Nestled in between the two very quaint and humble towns of Verónica and Punta Indio, I spent a month living on a small farm in a house built entirely out of adobe mud on a work exchange program through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WOOF). Surrounded by a bright green landscape, spotted with sporadic trees, shrubs and wildflowers and home to neighboring cows and horses, the property didn’t take long to fall in love with. I had come to live in this small town in the middle of nowhere, Argentina, for a life change. When Buenos Aires proved to embody a much more modern and progressive scene than I had in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find, upon my arrival to the little town of Verónica, the exact atmosphere and simple lifestyle I had come to South America in search of. A few hours outside of Buenos Aires, Verónica holds a magical, small town vibe and it is impossible to walk through town without saying hello to everyone–including complete strangers. Men and women looking to be well into their seventies or even eighties pass by on bicycles carrying their daily bags of groceries from local specialty shops and children looking to be as young as seven or eight walk through the streets without the need of parental supervision in a relatively safe town where everybody knows everybody. It took but a few days for me to learn how to navigate my way around Verónica, selling homemade bread baked fresh on the farm every morning; offering the delicious and still warm “pan casero con semillas” to locals around town for only 20 pesos (about $2.00 US.) It wasn’t long before I began to feel at home and like another local because of the warm and welcoming vibe Verónica emits. It also helps when you stand out like a sore thumb and people are interested in who you are and where you are from the moment you utter a word in Spanish that immediately pin points you as a foreigner.
Verónica and the local people most certainly enhanced this experience, but the life itself I began to live there on the farm had been exactly what I wanted, and even more so, exactly what I needed. I stayed with an Argentine man named Cesar who left his big city life five years ago to start completely from scratch and build from the ground up, literally, on a small plot of land on the outskirts of Verónica. The small piece of land that Cesar has come to call home stands out among the cow pastures that span beyond his fence line. The house he built completely out of an adobe mixture of mud, sand, wood, hay, cow manure, and speckled with glass bottles and windows, stands strong within the long grass booming with life and color surrounding it. He has worked hard over the past half decade to get this farm to be where it is today, bringing life to his home with small trees, wildflowers and grasses, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Everything continued to remain small during my time on the farm, awaiting the arrival of the warm sun brought in with the summer season.
The well-constructed house was rather large with a total of five rooms including a bathroom with a dry toilet and shower with running water (kind of). The house was very simple, yet extremely cozy and completely natural. Just like any other modern home, it came equip with a refrigerator, gas stove, running water pumped from the ground, and even an internet connection. However, everything about this house was as simple as life gets down to the unmatching dishes, the wobbly kitchen table, and the room that held the kitchen, my bedroom, the dining room, Cesar’s closet, and the computer all in one. The windows were held up by sticks wedged in between the side of the house and the window frame, the gas stove with only one working burner was fed by a propane tank that needed to be turned on and off in the other room, and water was pumped each night to fill the containers for the sink, shower, and garden hose.
Everything was very simple; however, it was simply perfect. As I sat outside originally documenting my experience in my journal, leaning against the side of the house, posted up under the shade to escape the summer sun, with the cute cat named Puma cuddled on my lap, looking at my beautiful surroundings, and the cool summer breeze smacking me right in the face with the perfect temperature, I couldn’t help but wonder how anything else could paint a picture of such perfection. It was pure bliss stemming from pure simplicity. But don’t be fooled, living the simple life is much more difficult than it seems and Cesar works very hard day in and day out to achieve such tremendous results.
