Living Off The Grid in Maui, Hawaii: My 3 Month WWOOFing Experience
I spent 3 months living off-the-grid on an 100% solar powered organic farm in the West Maui Mountains of Hawai’i in 2017, and it was one of the most insane experiences of my lifetime. Thinking back on all the digging, planting, watering, harvesting, waterfalls, mountain ridge hikes, hidden rock pool swims.. the whole thing feels like a dream. Like all things, the experience wasn’t without it’s shadow- and I’m going to share the highs and lows of my time in Hawai’i with you today!
When I left Australia (after nearly 3 years living in NSW), I took advantage of the insane flight back to Canada and decided to make a pit-stop somewhere along the way. I debated between a few locations and ultimately Hawai’i won the tug-of-war, and I began to explore my options.
Very quickly I realised that a Hawaiian vacation was essentially impossible to do on the cheap. Prior to leaving Australia, I had planned and did take 4 months off work at to hang around Byron Bay and slowly blow a significant amount of my savings, not to mention the cost of flights home- so I knew I would have to get creative with the finances of this Maui trip.
I had known about the WWOOFing website for a while; they a company that connects people with organic farms in over 100 countries. The abbreviation WWOOF has multiple (similar) meanings, ranging from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms to Willing to Work On Organic Farms. As a WWOOFer, you are able to work on a farm in exchange for food and board, without having to worry about work visas (since there is no monetary exchange). This is a biggie with Hawaii, because the USA does not mess around when it comes to blacklisting people who work without a visa (..and as a Canadian, getting banned from the US is a travel nightmare, since many international flights have layovers in America). I had cultivated a passion for organics during my years in Australia, and this felt like the perfect time to take my love to the next level, and actually experience the process of growing and cultivating these foods.
Seeing and contacting farms required signing up to the website, which I remember doing that same night while lying in bed in my at the time house in Malabar, Sydney. It took about 5 minutes and I layed there with my blueblockers on and started scrolling my options.
Choosing my Farm
Picking my farm was truly the synchronicity of lifetime. I was reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda at the time, and the very first farm that I clicked on mentioned that the property was a future retreat centre for the Self-Realization Fellowship, which is essentially a “religion”(or following) that considered Paramahansa Yogananda as their guru. I didn’t actually know this at the time, all I knew is that it said Self-Realization Fellowship on the cover of the very book I was reading, and thought that that alone was a sign from the heavens I should apply to work there. Moreover it was 100% off the grid, which I loved, in a remote area with no city or EMF pollution. Anyways I clicked and applied to WWOOF at the farm that same night.
Mary who runs the farm contacted me shortly after, and we set up a skype phone call to speak face to face. The skype meeting ended up lasting hours, because her and I connected immediately and profoundly. She is an older woman, with a sparkle in her blue eyes and long white braids. She truly radiates health, and we spoke about everything from our love for plants and animals to healing, to our shared value for organics, nudity, meditation, and even coffee enemas! I felt like I could see myself in her, and in many ways I still do. I couldn’t believe how deeply we connected and how my very first farm turned out to be this mystical opportunity. Mary explained to me that she had been running the farm mostly by herself for decades, that she was slowly building up the property to eventually become a retreat centre where devotees of the SRF could come meditate and connect. She also shared that she was very selective with who she allowed to come on the farm, and that she turned down most WWOOFing applications because she didn’t feel like they were a right fit. But we got on so well right off the bat that it was a no brainer: I was going to Maui.
Maui WOOFing, My Experience
Before I delve in, I want to preface this post by telling you that I had full on breakdowns (emphasis on the plural) towards the end of my stay on the farm. I am not normally a crier, nor am I generally anything but happy and grateful. I am pretty good at going with the flow and taking experiences as they come, even embracing the harder times as learning experience. While WWOOFing in Maui, I fully broke down during my last two weeks because I felt like I was being psychologically abused, on some other-dimension spiritual level. It was a slow build of stress that I started picking up around day 4, and it just kept piling on and piling on until I broke.
Looking back, it’s really hard to put into words why, because so much of it was rooted in little daily jabs, condescending tone of voice, a general false-positive attitude (spiritual bypassing), and incessant complaining bestowed upon me by my host. Despite all of this, I still have a deep love and value for her, because I know that she is blind to her destructive ways. It’s hard to feel angry with someone who absolutely has no idea how she treats people, and whom I don’t believe has bad intentions. That being said, the spiritual ego is the most dangerous- because someone who knows about the ego and spirituality and somehow thinks they are above fallacy have a dark and twisted way of abusing anyone who crosses their path. I’ll share my experience best as possible, and hope that it can give you some insight into how a WWOOFing exchange can go (although truthfully, I feel my experience was probably a rare one with the highest of highs, and lowest of lows).
