Sometimes I look at the person and feel that he will cause my adventures.
Flight Moscow-Havana filled with cubans. I clapped my eyes on a guy with a funny hair for some reason. I looked out for people to talk to and solve a problem that was disturbing me for many hours – how to get from Havana airport to the city without paying 20$ for the cab.
I like to find a stupid reason to worry about. I guess, in these worries I was nervous for the whole trip in general. The first travel around the world, alone, even with a huge travel experience, is very exciting. More freedom, more responsibility for myself, improvisation every day, every minute, necessity to speak Spanish which I already forgot…
Standing by the baggage claim in Havana, I met a Russian guy and a Bulgarian living in Cuba, one who rushed into my eyes on the plane. They were friendly, and I shared taxi with them. Since that time we were always together until I left the country.
Improvisation began. It’s when all plans crash, situation gets out of control and I rely on other people and the chance just to bring a little chaos into my life. I love when things happen unexpectedly, love to plunge into the whirlpool of events and go with the flow.
I tried to refute the legend that couchsurfing in Cuba doesn’t exist.
I checked more than six hundred profiles of hosts, 590 of which offered rooms for rent, 5 were men who offered naked massage and 4 did not respond. I did my best but accomondation still wasn’t found. I wanted to experience cuban life from inside, not like a tourist and really wanted to find a host or any project with locals.
It is difficult to travel on budget in Cuba. Especially because I plan to travel for some years and for that reason my budget is extremely low. Platforms like couchsurfing and workaway not popular here, hostels on the whole island can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and even an idea of allowing tourists to save money does not get along in the cuban mind.
The answer from the host came in May. Silvia, a 60-years old afrocuban woman, approved my request and offered me to stay with her daughter, Anita. I carefully read her profile again to make sure it’s not an another crap with rented appartment. All reviews about that host were so nice that it gave me a hope that couchsurfing on Cuba is not completely dead.
Despite the fact that I had to get home first as every normal person will do, me and my new friends decided to go to the beach. We left things at Bulgarian guy’s place, in the district looked like a ghetto, and we went to the city’s muddy beach. I had pictured in my imagination a slightly different scenery when I thought about “beaches in Cuba”, but on that hot and sweaty day that beach was perceived as a revelation from above.
Suddenly the sky, that spewed out the burning sun all day, became murky. A tropical downpour began unexpectedly, blurring boundary between sea, send and sky. I could see only a wall of water. Only we could do is laugh and wipe our eyes every second to be able to see at least each other.
I’m in Cuba, swimming under a tropical downpour, with people I’ve known for a couple of hours, and I do not care that I still don’t have a place to stay. This moment when the large drops crashed down on sea and skin will be one of the greatest memories of this journey.
We ran home, although there was no longer any need to run. All our clothes got completely soaked. The roads turned into the rivers. Waves poured inside the bus. It seemed like an apocalypse, but everyone laughed and joked about it.
Despite the weather I had to go to search for my host’s place. She didn’t give me a direction by public transport, only the adress and advise to take a taxi. I had to figure out a way by myself. From one ghetto on several buses I moved to another. I had only an address, not the most accurate one as I realized later, and I had to ask hundreds of people to find the place. They helped me a lot and finally directed me to the ugly 12-floor building. Through the yellowish-greenish bad-smelling water, swearing in russian and hoping that at least my laptop will survive under the heavy rain, I reached a place. I got lost in the maze of dorm rooms but eventually found an apartment B10.
Nobody expected me in that apartment. I tried to explain in poor spanish “Anita-Silvia-couchsurfing-I’m your guest-hello-do you know me,” but the man in his underwear just looked at me weirdly, shook his head and sent me to another building.
At the second place woman recognized me. She gave me a separate room, we talked for a while as it was possible with my knowledge of spanish. Life was getting better.
After this crazy day I wanted to relax. It was a bit late and still rainy but me and my new friend decided to go to the center, take a walk around, drink mojito or two. Spending first evening in the ghetto was not an attractive idea. Moreover, my host didn’t seem very interested in talking or sharing some time together. Probably she was tired.
