On March, 2, 2013 I came to the Dolomites for the first time. It happened by an accident. Here, I found the best job in the world as a mountain keeper and local guide. Moreover, I invented it myself — without a vacancy.
Since then, for 7 years now, I have been helping to develop ecotourism in the village of Lamon in the province of Belluno in 100 km from Venice.
In the same period I found a second house in the Dolomites, which eventually became the first home.
This is a long and true story, and this is the first part.
— Long before traveling to Italy, I have come to the conclusion
that the best in life happens by accident, without a clear plan. No, planning is the right thing to do, for example, to plan a new trip. And sometimes it’s because of a clear plan… everything goes against plans. That’s what plans are for — to change them!
In the words of my favorite writer, Mariusz Wilk, a Pole who lived the last twenty years in the Karelia and the Russian North and hiked it along and across, including in his six books, “it’s not me who pave the trail, but the trail pave me — it’s the law of the nomad: you go not to the goal, but in the direction, you go as the tundra allows…”
That’s how I learned about volunteering,
or rather The European Volunteer Service (EVS) program. It was the name of the program in 2013, not it called The European Solidarity Corps (ESC). I thought I would spend the best days of my little trip to the Baltics in Stockholm, but my life was turned upside down in a provincial Finnish Turku. There, I found myself in an eco-village on one of the islands of the Turku archipelago, thanks to a meeting with local travel journalists in Couchsurfing.
There were several volunteers living in the village, one of whom (by the way, a Pole, too), told me about this program and gave me a tour of the village. We took a look at how they live and how they farm: their vegetable garden, their bread, and of course the Finnish sauna. In addition, we met many creative people from the village. I liked it all very much.
For the last five years, I have been living in my home St. Petersburg, tired of the office routine and living in a noisy apartment, and a big city, and have long dreamed about how to break away somewhere in nature.
The European Solidarity Corps (ESC) program is designed for people
from 18 to 30 years, inclusive, from European countries, but also from Russia, Belarus or Georgia, for example. It is possible to take part in it only once in a life, therefore it is necessary to approach to a choice of the country and search for the voluntary project with all carefulness and simultaneously to rely on a case — plan… but break the plans! Obey your heart!
The program is sponsored by the European Commission, a side-organization of the European Union. This means that the EU covers all the costs: visa processing, travel to the future project site, accommodation, and meals, transportation costs, language courses. It is not necessary to know the language of the country. Pocket money is also available: from 90 to 150 euros depending on the country. Health insurance is also free.
You can go to any European country for
a period from 6 months to a year. You just need to find a volunteer organization in your own or the nearest major city, which will send you abroad and will help you prepare all the paperwork, and find the volunteer project itself. Projects are completely different! From working in sociocultural and creative centers and museums to nature reserves and parks.
All projects accredited by the European Commission are available at the database. Here you can find an organization for volunteering on topics of interest to you. Almost every major city in Russia has USC partner organizations with which you can apply for participation in the program.
I immediately and clearly decided I wanted to go to nature:
to the Swedish forest, the Italian mountains, the desert in Spain, the ocean in France… it didn’t matter. But I found myself in the mountains, in a small village (3000 inhabitants) called Lamon, in the Dolomites. The Dolomites or Prealpes are the very beginning of the Alps, mountains between one and a half thousand, and three thousand meters high. They are also called the “Pale Mountains”. They are considered by many to be the most beautiful mountains in the world. Their peculiarity is in the stone itself — dolomite, white limestone.
From my book “The Trail I Paved” (3Man Publishing / Arrivo / Ridero, 2014, Russian language) about this experience in the Dolomites:
“At sunset or dawn, they are painted in all the ‘warm’ colors of the rainbow: red, pink, orange, yellow… It’s like someone (someone?) “spends” a strip of light on the mountains, like a brush, painting cm by cm… And at night and in the early morning — for a while: from sunset to dawn — the mountains become “cold”: blue, dark blue, gray, translucent, ghostly…
Three other volunteers participated in the project with me:
two from Spain and one from Greece-Belgium. We lived in the building of a former school converted into an Environmental Educational Center of a local (and largest) ecological association Legambiente. In Italy, it is very well-known and represents something like a local Greenpeace. That’s why all our activity was connected with ecology, environment, eco-tourism, and so on.
We had our own vegetable garden, where we grew only organic products, that is, we did not use artificial fertilizers and pesticides. The garden was very small and “non-cash”, unlike our neighbor’s, for example, but he used fertilizers.
