My Workaway Experience - Volunteering at the End of the World

First things first: I was not sponsored to review workaway, which is quite obvious once you read my post, and my volunteer stay wasn't the best. HOWEVER the fact that I had a bad volunteering experience and the fact that I don't like Workaway very much, are not linked. (and for that matter) is a site where you can find volunteer positions in tourism, agriculture or as an au-pair anywhere in the world, and where potential hosts can hire you.

You get room and board in exchange for 5 hours work a day. Well, that's what it's supposed to be like. In fact I haven't heard of anyone not working more than 5 hours a day. And of course my working hours were no exception.

Anyway, workaway is supposed to give gap year travellers or students the chance to travel the world on a budget. However I guess it's pretty obvious that you don't get to see much of your destination if you have to work full time. So it's more a work abroad than a work and travel platform.

Gamvik, Northern Norway, the northernmost village of Europe and my home for 3 weeks

You have to pay around 20€ for a membership which is then valid for two years. Hosts can be filtered by country and the type of work you're looking for. I for instance wanted to volunteer in Northern Norway back in 2013 as I just started my Northern Studies distance program and wanted to experience what the Arctic really is like.

I searched for a position in tourism, mainly on husky farms, but sent applications to other kinds of work and other Northern European countries too. Overall I sent 12 applications and only got a response from 7 people, mostly weeks later.

And with application I mean message as there is no real application form. You just contact people in a private message and hope to hear from them again. You then have to trust the information your potential hosts give you and have to rely on other people's feedback, if there is any.

My host didn't get one feedback although he welcomed Workaway volunteers for years. I didn't know that before I went to Norway but I got comments on my blog afterwards from people who had similiar experiences like me.

None of them ever left a feedback on Workaway and while I don't blame them, they all still could have prevented not only me but also other people from even considering staying where I stayed.

But I digress, my host wasn't the only one on Workaway without manners. I got another positive answer apart from the one I accepted but never heard from this person again. I asked him questions about the work and place but he didn't answer up until a week of the proposed stay and was then annoyed that I didn't plan on showing up. Seriously?!

My host at least answered all my questions and I felt quite positive that everything would turn out well. It didn't in the end so let's talk about the why.

I volunteered at the "End of the World Guesthouse" in Gamvik, the northernmost community of mainland Europe. As far as I'm concerned the business is now closed or at least not on Workaway anymore. If that should not be the case, don't even consider working or staying there.

My job there was to help in the guesthouse - clean up the mess my host hadn't bothered to clean for months, shovel horse poo and shovel dog poo. My host originally wanted me to walk the dogs and ride the horses but if you take into consideration that he couldn't even handle the dogs or horses himself, this was quite a mission impossible for me.

I was only physically able to walk the female dog as my trials in walking the male ones ended up with me being pulled into the next bog. Riding the horses wasn't possible either as they weren't quite tamed and bit if you weren't careful.

In my first week I helped my host moving his stuff from one house to another or shall I say from one mess to another. The house I stayed in at least didn't have a seedy kitchen where old grease sticked to equipment and furniture.....

During this move I strained my wrist which didn't make the work any easier. In the second week I then got sick and had to throw up during the night. I blame it on the food and as I really don't want to go into detail here, let's leave it at that.

In the third week I got a cold with fever and wasn't able to work again. By that time my host and I were already fighting and me being sick all the time didn't make things easier. 

I guess the worst was that you couldn't please my host. He would give you tasks and then critized you for doing it wrong and ended up being pissed because he had to do it himself in the end as I refused.

I really thought it was just him acting patriarchic as I'm a girl and most of the tasks were physically demanding, but I later on heard from a guy who experienced the same. 

Would you like a run-down of the most ridiculous things my host said to me? Well, here you go!

 1. "Baking rolls is an art and you don't have the skills to do that"
(apparently rolls are not supposed to be round because the yeast cannot breathe if you shape the dough, it's better to just smack the dough onto the baking plate in little heaps - the rolls he made that way never were quite done though....)

2. "Feeding the horses is an art"
(actually he didn't say it like this, he just suggested that I should think about the many ways you can feed horses because apparantly mine was wrong, as everything I did.... but instead of telling me what I did wrong exactly he preferred to throw nasty side notes at me and every time I asked him to explain himself he yelled at me that he didn't want to argue.... in the end two of the four horses died of hunger two months after I stayed there so I suppose his feeding methods weren't exactly the best either)

3.  "Could you please stop speaking German..."
(...he says to me and another German volunteer who was there for two days while he continued speaking Finnish to an acquaintance of his)

Actually the weekend when we had another German volunteer, two Asian guests and a Finnish driver over, was the best time I had there. The guesthouse was only run by my Finnish host whereas it was actually owned by a Finnish woman who had another guesthouse and an animal farm in Inari, Finland.

Christina, the German volunteer who became a friend later on, worked in the Finnish guesthouse and up until Christmas I thought that the worst her host had done to her was to serve rotten meat for dinner.

I then read of the death of the two horses in the newspaper though, while Christina and I both were already back in Germany, and apparently the poor things not only starved but their bodies were left on the paddock for weeks while the other two horses were still on it.

Apparently as the owner of the guesthouse was also the owner of the horses, it was her task to remove the bodies from the paddock and my host whose responsibility it was to take care of the horses did absolutely freaking nothing. 

Anyway I already noticed while I was staying there that he wasn't able to properly care for his animals. He had to care for 4 horses and 4 dogs and he didn't even clean the paddock and the dog ground on the days I was sick in bed.

Apparently the whole thing was a case of trying to rescue animals from maltreatment and then being overwhelmed by the work. As far as I know, even when there were 3 volunteers, they all had to work full time so how on earth could he possibly care for the animals on his own?

You have to think about that before you "rescue" an animal but it seems my host was so fanatic about "rescuing" animals (sidenote: he is a Greenpeace member who used to chain himself to things as a sign of protest) that he just couldn't think clearly.

Don't get me wrong, I certainly felt guilty because I knew that he was overwhelmed by the work but I really didn't see this coming. And how could I? I certainly didn't expect the animals to die and certainly not out of hunger as I fed them myself.

I don't know what happened after I was gone and the newspapers didn't reveal too much detail. All I know is that the Finnish owner didn't pay my host so eventually this must have ended up in him not having enough money to get food for the animals.

Forget about what a douchebag he was to me but the death of the animals really shows how rotten his and his boss' characters are. So this review is not only a warning of the "End of the World Guesthouse" in Gamvik, Norway, but also of the "Villa Lanca Guesthouse" in Inari, Finland.

As you see, I didn't have the best time volunteering at the end of the world and after my host and I were fighting in public (if the 200 inhabitants of Gamvik can be called public) I decided to go home earlier than planned.

If you are at the point of yelling at each other constantly, it just doesn't make sense to continue working together. So instead of staying 5 weeks in Gamvik, I only stayed there for 3 weeks and spent another week in Tromso before flying back to Germany.

Apart from all the bad things that happened I still don't regret my stay though. If I wouldn't have volunteered in Gamvik, I would have never visited Tromso (which soon after became my new home), never did a cruise with the Hurtigruten, never visited the North Cape and never visited Hammerfest.

I apologize that this story is so long, it certainly could have been even longer, and I also apologize for any swear words. But sometimes you just have to say exactly what you think and I couldn't have written this story in a neutral way.

Now it's your turn. Tell me your worst travel story or share your time as a volunteer abroad with us.

I would love to read your experiences with workaway, good or bad, and I would certainly feel better knowing I'm not the only one with such a horrible travel experience!

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