Don’t cry for me, Argentina, I’ll be back soon!

Navarro, Argentina

Ever since I was a little girl and saw the musical “Evita” for the first time – a shockingly inappropriate film for a couple of 11-year-old girls to watch in the theater alone – I have dreamed of visiting Argentina.

I was ecstatic when my mom revealed to me that we’d be on a farm in Argentina for a week as part of our trip, and I definitely was not disappointed by the time we spent there. After our short two day visit in Cochabamba and Cliza, we flew to Buenos Aires to complete the final leg of our South American tour at the Gaia Ecovillage in Navarro, Argentina.

Gaia Ecovillage is unlike any farm that I have ever seen: nestled within a large cluster of trees, the farm consists of a few small hut-style cabins used for lodging, a cook house with a dining room, a seed bank and a large classroom for Gaia’s various workshops.

Each of the buildings are built from a mixture of mud and straw, topped off with reed roofs. Though they all have relatively standard windows and doors, many also have recycled bottles nestled into the walls to let an extra burst of colorful light filter into the rooms. Despite the heat of Argentina’s summer, the huts remain fairly cool well into the afternoon, and the roofs remain watertight when it rains.

Low-powered LED lighting is used instead of traditional light bulbs, solar panels are the sole source of electricity, solar-heated water tanks provide the hot water for showers, and all of the bathrooms are completed by composting toilets, which do not require the use of water. These features allow the huts at Gaia Ecovillage to be entirely self-sustaining.

Surrounding each of the huts at Gaia are various forms of vegetation in both wild form and cultivated garden patches. During our visit the following crops were in season: tomatoes, kale, lettuce, cabbage, Swiss chard and arugula.

During the service learning portion of my stay at Gaia, I cleared brush from one field and brought it over to the fruit tree groves to help lock in the moisture underneath the saplings. I primarily worked with the fig and peach tree saplings, but there were also pear or quince trees on the property (they were kind of small, so I couldn't quite tell what type of fruit it was).

In addition to the farm work, I worked in the kitchen every day. All of the meals at Gaia are vegetarian, and most of the dishes are vegan. I was unfortunately on onion duty for almost every meal – the 30+ onions that I was cutting in each go made me and my burning eyes never want to eat an onion ever again.

After the first couple of days on onion duty, the women in the kitchen all gave me tips in how to keep myself from crying. One woman lit a candle for me, and another brought me a bowl of cold water to rinse my hands and knife with between onions. These tips actually worked lessened the onion-cutting-burden off of my shoulders.

Not the best photo or the best angle, but this is proof of one of my many onion-cutting days. Luckily you can't see my tear-covered face in this shot. Photo by Lorraine Kahneratokwas Gray

Being the coffee addict that I am, I should prepare for the worst whenever I travel by bringing a French press and several pounds of coffee grounds wherever I go (even if it is only a day trip). Being the ill-prepared idiot that I am (and wanting to pack light on the trip), I did not do this and suffered as a result. There was not any coffee at Gaia, nor was there a conveniently located, countryside café located anywhere near the farm.

Waking up at 7 a.m. every day to do farm work and not being able to eat dinner and go to bed until after 9 p.m. is pretty brutal without coffee. Next time I am going to pack as if I am going on a post-apocalyptic, spelunking excursion in a scenario in which whatever coffee is in my suitcase will be all that I can consume for the rest of my life.

Aside from missing coffee and my uncontrollable (and unfulfilled) cravings for chocolate, being totally restricted to a vegetarian/mostly vegan diet wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I have struggled over the past few years with attempting to go totally vegetarian, but as soon as I smell bacon I cave.

Maybe going back to Gaia on more of a long-term basis will be the catalyst that I need to end my carnivorous ways?

One of the fruit trees on the property of Gaia Ecovillage. Photo by Lauren J. Mapp

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