I started writing this post with the real names of people and of the farm, and then decided ultimately to omit the farm name and use alias’ for most of the people. If you want to know the name of the farm, you can contact me directly and I will share (I do believe in full disclosure and honesty, especially if you are considering farms in the area) but for the average person who is just interested in knowing my experience I didn’t feel the need to publicise or send any chaotic energy out into the world. All that being said: don’t forget that this account is my perspective, and at the end of the day there are always two sides to a story. No doubt she would recount the whole thing in her own way as well, as would the second WWOOFer that joined us briefly. Nonetheless here is my honest (and compassionate) account of my 3 months in magical Maui.
Arriving at the farm
I left from Sydney airport in May, and landed in Honolulu early morning. From there I took a smaller plane to Maui, and I remember the feeling that overcame me as I flew in this tiny propeller plane over the island: total disbelief. It was the same surreal feeling I had when I first flew over the Sydney harbour and saw the Opera House, this thing you’ve seen so many times in pictures. Seeing the island with my own two eyes just flooded me with emotions, and an immediate lifelong heart connection. I landed on Maui I was greeted by Mary in her electric car; we embraced in a big hug, and it felt like a reunion of two long lost souls. We took a detour on the way to the farm because she had to pick up papers from a doctors office, and she shared with me that she was in the process of filing a lawsuit against a worker at the local home improvement store, who had crushed her finger accidentally while loading something into her car. She was basically incapable of using one of her hands, and (as I later learnt) she was running this entire farm by herself! Crazy.
As soon as we got to the farm she showed me around. The property took my breath away, it was a 34 acre macadamia farm that Mary had spent years adding to with organic fruit trees including soursops, pineapples, papayas, figs, cherries, bananas, avocados, passionfruit, starfruit, rambutans, and so so much more. The property was divided into two, an upper and lower level (the whole thing was on a slope, located in the West Maui Mountains. We had access to fresh water stream at the top of the property, and the ocean was about 5-10 minute drive down the hill. The upper level was the women’s area, with Mary’s trailer (which also included the shared kitchen and bathroom), and the tent for the WWOOFer, as well as many of the already fruit-bearing trees. From the upper trailer, we could see the ocean, and were blessed with the most incredible sunrises every morning. The sun would wake me up every morning, blasting right into my tent- the most incredible, natural, blissful wakeup call a human could ask for. The bottom area had the macadamia grove, a trailer under construction (which Mary wanted to rent out/ use as a space to host retreats) as well as some other fruit trees. Maui itself it just otherworldly. I am so in love with the island, I still feel so connected to the land, and get shivers even thinking about the magical energy that seeps from the Earth on that island.
The farm was completely off the grid, and ran on solar panels. This was amazing to experience, and get some insight into the work and efforts it takes to run such panels and live off the grid. Always being mindful of electricity (we used a solar oven), and since 100% of the water came from a well that we ourselves had to pump (electrically), it was always important to be mindful of that as well.
First picture are some of the solar panels, and 2 +3 is a pie we baked in the solar oven (which literally heats the “oven” using the sun’s reflection. So cool!
Apart from chickens and three dogs, I noticed straight away that Mary was alone on the farm. Despite having mumbled that there would probably be other WWOOFers there with me, it was indeed just her and I. This property was huge, I couldn’t understand how one person could do the job (not to mention her injured finger). All the vegetables gardens had been forgotten, and completely grown over by cane grass, and unsurprisingly (since nobody else was there) many parts of the farm needed attention, fixing, repair, and upkeep.
My sleeping quarters was a tent with a small single bed, a chair and table, and a dresser. It was a stone’s throw from Mary’s trailer, so not too far from the bathroom and kitchen, but far enough to have a little privacy. She told me that if there was another girl that we would have shared the tent (which would have been intense, as it wasn’t big.
This farm was not a conventional farm in the sense that there were not rows of crops that required regular upkeep; the main profit for the farm were the macadamia trees, which the majority of were actually maintained by the neighbouring farm (they collected the mac nuts and groomed the fields. Mary took care of the mac nut trees in the upper half of the property and then cared for all her fruit trees (and vegetable gardens, although there were none up when I first got there).
After signing the contract (standard operating procedure for a WWOOFer), it was time to hit the hay and call it a day on day 1 of my Hawaiian adventure.
At some point in the first few days, we crossed paths in town with someone Mary knew, and she introduced me as this angel who was coming to help save the property, and how amazing it was that I was also a vegan (spoiler alert: I AM NOT A VEGAN!). Without wanting to cause drama, I let the comment slide and decided I would pick up the vegan conversation at a later date. In the following week, Mary spoke about meat eaters multiple times, as spawns of the devil and other various derogatory terms. She elaborated on how unconscious they were, how meat is murder, and how it isn’t allowed on the property… I very quickly decided to keep my non-vegan ways to myself.
Some of the epic organic rainbow meals I prepared myself (followed by a can of sardines or anchovies in my room!)
