10 Days Working on a Finca in Mendoza, Argentina

October 26 to November 4, 2015

After the 20-hour bus ride we had to take another 2-hour bus to Tupungato.  After we arrived to the dinky bus station of Tupungato we had to find our way to the farm where we would be calling home for the next week and a half.  We walk around trying to find a local map but failed.  We finally figured our way and walked another 45 minutes with our daypacks, backpacks, and food bags.  We arrived 15 minutes after the last ray of light faded into the night sky.  We walked cautiously up the long dirt road to a lit up farmhouse.

The road leading to our farm.  A brief walkthrough in our farm in Tupungato, Argentina (click to view video)

Our farmhouse in Tupungato, Argentina

Orlando was standing outside in the front waiting to great us.  We explained how we’d been traveling for the last 23 hours and were sorry for coming so late.  He didn’t seem to care.  He is such a great guy!  He showed us to our room, then to the bathroom and then the kitchen.  He said that we should make ourselves a home and showed us where he kept various food items.  He picked up a 5 gallon bin of walnuts still in their shells and started to crack a few for us.

There were 4 other people at the house when we arrived—Orlando’s nephew and his nephew’s friend along with Katie and Sean.  Katie and Sean are both working on the farm.  Katie is from Florida, but she’s been in Argentina for almost a year.  She worked in Buenos Aires for 9+ months prior to coming to work here.  She’s only been working here for the last 2 weeks and leaves sometime in the next several days.  Sean is from Ireland and has been traveling for a while.  He’s done workaways in Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina prior to coming here.  He arrived only several days ago but plans to work until the middle of December before moving on with his travels.  He said he plans to travel for another year, maybe longer if he can.

The view from inside our room in the farmhouse in Tupungato, Argentina

Other people slowly started coming over the house to drink and socialize.  The nephew’s friend was preparing food for dinner.  He said we would eat around 11pm.  By the time we ate it was midnight and there were 12 of us—friend of friends, that sort of thing.  Everyone was so friendly and Sylvie and I felt right at home.  We instantly felt that we had made the right choice in coming to work here.  We drank Malbec and Budweiser while we ate our very first Argentine Asada—grilled vegetables served with various cuts of grilled meats/sausages.  We stuffed ourselves.  TO our surprise we had ‘postre’, AKA dessert, Ice-cream cake!  Sylvie and I ended up calling it a night a bit after 1am.  Orlando told us not to worry about waking up early and that we can start around 10 if we wanted.

We enjoy our first Asado in Tupungato, Argentina

We enjoy our first Asado in Tupungato, Argentina

Our room had two twin beds and one electrical outlet, which did not work.  The four of us, the volunteers, shared the farmhouse while Orlando lived in a nice house in town.  The shared bathroom had a unique way of providing hot water for the showers.  We had to plug in an appliance, which heated a small reservoir above our heads.  When we turned on the water the heated water was decanted like a watering can.  Interestingly enough Sean and Orlando had begun constructed an adobe-insulated reservoir to supply the bathroom with hot water—a very primitive but effective way to supply hot water to the house.  The only supply of water for the house is in the bathroom.  There is one waterspout outside the house that supplies potable water and two hoses nearby.  One hose leads to the garden and the other to the outdoor kitchen sink.

Our bedroom in our farmhouse in Tupungato, Argentina

Our kitchen in our farmhouse in Tupungato, Argentina

Our bathroom in our farmhouse in Tupungato, Argentina

Sylvie and I ended up sleeping in past 9, a feat not yet accomplished on this trip.  We ate breakfast with the others.  Sylvie and Katie were going into the pueblo to sell small plants for 3 pesos each.  Sean and Orlando went into the town to help set up.  I stayed back and weeded between several rows of trees.  After I developed my first blister I went inside and put on my alpaca gloves.  Orlando and Sean returned after 1.5 hours and I was relieved to take a break from the hard work.  Sean took over weeding and I was given the task to make lunch for the 4 of us.  I spent the next 2+ hours preparing a glorious meal.

I made the following:

  • Garlic bread
  • Pasta (with parsley, garlic, cheese, and other various seasonings
  • Salad(with arugula, red leafed lettuce, broccoli, hard boiled eggs, and a Balsamic vinegar)
  • Iced tea with lemon wedges

Where we ate lunch and took siesta in Tupungato, Argentina

I hand picked the garlic, parsley, and both types of lettuces.  The eggs were from the chickens on our farm.  It took a while cleaning the dirt off of the vegetables.  I had to boil water to make the tea and then cool it down enough before lunchtime.  The others were extremely impressed with the lunch and it made me feel great…I had put a lot of work into it!

