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The 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Workaway

From Workwayer to Workawayer: tips on how to protect yourself and stay safe at a Workaway

So today, after casually failing to renew my WordPress subscription for over a year, I am here to talk about something I believe is not spoken and written about enough in the nomad community: how to protect yourself during your work/trade experiences. All of the articles I came across when I was just starting out as a young traveler were so focused on how to be a good Workawayer to the host, that it seemed negligible if the host returned the favor. So, this isn’t that article. If you’d like to find out how to be the best Workwayer and how to get hosts to notice you here’s a fantastic article. But how to protect yourself from having a bad Workaway experience? Read on to find out.

This could of course also be Woofing, HelpX, or any kind of work in the trade of food and or shelter that is so popular in the backpacker community. I have personally been loyal to the Workaway website ever since signing up for a Workaway back in 2018 at a Buddhist nunnery in the Himalayas. Workaway has gifted me with so many of my core memories, connected me with some core people, and has helped make the travel dreams of a broke girl come true. If you’re new to the work/ trade experience and are looking for some advice, or even if you’re a seasoned Workawayer looking for tips to get even more out of your experience, this is my list that I’ve been keeping throughout the years of all the do’s and don’ts of a Workaway.

1. Always know where the door is (and how to use it)

This is a lesson I learned the hard way. Most of them are actually. I once arranged a Workaway on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica on a remote permaculture farm with glowing reviews. The hosts picked me up in their truck and we drove for miles into the jungle. I quickly realized that the only way out was by a long trail through the jungle, and if you were lucky, once you popped out of the trail you would hitch-hike on the main road into town. If you weren’t so lucky, you were left to walk for an hour along the main road. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the data and wifi situation hadn’t been so minimal. (Please see list article #5 for more on wifi/ data ). The host would regularly leave us Workawayer’s stranded for days, left to our own devices, without any means of contact. Luckily nothing happened, but there are a myriad of events that could happen in the jungle that one would wish to be rescued from within a reasonable period of time. For example, and this is entirely hypothetical, in the event that an expert mushroom forager leads a group expedition to scavenge mushrooms, and then after a few minutes of contemplative chewing wonders out loud if they are indeed the correct mushrooms or perhaps a closely related poisonous cousin. All was fine in the end and the expert scavenger lived to see another day. However, the point is, you should ALWAYS have access to transportation out of a situation that does NOT rely on the host.

2. Solo travelers (females especially) should take extra precautions

This means plenty of reviews and a decent amount of communication with hosts. Feeling weird about how they’re communicating with you over email or text? That’s most likely not getting any better in person. Do yourself a favor and go somewhere else! Have an uneasy feeling in your stomach/ gut? Absolutely don’t do it no matter how good it sounds. I want to see more solo female travelers trusting their guts, and if that means disappointing people every once in a while, so be it. Also, can men everywhere stop posting on these work/trade websites requesting “females only” to help around the house?? Unbelievable. Gross. So gross. Stop it. If you do end up going to a Workaway that disrespects you in any way, always report it to the Workaway team. There is an option to leave feedback about the hosts that only the Workaway team can see if you wish to be anonymous.

3. 5 days a week, 5 hours a day

If you go to the Workaway website, they will say that 5 hours a day is an estimation and it is up to you to communicate to your hosts about expectations. I know many people that have assumed that 5 hours a day, 5 days a week will be how it is everywhere they go. It’s not the case. Because of this, it is of utmost importance that you be careful to hash out expectations beforehand in the unfortunate event that you do get taken advantage of. If you ask your host what the workload and expectations are like, and they respond nonchalantly that they prefer to not count hours and it’s not “that kind of place”, um, red flag alert! If your host isn’t keeping track of your hours, I highly recommend that you do. It may seem like super chill vibes at first, but sooner or later you may find yourself wondering when you slipped into indentured servitude and wishing you had a record of all your hard-earned hours.