I worked about 5-6 hours a day, about 6 days per week. Mary has a folder in which I was given tasks and to-do lists, and I could complete them in the order I wanted. Tasks included watering the nursery, feeding the chickens daily, miscellaneous projects like weeding, harvesting bananas, fixing the irrigation, picking up macadamia nuts, repotting plants, mulching trees, collecting well water, and bigger projects that included planting 12 fruit trees (this was amazing), building trellis’ for dragon fruit plants, and weeding/ completely replanting the overgrown vegetable garden beds.
The farm work was awesome, I loved every second of the hard work and dripping sweat under the hot Maui sun. I developed an even larger appreciation for organic food, and the earth. I felt reconnected with a part of myself I didn’t knew existed, I felt whole. It absolutely confirmed how important it is for me to grow my own food (when I settle down one day), and even more so how important it is for my future children to experience sustenance farming as a part of their daily lives.
Farming teaches all of life’s lessons. It generates a deep appreciation and connection to the Mother Earth, and from that love and compassion just flood your soul. It teaches patience, and the power of putting in the work now to reap rewards that are not instant. There is nothing more rewarding than planting and caring for a seed, and watching it grow into nourishing food…It is the magic of life in action! Writing this now takes me back to the biggest smile I had alone in the field, watering and speaking to the trees and plants; filled with joy even as I was shovelling literal shit. To me, organic farming feels like I am serving the planet, that I am a part of the bigger whole.
At the start, Mary seemed very keen to show me the island and portrayed herself as an adventurer- but very quickly I saw that she actually had zero interest in leaving the farm property except for swims at the deserted local beach or for the occasional grocery/ errands trip into down. This was difficult for me, because I did want a balance of solitude and hard work on the farm with some adventures and exploring of the island. I’m not hugely social (my party days are farrrrr behind me), but I do love human interaction, and adventure/ exploration. When Mary and I would go to the shops on the weekend and she would complain about the hour we spent interacting with everyday public, and scurry back to the farm saying how grateful she was to be able to escape the craziness of the public’s energy. Don’t get me wrong I’m also very much introvert, but because the farm was quite remote it was very hard to make my own way not only into town, but more so to the remote spots I wanted to explore (hike, swim, etc) all around the island. The island is massive, without much infrastructure. I consider myself a master hitch hiker, but recently the energy of Maui seems to be shifting to a place of distrust and even crime.. so although I did hitch a bit, it’s not an ideal way to get around there (not to mention the farm was isolatedAF).
By divine intervention, a friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in years happened to be on the island for much of the same time as me. Marissa (real name, hey Marissa! I love you!) reached out to me and we hung out basically every week, exploring different parts of the island together. We hiked the Hoapili trail on the black lava rock fields in search of hidden rock pools, we swam under more waterfalls than I can remember, we tanned at the most amazing white sand beaches, met Tom Sewell and were invited to take a tour of his property, snorkeled with giant sea turtles in Kapalua, explored blow holes, watched the sun set from 10,000 ft up on top of Haleakala volcano, and also from sea pools in Ho’okipa, and of course we cooked steak dinners, and ate Maui’s amazing pono pies. It was so nice to reconnect with her and I truly think that I would have had a full blown mental break down had it not been for her.
To learn more about all these magical spots, check out my Guide To Maui.
bad vibes building
From day 1, Mary complained about everything and everyone, rooted in a twisted reverse psychology kind of way. It was positivity masking an ultimately negative message. This was one of my first encounters with spiritual bypassing, which is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs. (More on Spiritual Bypassing HERE).
Mary talked badly about everyone from her own family, to ex-friends, to people (pretty much everyone) on the island… it was actually mind blowing. She had a total God complex, I remember (when we were talking about the shadow and how everyone has stuff to work on), asking her what she was working on, and she said nothing- that she had nothing to work on, that she had shed her shadow entirely. If that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does. Nothing anyone else ever did was right, and everything she did (no matter what it was), was golden. Because she (according to herself) had reached the peak of enlightenment.
For a moment it was actually funny, to see how everything that came out of her mouth was either gossip or about how someone had wronged her, and then always end in how spiritually above she is from the whole situation and how she doesn’t care. I heard in depth about how basically every person in her life was wrong and she was right, and why she cut ties with basically everyone she knows. She told me about all the multiple lawsuits she had filled throughout her lifetime.
Initially I played along, indulging her ego, agreeing with everything she said. Quickly I realised it was not helping and switched to being almost entirely silent throughout our “conversations”. Then I just avoided conversations as much as possible. Eventually we had spent enough time together that I actually tried telling her how negativity wasn’t serving the situation- and every time she snapped back at me like I was a demon, with passive aggressive comments belittling me, how unsupportive I was of her turmoil. It slowly began to drain me, and I started making efforts to spend the least amount of time around her as possible.
