Earlier last month, I was talking to one of my good friends who had recently been on a trip to South America. He loved his experience volunteering on a farm in Chile through WWOOF (Worldwide opportunities on Organic farm), and highly recommended it to me. WWOOF is a network that matches volunteers with organic farms around the world. The host farm provides food, accommodation (usually with the farmer’s family), and learning opportunities, in return for assistance with farm related activities (varies depending on the farm) for the duration of the stay (ranging from couple weeks to months).
Having never been to Chile before, WWOOFing seemed like a great way to learn about its people, culture, and organic farming (as well as pick up some Spanish). With work being flexible on my return date, I decided to extend my trip until mid-November with the first stop being the farm in central Chile, followed by a few other South American countries. Two of my friends decided to join me on the farm as well.
After some terrible luck with flights (one cancellation, one delayed and lost baggage), I arrived in Santiago, Chile a couple weeks ago. Not being close to a big city, the journey to get to the farm was long. After leaving Santiago at 10 in the morning, and riding three buses, we arrived at the farm in the evening at 6 to be greeted by the farmer and their family with some tea and homemade bread. getting a quick tour of the farm, we were shown their communal lodge. Since this farm receives a lot of WWOOFers during summer, they built a communal lodge with a kitchen, common area, a computer and few beds. Temperatures often drop below 40 degrees Farenheit; with no heating at the lodge, we have to use sleeping bags to stay warm.
Our daily routine starts with breakfast – coffee, oatmeal, and bread – with the farmer’s family around 8:30, followed by work on the farm. We’ve had various kinds of work – trellising the blackberry vines, cutting out thorny weeds and creating soil beds to grow vegetables. When my friend visited the farm over summer, his work consisted solely of harvesting blackberries; hence, the work varies depending on the time of the year. We work until lunch time, after which we have time to enjoy the scenery and tranquility of the area. I have been spending my time reading, learning Spanish, watching TV, exploring nearby farms or just laying down on the hammock. The only bus that goes to the nearest city leaves at 7 in the morning during weekdays, so I haven’t had the chance to leave the farm except on Sundays. One of the Sundays, the farmer’s friend took us hiking in the Reserva Nacional Radal Siete Tazas, consisting of some stunning views and gorgeous waterfalls.
The food here has surprised me. All our meals, delicious and filling, are cooked with vegetables grown in the farm, and meat is only served for a few meals each week. I am in love with the bread that the farmer bakes – will be getting the recipe before I leave. Over the past two weeks, I have also learned to cook a few Chilean dishes!
Dinner conversations have included exchanging stories and learning about culture, politics, family and farming. After dinner, we usually watch TV together. We were surprised how popular Minecraft song parody videos were among the kids here, they would sometimes play it on repeat! Coming across public Wifi in one of the rural towns and streaming Netflix at the farm both caught my attention. Later, I found that Chile is actually the first Latin American country to be considered a developed country joining the OECD in 2010. One can definitely sense the American influence on Chilean culture, a result of the influence the United States has had on Chilean politics and economy.
It has been phenomenal seeing how self-sustainable the farmer’s family is and the simplicity with which they live their daily lives. The highlight of my time here has been a birthday party for a family member of the farmer. We all had a blast with their friends over, and had a delicious BBQ feast complete with cake, wine, and an Indian side dish that one of my friends cooked. I have also been making an effort to talk to the family members to learn Spanish. Google translate has been a savior in these situations. Duolingo has been helpful in learning basic words, but with phone service being spotty, I haven’t been able to use it much on my phone (aka Duolingo needs an offline feature).
I have loved travelling internationally for a variety of reasons – adventure, culture, food, people, language, landmarks. However, beyond those aspects of travel, I have recently been realizing that sometimes the experiences I have had through the places I have been represents a story of sorts; this only makes travelling more entertaining.
Both my friends left today, and I am planning on staying at the farm for a week or two. After that, I am thinking of going to Argentina for a couple weeks and take some Spanish classes followed by Peru in early October.