4. Your free time, your business

My boyfriend once did a Workaway in Banos, Ecuador on an organic farm and eco stay. The hosts were super welcoming and generous, they loved sharing stories at dinner and enjoyed lengthy conversations over coffee. At first, this was charming and it’s no secret that my boyfriend loves a chat. He was made to feel very at home very quickly. However, he soon learned that the hosts did not offer more than one day off a week, and expected him to jump up and work for them at their beckoning call, even after he’d completed his hours for the day. There was one time in particular that he and I were on a call after he’d worked a long and labor-intensive day, (I was at home in the states and it was difficult to organize times for a call). One of the hosts came into his room and asked him to help move some furniture. He was made to end our phone call on his downtime and lend a hand then and there. While I’m positive these hosts were well-intentioned, it is imperative for your peace of mind that you get uninterrupted YOU time. Especially if you plan on being somewhere for longer than a couple of weeks. For anyone interested in how this all played out, in the end, my boyfriend organized a mini heist that involved calling a taxi in the middle of the night, sneaking around his new roommate, and sneaking around the dogs (friendly but prone to barking), all without anyone noticing until the morning. While of course, this is definitely not an ideal way to address an uncomfortable situation, he didn’t feel comfortable enough to tell the hosts how he felt without hurting their feelings, and couldn’t stand not having his space respected for a day longer. Yes, the hosts were very disappointed, and no, he has no regrets about leaving as he did.

5. Know the Wi-fi/ data situation.

Please also refer to paragraph 1. If you are consensually going into a zero internet and data zone, this will hopefully be a refreshing and much-needed respite. However, if you are unsuspecting and come unprepared to be without connection to family, friends, or even an online work situation, this can result in quite the opposite of that desired experience. These days, travelers such as myself are heavily reliant on google maps to understand where we are and where to go, and apps such as life360 and even Snapchat help to keep our friends and family in the loop in case of emergencies. I have many a time shown up to my Workaways after promising that I will text my mom to confirm my safety, just to realize that the closest cafe with internet is a treacherous bike ride away. While it is very much up to the host to disclose their internet situation, it is also wise and worth it to do a bit of digging if the situation is unclear. You might notice in the host’s profile under “a little more information” that they can tick internet access or limited internet access. Always follow up about what this means because it means different things to different hosts. At one place I worked at they had ticked both these options and what they meant by it was that there was no reception for miles, and the only internet on the property was in their house. As my accommodation was far from their house, this meant that I couldn’t privately call anyone unless I wanted to stay awake while everyone was asleep and whisper over the phone.

6. Vegan? Celiac? Just plain picky? Let’s talk diet

Most of the time, if you will be working full hours you can expect at least two home-cooked meals a day. It is of course assumed that you pitch in with cooking or cleaning afterward. In some places I’ve been to the hosts will buy all the ingredients and you are free to cook whatever you want. Other places will be very in their routine with planned meal rotations (especially if they are older or experienced hosts). If you have any dietary needs let your hosts know ahead of time so they can prepare. You can enter your dietary requirements in your details section and it will show up when a host views your profile. I strongly recommend double-checking with them that they have this information. If you feel awkward about requesting this because you feel like youโ€™re asking too much and don’t want to be annoying, remember that you are doing them a favor just as much as they are doing you one. This is an exchange, not a handout. If the hosts seem unwilling to accommodate your dietary needs you can go ahead and assume that they will also be unwilling to accommodate any other aspect of your Workaway experience. Also, never expect that the host will feed you unless they have specifically said so.

7. Snakes, crocodiles, spiders…oh my!

Someone told me once that the most dangerous thing to be at any given moment is an uninformed tourist. Grab some popcorn and a blanket kiddos, it’s story time. Three years ago when I didn’t know any better I was backpacking in the Puntarenas province in Costa Rica. I heard there was a beach shaped like a whale’s tail nestled in the Marino Bellena national park where you could sit from the comfort of your beach towel and watch whales. You can imagine my disappointment when I hiked to the entrance with my book and a picnic only to be told by an under-slept looking park ranger that the whole beach was closed due to Covid. So what did I do? I am not proud of this folks, I began bushwacking through the jungle following the google maps blue dot to the beach and hoping for the best. After some time I popped out on a dirt road and was led by the blue dot to a small hut with a man sitting on his front step whacking a coconut with a machete. I waved and he waved back, looking rather alarmed to see a foreign woman this far out in the middle of nowhere on her own. The blue dot lead me past his house and straight back into the jungle where it got exceedingly gnarled and difficult to bushwack. The ground was a muddy sinkhole and my flip-flops were no match. The further in I trekked, the more intense the feeling got that I was being watched. Luckily I listened to that feeling and turned around before too long. When I reemerged from the entanglement of strangler fig and philodendron with mud splattered over the backs of my legs and bits of the jungle in my hair, the man was waiting for me with a concerned look on his face. “You have heard of crocodiles gringo?” He’d said burying his machete into an unsuspecting coconut. He offered me fresh coconut water and chicha, and informed me that I was headed directly into a crocodile haven. He saved my day and turned out to prove a magnificent and hilarious host and I ended up staying until the early hours learning how to salsa, but that is a story for another entry! The moral of the story is, do your damn research gringos. Know your environment, know what snakes and spiders to look out for, and bring mosquito repellent if there is a risk of dengue or yellow fever. Is there a risk of heat stroke? Is the water clean or do you run the risk of parasites such as giardia? I highly recommend packing a first aid kit tailored to your situation and not relying completely on your hosts for your safety.

