In the planning period of this trip (which, characteristically, took place two days before Sara left and lasted about half an hour), we tried to think of the best use of our post-Tuxtla travel time. Of course, the ideal would have been to spend some time volunteering with the Zapatistas, but that requires a minimum of a year membership with an explicitly Zapatista-supporting organization, as previously mentioned, so no dice. How, then, could we capitalize on this brief time in order to make ourselves as at home here as possible?
Almost immediately we were hit by an answer so obvious it made us laugh out loud: WWOOF…that network of hippies and survivalists that, back in 2011, tossed us to the winds of zealot communes and anarchist hideaways, thus making us feel so incredibly at home in Argentina. So, four years since first stumbling upon this ‘organization’ (in the loosest sense of the term), we returned for another round.
Mexico is not the same WWOOFer’s paradise as Argentina (I don’t know if any country on earth boasts as many anti-establishment granola-headed rastas as our original home-away-from-home). Nevertheless, we managed to contact a fellow in a tiny village near the tip of the Yucatan peninsula who needed help running his dream business: a backpackers’ hostel with a small restaurant supplied entirely by his own garden.
As experienced WWOOFers, we knew to expect two things:
- Immediately upon arrival, we would be given a full apothecary’s complement of sweet herbs and foul fruits to cure all the maladies we’d been secretly carrying around with us for our entire lives.
- Absolutely nothing. The only constant in WWOOF is that there are no constants.
The first expectation was immediately fulfilled. After the fourth consecutive noni smoothie specifically designed to keep us regular (seriously, we’re in Mexico, staying regular is the least of our worries!), Sara wondered aloud whether we were ever going to chew again. Fortunately, in this case, the shaman party was only a welcome.
The second expectation was fulfilled almost as quickly. It turns out that our host’s ‘dream business’ was exactly that: a dream. And, like a dream, parts of it were richly detailed (like the seashell-studded kitchen, or the rustic swinging picnic table), while other parts remained completely vacant (like the garden that was literally a jungle of shoulder-height weeds, or the outhouse with only half a roof and several inches of rainwater on the floor). We could never quite pin down whether it was a lack of money, time, or motivation, but what had started as a very exciting vision had clearly stalled.
And so we received our vaguest WWOOF assignment yet: in exchange for a lovely bedroom, we were to put in a half-day of work doing lo que quieren (ie: whatever you want). Each day we set to work to solve one of the vast array of homesteading problems that confronted us. The Abe Hildebrands and Terence Bergmanns in our lives would be very proud!
We cleared the jungle out of the garden. We made space for the sugar cane to grow. We finished the roof on the outhouse. We replaced the rotten wood on the wall of the outdoor kitchen. All this would have been far, far easier if we had had the necessary tools and materials, but it would have been literally impossible were it not for our co-WWOOFers, a French couple that epitomized creativity and industriousness. Merci beaucoup, Beatrice et Jean-Claude, for keeping us safe and sane!
The rest of each day was spent enjoying the mellow pace of life that is intrinsic to both Latin America and tiny towns (and therefore exponentially compounded in tiny Latin American towns). Drinking out of chilled coconuts, wandering through the nearby ceiba forest, following Team Mexico’s path to a Copa de Oro victory, and frequenting the local pizzeria pretty much sums it up. Our village, Solferino, was also a perfect launching point from which to explore magnificent Isla Holbox, but that, amigos, is another post to come.
This guy also found his way into the stirfry. When I told the shop-owner that there would be 4 or 5 people eating, he insisted on selling me the whole thing, giving me a detailed explanation of which body part could be eaten by each person. When I said ‘gracias’ and walked away, he shouted, with a mix of panic and offense, “¡Olvidaste el higado!” (You forgot the liver!) That’s it there in my left hand.
WWOOF, you’re like that weird friend from junior high that most other people don’t understand and who, quite frankly, drives us crazy most of the time. But you’ve seen us through a lot, you always show us a good time, and you bring out a side of us that no one else quite does. We’ll keep you around.
(Also, in the event of nuclear apocalypse, you’re probably our best hope for survival. So thanks.)