|The dome at sunset, it called to me!|
Cassie's mother didn't care about the awesomeness of the white dome, she suggested that Cassie remove my decision making privileges for the rest of our travel time together. Ha!
I had been traveling in South America as a solo female for about a month, and had met up with my friend Cassie, who had been volunteering at an organic farm in El Bolysen, Argentina. After wandering up to Buenos Aires, we looked for another opportunity to volunteer.
To get to the eco-park from BA, it was only a short trip. Thankfully no 20 hour bus ride this time (I had been on far too many during my South America travels). We took a taxi to the train terminal, and I prepared for my first train ride. EVER. I know, not that exciting, but it was cool. At the station, they were actually selling vegan friendly pizza. Well, it wasn't anything fancy, just onions and red sauce on pizza dough, but I was happy about it nonetheless. Vegan food isn't the easiest thing to find in South America.
I had always imagined my first train ride to be a big fancy ride through majestic mountains, over rushing rivers on giant bridges, surrounded by breathtaking scenery on every turn, with dining cars, wine and waiters serving my every need. My dreams were crushed. This was nothing like that. We hopped on and the seats were rock solid, and people piled in around us, filling up the train quickly. We were lucky to have gotten on early as to have a seat and place on the floor for our backpacking gear. One girl shoved her crotch in my face for the entire ride. Our breathtaking scenery was the ghetto neighborhoods and slums surrounding Buenos Aires, complete with enormous piles of trash, homeless people, graffitti and gangs of wild dogs. There was the usual crowd of people trying to sell things by throwing it in your lap and yelling loudly. One guy had no legs and cruised up the isle on a skateboard. We received many many stares from the local people. We were not on the gringo backpacker trail anymore, our pasty white skin gleamed in the crowd.
We arrived in Moreno, where we were to locate a bus to take us to General Rodriguez. There was a lot of confusion, we finally waited in a line for about 30 minutes to get a ticket, all the while Cassie wisely saying that we probably did not need to stand in line for the ticket. She was right. After wandering around for a few blocks gazing at the multiple bus lines and their various stops, asking several people where the one to Gral Rodriguez was, we loaded onto the bus and noticed people paying change right onboard. We did not know which stop to get off on, so we picked a random one after seeing the city sign and found a taxi to the yoga park.
We walked through the gate onto a beautiful piece of property, with natural buildings, and the massive 100ft tall white dome, covered in green windows created from old wine bottles. We were immediatly attacked by mosquitos, being eaten alive while trying to locate someone to show us around. We met with Takoor, one of the head guys who was dressed in flowy orange shirt and a skirt to boot. We were shown our room, which we were very pleased to find out that we had our own room. Bonus.
|Standing outside of our house for the week|
That evening there was a meditation class and tibetian music therapy which we were invited too. The music therapy was cool, but it was really just them singing to the Krishna dieties. They have an altar set up in the dome where, behind a giant red curtain, three gods are arranged with photographs, candles, jewels, beads, feathers and more. They sing 800 varieties of the same song, ¨Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare¨ But the instruments that they play are very cool and the girls voices are enchanting. We later found out that 5 times a day, the dieties clothing is changed, as well as the positioning of their hands and the items they are holding. They are brought food and tea as an offering. I wonder what happens to all the wasted food.
|looking up from inside the dome|
Meditation was relaxing, we layed on the floor while Takoor describes in detail that our bodies are getting lighter with each breath, eventually turning to liquid and flying around the universe. We see continents, water, waves lapping, then planets, stars, entire galaxies. Once we come back to Earth, we have a variety of mental places that we can visit or see.... Swimming in crystal clear blue waters, feeling the waves push on our skin. Sometimes we are walking through a forest admiring moss dripping from the trees and feeling the texture of the bark. Or sand being pushed up between our toes. Or just focusing on a bright red apple, and its curves and redness. In the background relaxation music was playing and Takoor would add to it with tibetian bowls and chimes. After about 45 minutes of this, we all sit in the generic meditation position and chant things together. ¨Ohm¨, ¨Ohm Shanti Ohm¨¨Ohm Rama Ohm¨ the Hare Krishna song, and to finish ¨Ohm tat sat.¨ The way the dome is designed, the sound reverberates and it is a really cool feeling when everyone sings together. A little cheesy, and I still dont know if I really meditated or anything, but I did feel relaxed afterwards.
