If (like me) you’ve spent most of 2020 sat on the sofa, scrolling through old travel photos as if they are distant memories, then pour yourself a cuppa and get ready to get your groove back. This month’s
Workawayer of The Month is a ray of positivity, who after just a few minutes will inspire you that the future of travel is hopeful, exciting and well worth waiting for.
Gisela has been volunteering all over the world for many years, but an active member of Workaway for the last three.
From cocoa farms in the Caribbean to dog sitting in Colombia, her stories are guaranteed to motivate and inspire! She offers
words of wisdom for solo female travellers, aspiring chefs and those on the fence whether Workaway is for them.
Our conversation certainly brightened up my rainy day in Scotland, but regardless of where you are, I’m sure it will brighten up yours too.
Where are you based at the moment? And how are you finding it?
Well, at the moment I am based in Colombia, just north of Medellín. And how am I finding it? I am loving it. The weather’s just absolutely gorgeous. It's just like eternal spring - blue sky and sunshine every day. It rains at night and in the morning so it's so fresh and crisp. The weather's perfect. I love it.
Have you been based there for a while?
I have been based at this current place for two weeks. I am
house sitting at the moment, looking after a gorgeous place with five dogs.
You have been a member for Workaway for a few years now. Can I ask how you first discovered it?
It was actually only three years ago. I've been volunteering for many, many, many years but in those times, it was with WWOOFing and by word of mouth. I left Germany about three years ago and before I left, maybe a week before, I found out about Workaway on a travel blog. I think I read about it. Then, when I saw the website, I thought “Oh my God, that's it! That's exactly what I'm doing!” I joined straight away and have been active on it ever since. It's amazing.
There are so many possibilities. I love it.
Can you share a particular stand out Workaway experience? Perhaps there is one that you've learned something amazing from or is a particular highlight?
I choose all my Workaway experiences with things that really interest me and go for something that I specifically want to learn but there have definitely been a few highlights.
One of which would be my
Workaway in the Caribbean on the little island of Grenada, where I stayed on a
for three months. During my stay,
I learned every single step of the chocolate production from growing the cocoa beans to harvesting to fermenting to roasting them. Everything! They called it
tree to bar - every single step until you actually had a bar of chocolate in your hands. It was totally amazing!
And they were all really masters in their field which I loved as I have been working with chocolate for quite a few years in my career, so I really wanted to learn how to grow it as well and I certainly learned a lot.
What was really amazing, is the day I arrived there, the owner of the cow farm, he said to me,
“Well, while you are here, you can eat as much chocolate as you want.”
Oh my, this sounds like a dream Workaway. I would be filling up my backpack – chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Yes! It was really good quality dark chocolate, so you only needed a little. You wouldn't eat a whole bar but I ate a piece every day and fresh cocoa beans as well. This was definitely one of my highlights.
Although, another highlight with Workaway was an assistant to a
who was leading a crew from Europe.
They came over to South America with campervans to travel all of the Pan-Americana and I travelled with them for quite a while! I would help with translating at the borders etc. This was such an amazing experience as well. Totally amazing.
That sounds amazing. Travelling in a campervan is so much fun!
It was amazing. You know the best part was that all the special places were included, so I got to see all that as if I was on the guided tour. Many places where you really needed your own vehicle to reach, which I wouldn’t have had normally because I usually just travel with my backpack so this was really amazing - a wonderful experience!
All this talk of chocolate is making me hungry! Looking at your Workaway profile, there is a lot of amazing food pictures and you mention your career as a chef. I wondered if your Workaway experiences have helped you professionally, if you feel they have helped your career in some way?
Definitely, so one of my professions is a
raw food chef. This means,
I work professionally with food and I give courses to teach people how to prepare healthy raw food. I also work a lot with medicinal herbs, so a lot of times
I choose places where I can actually learn something about medicinal herbs or food. Food as your medicine as such. I specifically choose places where I can still extend my mind and learn something about either food, medicine or herbs. There are so many possibilities, I could just go on and on for years!
Food is a huge motivator for why I travel too - there are always new tastes we haven’t tried yet!
