Monthly Archives: Oct 2011

En route to the end of the world…

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When we last left you, dear reader, we were making our way gradually southward to the town of Ushuaia, which marks the southernmost point of human civilization. After 31 hours in three different buses (a trip which included spectacular views of the sheep-speckled Patagonia countryside, eight hours straight of medieval fantasy movies, and six hours standing in line at Chilean customs*), we arrived in Ushuaia and made our way in the dark to our campsite, which was also the winter season ski hill.

Grazing sheep dashing out of the way of our bus:
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Tierra del Fuego: “Land of Fire”
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We were in the process of setting up our tent when the campsite manager rushed outside and insisted we spend the night in the Refugio (“refuge” aka very rustic ski lodge), because it was too cold and too rainy outside. It was neither, but he was so sincere he was hard to resist. So, we spent the night on the floor of the refugio along with Pablo, the Catholic-Hindu Uruguayan who ate cereal out of a cut-in-half milk carton with a spoon he had borrowed from us, and was planning to camp just as soon as he bought a tent.

We spent the next few days exploring the town at the end of the world, and found that Ushuaia is a town where one doesn’t walk – one climbs. Built on the mountainside, Ushuaia is made up of vertical streets and cars parked at impossible angles, street signs bearing not only street names but geographical coordinates, an ocean harbor opening expectantly to the Beagle Canal, and, of course, the earmark of human civilization: many many MANY kitschy gift shops!

Looking towards the harbour:
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We planned to hike to the local natural wonder, the Glacier Martial. Armed with many maps and instructions from the campsite manager on how to complete the “three hour hike” to the glacier, we set off to find the trail that was supposedly clearly marked as soon as we reached the top of the ski hill. At the top, we found a marked trail, but after several hours of walking through ankle-deep mud (bear in mind that all the snow has just melted here, and it rained every day we were there!), it soon became clear that the trail was in fact heading in the opposite direction that we wanted to go. We were faced with a choice: turn back and repeat our chilly, muddy trek with nothing to show for it; or press on with the promise of a taxi ride home from the glacier (if we could manage to find it before dark).

The rainbow at the top of the ski hill (our campsite was right at the bottom!)
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Happy springtime! The trail of mud and freshly-melted snow:
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We pressed on. With only an hour of daylight left, we suddenly saw our first sign of civilization all afternoon: the tea house at the foot of the glacier mountain! A friendly taxi driver at the base of the mountain assured us that yes, this was the way to the glacier, but it was still a three-hour round trip from where we were! Crushed, we stood on the darkening mountainside, trying to decide what to do. Did we make the mature, responsible decision to take the taxi back to our campsite and attempt the hike again the next day, when we would be assured enough daylight to make it there and back? Or, did we press on like lunatics into the unknown, up a mountain and back again, possibly in the dark?

Up we went! Up the incline, across a rickety bridge, through a gnarled forest completely frozen over with snow, down an ice bridge and over a stream, arriving finally at… a lot more mountains.

Josh trekking the ice bridge:
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We stood looking around in utter bewilderment. We had followed all the directions perfectly, we had passed all the landmarks, and according to the map, the glacier should have been in front of us. But unless we were really missing something, there was no glacier to be found.

Freezing cold and at a total loss, we decided to take a breather at the benches by a little information placard. And there I read the following:

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In other words, we had made it to the glacier. We just missed it by 10 000 years.

The Glacier Martial:
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All was not a total loss! The trip up had given us beautiful views of the mountains, and had only taken half the time we thought it would (we were realizing at this point that Ushuaians have absolutely no sense of time), so the teahouse was still open for another thirty minutes. Fueled by our desire for hot chocolate, we sped down the mountain, arriving with one minute to spare – just enough time to call a cab and order two hot chocolates to go!

All in all, a successful day.

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*A note on Chilean customs: Any travel to Ushuaia requires, for some inexplicable reason, a two-hour drive on a stretch of Chilean highway. In other words, one needs to exit Argentina (passports checked, all bags scanned, many customs forms filled out, all passengers interrogated). Next, a half-hour drive through no-man’s land. Then, enter Chile (repeat all steps as above). Two hour drive through Chile. Exit Chile (repeat steps as above). Re-enter Argentina (repeat steps once again).
Total time in Chile: 2 hours.
Total time in customs lines: 6 hours.
Word of advice? Do not bring apples, no matter what the Chilean Minister of Agriculture may tell you.