8. Housing, what’s the sitch?

What’s the story about accommodation? Room in the house? Bungalow? Shared or private? How far away from the main house will you be staying? Will the internet reach? Will there be a mosquito net? A snake machete if need be? Will you feel safe and comfortable? Does the bathroom/waste situation agree with your feminine (or masculine) needs? (I once had to pack a diva cup to an off-grid/ zero-waste farm and learned the hard way diva cups are not for me). It may not seem super important especially if you’re used to roughing it either camping or staying in the cheapest hostels, but remember that you will most likely be working hard hours for this accommodation, make sure you’re getting what you’re worth.

9. Seasonsโ€ฆdon’t let them get the better of you

Beware of the wet season in any humid tropical climate, don’t let it take you by surprise! Just because you might be going to a hot sunny place does not mean you will be breaking out the whole summer kit. I showed up to a farm Workaway in San Jose with no long pants, no rain jacket, no gum boots, and nothing that I particularly wanted to get dirty. Luckily the hosts were used to this and were fully equipped with everything I needed. I have a bad habit of never checking the weather before I show up in places, and this has resulted in a lot of disappointment when my fantasies of spending my free time sunbathing by a river donโ€™t pan out.

10. Planning ahead

I would highly recommend that you never commit to a Workaway for more than a month at a time. I personally prefer to only commit for a maximum of two weeks. The reality is that sometimes a place or the people, no matter how genuine or lovely they may be, are just not for you. Maybe you don’t love the only other Workawayer on the property, or maybe you realize the seemingly perfect paradise is a beautiful performative facade covering up the exploitation of young gullible travelers. If you always have a backup plan in case a Workaway doesn’t fan out, you have nothing to worry about. Even if you don’t have a backup plan, in a pinch oftentimes if you go back to the Workaway website and go to the last-minute page, you will most likely find someone willing to take you on board in less than a week.

There’s a whole bunch of whackos out there just waiting for you to fall into their wacky web, so it’s wise to be suspecting! But don’t let the possibility of a whack job keep you from the adventure of a lifetime. I have been lucky enough so far that I haven’t found myself in too serious a situation, and I can thank all of the fantastic advice I’ve received from fellow travelers I’ve met along the way for that. Remember that safe traveling comes down to trusting your gut and communicating with your safety network of fellow travelers or family and friends back at home about your whereabouts. Now that we’ve got safety pretty much covered,

I hope this helps! Also, any and all questions are encouraged as I am attempting to pick up my engagement on this platform, I will answer you I promise! Alright see gressa grow gang, as always thanks for the support and until next time.

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Solo-Female Travel and Intuition: Name a More Essential Duo, I’ll Wait.

Hi! I thought I would just write up a little update of what I’ve been up to since leaving San Vito; the in-between travels sandwiched by two die hard off grid permaculture farms. It’s been three and a half weeks since leaving Los Patos Suertudos and I am still unraveling from the trauma of leaving that paradise and embarking on two weeks of restless travel in and out of San Jose; once again in communication with the general public and its unfaltering use of styrophome packaging. I’ve been considering the word trauma and the ways that it can manifest for an individual, even if gone unrecognized. In my opinion, I would say that spending a month in deep spiritual connection with myself, nature, and the people around me, and then taking a 7 hour direct bus ride into the world of cheap beer, trashed cities, and the unrelenting patriarchy, is absolutely traumatic.

Overcast in beautiful Santa Teresa.

