Standing naked next to the fire, contemplating the bucket of water that was to be my shower, I realised the basic beauty of the moment. Living without any material posessions, but with a certainty of having everything we could possibly need.
Arriving to work at the farm known as Chacra El Cielo has been a beautiful lesson in simplicity. Literally translating to an Andean farm in heaven, or of the sky, the rudimentary way of living has left both of us feeling more than celestial.
We are the only two wwoofers on this family chacra, tucked away at the top of the property in what could only be called a shack. Walls of timber and old carpet, windows of plastic and a concrete floor. A geriatric wood burning stove to heat the two rooms and a gas stove with some beaten up old basics to cook with. Water is close by and there is an abundance of fallen timber to collect, chop, and use as firewood. Our space is seperate enough from the family to feel we are living deliciously alone.
The project is really about creating a sustainable vegetable and fruit crop for the family to live from, as well as potentially selling at a market. The surplus is a long way off. Our job is to turn the soil, salvage what wild gifts nature has thrown up, and plant a diverse range of crops. To start, we’ve been digging out Jerusalem artichokes to make way for some good old potatoes.
The local town of El Bolson lies 700 metres below and less than an hour walk away. The slope of the land provides perfect drainage from the waterfall of the mountains above and the entire view from the farm is my version of heaven.
We arrived with as little as we could, camping and carrying only work clothes and some books. We both feel like we have arrived home, the mountains being our favourite landscape and a complete contrast to the mostly flat areas of Argentina we have seen in the past five months. No television, no hot water, no unnatural noise, just the feeling of endless natural space.
It’s Spring in Patagonia, which still means icy cold at night, but offering the promise of warming sun some days. There is a riot of flowering fruit trees, intense green grasses and clear mountain peaks. Mountains still brushing off the snow of winter. Everything is bursting with life but still fresh enough to need the heat of fire.
We are working 4 hours a day, 5 days a week in exchange for a place to live. Our weekends are free to explore and hike, we just have to provide our own food and lug it up from town every couple of days. The hike up the dirt road being the bonus work out.
For me, getting my hands into the soil is like coming home. I haven’t had my own garden for about four years and love the basic thrill of seeing something that you’ve planted start to thrive. The options we have to get digging are endless, we have a few weeks to make a contribution and in turn spoil ourselves with the tranquility.
Living here makes me think about how much we really need. A roof, a bed, fresh air, a purpose. Travelling light and thinking about all the ‘stuff’ I have stashed back in Australia, and missing none of it. If only I could transplant my friends and family.
Existing in a way with less choice completely frees the mind. I’ve been caught up in the striving of material stuff as much as anyone, but to take a real break from it is like throwing off a chain. Even for a little while, living a simple farm life through wwoofing can remind you of the order of things. What kind of energy goes into creating the basic food that I need, how lucky we are in developed countries to have utilities everywhere, the convenience of so many things. But at the same time, the easy access of modern living separates ourselves from the option of enjoying the traditional way of doing things manually and in a meditative way. I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t get a thrill out of starting a fire.
Maybe the fact that we are passing through makes it all the more special. We have the option to return to our machinated lives and choose to live in a less complicated way, and we are lucky to be able to compare the two worlds and appreciate the differences.
For now though, Chacra El Cielo is definitely close to our kind of heaven. Images of the farm and beautiful El Bolson keep growing here.