When you arrive to a WWOOFing farm you are not really sure what to expect. Yes, there is a brief description and you have the ability to communicate with your host prior to arrival to work out logistics and answer burning questions, but unlike Couch Surfing there are no reviews or recommendations.
In WWOOF Italia you receive a document with a two hundred word or less description of the farm, your living situation, your hosts, your duties as a wwoofer and a grab-bag of other detail- like if they allow smokers, how many pets they have, if they eat meat, what kind of languages they speak. Needless to say, there is a lot of space to make assumptions and fill in the gaps with expectations.
We do not really mind the perceived primitiveness of a word document over a fancy website with photos, short and long descriptions, search features, ratings, testimonials and what not. This may be a helpful way to get a better idea of where you are going but it does not stop the issues of assumptions and expectations, in fact it can make it worse. Maybe the farms with the highest ratings will be the only ones that get wwoofers or the large farms with internet and websites will win out over the small family farms that only have a land-line phone. We like the idea that every farm can be drastically different and that you never really know what will happen.
So when we contacted Fuedo Tudia after our first farm in Sicilia canceled and then fled from Gianpaulo’s ,we did ask a lot more basic questions- like why do they like to participate in wwoofing and do we eat meals together? But apart from that we tried to keep an open mind about what our next farm was all about.
We were a little concerned at first because although Gila and Sudhir (our wwoofing hosts) were prompt and thorough to our wwoofing request, they never confirmed our arrival date, November 24th. We had already extended our stay in Catania an extra few days and wanted to make it to Tudia before Thanksgiving. We still had not heard anything and every time we tried to call the phone was always busy. In the end, we decided to just show up and see what happens.
At the eleventh hour, Gila called to say that is was fine if we came on the 24th but it would really be better if we waited until the 26th as they would be away from the farm until then. She explained that the only people at the farm did not speak English or manage wwoofers so we may feel a little lost without them there. We decided to take our chances and arrive on the 24th anyways.
We took the train (which is notoriously slow and disconnected in Sicila) from Catania to Caltanissetta Xirbi and waited for our train to Villalba (the nearest town with a station). While waiting for our connection, we received a call from Nicola (coworker at Tudia) to confirm our arrival and that he would pick us up- all in Italian. When our train finally arrived for Villalba it was the smallest train we had ever seen…only one car and it was barely moving. It was then we realized that we were really venturing into the country.
Nicola is a charming man, think perfect father: calm, patient, thoughtful and protective. He speaks Italian, German and French and so our first two days in Tudia we only spoke and heard Italian. We learned that Nicola has his own small orange farm near the south of Sicilia and has been helping run Tudia for 20 years. He oversees business and the land. He also does not manage the wwoofers and therefore couldn’t really explain our typical day, what time we should eat and if other wwoofers were coming. When we arrived we were the only woofers but the description of Tudia said they could house up to 10 woofers in a separate wwoofing house down the road.
Our first two days were spent cleaning that house which looked as if it had not seen people in many months. There was a dead mouse on the floor and white insulation everywhere. The fridge was also very moldy. We rolled up our sleeves and got to work (Gila explained that they took a few months off of having wwoofers, this being their first year hosting, and our first day should be spent cleaning). We listened to the same five songs over and over again on MTV Italia (Shikira’s Loca (which apparently is not popular in the US), Rhianna, some Italian ballads and Robbie Williams) as we scrubbed the house clean.
The next day we were going to sleep in until we heard a knock on the door at 8:00 and Nicola calling for “Dani” which is what he calls me. (Not sure how that came about but probably easier than explaining my real name which can be an awkward conversation in Italian. Gabriela No Gabriele…Como masculino…you are man? No no solo me nomme…. Anyways, I was now Dani.
I got out of bed and answered the door to find Nicola and two other German wwoofers. Oh okay, so there are now more wwoofers, no problem…good thing we cleaned the other rooms in the wwoof casa…. well except for the really big one.
The wwoof house had a kitchen, four bathrooms and four bedrooms. Lear and I occupied the smallest one with a working heater (we arrived first so we got lucky) and then there were two other small rooms and one giant room. Unfortunately, the German couple got the short end of the stick and moved into the uncleaned giant room. That afternoon Gila and Sudhir arrived and explained a lot!
This is a summary of what we know about Tudia:
Gila’s mother had taken care of Tudia independently until the year before, when her failing heath got in the way of running the land and the business, Sudhir then moved back with Gila to take care of the farm. Sudhir’s family owns a lot of land and has crops in pistachios, olives, wine grapes and almonds. There is also a large restaurant and hotel that is very busy in the summer, but slow in the off season.
Here is Tudia’s website: http://www.tudia.it/
and their blog.
Gila and Sudhir started hosting wwoofers the year before because they like the idea of wwoofing. Both Gila and Sudhir have lived in communities and like the idea that each person contributes what they can to live together in a shared life and space. Their idea is to eventually build a community in Sicilia. They follow Osha and believe in mediation and sometimes hold seminars and retreats in meditation. On top of all that, they are trying to build a business to sell Tudia products, like pistachios, sun dried tomatoes, brandy and various preserves and essential oils. They use many of their products in the restaurant but also sell at local markets.
