WWOOF Argentina: the pros and cons

So the WWOOFing trial is over. 

In case you are just tuning in, Ben and I volunteered on a WWOOF farm from Jan 30th to Feb. 25th, 2012. We volunteered for ARG151, you can read about it here, just scroll to the 151 description.

**2015 Update: the farm this blog post is about was cancelled in 2015. This blog was written in 2012. There is general information here in this blog you may find interesting and helpful if you are considering WOOFING anywhere in Argentina**

Ben and I had our reasons for WWOOFing in Argentina. We are both interested in organic foods and cultivation, as well as picking up new skills that we can potentially use in the future. Also interesting us was the chance to break out of the travel routine, visit a remote location where we wouldn´t normally visit, and have some structure to our days. Lastly, I’ll must admit that we needed to save some money on the trip as well.

We chose this farm to WWOOF on because, well, they were the only ones who said yes. We put out 15 applications, and heard back from 5 farms. This was the general experience of the other WWOOFers at the farm as well. It seems that the WWOOF farms in Argentina are not that great at returning your request.

Now, the pros of our experience:

  1. Vegetables, vegetables all around. Eat your veggies was not an issue while on the farm. Ben and I quickly learned that when living on a farm, you eat what´s in season. And tomatoes and summer squash was what was in season. We were introduced to a dozen different ways of cooking these vegetables: stew, baked with cheese and eggs, in polenta, in pasta, you name it!
  2. location, location, location. The farm is nestled right against the Sierras Comechingos. Even though it was right next to a ritzy resort/hotel, we felt like we were in the country. The farm provided a great way to get to know the small town of La Paz and the mountains, both of which we enjoyed a lot.
  3. The Tea house. The farm was right around the corner from the cutest teahouse, owned by a British couple who have been in Argentina for 45 years. Here is where we got all the gossip of the town and heard the most amazing stories from their personal life. The most incredible was their experience during the Falklands war, where the British were more hostile to them than the Argentines.
  4. We saved a lot of money. This was probably the cheapest I´ve lived since leaving my parents´ house. I made it through 26 days on 600 pesos, that´s about 150 dollars. Big win!
  5. Met people from all over the world. Ireland, Czech, France, Italy, Chicago, Switzerland and Israel. Granted, we could have gotten this experience in a hostel, but we were able to spend quality time with these people over meals and work.
  6. The experience was great for learning Spanish. I´m still terrible at it, but the farm made me actually use Spanish, rather than depend on Ben for a translator. This was frustrating for me at times, but in the end worth it. We also taught the 18 year old son of the farm family some English, and explained what an Idaho accent was. “A bear walked into a bar and ordered a beer” is pronounced “A baer walked into a baarr and ordered a berr.” Fun!

Ok, now for the cons:

  1. The experience was not a learning exchange. WWOOF, in my understanding is about an exchange. The volunteer works on the farm and in exchange, the farm provides food, shelter, and a venue to learn about organic farming. We worked, 5 hours a day and in exchange got breakfast, a big lunch and a place to pitch our tent. We also had the use of the bathroom and kitchen as we liked. The farm did not take advantage of Ben’s culinary knowlege, and he worked in the field while other women cooked the lunch. There was no learning going on on our end either. We didn´t learn anything new about growing organic food, making perfumes, or farming which brings me to my second con:
  2. The farm was actually not a farm. Well, they had a vegetable garden with tomatoes, squash, onions, garlic, some herbs and eggplant. They had chickens, which were too old to produce many eggs, lavender, and some fruit trees. The biggest concern of the man in charge seemed to be “La Casita” which was the tourist house on the property. We spent our time landscaping and weeding the flower beds. Only once did we do any actual planting.
  3. The people. Ok, I mentioned this as a pro, but it never occurs to you that you´ll run into people you don´t like while travelling abroad. Well, we did, and when you work, eat, play and live with the same people, you´re bound to find something annoying about someone. Drama happened (not between Ben and myself or with either of us and any other WWOOFers thank goodness), awkward moments happen, and things sometimes get weird. Ben and I were able to escape it though by getting off the farm every afternoon.

So, would I recommend WWOOFing Argentina to someone else? In short, yes. But I would warn them to be prepared for a farm that´s not all that organic by USA definitions. I´d advise them to be prepared for limited instruction, and limited learning. My experience, however, will not be the same as your experience. WWOOF Argentina is a hell of an opportunity and you should try everything once. You get to meet and live with real Argentines, eat fresh food and experience something you cannot experience anywhere else in the world.

