Working on an olive farm in Greece with WWOOF

I ended up working on an olive farm in Greece thanks to pure serendipity.

I had just wrapped up my morning tour with Athens Insiders, and was chatting with Daphne, my guide. She asked me about my plans for the rest of my trip.

“I’ve been trying to find a good WWOOF location in the islands,” I said. “But I can’t find any accommodations with Internet, and I need to do my freelance stuff.”

“My parents take WWOOFers on their farm in Lesvos all the time,” she said. “And they have great WiFi.” Boom.

And so by the end of the week I had secured a work placement on the Tragakis estate on Lesvos, a large but non-touristy island in the Northern Aegean.

The islands of the Northern Aegean are completely different from the big names like Santorini, Mykonos, and Ios. For one, they’re a lot harder to get to, so they’re not touristy at all (or most tourism comes from Turkey). Secondly, they’re busy year-round, and not just during the tourist season.

Greece WWOOFing

Fave thing: fresh squeezed orange juice.
I stepped off the bus in Mytilini, Lesvos’s wonderfully busy university town, and immediately got lost. The buses taking me to Perama were not listed in English. I walked in circles asking people for directions, and they did what they could to help me out. At that point I had popped two Ativan because my flight to the island had been nerve-wracking, and I was sweating bullets. I had to get off the bus and take a short ferry across Geras Bay to Perama, where my host would pick me up. The ferry was a tiny fishing vessel with a half-naked women calendar on the wall alongside a framed photo of a mountain landscape. The only reason I found the ferry stop was because one lady on the bus spoke English and helped me out. I was too dull from the drugs to figure out what the feck was going on, and so I sat there foolishly drooling into my lap.

But I made it to the farm, and found myself high in the hills of an olive farm, with a view overlooking the sea and across to Turkey. My WWOOF accommodations were pure luxury. Lena, a lovely German girl, was the only other volunteer worker when I showed up. We had an entire apartment to ourselves. Our hosts Dimitri and Kiki welcomed me with a full spread of food and homemade wine.

untitled-5

Lena, the other WWOFer. I literally drove the poor girl to tears with my snoring.
A typical day went like this: Lena and I awoke at 7 AM. She was the happy chef, while I preferred to clean up the kitchen. We’d make fresh squeezed orange juice, buttered toast, Greek yoghurt with honey from the farm’s hives, and coffee or tea. We’d take our breakfast out to the table overlooking the bay and we’d sing out a “kalimera!” to our boss, Michaelis. Then the work would begin.

Michaelis was a rough-and-tough farmhand who resembled a Greek warrior: big and stocky, with a full beard. He constantly carried around frappe in a travel cup, and smoked cigarettes while working in trees’ shade. He also did not speak a word of English. Not one word. We got by on hand gestures and general grunting. He’d whistle to us, point at something that needed attention, and then would demonstrate what needed to get done. The process flowed beautifully.

Lesvos WWOOF

The work entailed everything from gathering the pruned branches of olive trees for mulch to weeding the vineyard. The former I loved; I felt like I was working out for five hours a day, and I threw the branches around while pretending to be a Spartan warrior tossing spears. The latter was excruciating torture. Lena somehow managed to find peace in the process of ripping out weeds by the roots. She sat in the vineyard and worked quietly for hours, somehow doubling the speed that I moved in. I could never get comfortable. I’d kneel or sit and my body would start aching. I’d stoop to clear the soil and my back would break. I bitched and moan, a lot. Poor Lena.

But the work was rewarding, simply because it was so goddamn good to work with my hands. We worked under the spring Mediterranean sun, dusty and dirty, taking in the thousands of olive trees growing hillside on the estate. Birds chirped around us while we toiled. Sometimes the donkey would make his way over for a head scratch and to bat his big, dark eyelashes at us. Even Michaelis grew warmer as the time went on. On my way to the top of the hill one day, he pressed his finger to his lip and motioned for me to come near the garage. Inside, a mama chicken and her baby chicks peeped around the wine barrels. Sometimes Michaelis would bring his one-year-old daughter Penelope to see me. His wife, a sweet and chatty Mexican, had been a former WWOOFer herself.

We’d work until 1 PM and then scatter for lunch. Dimitri and Kiki kept us well fed, although we took care of most meals ourselves. Lena was a brilliant cook. Using ingredients grown in the garden, she’d make handmade ravioli stuffed with squash, and fresh salads with Greek ingredients. We’d take our books and notebooks out to lie in the grass near the pool and read for hours. Sundays were our day off.

