With over 40,000 hosts in more than 180 countries there are endless possibilities of places to marvel at and people to inspire you. The ‘Workaway Host of the Month’ blog gives the reader a chance to meet some of our favourite hosts and find out what it is about their personality and project which has created such an appeal amongst fellow Workawayers. Once again we have selected an outstanding host with a lot to offer and great feedback to whet your appetite for adventure and stimulate your imagination.
This month’s blog post takes us to the stunning unspoilt Greek island of Skopelos. Known for its quiet beaches and green mountainous interior, it is also the location for the filming of “Mamma Mia”, the romantic musical. The Mamma Mia Greek Island has been home to Workaway host Heather for the past 30 years. The tavernas are simple and unpretentious and there is a refreshing authenticity about the people and the lifestyle here. Having worked giving guided walks of the island, Heather is on a mission to help clear up and reveal the ancient “kalderimi” paved walkways linking the island’s villages, monasteries, springs and beaches.
We are so pleased to hear that Workaway has worked so well for you and your volunteers! What is your secret to a successful Workaway experience for both parties?
My formula is simply to include and involve my volunteers in all aspects of my life here. They get introduced to my friends and local shop owners so they feel part of the community during their stay. It’s a small community and everybody knows I have workawayers that come visit and help out with my project.
It seems like the local community have adopted you whole-heartedly. How did you arrive in the Mamma Mia Greek island, Skopelos, in the first place?
I arrived in Skopelos to work in 1985 during a career break. It was supposed to have been for just one summer working as a holiday representative for a UK tour operator, but I was offered a job and a house the following summer and so I kept coming back. After 5 years, I took a Greek language course and a TEFL course (to teach English) and began to stay all year. I enjoy the simple life Skopelos offers and being part of the community.
Your mission is to keep the trails clear to enable people to use and enjoy them. What is it which spurs you on such hard path-clearing work?
I so admire the workmanship that has gone into making the cobbled stone trails and supporting walls. They are works of art. Digging them out and exposing them again is like discovering archeology! They are perfect for hiking as they are away from traffic and usually in shady areas. Back in 1985 there were few fences or cars for that matter and I have a good knowledge of where the trails are to be found. Sadly they fell into disuse as locals turned to motorcars and some have been destroyed by the bulldozer. I’m just trying to reinstate them.
Could you tell us a little more about these ancient trails. Who built them? When and what were they used for?
Nobody seems to know exactly how old the trails are. They were the ancient road system though, linking villages, churches and springs. With over 365 churches and ten monasteries, getting around was important as each have a name day celebration.
What kind of person enjoys this challenge?
The perfect volunteer has to enjoy physical work in the countryside, be prepared to get involved, take a pride in what they are doing and hopefully share my passion.
This island is beautiful. And for someone who loves nature, it really is a great way to enjoy it. Heather’s love for her work was evident from day one, and she has a way of making everyone who helps become passionate and excited about the project as well, which makes the work very enjoyable. Working on the trails is also quite rewarding, as you can look back on a trail at the end of a day’s work and physically see how much of a difference has been made. – Workawayer Jessica from US
From reading the feedback, what is evident is that your drive and passion is contagious. Do most workawayers help 3 days on and then 1 day off?
We all work three days on, one day off. If I have guiding commitments, workawayers can come along too so it gives them a break from trail clearing and they get to actually use them.
So, how long do workawayers tend to stay?
The workawayers tend to stay for 2 weeks to a month. I appreciate that the work can become tiring and so if they want to leave after ten days, that’s fine as long as I have a replacement. I always have at least one volunteer staying.
The project is only ongoing during the months April, May, June and September, October, as it’s too hot the rest of the time to be doing the work. I received enough volunteers throughout the whole spring, so next availability will be September and October.
A constant flow of Workawayers then! You may live on an island, but never isolated or alone it seems. Do workawayers get many opportunities for socialising with the locals?
Yes definitely! The people here are very warm and hospitable. Workawayers get a lot of opportunities for socialising with the locals as many donate meals, either in their homes or as a picnic. Some taverna owners donate a meal. I have my favourite local cafe where they can go and meet people. If there is anything happening, they will be included. I like taking the volunteers to see Ag Iannis church too, which is featured in the wedding scene of the film Mamma Mia, plus some other film locations.
Are there any highlights in the Skopelos calendar? Any special social events or dishes which you recommend to visitors?
The highlight of the Skopelos calendar is I suppose Easter. If they are here for that, it is something very special. My friends are always happy to point out customs and to talk about special foods. They are all really curious and enjoy getting to know the volunteers who visit via Workaway from all over the world.
Thank you so much Heather for taking the time out from your busy day to share your story with us.
Thank you so very much Workaway for making my dream of reopening and maintaining the trails of Skopelos a reality!
Uncovering and discovering the beautiful well-trodden paths of the past whilst contemplating who would have walked along them over the centuries, then add to this a spectacular natural backdrop and WOW!
For those who aren’t afraid of hard work, this would indeed be an enrichening experience. Workawayer Emilie from Canada sums up her stay with Heather perfectly:
I had such a wonderful, incredible, impactful and enlightening time on Skopelos island. Heather is a wonderful person, sharing both her home and her day to day life with me — she’s an inspiration of dedication, resourcefulness and hard work (as well as a wizard with the chainsaw)!
Speaking of the work: clearing the trails could be exhausting, but it was also rewarding and magical in its own way (hello goats! hello crows! hello beautiful views!). Work clothes (light long sleeves and long pants) and good shoes were a plus, and our light snack in the afternoon always gave us energy to continue. Be ready to fight with smilax, argue with kermes oak, swear at stubborn roots and possibly jump down feet first in garbage! And then be ready to shout out in excitement and pleasure when you discover a new bit of kalderimi, or throw aside a particularly large piece of wood, and sigh in pleasure when you get to jump in a pebbly, clear-water beach.
Thank you so much for this lovely experience Heather (and all of your friends in Skopelos)! 💙