Tag Archives: :WWOOF:

One More Time With Feeling

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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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.

Hostel!

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.

What we assume was a garden many moons ago, now overrun by jungle.
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Sara carries an armful of jungle back to the actual jungle, and the garden becomes a garden again!
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Jean-Claude and Sara have slightly different reactions to the land crabs that occasionally wander into our yard
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Sara enjoys a coco frio…
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…while I pour one into our farewell-supper stirfry.
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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.
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Sara versus the rotting wood wall in a grueling battle of attrition (eventually the non-bendy nails ran out and they called it a draw)
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My battle with the bathroom roof was similarly exasperating, but the toilet paper seemed slightly drier after the next rainstorm, so we’ll call it a success.
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Summer kitchen before…
Kitchen pre
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Summer kitchen after!
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¡¡¡Somos campeones!!! (Well, WE aren’t, but being in Mexico as they take home the Copa de Oro must count as winning something)
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One last breakfast at the swinging picnic table
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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.)

Solferino brekkie :)

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This Adventure Made Possible By…

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Anna Maria Esposita for finding us on the side of the road in Salerno, putting up with our feeble attempts at Italian, and magically making our luggage appear out of nowhere.  Maya, for introducing us to AirBnB in the first place…our travels will never be the same.  Our barista in Vietri Sul Mare (thank you for the doughnuts, we hope you made it to Australia!), and our wildly flirtatious maitre d’ (that wine was impressively strong!).  Fernando, for the ride to the Tiber (we’re sorry if we gave the impression that we wanted to boat back to Rome).  Pope Francis for instilling humanity into our visit to the Vatican.  University of Manitoba College of Medicine for changing the direction of our lives while sitting in a Roman burlap tent!  Jamie Pierce, for pointing us in the direction of Cinque Terre in the first place.  Kaya and Aeden for being the best roommates we could have asked for, and Sarah, Alicia, and Stacey for getting lost with us in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And for the calamari cones.  Genius.  The Lemon Man, for delicious homemade wine with a side of really disgusting jokes, and the Pizza Man for abusing/believing in your employees (either way, you made a pizza in record time, well done!).  Pak Kashmir Doner Kebab for starting a 3-month-long love affair with kebab…and for not judging us when we came back twice in one day.  The Sprachcaffe receptionist for helping two confused travelers find a place to sleep in a language school.  Pietro for being a (very charming) walking encyclopedia of Florentine espionage.  All’antico Vinaio for your legendary sandwiches and free wine refills (no, seriously, it’s for real!).  The lovely couple who shared coffee with us on the train to Venice.  Archie & sons…your front hall will forever evoke in us a sense of oriental mystery.  The kiosco girl (and all of Vienna, for that matter) for your patience as we realized we knew literally NO Deutsch (“Card!…48?”).  The Musikverien Usher for engaging us in a Viennese musical intrigue and, therefore, much better seats!  Our Bulgarian/Brazillian (Bulgrillian?) cellist hostel roommate.  We tried to find you on iTunes but alas we were…so far…but…so close.  The Heinrich and Kress families for welcoming us so generously into your homes (and travel snacks that nearly broke the bus tables!).  Artur & Irina, we feel like we have a real home in Germany thanks to you.  Robert, Christian, and Erwin, we hope we can jam and play Dutch Blitz again one day!  Johannes for an unexpected evening of German tango (we’ll bring our dancing shoes next time).  Julia & your roommate for making us feel so at home in Köln.  Viel Glück to both of you in your new jobs!  Oma for always talking about your home country and inspiring us to retrace your Sunday walks down the Rhine.  Maybe one day we can go back with you!  Linda, dankjewel for your bikes, your lovely attic, and taking a chance on us as your first AirBnBers!  Edwin and Farah, for taking the time to hang out with us even with your wedding being a week away.  Once a WOOFer, always a WOOFer (ps come to Manitoba, we’ll take you to the snake pits!)  The stars, for aligning so perfectly as to allow us to have a lovely lunch with Dorien.  The Alma Dixons for getting us to and from Europe in the first place (Mom, your axiom of ‘would you rather have stuff or memories?’ has successfully stuck with me into adulthood) and for showing us all the places you always talk about.  The Farnham Dixons for a lovely afternoon and some authentically British fish’n’chips (sans mushy peas, thank-you!).  Wendy for taking this whole motley crew into your home and showing us around Glastonbury. Elly for introducing us to your family (I cannot imagine a more adorable kid to blow bubbles with than your granddaughter) and an evening of reminiscing about icebergs and penguins.  Pete & Patricia for the most incredible Welsh hospitality, and for driving us all over the country at all hours of the night.  Mark Hanford for keeping us simultaneously amused and not dead as we threw ourselves off cliffs into the sea (still waiting for those carpets!).  The disembodied Welsh couple whose voices helped us find our way out of the mist and back to the path somewhere on Mount Snowdon.  Jack Johnson, for being you, and for entirely coincidentally being in Paris at the same time as us.  Andréanne, for showing us around your beautiful new Swiss home.  Irene and Martin for sharing so many things with us: your inspiring work and outlook on life and faith, the truly breathtaking landscapes, and yes, the little bears :P.  Andreas and Simone, also for sharing so many things with us (like mother like son, eh?): your friends, your family, your food, your car, your bike…. That night with the giant map (and the many road trips that ensued) is still a memory that we talk about regularly!  Aric and Gabriel, for being as excited about the high-ropes garden as we were and never judging us on our (lack of) Swiss German. Joël for sharing your beautiful pays et famille. Yannick for the best duck I’ve ever tasted, and Hélène for showing us the work you’re doing to help new immigrants become self-sufficient in Toulouse.  Ron, Nicole, Aimée, Sean (and yes, Cougar) for making us recognize the name Carcassonne, even if we’ll never pronounce it properly.  Les Cabys des Taillades (et oui, de Paris aussi!) for sharing your passion for history, many hours of games (we now have our own Möllky set!), French puns, and more wine and cheese than any North American could comprehend.  Mami Caby, for a beautiful afternoon in St. Jean du Gard, and the silk scarf that’s currently on display in our living room.  Isaac and Sylvia of JUCUM Barcelona for the generous hospitality, the 2AM tour of your majestic city, and showing us what we truly believe is the best beach in Europe.  Hind, Nour, and Adam for helping us finish off the bag of snails and confirming everything we’d heard about the welcoming nature of Moroccans.  Nour, of Sahara Desert Crew, for an unforgettable few days of sights and culture unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (also, your mad photography skills. ‘Nuff said.).  Cafe Restaurant Nora, for providing a literal oasis in the desert (Nothing tastes as good as Berber pizza and Berber whiskey at +50C!) The Samnoun family for taking us in when our hostel was suddenly infested with bedbugs, and Bousha for introducing us to the madness of the Medina (and many, many friends ;)…)

