Life is Reggae

 

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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.)lo11 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.

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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.

lo1However, 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.

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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.

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Why I Cut Off All My Hair

         No, it wasn’t some crazy Britney Spears stunt or a moment of weakness when losing my mind. It most certainly was not because I thought it was a cute look for me or that I was sick of having long hair. And it was not because I needed some kind of dramatic change in my life. Well, I needed some dramatic change, but chopping off all my hair was not the answer to satisfy that desire. However, hopping on a plane to move to South America for an open-ended trip filled with spontaneity and adventure, living out of a backpack, most certainly was. And this is why I made the decision to take the hair that I had spent over a decade of my life growing out all the way down to my belly-button and chop it off into a crew cut.

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Before

              As much as I absolutely loved my hair and the beautiful ringlets that formed naturally at the bottom, I have traveled with my long hair before and it was quite the challenge. When you’re backpacking and being put in situations where you cannot shower for multiple days at a time, having hair that goes from lovely natural, curls immediately to dreads is obviously not ideal. Day one is always fine, but day two and three’s side braid that gets turned into day four’s awkward and nasty bun sitting on top of my head in one giant knot, made for the most inconvenient traveling. Not to mention the weight of the products and devices necessary to keep my hair looking decent and styled once in a while added into a backpack already overflowing with things I need to survive relatively comfortably. Even just the minor subtraction of the large amounts of hair conditioner and detangler that was imperative to my travels in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand have already made this traveling experience just that much easier and my backpack just that much lighter. Sitting and trying to comb out layers and layers of dreads and knots that have turned your hair into one massive mess with pounds of conditioner in the shower after four days of not showering is not a pleasant experience. It is also super time consuming, requires a large amount of relatively expensive and toxic hair products and a lot of hair comes out in the process. Now add in the straightener and blow dryer I had required to be able to go out in public and all the little hair clips and hair ties that were always a total day-ruiner to lose or break while traveling and embarking on adventures, and cutting off all my hair was beginning to look more and more appealing. Because if you are not a person with long hair, then it may be hard to understand the pain and annoyance that losing your last hair tie can cause when you’re attempting to climb up a mountain in 100 degree weather or trying to keep your hair contained after exposing it to salt water while scuba diving 30 meters deep. And when improvising proves impossible, hair ties can make or break an overall experience. But it was more or less the showering situations I had come across while traveling that really pushed me to make the cut. Sometimes I wasn’t able to shower at all or had to use a water bottle or a cup to wash my entire body with. And having curly, frizzy hair all the way down the length of my back does not prove easy with a small cup of water being poured over your head. Time was also an issue. My showers frequently lasted a minimum of 15-20 minutes because of all the maintenance my hair required and I envied my short-haired friends that took 5 minute showers. When you’re backpacking and staying at either hostels where you’re sharing a shower space or even just couchsurfing on a generous stranger’s couch, time is of the essence and taking a quicker shower can make even the smallest difference when trying to respect the space you’re sharing with others. In addition to be considerate of others, saving water is of course a huge passion of mine and any minutes I can save myself in the shower is beneficial to the world at large.

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After

                And now here I am, a few days after cutting off all my hair, still trying to convince myself it was the best decision for the backpacking adventure I have just started. It has already proved itself to be much more convenient, despite the fact that I still feel like I’m looking at a complete stranger in the mirror. It may not be the best look for me and I obviously miss the long hair which I loved so dearly, but if traveling has taught me anything, it’s that sacrifices have to be made sometimes. If I wanted to go through what I had gone through the last time around just to look cuter when I happened to be around a shower, blow dyer, straightener, and mirror, then I could have suffered the other days spent in transit, on a farm with no bathroom or running water, or sleeping in a tent hiking the Torres Del Paine. But it seemed silly to put looks over convenience. It took guts and I may have teared up a little watching my hair being hacked off, but I know I won’t regret it next week when I’m living on a farm in the middle of nowhere, using a water bottle to wash the mud out of my hair. In fact, I will probably thank myself for being so brave, even if I may not look all that cute pulling weeds out of the ground or constructing adobe buildings out of mud.