Of course that is not to say that I didn’t have my fun. In those two weeks I met some fellow globe trotters and together we explored Santa Teresa, a cute and touristy surf town on the Pacific coast, and then since it was raining the whole time, Puerto Viejo, a small surf town on the carribean side bustling with afro-carribeans, flavorful rice and beans, and young people partying on the side of the road with their car speakers.

Surrounded by my boy bubble in Santa Teresa.

Since I was still trying to find a good fit for my next workaway, I was happy to go with the flow of the people I clicked with and at peace with wherever I would end up. That’s the thing I’ve learned about traveling without a plan; to truly reap its magic you have to be willing to move with the current. And to do that it is absolutely necessary to be in touch with your intuition. Solo-female travel and intuition: name a more essential duo, I’ll wait. To be quite honest, the majority of my two weeks of traveling were spent surrounded by a bubble of young dutch men, and therefore the majority of my female solo travel concerns were put on the back burner. My intuition was then able to switch from its main focus of dealing with potentially sketchy taxi drivers and overly-friendly surfers wanting to give free surf lessons, to considering in which direction my soul would best be fed. The answer to that turned out to be a permaculture farm 15 minutes outside of downtown Puerto Viejo. Quick side note, if you are a female solo traveler (or just anybody) wondering what the difference is between anxiety and intuition click here for an article all about it that’s been super helpful to me!

Hangin out in Santa Teresa.

The farm I was intuitively pulled to is a whopping 100 acres, although only a handful of that acreage has been sectioned off into zones and given thought to design. It is almost entirely off-grid, with the exception of a small generator and a new Wi-Fi box that allows for WhatsApp messaging.ย 

Laundry day!

I am joined here by a small handful of volunteers, an intact cat family, two horses, a ram, and 24 chickens. Our work hours here are distributed into garden and farm work, home and kitchen care, and creative sprucing. Our downtime is mostly spent playing card games and obsessing over the kittens. As I’m new to the farm I’m still in the process of figuring out how my skill set and interests can best be applied, but so far I’ve been happy to do a little of everything. I have recently started on a project to redirect water flow on a sloped section of the property. This project is especially exciting for me as it is the first time I am able to apply some of my knowledge from my permaculture course, and I have been documenting the process with the intention of writing a step-by-step guide for the Finca Las Hormigas website and of course for my own blog to share with you all.

Planting Vetiver grass on contours.

The property itself is paradise- at night especially. When the sky is clear the fireflies bleed into the stars, and if you’re looking up from my bungalow to the main house on the hill, the torches lighting the path and the tiny lanterns hanging from the ceiling emanate such warmth and magic I feel like I’m in fairyland. I wish I could capture it at least partially with my refurbished iPhone 7.

I am currently taking my day off downtown sitting at a coworking coffee shop called Puerto and Co, but my tablet is on 10% and the beach is calling my name. I promise to be back soon with a blog about contouring on slopes.

Creative sprucing. ๐Ÿ™‚ Permaculture principle #1.

Welcome to the Jungle!

My introduction to permaculture ft. how I’m coping with coexistent deadly snakes

It’s been a little over two weeks since my arrival from Uvita. I took two buses, neither of which I was 100% sure were taking me where I wanted to go and I was dropped off nowhere near the bus station. Thankfully I was only 20 minutes from the farm I would be working at, Los Patos Suertudos, and had been given the name of their favorite taxi driver, Johnny. All the way up the mountain, Johnny beamed in his best English about the people who ran the workaway. It was dark so I was unaware of the breathtaking (and very steep) view from the roads, and I learned later that only a few years prior a local bus had driven off that same road. It was only a week later when I biked into town that I first laid eyes on the Lord of the Rings worthy landscape with its thick, dark green mountains cascading into sheared (and chemically soaked) farmland.

When we pulled into the driveway we were warmly greeted by Kristy, David, and their dog Finn, who were happy to welcome their first workawayer in almost 7 months. We sat down to a dinner of chicken soup, local greens from the garden, and for dessert a fruit that I’ve become obsessed with called mamones, which reminds me of a dragon’s egg with it’s red spiky shell and milky incandescent egg shaped fruit. After dinner, Kristy lead me down to the little cabin that would be my home for the month; a quaint, treehousey little thing with black shade cloth stapeled around the sides in replacement of walls. Not having walls alone in the middle of the jungle took me some time to get used to I must say, but I’ve come to adore waking up with the sun cradled inside my mosquito net that hangs around my bed like a royal canopy, surrounded by layers upon layers of lush green. The cool thing about shade cloth is that it is like tinted windows in a car, so wildlife goes on in oblivion of my existence and I am witness to it all. It is a lot like how I imagine it must feel to wear the cloak of invisibility. (I know I knowโ€ฆ.dork alert, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings reference and I’m only in my 2nd paragraph).