And of course, contributions from VIEWERS LIKE YOU!

From the Deepest Depths…

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Coasteering?

It was a word I had never heard before March, and my first introduction to it occurred when Josh and I were looking at where in the UK outside of England we wanted to travel.

This was the introduction:
“Hey Sara, I found a website that said they do this thing called coasteering in Wales. It looks really cool.”
“Really? What is it?”
“I don’t really know. Something about scrambling off cliffs. But it looks really cool.”

This may seem like a less than thrilling recommendation to most. Bear in mind, however, that we moved to Argentina for eight months based on a website Josh had found after typing “learn about organic farming and stay for free” into Google, which ended up turning out very well (which if you’re already reading this blog, you already know! 🙂 )

So, it kept us intrigued, this cliff-scrambling thing, and when June rolled around and we still hadn’t made a decision between Scotland and Wales, we bought train tickets to Wales based on three factors:
1. They have a crazy language (see more about that here!)
2. Merlin was from there
3. Josh had read on a website that they scramble off cliffs

It was only when we were already on the train that we realised that although we had been talking and dreaming about cliff scrambles for months, we had never shared those dreams with, you know, anyone who could actually make them a reality. Thankfully, Mark from Snowdonia Adventures responded to our frantic last-minute emails, and early one morning, our amazingly gracious Airbnb host Pete drove us to Holyhead to meet up with Mark. Fitted into wetsuits, helmets, and hiking shoes, we proceeded to walk with Mark along the breezy top of cliffs that swept down to the Irish Sea. It quickly became apparent that we were about to spend the day with a Welsh version of my brother-in-law Borden.

