Hellooooo one and all!
After a day or two of sampling the first-world delights of Buenos Aires, I find myself being hurled back in time to an existence much more akin to that experienced in Bolivia and Peru: non-flushing toilets, dirt roads and legions of stray dogs. I am at La Manzana, a permaculture site on the very outskirts of BA. Time is also reversing in other ways: my inner child has been squealing with glee as I romp happily about through several inches of squelchy mud, digging beds in which I then plant rows upon rows of lettuces, tomatoes, corn, sunflowers, and beetroot with my fellow volunteers (American Sophie, Scottish Kenny and German Anja). When I’m not doing my best mud-loving hippo impression, I’m helping out with the cooking (yes you read right – COOKING, and no – nobody has died yet), working on La Manzana’s website and social media, and have even been taught a bit of kick boxing. It’s been a varied week!
The Sod It Moment. I have been struck by how my standards of cleanliness have dropped dramatically over the past few days; already lowered somewhat by the realities (and inconveniences) of life on the road, my dirt tolerance now seems to know no bounds. Anja and I had what we have come to describe as The Sod It Moment the other day: realising that there was no way that we’d maintain even a vague level of cleanliness during the digging process, we kicked our shoes off and waded straight into the mire of mud around us, emerging some hours later looking like creatures from the Black Lagoon. I don’t think I have been that muddy since my mud pie-making days a couple of decades ago. Glorious indeed.
Mark and Sol. Leading the charge at La Manzana is Mark, originally from Derbyshire, who has well and truly secured himself a spot on the Bonkers Hall of Fame for my journey. He is a devoted conspiracy theorist, individualist, anarchist and climate change denier, all of which have made for some interesting conversations/heated debates, as you can imagine! Some of his arguments are thought-provoking; some are downright absurd, and sometimes (usually after several glasses of wine and a fat joint), he simply lapses into slurred lists which usually include the Iluminati, the New World Order, the Iron Mountain Report and Agenda 21. Despite his obsession with the impending end of the world brought about by the hidden elite/aliens/feminists/the Tellytubbies, Mark has used his agro-forestry knowledge to create something very beautiful here on the edge of Buenos Aires, which makes me suspect that he hasn’t quite lost faith in a positive future just yet….
Running the show behind the scenes is Mark’s long-suffering Colombian wife Sol, every bit the Marge to his Homer. She is practical, no-nonsense and has perfected the Withering Look, which she frequently directs at Mark whenever he kicks off on a new rant about chem-trails or the State of Israel. There is a permanent mixture of exasperation, admiration and humour behind her eyes, which made me warm to her instantly. Her cooking also happens to be world-class: it is delicious on a level as yet indescribable in either Spanish or English. I have been learning a thing or two from her when it’s my turn to help in the kitchen – so watch out for some immense dishes courtesy of yours truly upon my return!
Twelve Tribes. My very first night here was marked by a visit to the Twelve Tribes, an international religious community that originated in Tennessee back in the 1970s. They are an incredibly gentle and welcoming group of people, and they resemble the Amish in that they dress in old-fashioned clothes, the men are unshaven and everybody wears a headscarf and headband (shepherds in Nativity play-styley). Rooted in Judeo-Christian faith, the community values unity and love above pretty much everything, and undertakes to offer dinner to others in the wider community for Shabbat every Friday. Mark, Sol, the other volunteers and I were therefore treated to a delicious supper of fresh grilled fish, home-made bread and sticky chocolate pudding, followed by some very energetic circle dancing (impressive footwork!). We’re going again tonight I think. Roll on dinner time…
Gaucho Festival. What better way to kick off a sojourn in the Argentinian countryside than by meeting some of Argentina’s famed horse masters? We headed out to the edge of town on Saturday night, where we watched one fearless bloke after another mount a wild, blind-folded steed and attempt to stay clinging onto its back for as long as possible. Pretty intense viewing I can tell you. There was also much beer, dancing and more MEAT than I have ever seen in one place in all my life! Jorge, who is one of La Manzana’s investors and who brought us to the festival, also managed to blag us all horse rides (on broken-in horses, not wild ones!) once the main show was finished. The real spectacle of the night came in the form of Mark, who was so drunk by this time that he attempted to mount his allocated horse and fell straight off the other side (cue Withering Look from Sol). He bruised his arm a bit (which he made sure to regularly draw attention to for the following few days with pointed gasps and winces – cue more Withering Looks), but was otherwise unscathed.
That more or less brings you up to date! Back to work now – the sun has finally come out again after a deluge yesterday, so we’re off out to plant some more corn. Upcoming plans include some sort of cake and wine night for my birthday on Sunday, a few more days here at the ranch and then the return to Buenos Aires before my homeward flight 🙂
A muddy-fingered wave to you all, love you very much!
K x x x
P.S. Quick plug: if you’re free and in Wokingham on 10th December, please do drop in on my travel talk at the library at 6.30pm. All donations for attendance are going towards my Nicaragua project in January – really hope to see you there! Or if you can’t make it but would like to donate then you can do so via my JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/Katrina-Barnes1/ OR by texting KATR49 £5 (or whatever amount you can spare) to 70070.