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Spring break! (Part 2)

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Stop #3: Puerto Madryn/Punta Loma, Chubut (4h south of Las Grutas)
As previously mentioned, we began to hypothesize that the further south one travels, the landscape becomes more beautiful and the people more bizarre. This theory was infallibly proved in Madryn, where our campsite was a forty minute walk from any semblance of civilization (lugging groceries uphill through sand dunes is a character-building experience!) and by the time we got to town, everything was closed for a five-hour siesta in the middle of the day. In addition, the ocean smelt weird here!
However, Madryn will forever hold a irreplaceable place in my heart since it was in Madryn that we were picked up in a beat-up 4WD, with our backpacks wedged into some kayaks on its trailer, and drove to Punta Loma with José (a Madryn native) and five other Argentines. There, we paddled our kayaks into the vast blue ocean, only pausing when, after about an hour, we heard the incredible noise of a colony of lobos de marino – sea lions!

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Kissing lobos! 🙂
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No zoom was used in the making of this picture!
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The huge macho (male lobo) surrounded by his harem (Apparently women’s lib has yet to come to loberías)
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When you’re in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of Argentines, what else do you do but stop and drink mate?
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Stop #4: Puerto Pirámides, Chubut (1.5hrs east of Madryn)
Just when we thought nature could astound us no more, we found ourselves in this hamlet of maybe 30 buildings, setting up our tent in the middle of a sand dune. We set out on a 5km hike with nothing but a single sign and the hesitant words of the campground guy to guide us. We spent at least half the hike wondering if we were going in the right direction (turns out we were!), but not even caring. From the top of a completely deserted plateau, with the ocean surrounding us on three sides, and the wind making it difficult to walk straight, we felt the sheer power of nature as I’ve never felt it before. And that was before arriving at our destination, where about a half dozen right whales frolicked in the ocean, so close we could actually make out the detail on their faces. It was a truly magnificent experience!

The view from the door of our tent:
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Hiking towards… somewhere
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Awe-inspiring: Right whales playing
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Spring break! (Part 1)

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Sand. As we travel along the coast, that is the one constant. Sand in our ears, in our shoes, sand coating our tent and our bags. The sand is constant, as is our awareness that the farther south you travel, the more beautiful and bizarre the world becomes.

It may seem a little premature to take a break from farming after only one farm, but that’s just how the schedule happened to fall into place, so without further ado, a quick look at Josh & Sara’s spring break:

Stop #1: Mar del Plata, Bs.As. (4hrs southeast of Buenos Aires)
I have never understood when people talk about cities actually having ‘character’. To me, a city is just a random mix of people that each have their own very unique character. Mardel, however, proved me wrong. The entire city oozes with genuine kindness and a relaxed joy that could only come from spending one’s entire life on a beautiful beach, such as these:

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Crazy dance party that we stumbled upon, complete with slightly inappropriate dance moves, a singing DJ, and a fleet of rollerbladers.
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Stop #2: Las Grutas, Río Negro (12h southwest of Mardel)
Originally planning to go to Viedma, we changed our next stop to Las Grutas solely on the recommendation of one of the guys in the community we were farming at, who had lived in Patagonia for years. When we first stepped off the bus, our first thought was that this guy was either crazy, or secretly hated us and was thrilled to have sent us to the most desolate, muddy town in all of Argentina.
Until we found the beach. Kilometers of untouched sand, crashing waves, ledges made of oyster shells, and caves carved into the cliffs by the sea. The town was still fairly desolate, but our quirky campsite right in the middle of main street and the spectacular, rugged beauty of the beach more than made up for the fact that there were only wild dogs to interact with (very friendly ones, though!)

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Carved tidal pools (only visible at low tide)
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Layers of beach appearing at low tide
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Sea-eroded caves
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Lessons for any side of the fence

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I know Josh said in the last post that our time in the community was an “eye-opening challenge in more ways than one” …and then only mentioned one. Never fear, world, we are still capable of counting, so here’s number two. While the first was more of a ‘what not to do’, this is definitely a ‘what TO do’.

Immediately upon arrival, it is easy to see that these people define “servant love.” I have never met people who take such joy in serving others, be it running to get breakfast for us, or slipping out of their morning prayer meeting to bring us mate, or showing up at our bedroom door with a welcome basket full of fruit and flowers. The first thought on their minds is how they can be showing tangible love to their very literal neighbor, i.e. whoever happens to be standing next to them. Their love for us is so genuine and so constant that after only a week, we felt right at home with them and furthermore, we found ourselves wanting to find ways to serve in return (clearing tables, washing dishes, giving English lessons). They are visibly transformed by their joy in Christ: it is evident on their faces, in the eagerness with which they meet each new day, and in the genuine pleasure they take in serving others in the hope of sharing Christ’s love.