My mornings here are my favorite part of the day, which I can't believe I'm saying after a whole life devoted to hating mornings. I wake with the tropical birds and the rooster and slowly make my way along the thick jungle path to the main house where I almost always find french pressed coffee and freshly blended golden milk waiting for me. I then perch on a bar stool with my mug and brainstorm with Kristy about what the day will look like, or as of late, brainstorm plot ideas for the puppet show that may or may not be airing on a public Costa Rican television channel. 

On my second day, Kristy sat me down and offered me the opportunity to work towards a permaculture design certificate. Up until very recently if you would have asked me to define the term “permaculture” I would have mumbled something about naked hippies dancing around a campfire. Hahaโ€ฆ oh baby, how this little word has changed me and the direction of my life in only two short weeks. I am now a dedicated student of Bill Mollison, who coined the term permaculture, and Geoff Lawton, a former student of Bill’s who has for the most part taken his place since Bill’s passing some years ago. Lucky for me and all students of permaculture, Bill and Geoff held a 72 hour long lecture in Melbourne, Australia in 2005 and filmed the whole thing in its entirety (save their hourly tea breaks between lectures). It is my stormy afternoon ritual to sit on a comfy chair with a notebook and pen or a painting project and watch these lectures with my ears perked and my pupils dilated to the size of mamones. I’m about 30 hours into the lecture, and, probably related to being up here on this mountain with limited social opportunities, I have begun to feel something resembling friendship with these two visionary men.

For those of you who hear the term permaculture and imagine naked hippies dancing around a campfire, if you’re interested I have attached to the bottom of this entry the link to Geoff Lawton’s website and an article that I think does a wonderful job defining permaculture in a single article. For those of you who just want a brief definition and to then get on with it, permaculture, the word, derives from the words “permanent” and “agriculture.” The basic idea is to observe and apply to our farming and agricultural design, systems that are already working flawlessly in nature. It’s similar to Rudolph Steiner‘s biodynamic farming in most of the core values and back to nature movement, but one difference is that the mystical/spiritual edge of biodynamic farming was largely dismissed by Bill Mollison. One thing I’ve learned about Bill in the 30 hours I’ve spent in his digital presence is that despite his “fuck fairies” facade, deep down he was a big hearted softie. Unfortunately for the public standing of the permaculture movement however, his outspoken aversion to religion and his controversial political opinions can probably be blamed for it’s slow start as a respected, scientifically-backed approach to sustainable farming. Nonetheless, the more I learn, the more it becomes clear that the vision of permaculture deserves way more recognition than it’s been getting. So, you can look forward to hearing more little snippets about permaculture as my relationship with it develops!

Well, I hope everyone out there is able to hold on to some fragment of peace amidst this planetary shift. It's easy to forget how much chaos is going on out there while I'm wrapped up snug in this little jungle bubble. My fear of contracting the virus kind of got transferred to a big and very realistic fear of getting bitten by a terciopelo or bush master; two snakes that can kill you within 6 hours if you aren't able to get to a hospital in time. And even then, people who've been bitten sometimes end up in the hospital for 7 to 8 months. I've gotten into the habit of walking around with a machete resting conveniently at my hip nestled inside a badass looking scabbard. Who knew that all my childhood fantasies of being a piratess would come to life here at this permaculture farm? Luckily I haven't had to use it yet, but apparently if I do I'm not supposed to cut off it's head because terciopelo's have muscles in their necks they can use to launch themselves even after beheading. Instead I'm supposed to wack them along their spine, breaking their little bones so they can't jump. I promise I'm not a violent person, but the prospect of either dying a painful death that apparently dissolves your skin or spending the better half of the year in a hospital will absolutely lead me to some violent wacking.
All of this is to say, pandora's box leaked some freaky shit, and yet I have spent so much time walking around this place in utter awe of the magic that vibrates off of every glistening banana leaf after an afternoon rain, and of every butterfly wing being hauled off by a trail of dutiful leaf cutter ants. There is so much here to observe! And way too much to write about in one post...I don't want to scare you away with my current high on life, so I will save the rest for another post. If you are currently stuck at home, please feel more than free to virtually join me as I make my way around Costa Rica. I hope that the excitement of my forced adventure can serve as some much needed entertainment for those of you in lockdown. I'll be back soon!                                                           

