Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
As seen in the Transitions Abroad Webzine September 2008 Issue
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WWOOFing in Argentina

Combine Volunteer Work with a Vacation in the Sun

carrying potatoes in a blanket
Lorraine Jenkin carrying potatoes in a blanket.

It was time to get away. I wanted an exciting adventure overseas, but one which did not involve staying in tourist accommodations with other tourists. WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, was appealing since I had heard of it several years before as an organization that helps links people to organic farms around the world. Simply contact the host on the farm that is appealing and then work an agreed upon amount of hours per day in exchange for simple bed and board.

I set up a 3-week stay at such a farm in Argentina. It was to be a first port of call on a round the world trip. Just a couple of days before leaving, I received another email from the farm saying that unless I was prepared to stay for at least four weeks, they couldn’t host me for free because of the necessary investment of their time in training. They said I was still welcome to come, but would have to pay for my stay. I was a bit thrown off, as although I had money for the year, it would be tight and I had banked on having a few weeks without needing to spend. However, I worked out the exchange rate and realized that it was only a few pounds a day and so agreed. It was actually the best thing that could have happened.

After a few weeks travel, I arrived on a beautiful farm in the Chubut area of Argentina. Although surrounded by harsh Pampas, the area is known for its fertile valleys. It was an oasis of small farms, many subsistent, who could earn a little more by selling spare produce at the market.

The family at Chacra Millalen was a couple with their child as well as a couple of guests. There was a wooden hut with a central kitchen and dining area and the family lived in a simple house in the back field. The main mode of transport in the area was via horseback. Throughout the days their friends and neighbours, many real Gauchos, would stop by on their way through.

I pitched my tent with a view of the mountains. There were a couple of other WWOOFers there and their job was to work the beautiful kitchen garden and to bottle and preserve as much of the produce as possible. So in the hot sun of the day they would work for six hours a day, six days a week. However, I soon got used to my “special” status. I loved to help in the garden; weeding a patch can be very therapeutic, but perhaps not for six hours. I would be given the nicer jobs, and would spend a morning up the cherry trees with a bucket, collecting cherries. I could also help the young boy tend his horses.

Little Gaucho at the farm
Little Gaucho at the farm.

Otherwise, I was free to wander off, take the dog with me for a swim in the lake, or take the bus into town. I had gone travelling to write my book, Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons, and there was time to sit and write whenever the mood struck me.

The best thing about the whole experience was living with Argentine people and becoming immersed in their culture and way of life. I soon became unexcited by losses in electrical power. I loved the simplicity of life and the endless chatting; it is said that to punish an Argentine, you put him in a room on his own! No one has a nice car, so there appeared to be no consumer one-upmanship. Everything is mended by themselves; there was no spare money in that area, so it was fascinating to see the ingenious lengths people went to manage without it. The boiler was lit once a week for showers; otherwise they were cold. Water was conserved and if it ran out, we drank from the river.

I stayed at this first farm for three weeks and then decided to travel elsewhere. I left feeling I had some knowledge of the Argentine way of life that stood me in good stead for the next five months. I stayed at a few more WWOOFing farm in Argentina in this way, allowing me to be in places that were set up for visitors, even while living with a host family.

I also asked a couple of families I met on excursions whether I could stay with them—for example I stayed with a family on an island in Lake Titicaca and picked potatoes for a couple of weeks. The price was usually just a few pounds a day and in exchange I could be as busy or lazy as I wanted. I saw things that most tourists would surely miss and always got to eat all the best cherries.