My lifestyle as a travel blogger is rarely full of glamour and luxury like most people think. The past week has been a good example of that. I spent the days working my butt off for a family running a Permaculture retreat and education center in the mountains near Biella Italy. Compost toilets, not-so-hot hot water, lots of amazing plants, and the entertaining antics of domestic animals, created a permaculture experience I won’t soon forget.
It wasn’t my first experience with compost toilets, but still it was a surprise. For you city slickers, a compost toilet is a toilet that is not hooked up to a sewer, and the waste is turned to compost and given back to the planet from whence it came. There are a few variations of compost toilets. In this case, the urine and solid waste are kept separate. I know it sounds weird, but once you get over the initial shock it’s really not bad.
In order to get hot water, I had to build a fire beneath the hot water heater. Sounds easy enough, but the wood has to be broken down to no larger than about 10 inches long so it will fit in the little fire stove beneath the hot water heater. Then, because the compartment is about the size of a glove-box, I had to sit there and feed the fire for about 45 minutes until such time that the water heated to the desired temperature. Before this week, I didn’t even know that type of hot water heater even existed.
Lots of Plants
The family bought the 100 year old home a few years back and has been working diligently to renovate it, and cultivate the property, ever since. They spend long days slaving away to make the place viable and beautiful. Their efforts are beginning to pay off, as we enjoyed homemade zucchini fritters, plumb cake and a delicious cabbage salad, all made with their own fruits and vegetables. Most of the plants were similar to those at home, but I did see a passion fruit plant for the first time. The flowers are stunning, with purple and yellow petals that look a bit like an orchid.
I was constantly entertained by the fun antics of their two dogs, one cat, three geese, two horses, and a number of chickens. Their one year old dog, Yetti, made a game of chasing the geese around. Poor Toto and Luna didn’t appreciate his boyish enthusiasm and made a point of telling him, quite loudly, and in a way that only geese can! Of course that would get the chickens cackling in unison. The horses never seemed to be bothered with all the ruckus, and the family’s 13 year old dog slept through most everything.
When I wasn’t weeding, digging trenches, or cleaning the enormous windows, I learned a bit about distilling essential oils out of flowers. Ellen mixes it in with a cream to make a delightful organic lotion. She is also an amazing cook, and I got a lot of great ideas for delicious vegetarian meals and enjoyed an interesting array of healthy foods. I’m glad I went, but I learned that I’m not cut out for that much hard work day-in and day-out anymore. One thing is for certain, permaculture requires a lot of dedication and regular back braking hard work.