Forced Life Adventure Day

Dear Readers, 

It’s 6am in Playa Jacรณ Costa Rica. I’m hanging from a chair swing in the outdoor kitchen of Casajungla Hostel, overlooking their thick jungle of a garden. Even the colorful potted plants rebel from their pots, their roots dangling out from the bottoms; their leaves swooping and barely brushing the ground like giant ape arms. A chorus of unfamiliar bird melodies and screeches surround the hostel like surround sound speakers. Two large toads hop loudly after each other in the wet leaves behind me, stopping suspiciously after each hop to check they are still undiscovered. I’m jet-lagged, otherwise 6am is not typically my time of day. But I’m grateful to get a couple hours of daylight before the heat and the humidity take over.

A mosquito just took the liberty of biting each one of my toes on my right foot; I’m not kidding, the little guy didn’t miss a toe. It’s tingling and swelling. The trade off of being in a tropical paradise is you share it with biting things. Apparently my upcoming destination of San Vito is home sweet home to no less than 7 types of deadly snakes. I am recommended to wear tall rubber boots and always carry a cell phone in the unfortunate event that I am victim to a bite.

At this point you may be wondering, wtf is Gressa doing in Costa Rica in the middle of a world-wide pandemic? I thought she was in Berlin? Last time we spoke, I was quarantined with my au pair family in the brunt thickness of winter. I had just escaped an awkward roommate situation, and was preparing myself for bear-like hibernation and isolation in Zehlendorf. I can imagine that you might be confused. Let me catch you up.  

Turns out, after almost a month of a heated back and forth debate between me and the auslรคnderbehรถrde (foreigners authority building), I have technically been working here illegally as an au pair and therefore was “kindly” asked to leave the European Union. In other words, I have been deported. I realize this sounds dramatic, and I guess it kind of is. But since my attempts to attain my visa were snuffed by the pandemic, and I was here on a legal and quite innocent basis, it didn’t occur to me that actual deportation was in the cards. At maximum I had prepared myself for a light scolding.

I was given two weeks to organize a flight and a plan, and in that short time I decided with the help and support of friends and family, that I would stay far from the United States and embark on an adventure in Costa Rica (at least for 3 months until I can return to Germany, but who knows where I’ll be by then). And that is exactly where I am now. Hanging from my swinging chair in the bohemian outdoor kitchen of my hostel. This is my 2nd day waking up in Costa Rica. Last night I stayed close to the airport in San Josรฉ. So far I have been alone in the hostels, and therefore greeted with enthusiasm and treated quite royally. Yesterday morning the owner of my hostel, a tall middle aged man with a white Fedora and kind brown eyes, offered me a free ride in his jeep to the bus station in return for a good review on hostelworld, saving me almost 50 dollars and a big hassle of tracking down a taxi. I learned on our drive that he is an expat from Quebec and came here in 2015 upon purchasing a hotel. Since the pandemic, he said he’s had to sell the hotel and is now just the owner of the hostel until things pick back up. I noticed on the way to the bus station, in the streets of San Josรฉ almost everyone wears a mask. According to the Fedora wearing hostel owner, the covid situation in Costa Rica wasn’t that bad up until July when there was an inflow of migrants from Panama. As a contrast from reckless, rebellious Berlin, it’s odd to see everyone compliantly wearing their masks even walking alone in the humid streets. On my bus to Jacรณ, I passed a mother and her two small children sitting completely alone at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere, and all of them wore masks.

In Berlin it was admittedly too easy to forget about the world pandemic roaring outside of the city. With all of its persistent public events and lack of social distancing in parks. No one likes to be told what to do in Berlin, it’s probably a part of the reason I feel so at home there.  

It’s now 9am here and I’ve finished a large breakfast of rice and beans, a salty omelette, and two watery cups of coffee. Check out is at 11 and I am told there is a mountain I must go to by one of the free hostel bikes before leaving Jacรณ.

A long, sweaty hike to my hostel after getting quite lost from the bus station. ๐Ÿ‘

I will be back before long to share updates of my forced life adventure. Until then, Pura Vida.

