If you read the last blog you will know that we have taken a temporary hiatus from cycle touring and are currently helping out on a rural farm just off the Carretera Austral. This latest blog is a bit different to those we’ve written previously as we have no stories or photos from the road but what we do have to share are new respect and understanding for life here in rural Chilean Patagonia.
Workaway is a voluntary programme, similar to WWOOFing, where in exchange for around six hours of help per day, you get a place to stay and some food supplies. It is also a cultural exchange, discovering how other people live and contributing your time in a meaningful way. After randomly seeing the Workaway website advertised on Facebook and then meeting other travellers who had also done Workaways (it gets used as a verb, to workaway) we looked at the options for doing one along the Carretera. We managed to find a workaway that sounded perfect. It’s on a rural farm, off the grid (no electric or internet), they have children so Steph can use her teaching skills and they need help with manual labour jobs which Ben enjoys doing too. This place sounded perfect for us and so after a number of WhatsApp messages we arrived at the farm at the beginning of December ready to help out.
One of the many benefits here is that we have our very own cabin, which after a couple of months of living on the road feels like the best thing my ever! It has four walls, a sealed roof and all its windows, plus a real double bed. It’s been nice to have a proper base for a while and we’ve made it feel like home. Not having to pack everything up each day and try to figure out the best way to carry things (such as jam which comes in a squeezy non resealable bag or the 800g bag of vanilla biscuits that come in a large bag) is a luxury too. Ben was most excited about having an oven, albeit a wood burning one, but he has succeeded in baking bread and welsh cakes several times.
This brings us onto one of the most important subjects: food! A lot of our photos have been of the tasty food we have cooked since being here and we have definitely been eating well. We’ve taken this opportunity to replace a lot of the calories, vitamins and minerals that we were lacking on the road too, as it’s actually possible to cook more varied meals on a real stove. We have embraced cooking in bulk again, like at home, making a huge chilli and eating it with different things each day for a few days. It makes coming back from the afternoon’s work way quicker and involves less faff. What does take a bit longer though is having a shower as it too relies on a separate wood burner to heat the water. When we have had enough time and energy to light a fire though the shower has been much warmer than most of the paid-for campsite showers.
So what does a day on the farm look like for each of us? Totally different is the answer!
(Steph) I am kept busy with the children, either teaching English in the morning or looking after the two younger children so that the others can do homeschooling without being disturbed. It’s really good because I can use my teaching skills when I am doing English speaking and writing practise, something I really enjoy doing especially as I can tailor it to whatever the children are interested in doing. Similarly when I am with the two pre-school age children I am able to use what I learnt whilst working at a forest school nursery, which is great because they all love being outside, getting muddy and we have lots of space to explore and animals to see. My afternoons vary depending on the weather and what the children want (or need) to do. Playing down at the river is always fun, laundry and tidying up is something that always needs doing (I like tidying up and being organised so I don’t mind this at all!) and generally just being with the children. It has been really good fun and there is never a dull moment.
(Ben) I don’t really have a set routine at all, we do whatever needs doing. One of the jobs I’ve spent a lot of time doing is gathering firewood. Sounds simple, but it involves sawing up one of the many dead trees into manageable slices, splitting the slices into blocks, and then transporting those blocks back to the wood piles near the house. The terrain here is very hilly so progress can be quite slow. Another project of mine had been to repair all of the kids’ bikes! That’s been fun and seeing them crazy excited about being able to ride again was great. Other odd jobs have included repairing the driveway, fixing a couple of the sheds and fences, milking the cows, and as of a couple of days ago we have started building a new shed to store the huge amounts of firewood the family uses! So it’s been varied and interesting, there is always something that needs doing.
The past two weeks off the bike have been really worthwhile and an insight into what life is like here in Patagonia. We’ve learned about a totally different way of living, being out in such a rural location with none of the modern conveniences that we are all used to in our homes and this is exactly what we were hoping for. Even on the bikes we found places to use the internet and charge devices more often than this! There are plenty of other ways to entertain ourselves though.
Our time here has also made us appreciate the full force of Patagonian weather a lot more too, as the one day of rain we have had so far was enough to raise the river that flows below the house by about a metre. We were temporarily marooned on the farm as the river was made impassable by car. By the evening it had reached its peak and we could hear boulders being bounced along the river bed, initially mistaking the noise for thunder! Like Hebden Bridge the river recedes as quick as it rises which was lucky because we were invited to their friend’s house for a bbq the next day and it turned out to be an awesome afternoon and meal. Imagining what it is like here in winter is nigh on impossible. They said that this wet weather is more what it’s like for 9 months of the year but with lower temperatures, snow and wind thrown in too. Sounds like we’ve been super lucky with the time that we chose to come here.
Our experience so far has been really worthwhile. The family are all really lovely, making us feel welcome in their home while also providing us with a space to call our own that makes our downtime very relaxing. It took a few days to get to know all of the children but since then they have been a lot of fun. It’s been nice to be able to spend longer in a region we both love while also helping out a family and sharing in their culture. We have ten more days left here to see what else we can learn and help with!
Until next time (…we have internet),
Steph and Ben
If you want to do any volunteer work we’d thoroughly recommend using Workaway to find opportunities all over the world. It’s safe, cheap and great fun. Use our link HERE and sign up today!