The cab driver helped me put my backpack on, then extended his finger down the dirt road in front of us. We had already been driving down unmarked, unmaintained dirt roads for about 20 minutes. I had no idea if I was in the right place, partially because I was unsure If my communication was correct, and partially because there were no signs anywhere. By this time it was pitch black, with thick bush on either side and above. Luckily I had a head lamp for light. I headed down the road with a full pack, a small day pack over my belly, and my purse, stocked full of groceries and my essentials, thrown over one shoulder. I walked down towards the river and saw a road crowded with cars, several of them had been there for a long time, with broken windows and blackberries growing over their sides. I passed a house on the right with lights and people outside eating dinner. I knew that this was not the place, where I was going there would be no electricity. It did give me a sense of security knowing that at least there were people in the area. Up ahead, I saw my first good sign, a suspension bridge over the river. The directions I had been given were very vauge, ¨ Take a bus to Ex-Camping Doña Rosa, go down the road to the left, pass two suspension bridges (do not cross) and follow the river edge 400m.¨ I had taken a taxi because the busses were not running this late in the evening. Immediately afterwards the second bridge appeared, and I was thankfull I would not be crossing it, for it was missing several boards and swaying to and fro as if it would fall into the river below at any time. A gate appeared and on the left side, a sign saying in both english and spanish, please close the gate. Upon further inspection, another sign on the right ¨Granja Valle Pintada.¨ I had arrived. At least I thought so.
Nobody had been expecting me at the farm, because I decided last minute to suprise my friend Cassie, who had been working there for the previous 3 weeks. I took a 20 hour bus from Mendoza to Bariloche, our determined meeting point, and when I got off the bus, I stepped right back onto another bus, thinking how cool it would be to see Cassie´s face when she was not expecting me. The bus from Bariloche to El Bolsen was the most beautiful scenery I have seen so far on my long bus rides. Gorgeous ragged mountain peaks, with pristine lakes and rivers around every bend. AND TREES!!! TREEEES! I havent seen a forest since I left the Northwest, and had I ever missed them. The opening sentance in my lonely planet book in regards to El Bolson says ¨Hippies rejoice.... there is a place for you in Argentina¨ So of course I had to visit. When I arrived in the town, I didnt have a clue where to go, so I ran to the internet cafe and looked up the directions Cassie had sent a while back in case I ever made it down there. Then I found a Remise (Argentinian for taxi) and was on my way. The taxi took me out of the city, up a large hill and back down the other side into a darkened valley. I knew if I didnt find my way to the farm, there would be no way for me to call for a return ride, and there would be no finding my way back to town in the dark.
After crossing the gate, I was sure to follow the instructions, shutting it behind me. Immediatly afterwards, the road dissapeared, it had been swallowed by the river, and all that remained was an overhanging foot path which then continued along the rivers edge. I walked and walked. The path diverged several times, and after walking each direction I stayed towards the river egde, as it was the better worn path each time. After 15 minutes, I thought I should have arrived, I turned off my headlamp and listened. All I heard was the gurgling from Rio Azul. I could see some lights reflecting off the water from a house across the river, as well as some moonlight. Other then that, there was no sign of people or a farm anywhere. So I kept walking, probably for a few miles. By this time, I was drenched in sweat and finally starting to worry a little. There was no light from nearby settlements. Luckily I have had experience hiking in the dark, so I had been very calm and collected up until this point. Again, I turned off my headlamp, and heard and saw nothing. I decided to turn around, and thought as a last resort, I could camp near the gate and try and find Cassie when the light came up in the morning. I was getting a little nervous. So nervous I thought I could hear my own heart beating. Thumping. No, it couldnt be, there was no way my heart could make such rythms. No, it wasnt my heart. DRUMS!!! yay! I could hear drums. They were faint, and I could not tell the exact direction, but I knew that they were behind me. I had walked way to far. After walking for a while, getting closer to the noise, I saw a light swinging up ahead down the path.