I remember near the end of my stay Mary had had a run-in with someone (she sold an electric ATV/ golf cart to this man on the island, and he were trying to return it/ complained about the state of the tires not being sold in good faith. Mary sent the man who was in charge of security for the neighboring property to threaten this guy with violence into leaving her alone, instead of dealign with the situation. (The story is much more in depth than that, but that’s really the relevant the gist of it). I was disgusted, how could someone “spiritual” resort to violence and death threats (with guns, and gangs, involved) to resolve her problems? She dismissed it saying that enforcing the “good” should be done with any means necessary. *Cough* That’s bullshit. *Cough*
Between all the complaining and passive aggressive comments, and condescending conversations, spiritual bypassing, and insane manipulative ways of interacting with the outside world- I started to lose my mind. I felt like I was captive. She was so self assured in her own BS that I started to question my own sanity, truly, wondering if she was right and I was just a crazy person. I could feel Stockholm Syndrome settling in, being literally brainwashed by my “captor”. Being a rational person I knew the experience was short lived in the scheme of things, that I just had to focus on the positive for now, and that I wouldn’t have to deal with her forever… but honestly I felt this profound new understanding for abusive relationships. I felt at her mercy, and with every interaction it was like a wave was slowly eroding my sanity.
I went through every range of emotion during my time there trying to cope with her negativity, from humorous (it was absurd and seemed totally delusional to think of yourself as ultra spiritual, and talk so much shit), to annoyed (it got old, super quick), to frustrated (I tried everything to change the subjects, or escape conversations), to ultimately a deep level of compassion for how tormented this woman was to see the world in such a negative lense. Ultimately it was my deepest lesson in compassion, because I do truly believe we ought to extend compassion to everyone, and that the more “triggered” we get, the more we need to extend an olive branch, because generally those people are hurting the most. I am so grateful to have conscious parents whom (when I occasionally called crying) would remind me that my stay there was short lived, and that Mary was the true captive of her own mind.
I don’t practice any particular religion, but I really resonate with the Christian concept of “God’s Test,” and this was the ultimate. To me, being tested by God, whatever God means to you (life, spirit, the Universe) means staying kind and compassionate, no matter the situation. Not once did I lash out at Mary, not once did I belittle her, or speak condescendingly. I took her abuse, and every single time turned the other cheek. Despite being met with another (metaphorical) lashing everytime, I also felt a sense of strength building inside of me. A sense of dedication to my religion: love, and compassion. It’s easy to be loving and compassionate to people who are nice to us, but how do you react when you’re living alone with a lunatic who incessantly drives you insane, talks down to you, and tests you to the limit? That is when you flex and grow your love and compassion muscles.
Just to touch on the Self-Realization Fellowship quickly so you can better understand the situation there…
So SRF is essentially a cult, and I don’t mean it in any negative sense, but I just don’t know what other word to use. It’s like a religion, and their guru is Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian yogi who brought the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga to millions of people in India and in the West. He travelled around back in the day preaching yoga and meditation and essentially people started to become enlightened, found this spiritual pillar in their lives, and began worshipping Yogananda as their guru. The famous book “Autobiography of a Yogi” is his life’s biography, and is an epic read. The principles of SRF are beautiful, and, like most religions, was rooted in love, kindness, patience, and generosity. And like in most religions, problems begin to arise when people start to believe that they have transcended their human flaws, and are indeed fully enlightened. It’s this God’s complex that leads people to hate the “other,” presuming that they themselves are always right, have all the answers, and are essentially perfect because of their spiritual practice. People will take their religion (which is rooted in compassion) and use it as a whip to tell others how wrong they are… when their own saviour (be it Yogandna, Jesus, Krishna, Muhammad) would never resort to such brutality.
The farm I worked on was just a farm, but Mary has a vision that one day it would be a meditation retreat centre for SRF devotees (the name for someone who “follows” Yogananda as their guru) to come visit from all around the world. She herself was an SRF devotee, and towards the end of my stay 4 other devotees who were in Maui visited the property, to volunteer/ visit.
Other WWOOFers were essentially non-existent for most of my stay. Mary had admitted to me from our very first conversation that she is incredibly selective with who she allows on the farm, because she is so sensitive to energy and want to protect/ preserve the integrity of the farm and land. I loved this about the project from the start, this was probably partially because it stroked my ego (is there anything better than when someone says I’m very selective with who I trust and spend time with, and I trust and value you?) It should have been a red flag (who can maintain a massive property and farm alone?!), although Mary is definitely selective with who she spends time with, I think there is the unspoken reality that most people cannot actually stand being around her either. But I was being naive, and my ego was blinding.
There was one exception, and this was when Mike joined the WWOOFing team for a brief 7-10 days (towards the latter half of my stay). Mike had been WWOOFing on a neighboring farm and claimed he had to leave because he didn’t feel comfortable there, and since Mary hated the woman who ran that farm (shocker!) she decided to take him in. (We later found out he’d actually been kicked off the other farm). Anyways to keep this short: I very quickly saw Mike’s dark side. He had (allegedly) been in Afghanistan and whether or not that is true, he has had some serious PTSD. He told Mary and I from the start that he had left the mainland because nobody understood him and he was having problems with alcohol, had 2 DUIs (and still was driving illegally on Maui). Mike was also paranoid and I could tell he was on the verge of violence.
