WWOOFing take two: Tigre

After Ben and I´s last  WWOOFing Argentina experience, we had no intention of trying out another farm in Argentina. But, after 4 weeks of travelling had put a bit of distance between the experience both emotionally and physically, our feelings changed. We decided to give WWOOFing Argentina another try. It would be wrong to base our opinion of the organization off only one experience on one farm.

Through another WWOOFer at the first farm we had heard of a farm that took volunteers for no more than ten days, and it was close to Buenos Aires (ARG137 for those of you looking to WWOOF in Argentina and using the farm listing). I sent them an e-mail to see if they had room, and sure enough, they were happy to have us at the end of March.

Ben and I were especially excited about this farm because they were a bed and breakfast. We have talked about looking into running B&Bs in the States during the off season, so the experience would be good for us. Stef, the manager, told us upfront that there was no ´farming´to do as the growing season is over but we were OK with that.

The Bed and Breakfast, called Casona del Rio, was in the Tigre Delta. Only accessible by boat, the Delta is a maze of waterways, rivers and channels which have been fully, modernly developed. Bus boats take people back and forth, stores and restaurants exist throughout the maze and the homes have all the modern amenities. It´s a really amazing and unique place, full of many things to explore and discover via kayak.

The WWOOF experience itself was great as well. Ben and I got to do all the typical work from Making beds, washing linens, preparing breakfast and cleaning. When there were no guests in the house (hooray for low season!) we worked on special projects about the house. We loved the ability to do think of something creative to do in the house, propose it to Stef, then work on it after a leisurely breakfast with our WWOOFing friends.

It helped a lot that we had a great connection with Stef, his wife and the other WWOOFers there at the time. The fact that all the personalities clicked made a huge difference in the whole WWOOFing experience.

Ben and I also enjoyed having the freedom to work on projects that suited us. Unlike the other farm, which had the women making bread and the men out landscaping most days, Stef allowed us to find projects that suited our skills and interests. When we found a project, he supported it by giving us the tools and space we needed.

For example Gavina, one of the other WWOOFers, set out to make a beautiful tile mosaic in the bathroom while she was there. Ben found his nitch in repairing the cement parilla and getting the grill back into working order. Me? I practiced my hospital corners on the bedsheets and developed the English version of their website at http://casonadelrioen.wordpress.com/.

So, WWOOF Argentina, you have redeemed yourself. Ben and I had a great experience, learned a lot about running a Bed and Breakfast and hopefully helped improve the place with our skills as well. I highly recommend working or staying at Casona del Rio, they are wonderful people with good hearts, and your journey into the Delta will be worth it.

Mate Musings

Ben and I are spending our last few days in South America volunteering on a WWOOF bed and breakfast in Tigre. The life in the Delta is wonderful. We work in the morning and have time to relax in the afternoon with the river, kitten, a cup of tea and the pecan trees. The chance to reflect on the trip as a whole is needed. Maybe, a vacation from the vacation?

The point of travelling is not only to ‘see the sights.‘ Travelling serves to exchange ways of life. At the end of a trip, hopefully the lens out of which we view our own home is changed a bit for the better. I was thinking about this on one of the lazy Delta afternoons and realized that I have only conveyed in my blog the ‘sight seeing’ aspects of my travel.

Sure, that’s fun to see great photos and to get a glimpse into what travelling the other end of the world must be like. But if I shared only photographs and travel itineraries with the folks back home, everyone would be cheated out of the experience. People travel to improve their world-lens, but more importantly, the impact travelling makes on an individual should positively be shared with friends and family back home.

As a reader, you can also interpret this as a warning. I have one week left in South America, so my travels will come to a close; this blog will no longer be an active travel blog. Rest assured, I will do more travelling, more photo taking and more live blogging but that will be a ways off. In a week, I will return home, and this blog will become a space for my reflections on what I have seen and where I have lived in for the past 111 days. If you want to un-subscribe from this blog because you don’t have the time or interest in reading the reflections of a 20 something year old vagabond, I completely understand. If you want to hang on, then I hope you will find these ideas as interesting as I do.

So, to start off the reflection period: Mate. 

Mate in America is a tea, usually steeped inside a commercialized bag. The Co-op that I worked at would pull esspresso shots with Mate, producing a dark green, grassy tasting liquid.

Mate in Argentina is a ritual that borders upon a religious practice. The plant itself is referred to as yerba or the weed and mate is the word used for both the beverage container and the act of drinking it. The herb inside the cup, usually a cured gourd, is doused with hot water. A bombilla is the straw out of which the drink is sipped on. The bombilla is a straw made of some sort of metal or bamboo with holes in the bottom to filter the weed.

