Before I left for Esquel, I had been thinking about my plans to return home. I had originally planned to go back before my 21st birthday, 29th September. The closer this date came and the more fun I was having, the less appealing going home was. I didn’t want my adventures to end, especially when I learned about all the awesome things I could do and see in Argentina (WHALES! GLACIERS! STEAK!). I was also going to run out of money fairly quickly if I kept going at the rate I was, moving around from place to place, living it up in the backpackers’ sense of the word. With a promise I had made to my friends over one year ago and my impending bankruptcy, it seemed like I had no other choice.
When I got back to Bariloche from Esquel, Taryn (one of the owners of the hostel who knew about my plans and financial situation) quickly cornered me in the kitchen and proposed the idea of WWOOFing at 41 Below. First of all, what is WWOOFing?
WWOOFing — World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms — is best known as an inexpensive way to travel the world and volunteer.
WWOOF is a network of national organizations that help volunteers to live and learn on organic properties. WWOOF organizations bring together hosts and volunteers (“WWOOFers”) to help make a sustainable world. (http://www.wwoofinternational.org/)
In standard WWOOFing scenarios, volunteers work on organic farms in exchange for free accommodation and food. Taryn and Marçelo (the other owner) are part of a WWOOFing project in Auckland, New Zealand, during the summer called Fruit Vans, selling fruit and vegetables on the side of the road. They also tried to convince me to come WWOOF there on a working holiday visa starting in December. 41 Below was their new winter project.
Basically, in exchange for me working a little over twenty hours a week, I would receive free accommodation and food. It seemed pretty awesome. After discussing it with Taryn and some other people staying and working at the hostel, and my family, I decided to stay. I saw it like this:
Reasons to return home:
- My 21st birthday promise to friends
- Running out of money
Reasons to stay:
- Home is not the most exciting place
- Having fun
- Opportunities presented to me by the Universe
- Why the hell not??
- Time to LIVE
I chose to stay. Kristen (from USA), who had arrived a few days before I had left for Esquel and had plans to move into an apartment with some Aussies and an American nearby, also signed on to help out in exchange for free food. Along with Kristen and me, Xan (from French Basque Country) and Rhoda (from England) were also WWOOFing at the hostel and we became great friends. Xan and Rhoda had met Taryn and Marçelo in New Zealand after WWOOFing for them at Fruit Vans.
The work wasn’t very glamorous and we each had our days to clean. I didn’t totally mind cleaning toilets and at least I had two other people with whom I could bitch about how nasty it was cleaning the girls’ showers and how stinky the dorm the German men were staying in was. Xan, Rhoda and I each had two days to clean plus we all helped out on Sundays. Kristen and I shared two nights of cooking and two nights of activities, usually dinner out and bowling night. Xan and Rhoda had the same. A few Sundays we all cooked a big breakfast. Monday was taco night, the most delicious night of the week! Saturday was bowling night, which was surprisingly hilarious with the Germans. A few times we made our activity duties into a ski outing to Cerro Catedral.
I am glad I had the experience of WWOOFing, despite all the yucky toilets and things. Making bunk beds is actually really challenging and I got so sick of the smell of cleaning supplies. I certainly got sick of Bariloche and the constant masses of high school seniors on holiday swarming the chocolate shops in town and crowding the lift lines. On the up side, I am so appreciative of the relationships I formed with Kristen, Xan and Rhoda, and the other wonderful people at 41 Below. Cooking with them for sometimes up to 25 people and drinking several bottles of wine are some of the most fun memories I have of my eight months in South America. It is so rare to connect with people on such a deep and personal level that you feel comfortable sharing yourself with them. I am lucky to have met such beautiful people. Also, working in a hostel, I met some really awesome people from all over the world. Something about 41 Below attracted adventurous and life-loving people and I loved hearing their stories.
I stayed in Bariloche until 26th September, which is about when I was planning to head home. Before leaving, Santa Rosa (the fabled South American winter snow storm) hit Bariloche and dumped over a foot of new snow on Cerro Catedral. Our last few days in Bariloche were full of incredible skiing. Imagine getting off the lift and my skis immediately disappeared in the powder. The conditions were unreal and I finally learned to ski powder – being a girl from the East Coast I am used to skiing on ice — though this mostly meant me face-planting (without pain!) several times during a run. I also did my first hike-to-ski! Kristen and I hiked from the top of one lift to La Laguna and the view of Lago Nahuel Huapi was incredible.
After a little over a month, I left Bariloche. It was sad saying goodbye to Xan and Rhoda but I’m pretty sure I’ll see them again. It was definitely time. Kristen and I had all of Patagonia to explore over the next month before I finally went home. It was exciting setting out with a travel buddy, something I hadn’t done for the past seven months but for some weekends away.
Next stop, El Fin del Mundoooooooooooo!