Central Havana was deadly empty. Our bus stopped near the Capitolio, the main traffic hub and center of the city. We walked around trying to find a cool bar. On the 20th round we got tired. I wanted mojito, but all the restaurants in that area were too expensive. I remembered about Malecon, the night heart of Havana, the legendary place where people drink and dance.
We went there but the rain washed away all the fun.
In the meantime, another problem has fallen on us. Bulgarian guy did not answer our calls. My friend didn’t have place to stay and he left all his stuff including money and passport at the place of that men. We started to be nervous. It was so stupid to lose money and documents on the first day in Cuba – not the best way to start a holiday. We called and called again, picturing in our minds criminal stories from cuban ghetto’s life, but in a couple of hours the guy picked up the phone.
Relieved, we decided to celebrate it at the bar on Malecon. We took a couple of mojito and cuba libre, chatted about everything and … realized that it was already midnight. We still needed to return to our ghettos. What made situation worst is that our homes were on opposite sides of the city.
We had to take a taxi – the first day in a new country is always quite expensive. We were singing ‘Despacito’ in one of this beautiful old cars and life was beautiful. The adventures of my friend did not end there, he didn’t find a guy, his phone died and he had to find another place to stay in the deep night. Fortunately I left him 50$ just in case so he survived that night. But this is not my story. When it was happening I was already sleeping in my lovely cuban bed.
“I will not leave you alone” – such simple but important words when you’re in trouble. Maybe the problem is not as big as big your fear of needs to solve it alone. When people are together, all the shit turn out to be fun and we take it easier.
It was my second day in Turku and last one of all Finland’s trip.
“Coffee and shower – the best way to start a day” – smiling, said my friend. Smell of fresh-made coffee spead over the room. I sat on the mattress, inhaling coffee aromas and watching birds bustling near the window.
There are a lot of birds in Turku in the heart of the city. Instead of roars of cars and other city noise I surprisingly heard plenty of different bird’s songs. I have never seen so many birds in the big cities. Ecology here is pretty good.
Day was sunny, so we returned to the library to rent a free bicycle. During 2 months I unsuccessfully tried to find a company for cycling trip to the Turku archipelago, but no one supported my idea. When I came and saw the weather here at the end of April, I understood why. Nevertheless, it was very desirable for me to ride a bicycle even for a one day in the city. Finland for me is a country of bicycles and it was my little must-do here.
Turku is a Finland’s oldest port city. Here was a trading post since an Iron age. For the centuries Turku was a Finland’s gate away to the Baltic sea. River Aura crosses the city, along its bank everyone bikes and drinks in the summer. On the boats moored in the port you can find dozens of restaurants, bars and even a karaoke kebab. They are quite overpricy but nice.
We biked to the Abo Castle, which was built by the Swedish king in the 13th century, at the time, when these lands belonged to Sweden. Name ‘Abo’ it get from the Swedish name of city of Turku – Abo.
Turku is a small city. We biked around all the center in a few hours and decided to explore its outskirts. We went to the local cave, located among the huge boulders in the forest. The place called Luolavuoren luola.
I love such mystical landscapes with stones covered with moss, when only a creak of trees breaks the silence.
At this weekend we explored almost the entire city, although we were not in a rush. Turku gave me the impression of a calm and quiet city, green and clean. Of all the Finland’s cities I’ve been to Turku is my favorite.
Evening we spent doing typical finnish “kalsarikanni”, that means “drinking at home in the underwear”. Yeah, they have a special word for this! We drank gin and watched travel program called Madventures. It is quite old, but, in my opinion, these guys are the most desperate of all I’ve seen before. They have a the real spirit of the traveler!
The next morning was the Most Early Morning In The World. We got up at 4 a.m to catch a bus to Tampere. I had to say goodbye in front of very first Hesburger in the world. As usual, sincerely and with an endless desire that the said words will come true one day, I had to say classic ‘See you soon again’.
I met a lot of good persons on that short one-month trip to Finland. As someone travel to see beautiful buildings, monuments, museums, landscapes, food, as I’m searching for the beautiful people. Again and again peer into their eyes, smile, learn from them a simple wisdom of life, discover the world in a new colors. The eyes of kind people and the smiles of the happy ones are just as beautiful as the most magical sunsets and the silent outlines of the mountains. This world is infinitely wonderful.