Gressa

Welcome to Brrrlin: (baby, it’s cold as scheisse outside)

Dear long lost readers, 

So, you’ve probably been wondering where your favorite blogger disappeared to after a year of silence. If you must know, she was plotting and scheming her next big move in the heavenly oasis of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Working a semi stimulating cafe job, attempting to save up the pennies, breathing in the sweet valley air and simultaneously cherishing and resisting the warmth and comfort of being close to the womb, surrounded by the support of family and friends. This year has reset me, charged up my batteries and reinforced my intuition that I’m not done learning lessons from uprooting and transplanting myself around the world. After India, the spark had been lit and there was no snuffing it out. The rush of endorphins I’d felt bouncing up and down in a tuk tuk in the Himalayas overlooking dizzying cliffs, cradled in the arms of the deepest presence and peace I’d ever felt, this sensation haunted my cute yet sheltered life at home. I couldn’t shake the restlessness I felt to go get lost in the world again.

And so on November 11th at 11:30am I found myself squeezing the armrests of an Air Portugal aircraft as I hurtled upwards into a clear blue sky in the direction of Berlin, Germany; this time with a one way ticket and the determination to not come back until I had found the sense of direction I’d been falsely promised I’d find in college.  

So why Germany? Why was I going to a notoriously cold and sunless place on the cusp of their dreaded winter, a place known for it’s dark history and white supremacism? I’ll tell you why. Because Berlin is a hidden gem; a city crawling with young creatives and fetish freaks unafraid of exploring their deepest kinks. It’s a city that refuses to hide in the shadows of their grandparents and great-grandparents mistakes. It’s a buzzing international hub of tech workers, desperate students drowning in debt and seeking low tuition grad schools, European sightseers and the rowdy and the restless seeking what is known around the world as Europe’s party capital.  

After doing my research and hearing from those who had been, I couldn’t get the city off my mind. I swore I could sniff out the freedom of Berlin all the way from North Carolina, kind of like the way one can smell the salt from the ocean when they get close to the coast. A place where I could step outside my door and go a whole day without running into anyone I recognized or knew from a childhood play group. A place for reinvention and a fresh start. 

Yet another reason Berlin appealed to me, only three months prior to my own migration two dear friends of mine, Tessa and Helena, moved to the city for their own self exploration. In the three months of them being here I’d received strings of pictures, videos, texts and long calls about how badly I needed Berlin, and in turn, how badly it needed me.

So here I am, one month after a 15 hour flight looking like the walking dead and with the biggest birds nest in the back of my head due to leaving my hairbrush in my checked bags. I was met by Tessa, obediently awaiting my long last arrival with a bouquet of flowers and a home-made sign with “G-Swizz” inscribed with colorful duct tape followed by the hashtags #welcomehome and my personal favorite, #keepessastogether.

Reunited with my home girl T-skillet

In the month I have been here, and after enduring my share of sleepless hostels and overpriced week long sublets, I have found myself a cute sublet through February, which in this housing economy is something to be celebrated. And in the new year I am starting work as an au pair that will just barely cover my rent and groceries ( a win in this economy) and will also get me a longer term visa. I have done my share of braving the bitter weather to enjoy a Christmas market with my hands wrapped around a steaming mug of gluvine (hot, sweet red wine). I have delighted in currywurst and doner kebabs and schnitzel. I have skimmed the surface of the rich nightlife, although I haven’t quite worked up the courage to pull an all nighter and get lost in a nightclub experience yet. But for now my priority lies not in being a busy bee tourist. I crave days spent huddled up inside on my big, beige sofa with ginger tea and a book while the smoke from a Nag Champa incense stick curls bountifully from where it has been stuck into the potted soil of an aloe plant. I crave collage get togethers and jam sessions in the glowing warmth of someone’s living room. I crave movie nights and potlucks and long candle lit baths. 

One of many collage nights

Me posing with curry wurst

I’m here to get to know Berlin on a personal level. To prove to myself that no matter where I am in the world I am capable of turning a foreign city into a trusted home. And I’m writing this blog to share with you all who care to follow my unfiltered experience of moving to this extraordinary place and all the obstacles and treasures I will find along the way. Welcome back to my world. ๐Ÿ™‚

All the best and happiest of holidays, 

Gressa