Despite saying he wanted to change (Mary, bless her heart, was a sucker for trying to “save” everyone- God’s complex), Mike didn’t come home one night and told us that he had been mugged in town, and slept in his car. We found out through the grapevine within 24 hours that he had actually gotten so drunk at the bar and left all his stuff lying around, and passed out in his car). Mary had a “strict” 0 tolerance no alcohol or drugs policy. Mike also smoked weed every night to fall asleep, which Mary allowed (despite her drug policy) because Mike said it was for his war PTSD.
A few days later, after experiencing him have split personality disorder or some sort of violent bipolar switch right in front of me, I told Mary the darkness I saw in him, and because her and I hadn’t seen eye-to-eye for a few weeks now, she completely dismissed me and literally laughed in my face and called me crazy. She said I was just jealous that there was another WWOOFer on the farm. Realise too that at this point I’m at my wits end psychologically. I had no fight left in me, and hearing that was just insane. I basically worked and went back to my tent avoiding them both completely.
The very next day while I was in my tent, Mike snapped on Mary, threatened her with violence, and she ran out of the trailer screaming for her life and into my arms as Mike stormed off. She had to call in the neighbouring farms security guard (who carried a gun) to escort Mike off the property and put the fear of God in him not to return. Mary apologise for not listening to my concerns, and I did not sleep well again in Maui, after that night.
- - - - - -
In my last week in Maui, just after Mike was kicked off the property, Mary and I were joined by two Self-Realization Fellowship devotees. Arjun and Dan were two young guys (in their 30’s) that were in Maui on vacation and offered their help to volunteer on the farm. They were so nice and breathed life back into me, and I absolutely loved the fact that they showed up when I was just about to go actually crazy on the farm. Arjun was a lifelong devotee to the SRF, totally straight edge guy who had walked the spiritual path from the start. Dan used to be a hardcore party guy, who “found God” and joined the fellowship a few years prior, totally transforming his life and dedicating himself to service. I really resonated with Dan (he knew the type of old life I also used to lead), and both of them exuded a type of compassion, love, and light like I had never encountered in my life.
The guys were awesome, we actually drove the road to Hana together, and explored the Haleakala National Park. We snuck past all the “no trespassing signs” (my kind of people!) and swam under secret waterfalls in Hana and cliff jumped into turquoise water. One of the trip highlights was also spent with these two, at Red Sands Beach in Hana, buried under the heavy red sand during a rainstorm.
It was Dan and Arjun that told me about the SFR World Convocation, which was the yearly conference for the fellowship- where devotees would join from around the world in LA for five days. They had suggested I go, considering how close Maui was to California, and in the end they said that if I booked the flights, that they would find me a place to stay with their friends during the conference. A few days later their friends Priya and Sai (an older couple) joined us, and they actually offered to welcome me into their home in San Diego before the conference, and drive me to LA during the conference dates. More on this later.
Nature: My Medicine
Nature is medicine, I’ve always known it, but throughout these months the knowledge turned into wisdom as I genuinely used my time in nature as therapy to the psychological stress/ abuse that was going on at the farm. I feel ambivalent to use the word abuse, but truthfully it’s how I feel. Despite it not being intentional (I don’t think so anyways) I felt mentally abused. Anyways for the weeks before Marissa joined me, in between my hangouts with her, and after she left: nature was my therapist. Nature was my rock (literally and metaphorically). Whether I was alone in the field, barefoot, watering the new trees or hiking in the West Maui Mountains or the Iao Valley: being alone amidst the trees and plants just instantly cured me. Actually Mary taught me something one day down at the beach, that she believed we could heal from absolutely anything just by spending enough time laying on the Earth; that homeostasis would kick in and the earth would absorb whatever dis-ease was manifesting itself inside of us. I totally believe that and think back fondly of the ‘aha’ moment I had sitting there, naked, on the beach, healing.
The healing ocean, in hidden rock pools near Paia.
Solo Hikes: My salvation
Some of the most magical hikes of my lifetime happened while in Maui. I love hiking by myself, there is something just empowering about being at one, alone, and all one, with nature. One of my favourite hikes that I did multiple times was the Waihe’e Ridge, which wasn’t too far from where the farm was located. This hike was quite popular so I did cross paths with a few people along the way. My favourite thing to do is hike up, and then run most of the way down. The ridge was so high that I was often hiking amidst the clouds. No matter what was going on in life or on my mind, I left that hike feeling reborn.
