Tag Archives: tent

Paradise found!


During our travels, we had encountered several Uruguayans, and whenever we asked them for recommendations on where to go, we would receive the same answer: “You have to go to Cabo Polonio.” Described as a tiny fishing village of forty inhabitants hidden amongst sand dunes, with no electricity and no way of reaching it save for horseback or 4X4, Polonio intrigued us enough to attempt a trip there. Exactly as all our Uruguayan acquaintances had described, our bus dropped us off on the side of the highway. It was already night, and we were totally lost in the pitch black but for a tiny light in the distance. We stumbled towards it and found it to be the park office, where presently, a 4X4 dune buggy pulled up, and we clambered aboard to be carted off into the darkness.

Our transportation… but picture riding atop this in inky blackness!

After a few minutes of bumpy driving, we reached a park office and a ranger came out. “Tienen una carpa?” he asked brusquely. (Do you guys have a tent?)
“Si, por supuesto!” we responded, eager to prove that we were prepared to camp, since we were entering a national park, and as we Canadians know, national parks were made for camping!
“Hand it over,” he demanded.
“… ?!??” replied us.
“Tents are prohibited in Uruguayan national parks. You’ll have to leave it with me.”

Away went our romantic plans of camping on the beach and enjoying to the fullest this rustic experience. Plus, our tent was our baby, from which we hadn’t been separated since we received her. Could we trust this man to care for her as we did, and did he realise how indispensable she was to us?!? Regardless, we handed it over, and with many bemused looks exchanged between the two of us, our buggy continued to bump away into the void.

About halfway through the forty-minute journey through the dunes, we became aware of a strange sound, and if we strained our eyes in the blackness, we thought we could make out odd white shapes just in front of us. We finally realized that the sound was the roaring of the ocean, while the whiteness was huge waves crashing ashore, barely ten meters from where we were driving. We were completely surrounded by and lost in the darkness: the only relief came from the beam of Polonio’s lighthouse.


We were dropped off in an open space, and while we stood bewildered by the disorientating blackness and the vicious winds, we heard a disembodied voice asking if we needed a place to stay. Disembodied voices normally aren’t the most reassuring, but when your only other apparent guide is a lighthouse surrounded by menacing rocks, even a disembodied voice can sound relatively friendly.

We followed our shadowy host through ankle-deep sand and waving sea grasses, arriving finally at what turned out to be not a hostel, like we had been expecting, but his own house. Gabriel, our host, offered us the loft of his tiny, one-room beach shack, and while we hauled our bags up the ladder to our room, he lit candles and invited us to share his dinner of buñuelos de algas (aka seaweed fritters) and a single glass of red wine for the three of us (“The glass is new!” he told us proudly.)

After eating our fill of fritters, he then invited us out for a drink. We stepped back out into the dark and the howling winds, wading through sand dunes until Gabriel commented, “Well, we’re now on Main Street!” In the dark, Main Street felt exactly like every other sand dune we had just crawled through. (In the light, it turned out that wasn’t far from the truth.) We entered what looked like a massive heap of vines, but turned out to be a bar, dimly lit by candles, with little private “rooms” formed by bamboo partitions overgrown by living plants. Josh and I sat there with Gabriel, feeling as though we had stumbled into Lothlórien.


Main street in the light of day. (Note the large bush behind Josh? Yep, that’s the bar!)

The next morning, it was the sun that woke us up. The window right next to our bed was lit up by a dazzling glow, and rolling over, we were greeted by the view of the sun rising over the Atlantic. We ran outside and directly into the ocean, because what we had been unable to see the previous night was that there was absolutely nothing between our front door and the shoreline.



View from our front door:

We were planning to stay only two days in Polonio before continuing northwards. But when the day of our planned departure found us lounging in hammocks while gazing dreamily at the ocean, we suddenly wondered why we were in such a hurry to leave. If seven months had taught one important lesson about travel, it was that seeing ten new and different places will never be as amazing as finding one incredible place that you love.

