This New Year, I took the phrase ‘start as you mean to go on’ and ran with it.
Ending 2019 working in retail left me feeling a bit deflated. I knew that I was never going to let it become my life but I’d graduated university in the summer and I guess I expected more. So when the opportunity to venture abroad arose I knew it was my ticket out of this slump and to somewhere I could really push myself.
In late December my friend, Rebecca, introduced me to WorkAway. It’s a website where people from around the world seek volunteers to help them with projects and in return provide free food and free accommodation. Rebecca found a listing in the Pyrenees at an eco-farm/ holiday rental, called La Taillede, asking for two volunteers to help get the place ready for summer guests. Surrounded by snow topped mountains, forest and not much else, it was perfect. We confirmed with the family in France and that was it, our hearts were set on going.
I had never done anything like this before, even though for a long time I had dreamed of travelling and exploring our planet in a less conventional way. Until now, for whatever reason, I had just not been able to pluck up the courage and go.
Ali and Matt, who own La Taillede, are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Not only are they incredibly kind, but their lives are so inspiring. Without divulging too much personal information about them on the internet, Ali and Matt met in their 30s and now have two wonderful kids. Today, as both a family and a business, they are working towards becoming self-sufficient, sustainable and zero waste. However, even before they met, they both embarked on many separate adventures: from sailing across the world, visiting indigenous islands in the Pacific, to motorbiking around Morocco by following only a map on a tea towel. It seems as if they have done everything you could possibly dream of wanting to do in a lifetime.
Initially, by no fault but my own, I almost felt inadequate and like I was somehow behind in life? Of course, neither are true. Life isn’t a race. Yet once I got over my lapse in confidence, I knew it only spurred me on to live my life to the absolute best of my ability. I don’t want to waste any more time doing things that don’t make me happy, time is precious. Although this may seem like an obvious statement, I didn’t quite abide by it until recently. It almost felt as if the stars had aligned meeting Ali and Matt. My mind felt opened and excited for the future.
Rebecca and I had agreed to work at La Taillede for one month and after our time there was up, we knew we wanted to continue on travelling. But where? We had no clue. I had never been good at ‘not planning’ except on this occasion it strangely felt quite liberating. It also amazingly worked in our favour as Matt began mentioning a friend in Morocco who runs an animal sanctuary that just so happens to take volunteers. Well, as two animal-loving vegans, it could not have been more apt. So, we contacted the sanctuary, they agreed to have us and a week and a half later we were there.
Le Sanctuaire De La Faune De Tanger (SFT) was an entirely different experience to our time in France. I had never lived in such basic conditions before. I can’t deny that it was a culture shock and one that took a few days to adjust to. Our nearest toilet was a 5 minute walk away, which sounds fine, but a 5 minute walk with 200 dogs jumping up at you and biting your ankles isn’t exactly easy at any time of day or night. So, we usually just settled with using a bucket in our room.
At the sanctuary there were 5 guys working with us and only 2 of them spoke English. So a lot of improvising and creative hand gestures were needed to communicate. Yet every evening we all sat down together in the tiny kitchen on site, with as many dogs that could squeeze in too, and had dinner together. The kitchen was only about 2m x 1m, the cooker was a small camping stove and the table was made of breeze blocks with some wood balanced on top. It wasn’t much but it worked. Mustapha, who is the manager at SFT, would always make everyone dinner and translate the conversation for both sides as he did so. There was something quite humbling about being wholly welcomed here. I can’t seem to put my finger on exactly why that was. Perhaps it was because we were so far from home or perhaps it was everyones ability to be so completely happy with such simplicity. It was a situation I had never imagined myself being in, but I am entirely thankful that it happened.
Travel can truly shape you as a person and widen views far beyond your belief. For me, travelling is a chance to explore each hidden gem this world has to offer and to live totally as I choose. When I venture abroad, I look to immerse myself, as best as I can, in my new surroundings and follow the road less travelled. This is so I can continue to learn, grow as a person and become more open to opportunities that I don’t even know exist yet. Of course, this happens far more naturally and subconsciously than I just described. However, it’s true nonetheless. It is also a chance to meet wonderfully inspiring people along the way.
To step out of your comfort zone and to feel nervous, or even stressed, means that you are whole heartedly living. It’s not a bad thing to feel these less savoury emotions as it really only means that you have pushed yourself into uncharted territory. And that is a great thing. Life is too short to take a backseat.
Although, this story ends quite abruptly, as our travel plans were cut short due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Flights were cancelled and boarders closed with us still being in Africa. We spent a night in the airport and were back there every day, for three days straight, until we managed to get on a flight back to the UK. This is an unprecedented time in our lives, with great uncertainty and restrictions.
Yet, if I have learnt anything from my time away it’s that there is always something positive to find in every situation. In every dark moment. No matter where you are in the world or what you are doing, we can all use this time to improve upon ourselves and keep at our best- whatever that means to you. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, so let’s make the most of this madness and look forward to our freedom again.