After how well our first experience with Help X went, we weren’t as nervous about starting our second placement which was two weeks working on a vineyard/farm in Osoyoos. But if we knew what a Help X nightmare we were about to endure, we would have hightailed it back to Vancouver straight away.
Osoyoos is in the middle of Canada’s only desert and has plants and wildlife that are uniquely different from the rest of Canada such as cacti, sagebrush, rattlesnakes, tarantulas and black widow spiders.
We started our journey on the early 6am bus from Chase to Kamloops where we changed for a bus to Penticton. Penticton has a pleasant enough town centre and we found a food truck serving poutine at a reasonable price for lunch, talking with the friendly Proprietor while we waited for it to be prepared. Another bus from Penticton took us further south to our final destination: Osoyoos. Shortly after departure, we noticed that the landscape was changing, becoming less green and much drier.
We probably should have taken the fact that we were waiting for over two hours at the Osoyoos Greyhound Station to be picked up as a bad omen, but we were still blissfully unaware of what was to come.
After managing to get hold of our Hosts who had indeed forgotten us despite speaking to them to confirm the time and place less than a week earlier, they tried to blame us and said that we had to wait on the side of the road with a sign to the Farm as some of their other workers were in town and could pick us up on the way back. It was raining so we weren’t overly keen.
As soon as we got out on the side of the highway, a local guy pulled over and asked us if we needed a ride. We didn’t even have the sign up yet or our thumbs out. He said that he knew where the farm was and said he could drop us off there. About one minute after setting off we saw a massive black bear balancing on a concrete barrier right beside the road! It was the last thing we expected to see but apparently there are a lot of bears in the area.
The Help X Nightmare Really Begins
On arriving at the Farm, we saw a guy walking around who turned out to be one of the other workers. He showed us to the worker’s house and to our ‘room’ which was a partitioned off part of the lounge with a dirty mattress on the floor and mouse droppings in the corner. There were private rooms but they were all taken.
My heart sunk as soon as I saw the house and the disgusting mess inside. It was a big open warehouse with minimal furniture and lots of flies. The toilet was a smelly long drop and the shower room was also a disgusting mess and had a black widow spider living above the mirror. We walked up to the main house to meet our host. He met us at the door in his underwear and criticised my handshake before brushing us off and telling us to ask the other workers any questions we had, what a guy.
I wanted to get the hell out of there early the next morning but Trav thought we should stay for at least one day to give it a chance, so I reluctantly agreed.
There were seven other workers there which we were told was not as many as usual, with up to 15 people working there at one time being the norm. Most of the other workers were really friendly but they were a lot younger than us and obviously didn’t care about the filth they were living in.
One girl even described their situation as ‘lucky’. I nearly laughed in her face. They were also pretty keen to party every night and smoke a lot of the weed that the farm grows – apparently it is Medical Marijuana and they have a licence to grow it but I have my doubts.
Food was provided and the workers would prepare their own meals. One of the guys was the resident Chef and cooked most nights. We took a look downstairs at the food pantry and it was pretty basic stuff – Kraft dinners, canned soup, cheap pasta, sauces, bread, cream cheese, milk and chicken. You would think that if you are working for free for someone for 6 days a week, 5 hours a day, you would at least be given good quality food (and a decent place to sleep)!
Luckily one of the guys that had been there for a while felt sorry for us and our poor excuse for a room and said we could sleep in the RV trailer outside. It was a step up but was also filthy, had two dead mice in the cubboard and wasn’t hooked up to electricity. At least we had privacy.
I spent our first evening trying to set up couchsurfing in Victoria for a couple of days time and looking for other Help X opportunities in the Gulf Islands or Vancouver Island. We had a nice dinner and after the shock wore off things didn’t seem so bad.
We retired to our RV early to get away from the flies in the house. There are a lot of small cacti on the ground and we ended up standing on a few because we couldn’t see very well with only a weak light on our torch. Pretty painful. Coyotes howled and the dogs on the property howled back so we didn’t get the quiet night we were hoping for.
The next morning we met the others out in the vineyard at 8am to weed. We followed the others lead and only ended up working for 3 ½ hours rather than the 5 we were expected to. It went fairly quickly as we were all talking while we worked. I didn’t feel bad at all for short changing our Hosts as one hours work a day would have been fair for what they provide their workers.