So, two days stretched into an unforgettable week filled with sunrise and sunset swims, watching dolphins frolic so close to the shore we could see their faces, enjoying many performances by a hilarious folklore music troupe from Ushuaia, and many candlelit dinners (in Polonio, there isn’t any other kind!) of shrimp empanadas and shark ravioli, all caught that morning by the town fishermen.




Shark* sighting from the beach!
*Turned out to be a dolphin, but the picture was too good to pass up!

Lunch in our favourite empanada place (with our favourite traveling music troupe, Los Pinguïnos de Ushuaia, serenading us!)

Josh taking on the Atlantic (…and valiantly losing)

Everyone Together practice (having to go back to practicing in the basement will be hard after this location!)

Lessons learnt?
Never be in a hurry to end a beautiful experience. And always take travel advice from the locals. Lonely Planet just doesn’t cut it!


Granja #2: “¡Una experiencia nueva!


Our second WWOOF farm was located 500m above El Bolsón, accessed by a winding gravel road up the mountain, and was literally in the middle of nowhere. Our host had left home at sixteen and made his way to the mountains where, along with his brother, they found a mountain spring and built homes around the water source. Starting with two sheep, he now has forty-four, along with four goats, three horses, two dogs, four hilarious cats, and as of last month, four kittens. All the vegetables come from their garden, all the milk for coffee and cheese and dulce de leche comes from their goats. Our host and his compañera live completely off the grid and are working to become completely self-sufficient, partly because they truly love the lifestyle, and partly because they are practicing anarchists.

¡Es una otra nueva experiencia! (“It’s another new experience!”) was our motto and oft-repeated phrase this past month as we lived and worked on our second farm. Our hosts were some of the funniest, friendliest, and most generous people we have ever met, and were always ready to answer our endless questions and let us be involved in the many parts of their life which were brand-new to us. Our new experiences started our first night there, when one of the cats (Pelulita, who looks exactly like a long-haired Bria!) started giving birth on the kitchen floor as we were finishing dinner. And so began our month of learning!

Our time on this farm could also be called “The month of babies.” My sister’s first baby was due mid-November but decided to be two weeks late. Since we could only make the trek into town once a week (town being a 4h walk from our farm), these two weeks saw us eagerly anticipating our Thursday town days, where we would impatiently check our email for news from home. While we were waiting for my sister’s baby to be born, the farm had all kinds of other babies to distract us!

Baby lamb born our first day there:


¡Gatitos! (I took just a few pictures of these ridiculously adorable things)
(editor’s note: when Sara says “just a few” regarding kittens, it usually means I had to drag her away from them to do simple things like eating, etc.)




And our niece Cedar Smid was finally born on November 27, 8:05 pm. 🙂

Tent within a tent:
We’ve spent most of the last three months living in our tent, but never before has our tent had a tent of its own! We used our hosts’ tent for storage and living space, and our own little tent for bug protection, with the end result being a luxurious tent castle!


Milking the goats:
This milk would be carried up to the house, and immediately heated up for our morning café con leche. The remainder would be poured into a massive pot, and by nighttime, there would be four new jars of dulce de leche.

Shearing the sheep:
After he had matter-of-factly sheared one sheep, our host then turned to us and gave us the shears. “You saw what I did, right? Shear this one now.”
Um… Sure?
Shearing a sheep, for the record, is much harder than an expert demonstration makes it appear. Sheep are huge, their wool is endlessly thick, and they don’t always appreciate you sliding sharp things along their legs, so they tend to kick you unless you lie down on top of them and pin them to the ground. As I was doing so, our host tapped me on the shoulder.
“It’s your turn for mate!” he announced.
So, like any good Argentine farmer, I had my mate lying atop a sheep.

Very efficient shearing (and poor baby lamb trying to nurse!)

Team-effort shearing!



Our gracious hosts 🙂

The car/Getting to town:
I put those as two separate things because being in the car did not necessarily mean you would get to town. Their car was a 1979 Renault… or at least what was left of a 1979 Renault. There was no floor (only milk crates to keep rocks from flying in), no dashboard, and no ignition – it was started by jimmying the engine with a wrench. (We’re not quite sure of the mechanics of this. Our host merely shouted the word “¡Pistón!” and proceeded to punch the air by way of explanation.) The car, shockingly enough, broke down the second week we were there, which meant getting to town was accomplished by walking (25K) and/or hitchhiking if we were lucky.