As Hannah (one of my favourite members of the community) told me, “When you are connected to Christ, when he is your purpose for living and your source of strength, you can’t wait to get up in the mornings to serve him! The more you serve him, the more you are filled with his joy. By serving others, you then get to share that joy with others!”

This was not a foreign idea to either of us, but what was truly breathtaking was the way these words were actually lived out, the way this joy visibly transformed these people. Obviously, they have given up everything (a “normal” life, for example) to share this love with each other and their guests, but without a hint of regret or sadness. They are very literally joy-full. So I guess the second challenge is this: what is it that holds us back, as followers of Christ, from being SO filled with joy at every opportunity to serve?

Lessons from the other side of the fence

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Okay guys, time for a pause in the chaotic excitement of saratreetravels for a couple of more serious thoughts. When you hang out in a messianic Jewish commune during Yom Kippur, serious thinking is bound to happen!

I guess the first important point is that these people are not actually messianic Jews. They are believers of the gospel who also adhere to many of the Old Testament Jewish traditions, but they very much have their own set of beliefs, which has been an eye-opening challenge to Sara and I in more ways than one.

One of the foundational beliefs of this place is that communal living is an essential pillar of salvation, and that Christianity has actually rejected the gospel by moving away from this lifestyle. They believe that by sharing their lifestyle (which is, no doubt, very beautiful) with others, they will eventually convince others to join them and in this way bring about the kingdom of God. What this boils down to for us is the feeling, from some members of the community at least, that we are being treated as projects, subtly interrogated and prodded into joining their ranks.

Being long-time camp counsellors and youth leaders, we are accustomed to sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others, and it brings us joy when we see people changed by it. It’s a scary truth, however, that we may also be accustomed to sharing that love ‘with strings attached’, so to speak, getting to know people with the ulterior motive of ‘converting them’ or asking leading questions to get them to give us the correct ‘church answers’. Having now been on the other side of the evangelism fence, we can safely say it is a very dehumanizing experience, being surrounded by people who only care about the parts of your life that fit into what they believe is good and right. I do not believe this is the love that Jesus intended us to share with the world. In order to truly love people, we need to be willing to genuinely listen and care about all parts of their life that are important to them, even if they’re not a part of our beliefs.

Our time here has really challenged us to think about how we approach relationships, especially in the camp/church context. If we don’t have a genuine interest in who someone actually is right now, what right do we have to be interested in their immortal souls? My prayer is that this will lead to more real relationships being built and more real conversations being had, which I believe this is the vision Jesus was intending to pass on to us in the first place.

La primera granja: WWOOFing in Acts 2:44

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I am sitting on my bed by the open window, having just come from a celebratory pizza supper. I’m not quite sure what we were celebrating – no one seemed to know! Maybe the end of Yom Kippur, maybe that we could afford to buy cheese for once, maybe just because one of the brothers in the community came up with a new pizza dough recipe. It doesn’t take much for these people to find reason to find joy and ¡tiene una fiesta! Welcome to our first WWOOF farm!

Where are we and how did we get here, you may ask? As for how we got here, it was an adventure (as seems to be the norm these days :P)! Since Argentine payphones hate the world and generally refuse to work, we had no way of phoning our first farm for clearer instructions on how to get there from our hostel. We therefore spent over 45 minutes in a remise (kind of like a private taxi, very common here) with a superstar driver who had no clue where he was going but refused to give up, stopping at three different gas stations, two friends’ houses, and one bewildered man riding a bike to ask for directions. Josh and I were desperate, did NOT have enough pesos on hand to pay for a wild-goose hunt of a remise ride, and were ready to be dropped off at a monastery that we kept driving past (“They’re monks! They’d have to take us in!” was Josh’s reasoning), when finally, we found our farm and pulled into the drive of a sprawling, 100-year old colonial house.

I will never forget my first vivd image of our first farm, which also happens to be a Messianic Jewish* commune. After extracting us and our backpacks from the remise, one of the members of the community led us into house, swinging the door open to reveal a room packed with hugely-bearded men, women in headscarves, and children in tunics, all smiling widely and waving enthusiastically, “¡Bienvenidos! ¡Bienvenidos!

These communities were first formed in the sixties (ha! I’m finally getting my chance to live out the 60s hippie movement!) and can be found all over the world. Their mandate is to live a life of unity as described in Acts 2, where “all the believers were together and had everything in common,” sharing the love of Jesus (Yeshua) through their communal life. *They’re not actually “Messianic Jews,” but that’s the most concise description we could come up with.

