My name is Pietro, I’m 23 and I’m from Vignola, a little town between Modena and Bologna in Italy. I would describe myself as a very simple person with a big passion for music, the outdoors, and travelling.
After getting my bachelor’s degree I decided to spend a few months outside Europe to work on my English and, most importantly, to see and experience something new. Attracted to Canadian nature, I applied for a working-holiday visa and I booked a flight to Toronto. I chose to begin my adventure in Toronto because I thought it would have been easy to find a decent job there and because Toronto is fairly close to many places where you can experience the outdoor life.
After spending 2 weeks in Toronto I quickly understood that I was wrong: finding a job and a room in Toronto is not very easy. So, I started to plan a move to Ottawa with the hope of having better luck there. However, sometimes life can be very unexpected: one night I was having a dinner with my room-mate Clark and we were talking about our CVs, when we suddenly ended up talking about WWOOF (a network of national organizations that facilitate homestays on organic farms). This conversation didn’t mean anything to me in that moment. But, as soon as I went to bed, something happened: the idea of using WWOOF or a similar platform to find a job somewhere in Canada popped into my head.
So, I decided to have a look on WorkAway. My Italian friend Tommaso told me about his amazing experience with this platform. I can still feel the excitement of that Monday night: it was 11 pm when I saw Bongo and Andrea’s post on the very first page of WorkAway. I opened their profile, I read their description and I was like: music, nature, small town and why am I taking so long to contact them?! Without thinking twice I signed up on WorkAway and I reached out to them. Within an hour they replied back to me, we scheduled a meeting on Wednesday and, long story short, they offered me a job and I immediately accepted it.
On May the 10th Andrea and Bongo came to pick me up in Toronto and we began a 4-hour road trip to Whitney. I spent that time chatting with them about our common passions. As we drove, I kept staring at the evolving landscape out of my window. As we got closer to Algonquin Park, we saw fewer buildings, less roads, and lots more nature. I really felt like I was travelling to a different world.
We finally arrived at the Bongopix Tavern at 10:30pm, right after the end of the Leafs game (R.I.P.) and it was so crowded that I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t really expect to find so many people in a small tavern in a small town but it was a very nice surprise. So, I literally threw my luggage into my room and I quickly ran downstairs to join all the people in the tavern. From that moment on, I spent the night jamming and meeting people from everywhere in the Algonquin Park area… it was an amazing introduction to this place!
The following week, I began my working experience at the Bongopix Tavern as well as at the Camp. The work environment at Bongopix is just unbelievable. Bongo, Andrea, and Ashley are not just coworkers. They are a big family: they always support each other, on or off work, and they really put such a lot of effort in creating a positive and happy vibe that they made me feel part of the team from the very first day. In addition, I have to say that the guests here truly fit this vibe: even though this is my very first experience working behind a bar, people here are very friendly and they are always trying to make me feel comfortable as they want me to be part of the Whitney community instead of just being someone who works at Bongopix.
That said, my typical work day at the tavern starts at 8pm until the tavern is closed. During my shift I usually help Ashley behind the bar, while Bongo and Andrea play a lot of good music that generally turns into a nonstop jam session involving almost every single guest of the tavern. Sometimes, especially at the end of the night, I also join them to jam on a few tunes before closing.
Working at Bongopix is never boring. There are always unusual jobs to do. For example, we are currently repairing a dock. A few weeks ago we installed a satellite dish for internet. My favourite unique job, however, was assembling the Blackfly Festival stage. Some local people came to help us to build the stage for the festival and transform the whole tavern into a professional festival setup with a food truck, canoe bar, and merchandise stand. I don’t know why, but this sense of belonging to the community and the excitement of hosting a music festival really gave me a unique vibe that I’ll never forget.
In the end, the Blackfly Festival went very well and it gave me the chance to discover and meet talented local musicians as well as experience a music festival in the Canadian style.
The Blackfly festival is a great example of how important music is at Bongopix. We have live music every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night. Sometimes local musicians come to play at the tavern but most of the time Andrea and Bongo are playing for the audience. Even though I listen to them 3 nights a week, I never get bored as they are always trying to do something different to captivate all the regulars and first-time visitors every single night.
However, what I find more interesting about music here at Bongopix is the mutual relationship between performers and audience: the music here is not just something to “fill the silence” but it’s like a big conversation between the players and the listeners using a common language to unite everybody; from the tourist with very basic knowledge of English, to the regular customer who has been living in Whitney since forever. The music creates a unique atmosphere that really boosts the way people connect and interact with each other.
My working schedule lets me have a lot of free time. Here in Whitney I can truly enjoy the outdoor life going fishing along the Madawaska river or across Galeairy Lake, working out at the public park, going running along the many trails in the area, or just exploring all the hidden gems of lake with my kayak. In my free time I also hang out with Bongo and Andrea. Together, we explore Whitney and Algonquin park. Being out in nature with them is a very unique experience: they have a very deep knowledge of the animals and the nature of the park and I’m constantly learning something new.
They also brought me to a backcountry trip with them to Ragged Lake where we camped for two nights. During this trip we paddled through Smoke Lake and we mainly explored Ragged Lake and Big Porcupine Lake. It was a very fun trip and I’ll never forget the philosophical discussions we had while paddling, having dinner on the top of a rock looking at the sunset, or falling asleep listening to the frogs and waking up with the sound of the many birds around us.
My experience here at the Bongopix will unfortunately end on the 31st of July, 2023. Then, somehow influenced by the many people I’ve met here from that part of Canada, I decided to go to Nova Scotia where I’ll do a motorcycle road trip all across the province. After this little adventure, I will eventually go back to Italy to spend a few days with my family and my friends before moving to France for a few years to continue my studies in Aerospace Engineering.
I have to admit that it will not be easy to get used to my “old life”. I will definitely miss the Bongopix atmosphere: cleaning cabins while listening to cassette tape or vinyl, going fishing at the end of the day, birdwatching with Andrea, talking about music with Bongo, joking around with Ashley behind the bar, and so many other little things that made me fall in love with this place.
I don’t know much about my future but for sure I’ll come back to enjoy some more time in this magical place. Not just because of the beautiful nature you can find in Algonquin park, but because of the many memories I’ve collected about this place thanks to the wonderful people I’ve met and all the lessons I’ve learned.
Seeing the relationship that Canadians have with nature is something extraordinary to me and this has probably taught me a very simple but important lesson: life outside is beautiful and sometimes we don’t realize how much living the outdoor world can drastically improve the quality of our life in a better way.
I will be forever grateful to everybody I’ve met here for making this experience so remarkable!