WWOOFing in Argentina
Combine Volunteer Work with a Vacation in the Sun
The author carrying potatoes in a blanket on one WWOOF stay.
It was time to get away. I wanted an exciting adventure overseas that 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 link people to organic farms worldwide. Contact the host on the farm that is appealing and then work an agreed-upon number of hours per day in exchange for a 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 spending. However, I worked out the exchange rate and realized it was only a few pounds daily, so I agreed. It was actually the best thing that could have happened.
After a few weeks of 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 and 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 backfield. The primary mode of transport in the area was via horseback. Throughout the days, their friends and neighbors, 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 bottle and preserve as much of the produce as possible. So, in the hot sun of the day, they would work 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 therapeutic, but perhaps not for six hours. I would be given the better jobs and 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 work on the farm.
Otherwise, I could wander off, take the dog with me for a swim in the lake, or take the bus into town. I had gone traveling 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 experience was living with the 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 alone! 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 we drank from the river if it ran out.
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 farms in Argentina this way, allowing me to be in places 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. I 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.