Lena left after our road trip around Mytilini and then I was on my own for a few days before Russ showed up, an older British Canadian who took to the farm-life with immediate gusto. My last night on the farm, we drank ouzo and chatted for hours while watching the sun go down.

day off in Lesvos

There were beaches nearby. Me happy.
I idealize these moments in this blog post, because they actually were idyllic. But there were moments of full body pain and agonizing blisters, and I never want to weed another garden as long as I live. The isolation sometimes got frustrating, even if all I wanted was a goddamned chocolate bar or a pint of beer. If you’re not familiar with WWOOF, you help with farm labour for half a workday and then you have the rest of the afternoon off. All this is in exchange for room and food. For a freelancer like me, it’s perfect. I must have saved hundreds of dollars during my time on Lesvos.

If you decide to do a WWOOF experience like this, sign up for WWOOF. Or do a search for farms outside the WWOOF website to see what comes up. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

And yes, I’m still completely terrified of spiders.

  • July 25 2014
    KaleenasKaleidoscope

    Wow, this sounds so amazing! My friend worked on an olive farm in Italy, she has some rather interesting and hilarious stories as well. I’m going to be doing some WWOOFing on my RTW trip next year, if I make it to Greece I’ll totally try to work at this farm! But yes, spiders are the devil incarnate. Shudder.

    • August 10 2014

      YAY! I hope you do! And tell them I sent you. :) You’d love it there. A very special part of Greece.

  • July 26 2014
    HippieInHeels

    I’d love to try this out. Glad you found a place with wi-fi as well :)

  • July 26 2014
    Wee Wanders

    I keep looking at WWOOFing and is definitely something I want to do when I get back from Asia. I try visit some friends on Corfu every year too because I love the Greek islands so much! Love your photos too :)

    • August 10 2014

      I haven’t been to Corfu yet! I’m so sad I missed it

  • July 27 2014

    I really want to try WOOFing! It sounds like you found a really cool place. :)

  • July 27 2014

    I always wanted to WWOOF but the wifi thing is usually an issue on farms… this looks amazing!

    • August 10 2014

      YEP! Although not impossible, so keep digging. Workaway and Help-x are also useful.

  • July 27 2014
    creativenomad

    Love hearing your experience. I have heard of wwoofing quite a bit and am hoping to backpack Europe with it. Its great to get such an authentic experince.

    • August 10 2014

      Have you written much about it? I’m eager to try it somewhere else in the world too

  • July 28 2014

    I did some Help X-ing which is pretty much the same thing as WWOOFing but not just on farms – loved it but it was definitely hard work some days!

    • August 10 2014

      That’s the plan for my next trip! I honestly didn’t know anything about it. Nice to mix things up a bit.

  • July 29 2014

    Aside from the getting lost part this actually sounds pretty incredible. I would totally love do something like this one day!

  • August 07 2014
    C

    How fantastic! I first heard of WWOOF when reading “driving over lemons” and the sequels. Nice to hear another WWOOF experience! I also highly recommend the book if you want to read an entertaining tale about moving to rural Spain :)

  • August 21 2014
    Sara

    Definitely considering WWOOFing after I’ve finished high school, before I go to uni. What a coincidence that I was on the world wide WWOOF website while I opened this blog post in another tab :P This sounds like lots of fun, very rewarding. I think I’d actually take to the remoteness of it all… Just need to remember to pack some booze and chocolate ;) x

    • August 24 2014

      Hahaha, take that as a sign and GO! The remoteness was wonderful. My hosts had a few writers go there to work on books and such. Yes, learn from my mistakes. Booze and chocolate are two MUSTS.

  • October 13 2014

    THIS IS AMAZING! I have been trying to find somewhere in Greece to WWOOF for the month of November and have just been failing finding a place. I would love to get in touch with the Tragakis family! Thank thank thank you Candice!

  • December 20 2014
    MaryDawn

    Hey Candice! Was just wondering if you could share your route as far as how you actually got to the farm (from Athens, maybe?) and how much that travel cost? I am looking for somewhere to WWOOF for two weeks at the end of April and this sounds wonderful. I would also love to get in touch with the Tragakis family! I found your blog from a simple “wwoof Greece” Google search. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • December 21 2014

      I flew from Athens to Mytilini! It wasn’t too pricey. Try Skyscanner.com. The Tragakis are awesome! Send me an email at candicewalsh@gmail.com and I’ll introduce you

  • January 06 2015
    Jorge C

    Hey, When you took this adventure, did you need to pay the membership required for WWOOF or was it something you just found and accept?