And now it’s time to leave again.
Exhausted 9-hour driving from the north of Finland to the south left behind. Finally I arrived in Turku. After 3 weeks of the silence and loneliness on the north pole, I needed dynamics of the city, its night lights, fun and ambience.
The main rule of my trips is to communicate with locals as much as I can. No boring hotels or even hostels, only friends from all over the world, couchsurfing and various projects with staying with locals. This way I can plunge into the local culture and learn from the people.
My host from couchsurfing was waiting for me at the bus station. For the following weekend student campus and a mattress on the floor became my home.
It was a Friday evening. Vibrations of the city, crowd, noise of bars and neon lights attracted me. I had a feeling that I came back if not at home but at least to the usual life.
Quick shower, estonian cider for the road – and we went to the city center.
In Finland you can drink legally on the street, without looking around nervously for the police. It was such a relief from strict rules in my country and I enjoyed walking and drinking beer without feeling like a criminal.
Cider was Estonian for the simple reason: in Estonia alcohol is cheaper and everyone goes there to buy it.
We went to the bar called Bar (Baari Baari in Finnish). Absolutely crazy place – instead of boring tables and chairs, you can sit in the bathtub and drink beers for 5 euros (good price for Finland, especially comparing to the pricy Lapland), or you can chose a swing or a car in the middle of the hall.
The local pop-punk band performed there that evening. Finnish quality, although a bit boring. In Finland you can come to every the concert without worries and get a good quality rock music. Rock culture here is very strong, all year around tons of concerts and rock festivals happens in this little country.
On our way home at night a giant rabbit crossed the road. “Finnish beer is pretty strong” I thought, but the rabbit did not appeared only to me but also to my friend.
How varied is our world! In Russia you can not step without kicking a pigeon, in Canada thousands of squirrels rush through the streets, paying no attention to you, in Finland rabbits the size of an elephant scare boozy passersby.
The next morning was the happiest morning in the world, Morning Without An Alarm Clock. It’s so precious to meet a person who also likes to sleep until noon! Furthermore the weather did not inspire to go out.
In the pouring rain we went to the library to print some documents. The first Turku’s monument appeared right in front of the campus. A huge duck in the form of a penis was proudly looking at the campus from the hill. “This is our Dick Duck,” my host said. Nothing unusual, just a giant pink dick in the middle of the city.
There was a bicycle race in the city center that day. Finnish people don’t give a fuck about the weather and bike all year around in any weather conditions. Bicycle in Finland is a most popular transport. Hole country is covered with a network of bicycle paths.
Caught by the rain we went to the Cathedral. It is over 700 years old and it’s considered to be one of the most valuable architectural monuments of Finland. My friend whispered me a history of the church, in which he easily elevated the bishops buried in chapels to the rank of kings and then he brought me to an ancient corner where ancient prints of the ancient cats were imprinted on the ancient floor.
During our visit there was a bunch of teenagers inside the cathedral. My friend told me that at the age of fifteen finnish kids can get a special permission for a wedding from the church. In honor of this event relatives make a big party and give them an amount of money. Lots of people do it even if they don’t plan to get married.
There is also a tax of 200 euros each year, just to be able to belong to the church. That was quite surprising for me.
The weather in Turku is similar to St. Petersburg. In one hour you can live all kinds of weather – the sun, the heat, the wind, the rain, the snow or the hail. Only one second ago I was smiling to the sun, enjoying it’s soft rays and began the thought “oh, what a lovely sunshine…”, but suddenly big cold hailstone knocked me on the nose.
Nevertheless, we decided to try our luck. When the sky took 10-minute break and stopped showering as hell, we climbed fast onto a large stone in the center of the city. There we found a wonderful view there on the Cathedral and city landscape.
However we had to pay for our adventure mood and run super fast to the nearest city market to hide from sudden hailstorm. We stopped there for the coffee in an old train cabin. People in Finland are good in adapting old things to the interior items. Coffee (‘kahvi’ in finnish) here is very soft and you can easily drink 5-6 cups a day.
At the end of this cold windy snowy crazy day I went to the sauna. It’s the best thing finnish culture brought to the world.
The sauna for students was free, and my host booked it for me. Sunset view from the top floor and another estonian cider was an addition to the pleasure of the sauna by itself.