My other fav and one of the most memorable hikes of my lifetime was in the Iao valley, at a time when hiking was actually banned due to a landslide that had happened over a year prior. The slide had washed away the parking lot at the beginning of the hike, and the federal government shut down the park and took over the land until it was deemed safe. I got dropped off there one morning and ventured in, past the gate that was plastered with “danger, no entry” signs, and suggestions of a 10,000$ fine and prison time (or something ridiculous like that). This hike I was planning to do was actually “off the grid” already, in that it started at a sign reminding people to stay on marked paths.
Even getting to this sign was already about an hour hike passed the initial “no trespassing” zone. Many people used to do it back when the park was open, despite not being allowed, but because the entire park had been closed for over a year, the path was totally overgrown and empty. I only actually found the entrance of the hike by divine intervention, by bumping into a man and his little boy who were strolling along the river. We stoke up a conversation and I explained to him I was keen to do the infamous “off grid” Iao hike, and he laughed saying he had done it decades ago in his youth. Because of all the closures it was very hard to locate the beginning of the hike, but he took a detour and they showed me where it started.
With no map or plan, I started venturing into the Iao jungle by myself.
The hike carved a new groove in my heart. I was walking for hours, along leafy ridges, through muddy fields up in the clouds, through bamboo forests, and occasionally popping up on mountain peaks, with 360 views of the lush Iao Valley surrounding me. There was zero cell phone reception, and I was so aware that it was really just me and the Earth out there. I walked for about 4 hours until I felt called to start heading back. The man who had brought me to the entrance gave me one piece of advice: that if I got lost, to head down the mountain ridge towards the Iao river, and to follow the direction of the water- that it would direct me back into town. Considering I was lost from the very first step I took on this hike, I followed his advice and head down. The mountain was so steep that I had to hold onto trees (for dear life) as I slowly made my way down the mountain side. I was covered in mud, and it was blissful.
When I got to the bottom, I was greeted by the river and a handful of rock pools that were creating natural swimming holes begging to be swam in under the hot Maui sun. I sat there and ate my organic red capsicum like an apple, in total bliss. Despite still being hours of hiking away from civilisation, I felt like I had made it back to ground level and that I had conquered the valley.
I walked back along the flow of the river until I reached the parking lot. Family’s were BBQing and swimming and although none of them knew the over 8 hours of insane solo hiking I had just done through the lush Hawaiian jungle.. I felt like I had this superpower and newfound connection with the Earth. She had taken care of me and protected me, and shown me a depth of her beauty I had never seen before.
The Hawaiian culture is very connected to the earth, and one of the myths is that if you take anything (a stone, or another type of memento) or leave anything behind (trash), you will be cursed by the Gods. When I posted my BFH Health Travel Guide To Maui I described how to access many of these “off the grid” hikes, and it stirred up some controversy, because some people said it was wrong and against the “Aloha” culture to trespass. I call bullshit on the belief that tresspassing alone runs against Aloha culture. The Earth doesn’t belong to the government, it doesn’t belong to an individual person. To enter the jungle with the only intention of experiencing this planet, taking nothing but photographs and leaving nothing behind but footprints, is our birthright. I will never apologize for spending time alone in nature, exploring this magnificent world. You can take your no trespassing signs and shove them where the sun don’t shine, because so long as it’s being done with respect: nature doesn’t belong to anyone, we are a part of it. When I walk into a forest, I am coming home.
leaving the farm
I had a flight booked out from Maui to Toronto (my hometown) booked from the very beginning of my stay, but after meeting Arjun, Dan, Priya and Sai, I decided to miss my flight and join Priya and her husband in San Diego instead. I ended up spending two weeks between San Diego and LA, and these four had taken me under their wing and show me more kindness than I had ever known possible. Again- I’m not conventionally religious- but I saw “Jesus” in their eyes, a look that is just eternally giving. It was wild.
Leaving the farm, Mary and I were not on bad terms at all. Like I said, although I did try to help her see her own behaviour (unsuccessfully to say the least), I never once argued with her or snapped back. I don’t believe anger or frustration can ever help heal a person, and from her stories I can see that most of the interactions in her life were rooted in negative energy. That being said when I got in the car to leave for the airport, I felt akin to the kids who are riding off in the police car back to their family after being kidnapped from some neighborhood psychopath. No joke, it was a surreal experience. It was a very bittersweet leaving the island. I felt like I could breathe again, and was just dumbfounded by the whole experience that already felt like a dream.
When I received a holiday e-card from Mary the following Christmas, it confirmed to me how blind she truly was to the entire situation, and how profoundly our perspective shapes our reality.
Learning about the magic of organic farming, from such a spiritual lens. > Despite all her spiritual bypassing, Mary was indeed deeply spiritual- and he way of navigating organic farming and nature was incredible. In fact it was she was teaching me about farming practices that her negativity seemed to subside briefly. We spoke to the plants, she taught me how to plant trees without harming them energetically, I learnt how to fix things, how to drive stick, how to operate a big truck, and how to properly irrigate and mulch. I connected with nature on such a profound level. She also gave me time to meditate, swim in the creek, and didn’t mind (and even encouraged) nudity, which is rad.
