Working Away in the New Mexico Mountains

At the end of January/beginning of February, after a week of being tourists in San Antonio and Austin, we left Texas for the mountains outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we spent two weeks at our first WorkAway location.

Much like our WWOOFing experiences in Georgia and Texas, WorkAway connected us with a host family who provided us room and board in exchange for work. Unlike WWOOF though, WorkAway is not necessarily farm work. In our case, it was mostly help with projects around our hosts’ home, cooking, baking and other housework. [For a little more detailed information about becoming a Workawayer, check out http://www.workaway.info/information-for-travellers.html.]

Our Hosts

As always, we’ll respect the privacy of our hosts and not reveal their names, but we will tell you more about them.

He is a self-employed handyman, and she is a professional organizer. Both are self-proclaimed hippies.

He is originally from Ohio, but hitchhiked out to New Mexico in the early 1970s where he lived in communes, herded goats and helped build a dome. It is hard to imagine a kinder and more gracious individual. At the end of each day, he made sure to thank us for all of our help that day and he always wished us goodnight by saying “sleep of angels.”

She was born in Germany, raised in Switzerland and moved to the U.S. in her late teens. We spent the early part of every morning sipping coffee with her and discussing everything – New Mexico culture, movies, politics (both US and European), traveling, swimming, you name it. She appreciated good workouts and was nice enough to invite us to join her at the gym on multiple occasions.

They met in California, intended to move to Houston, but wound up in New Mexico where they built their own home (literally…as in with their own hands) and have hosted probably dozens of people like us over the years. Welcoming strangers into your home is not an easy task. Our hosts do it over and over again. They build new friendships and learn from the travelers. They probably teach us a lot more than we teach them though!

A Wealth of Knowledge

As mentioned above, our tasks at the WorkAway site involved a lot of housework. Scott cooked dinner many nights, Edie baked lots of goodies, and we both did a lot of dishes. We helped walk the 4 dogs in the mornings (Knox included!), and when it snowed, Scott helped shovel the driveway. We helped get firewood ready for the woodburning stove, and we helped feed & water the chickens and look for eggs.

While we did our fair share of helping, we did a lot of learning, too. As mentioned in a previous post, we learned about sustainable building, and we have a new-found interest in trying to build our own home one day. The library of books our hosts owned on building and construction was incredible.

We also learned the true meaning of reduce, reuse, recycle. Nothing went to waste in this home, and resources were carefully used. Old wine and beer bottles were used in the construction of the walls to the chicken coop. Broken plates were turned into mosaic tops for tables. Coffee grounds, egg shells and fruit & veggie scraps were composted to help make richer soil for the tomatoes, raspberries, and countless other fruits and vegetables our hosts grow.

New Experiences

Of course, our WorkAway stay in New Mexico wasn’t just about work.

We got a chance to make homemade sushi for the first time. Our host family had a sushi kit (way easier to make rolls with the kit!), and we helped turn salmon, shrimp, avocado, rice and veggies into a fabulous dinner. Much to our surprise, making your own sushi is really not all that hard. It’s definitely something we’ll have to try again in the future!

One Saturday night, we went into downtown Albuquerque for a poetry slam – a new experience for both of us. Sure, we’d been to story slams courtesy of The Moth, but we’d never been to a poetry slam. [For more info on poetry slams, check out the all-knowing Wikipedia’s link on these events.]

We spent over two hours listening to poets read their original works in both an open mic (non-judged) portion of the slam and the competition. Inspired by the works read at the poetry slam and by Edie’s friend’s “haiku-a-day” for February (thanks, Melony!), Scott penned his very own haiku about our darling little pup:

Knox the sleepy pup
Snoring between his humans
What a happy dog

Land of Enchantment…or Entrapment?

The official nickname for New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment. After experiencing the incredible beauty of this state for the second time, we can understand why. Forests, mountains, deserts – all of the landscapes (and clearly, they range the gamut!) are breathtaking and colorful. The natural beauty of the state truly is enchanting.

But the state also gets called the Land of Entrapment…with two different spins. On the one hand, the beauty of the state is so enchanting that folks come here and never want to leave. They are trapped by the gorgeous scenery.

However, New Mexico has a pretty high poverty rate. Without the ability to get a high paying job, people get stuck, trapped, in New Mexico, unable to leave.

As we mentioned above, our hosts are self-employed. Being self-employed in a state with such high poverty, our hosts were not wealthy by conventional standards. Money was often tight. Still, our hosts owned multiple properties and vehicles – without debt. They knew how to manage their money and resources to live well – something folks making $250K but going bankrupt need to learn.

Instead of running the dishwasher, microwave or washer whenever they feel like it, they only do it during standard low usage times (9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) to avoid higher charges. They hang their clothes to dry in the passive solar rooms instead of using a dryer. They grow a substantial amount of fruits and vegetables in the warmer months that provide fresh produce initially and canned spreads or sauces later. They make their trips in the car count to use expensive gas carefully, combining trips to town to get the most bang for their buck. And they simply just watch their spending carefully to get the most out of their money.

Photos!

As always, we [read: Edie] took lots and lots of pictures during our WorkAway stay. Check out the gallery below.