After throwing ourselves into the sea, a shocking 14°C after the 26°C of the air, we received some brief technical pointers from Mark, things such as “Always swim feet first when approaching shore” and “If it looks green and slippery, it is.” He then showed us some different swimming techniques, such as how to swim in strong currents, how to rapidly swim backwards, and how to spin yourself in circles really fast.

“Spin! Faster! Faster!!! Really fast! Keep going!” yelled this bizarre Welsh apparition of Borden. “Isn’t that awesome?”

Josh

“I’ll add it to your tab,” he added as he floated away. “£5 for the non-pharmaceutical psychedelic experience. £10 for the very flattering pictures I’ll take. Then, we’ll go into Beaumaris and I’ll take you to my cousin’s store to buy some carpets…”

Needless to say, the cliff scrambles were not the only entertainment of the day!

“I’m not usually this surreal,” he mused as he clutched the rock face and snapped a series of ridiculous pictures.

Silly

Coasteering, in short, is mountain-climbing, but horizontally along the coast. You scramble along coastal cliffs until you reach a point where scrambling is impossible, at which point you hurl yourself (safely – don’t worry, Moms!) off the cliff and into the frothing sea below.

I could continue to type, but these will do more justice:

Scramble

Easing into it: our first little jump!
First jump

Mark

Moving on up… Many meters above sea level!!
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Observing

Underwater

There’s only one way down from here!
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With numb feet and hearts still pounding, we made our last scramble up a sheer cliff face, anchored only to a rope tied around Mark’s waist at the top, then walked back to his car. Although the expedition was technically over, he offered to drive us along the coast for some magnificent views, regaling us with tidbits of ancient and local Welsh history. After an hour, we arrived in Beaumaris, a lovely little fishing town. After instructing us on where to find the best mussels, we finally said goodbye to Mark and dashed through the pouring rain to a well-earned lunch.

Mussels

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To be continued…

Ps. You can watch Mark’s video of us coasteering here!

Dutch Blitz 1: From Argentina to Amsterdam

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It wouldn’t necessarily seem that a volunteer at a commune in Argentina and a wedding photographer at a small get-together in rural Manitoba have a lot in common, but I’m sure that the one thing they do have in common in obvious: the Netherlands!! (Right? Isn’t it obvious?)

Three years ago, Josh and I arrived at the commune at the same time as three other WWOOF volunteers. We quickly became friends, but knew our contact with each other would be limited once we parted in Buenos Aires, since our homes were spread across the world in Winnipeg, Wisconsin, Washington, and Amsterdam. Still, we offered the quintessential travel-friend promise of “If you’re ever in _____, come visit me!”

Doce Tribus WWOOFers!

One year ago, Josh and I arrived at his grandparents’ home in rural Manitoba to attend a small get-together where his cousin got married. After the wedding, Josh and I and the wedding photographer, his cousin’s YWAM friend from Rotterdam, spent the night at his grandparents’ place. Her flight home didn’t leave until the next day, so the three of us spent the day sitting around the table playing Dutch Blitz and discussing why exactly it was called Dutch Blitz when, according to our resident Dutch expert, there was nothing Dutch about it. This of course led into a discussion of all things Dutch, which eventually culminated in that wonderful phrase: “If you’re ever in Rotterdam, come visit me!”

As stated previously, our goal of this trip was to make good on all those generous offers. Happily, it turned out that this time there was something we could offer in return. When we emailed our Argentine WWOOF comrade about visiting him in Amsterdam, he responded enthusiastically, then added that he was getting married the week after our visit. “Would you be up for some WWOOFing in my garden to get it ready for our wedding reception?” he wrote.

We arrived in Amsterdam armed with excellent directions to his apartment, but when we arrived, we couldn’t find the right house number. We contemplated singing some of the commune’s mihnka songs loudly in hopes that it would draw him out, then finally found a doorbell to a building we thought could be his. “Wouldn’t it be great,” we mused, as we waited nervously on the stoop, “if Edwin himself could just magically appear at the door?” And then… He did! Never mind the fact that we hadn’t seen each other in three years, and that the last time we saw each other was in a Buenos Aires McDonalds as we sat shell-shocked from the abrupt adjustment from the commune to mainstream civilization. It felt as though we had just said ¡ciao! yesterday (the fact that we were wearing the same travel clothes as three years ago may have helped).

