My second experience with HelpX took place a few months after helping Monica and her family in Orte, Italy.
I came back home in early November to celebrate my best friend’s 18th birthday, an event that I could not miss, as you can imagine ! Then, I took some time to enjoy my family, discover Nice, celebrate Christmas & the New Year and go back to Nice in January. Plenty of quality time with my loved ones.
But then, I felt ready to move again & I searched for another host. I came across Stan’s offer : he was the owner of a small cattle for meat production, and also had a shelter for old horses with lots of fields for both the cattle & the horses to enjoy. It was (still is) located in the south west of France, in a very small village with roughly 10 inhabitants. Completely rural, calm, peaceful, with plenty of animals around ? Sign me up !
I don’t recall who sent a message first, but we agreed that I’d come help him for a minimum of 2 weeks. Early February, I packed again and took the train to Carcassonne, followed by a delightful bus ride from there to Limoux. The scenery was so gorgeous ; I’m a sucker for french countryside’s horizons.
Stan picked me up at the station with his big muddy car, which immediately settled the atmosphere. Forget about glamour & welcome to the farm life ! We quickly went to the supermarket to get gas and do a bit of grocery shopping, and then he drove me to his place, called Domaine d’en Pas.
There I was greeted by his two dogs, Tina and Titi, who were as cute as they were noisy. Then he led me to my room, which was located on a mezzanine on top of the horses stalls. In fact, I really adored how it was built. Between the cattle’s fields and the horses’ ones, there was a huge barn. Inside this barn, there were the horses’ stalls with my vast room above them, enough space for hay & grains storage as well as for the tractor, a dry-toilet cabine and Stan’s flat. So this barn was the main living area for us, the horses, the dogs and Stan’s cats !
He showed me around and we had lunch. Later we enclosed new fields for the cattle & his two mini ponies. After that, I had some free time to unpack and rest, before spending the evening with him after having fed the horses. I immediately felt at home and safe, even though I was a 18 year old girl alone with a 30 something man in the middle of nowhere with barely enough signal to send a text message. Once again, I was very lucky, but Stan already had good reviews on his HelpX profile so I already had trust in his person even before meeting him. Plus, he was very kind, calm and understanding ; he always made sure I was comfortable helping him around, and really grasping what he needed me to do ; showing me how to proceed when I didn’t know. He taught me a lot during those 2 weeks, always with a peaceful and positive attitude. A big, big plus!
He didn’t ask much of me, on top of that. We would start the day early in order to feed the animals, then we would come back for a quick breakfast and do most of the work in the morning. The tasks were varied and depended on what had to be done, how the weather was and how we were feeling. I never felt pressured or disrespected. After our morning work, he would prep lunch while I set the table, we would eat and then I had my afternoons free until 5-6pm, where we would once again feed the animals and make sure everyone was safe before enjoying our nights together with a nice dinner and even better conversations.
The cattle had mostly cows, a few calves and only one bull. But man, oh man ! This bull was giant ! Thankfully, they were all very relaxed and used to our presence, even though they were living ” freely ” in the open prairies.
During those two weeks, we had a bit of snow, which was quite unusual for me ; even though we were in the south of France, we sure were closer to the mountains that I had ever been. Therefore… I froze my ass. For me, it wasn’t easy to be out at 7 am when the sun was barely out there and the snow still falling. I would put on the most clothes that could fit (hey, whatever works!) and think about the warm cup of tea that awaited me…. plus, those were precisely the moments when the animals needed us the most. We would give them extra hay, bring back the horses to the stables and keep them in.
Since we couldn’t do much work outside due to the snow, we did some handiwork inside instead. Ok, we also once decided to say fuck it ! and ended up chatting while drinking tea and playing crosswords & sudoku. Balance is the key, right ? As we say in France ” Qui veut voyager loin ménage sa monture ” (literally : who wants to travel far takes it easy on its horse ; fig : slow and steady wins the race).
As well as working on the property, we also went out a few times, to buy tools, go to the farmer’s market, buy food for the animals etc. Those two weeks went by very quickly. On top of doing plenty of varied tasks, learning new skills, and being in such a peaceful environnement… what I truly enjoyed was Stan himself. We shared a lot about ourselves : our past, our fears, our dreams, thoughts about society, art, ecology… He’s truly someone worth meeting and chatting with ! I admire his willingness, his strength and resilience. But mostly his huge heart : he’s such a generous, respectful and kind person.
Here are his HelpX profile , his website and his FB page if you’re willing to help him a bit. As he’s working alone most of the time, it truly adds up to his life. Anyone who knows how hard the rural life can be will understand this. Apparently, he no longer has cattle but now has more horses & donkeys! You’ll be able to enjoy the peacefulness of the countryside, while not being too remote either (it’s near Limoux & Carcassonne, which has a gorgeous castle/medieval old town). Taste the famous Blanquette de Limoux or Crémant de Limoux if you’re into wines. And meet one of the kindest & interesting person I’ve ever met !
Oh, and if you do end up there… tell him I said hi ! 😉
If you’ve ever done HelpX work, have you also had the chance to meet incredible hosts? If yes, who are they ?
I think that’s honestly one of the best aspects of this volunteer work… meeting such great people !