A typical day in the community:
6:00 AM – Woken up by a small group singing Spanish and/or Hebrew hymns outside our bedroom window, followed by a “¿Yeshua? ¿Sara? ¡Buen día!”
(Parents, muchas gracias for giving us Hebrew names… we’re a huge hit here!)
I must tell you, gentle Spanish voices are a huge improvement over the incessant beeping of my watch as a wake-up call.

7:00 AM – When the shofar blows, the entire community gathers for a mihnka (Hebrew for “offering”), where they sing, dance, and share anything God has put on their hearts. When we first arrived, they were observing Yom Kippur, a time of repentance and purification, so the mihnkas were much longer and more solemn. However, Yom Kippur ended last week and Succoth has begun, which is seven days of celebration and thanksgiving, so the mihnkas are now full of exuberant circle dances (which we usually get pulled into) and loud singing! 🙂

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8:00 AM – Breakfast! Normally rice with flax, sometimes with a hardboiled egg.

9:00 AM – The workday starts. Generally, the WWOOFers are sent to the huerta (greenhouse), where we pull weeds, tie up tomato plants, pick massive avas (bizarre Argentine pea/bean things, we can’t figure out what they are) and clear brush for the new garden. There are three other WWOOFers here right now: one guy from Holland, one from Wisconsin, and one girl from Seattle. They’re all super nice and easy to talk to, which is helpful when you’re picking avas together for three hours. However, every WWOOFer hopes that they will be the lucky one to be sent to the panadería (bakery) for the day, since your main job there is to make granola and cookies for the community’s store, and be fed snacks every hour.

At the bakery: Having worked for a grand total of 10 minutes, it was naturally time for a break!
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Making granola:
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Weeding in the huerta:
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Newborn chickies! (gahhhh so cute…):
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1:00 PM – Lunch! Generally rice with lentils or salsa.

2:00-3:00 PM – Siesta! God bless Latin America for coming up with this. Since lunch is not usually the most filling meal in the world, Josh and I use this time to munch on dulce de leche or salamis that we smuggled in from town.

3:00 PM – Back to work until around 4:00…

4:00 PM – Marienda… aka teatime! One day we had arroz con leche (rice with milk, an Argentine classic), and for the past few days we’ve had homemade yogurt with homemade granola and carob. ¡Muy rico!

6:00-7:00 PM – The workday is finished, and this hour is used as a “preparation time” (both physical and spiritual) for the evening mihnka (which goes from 7-8 and is the same as the morning).

Shabbat mihnka:
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8:00 PM – Supper! Usually “spread” (which is actually what they call it in Spanish!). Spread is either mashed black beans and peanuts or mashed yams, spread on homemade bread and eaten with lettuce and tomatoes. Amazingly delicious!

9-9:30 PM – People stay talking around the tables, or else wander inside (we eat outside, unless it’s pouring rain, which it has been the last three days!) and pick up guitars, accordions, steel drums and flutes and start improvising incredible music together.

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9:30 PM – By this time, everyone has started to head to bed. About 10 different families live in different rooms in the main house, and then there are 4 other little houses around the property. Josh and I are sleeping in the schoolhouse; they actually moved one of the classrooms out into the hallway to make our bedroom (despite all our protestations that we didn’t want to kick the kids out of their class!) In our house, there’s also another couple from the community, as well as a dorm room for all the “single sisters,” as they say here.

Outside our house (with my sheep friends):
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SIDE NOTE: Yesterday as we walked to our house, I wondered where my sheep friends had gone. Then I found out they had been slaughtered that morning. Lesson learned: It may not be a good idea to become such good friends with farm animals. 😦

10:30 PM – ¡Buenas noches!

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Short but sweet: Thoughts on October 09

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* Happy Thanksgiving! It’s so funny not to be celebrating with you all, but we had meat for the first time in 10 days, so it was kind of like our own mini Thanksgiving!
…Although we just received news that we missed Rustic Abe shooting a turkey. Dang. Not much can compete with that.

* And happy 7th anniversary to my wonderful sister and brother-in-law! I am thinking of you guys and love you so much! 🙂

* And also: happy one-year anniversary Carleigh and Stephen!
(Wowzah, October 9 is obviously a pretty stellar day! ❤ )

* And finally: HOW DID THE FIRST JETS GAME GO??

Keep us posted, Winnipeggers!

ps. We found Canada (in Lanús, BA)! It seemed a lot farther away on the map….

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