Making the garden wedding-worthy: Before…
Sara garden

Josh garden

…and after!
Josh after

Sara after

Highest quality Amsterdam weed:
Weed

That evening, Edwin and Farah (his lovely fiancée) left us with insiders’ tips on where to find good music and amazing views of Amsterdam. Josh and I watched the sun go down from Bim Huis, enjoying excellent jazz performances, art exhibits, and red wine.

Swing

BIMHUIS

Sunset

Since we were in Holland, it only made sense to see Amsterdam by bike… canal bike, that is! Built on a network of canals that rivals Venice, Amsterdam can only be truly appreciated from the water. Albeit a bit goofy, pedaling down the canals of Amsterdam offered a relaxing and gorgeous tour of the city, starting from Anne Frank’s house and climbing out of the river at the Van Gogh Museum.

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Canal2

Josh and I have discovered throughout our travels that we are infinitely more engaged by museums focused around the story of a particular individual, rather than museums that are simply massive warehouses of culture. The Van Gogh Museum* guides you chronologically through not only Van Gogh’s works of art, but also through significant events in his life, personal and professional relationships, places he lived and worked, and the evolution of his painting techniques. It was incredible learning to appreciate his work on two different levels. On one hand, great works of art have the capacity to provoke a personal response regardless of what you know or don’t know about the artist. On the other hand, knowing the technical details of a piece – the health issues leading to a move to a certain location, the history of the place where it was painted, the relationships the artist was invested in at the time of painting, the revolutionary painting techniques that discomfited society – can tell countless other tales.

*FYI pretentious people everywhere: it is not pronounced “Van Gof.” It is “Fon Hchuhch,” or try clearing your throat twice with a hiccup in between.

I am!

The Anne Frank House is an unassuming (except for the line winding around the block) apartment facade on the corner of a quiet square. Inside, all the rooms have been left untouched and completely empty at the request of Mr. Frank, as a memorial to the void left by the thousands of extinguished Jews. As you slowly move through the home, reading the accounts of co-workers who participated daily in hiding the Franks and seeing the tiny rooms still wallpapered in Anne’s magazine clippings, you begin to feel like you know this girl and her family. In so many ways, you do know them – they are simply an ordinary family who happened to live through an extraordinary time. The realization of their ordinariness makes the final room even more devastating: the attic has a series of video clips playing footage from concentration camps, and you see the brutal horror that this ordinary family was forced to endure.

There was nothing unique about Anne that she should be remembered over any other little girl. But her incredible story serves as a reminder that this horror could happen to anyone, and is happening right now to so many little girls and ordinary families. Hatred – whether it’s towards Jews, women, First Nations people – is hatred. The cause of hatred is ignorance, and the result is always destruction.

Ignorance and destruction also go hand in hand in the Red Light District. We had the chance to tour the hostel where Edwin and Farah had both worked and where they met. The Shelter is not only full of comfortable rooms, fun cafés and bars, and wonderful staff, but it also uses its proximity to the Red Light District to educate tourists on the consequences of an abusive industry that is often just taken for granted as part of the “Amsterdam experience.” The hostel is also connected with Not For Sale, which “provides job training and access to dignified employment to survivors of human trafficking.”

Berlin Wall

Amsterdam is a beautiful city with a rich culture of innovation and personal freedom. However, it needs to be asked:

Is it innovative to still participate in the medieval mindset of selling and buying humans as merchandise? Where is freedom when “personal liberties” depend on another person being enslaved? And when choices are made in ignorance, who is held responsible for the resulting destruction?

Don’t cry for me, Argentina…

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Like this title, the thought of departing from this amazing continent was unfortunate but realistically inevitable.

We bid South America farewell today, after taking a train back to Buenos Aires from the beautiful river-country of Tigre. Argentina did a superb job of keeping us distracted from the sad farewell by throwing a random private river tour at us on our final night, offered by a friendly, flamboyant fellow who said that the tour would include a stop at a rustic old wine bar. The river tour was gorgeous, although the “bar” was definitely just someone’s empty house on the side of the river, in which were hidden several bottles of wine, which we enjoyed free of charge… and possibly permission as well.

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It continued to cushion our transition by having us end up on the same trans-American flight as our awesome French WWOOFing friend who taught us how to climb the Andes way back in December (click here for backstory) and hadn’t been seen since!