    • January 07 2015

      I had already paid for the membership in advance, but they never asked for my WWOOFing profile, I assume because I was a friend of their daughter’s. Not sure how they’d handle it otherwise

  • January 27 2015
    icameroni

    Hey Candice, nice piece of writing, and a terrific experience you’ve had. Susie and I are a pair of Kiwis heading to Lesvos, but approaching from Istanbul and Turkey in mid-May. We’d love to meet your hosts and offer them some good Kiwi work ethic in return for a roof and some of those salads. Could you put us in touch? Thanks and best luck, Cameron.

    • February 23 2015

      Hi Cameron,

      I’m super sorry I missed this message. Are you still looking to work at this farm?

      Cheers,
      Candice

  • February 22 2015
    Jorge Chávez García

    Hey Candice! Love your blog and I couldnt be more happy to read that Michaelis chatty wife is mexican; My grilfriend and I are plannin to wwoof by October ’15 in Greece. Could you please introduce us? & How many days could you spend with them?
    Thanks

  • March 28 2015
    Ceara Loetell

    Your experience sounds amazing! I’ve been looking to wwoof in Greece this summer, but most of them are horror stories. I have a wwoof membership, could you let me know what farm this is? Thanks!

    • March 30 2015

      Hey Ceara! Look up the Tragakis estate in Lesbos. Should be easy to find!

  • May 22 2015
    Abi

    Heya, I’d really like to wwoof in Greece next year but am wondering if you need a visa? I’ve searched high and low can’t find anywhere that really specifies. Thanks!

    • May 23 2015

      You don’t need to apply for any visas, as long as you’re travelling as a tourist! You can have 3 months inside the Schengen area

  • June 17 2015
    Andrea Hart

    Hey Candice,

    Just read your article and found it very informative! Dimitris has confirmed that my friend and I could come work on his farm for the months of July and August this year but I emailed him 4 days ago to ask him a question, but he has not responded to me. Just curious if you have some advice as to what I should do or a number I could reach him at?

    Thanks,

    Andrea

  • July 01 2015
    Pina Charlotte

    Hi Candice,
    that sounds like a pretty amazing trip. It’s good to hear some positive stories about WWOOF experiences in Greece. I’d love to do some WWOOfing on that farm. Do you think you could send me a contact to get in touch with Michaelis and Kiki?

    Thanks that would be great.

    • June 05 2016
      Rosemary

      Hey, did you ever get a contact? I am trying to find one myself, as the email address I had just bounced back.
      Cheers

  • June 05 2016
    Rosemary

    Hey,

    Great blog! Your experience at the olive farm in Lesvos sounds amazing – me and my friend have tried getting into contact with the Tragakis family to see if they can host us as WWOOFers for 12 days this summer, but my email bounced back. I was wondering if you had an up-to-date email address I can reach them on? (I tried dtra@otenet.gr).

    Many thanks,
    Rosemary

    • August 28 2016

      nterested…? Here are some contact details:

      Olive farm owner : Mr Dimitri Tragakis
      “The Tragakis Farm” Lesvos, Greece
      Mobile: 0030 6944396161
      Email: dtragakis@gmail.com

  • August 28 2016
    Angela Seager

    Hey Candice
    Angela Seager here…
    Having read your post I contacted Dimitri, the owner, said I was interested in helping, and guess what? four days later I’m here on the olive farm.
    The views are spectacular, the Greek guys are great to work with, and the accommodation is first class.
    A week after I arrived, my daughter joined me to help on the farm too…
    I also think my son and his girlfriend are thinking of arriving at the end of September…
    It’s a great way to travel, work and live for free!
    Just a little side note: it is extremely isolated, no tv, no internet in the room, the nearest village is 20 minutes by car, but no taxi will travel up the dirt path to collect you or drop you off…
    But as I’m with my daughter all is good.

    • August 29 2016
      Candice

      Oh, how wonderful for you! Have the best time!

  • August 25 2017

    I am interested in volunteering to help with this farm … I have experience in converting natural herbs into medical oils. And taking care of horses and dogs … How can this .. Greetings good to you. i stay in Athens now

  • January 08 2018

    I keep coming back to this post, it’s so evocative and I’ve been meaning to do WWOOFing for the longest time. Hopefully this year is the year!

    • January 10 2018
      Candice

      Dooo it! You won’t regret it!

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