Chilean Vineyard vs Chilean Wine.It turns out that working on a Chilean vineyard is not as much fun as drinking Chilean wine, or drinking anything else for that matter.
Picture this if you will; a handful of Latino maidens with tousled hair, skirts hitched to the knee, dancing barefoot in a basket of freshly picked grapes. The tanned field workers, sleeves rolled up exposing bronzed forearms, laugh and play guitar the acoustic guitar in the afternoon sun after bringing in the seasons harvest… Sounds pretty spectacular doesn’t it? The reality is absolutely nothing like the dream I had imagine.
The vineyard is staffed by a handful of international volunteers in lieu of paid staff, skinny and white wearing oversize shorts, backwards facing baseball caps to protect their neck from blistering heat. I opt for a sundress, or denim shorts. If I’m going to be working in the field all day, I might as well also work on my tan. Great fun and good chat, but not a guitar in sight.
The work is hard on the neck and the knees, each of the 7000 vines need to be individually pruned, debudded or otherwise tended to by hand. Trimming the tops is nerve wracking, you need to leave five shoots on each vine, all a hands width apart, but this is nature and grape vines don’t always grow in a way that means you can have both five shoots and good spacing. The buds at the base of the vine grow at lightening speed, and you are essentially doing a 6-hour squat work out that you can feel in your glutes and thighs for days afterwards.


Hard at work in the blistering heat.

Six hours, yes you read that right. At this Workaway, we have to put in six hours a day, in a split shift, which does mean that you are spared the heat of the midday sun. Food is provided for you to cook on your days off, mainly burgers, some vegetables, and lots of eggs. No milk, no potatoes, and sometimes bread. It is a requirement that the volunteers cook lunch and an evening meal together, despite everyone working slightly different shifts. In my second week a mandatory cleaning rota was imposed on the cabin, because, apparently, we are children.
The vineyard and lodged are run by an English/Chilean couple. In the past two weeks I have seen very little of them, save for receiving my marching orders each morning. The volunteers live at the opposite end of the property to our hosts and so there are no social or casual interactions outside of the working day. This was probably for the best.
The husband, who comes from a part of the world not too far from me, has absolutely zero interpersonal skills, a personality deficit. To those of you who do not know me well, or cannot see through the subtly of my writing, for clarity: he has rubbed me up the wrong way on several occasions with snide comments about my appearance and/or intelligence.
I also did not hear the world ‘thank you’ pass his lips until the tenth day I had worked, for the remainder of my stay, he continued to give gratitude sparingly. He does however let the volunteers buy wine from him at the wholesale price. I recognise how very generous this is of him.


Snow covered Andes Mountain range.

What is not is deficit on the vineyard are tarantulas, scorpions and breathtakingly beautiful scenery. When we are not hard at work, we do have the freedom to enjoy the area. The vineyard is located in the Colchagua Valley and is unbelievably stunning. There is a river that runs alongside the volunteer cabin and it is still warm enough for swimming in the afternoon when we have finished the day’s work. On the day that I arrived there had been a snowfall and so the vineyard was set against a backdrop of the Andes covered in snow. It was absolutely stunning!
A 45-minute hike past the vineyard there is a 30ft waterfall and natural pool fed by a glacier run off. It was a little too cold for me to swim, and definitely too high for me to be jumping off. A couple of the volunteers that I was staying with did the jumped into the ice cold water, but they are Canadian, so are used to the cold.


There are hundreds of these not so little monsters roaming the place. I will confess, I slept with the light on the night this was taken.


... and then I said "Why the long face?"

The other volunteers were great company, which was a blessing as there is very little to occupy the time and mind of an evening. There is a DVD player for the Workawayers to use but very few DVDs. There are only so many times one can watch the Hangover Trilogy before stating to go ever so slightly mad.

Chilean Vineyard vs Chilean Wine
Chilean Vineyard vs Chilean Wine

Gorgeous view over the vineyard as the sun comes up over the mountain.