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Thirty-four thousand feet over Bolivia, however, the reality of leaving has finally caught up to us, so it’s time for some comic relief.

You see, Argentina is a country of endless natural beauty full of fascinating, generous people. There is spontaneous tango dancing on the streets and entire animals being cooked to a perfect medium-rare on every corner. It is a paradise of colour and music. The streets are paved with empanadas and the rivers run rich with dulce de leche. But there are times when you want to just take the whole country aside and say, “¡you guys are ridiculous!”, and it is those moments to which this post is dedicated.

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And so, without further ado, the Top Ten Quirks that make us roll our eyes and say, “Oh, Argentina…”

10. Why are good old fashioned Cheerios considered kiddie-food, yet respectable adults start every day off with a package of gas station-style chocolate cookies?

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9. Why do all store clerks ask you if you want to break your purchase down into monthly payments, regardless of whether it’s a new car or a pack of socks? Do I want to be worrying about paying off my ice cream cone six months after I’ve finished eating it??

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8. How can you have an intersection of two four-lane roads, plus pedestrians and motorbikes (who often act like pedestrians, at least as far as sidewalk usage is concerned), and have no signs, lights, or even marked lanes?? (Congratulations, however for somehow accomplishing this without killing everyone.)

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7. Side-ponytails and mullets? Really?

6. Why do the majority of public washrooms seem to go out of their way to have something weird about them? Toilets come with seats, why do you take them off? Why has the side of the bathtub been neatly cut away, requiring a full mopping of the bathroom after every shower? Why are hot water and toilet paper luxuries, but bidets taken for granted?

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5. Why is it that city buses follow a strict network of stops, yet the luxurious, cross-country, hot-meals-served-to-you-by-stewards-in-uniform buses can be hailed on the side of the road or stopped at any passenger’s whim? And, for that matter, do we all have to listen to the young punk driver’s skipping mix CD of classic rock, folklore, and Lady Gaga?

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4. Why are coins still hoarded with such voracity? I can see the 50 centavo coin in your cash register, and yet you’re asking me if you can give me SweetTarts as change instead?

3. (To be fair, this is far more directed at Uruguay, but we mean it with just as much affection):
Do you really need mate so badly at any given moment that you have to carry a thermos of hot water under your arm as you ride your bike through rush hour traffic?* And for that matter, is it so necessary to have a toothbrush in your pocket at all times? (but no toothpaste…that’d just be too much!)
*Editor’s note: Yet another instance of this blog not accurately reflecting the authorship in its entirety, because I plan to get a suitable thermos as soon as I no longer also have a 25-kilo backpack to manage.

Spot the mate!
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2. Why are there at least two security guards at McDonalds and none in the banks? Is the Hamburglar that much of a threat?

And finally, tender subject though it is, the number one quirk that makes Argentina so ridiculously lovable…

1. Despite what the ubiquitous Argentine bumper stickers, political rallies, street signs, graffiti, supermarket names, postcards, and children’s pyjamas may say:

They’re called the Falklands.

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Granja #6: A lesson in optimism

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In its write-up, our sixth farm described itself as a perfumery, something different and interesting. In their email correspondence with us, the hosts seemed overjoyed at the idea of our stay with them.

Within our first day or two with them, we discovered that neither of these were so.

It was a generally uncomfortable experience, which is all I’ll say for now so as not to dwell on negatives. The positives were (a) that Sara and I spent two full days picking walnuts, and invented our own cosechador de nueces out of a plastic jar, some wire, and a piece of bamboo, and (b) met some of the kindest, most interesting fellow WWOOFers thus far. Between a French couple that had met in Morocco while she was studying journalism and he was studying oceanography, and an impressively dreadlocked Czech/Irish couple who had got jobs as shouting soldiers in the filming of King Arthur thanks to their general unkept look, we always had plenty to talk about.

The most striking thing about these travelers, though, was their ability to stay positive even at this particular farm, where relations with hosts were awkward if not sometimes downright tense.

Sara and I have sadly observed that the one thing that seems guaranteed to bring people together, regardless of nationality or experience, is complaining. Despite the beauty and crazy adventures that are constantly surrounding us here in South America, it’s often hard to relate to anyone without finding something to whine about. And now, when finally there were things we could’ve easily let annoy us, we found ourselves with people that seemed determined to genuinely get to know each other and show love to our hosts even if it was not always reciprocated. It was definitely both a breath of fresh air and a challenge to both of us.