We built a pizza oven in the yard ourselves: we dug a ton of clay. The construction took four months because of bad weather, but the result was worth it. After that, we made our own pizza in the yard! And pizza is the best thing in Italy.
We used to cut wood, and I’d chop it up for firewood. That was probably my favorite job. Because you could work without rushing to your pleasure, listen to the new ax ringing, and think about something of your own, philosophize.
On Tuesdays, we held ecological workshops for children from the local, real school. We did handicrafts with them, made origami, baked cookies, went for walks. Still on environmental topics. Like making something useful out of old, unnecessary things. It is called upcycling.
We conducted various thematic events in a school on our own, such as a film forum with films on environmental topics and led tours of the mountains. In addition, the school operated as a hostel and anyone could stay there while traveling through the mountains. Once we had a sports orientation group, once a local karate section.
In the summer we had four short-term volunteer camps. We cleaned up trash on mountain paths, painted benches on playgrounds, watched educational films, and just had a good time and went hiking in the mountains.
The main goal of the project is to be involved in the life of
a village or commune, as they say here. Besides Lamon itself, the village I live in, there are many smaller villages scattered around, and together they make up one commune. We’ve participated in all the city festivals (fiestas), sport and outdoor competitions, events, and memorable days… Well, or we were just sitting with friends in local bars.
Bars, by the way, are the best place to get acquainted with the locals, to become local in the village. It was harder for me then, because I didn’t know much Italian and don’t drink alcohol, except for the popular local white wine “Prosecco”, but my Spanish friends succeeded in it: they also like to drink and Italian is easy to learn.
Each volunteer needed to have his own personal project.
Something he would like to do the most, depending on his/her knowledge, skills, and interest. I created my project almost from day 1. I called it “The Mountain Keeper”, similar to the recent 2013 Best Job in the World competition, which offered to become a Tropical Island Keeper in Australia. There are many competitions like that one before and nowadays. Only I did not participate in any competitions, but found the best job in Italy! I just adore hiking! From 2013 — in the mountains.
There are fifteen official mountain trails around Lamon and my task as a volunteer was to hike them all, take pictures of the most beautiful and interesting places or those where, on the contrary, it is easy to get lost, indicating the right direction, follow the state of the trails. And them to create something like an updated map, that can be useful for the next volunteers of the project, but also the tourists.
I ended up paving my own trail in the mountains. The title of the book comes from the project. I wrote and published it in 2014 after the end of the project. I loved my volunteering project so much that it became a literary work. Instead of chapters in the book, there are trails: “Ringing”, “Shepherdess”, “Azure”, Snake…
That was (and still is) my work in the Dolomites.
I call it the best job in the world. But it is hardly a job. This is just what I love to do. It is labor, not the work.
We often replace one concept with another. But I think there’s a big difference between work and labor. Work is what you have to do and don’t like to spend time on. Labor is what you do with pleasure, and don’t count the working hours. When you do what you love and have skills for, all your time is for you.
As for the days… I spent the whole calendar year in Lamon, but I found winter and spring and summer and autumn… So all four seasons of the year are natural. And I saw the village and the surrounding mountains in all their glory: in snow, in flowers covered with lush green grass and purple leaves… For me, it’s more important to see the same place in different colors than to count the days in the calendar.
And since I started my story with a quote from my beloved writer,
I will finish with the same quote: “The world is gaining speed, and I do not like to rush. I like to wander! Anyway, in space or time, in a city or tundra, from person to book or vice versa. Voyages teach patience.”
I’ve never been a tourist, I’ve always considered myself a traveler, but now even from a traveler to… into a wanderer, or mountain keeper, or just a local in the Dolomites.
I liked that kind of travel. Not “galloping through Europe”, but slowly, thoroughly, thoughtfully… When you don’t have to hurry, when you don’t have a guide and you don’t have pre-paid hotels, you can stop and see everything in detail, find out how the locals live, about their problems and joys, take part in holidays…
Find maybe a second home or a new home, and a new things to do in a life, as it happened to me in the Dolomites.
To be continued… 🥾
In the next parts, I will tell about how I became one of the leading outdoor journalists and editors in Russia, traveled in the Europe and Asia in the next 5 years, returned to live in the Dolomites, started a Creative Project, dedicated to it, and found the love of my life thanks to it and my belief in all good things in a life.
This article was first published in the Russian language in the online magazine about self-development, awareness, productivity, and creativity “To Live Interestingly” («Жить интересно!») on October 15, 2014.
Cover photo: me in Rugna, Lamon, in September 2014 © Tatiana Kuznetsova.