|Cassie and I with the Hare Krishna ladies|
The next day we had to wake up at 730 for breakfast, which was usually fruit and tortillas or dry granola. We got the pleasure of meeting Maria, our tiny Bolivian Slave driver, who ran the garden. She was a fiesty little lady, could not have weighed more than 85 pounds, and she showed up to work in all black sweatpants and long sleeve fleece with rubber boots. I was wearing jeans and a tank top and was roasting. I had a good laugh because of her, but she was very serious. Constantly yelling at us in spanish to work faster, hurry up, faster. She would shoot dirty looks at us if we didnt do something just her way. Monday was harvest day, so we started off with an easy few hours. First ripping up palm leaves into strips and then collecting various leafy greans which we tied bunches together with the palm strings. We also harvested Arugula, Lettuce, round squash, zuchinni, cucumbers, eggplant, bell peppers, basil, and several other leafy greans. After collecting an entire row of one particular green, we wrapped them up and then cut the bottoms off to make it look good. I cut my first bunch about half an inch too short, maria shot me a dirty look, ripped it out of my hand and then tossed it into the ditch. She made me pick enough to replace it.
|Slave driver Maria monitoring my harvest technique|
The rest of the workday consisted of endless hoeing and weeding, and more slave driving from Maria. You could either laugh about it or be angry. I chose to be completely amused by her. Sometimes you would be hoeing or weeding and partially done with a row and she would come rip your tool out of your hand and then move you to a completely different project for no apparent reason. She had us weed very poorly, often using a kitchen knife to cut just below the soil to remove the weed, but never the roots. I think I could have done a much better job managing the farm, but if she didnt like efficiency, I was not going to correct her.
Along with all the great volunteers we met along the week, we also met a very, for lack of a better word, interesting guy at the farm named Alex. My first conversation with him went something like this. Me: I would like to work on the cob house sometime this week. Alex: You get dirty working on the house.
hmmmm, ok really? building a straw and mud house you get dirty? Weird. He had a very arrogant demenor, but seemed harmless. He also gave us many of his philosophical insites throughout the day. They were interesting, but he believes that all life is suffering. And he doesnt have a religion, but he worships the three people who he feels have reached the state of highest enlightenment; Jesus Christ, Buddah and, of course, Hare Krishna. This guy was going to make things entertaining around here.
That evening after our snack, Cassie and I were still hungry so we decided to go for a run and pick up some crackers and jam on the way. We decided since we are doing yoga and eating so well and not allowed to drink, we should take full advantage and try and get back into shape since we have not been being very good to ourselves for this vacation. We spent a couple evenings doing ab workouts as well.
The next couple of days were spent in the garden, with similar itineraries, and more slave driving by Maria. We found that Alex, in addition to being a pessimistic, was also very lazy. I could hoe three rows by the time he finished just one, and we would often find him leaning against his tool staring off into space like he was a city worker or something. So, we decided to start him on a point system. Maybe its not very nice, but it made things entertaining for Cassie and I. He often lost points for being lazy, or being arrogant. He gained points for doing our dishes for us (he often did everyone´s for them).
One night we wanted to go to town to use the internet, because the connection at the retreat was extremely slow, and it took 20 minutes just to open my inbox. Alex decided to join us. We walked to the bus station and waited for almost an hour, then got frustrated that it never came. Cassie laughed and suggested we hitchike, and I said, lets go for it. We put out our thumb and the first truck that went by stopped for us. Cassie and I climbed in and Alex jumped in the back. They told us that we should never hitchhike this late (7pm) because it is very dangerous. Then they all belt out a sinister laugh. Cassie and I glanced at each other, but it was too late to get out now, we were flying down the highway towards town. Cassie continued to converse in spanish and when she explained we were from Seattle (closest major city anyways), they asked us to sing some Jimi Hendrix. We performed the shittiest version of Purple Haze I have ever heard. But if they wanted us to sing, I was singing.....
They let us out in town (thankfully!) and we found an internet cafe. Alex sat in a chair and kept pondering about what time we would finish and if we were accomplishing everything we came to do. Lost point. We picked up sorbet and ice cream at the place Alex said was the best. We found out later that the place across the street has the same sizes for half price. Lost point. After rushing to the bus stop because of Alex´s tight schedule he had us on, we ended up waiting for 30 minutes for our bus. Lost point. We at some point were talking about vegan-ism (he is a raw vegan at home, but has completely given it up on vacation) I told him about the bathroom problems I had when I tried some dairy. He told me it was a physical manifestation of my guilt, not that it was rough on my stomach. Lost point.