Living off-the-grid, and learning about off-grid living. > What a gift to be living miles away from wifi signals and power lines. Off-grid living is not easy and I learnt so much about sustainability and what it really takes to live 100% off the grid. Being at one with nature like that actually regulated my menstrual cycle spot on with the full moon, I have never felt so connected and protected by the Earth.
Being able to explore Maui for 3 months, on a budget. > I did spend money exploring and buying non-vegan food (on the sly), but all in all I lived in one of the more expensive places in the world on a budget. I didn’t actually calculate how much I spent (I don’t believe in actually “budgeting”- I go with the flow), but if you really needed to be careful of your spending you could essentially spend almost nothing.
Delving into the Self-Realisation Fellowship, and connecting with deeply devoted devotees. > The whole experience gave me a profound renewed appreciation for faith and the power of religion/ spirituality. I experienced a kindness like I have never known when I met Arjun and Dan, and Priya and Sai (the SRF devotees who joined us near the very end of my stay). To be honest, SRF has total cult vibes, but in a beautiful way. After being broken down by Mary’s subtle abuse for the previous months, I was no doubt subconsciously looking for a saviour, and much more open to a guru-led religion than I normally would be. I found myself just running towards this religion with open arms, and embracing the experience (post Hawaii) for what it was.
Opening the door to travel to San Diego and Los Angeles, along the incredible synchronistic support of the universe. > Meeting the four SRF devotees towards the end of my stay and saying YES to adventure brought me to California, and two of the most memorable weeks ever. I was put up by essentially strangers, who treated me like a part of their family. This was true kindness, and it opened my heart like it had never been open before. I continue to draw on the lessons of kindness I learnt from these 4 to this day, and truly this set my benchmark for what generosity can look like. During my time in California, I came prettyyyyyyy dang close to joining this cult, especially when I was in San Diego. My spirit was so broken by Mary that I just felt so loved by these devotees. As we visited the SRF temples in Encinitas I could picture myself coming back here and living the devotee life (I had had this similar feeling when I went to Vipassana and could see myself basically living the nun life). Although I love the exciting road of the material world, I can also very much see myself living a life devoted to spirit and service.
This shifted when I got to LA and actually attended the conference, and saw how weirdly culty the whole thing truly was. I felt a huge disconnect from the people there, who seemed to be blindly devoting themselves to one person as opposed to living an empowered self-determined life. I don’t know how to put it, I was just totally off put by the whole thing.
Sai (Priya’s husband, who I had had not much interaction with, but always playful banted) actually offered to drive me somewhere at one point during the conference, and I had a chance to speak to him about SRF. He actually didn’t go to the conference, and I had an honest conversation with him as to why. We agreed that the whole thing didn’t sit right with us, that although the SFR message is beautiful and honest… that the actual manifestation of the religion (following?) is super culty and has a weird vibe.
Two things before I explore the cons: 1) I have heard literal horror stories (although I feel I almost experienced one myself with Mike), and also 2) so long as I survive, I truly believe that all hardships make us stronger, so I wouldn’t trade the hardships out if I had the chance. So this section isn’t so much as a complaint list, as simply some perspective into my experience.
Eating at the mercy of my hosts diet. > As I mentioned, the farm was a strictly vegetarian property. This was something we had not discussed before hand, and in retrospect we totally should have. Mary assumed I was vegan, and in realising how judgemental and vicious she was towards meat eaters, I couldn’t fathom telling her. I feel awful on a veggie or vegan diet, so I ate meat-heavy meals anytime I left the property, and also consumed jekey, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel on the sly in my tent. This sucked, eating like that shamefully is terrible energy and bad for digestion. Next time I would absolutely communicate with my host before hand, this is a deal breaker for me.
Having no other WWOOFers to hang out with/ talk to (apart from a short-lived psychotic one). > I think there’s no doubt that you want to have other WWOOFers with you during your stay. Being alone with Mary brought me to the verge of a psychotic break; had I had someone else to commiserate with I truly think the experience would have been much easier.
Having a host who is not interested in exploring or facilitating my time in off-duty hours > I was extremely blessed to have a friend on the island at the moment who literally picked me up and brought me to every corner of the island. Had I not had Marissa, I think I probably would have lost my mind being essentially confined to the farm.
Being energetically drained. > My time there shook me to the core, truly. I dreaded interaction with Mary progressively more every day, and it got more intense as time went by to the point where I would be out in the field picking up Macadamia nuts and crying. It was insane, she broke my spirit with some evil Jedi level tactics. It got so bad that I remember one day I was mulching the trees with my mom on speakerphone, and she was so worried about me she offered to fly me home early (FOUR DAYS before I was scheduled to leave). This is something you cannot predict going into a WWOOFing situation, but be prepared that like in life in general: there are some delusional humans out there. Just because someone is spiritual doesn’t mean they’re not cray, and actually spiritually masked craziness is the scariest kind.
