the first second I arrived, nothing went as planned. Now I don’t mean that in a ‘the whole world fell apart and it’s a miracle that I survived’ kind of way. More like, the second you think you’ve got it all planned out, the world will flip upside-down just for fun.
Arriving in the south was easy. Flew into Bari and hopped on a train from the airport into the central train station, made it to my hostel smoothly and for perhaps the first time ever, I didn’t get lost trying to find it! A fun night in the hostel meeting people from around the world, a quick sleep and the next morning it was an early morning train ride to Lecce. And that’s when things started to crumble a bit.
First thing first, I have a fun fact about Lecce, IT IS THE SURFACE OF THE SUN! I got off the train and was promptly greeted by 47 degrees Celsius (almost 120 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity so high if the heat wasn’t making your sweaty (then congrats you pure, divine, lucky human) you would be instantly drenched when you walked outside. I am not built for heat. Air conditioning? Yes. Winter? Sure. Heat? No. I am the sweatiest human, I think perhaps, ever. Remember Calabria, The Time We Spent Melting Away? Think of this as Part II.
Walking out of the station, seeing the bus I needed I ran (yes ran and felt quite faintish when I reached the bus) and asked the driver which stop I needed for the address I was looking for. Naturally he had no idea where the address I needed was. Neither did the four-other people I asked, but the nearby store owner suggested I just get on and track it with my phone (helpful, I hadn’t thought of that myself). So, I did and found a stop close-ish to my destination and hopped off.
Walking like a true millennial, nose to the phone map, it led me to an apartment structure. I found it interesting that an agricultural initiative would flourish in an apartment building, but who knows how life functions here on the surface of the sun, so I went with it. Looking through the bank of probably forty buzzers, none of them said my hosts name. (Great sign.) After bothering a few people with names that sounded like my hosts, I stressfully sent an email to the host, and walked around a bit, feeling delirious. Across the road I found the sign of the agricultural compound with my hosts name and a gate wide open, so I walked up the drive to find a building with four front doors. I could have sworn I was on some weird game show or seeing a mirage.
Guessing, buzzing and hoping, the door was answered by two confused Argentinians my age. Only able to communicate in Italian (they didn’t speak English), I soon found out my host had left for the day, and they were other workers with no idea who I was or that I was coming that day. They graciously let me sit inside with some water (the cacti outside were DYING for Lord’s sake, it’s a miracle I was still standing) and gave me the number of the host to call and inquire. She answered the phone completely confused, apologized, and told me to just relax as she would be home that evening. Hang out in a unairconditioned house with no internet and two people I don’t know and can’t really communicate with? Cool.
My host returned early evening and was incredibly sweet. Through a broken Italian conversation, she apologized saying that she had had a family emergency come up that past weekend and had completely forgotten I was coming (may I just add she had emailed to confirm five days earlier). Not only that but due to this emergency, she would have to go stay with family and would not be there for me to work. She offered me to stay at the house and just be on holiday, but given that the house was outside of Lecce with no real way of going into the city without a car and I didn’t know anyone, that didn’t really appeal to me. I left the stress for the next day and went out with my new friends from Argentina.
The next morning the Argentinians left for Rome, my host left to her family and I was alone in a big hot house in the middle of nowhere. I spent the morning on my phone sending emails (rather desperate emails) to every host in the Puglia region. All 104 of them. Well I attempted to, but around 75 I had sent so many emails in such a short time that the Work Away site blocked me as spam. So now I have sent 75+ emails still have no host and no way to respond to the couple people emailing me back. Frantically I sent an email to Work Away explaining the situation and begging them to reset my account right away. Four hours later I was live again.
Out of all those emails, I got messages back from 2 people that day. One said they could take me to babysit their son. Not exactly what I wanted, but it was a position. The second came a couple hours after, and was written with such compassion. Someone who was generally upset for my situation and wanted to help however she could. She knew she only had room for me for about a week, but would help find me a second place with one of her friends afterward. The email was written to me as a human, instead of simply a business contract between two parties. Needless to say, within a half hour I was locking the gate behind me and taking the bus to the train station.
I stayed with the first host for a week, during which I received an email from another host, again filled with compassion and kindness. They were able to take me for the last ten days. So I had planned to work for three weeks on an agricultural project in Lecce with a host that only spoke Italian to improve my language. In actuality, I spent three weeks doing renovation projects in Oria and Ceglie, with Brits (so I still basically learned a new language). Nothing like what I expected but it turned into an incredible experience.
There is another post coming tomorrow about my actual experiences in these two places, and my opinion/review on the Work Away program. However, I thought this was important to show that life doesn’t always go to plan on the road, and it can be really frustrating. I am not the worlds best traveler but I like to think I am pretty good at dealing with unexpected hiccups.
Nevertheless, there was something about this time that really threw me for a loop. I actually at one point wanted to ditch my booked flight to just go home right away. I was unhappy and discouraged, but knew that sitting alone in Bra for three weeks was worse than anything a change of plans could bring.
My sister says her favorite posts and stories are from when things don’t go to plan. Or as she says, “You are falling down marble stairs.” And maybe that’s the lesson, the best stories are unexpected. They are the ones that might hurt a little, or require laughing at our mistakes, but at the end of the day they make us proud of the bruises. Just when I start to forget, life reminds me to quit planning and just do it. You’ll find kindness in every corner of the world and if you’re lucky, make a few good stories along the way.
-The Very Hungry Traveler