The setting is actually quite beautiful as the house overlooks a river bend with a sandy beach and is based in a river valley with a big mountain range towering over it. I would be too scared to go hiking though due to the large number of poisonous spiders, rattlesnakes and bears.
We were going to go down to the river to take a look around but it started raining so we spent the afternoon inside. AJ, the Chef, started making dinner again as well as a cheesecake for dessert. He got too drunk to finish making the main course so one of the other guys finished up for him.
After dinner we told everyone that we were going to leave the following morning as the farm ‘wasn’t for us’. Everyone understood and they were really nice about it. Sounds like it has happened a few times before so they weren’t really that surprised. A moody French Canadian guy made us a sign for hitching by cutting letters spelling ‘Vancouver’ out of cardboard. We almost felt a bit sad about leaving – almost.
Back in the RV we watched Dexter on our laptop and then we started to feel a bit weird. Then REALLY weird and unsteady on our feet. It felt like being incredibly stoned but surely not as we hadn’t smoked anything. Turns out that the guy who finished cooking the dinner thought it would be funny to lace the food with marijuana.
Hmmm not so funny to me.
I ended up feeling super paranoid and not sleeping as I thought the coyotes were going to break in and eat me. Trav was so stoned (he ate two helpings of dinner) that he fell straight to sleep. Lucky him.
Not feeling great the next day, we were very glad to be getting out of there. The offending culprit that drugged us was severely hungover and not out of bed yet so we didn’t get to confront him, but with a raging hangover, I am sure he got what he deserved.
We didn’t tell our Hosts we were leaving, we just left. We didn’t expect that they would notice. Luckily the farm is on the highway towards Vancouver so we just walked to the end of the driveway and held out our sign. There wasn’t a lot of traffic but we managed to get a ride within an hour and the guy who picked us up was going all the way to Vancouver!
It was over 300km so we stopped along the way to eat lunch in Hope. Our driver was friendly enough but not very talkative. We listened to Irish fiddle and Indian Sitar music during the long drive and he dropped us off near a Sky Train station in Burnaby where we could easily get to our friend Nicole’s place where we were staying.
It felt so good to be back in Vancouver and not to have to worry about standing on cacti, being bitten by a spider or having our food drugged. We caught up with our friends Nicole and Ed, drinking tea in their Garage/Living room. Ah, it was so nice.
Our couchsurfing in Victoria for the next night fell through so we decided to go to our Denman Island Help X placement early, after another night in Vancouver first.
The sun was out for our one day back so we wandered into town and through Yale Town. Yale Town is a neighbourhood in the downtown that was once a heavy industry area and has since been revitalised into a trendy renovated warehouse district with lots of upscale shops and dining. We had lunch at a fantastic sushi place where we split a 22 piece platter for only $3.50 each including tax and tip! I love how cheap good sushi is in Vancouver. Trav is obsessed with it.
After looking at the shops on Granville, we headed for a wander around Coal Harbour. There were two speckled grey seals fighting over fish offcuts being fed to them by a fisherman. When we lived in Vancouver in 2009/2010, we never saw any seals or otters in the harbour and this time around we have seen both, otters on numerous occasions. Not sure if the water has got cleaner in the Harbour or we just weren’t lucky the first time.
Walking back through Yale Town to the house we came across a Farmers Market. We tried some spicy chai tea and I drooled over the mini pie stand with some out there concoctions like Maple French Toast Bacon and Pulled Pork. I indulged in a Virgil’s Cream Soda on the way home. My absolutely favourite drink in the whole world at the moment. I am so sad that I won’t be able to get it in New Zealand.
Ed dropped us at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal to catch our ferry to Nanaimo the next morning. Horseshoe Bay is a beautiful village on Howe Sound in West Vancouver, looking out towards Bowen Island and the Coast Mountains. On previous visits we have seen bald eagles, big purple starfish and seals, but this time around there weren’t any of the above in sight.
We were a couple of hours early for our ferry so we took advantage of Starbuck’s Fall menu, ordering Pumpkin Spice Lattes and sat by the sea, admiring the view until it was time to board.
So things turned out quite differently than planned but every downside has an up and that was an extra couple of nights in Vancouver.
Our next stop was a ten day Help X placement at a Hobby Farm on Denman Island.
As long as they don’t drug our food, we should get along just fine.