By Ethan Maurice | October 2, 2015
Over the summer of 2015, I spent 72 incredible days living on the Big Island of Hawaii.
In a work-trade deal through WWOOF Hawaii, I worked 20 hours a week on a small Hawaiian farm in exchange for room and board. My free time (most of the time!) was spent hitchhiking around the island, snorkeling, body surfing, backpacking, fishing, climbing trees, cliff jumping, exploring, drinking coffee, and building this website. It rocked.
All this happened thanks to a work trade program called WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Essentially, WWOOF connects farms and people who are willing to work a set number of hours in exchange for room and board. You can WWOOF almost anywhere on earth, which is awesome, because WWOOFing makes the cost living anywhere on earth ridiculously cheap.
I WWOOFed on a 22 acre, family-owned farm called Alohilani Orchids. It was much more than an orchid farm though—we had it all. Cows, pigs, chickens, horses, dogs, cats, a donkey, coconuts, pineapples, avocados, hundreds trees that produced fruits you've never heard of, and of course, orchids. Bryan and Elizabeth, the owners of the farm, were this spirited, extremely caring couple. We worked mainly with Bryan, who probably had a more exciting life story than anyone I'd ever met. He reminded me of a cross between Fabio and Matthew McConaughey in the movie Mud. He had all these crazy stories, which I was slightly skeptical of at first, until one night, when poachers blatantly shot one of our pigs on the farm. Bryan chased all six riffle wielding hunters back to their car with a metal pipe and bashed in the window of their truck as they sped off. He was the real deal.
I lived in this sweet little pink cabin on the farm. It was one room, probably 12ft x 12ft, with a large desk, a double bed, and plenty of storage space. The farm was off-grid, and including my room, entirely powered by solar energy. There were several other similar cabins around, one big cabin that we often hung out in, and a fully livable treehouse. All the WWOOFers shared an outdoor kitchen and outdoor shower (privacy included).
Work on the farm at Alohilani was always different and surprisingly fun. One day I'd be driving around the Bobcat skid loader, maintaining our two miles of dirt road; the next day we'd do yard maintenance for a couple hours, then ride twenty miles in the back of a small dump truck to pick up thousands of pounds of bananas. Every time I found myself cruising down the highway sitting on a huge pile of bananas in tropical paradise I'd laugh and ask myself the same question, “How did I get here?”
I asked myself that same question quite often. When sitting 120ft up in a Banyon tree next to Rainbow Falls. When body surfing the most remote of black sand beaches as the sun climbed over the horizon. When paddling for my life being blown out to see in an aluminum row boat. When surrounded by brightly colored fish, coral, and face to face with sea turtles. When juggling fruit at the clothing optional hippie drum circle we attended most Sundays on a black sand beach... "How did I get here?" was on my mind quite often.
I WWOOFed with three other people. Julia, Tee, and Alex. Julia, from Moscow, was a director of photography for major motion pictures in Russia. Tee, a videographer from New York City. And Alex, a snowboarder, photographer, and accurately self-described “Yesman” from Washington State.
I enjoyed and hung out with all three of my fellow WWOOFers, but nobody clicked like Alex and I. We both had adventurous ambitions for our stay on the island and we pushed each other to bigger and better things with our time there. We drove each other to run further, to cliff jump from higher places, and to be more proactive about experiencing the island. We talked philosophy, discussed books, and shaped the ideas and ambitions of this website. Even out in the rural jungles of Hawaii, traveling brings like-minded people together.
The times were great, and our adventures, many. We backpacked to the most remote, beautiful beaches on the island. We went deep sea fishing in kayaks and row boats in shark infested waters. We snorkeled in the kind of places you see on television, but never think you'll actually experience. I must have hitchhiked with 100 different people during my 72 day stay. We went to ragae concerts in Hilo and a full-moon outdoor rave in the middle of the jungle. We built a 100ft long slip-n-slide in the cow pasture. We trudged along muddy trails in the rain and across drainage pipes to ride this epic sugarcane shoot that doubled as the world's fastest water slide.
There was a lot of living in those 72 days and the best part—I paid less than the cost of a round trip plane ticket for the whole adventure. Grand total for two and a half months in paradise: $669. Thanks to the WWOOF program and a Hawaiian Airlines Credit Card with 35,000 bonus airline miles, my expenses were minimal. You can apply these tactics to cheaply go anywhere. In fact, I spent months writing a guide about such tactics and resources that you can download for free here.
So, what can you take from all this?
Well, one, through WWOOF you can live anywhere economically with other amazing, like minded people. Two, you can fly anywhere for very cheap if you play your (credit) cards right. And three: go for it, who knows what surreal experiences await?