It was not just the town and the natural surroundings that made my time living in Verónica so memorable. I must say that a majority of what made my time there so special was thanks to my new companion and wonderful WOOFing host, Cesar. A dashing Argentine man in his early thirties, with the witty sense of humor and playfulness of a college kid and the intelligence and wisdom of an elderly man, Cesar has become one of the most influential beings that has ever come into my life. He was the first of the many people sharing similar living styles and mentalities I would come across in my travels around South America who would serve as vital inspirations on this new life journey in which I am currently embarking. He was the exact person I needed to get my life on the track I was hoping for. We ate mostly vegan–consuming fresh fruits and vegetables every day and mixing it up with rice, beans, lentils, oatmeal, and fresh bread–and getting our fair share of exercise doing various tasks around the farm each day. We were up at the crack of dawn and the day wasn’t over until our final Tai Chi lesson and late night music session at 10 or 11 pm. For the first time in a while, I was experiencing a full day. No longer was I sleeping in until noon, taking caffeine to keep myself awake and functioning, consuming alcohol, eating unhealthy, and sitting behind a computer or phone screen for a good part of my day. I was experiencing life in the fullest for the first time in a while. Maybe ever. And I felt great. I felt healthy.
However, it was not just the dramatic lifestyle change that Cesar had brought into my life, it was the simple gratification that came from a successful day of selling bread or the end of a long day’s work. It was the being in the company of another person and not a television screen or some other electronic device; sharing a mate over the magical sunset that spanned across the fields of green surrounding the house each night. But of the million and one amazing things this lifestyle had influenced upon me, I have to say, the best things it had brought was the positive energy and the constant learning. And of the many things Cesar had taught me from making a bomb homemade bread, to building an entire house constructed out of mud, to speaking Spanish, to permaculture, to politics, music, and culture…the most important lesson he had worked so hard to embed deeply into my brain was that “Life is Reggae”. A phrase he coined from another WOOFer, he used this statement to remind me that life is great whenever I was in any negative state of mind. When he saw me sad, angry, anxious, or frustrated, he just uttered that “Life is Reggae,” as a friendly reminder that everything was alright. We spent a majority of our time listening to the motivational words of reggae musicians that emphasize the importance of healthy living and respect for life. Throughout my life, I have come across many people that preach one thing or another, but do not necessarily act on their words–including myself from time to time. But Cesar fully practiced what he preached and was able to inspire me to want to do the same. I had had all these ideas and plans for myself for a long time: I would exercise regularly, wake up early, read my books, write in my journal, meditate, do more yoga, and, most importantly, I would practice what I preach. One of the major goals of my trip to South America is to work on myself; grow as a person. At 23, I am proud to say that I am very comfortable in my own skin, I am happy with the person I’ve become and extremely satisfied with the life path I have chosen to live thus far. But naturally, there are some things that need work, and changing oneself is not exactly the easiest process. I would like to have more patience, more control over my attitude, be more go-with-the-flow, more open-minded, and less opinionated. I found that changing the inner self is not just a mental process, but a physical too. Each long day of work at the farm, each time I did Tai Chi, each full night’s rest independent of needing marijuana to make me sleep, and with each healthy meal, I could feel the differences in my attitude and mentality. I had more natural energy, more motivation, and was able to stay more positive in frustrating situations. Life was just more reggae.
The dramatic lifestyle change that immediately influenced me the moment I stepped onto that farm and Cesar stepped into my life, brought about a whole new me. The me I had been wanting to be, but was too scared to make the change. Although a month was most certainly not enough time to change me completely as a person, it served as a rude awakening to the lifestyle I was living and the poor choices I was making. It opened a new door that proved exactly what I had always known; that if I actually lived the lifestyle I wanted to and actively practiced this alternative way of living (eating healthy, exercising, working on my mental and spiritual being), I would most definitely be a happier person inside and out. But this is a long journey, as overcoming the temptations and freedom of choice has proved to be extremely difficult even after leaving the farm. But I realized that when I am fully ready to commit to this lifestyle, it is there waiting for me with open arms, and so is the feeling it creates inside. I’m of course still working on it like I have been for years and even more so now. However, living on that farm and the influences of Cesar were an inspiration and served as a fundamental learning experience. I try now to take each day one day at a time and remind myself that “life is reggae” because in all honesty, it is.
I was sad to leave the farm after one month, but it was the perfect first stop for my journey across South America.