The ritual varies across different regions of Argentina. For the most part though there is a server who is in charge of handing out the Mate. He or she prepares the yerba and takes the first drink. Then they re-fill the Mate and pass it to the next person. This person sips on the straw (yes, the same straw that the server used) until the water is gone and passes it back. Some Argentines like their Mate with sugar, but most prefer it bitter. The Mate can be passed around for hours and hours, theyerba lasts a long time.

That’s the mechanics of Mate. The taking of Mate with friends or family though can be universally found throughout all of Argentina. It’s a social custom unparalleled by anything we have in the US. At first, it appears to be like sharing a cup of tea with with your family or friends, but it is more than that.

“Mate is somewhere between smoking and drinking coffee” my boyfriend so eloquently described the ritual. Mate is like smoking cigarettes with co-workers during a smoke break because the act gives both the excuse to stand around and socialize and the individual something to do with their hands (and just as a disclaimer I have never smoked any form of tabacco, this has only been described to me). Mate is also similar to drinking tea or coffee with friends because they are both a beverage and a caffeine stimulus. Mate in the Argentine style, not the US tea style, has more of a stimulating effect than a cup of strong black tea but less than that of an espresso drink.

Mate is it’s own entity. Argentines will partake in Mate at least once a day. You will find couples, groups of friends, families, co workers and lone mate drinkers everywhere throughout the country. On park benches, in lawn chairs in front of homes, in front of beautiful vistas or behind a store. Saying to someone ‘let’s go take a Mate together’ is saying ‘let’s go be idle for a while together.’

The word ‘Idle’ may be the key to understanding the Mate ritual. There’s no staring at the computer while taking mate with friends as many of us do at coffee shops. For the most part, Mate takes president over everything else going on. It’s a time to sit, relax, have good conversation and leave the rest of the world be for the moment. Mate is therefore used as an excuse to go some place other than the home or office. In Argentina, public parks and city center squares are used to their full potential at all hours, day and night. In places of natural beauty you will find groups of people next to a lake, river or in front of a beautiful mountain vista sitting together, sharing a mate.

I will bring back a Mate, bombilla, and maybe even some yerba if customs will let me. But most importantly, I will try to return to the US with the mentality of the Argentines: that every day needs a time to sit down, be idol and share a guilt free Mate with your friends and family.

Disco Chicken and a look into Argentine country life.

Last week Ben and I got a glimpse into the Agriculture lands of Argentina. We checked into a small town called Mayor Buratovitch, which is about 90 kilometers outside of the port town Bahia Blanca.

This flat farmland is Onion Country. The sandy soil and fair weather is great for onion growing. As we found out, 80% of Argentines onions are exported to Brazil, and the other 20% hang around Argentina.

We happened to visit onion country during the onion fair. The fair was almost exactly the same as any fair in the U.S. There were carnival rides (which I opted out of), artesian booths, farming equipment sales and a main stage for entertainment. They even had a food court of fried food, but that is no novelty when you realize that the rest of Argentine street food is deep fried.

The real treat was getting to know our couch host and her family. Antonella helped me especially with my Spanish, and I helped her with her English. She and her husband gave us tours of the farms and of the fair, and her family was excited to meet us.

During our stay we were treated to a traditional Argentine country meal called “Pollo al Disco.” Naturally, Ben and I quickly took to calling it “Disco Chicken” and the dish lived up to its name.

The reason it’s called Chicken by means of Disc (roughly) is because it’s cooked on a big disc. This disc comes from the harvesters used for the onion fields. When the disc run out of commission they are cured for cooking. This disco cooking is so popular that a propane powered cooker can be purchased–it’s a spiral that cradles and heats the disc. It’s kind of like a Wok, but instead of an even heat, the heat is concentrated on the edges.

Huge quantities of food can be made on the Disc. For Disco Chicken, you’ll need:

  • 4 kilos of chicken, all parts.
  • 6 or 7 yellow onions
  • 1 green pepper
  • 5 potatoes
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • half liter cream
  • half liter milk
  • half pound butter (yeah, I know we’re crossing the unit line here)
  • sunflower oil
  • box white wine
  • oregano
  • salt
  • white and red pepper flakes

Ok, so first saute the onions and pepper flakes in the disco. Take the onions out and throw in the chicken and garlic. Let these cook until golden brown, then add the white wine to cook. Here, add the oregano and let it simmer.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by heating up the butter, milk and cream in a pot on the stove. Keep these warm, and don’t let them boil.