Ha! That is my next question. What would be your dream Workaway experience? Is there something that you've not done yet, but you would love to do?
I've got this list of priorities actually and on top of the list is to learn how to build a tiny house. I would really love to learn how to build a tiny home and there is actually a host on the Workaway website that offers that. He is in New Zealand and I really would love to go there and learn. It's a professional business where they build tiny homes for other people. Unfortunately, New Zealand is off-limits at the moment as you cannot enter, so I'm going to wait, but that's my next dream Workaway.
You mention New Zealand being off-limits at the moment and there are sadly lots of places which are off-limits because of the Covid-19 pandemic. How has Covid-19 affected your current travel plans? Have you come into a lot of difficulties because of it? Or are there ways it's going to affect your future travel plans?
Well, I entered Colombia in mid-February, and then in mid-March, the lockdown started so it’s something like almost seven months but I've been here all this time. I stayed at Workaway places the entire time, so I was lucky as I was out in the middle of nowhere in nature. I was not locked into an apartment or a big city like Bogota.
It wasn't actually possible to move around in Colombia for six months, but it didn't affect me that much because I was working outside with lovely Workaway hosts and had good company with likeminded people - and lovely work!
Since the 1st of September, it is now possible to travel in Colombia again, so let's see. I'm just in the process of trying to extend my visa for another three months and then I will plan where I want to go next. My plan was actually to go to Hawaii from here, and then on to New Zealand.
I have done a Workaway experience in Hawaii, you will love it!
Yes, at the moment, it is quite difficult to plan because things change all the time so I just go from day by day. Something always comes up.
Admittedly, I was a little surprised when you said Colombia, do you get that reaction quite often as a woman who is travelling solo? I think it has a lot of negative connotations about safety if you're travelling on your own. Can you share your experiences as a solo female traveller?
I've been travelling all my life as a single woman. And that's been totally fine. What I always do if I go to a new country is to ask the locals as they always tell you what you're not supposed to do - and then I just don't do it!
For example, I wouldn’t visit certain parts of Bogota at night but you know, Colombia, I think it's much, much safer than its reputation. The people are so friendly. Wherever I go here, I feel very safe.
I would say, use your common sense, ask the locals what you're not supposed to do. I have been travelling for so many years now, doing voluntary work etc and I have never had anything happen. I am totally fine and I always feel by travelling by myself I am much more open to meeting other travellers and to meeting locals. When you're in a crew or in a couple you tend to stick with your partner but when I'm by myself I am much more curious.
Do you know, South American women, they wouldn't really travel by themselves so I actually draw a lot of attention from other women, but not in a negative way, more that they are curious. They ask where my husband is, as it's something new for them to see and experience.
Do you have any words of encouragement if someone was undecided whether to try Workaway, or to travel solo for the first time?
I usually prefer long Workaways, like three months, sometimes even longer but definitely a minimum of a month. If you are new though, just do a couple of weeks and see what it feels like because you live with a Workaway family or in a community and it takes a little while to get used to.
It’s not for everybody, but if you open up, there's just so much to be learned - all around the world! There are so many amazing places and amazing people doing amazing work. The possibilities are never-ending where you could end up going and what what you could learn.
Do you have plans for the rest of your day or are you off to enjoy in the sunshine?
It's gorgeous countryside all around here so it’s perfect for walking. I've got five dogs to walk, so I go out walking for five, six hours every morning.
The locals all know me already, “The lady that works with the dogs.” They are very friendly, we enjoy a little chat here and there and they even offer fruit from their garden or offer to drive me into town if I need transport.
People are really amazing here.
Here at Workaway we agree, people really are amazing. Especially our hosts and Workawayers who despite age, nationality or background are all connected with a passion to learn, share and connect with others. It is this community spirit that not only keeps us inspired for future adventures but will get us through the final months of this crazy year!
While planes may be grounded and plans on hold, stories like Gisela’s motivate us more now than ever that it will be worth waiting for as one day, we too could be eating chocolate for breakfast on a cocoa farm in the Caribbean. ❤️