Argentine Beef

The beef here in Argentina is mind blowing.

Hands down, it beats any beef I have ever had in the USA. Ben agrees with me.

The meat, which comes in any cut imaginable, is juicy, rich, thoroughly beefy and consistently amazing. Ben and I have spent a good portion of our trip wondering why USA beef just does not stand up to the Argentine quality. We have asked almost every local we can about on their opinion is on why Argentine beef is so high quality. Here are some answers we have heard:

Grass fed. All of argentine beef sold for public consumption, minus maybe McDonald’s, is grass fed and range raised. No corn, no hormones to expedite growth, no feed lots. The beef here is real beef raised by ranchers. the Argentines claim that it is their grass and land that make the beef so good. I’ve also heard Argentines claim that they treat their cows better.

Fresh killed. Argentine beef in the local butcher shops have been killed within the past 24 hours. there is no freezing, no cryovac, no packaging, very little transport and hand butchered. The beef can always be seen hanging in the back of the butcher shop as the butcher works on it (germaphobes beware!).  This beef is about as fresh as you can get it, anywhere.

Asado cooked.  ”Asado” is roughly translated to Barbecue in English. There is really only one similarity though, and that’s the fact that they both refer to cooking meat outside. All similarities end there. Instead of charcoal or propane, they use wood. They grill the meat for a long time once the wood turns into embers. So, slow cooked over a hot fire: the beef soaks up a wood smoke flavor and the heat sears the outside of the meat, creating a juicy, flavor packed and perfected slab of beef.

Washed down with wine. Lots of red wine always accompanies an Asado. Probably at the rate of half a bottle per half kilo (Ben, Jijo and myself downed 3 kilos of beef last Sunday so do the math!). This may also contribute to the quality of the beef here in Argentina. But this wasn’t a local’s opinion, I’m just stating the facts. A long nap usually accompanies the Asado as well. Overall, it’s an incredibly pleasant experience.

So, no one can pin point an exact reason why the Beef is better in Argentina. What is clear though is that this subject needs to be investigated more, and Ben and I will be doing a lot of investigating while we’re in this wonderful country.

Lightspeed Travel Blog Entry!

Well, isn’t it a good thing to have to make this post brief? It’s better for everyone. I save a bit of money* and you get to go about your day sooner.

Since I last posted I’ve spent a day on a Reggae Themed Tiki Beach, been to Cordoba, the Argentina National Folkloria Festival and have spent a week on a WWOOF farm.

So let’s get this Tiki Beach thing out of the way. Ben and I joked that we told everyone back home that this is exactly what our trip would NOT be like: Fruity cool beverages, sun, river, tiki huts, chickens, horses. Wait, chickens and horses? Yeah. To make a long story short we visited this place on a recommendation from a local, and had a great, relaxing time away from the city for the day. The beach included all the essential beach features plus the chickens, which were actually a great addition. They pecked the beach over so that it wasn’t dirty and filled with food scraps. Pretty brilliant, I think.

Then to Cordoba. We only stayed two nights in Cordoba, as we had to be in La Paz to WWOOF soon. Again, we received a wonderful recommendation from a local: the National Folkloria Festival.

The festival took place in Cosquin, a small town about 20 miles outside of Cordoba. We took the evening bus there and immediately we could tell something big was happening. Street vendors, food, dancers, you name it. The big treat was going to the arena and listening to the music. It ranged from small folk bands to the grand finale of Los Tekis (google them, I don’t have the time to link them).

To make everything better, the concert was 25 pesos, or about 8 dollars US.

Meanwhile in Cordoba a storm was brewing. The day before we left a tropical storm tried to hinder our transport to the farm. Wind, rain like you wouldn’t imagine. Fine, we thought. we’ll take a taxi. Then the streets filled with water, 2 hours before departure time.

Miraculously, the streets drained in 20 minutes after the rain let up and we were able to catch our bus. Kind of an anti climatic ending, but it made for a good story.

Well, I’m out of time. Ben and I are currently at the WWOOF farm. More on that later, and more pictures now that I know what time the local internet cafe closes.

 

 

*at a whopping 5 pesos an hour, or 1.25 US dollars, it really doesn’t matter