It’s already been a week since I left Northern Cyprus, more specifically, GROL (Green Rays of Lights) Garden, a workaway destination, and it was… Let’s put it this way: I can’t wait to go back again. Here’s why:
- The all-mighty Vitamix
This might come as weird but GROL people know what I’m on about. During the three weeks at the garden, my whole life depended on that blender. For one, it meant I could make and eat as much hummus as I could – that is my sort of heaven. We also started to make our own nut/seed based milk instead of buying from the market, which meant fresh milk for cereals in the morning! Yes I am all about food. We (I) got to experiment making almond, cashew and sesame milk but also making different other things as well such as a cookie dough dip from chickpeas (no, it was not disgusting), making raw ice cream, pies and NUTELLA which some of the other volunteers taught me, and soup of course.
- And the people, of course
From a biologist to a Tibetan monk to an ex-raw food chef now wannabe professional flautist, I met some wonderful and very interesting people when I was at GROL, who during those three weeks became like family. They had so much to share and I definitely learned a lot from everyone: I came back to Ankara with an (vague, but still) idea for my Masters dissertation – something I had been struggling with for the past semester –, with more vegan cooking skills and definitely with some good friends. I think it also helped that everyone had a love for food. Reunion in 5 years? I’m in!
- Who all could cook!
Volunteers usually take turns in preparing the meals and I’m not sure whether it’s down to luck but I’ve not had a single bad meal during my time there. From vegan non-traditional Ukrainian borscht to ingenious meals from local wild herbs and plants to homemade raw sesame crackers and ‘nutella’, we’ve had it all. I probably ate my weight in terms of food and definitely came back with a pound or two extra.
- Oh, and did I mention that there is a freaking sauna?
The sauna only got repaired in my second week there and that probably was the best thing that ever happened. After work, we all looked forward to chilling out in the cozy sauna to warm us up given the not-freezing-but-still-cold temperatures in the evening. There still more work to do insulation-wise but it was still good enough to make us break a sweat and open those badass pores up. One of the volunteers even shared her precious Dead Sea clay with us for a face mask, which definitely want me make to book a flight on the spot just to go see the Dead Sea. I’ve never had better skin, but that may also be due to the embarrassing Turkish Bath experience I had while in Cyprus.
- Location wise, it was a dream come true
It’s hard to believe but the garden itself is found in the middle of the city of Girne (Greek: Kyrenia). It’s walking distance to the city centre where you can find pretty much anything you can imagine as well as the harbour which is buzzing with tourists as well as locals on a good day. Girne, according to the guide I was using, is apparently the prettiest town on the island and I have to say that the view from the harbour didn’t disappoint. Whilst it has no beach of its own, there are frequent buses to Lapta where you can certainly enjoy some quiet time sitting on the golden sand by the Mediterranean. I didn’t brave the cold waters for a swim but some of the other volunteers did. I’ll definitely go for a dip in that side of the Mediterranean next time though. Girne is also well connected to the other cities as well: Lefkoşa or Nicosia, the capital, is only 20 minutes away by bus or hitchhiking and there also are several buses to the other cities and towns from the city centre of Girne.
- Life on a garden is not bad at all
Whilst it felt good to be out and about in the city from times to time, it felt even better to return back to the bubble that the garden was at the end of the day. Despite being right in the middle of the city by the road leading to the capital, it was quite easy to forget where I was, something that I appreciated having escaped the hustle and bustle of Ankara. The work itself wasn’t hard although sometimes quite physical, which can be incredibly satisfying. Jesse and Ihsan, the managers, also made sure as much as they could that everyone was satisfied with their tasks – although I doubt anyone would be satisfied with changing the pee or poo bucket from the compost toilet (it really not as bad as you think). It was quite a relaxed environment to work at, which made it even more enjoyable.
- Yoga classes were a bonus
Yet another thing I’m really thankful for. We had yoga classes three times a week and whilst it was hard to drag my arse down to the yoga studio, I’m definitely grateful for all the crazy poses that Demet, our instructor, walked us. Despite having practiced yoga on and off for years now, I’m still not the most flexible person but I definitely noticed an improvement over the three weeks I was faithful to my practice. I’m trying to keep it up here and so far, it’s working!
- Off the beaten track in Cyprus
That’s probably the best thing about volunteering through workaway or similar ‘ventures’: you get to see a different side of the city, mostly through the eyes of the locals like Derviş, a local volunteer and crucial member of GROL, who showed us around Lapta (Greek name: Lapithos), his hometown. GROL also organises some volunteer outings which are completely optional but I would definitely recommend joining them. We went foraging for wild edible plants on one of our outings, which definitely was an insight into Cypriot life as well as a complete new experience for me. It definitely offered me the opportunity to see Cyprus beyond its reputation for its nightlife (I was in bed by 9.30 pm) and sandy beaches.
- Beautiful weather, for most of the part
The very reason I chose to go to Cyprus in the middle of winter was to escape the freezing temperatures of Ankara. Other that the stormy conditions we went through during my last couple of days, we were otherwise quite blessed with a clear blue sky and warm temperatures on most days. There was quite a temperature drop at nights though, but nothing that warm clothes and a blanket wouldn’t solve.The sun doesn’t always shine on the Mediterranean but it was definitely enough sunshine for me to keep me happy.
And last but not least,
Lucy is the most recent addition to the GROL family. She’s a rescued puppy and has settled quite well into life at the garden. Most of the time, she’s just a naughty little doggie who buries bread everywhere, cuddles with everyone’s shoes on the massive bean bag which she decided is hers and loves to run along the row of fermented straw one just carefully assembled. Beware though for she has perferted the puppy dog eyes, which probably is why she’s already so spoiled but she definitely provides entertainment around the garden.
Disclaimer: I received no monetary compensation for this post and just wanted to share my experience volunteering at GROL. You can check out their Facebook page here for more information.