As you can see, there is not a typical day in Tudia. There are many different projects going on simultaneously and if there is a reservation for dinner or a room it trumps everything. Here is a list of all the things we did during our three weeks at Tudia:
Packaged and labeled pistachios and sun-dried tomatoes
Washed linens, ironed and cleaned rooms at the hotel
Prepared dinner and cleaned the dinning room
Served at the restaurant when there were guests
Helped distill wine to make brandy and bottle the brandy (and test if of course for quality control)
Collect olives to make olive paste
Collect canendelas flowers to make ointment for the skin
Bottle and label wine and olive oil
Collect vegetables from the garden
Decorate the tree for Christmas
Make other decorations for Christmas
Respond to English emails
Help sell products at the market
Prune the vineyards
We usually worked in the mornings, took a break for lunch and then worked another hour or so in the afternoon. We ate our meals together, small breakfast and dinner, big lunch and when there were guests in the restaurant we also ate what they ate.
As for other wwoofers, the night after Gila and Sudhir arrived, four more wwoofers appeared (a Lithuanian couple and two American boys from Wisconsin). We enjoyed mingling with the other wwoofers, but a divide soon became apparent and when Lear and I took our days off in Agrigento, tension mounted. After we returned from our trip a group “meeting” was called.
We knew that our little wwoof group was becoming segregated and the Lithuanian and German couples were becoming more agitated. We ended up spending our time with the other Americans while the German and Lithuanians bonded. Lear and I were not sure if it was because we were Americans and they were Europeans, they were couples, they all smoked and we didn’t, or because we were a little more outgoing while they were reserved. Whatever the reason, we made an effort to be more inclusive, but there was still tension.
The “meeting” was a way for us to check-in and talk regarding what we liked about Tudia and what we would change. It was a chance to give some constructive feedback and be honest about our experience thus far. I am all for being direct and open but the meeting turned into a disaster…or at least that’s my opinion.
Turns out the Lithuanian and German couples had been discussing their lack of satisfaction and decided they wanted to leave. They were upset that Gila and Sudhir did not include them more in their decisions about how Tudia should be run and that they wanted more responsibility. This was after maybe a week! Lear and I and the other Americans were a little baffled and we were very grateful to be at Tudia. We thought Sudhir and Gila were extremely warm and welcoming and enjoyed spending time with them.
We were not sure what the German and Lithuanian couples were looking for but they were both fairly new to wwoofing and did not have many experiences. Imagine if they had gone to Gianpaulos! (refer to Gianpaulo post) Either way, I was happy that they spoke up and made the description to leave…you have to follow your instinct. It just showed Lear and I that every person is really different in what they want out of the wwoofing program and what we think is a great farm apparently can be awful to someone else.
So then it was just the two American boys, us, and Gila and Sudhir at the farm. The couples declined Gila and Sudhir’s offer to stay for lunch at the restaurant and instead decided to hitch-hike with all their gear to the next town in order to find a bus. Whatever suits you I guess.
While they were traveling, we all enjoyed lunch at the restaurant which consisted of an anitpasta of bruschetta, olives, ricotta cheese, fried eggplant and mozzarella, and peppers in spicy sauce.
Then it was the pasta course with tomato eggplant pasta and a pistachio cream pasta. Then, the meat and salad course consisting of sausage, pork-chop, steak and olive oil potatoes with a green salad. Finally, the fruit dish of fresh oranges from Nicola’s farm and the dessert of tirimasu, coffee and brandy. And if we needed any other signs that we made the correct decision to stay ,we received a personal invitation from their neighbor to take a trip to the grand hotel he owned so we could enjoy the natural hot springs attached to it and eat in his five star restaurant. Hmm.
There is so much to say about Tudia but I will some up some of the things we did in our down time:
Walked around the beautiful land
Played with their dogs- Red, Hudini and Gremlin (not really his real name but called him that so much that I don’t remember his real name).
Played Mexican Train with the WI boys (Why would a traveler pack that??!! Of all games, honestly 10lbs)
Turned the meditation room into a home theater and watched episodes of “It’s always sunny in Philadelphia and Silence of the Lambs movies)
Had meditation and dance sessions
Called home and emailed with the slowest internet ever!
Ran “Body Class” in the morning- Lear leading on rugby stretches and me leading on Yoga
And… baked American treats!- Gila asked us to make pumpkin pie (from a real pumpkin!), snicker-doodles and chocolate chip cookies. We had to make up our own system of conversions and measurements. Think actual tea cup for a cup, combined with a mixture of “uh… that seems right”. Throw in an industrial oven with no temperature markings and substitutions for ingredients that do not exist in Italy (allspice does not mean all of the spices!!) and overall, we did pretty well. In fact the pie was perfect. So perfect that they even served it in their restaurant! They did turn it upside down first until we ran over and said “no no, that’s the way it is supposed to look.”
On our last day another wwoofer arrived, Leonard (or as I called him Leo-nard) and we had a dance meditation session to say our final farewells.
We were very lucky to find Fuedo Tudia. As we left we said…it’s not a goodbye, just a see you later, wherever our paths may cross.