Quick note: it’s funny to see that most of the pros and cons are actually mirrors of themselves. I loves being off the grid, but this also caused my hardship being so far from civilization alone with a bit of a crazy person. I loved how spiritual the farming practices were, which was also the root of her spiritual bypassion and massive ego. It was great being able to be in Maui so long without spending much, but it was at the expense of having to be a fake vegan for 3 months. I cultivated compassion on a deeper level than I ever had- but it was at the expense of much of my joy and being energetically drained 24/7. Everything has a shadow, and everything can be a source of growth and strength. Yin and yang, in all things.
Things to Consider Before WWOOFing
What do you want out of the experience? > If your answer is purely “free travel” I suggest you consider another option, because cheap travel is a definite perk, there are still significant costs involved, and if there is no passion for organic food and farming, you’re probably in for a miserable time. Nothing in life is “free”!
Where do you want to WWOOF? > Each country has its own WWOOFing website, which requires a separate yearly subscription! Picking somewhere you would love to explore that might be very expensive to travel in is definitely a great idea!
Am I mentally strong, and open to a potentially difficult/ unexpected situation (to which I will embrace with open arms, and grow from)? > I’ve heard many bad stories when it comes to WWOOFing, people being taken advantage of on varying degrees. This experience requires a fundamental level of self-assurance and strength. No matter what you will grow from it all, but if you’re very fragile, perhaps best do some work on yourself before deciding to WWOOF.
questions to Ask Your Farm before you commit yourself
What type of work will I be doing?> This varys so wildly, and I have heard some WWOOFers are heaps disappointed in the work they do (like only weeding for 4 weeks). I absolutely loved the variety of tasks and things I learnt, if you have a particular goal (like learning about planting, growing, nurseries, etc) make sure you will have access to that actual task and not just repetitive work like fruit picking. That being said farms need all kind of work, and if you’re just there short term (1-2 weeks) don’t expect the farmers to invest the time it takes to show you the ropes of more complicated concepts if you won’t be there to actually help them implement them!
What is covered/ what expenses will I incur? > WWOOFing, in my experience, is not “free” travel. Knowing what your host expects you to pay for will help you figure out how much you will need in the bank (considering you won’t be able to work for income realistically while your there). Things you’ll likely have to fork out money for: subscription fee to WWOOF in the country or countries you are visiting (between 0 – US$72 / 0 – 56 Euros), all travel expenses including, travel to WWOOF country and travel to/from between host farms, accommodation en route, insurance, toiletries, mobile phone/internet access, day trips/treats, workboots, and potentially food.
What does the provided food consist of, and is it organic? > Don’t get stuck in the situation I did.. find out what the offered meals consist of, how many meals are offered, and if they are organic.
What are my work hours? > Typically, WWOOFers work 4-6 hours per day, 5 days per week. This does vary from area to area, whereby certain locations (like New Zealand) have such a high minimum wage that the number of hours worked drops to 2-4 hours per day.
What are sleeping arrangements? > Most setups actually have a bed (my tent did have a small bed!), but find out if you need to bring anything (some exchanges require your own tent/ sleeping bag).
How is transport in the area? > Presume your host will not be helping you explore, so find out how accessible the area is, and if there is available transportation. Some farms share their car, or have bicycles. Otherwise find out how the bus system works, etc (if you have any interest in exploring), and where the property is in relation to shops or sights.
Do you practice 100% organic farming practices? > I’ve read that some WWOOFing organisations are opening the doors to non-organic farms (WHYYYYY!??!?!?!), so confirm with your farm that it is.
How many WWOOFers are there/ will be there when I am? > Whether or not you care is up to you, but goo to know before hand.
Can I speak to someone who is there at the moment/ ideally someone who is an ex-WOOFer (already left)? > A few people have reached out to me about the farm I was on, and I was completely honest. I highly suggest speaking to someone who has already been there (and left), so they can give you their take. Know that everything is perspective, but funnily enough one of the girls that had spoken to Mary already has all the inclinations about the things I shared with her. Intuition on fleek!
Ask to see the work contract beforehand. > Most WWOOFing exchanges have a work contract, and had I seen it before hand there would have been many red flags in the way Mary worded things, and the way she saw the balance of power between herself and the WWOOFers.
Is a non-negotiable when WWOOFing. Most farms will probably enforce it for liability purposes, but honestly even if they don’t it’s just silly not to invest in insurance when you’re probably going to be doing some questionable shit. World Nomads is the business, they actually cover things that happen at a farm, I myself used my insurance while I was there and World Nomads are the best at compensating quick, with no funny business.
I hope this inspired some of you to join the site, and explore the possibilities of WWOOFing yourselves! I know this has been an extremely requested topic, so if you have any other questions- feel free to comment or send me an e-mail.
If you do plan to go to Maui, make sure you check out my guide to Maui by clicking HERE.