I made my first experience with helpx on Denman Island. Helpx is volunteering work, and you work between 4 and 6 hours per day and get free accommodation and meals in exchange. Most people live with the hosts in their house, but often they provide a cabin or sometimes even an old caravan in the backyard.
It’s very simple to create a free profile which allows you to see the host’s profile but you are not able to contact them. Therefore, I would recommend a premium membership. The costs are very low, only 20 € for 2 years!
The type of work is widely spread. Mostly farms are looking for assistance in working with animals, private people often look for someone to help with gardening and household, hostels or B & B’s often need help with housekeeping.
By the way: You can do helpx worldwide! You definitely should look up information about visa requirements! In some countries, you will not need a work visa (eg. Canada), in other countries it is essential! These especially include New Zealand and Australia. It’s up to you if you tell the immigration officers that you want to do volunteering work…
Helpx on Denman Island
My first experience with helpx was great! I had messaged some hosts and of course a few spots were already taken, but I was lucky and found a host for 10 days on Denman Island!
Denman Island is a small island between Vancouver Island and the even smaller Hornby Island. From Vancouver you take the ferry to Nanaimo, from there it is about 1 hour north to Buckley Bay. There you take another ferry (the crossing takes 10 minutes ) and you’re there!
My host David picked me up with his two dogs because walking time to his house would have been about an hour. There are no busses!
I worked from 9am -14pm. My duties included everything around the house: Painting the cabin in the backyard, painting doors, make a path with bark mulch, cook, clean, feed chickens, repair the roof of the shed, trimming hedges.
Denman Island is super relaxed and peaceful. Slowing down is the right word here. No one rushes, no one is stressed out, and everyone is just laid back. The tranquility of nature, whether thick woods, rocky beaches or quiet marshes – nature is omnipresent here, people are visitors who respect and appreciate nature. Sustainable living is very important on Denman Island!
Sustainable living – a lifestyle!
My host David made sure to live sustainably and to reduce its ecological footprint. So we drank rainwater from the rainwater tank (usually mixed with juice because the taste was a bit strange), rinsed, washed and was showered with the water from the swamp.
He has built the house all by himself and has used old glass and driftwood. The large pillar in the middle of the living room even comes from an old railway bridge!
On Denman Island is a free store. Everyone can drop off clothes that they don’t need any more, and everyone can take what they need. You don’t have to pay. It’s common sense that you don’t just take everything what’s there and that you make sure you leave something once in the while.
Nobody cares if you wear the old sweater of neighbor X. You actually are happy about someone wearing your old sweater
Instead of saying “Uhh, he is wearing my old stuff I brought to the free store” they say, “Oh, that’s great that you’ve decided to wear my sweater! I take that as a compliment!” I think that’s a great attitude!
Don’t judge – see the positive! And to be honest: We all have a full closet, full of things and we only need half of it. Why not give away all the clothes we only wear once a year? And by that you keep your ecological footprint lower!
The islanders also exchanged food. So I had the chance to eat salmon which my host exchanged with a fisherman for eggs from his chickens. I tell ya: Canadian salmon fresh from the sea … mmhhh 🙂
We also had eggs, every morning There is nothing better than a fresh egg from the chicken coop!
My motto for Denman Island ‘try something new’ and I did: I have eaten mussels and oysters! One afternoon we collected mussels and oysters on the beach and David cooked them in a white wine sauce with onions in a pot. Although I still did not like to eat quite large mussels (because there was so much to chew on), I picked the little mussels and they were delish ; )
David grilled the oysters on the BBQ and I have actually eaten them! When I thought of oysters I always thought of the nasty, slimy, salty, fishy, smelly wobbling things. I was surprised how delicious it tasted!
David put the closed oysters on the BBQ and waited until the shell opened. Then he trickled some lemon zest over them and we ate with a knife and fork (no slurping!).
The way they were grilled they lost their slimy consistency and the taste actually reminded me of scallops, no nasty fishy taste. They were still salty but in the exact right intensity.
I ate four oysters and if there would have been more, I would have eaten them all 😉
So if you have a strong aversion to oysters you should definitely try grilled oysters! I highly recommend them!
Living on the the island
When the islanders talked about going to ‘Downtown’ they meant the main road directly behind the ferry dock and two cafes (one was closed), a hostel, a gas station = post office = supermarket = liquor store, a community center and a church.
Most islanders live here permanently and have their own business or take the ferry to Courtenay and work there. And then there are also people like Ron and Michelle, who live in Vancouver in a small one bedroom apartment and have a gorgeous house on Denman Iceland where they enjoy their weekends and vacations. Who doesn’t want that? Sitting at the weekend on the patio, 50m away from the ocean and if you’re lucky you’ll see a whale passing by!
On Thanksgiving David organized a potluck and several friends and families came over and brought all kinds of food. Instead of a turkey we ate one of David’s chickens. Have you ever eaten chicken from the backyard? I have ever experienced such a natural flavor of meat before (ok on Saltspring Island but that’s another story). Delicate, pure and free of chemicals. You never want to eat chicken from the supermarket anymore!
As a helper you have a lot of free time. You work for 4-6 hours a day and usually you are 2 days off a week. I used my free time to explore the island and relax.
I biked on the empty roads of the island and sometimes I felt like Meg Ryan in City of Angels. Just cycling between the high green trees along the street, all alone with wide spread arms breathing the clear ocean breeze.
My most relaxing moments were early in the morning, when everyone was still asleep. Then I made some coffee, sat on the armchair outside and enjoyed the view of the snowy mountains. In the afternoon, I relaxed again sitting on the armchair, enjoyed the fall sun, read, wrote in my diary…
My host had a canoe and a kayak that I was allowed to use. Behind David’s property there was a long, large swamp and it was so super nice and relaxed to go kayaking there. Absolute silence, calm waters. Here and there a beaver dam.
One afternoon I was even accompanied by a big grey heron that flew ahead, landed and waited until I was at its height again. In such moments just one thought crosses your mind
“I am in perfect harmony with nature!”
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