I have abruptly terminated my first try at WWOOFing in Costa Rica after only three days, as it was close to a total disappointment for me. And apparently I am not the only one who had a bad experience. I literally fled the place after having a bad argument with the owner. There was nothing organic there except the dirt. The owner portrayed the farm as a natural, organic place where she’d grow coffee, fruits and vegetables and take care of animals. It was nothing like this: she had the animals, and she may want to grow her own things eventually, but so far, she has nothing. And again, the cockroaches, only this time not the small ones, but the large ones, and I am not supposed to dislike them or try to kill them, but I am supposed to politely ask them to leave. SERIOUSLY.
I went there ready to do my share of work, but my understanding was that I would not be the only one having to work. It appears to me that the owner here does her own thing (who knows what? To me it seems like she did nothing and since the minute I walked in the property she would be on vacation, I would be working while she spoke nonsense to me) while I had to clean, scrub, feed the pigs, the horse, the dogs and the cat – who, by the way, are absolutely adorable and loving. So there I arrived, understanding that in exchange of my work I would be given 3 meals per day and a place to stay. I was getting a nice place to stay, indeed, but no real meals. Indeed, I was pretty much starving.
The owner is an obsessed and obsessive vegan who does not allow the consumption of any animal products there (no dairy, no eggs), and of course no alcohol. This would have been ok if she was not trying to swiftly but firmly impose her way of life on me. So, the reality was that she doesn’t really eat, and she won’t let others eat either. One thing is to be vegan, one thing is to starve! I was only given coffee and fruits in the morning, then no real lunch or dinner. I was preparing my own meals in the cafeteria that she had me working on so that – I am guessing – she can open it again.
Everything was ruined, rusty, rotten, dirty and cockroaches are all around. The only working fridge was in her house, and I had no access to it. In order to have a working fridge, I had spent my days washing a huge professional fridge sitting unused in the cafeteria, which was completely rotten inside (and I was doing this using a mixture of vinegar, water, baking soda and salt) and still needed to be painted on the outside. Same thing with the oven and the rest of the oppressive, dark, dusty and rotten cafeteria.
I went to buy bread, and the owner pointed out that bread is processed and she expected I would want to eat all natural food. I told her I was starving, and she said we could bake our own bread. I replied that yes, we could, but not till I fixed and cleaned the (obviously) rotten, greasy, dirty oven, and meantime I needed to eat as fruit was not enough to fill me up. She was almost shocked. I am sorry, but having just fruit is not going to keep me going 4 hours, but 1 at most!
Another thing she did, which I think was crazy. I was expected to only consume coffee in the cafeteria. I like having my coffee by myself in the morning, it is my introvert moment, and I very much needed to recharge and prepare myself in order to be sociable. So I went in the filthy cafeteria in the morning and made myself coffee which I brought back to my room. She told me she was really disappointed, and she was shocked when she went to the cafeteria and could not find her “precious” French cafetiere. So, it looks I am only allowed to drink coffee in the cafeteria, which I do not want to as it is dark, mouldy, dirty and not cozy at all in there. I want some light, fresh air, and a clean place to relax while I have my morning coffee! What could be so wrong about it? Having noticed that she has several Italian coffee pots she did not use, I asked if I could use that instead, and if it was ok to take that to my room, and warned her that in order to use that I would have to run the coffee in the pot at least once in order for it to be drinkable (I know how Italian coffee pots work, you know!).
She said she doesn’t get the whole point, she said she knows a whole lot about coffee and the French press is, in any case, much better to make coffee (what does she care how I like my coffee?), and when I eventually asked her if I can buy the pot from her, she said no. 5 minutes later, she gave me some cheaper quality coffee, gave me the Italian pot, and put the coffee she normally uses in a bag which she took away to her place, as if I would “steal” it otherwise. She then justified herself the morning after, saying that she did it because, since we were not having coffee together in the morning, she’d also want to have it at her place. Yeah, and I am so fool I would believe it (most of all, as she barely drank coffee!). As if I had not been the only one working on her knees to clean scrub etc while she just stands there talking nonsense about organic, vegan etc (oh, btw, when we got out for a snack, she actually had mayonnaise on her tortilla, which is NOT vegan and is so processed that there is nothing natural about it!).
The best part was when at the market, while I was picking toothpaste, she “suggested” I should be making my own with baking soda and salt (btw, that is BAD for the teeth, it scratches them badly) as the one over the counter would have chemicals in it (this is the same person who is using regular detergent for her clothes and dishes, not organic one!). What when I asked her if she has an extra pair of gloves that I could use for cleaning, and she said she doesn’t as she never uses them. I guess, what she should have said is she never cleans, but demands her volunteers to do so.
The last drop was when, yesterday morning, my toilet leaked – it leaked everything (poo etc: she never fixes broken things!) so I ran to ask for a mop and other stuff to clean the bathroom. She gave me stuff (I then realise the mop was no real mop, but a rag!) and spent over an hour to wash away the poo, clean the bathroom and disinfect it till it would be fixed. I was obviously late for breakfast (yeah, she calls that breakfast), and when she eventually walked in and told me “this is not our schedule, so that you know!” I did not even attempt to reply, I just told her “I am leaving tomorrow” (remember, it was 1st of January, many things would be closed!), she said I would then have to pay the extra night, so I told her I was leaving the same day, and she said ok. I went back to my room, and packed, and after 5 minutes she was there, knocking at the door, saying I would have to pay the previous night. I told her she could forget it, as I worked so hard the last few days to get nothing in exchange, not even real food, and she started screaming, saying that she had been trying to make me more comfortable (how so? Putting me on my knees to scrub a rotten fridge?). I told her that her overall attitude is ridiculous, like with the coffee issue, and that I am not a child anymore, but I am a 38 year old who holds a PhD and she can’t bully me around. I then shut the door in her face and told her to leave me alone. She kept talking from outside, and said she was going to call the police (what for?). She then started carrying staff to my room, ie coffee, the left over fruits, etc, saying I should take them with me (I guess she thinks I am a miserable broke?).
I ended up leaving while she was crying (what for? I should be the one crying), saying “Please talk to me, I am sorry!” and I was just so infuriated that I ignored her. I hitchhiked to the main village (a police officer stopped!), then got information on a bus to Cartago, which would then connect me to San Jose. While waiting, she drove by – she had gone look for me – and again told me to go back, she asked me to talk to her (ie wanted to force me to do that), that I could leave tomorrow, when the buses would be running. I suppose she wanted me to stay longer (of course, when would she ever get other people to work for free and so well?), but I left. I am sorry, but I have to think about myself and my health first, especially my mental health!
Anyways, my take is that she wanted to open up a business, like a café-restaurant of sort, but she has no real money to do so, so she calls in volunteers which have to live by her absurd rules (ie starve) and do jobs which she would otherwise have to pay for. I eventually told her that, if she has no money to invest in a business, she would just have to give up, without having to treat people like thieves and slaves which she would try to indoctrinate.
WWOOF was created as a way to connect travelers and farms for a rich cultural exchange. My overall view though? Farms that can’t afford to pay for skilled workers exploit labour of travellers and make profit from it. This is not an exchange and I didn’t learn anything from it. Other than I should stay away from it!