One of our goals while in South America was to volunteer working on an organic farm, or WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s a way to volunteer and learn about sustainable living and organic farming. When you are a Wwoofer, you are working on the farm anywhere from 6-8 hours per day in exchange for food & accommodation. We reached out to a couple that we found interesting and discovered one in Northern Argentina that would work well with our schedules. We were technically volunteers, as Wwoofers had to make a month long commitment, but as volunteers we only had to work for four hours in the morning in exchange for accommodation and paid around $11USD per day as a contribution to cover all of our food.
The organic farm we would be working on for a week was called Aldea Luna, which is a Natural Reserve and family enterprise, financed solely by tourism and volunteers and focused on sustainable living. The property is made up of over 2,000 acres of forest, mountains and rivers.
It’s safe to say that my Wwoofing experience got off to a VERY (perhaps very might even be an understatement) rocky start. We arrived late in Jujuy from Chile the night before and since we were going to have no Wi-Fi on the organic farm, I was trying to soak up as much internet time as possible at our hostel. Which led to staying up online till 2am, which led to being wide awake and a small battle with insomnia and was followed by a 5am alarm, just to sneak in one more hour of internet before heading to the bus station. So, needless to say, I was exhausted. To make matters worse, none of the ATM’s near the bus station would accept our cards, so I was watching our bags while Danielle tried to get us out some Pesos, to no avail. We got on the bus out to our farm town sans breakfast. I’m not a very happy person when I’m hungry in the morning. Some may argue I’m not a very happy person when I’m hungry, period. As we’re venturing further and further outside of town, I see the dire words on my iPhone…no service. I was keeping my fingers crossed for at least basic cell service, if not unrealistically hopeful for Edge or 3G.
We get off the bus at our stop and were greeted by a very lovely English gentleman named John who was going to take us to the farm. When Danielle told me they’d pick us up at the bus station, I didn’t think she meant on foot (I don’t think she did either). The farm was 3km from the bus station (just under 2 miles). While typically 2 miles isn’t that far to walk, it’s a hell of a long way to walk when you’re lugging close to 40kg (85lbs) of luggage (my bag weighs approximately 22-24kg and my bookbag of electronics weighs around 12-15kg) on your back (and front). Not to mention a large chunk of the walk was uphill. And through the woods. And through a field of weeds and sticker bushes almost up to my shoulders. And through two creeks. Climbing over FOUR fences, two of them barbed wire. And up yet more hills. I was in flip flips, sweating my ass off and cursing this whole idea under my breath the entire time. I had my iPod in listening to music that would help me trudge on and not throw my bags on the ground and lay on the path crying until this whole experience was just a thing of the past. I was not happy about being completely cut off from the world for a week. Maybe it’s weird, but I just don’t like it. I don’t like the feeling.
After what felt like ages, we made it to Aldea Luna. The mother, Elizabeth, greeted us with fresh lemonade and a breakfast of fruit, fresh bread and porridge. Okay, things were slightly better. Then came the next bit of unsettling news when I asked where the outlets in our room were. This was met with the response: we don’t have electricity. They do have a generator that they use occasionally but all of my Wi-Fi free plans included my computer; things like editing photos, writing, working on my Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons and reading books and watching movies on the iPad. All of which uses a decent chunk of battery. Since our first day on the farm was a Saturday, I decide to select a book from their library and read that to conserve my iPad battery. I actually spent the rest of the afternoon reading and taking in the lovely views. The following day was Sunday which is a rest day for everyone so while most of the group went on a hike, I took advantage of my alone time doing some much needed laundry, reading my second book and working on my Rosetta Stone Spanish. It was lovely.
On our first day of farm work, we started the morning in the kitchen learning how to make tofu. It was really neat. Since the farm only runs on limited solar power, we had to turn on the generator in order to puree the soy beans, After our tofu making, we went out in the garden for our first tasks of weeding various beds of vegetables. I have always wanted to have a garden and while my apartments in Los Angeles haven’t been really conducive to that (even though Amanda and I had a pretty sweet patio garden going for a while last Spring), it was great to test out my green thumb on a huge garden!
For the remainder of the week, our schedule was mainly a few hours in the garden: weeding, moving compose piles, clearing pathways between vegetable beds and planting trees and was combined with some cleaning and kitchen work, making dough for the bread and helping make lunch. Lunch and dinner were served family style and everyone chipped in to prepare the meal using all kinds of fresh, yummy ingredients picked straight from the garden.
I got a lot of new recipes to add to my recipe box. Danielle and I even baked our first cake and pie using a dutch oven on the stovetop (they don’t have a working oven). Oh, and the first cake we baked may have looked like a tire due to our lack of experience in stovetop baking…oops!
Our afternoon activities usually consisted of working on my Rosetta Stone, a walk down to lounge in the river, reading, baking cakes and playing lots of games of Toc. I’d never heard of this game before, but as Elizabeth told us when she taught Danielle and I how to play, it’s a one way street. It really was. We were hooked. Two of the other volunteers, a French/Belgium couple, also loved playing so we would enjoy an afternoon beer (or perhaps bottle of wine) and play countless games with them!
We even decide to stay an extra night at Aldea Luna to travel with Sam & Romain up to Bolivia and do a tour of the Salt Flats together. Also, on the last day we made hummus from scratch (sans blender…lotta elbow grease…) and gnocci!
If you are considering doing a Wwoof, or even traveling in Argentina in general, I highly recommend a week stay at Aldea Luna. While at first it was slightly overwhelming for me to wrap my brain around being completely shut off for eight days, it actually became quite enjoyable and our stay actually flew by. Plus, Martin and Elizabeth, along with their son Matias and Gerardo, their family friend who runs the farm along with them, couldn’t have been a nicer bunch to be around! They were so warm, funny and welcoming into their home.
On the final day, Danielle and I made pancakes (a modified version of Sweet Peach Pankcakes and banana oatmeal pancakes) for everyone. While we waited for Martin to drive us back to Jujuy, we even snuck in one final game of Toc!