Put the world on hold

Trip Start Apr 01, 2011
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23
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Trip End Jan 26, 2012


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Flag of France  , Champagne-Ardenne,
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

We have just finished our first week of work since leaving Canada. We found a website called WWOOF.org (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) which has lists of opportunities that are available in each country where you basically work on farms in exchange for room, board and knowledge.  It gives you an opportunity to help out on a farm doing various jobs and you get to learn about organic farming techniques and rural life.  Mike and I have very little experience working on farms, and when I say very little I mean, I have no experience but Mike has actually herded a cow once before.

On Wednesday, we arrived on the farm at about noon, and the people we were staying with, Steve and Christine, had to round up their last bull so that the person purchasing their herd could pick it up and take it away.  This is not your usual docile bull (if there is such a thing), it's called a Highland bull, and it’s wild.  They don’t have contact with people very often and when this bull realized that something was going on, it was not having any part in being co-operative.  Mike, Steve, Christine and I tried a few times to get the bull into the paddock where it was supposed to go to wait for the person to pick it up later that day.  Each time we got the bull where we wanted it, it would make a run for it.   It broke through the electric fence and ran away a couple of times.  One of the times it ran away, we actually lost it for a few hours.  Finally after a lot of looking, Steve and Christine’s neighbor came by and told us that the bull was over at his house in the garden.  By that time, the person who bought the bull was there and we all went to the neighbor’s house to wrangle the bull into the truck.  After a few more failed attempts at getting the bull where we wanted it, the bull ran into the neighbor’s pasture and joined a herd of cows.  Steve, Christine, the neighbor, and the new bull owner went into the field to herd all of the cattle towards the road with the intention that the bull and all of the rest of the cattle would walk down the short road and go towards the barn.  Once that was done, the plan was to weed out the other cattle until all that was left in the barn was the bull we wanted.  Well, after some very impressive herding by the farmers, all of the cattle walked out onto the road where Mike and I were, but they were all trotting towards the village… and us!  As I mentioned before, I have no experience with cows and as embarrassing as this is to admit, I panicked.  I saw this very large group of very large animals heading towards us and I left very quickly.  I went underneath a fence and got the heck out of the way before I was trampled by these ferocious animals!  Well, they looked really dangerous at the time.  Mike, on the other hand, stood his ground, held the walking stick he was carrying up above his head to make himself look really big, and started walking towards the cows.  One by one, all of the cattle, including the wild bull, all started walking away from Mike and towards the barn, exactly where they were supposed to go!  The rest of the events went according to plan.  Overall, it was really impressive to have the opportunity to watch the whole process in action. 

The rest of the week wasn’t as adrenaline-rushed as that, which is a good thing.  We weeded and planted, laid out mulch around plants to help retain moisture and keep down weeds, gathered sticks from the woods and tied them together for beans to climb up, moved and fixed some of the fences, and Mike got to cut the grass with a tractor.  We also helped with building a wooden floor for a Yurt, which is a large, round, tent-like structure made out of wood poles, felt, and canvas.  It was a lot of work but it was really fun and we both learned a lot.  Shortly after we arrived at the farm, Christine’s daughter Charlene and her boyfriend Howard came out to spend a couple weeks before they set out on a bicycle ride to Switzerland and Steve’s brother in law Gordon, who used to live in the ex-Yugoslavia also came out for a visit.  It was great to have so many people there at the same time, everyone had so many great stories of their experiences and knowledge to share that the conversations were always exciting.  Close to the end of our week at the farm, we took a day off and went for a walk through the nearby village of Vaux La Douce and to a small lake where we had a picnic.  We also found out that we were actually in the Champagne region of France!  Steve and Christine arranged a visit to a winery just down the road and all 7 of us piled in to Christine’s Volkswagen Caddy to go to the winery, with 5 of us sitting on hay bales in the back!  It was a great time, we all sat at a table and tasted a bunch of wines including whites, reds, sparkling white and sparkling rosť.  The winery we went to was in the Champagne region and produces sparkling wines in the traditional style of the region but because they have not paid to be regulated under the "Champagne Domain Origin Control" they are not allowed to use the name Champagne on their product.  It also means that they can sell an amazing “Sparkling white wine” for about the equivalent of $6 Canadian.

Every night we went down to their outdoor summer kitchen which has a fire pit, counters, cupboards, fridge, dishes – everything you would need in an outdoor kitchen.  We had a fire each night and dinner was cooked over the fire.  The meals each night were a far stretch from our usual campfire standard of “take 14 hotdogs for every day we plan to camp” and continued to prove that you cannot get a bad meal in France!  Calzones made from scratch, fresh flat breads, falafel, grilled sausages, pasta sauces and stir-fries all came off the fire and were eaten with salads fresh from the garden.  We were there for one week and we had such a good experience, we will definitely look for more WWOOFing opportunities while we’re away.
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