Situated about twenty minutes from the centre of town, La Casita is our host Esther’s home that she’s transformed into a hostel and campground. It’s a gorgeous area, sitting beside the Río Quemquemtreu and nestled at the feet of the Andes.
Josh and I take care of any concerns the guests may have, look after the grounds (things such as fixing the fence so the neighbour’s chickens stop sneaking into our yard!), build fires to heat the water tanks so guests can have hot showers, and clean La Casita (the hostel guests share the indoor kitchen and bathroom with us), as well as the camping’s outdoor kitchen and bathroom. Changing bed linens while dancing to Argentine cumbia music is a very fun way to earn our keep!
It’s been an amazing experience to be hosts instead of guests, to have the chance to make people feel as welcomed and at home as so many other people have done for us since we’ve been in Argentina. It’s also an incredible opportunity to practice our Spanish – our host, as well as the majority of the guests, speak no English, so we’re getting used to conversing in Spanish even when it’s just the two of us! I love the chance to truly feel at home somewhere, and to make a neighbourhood “our own.” It’s so fun to know the family who runs the corner store, and the old man who has the kiosco down the street, and to walk around el centro and run into a half-dozen people we know every time we go out.
However, it’s been a sobering experience to work with people in the tourism industry, and realize how dependent one’s livelihood is on so many events that are out of your control. Last May, there was a volcanic explosion in Chile, and the Argentine news reported that the entire Patagonian area was affected by volcanic ash. In reality, there are only tiny areas of the region touched by this catastrophe, and the vast majority is unaffected and beautiful. However, because of this misconception, tourism is down by over 50% compared to other years, and it’s individuals like Esther, or like our artist friends who work in the feria, who are suffering. Josh and I are doing our best to spread the word via other travelers, and to post on travel forums and different travel blogs the reality of what’s happening in Patagonia. Although it was the most we could do, we felt like these efforts weren’t actually going to amount to much… But then, two Canadians (woot!) called to reserve a place in La Casita, and when asked how they had found out about it, they said they had read a review on Lonely Planet – a review just posted by one saratreetravels! 😀