Getting towed by a kindly neighbour after the car broke down on the way up the mountain:

We got picked up by many kind and/or interesting characters, but the most memorable was definitely when Josh and I were walking to town a few weeks ago, melting in the heat because we had left way too late in the day, and we finally got a truck to stop. In the truck cab was crammed a grandfather, his son, and his grandson, and as thankful as I was to have a ride out of the heat, I could not imagine where we would fit. I didn’t have to wonder for long: they pulled back the canvas of the truck bed and ushered us in to sit amongst huge bags of animal feed. Bumping along the dusty mountain road in the back of the feed truck, we felt like maybe all our fantastical visions of travel in Argentina hadn’t been too far off the mark! 😛


La salita de salud (“The little health centre”):
Our hosts were so awesome that we not only got to share their home life with them, but one day, our host took us to work with him as well! Partly to earn money for equipment needed on his farm, and partly because healthcare has always fascinated him, our host got a job as a health care worker in the rural areas around El Bolsón.

At home, when we go to a doctor’s appointment, we go to the reception desk, give our name, sit reading terrible magazines in the waiting room until our name is called, see our doctor alone in their office, then leave. Here, when people showed up to the centre, they were enthusiastically kissed by our host, the doctor, and us random Canadians, then were invited to sit and have a mate in the waiting room. The doctor passed around the cake she had baked, and we all chatted about their families and health concerns and plans for the week. After about twenty minutes, the doctor invited then into the tiny examining room, and their “appointment” continued, with one of us popping our head in to pass the doctor the mate.

In the waiting room:

In the afternoon, we accompanied our host house to house, where he distributed medication and took blood pressure, while we watched tv with the “patient”‘s great-grandkids. It was amazing to see our host doing a job so very different from herding sheep, but so equally suited to his gifts and personality.

Digging and digging and digging and hauling and hauling and hauling…
While we’ve both done physical labour, at least to some extent, there has never been such a crucial purpose for work before! We spent several days building a wall out of cement and rocks to prevent dogs and foxes from getting into the chicken coop, and several more days digging multiple kilometers of sanja (trench) to bury the water hose leading from the spring to keep it from freezing in winter.



Josue macho man

Sheep-slaughtering and butchering:
One day, Josh and I returned from digging trenches to find a sheep hanging by its foot on a hook, completely devoid of its skin. “I wanted some meat!” announced our host, who then proceeded to saw off the head of the sheep (still sporting bared teeth and a head of hair) and throw it into a soup pot already filled with an assortment of lungs and intestines (the dogs were VERY happy with their dinner that night!) Our host then slung the sheep carcass over his shoulder, told Josh to grab the liver, and carried it all into the house, where him and Josh then butchered the sheep on the kitchen counter. See “¡Feliz cumpleaños!” for a description of how that meat was used! 🙂
Also: liverwurst from a store = disgusting. Homemade pate = amazingly delicious.


Impatient kittens...

Cooking without recipes on a wood stove:
It was amazing to see how something that is such an occasion at home (ie. baking homemade bread) was something that was accomplished without fanfare every day. Here’s Josh receiving instructions – mas o menos – on how to bake bread.
“So, how much flour?”
¡Bastante! (“Enough!”)
“And… Yeast?”
Etc… 🙂

Having floury hands is no excuse for missing a mate:
The baker's mate

One of our hosts made jewelry and sold it at the feria (artisanal fair) in El Bolsón. It was so fun to come inside the house and hear her upstairs, sawing and welding silver pieces, and then go visit the feria on our days off and feel truly part of the town since we actually knew people at the fair!





It was incredibly hard to leave this farm, since it was not only a beautiful place with so much to learn, but we became such good friends with our hosts as well.

A nuestros anfitriónes: ¡MUCHISIMAS GRACIAS! por su generosidad, tu amistad, y por todas las “experiencias nuevas” 😛 ps. Da abrazos a los gatitos para mi 🙂