Walking back down the road, Alex was telling us some story about how he was certified in nutrition and how his family worries when he fasts for a week. He also mentioned something about being certified for helping people to overcome personal problems and mental disorders. I asked him jokingly, "what about gay? Do you know the cure for that, we have one with a real problem here." He answered very seriously, yes. Uh oh, he was about to lose major points with us. He suprised us with his answer: ¨Pabst. Yeah Pabst Blue Ribbon. It the only sure cure for relieving ´the gay.´ If you allow the gay to get close enough to bite you, just pour PBR over the infected area. But make sure its ice cold, or it wont work¨ We almost fell over with laughter and gave him triple points for his humor and thought that he might just have some redeeming qualities after all.
Wednesday night, during our Yoga session, a huge thunderstorm rolled in. It was the most amazing yoga session ever, because of the acoustic properties of the dome, it echoed and boomed with such force you could feel the thunder throughout your whole body. On top of that the rain drops plopping down by the thousands. Rain even seeped in under the door and got some peoples´mats wet during class. I loved it, and ran out into the rain afterwards to enjoy the lightening and got soaking wet within minutes. I felt the refreshment of my yoga and the rain. It really made me miss the northwest. It continued to rain throughout the night, flooding most of the property.
|The volunteers and a few friend attending a yoga retreat|
The next morning, we had a delayed breakfast due to the rain and no work until the afternoon. Finally, it cleared up enough that we were going to work on the house. I was thrilled. Ecstatic even! Alex was angry. We were going to get muddy!
|The house that we helped build|
How to plaster a straw and mud house:
- First, throw a bunch of water on the already soaking wet ground and use a hoe to break up the soil.
- Throw in some straw and keep hoeing.
- Once it is broken up into pieces, remove your shoes and jump around in it for a long time until it is very small chunks of dirt.
- After you have covered the bottom half of your body with mud, use your hands to scoop the mud into a wheelbarrow.
- Add wet sand and more straw to ¨dry out the mixture.¨
- Then dig in with your hands mixing the peanut butter and chocolate looking muck for at least an hour, breaking up all the small chunks of dirt.
- Remove all pieces of glass, metal wire, and other various sharp objects and hazards.
- Give thanks to your doctor for updating you on your tetnus and hepatitus shots.
- Add some ¨less wet¨ mud to dry out the mixture a little more.
- Slap the mosquitos and horseflys biting you and allow mud handprints to cover your face, arms and legs.
- Be forced to listen to Hare Krishna versions of good music.
- Once the mixture is dry and smooth enough, pour ¨sanitized cow manure water¨over a section of the house.
- Thank your parents for paying for your tetnus and hepatitus shots.
- Take a handful of mud and throw it against the wet wall. Splatter yourself and everyone around with mud from the throw.
- Watch half of the mud you worked so hard to create, slurp off the house onto the ground, wasted.
- Get attacked by hundreds of ants, who proceed to bite your foot simultaneously.
- Scream in pain.
- Get angry at the ants and throw handfuls of mud at their ant house.
- Watch it not phase them. Throw more mud and yell at the ants.
- Feel better even though you wasted your hard work on trying to take revenge on ants
- Wave a white flag and move to another area where the pissed ants are not.
- Use all the mud mixed in about 15 minutes, and then start the whole process over again, mixing for 2 hours.
- At the end of the day, start throwing mud from 10 feet back, gaining points for making it through a window and onto the floor inside the house.
- Take a group photo.
|Throwing mud, building houses!|
Friday, we were back in the garden taking orders from drill sergeant Maria. Cassie went on a run and was attacked by mosquitoes and nearly was bitten by a pack of dogs. We were both over the bugs and decided that we would leave the next morning. I have never had so many bug bites in my life. We had really enjoyed our stay, but we were off to do some exploring. We had been asking around, trying decide between going to Uruguay and going to Northwestern Argentina. Everyone said NW Argentina was gorgeous and Uruguay was incredibly boring. AKA: dont go there, that place sucks. So, of course, we booked our ferry to Uruguay.
|And were off!|
In case you were wondering, when we left, Alex had -37 points.