I think my parents thought I was crazy. I know some of my friends did. In the days leading up to my departure, even I was convinced. Why would a young solo-traveling female put her trust (aka life) into other’s hands so fully? Couchsurfing and then WWOOFing, both situations where you are fully entrusting a complete stranger with your well-being, could not be farther from “safe”. But somehow, I knew it would be the best and most influential experience for myself. I was doing this for my future self, regardless of how my present self felt.
When I was first researching options and starting to plan this adventure, I knew right away that I wanted to do some sort of work exchange. As a member of Workaway, I wanted to find something interested to do while experiencing some other far-off land. I knew that I wanted to go someplace tropical for a change, so I eventually chose French Polynesia (plus the French that I spent so much time, money, and tears learning could finally be put to use!) There were unfortunately not many options, even across all of the various islands and atolls, but after reaching out to farms, couples, families, etc. I finally got a confirmation from one Vaihuti Fresh Organic Farm located in Raiatea, in the cluster of islands Sous-le-Vent, a part of the Society Islands**. It looked like paradise. I ended up talking to the owner of the farm via email for the next month or so while I planned and prepared, and he luckily sent me a video that a past Workaway-er had made during the summer – that made it real. It was settled. I would buy my ticket to Raiatea and hope it worked out.
**First I had to figure out the lineage of these islands and their names: French Polynesia is comprised of five archipelagos. One of these is the Society Islands, which is then made up of two groups, the Leeward Islands and the Westward Islands. The Leeward Islands, aka les îles Sous-le-Vent, is made up of Bora Bora, Huahine, Maupiti, Raiatea and her sister island Taha’a (sisters because they share the same coral reef and just a shallow lagoon separates them). Now back to the story…
But now, what about getting there? I knew I’d have to fly into Tahiti, since it’s the main island and the only one with an international airport. To offset any jetlag or traveler confusion/exhaustion, I decided to spend a couple of days there first to explore and be a tourist before digging in the dirt for a month. After a (very) brief search of hostels/hotels/pensions, I learned that yes, indeed – Tahiti is for honeymooners with money to spend. That was not me. So instead I turned to Couchsurfing, where you can reach out to total strangers in the country of your choice to ask to stay at their house for a day or so – safe right? Since it was really my only option, I opted to take the risk. Yes I was scared. Yes my thoughts went to the worst possible outcome. Yes I wanted desperately to find another place to stay… but somehow I still trusted the one guy that accepted my Couch request. This man that I had never met in person, wrote in broken English, and had never done Couchsurfing before, somehow had my trust, and essentially, my life in his hands. Call it a gut feeling, I suppose. In fact, just a day before I left San Francisco, I recieved a message from another woman offering her couch for a couple of days. I felt so sure about my intuition, that I declined. It ended up being a wonderful decision.
I had an amazing time staying with my new Tahitian friend in his apartment. He picked me up at the airport, lei in hand, and promptly took me to meet some friends of his and go to the beach to watch the sunset. That evening we met up with the same friends for drinks and salsa dancing at a big hotel on the beach! I spent the next couple of days there touring around the island where he showed me a waterfall, an even more beautiful sunset over Moorea, and a local market full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and local handicrafts. I never once felt uncomfortable or at risk of anything – it was perfect. Then, just as we had met so suddenly, he dropped me off at the airport a couple days later and I left for Raiatea.
Round Two of trust: When I got off the plane in Raiatea (a tiny little plane at a tiny little airport, I may add), I was greeted by the farm owner’s wife, who was very friendly and instantly made me feel welcome. I stayed at their home that night, since it was already evening time and the farm was another 30 minutes away. (Note, I also found out at that moment that they didn’t live on the farm, and that I was also the only volunteer staying there for the moment. My nerves picked up.) They put me up in an adorable little bungalow just 10 feet from the water’s edge, across the yard from their main house. I ate dinner with them that night and finally met Thierry, the owner, whom I’d been talking to for months prior. Again, I felt instantly comfortable. They did a great job of making me feel welcome and at ease. The next day Thierry even took me into town (the only town on the island) to buy a SIM card for my phone for emergencies – after finding out that there was definitely no internet at the farm, I felt I needed something. That afternoon we packed up and took the drive out to the lush valley where lived my new home: Vaihuti Fresh Organic Farm.