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26th November 2015

A short but not so sweet stay with Steve and his idiosyncracies

Astrid Kitchen explains, in clarifying detail, why organising volunteer work over the internet is a risky business: Meet Steve
A short but not so sweet stay with Steve and his idiosyncracies
Photo: Astrid Kitchen

Hmm, a free stay in the Sierra Nevada of southern Spain in exchange for some harmless gardening in the summer sun, who could say nay? Being the gullible weakling that I am, I certainly couldn’t. Famed for its natural beauty, the single photograph used to personify the scene of Steve’s permaculture project certainly added to the allure of the national park.

A website popular among young travellers, Workaway is wonderful in many ways. ‘Hosts’ advertise work with which they need a hand, from childcare to language help; from hostel to bar work, they specify how many hours are expected in exchange for certain forms of remuneration. If I remember correctly, my terms were 5 – 6 hours of daily work in exchange for free board and food.

Steve had mentioned in his description that ‘board’ denoted camping, and camping essentially meant he was providing me with a generous spot of land in which I could put my (non-existent) tent. With bashful naivety and in light of my shrinking funds, I tracked down an all-purpose Chinese supermarket in Granada, where I’d been staying, and, obviously, chose the 7€ ‘beach shelter’ over the 30€ tent. I figured that if it got really nippy, good ol’ Steve would surely let me spend a night in the big house. Fatal. Error.

Nearing the end of a four-hour bus journey where correspondence with Steve had died a pitiful death hours earlier—in spite of my frantic emails and rinsing of roaming data, there was still no getting through to the man. So I clambered off the bus at the last stop, the final passenger, whipping out my one Spanish word at the non-Anglophone bus driver (another source of considerable pain during the journey).

At first it seemed I was alone amidst the mountains until a bespectacled, skinny dude with a beard popped his head round the side of the bus. “Are you Astrid?” Grady, as it turned out, together with his girlfriend Lucy, had been instructed that, “the German girl should arrive around 10 or 5.” Firstly, I’m not German; secondly, this meant the poor sods had propped up deckchairs at the top of the farm in sight of the bus stop and had been sitting there ever since because, yes, I arrived at 5pm, the same and only time I had ever said that I was arriving.

First question “Do you have a tent and warm clothing?” Nay to both, my friends, but I do have a wind shelter! It’s yellow. They then proceeded to fill me in on the man himself and the farm that incidentally turned out to be not a farm at all but a ruin: As in a crumbly old house from the stone ages, which Steve had paid money for ten years ago but that was still crumbly.

This is because the middle-aged man from Cambridge insisted on restoring the building using rocks and clay, a method that undeniably stayed true to the structure’s (it is deserving of no other word) vintage origins, but one that also happened to neglect the reality of a 6am start to dig mud from the ground, mix it with water (fancying this ‘cement’) and find rocks to suit his whims and visions. “Hmm bit small don’t you think?” or “no Astrid, I said turnip shaped! That’s more like a parsnip! Har har!” Not funny Steve, just annoying. Your parsnip rock was heavy and now I am bleeding, it was the last in a long string of incorrect rock shapes and we’ve been up for close to five hours now, the wall is just one stone bigger while you, dear Steve, are one day older.

This traumatic process was, however, secondary to what was quite possibly the most scarring sleep of my life. Sadly, Steve had resolved that the day of my arrival would be the perfect opportunity to visit his (contestable) girlfriend in Granada. He also decided to delay his homecoming until 1am rather than the agreed 7pm because by his reasoning that he couldn’t load the car, it was raining so hard (which raises the question—umbrella?!). To make matters worse, trusting no one, Steve had of course chained and padlocked the pantry, so we had no food for the night. This, along with the farm’s distinct lack of electricity, meant that I was shown to my tent thing with a grumbling stomach and a mobile phone devoid of battery life.

When Grady left, I was forced to use a lighter to pin up my beach sarong to cover the exposed side using hair slides, the cardboard the tent had come in made for a mattress and my trainers a pillow. Piling on all my layers (it being summer, layers meant an array of strap tops and two bikinis) I prepared for the coldest night of my life. That night, temperatures plummeted to eight degrees and, I kid you not, there was a storm with thunder and lightning, so inevitably the sarong blew off in the middle of the night. The blizzard was literally hitting my bare face whilst pins and needles paralysed the rest of my body, for three American apparel crop tops designed for size zero models do not go down a treat with blood circulation.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the night was interspersed with wails from Steve’s cats. I say Steve’s cats, but these were wildcats that he had pinned down long enough to tie fraying bits of string around their necks and tether them to poles in the pantry which, us being barred entry to, meant their incarceration had reached new levels of bleak, having not seen daylight, water, or food since their owner’s romantic escapade.

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