09.06.2010 - 18.06.2010
I'd heard about Aldea Luna, an organic farm in the North of Argentina, by word of mouth from a Canadian traveller who enjoyed a well deserved week long break there during his cycling tour of South America. He gave it a good wrap and said it was a great place to relax for a while. I was keen to check it out so after arriving back in Salta from Cachi, I made plans to head there the next day. The farm is one hour from Ju Juy - one of Argentina's largest cicties in the north - and only one bus a day goes there, leaving at 7am in the morning. I spent one night in Ju Juy, a bustling place that resembles Bolivia more then the rest of Argentina, and headed off early the next morning. The bus was a rickety old thing that looked like it belonged in a museum. It was slumped down on the last platform of the terminal. I jumped on and grabbed the front seat. Enjoying some fresh facturas (pastries) and some tea from my newly bought and much cherrished thermas, I ate breakfast and watched the passengers come on board. Apart from three other travellers who were obviously heading to the same place as I was, everybody else were locals, carrying parcels and large bags of stuff, heading off to work or back to their country homes with their week's supplies.
When the sun rose I saw how beautiful and lush the surrounding countryside was. I hadn't seen anything this green since Tierra del Fuego (in Patagonia). The bus driver put on a CD of a folk singer from Salta (I eventually discovered from the gentlemen sitting next to me, after he realised I was asking him a question and stopped jumping up from his seat thinking I was trying to get pass). After an hour and a half, the driver shouted 'Tilquiza' and all the westerners on the bus jumped off. We were greeted on the road by one of the wwoofers from the farm. She showed us the way to the house, which was a nice, rugged, one hour hike from the bus stop.
Aldea Luna, which means Moon Village in English, is perched on the top of a mountain surrounded by lush forest. It has a beautiful view overlooking the valley in front of the main house. It is run by a family, a couple and their 12 year old son, and a male friend of theirs. They have both volunteers and wwoofers working there (the difference being the amount of hours each one works and how much they pay to stay there), but people can also stay just as guests. Initially, I thought I would stay only 3 nights. One of the factors in initally not wanting to stay longer was the world cup, and the fact that it was starting that week, and that I wanted to see both the Argentine and Australian games. But after discovering that, despite not having electricity at the premises, the men had bought a TV especially to watch the world cup, and the national chanel, the only one they got on the TV, was screening one game a day, and both the games I wanted to see were going to be shown, and I was welcome to watch them if I wanted, I decided to stay and volunteer for a week, which got extended to 10 days. (Yes, somehow I have gone from being a mild admirer of soccer to an obsessed football fan who is now planning her travels around ther world cup.)
Volunteering at Aldea Luna involved working 4 hours a day from 8am in exchange for board. The afternoons were ours to do whatever we wished. The work ranged from gardening, to shoveling earth, to cooking, to sowing. The variety was great and I realised that I could sow after all, was strong enough to use a shovel, and that I didn't have as black a thumb as I had thought. One of the highlights was going down to the local school and starting to build a garden there. I now know how to make a garden bed from scratch, something I am sure will come in handy at some point in the future.
The food was also a highlight. Elizabeth, the lady of the house, is a great cook and we enjoyed hot, heathy, and delicious vegeteraian meals 3 times a day. The hot porridge and homemade bread were a great motivation to get out of bed in the dark, cold mornings, and the other meals never disappointed. I learnt some new receipes, like home made gnocchi, vegetable tarts and delicious vege burgers, and had visions of myself returning to Sydney and making home made bread every morning before work (a girl can dream, can't she?).
The afternoons I spent hiking through the forest, doing yoga and meditation, reading, and playing games (oh, and of course, watching football). I learnt how to play chess, with much helpful advice from my sympathetic opponent, and picked up a few new card games. The family were lovely and I enjoyed working and dining with them. Their six dogs were also gorgeous and I loved my hikes with Hugo in the afternoons (he was the only dog allowed to come along because he didn't eat the chickens like the others!). And the group of volunteers were great. After one week I was feeling extremely healthy in mind and body, which was fantastic! But... never having had been able to stick to the straight and narrow path for too long, I started to feel a bit restless and knew that it was time to let loose and go a bit crazy. So I arranged with the other volunteers to have a few drinky poos on my last night at the farm.
Berry, my South African chess teacher and mate, and I kicked things off in the late afternoon by taking 2 bottles of wine, my ipod for music and some snacks up to the first lookout in the forest. There we drank and chatted as the sun went down, and tippsily headed back after dusk. We continued with a few wines at dinner and a few more after. Drinks lead to a game of homemade pictionary, which lead to playing songs on the ipod, which lead to dancing, and more drinking, to the splitz (of course!), and stumbling into bed at around 4am. Ironically, my last day on the farm was spent feeling very hungover, but we had a ball and I thought it was well deserved after working hard.
All in all, I had a wonderful time at Aldea Luna. I made some good new friends and left feeling very inspired. The life that that Elizabeth, Martin, Mateus and Eraldo have created, making everything from scratch by themselves and creating this wonderful community, is an incredible achievement. Having never been farmers before, they learnt everything from books and local connections, and are still leanring so much all the time. Their ability to live so freely and happily on their sustainable farm, away from hectic city life and constant consumerism, growing their own organic food, building their own houses, respecting the lives of their animals, relying so little of unsustainable energy, and not having turned into hippy extremists, made me reallise that anything is possible and left me with the desire to do the same.
And although I went straight out for a steak on my first night back in Ju Juy, and know that I will slide right back into my city lifestyle when I get home, I will be taking a piece of Aldea Luna with me into the future, and know that in some big or small way, my life will be different as a result of this experience.