Although beautiful, I decided to cut my stay short and left at the end of my third week. Not just because the work was hard, but because I had a few pressing issues to attend to in the real world that required access to functional wifi. Three other volunteers made an early exit in the short time I was there, one in the middle of the night without even saying goodbye.
I realise how fortunate I am that I can walk away from the vineyard and not have to worry about paying my rent, or feeding my kids. There are people in the world for whom this is their life, and do not have the freedom to walk away so easily.
I did not leave my hosts with a link to this blog.

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21 Comments on “

  1. Ow gosh it sounds more like a slave labor than interaction and culture exchange, so good point to walk way from these experience, so I guess going trough and at least trying it , was really brave and raised up my eyebrow from where im gonna volunteer next time, thanks.

  2. Oh dear…still I guess it was still an amazing experience and the setting sounds stunning. Knowing you I’m surprised you didn’t’ organise a walkout for a ‘liveable’ living wage !

  3. Such a shame and as above it sounds like a slave camp. At least the other were friendly. To be honest, if I saw one of those little monsters (spider) that would have been enough for me to run for the hills. Thank you for sharing this post as I believe it is important to express some of these volunteer places.

    1. This is the only ‘bad’ experience I’d had of volunteering in South America, most of them were an absolute dream. These guys just really wound me up!

  4. Thanks so much for this blog post. It really puts a “real life” aspect to the romanticism of volunteering abroad. I know all situations are different, but it’s nice to get a raw, first-hand account without the niceties. I was looking into volunteering with WOOF, but have yet to find dates that would fit my schedule.

    1. Just a warning: Usually, work schedules/treatment on WWOOFs is worse than WorkAway. Not saying you can’t find awesome places but expect longer working hours and more basic accommodation.

      Happy travels & good luck!

    2. If you are thinking of volunteering I would say definitely do it. You can always leave early as I did and go elsewhere if you are not appreciated. I hope you enjoy your adventure!

  5. The Vineyard sounds like quite the experience. I don’t know if I would have been able to stick it out as long as you did. I would like to try some Chilean wine though.

  6. That is crazy, you are a volunteer, he should be thankful to all of you who were there. I don’t blame you for bailing early, I don’t think I could have lasted as long as you did but hey, it was a new experience!

  7. So sad that even when you’re doing volunteering work you don’t earn much gratitude! Atleast good you got the wine in wholesale price! The water fall sounds beautiful and the scenery is gorgeous!!!

    1. It was such a beautiful setting. I know it wasn’t the worst place to spend a month! Even with those spiders!

  8. I’ve heard that some Workaways take advantage of their workers in the worst way possible and this sounds like one of them! But at least you got to experience it and now know this one wasn’t for you. By the way, I’m Canadian and I’m still not used to the cold (quite hate it actually)! 😉

  9. Hi,
    I have done close to two dozen WorkAways and I have worked in a vineyard. I would not combine the two – and your post confirms this sentiment. It’s a bit saddening that there are hosts out there just looking for cheap labor and forgetting all about the exchange aspect of WA. That being said, most of my hosts have lodged and treated me like a family friend (or family…) and I wouldn’t miss those experiences. My vineyard experience was awesome in retrospect because the hard, hard work was paid well (cheers to minimum wage in France ;-)).

    Hope you still had a great time in Chile & have since found better WA hosts.

    Happy continued travels!

    1. Thanks Carola – I certainly feel richer for having the experience, even if it was basically slave labour. It hasn’t out me off Workaway, as you said, in most places you really are treated like on of the family.

  10. I believe this was a valuable life experience to you. You gained a lot out of it. From time to time we all get unique life lessons to teach us how life can be hard and beautiful at the same time. This was one of those lessons. But, needless to say I wish you more happier volunteering to come!

    1. Thanks Milijana, all my previous volunteering experiences and everyone since has been an absolute dream! I’m still a huge advocate for Workaway and would thoroughly recommend it. Sadly for some of the guys I worked with this was their first WA, and I suspect that it will be their last.

  11. Wow – this would not be for me at all, but I always like to see the positive side of things and to know that I had an adventure and a lesson learned.

    1. Absolutely Sheri! What doesn’t kill you and all that… there’s always a story to be told out of these not so perfect experiences.

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