We departed Gythio on a beautiful morning and Keith’s birthday. This, of course, warranted Keith to sing ‘Because I’m 46’ repeatedly to the tune of the recent Pharrell Williams smash hit, “Happy”. Pharrell Williams features in our lives a lot these days. I bought Keith a fridge magnet of Gythio, a spoon made out of olive wood and some Greek cakes for his birthday. I didn’t bring them from England with me, although that would have been an amazing coincidence if I had. This is the ‘music’ advertised by the hotel. It doesn’t work. I wonder what would have come out of it if it did. Probably not Pharrell Williams.
Our journey to our work exchange hosts took us across the Mani Peninsula and up the coast. It was absolutely beautiful. I did many wees in many glorious locations.
We stopped at Stoupa for a banana and opened the car door to the smell of olive oil. This is a little proper holiday resort, but pretty low key. The fruit and veg stall lady was English and so were her customers. All of the restaurant menus didn’t even bother having Greek versions; just English. The place was deserted today but I imagine it being different in the summer with all those Greeks not being able to understand what to order for their dinner. Nightmare.
I am generally fascinated by people’s stories and life choices and wonder how the hell you end up selling fruit and veg in a Greek village. I suppose there are worse places to sell fruit and veg, like at a Pharrell Williams gig, perhaps. I’m just guessing here; there might be quite a market for it.
The landscape along this part of Greece is completely unexpected. I thought it would be flat, scrubby with a goat or two. Not so. Look at this.
As it was Keith’s birthday, we really pushed the boat out and had a mountain top picnic of day old bread and cream cheese. We can’t believe our luck to be here doing this. Sorry, not ‘luck’: ‘meticulous planning’. Either way, it’s not a bad place to be 46. For 16 days each year Keith and I are the same age before I surge ahead a year and get to have a toyboy again while he gets a cougar. For the next 16 days, however we have to suffer being a weird sort of twins. Happens every year.
Our home for the next 12 days is here, just outside the small fishing port of Kyparissia. There is blue sea on one side and high mountains behind. We’re staying with Rod and Bernadette, originally from the UK, who live here all year round. They rent out a cabin in their grounds to holiday guests and also take work exchange helpers like us to give them a hand with jobs around their home and land in exchange for accommodation and meals. These are organised through sites such as Workaway and HelpX where both hosts and helpers pay a subscription to belong to a database and find hosts/helpers all over the world. It is a brilliant system. Helpers review hosts (and vice versa) so it’s easy to see who is fair and good and who is a slave driver and makes you live on plastic cheese. Rod and Bernadette come with glowing reviews of terrible jokes (Rod) and fantastic cooking (Bernadette). It transpires that these reviews are entirely accurate in both cases.
This is not quite our first experience of this type of thing as we went WWOOFing a couple of years ago, but it is our first overseas adventure. Given our natural temperament (being highly intolerant of almost everyone on the planet), this is a stretch of our capabilities over a long period, but I figure it’s good for us to step out of our comfort zone and anyway, we need to learn some useful shit for our new house and land in Portugal.
The view from our room is not bad for a start. Sadly, with temperatures reaching – 3C, we’re not going anywhere near that pool this week.
Our first job for the first few days is to prune around 40 olive trees. This task has more responsibility than I would usually welcome, given that Rod and Bernadette’s entire annual olive oil supply rests on these trees. Fortunately, their knowledge of olive tree care is marginally smaller than mine – I have pruned Keith’s trees once in the past (this is not a euphemism) and have flicked through a book on the subject, therefore rendering me the resident ‘expert’.
This photo is not posed at all. This is the required facial expression for olive pruning. I read it in a book.
Olive pruning may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but these days up trees have been completely fabulous. I am definitely a person not designed to be indoors – fake lighting, heating and screens (TV, computer) just make me feel ill. Outdoors is where I need to be: no headache, no backache, not even needing to wear my tinted lenses for tics and light sensitivity. Burning calories, warding off high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and dwindling kidneys. And we’re not even paying for the privilege (apart from the flight and a hire car), it’s costing us nothing: good food, amazing location and a lovely place to stay – and they let us piss about with their trees. What’s not to like?
We have also been shovelling stones and mud and Keith has being more manly than at any other time in his life (this is not difficult as he’s been behind a computer and making tea for most of it). I am usually quite manly so not much change for me here. He is so happy. We’re so happy. It’s January and we’re outdoors all day in the (chilly) sunshine.
Bernadette stoking the fire burning all the olive prunings. This is properly ‘The Life’.
So far so good with our work exchange. Extremely chuffed at our amazing ability to get on with people, even ones who tell terrible jokes. We’re quite the social butterflies you know: pretty and with a very short life-span? It seems that without all of the environmental stressors of normal life; there is enough capacity for the people stuff in the coffers.
Apparently, we live somewhere other than here, but we can’t quite remember where that is, or in fact, why.