For some reason we didn’t go out that night. Instead of it we did a typical finnish thing – “kalsarikannit”, that means “to get drunk at home in the underwear”. We stayed at home, talked about everything and listened to radio from around the world. There is the cool website called radio.garden, where you can make a trip around all the world’s major radio stations.
I love to meet new people. With some of them I had a good connection at the first moment, shared this talks, beers, ideas, experiences, was inspired by them and sometimes (hopefully) inspire them with my thoughts. With the lifestyle of traveler you have to open yourself to this connection, friendship very quickly. Live the moment with this people like they are forever in your life and not going anywhere. And through away thoughts that they are actually just passerby in yout life. Some of them are simply awesome and I always want so badly to put them in my backpack and take into my life. And they are my Friends at least for that moment.
Live fully the moment – is one of the most important skills I got in my travels.
From time to time I feel really lonely on my never ending trip. I meet people and at the first moment I know that our friendship have an expiration date. Soon, regardless of whether I want to or not, I’ll have to say, looking at their eyes, “see you soon again”. But I’m grateful that I had chance to spend any time with them. So many wonderful people in the world, so thoughtful, intelligent, adventerous. They all will stay in my heart matter if we will meet again or not.
Workaway is a cultural exchange. Five hours of work a day in general in exchange for accommodation, food and the opportunity to live and communicate with the locals and integrate into their culture. You will see the country from inside like a local, not like a tourist.
Almost all countries are represented on the workaway (although the only Cuban host left the project the week before my arrival, but this is an exception).
Hosts are local people or organizations who asking for a help. Requirements for each project are different and depends on the host. Workaway only gives us opportunity to find a project by giving a list of hosts, their profiles and other volunteer’s feedback about their experience with this host.
Through the website you have to contact host directly if you like a project and accept their rules. If they like you (your profile and message), they will accept you. Nothing else is demanded – no paper work, documents, etc. You just go straight to the project.
First step – registration and payment $ 29 a year (not too much for the great travel opportunity you’ll get.
Create a nice profile. Take your time and make some effort to fill it out nicely. This is your face on workaway, it’s a kind of CV, but I recommend to pay attention not only on your working skills but also describe yourself as a person. Make your text warm and friendly.
Both parts of workaway take a risk by inviting strangers at their home and going to someones home without knowing each other. Let your profile tell the most about you to not let misunderstandings come between you when you’ll start working.
If you are vegan, wake up very late, allergic on cats or you can’t live a minute without wifi – write down everything that is important for you.
Write what languages you speak (and how fluent you are). Point out any additional skills, like photography or diving courses you finished, if you want to try yourself in this field.
Your diplomas and working experience are not that important here, it is volunteer work. More important is the desire to work, your curiosity, ability to learn quickly and smile on your face.
Search for a host. Mostly there are hotels and hostels represented on the workaway. There are also many farms – there you should be ready for physical work outdoors, but also for fresh vegetables and fruits every day. There are also unique projects like national parks, coffee plantations in Colombia, banana farms, diving centers or a shaman village in the jungle of the Amazon.
In the Host list section select the continent and the country. You will see a list with a lot of different projects that you have to check carefully and choose the most interesting ones for you.
Read carefully host’s profile.
It’s Work away, not a Play away and not a Slave away. Let’s be honest to each other. Work your best and don’t be lazy but don’t let people use you as a free worker
Read feedbacks. Pay attention to the reviews that left by other volunteers. There you will find whether the host was interested in cultural exchange, helped to learn about his culture and improve your language skills, helped to organize your free time, etc. Communication with the host is an important part of the exchange
Choose few interesting projects. Do not expect that all hosts will respond – about half of them ignore even beautifully written letters. Send several letters – but don’t copypast them. Host will appreciate more an individual letter and it gives you better chance to be accepted. Do not send dozens of messages but also do not count on the only project.
Check the calendar – you will see it in a host’s profile. If the month you plan to go for a trip is marked in red – don’t contact a host, he is unavailable for those dates. If the color of the month is yellow, you can try to write a message – but point that you saw the yellow mark, this way host will see that you’ve read his profile carefully. Green color means that host are ready to receive volunteers.
