The fact that a circle dance was on last week’s agenda made us a bit nervous. What exactly did we sign up for when we volunteered to help out on the farm?
We took a public bus from nearby El Bolson to the tiny town of El Hoyo, then taxied out to Chacra Millalen, the small organic farm in the Patagonia region of Argentina where we’d spend the next 4 days volunteering.
Neither of us had WWOOFed or worked on a farm before so we had no idea what to expect. Would there be other volunteers? What would a typical day be like? Is this farm actually a crazy hippie commune?
Day 1: Digging In
We walked up the winding path past horses and two tents then spotted six other volunteers in a huge garden. They looked like they were having fun — a good sign. We were greeted by two happy dogs as we approached the building where lunch would be served. Before dining on delicious vegetarian lasagna and fresh salad we met Josephine, the owner of the farm, who was lovely.
The other volunteers took a break from working in the garden and we chatted with them over lunch. We were surprised that everyone was from an English speaking country — Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia — and it was strange but comfortable to have conversations in English again. Everyone was very friendly and about our age. Some were staying for a week, others had been there a month and weren’t sure when they’d leave. Ours was the shortest visit scheduled.
After we ate we got a tour of the farm. We put our bags in our quaint and comfortable room above the kitchen. It’s also possible to bring a tent and camp on the land, but we didn’t have a tent with us. Then Josephine showed us the three showers and encouraged us to use one of the two that was heated by wood-burning stoves (instead of gas). We also noticed four recycling bins and a compost can in the kitchen. Between that and the organic produce the farm grow, this chacra was definitely scoring green points.
Josephine told us there was a break from working in the afternoons and that farming would resume at 4, so we picked up books and sat outside reading and appreciating the fresh air. We snacked on bread that’s cooked on the property and homemade jam from the previous summer.
At 4:00 Elizabeth and I got to work weeding the rosemary bushes in the garden, glad we got assigned an easy task — it’s difficult to mistake a rosemary bush for a weed. I was thrilled to discover that I enjoy the mundane task of weeding since I want to have an organic garden when we’re back in the States. We asked some of the other volunteers about the circle dance and learned that it was a cool experience.
We finished up after two hours then wandered up the dirt road to kill time before dinner at 9:00 (typical Argentine dinner time). The views of the mountains were breathtaking.
Everyone took turns cooking meals that we all ate together, which created a good sense of community. For dinner we enjoyed another meal full of fresh organic veggies and homemade bread.
Overall, day one on the chacra was great and better than we’d expected.
Mountain view from Chacra Millalen
Day 2: Hiking to Lago Epuyen
When we learned volunteers get the weekends off we were a bit disappointed. After all, we were planning to leave Tuesday morning and we wanted to contribute before then. It makes sense that everyone gets a break, especially since so many of the volunteers stay for a month or longer; we just hadn’t thought about it.
We quickly got over our dispappointment when we heard about a gorgeous nearby lake. Elizabeth and I trekked up a winding dirt road for two hours to get there, but it was worth it. Lago Epuyen was incredibly peaceful and beautiful, surrounded by mountains and free of the houses that typically crowd US lakes.
We sat on the grassy shore for an hour, eating raspberry jam and butter sandwiches and taking in the view. Then we hiked back to the farm and cooked pasta with veggies for dinner. I loved that we had free reign of the kitchen and the abundance of fresh, organic vegetables gave us a much-needed break from the meat-obsessed culture of Argentina.
Lago Epuyen near El Hoyo, Argentina
Day 3: Trekking to the Waterfall
If we weren’t going to be able to work on the farm on the weekends, at least we’d get some exercise in and explore the area. On Sunday we hiked in the opposite direction of the lake toward a waterfall we’d heard about, creatively named La Catarata (“The Waterfall”). We didn’t have very clear directions, but fortunately we stumbled upon it within an hour and half.
Once we got off the flat dirt road and onto the trail the hiking got more difficult. It was fairly steep and I was contemplating whether it was worth it when we crossed paths with four women in their sixties who were coming down. Seeing them shamed me into powering through.
The waterfall paled in comparison to Iguazu Falls, but was still magnificent. We admired it and snapped photos before hiking back down and relaxing near the waterfall’s stream. I was craving ice cream so we took a detour to the gas station (not much else is open on Sundays) on the way back.
For dinner we made polenta with homemade tomato sauce and vegetables from the farm, then pitched in with other volunteers to bake a made-from-scratch carrot cake. It was amazing.
La Catarata near El Hoyo, Argentina
Days 4 & 5: Weeds, Weeds, and More Weeds
More weeding was in store for us on Monday and Tuesday mornings, this time around spring onions and basil. I enjoyed it slightly less than weeding rosemary since these weeds were tiny and abundant. But I still liked being able to see how much progress we’d made in just a few hours.
Other volunteers worked on planting peas, picking oregano, thinning the carrot patch, and gathering herbs. We heard that next week they’ll get started on packaging the herbs to sell and making herbal remedies. As with any farm, the work depends on the season.
On Monday afternoon we read on the lawn accompanied by the dogs and a tiny cat I named Permakitten because it was 2 years old, but looked like it was 4 months old.
Our meals on our last two days consisted of an array of hot and cold salads, lentil patties, tomato stew over rice, soy milanesas, lentil stew, and herby garlic toast. There is never a shortage of delicious food at Chacra Millalen.
We bid farewell to the farm and our fellow volunteers on Tuesday after lunch and headed back to El Bolson to catch our bus to our next destination, Puerto Madryn.
Garden at Chacra Millalen
Finding & Comparing Volunteer Opportunities in Argentina
Without using the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) website, it’s not easy to find volunteer opportunities on organic farms in Argentina. It took us a long time and a lot of internet searched to find this one; in hindsight, we probably should have paid the membership fee and gone through WWOOF.
I went to Chacra Millalen not knowing what to expect and hoping that I would learn something about gardening. I was pleasantly surprised by everything there and I would definitely recommend Chacra Millalen to anyone wanting to get off the beaten path in Argentina and give back to the community. The food was awesome, the people fun, the accommodations comfortable, the hosts gracious, and the work satisfying.
Since this is my first experience with WWOOFing, I’d like to know how it compares to others. Have you ever volunteered on an organic farm? If so, was your experience similar to mine?
Horse watching us on the way to the waterfall
- Where Are We Now: Volunteering on a Chacra in El Bolson, Argentina
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- 5 Places I Can’t Wait to Experience in Argentina
- 21 Resources for Volunteering Abroad & Why You Should Do It: 25 Days to Green Travel, Day 20
- Terrifyingly Awesome: Iguazu Falls, Argentina