I thought to myself, ok I am either saved or about to get brutally raped and murdered by some strange Argentinian. I quickened my pace and met with the guy carrying the light. He was scraggly, dirty, dark skinned, with a untrimmed beard. Also, he was wearing a patterned skirt. A hippie! Yay! I asked him in very poor spanish, I am sure looking sad, sweaty and desperate at this point, ¨DondAy la Casa A Granja Vayyle Pintaddo?¨ He replied, in English, ¨Oh, Alex´s house? Right this way¨ I followed him down a path that I had earlier dismissed, and found a group of people sitting around a fire beating drums, playing flutes and guitars. I instantly recognized Cassie from the back, and I quickly asked a person next to her for reassurance, then grabbed her and shouted her name. She flipped around, gave me a good look, not instantly recognizing me, and then jumped and we hugged so hard we fell over to the ground. She was surely suprised, and had no idea that I was coming.
Alex, the owner of the farm, was having a birthday celebration that night, so we continued to have music, frenet, wine and cake around the fire for several hours. Cassie informed me that this was the most people she had ever seen at the farm. Usually the population consisting of Alex and a few volunteers. There were around 50 people there that evening. The scene was surreal, like being back in Bellingham during my college days, with hippies galore. Barefoot, dirty, funky, and oh sooo happy! I felt right at home, even though I could communicate with very few people. At one point, I even grabbed a guitar and sung in front of the whole group. I know, me, performing, without cohersion. wierd. Hey, when in Argentina. No one knew the songs I performed, but once I sung the chorus, they tried to follow everytime afterwards. Also the flute player came up right in my face, a little too close and freestyled to some mazzy star that I was playing. It was a great night. After so long on a bus, I was extremely happy ¨to be flat¨ and slept like a rock out in a small cabana.
The farm is a beautiful place, the next morning I walked around and looked at all the outbuildings. Everything is constructed naturally. A raised outhouse complete with a composting toilet, a three walled, outdoor shower, complete with running hot and cold water. An outdoor sink. Also, an indoor kitchen area. They had just completed a natural building workshop and had built a woodfire stove inside. The main kitchen area is a straw/adobe construction, with misshaped windows created from old wine bottles and misshaped pieces of clear glass. The plaster had not been completed entirely, but they were planning another couple of workshops regarding plaster and paint making. People actually pay them to come and work on there property. What a great idea. The couple that ran the workshops (Alex´s brother and his girlfriend) travel all over the world doing similar things and are actually coming to the seattle area this August. (Check out www.firespeaking.com for more info) I am only plugging their website because they are incredible people, even though I only met them for a short time, I am sure of this.
On the farm, in addition to the workshops, they grow veggies of all sorts. Alex started the first CSA for the area, which is a very revolutionary idea in Argentina. They alo have chickens, geese, cows, and of couse dogs and cats. It was a bittersweet goodbye for Cassie, and she said her goodbyes. Lucky for us, a lady who came out for the party gave us a ride into town. We then found a campground for the night and checked out the city, which she had actually spent very little time in. There was a super cute, art and craft fair that we wandered through, and the community lives up to lonely planet´s description. I have dubbed EL Bolson, Belligham of Argentina. It is a relativly small town, we stopped for lunch, and sorbet, meeting up with a few of Cassie´s friends from the farm again in town. After a loooong Yerba mate break, where everyone sits around a table, drinking mate from the same cup in a metal straw that also functions as a filter. Everyone has several cups before the break is complete. We cooked dinner back at our campground. I decided that I would stay behind while she went back to hang out with her friends. None of them spoke english, and while they seemed like great people, I had had the ¨deer in headlights¨ feeling all day trying to keep up with conversation. I stayed in the tent doing some reading and catching up with writing in my journal.
The next day, we enjoyed the city park, basked in the sunshine, and enjoyed some more sorbet before getting on our bus later that evening. We woke up a little too late to go on a hike, but enjoyed the bueno onda (good vibe) of the city nonetheless. We would be heading to the east coast, to Puerto Madryn and then Puerto Pyramid. One mission in mind: Penguins.
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