I was undecided on how to proceed in life and resolved to substitute spiralling brain bashing with the endless plains of Patagonia. Not only a place to find consolations in a downturn it is also a place of ravishing history and tradition. Antoine, the French-born ranch owner I was working for had all that comes with the stationary soul-seeker archetype one imagines finally ends up at the very end of the world, no more illusions to be chased and cheap land to be bought. I found him through WWOOF, an organization that offers volunteer opportunities on farms all over the world – most of their farms are organic with close ties to the local community, WWOOF farmers usually sustain life through small scale farming and selling arts and crafts in town. The icy steel of Antoine’s gaze was not set on the table in front of him, but addictedly fixed to the horizon, the colt in his belt lining a constant reminder that we were ploughing the land of the Sundance Kid. I never saw the Sunday market, and the closest I got to arts and crafts was when I patched together that one pair of denim I came to treasure as my own flesh. The uneasy restlessness I had felt in that other so abiding world of the West was shot dead and trampled down by the wild herds of llamas that migrate on these endless steppes. Working with my bare hands, escaping the sedating luxury of technology and convenience saw me not only discover some of the most beautiful landscapes of what truly is a New World, but crossing the desolate and untraveled Pampas, I also galloped through the unexplored lands within.
I lived in Santa Cruz province in Argentina for three months, doing all sorts of jobs, sometimes accompanied by nothing but the starriest skies of the world and what you are telling yourself is not a puma but the distant sound of an American V8. There are so many ranches that have a bed and a horse for you if you wholeheartedly chip in. Check out WWOOFs homepage and get lookin’! The membership fee is almost symbolic and goes to a collective cause. Gauchos are stubborn but welcoming and always ready to share a mate of mate and their all-remedious humour with you. Although I strongly recommend staying for some time and working, ranch owners usually encourage you to spend at least two weeks with them before packing up. Are you only passing through Antoine and the neighbouring ranch owners also offer to take you around on horse back for up to weeklong trips at a set fee.
Quickest way to get there is by plane, other options being the sleeper bus (where the options are many and although slow, it is comfortable). Airfares are not appalling and Aerolineas Argetinas and LADE are good options. To get to Gobernador Gregores, do as I did. Fly to Rio Gallegos, hop on the bus towards El Bolsón and wake up happy in Gregores about 8 hours later. Taxis are available from the bus station if you need to be taken out to any of the farms. Taxi drivers know the surrounding ranch owners by name, but out of courtesy I advise you to contact them before hand. Spanish is not a must, but you may at times feel panicky without it.
Marc Antoine Calonne of Estancia Santa Thelma
World Wide Opportunites on Organic Farms
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