A respectable host will respond within a week (do not forget, on farms and at some countries Internet is limited). If the answer took much longer – ignore them, this host is not interested in volunteers.
Important! Respond also quickly, show yourself as a responsible and organized person.
Documents. Tickets, visa and insurance are paid by the volunteer. In most countries, a normal tourist visa is enough to participate in the Workaway, but some European countries like France, require a working visa. You will find this information on the Workaway website after selecting the country you want to go to.
Come prepared. Ask the host if there is anything in particular you need to take with you – like raincoat, rubber boots or a sleeping bag. It is your responsibility to came prepared. A good host won’t let you in trouble but don’t expect them to provide everything you need like suitable clothes, cosmetics, etc.
Stay in touch with the host. Write down his number and contact him a couple of days before the arrival to clarify that nothing have changed. Always have a second option like a nearest hostel to don’t stay on the street if you won’t meet your host for any reason.
If your plans have changed and you can’t come – warn the host in advance. Respect others – and they will respect you.
Yes, and if you won’t come without warning, host will leave you a negative feedback, which will make your future searches more difficult.
I don’t think I need to remind that you must be tidy, polite, honest, trustful, etc. Be responsible, credible and hard working at work; open minded, cheerful, funny, easy going all the time. The rule is simple – be a guest and a worker you want to see at your own house.
If something goes wrong and you are not happy with a host – don’t stay silent. Your host can’t read your mind, so talk to them and explain yourself. This exchange is a team work and you both are able to turn it out in a great experience.
It covers main expenses of travel – accommodation and food.
It gives the opportunity to communicate with locals and join their daily life, become a part of the family and the community and make new friends.
The majority of workaway hosts located on the off beaten path, not in a touristy areas. You will integrate in a normal local life. However, you will be able to see some must see places on day trips on your weekend or find some projects in a popular area (usually it’s hostels). You can see part of a country that you may not have even considered before – why not to explore new traveler’s paths?
You can stay at one place longer. For short stops it’s better to use couchsurfing (where it’s polite to stay maximum for a week. Although I had situations when I came for two days and eventually stayed for two weeks, because they did not want to let me go :))
The usual term for Work away is from two weeks to a month, sometimes two. On average, it is better to choose 3-4 weeks.
Learn the language. There is no better way to start to speak foreign language fluently than to practice it with native speakers. Daily work and communication at workaway will help you to speak freely.
You will try the local cuisine. Usually volunteers dinner with a host family, so you will eat like everyone eat at this country. Maybe you’ll even bring home a couple of recipes?
Try a new job. In a hotel, on a farm or butchery, in a diving club or yacht – why not to try something new? You will learn, for example, how coffee grows, how to take care of rabbits or how to get honey. Treat your curiosity and be open to the world, there are plenty of interesting things that you’ve never thought about.
Moreover, you will take inside look on the business like running a hotel or a restaurant, or maybe coffee plantation or operating a diving center. Maybe one day you will end up having a little guest house in the middle of a jungle?
Birdwatchers are people who like to observe wild birds in their natural habitat.
You don’t have to open your school books again or be an ornitolog to do birdwatching. Lot’s of people just simply enjoy watching wild life.
No! You never would have thought what a busy bird life happened every day around us. However we don’t pay attention to it in a daily rush.
You would be surprised how many species of birds living in the city! Wherever you live, there are about hundred of different species in your area which are easy to find.
At the first time all birds seems the same. We recognize only pigeons or ducks just because they are familiar to us. When you will start to observe birds, you’ll find out that there are much more beautiful birds around us every day.
For fun and self-education.
Birds are almost the only connection of a modern urban man with a wildlife.
Living in the cities, we are increasingly moving away from nature and forgetting that there is life beyond our stone jungle.
Attention to the life around you in general. Start observing birds makes you pay more attention on details. To identify the bird you’ll need to spot this little creatures in the huge area and notice details as their color, habits, etc.
You’ll bring soon attention skills to you daily life. You’ll start to pay more attention to the people in your life, your family, friends, neighbors.
And it’s very important, isn’t it?
Check out most famouse movies about birdwatching:
A Birderʼs Guide to Everything by Rob Meyer
The Big year (2011)
Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012)