Also meanwhile, fry the cubed potatoes in sunflower oil until crispy/chewy.

Add the cream to the chicken and let that simmer with the onions. Once it simmers, add the potatoes (drain the oil), let them all party together and viola! you have a disco chicken.

And it was awesome. Best chicken cooked on a tractor part I’ve ever had, and that’s coming from an Idaho girl.

Peninsula Valdez: Wildlife Overload!

After El Bolson Ben and I took the night bus over to Puerto Madryn– a pretty coastal town next to the Atlantic. Unfortunately, we couldn´t find a couch-host (as has been the case in all tourist towns in Argentina), so we checked into a hostel. Through that hostel we booked a tour of the Peninsula Valdez. That is the benefit of the hostel; booking was easy and the tour was cheaper than that of tour agency.

We did look in to touring the Peninsula ourselves, but it is impossible unless you rent a car, hitch-hike, or are crazy enough to want to walk 90 km to the entrance of the island then another 40 plus to get around it. So, we were forced to take our first guided tour in Argentina (minus the rafting in Mendoza).

We were the only tourists on the tour that day. Being the Tuesday after Easter, the tourist season was completely over, save for a few backpackers here and there. Our guide picked us up in the company Jeep, and we felt like we were going on a safari. He was a laid back local Argentine with dreads (dreds are kind of popular here, who knew) who spoke English well.

The land around Valdez is a desert. Valdez is a desert. Scrubby flatlands for miles and miles and miles is what 90% of Patagonia is. It is amazing that the Atlantic doesn´t swallow up all of Argentina until it reaches the Andes. Only about 100 meters of cliff is stopping it. I can only imagine how lost some of the first explorers must have been wandering this flat land. Back in the North West of the U.S. I am so used to character-filled land: lakes, rivers and mountains to help me navigate. I feel so lost when it comes to wide, flat spaces.

The Peninsula itself is well preserved. Peninsula Valdez is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, so that was to be expected. Sheep grazing is allowed in the center of the Peninsula, but the coastal line was untouched by the every day human.

But, the scenery was not the reason we toured Valdez. The Wildlife is what we came for, and boy did we get it. The day started off with plenty of Guanacos, a relative of the llama. They were everywhere, like deer in Idaho.

Our first stop was to see a huge sea lion colony. We watched them from the bluffs above, marvelling at their absurdity on land and grace in the water, and at the incredible noises they made. “Even pigs would have been ashamed” of these filthy animals, as Darwin put it.

Then we drove on to another beach which contained more colonies of Sea Lions and Elephant Seals. This is the exact same beach you have seen on National Geographic, Discovery Chanel, etc where the Orcas beach themselves in attempt to eat the sea lions. We stayed at that beach for about an hour and a half, waiting for Orcas, but none came. We did see some great birds, including Cormerants, Oyster Catchers and Giant Petrel Birds.

The trip continued with a drive to the Penguin Colony. On the road we encountered an Armadillo, a surprisingly adorable creature. We also encountered a big surprise when our guide slammed on his brakes and backed up “I am looking for something, it is brown and furry.” Thinking he was referring to some sort of rodent in the brush I looked on the side of the road but soon realized he was talking about a giant tarantula. I surprised even myself when I jumped right out to get a photo, saying “Ben! Ben! Get out and stand by it!.” Ben stayed in the Jeep.

Then we visited the Penguin Colony. Ben, since he was a little boy, has loved Penguins. His room was filled with penguin toys, or so he tells me. The colony we saw was his first. There were around 300 hundred penguins there in their little sand nests. We got so close to the penguins it was like a zoo–maybe two feet away from some. They didn´t seem to care we were there, it was fantastic. Ben and his 8 year old self, were very satisfied.

Our last stop was another sea lion colony, but here we were treated to the visit of a Patagonian Red Fox. What a beautiful fox, with a big bushy tail and red tinted in his fur. The fox was very tame, like the Penguins, he came within 5 feet of us without acknowledging our presence. Darwin also had this experience with a Red Fox in Patagonia, his fox was also very tame–so tame he walked up behind it and clubbed it with his “geological hammer.”  The Voyage of the Beagle is actually a really great read, full of stuff like that.

In the end, Ben and I went home happy with the trip. It was expensive, but well worth it. We saw a lot of wildlife without the crowds. Our guide was great, friendly and tailored our trip to us. In short, Valdez is the sea life viewing center of South America, and well worth the visit.

El Bolson Treking Photos


Hiking out of El Bolson, Patagonia Argentina. All these photos are my own please do not use in any way for yourself before contacting me for permission! Thank you!