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Cosechador de nueces, design copyright Pedro Wieja 2011
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Welcome to Hotel Massacre*…
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Hike up Loma Bola
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For Scott Donnelly: Fine dining in La Paz – The tale of a tenacious journey.
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* In case you’re concerned: “Hotel Massacre” was the affectionate moniker given by the WWOOFers to the absolutely terrifying, bat-infested crumbling building where we were told to keep our stuff and in which we were welcome to sleep as well (no one ever seemed to take this offer up…)

Granjas #5 – 5 1/2: Just your average, everyday WWOOF farm (yeah, right!)

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Finally back home in Argentina, we arrived at what was supposed to be our fifth farm after several email exchanges and one very successful confirmation phone call with the host (using telephones in this country is like doing a rubiks cube blindfolded, so trust me, this was a significant accomplishment!) However, when we arrived, we were greeted by a girl only a little older than ourselves who looked at us as if we’d just arrived from another planet. Apparently, her compañero (our supposed host) had left to who-knows-where for a week without telling her that two Canadians were coming to stay (so much for all that great communication, sigh), and she had two baby girls to take care of as well. She was friendly, but it was pretty clear she was in no state to have visitors (she said this directly, but the fact that she and her children were all running around in various states of undress implied it as well). It was late, so we set up our tent in the middle of a bush, waited out a mad thunderstorm, and took off the next morning.

Fortunately we had contacted another farm in the Mendoza area as well, so we sent them an SOS email and they replied (quite miraculously!!!), that same day, welcoming us with open arms. And so we hopped a bus that would take us to Tunuyan, Mendoza and found our new home at the end of a dirt road lined with beautiful weeping willows. We approached with well-warranted apprehension, but as soon as we entered we were shocked by the one thing we absolutely never expected…

It was… normal.

No high sabbath folk dancing, no anarchist protests, no army of other WWOOFers descending on our tent. Not that these are BAD things…it was just a very pleasant surprise to be greeted by a goofy dad, a brusque but sweet mom, and four high school/college age kids who are happy to share their lives with us but still fight about things like chores and who used whose bike last and messed with the gears.

In other words, a really normal family farm.

¡Bienvenidos a La Stalla!
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Bathroom facilities (nothing like a frigid shower outside to wake you up!)
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And so, we have spent two weeks tilling soil, building structures for various viney-type plants to crawl up, watching sheep get antibiotic injections, spreading manure, clearing brush (it was originally called “weeding pea plants,” but see pictures below to see why this description is more accurate), and feeding baby bunnies, who are adorable, even though we all know they’re only going to be eaten. All the while we listen to the hilarious antics of the dad, Luis, who has an elaborate story going in his head about this mennonite from Canada who lives in a colony wearing a little black hat and making cheese all day along with his vampire wife (something about Sara’s job testing blood in a laboratory was the inspiration behind this). It’s very entertaining.

The field: before clearing
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The field: after clearing
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Caña construction with our French WWOOFer friends
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Lunch with the fam and fellow WWOOFers in La Stalla’s galleria
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Laura’s incredible pizza al horno (aka clay oven pizza)
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A brief tour of the animals we got to know:

We thought we’d seen all the baby animals Argentina had to offer…until the pig surprised us by giving birth while we were weeding!
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Momma pig trying to sleep (I’m sure all you mothers out there can sympathize…)
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Baby bunnies (aka dinner – but let’s not think of that!!)
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Chicho: The sheep who thought he was a puppy
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Fido & Mimi decide to make Josh into a dog-person
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This farm and family are so entertaining, in fact, that we actually decided to stay for an extra week, which means that, after six months, we will finally be in the right place at the right time for one of Argentina’s many festivals.

And good timing too: Vendimia, Mendoza’s wine festival, is one of the country’s biggest and best. According to the family, there are apparently parades all weekend in which the festival beauty queens, elected from each region of Argentina, ride on elaborate floats wearing prom dresses and tossing everything from wine bottles to watermelons out to all the cheering people lining the streets.

But more to come on that later, assuming we haven’t been knocked out by flying watermelons…