Sylvie and Katie selling plants in the Pueblo

The lunch I made for the volunteers the first day in Tupungato, Argentina

A portion of our farm in Tupungato, Argentina

Sylvie and I plan to do quite a few more workaways during our travels.  I have even been considering spending an extended time on 1 or 2 of them…maybe a month or more?  I’ve come to learn that putting an end time on a trip, such as 12 months, is counterintuitive to the intention of the voyage.  What is the rush to get back?  It’s not as if I’m on a vacation and need to get back to my job.  This is my, our, life now and we are going to continue to experience all that life has to offer and be in the moment as best we can.

Sylvie and I took a nice walk around the farm after lunch during our siesta.  I showed her all the land I cleared and told her about how the large birds would try to attack me to protect their nests and eggs.  When they started to attack us we turned around and walked in a different.  We walked past the huge weeping willow tree that Orlando’s grandfather had planted.  I am going to try to go into town tonight and buy some of the wine that the grapes from this vineyard produced.

After our siesta Sylvie and I learned how to drive the tractor—it was harder than it looked.  Afterwards we tilled some more of the land.  Later we helped to build an adobe water-heater insulator.  We mixed dirt with water and used our hands as tools.  It was extremely messy!

We learn how to ride a tractor in Tupungato, Argentina

Sylvie learns how to drive a tractor on a farm in Tupungato, Argentina (click to view video)

We use mud to build an insulator for a hot water tank. Now it only takes 30 minutes of fire building to get 10 minutes of warm shower water. (click to view video)

We had tea with Orlando’s nephew and a couple of his friends under the sukkah that a couple of previous workaway volunteers had built.  Around 6:30 Sylvie and I walked into town to pick up some groceries for the week.  We each got an ice-cream cone during our shopping spree.  We made it back to the house 3 hours later—it was over a 40-minute walk to get to the supermarket from the house.

Sylvie was tired and wanted to go to sleep but we found out that Orlando had invited his family over to celebrate with us.  Katie was leaving the following day and he wanted to have a going away party.  He arrived just before 10:30 with his wife.  Shortly after his two daughters came with their husbands and children.  There were now 12 of us at the farmhouse.  They had brought several liters of Andes beer and a large lemon pie.  Everyone was so polite and kind.  I kissed every woman hello and then again goodbye.  Likewise, all men kissed Sylvie hello and then again at goodbye.  We told jokes, played soccer and, laughed until everyone left around midnight.

It’s early on Thursday night and Sean, Orlando, and I are going to start planting eggplant at 8am.  Sylvie and Katie get to sleep in and work again in the town to sell plants.  Orlando is very much against the women doing any hard work—this is a product of the Machismo ideology that is very strong here in Argentina.

Sylvie selling plants in the Pueblo

After a few hours Sean and I had finished digging irrigation channels and planted over a hundred zucchini plants.  We were working near a bird nest and kept being attached by large birds.  Luckily they would only swarm towards up pulling back before they got too close to us.

Around 10 all of us loaded the truck and went into the pueblo to sell the plants.  We were selling all of them for 10 pesos for 5 plants.  Sean and I set up the plant stand while Sylvie and Katie went for coffee and to use the Internet.  Afterwards Sean and I relaxed while the girls took control of the ‘shop.  While the ladies were in charge of selling the plants Orlando took Sean and I to his house, which was a short drive from our roadside plant stand.  His wife had greeted us and Sean described what a leprechaun was—there was a magnet of one on their fridge.  His house was beautiful.  From his pool the Andes were clearly visible in the horizon.

During the Siesta today I tended to the farm more because the strong current of water was eroding the trenches quickly.  It was an uphill battle trying to shovel enough dry dirt on the banks of the trellises to retain the water.  Oftentimes I would take a step onto what seemed to be dry land only to sink 10 inches below the surface since under neither was completely saturated.  I started to build a fire in the adobe furnace outside to prepare for a hot evening shower.

The trenches were dug and seeds planted in our farm in Tupungato, Argentina

The trenches were dug and seeds planted in our farm in Tupungato, Argentina

As I was finishing up Orlando came by and invited Sylvie and myself for a scenic drive.  We hopped in back of the pickup truck and he drove us what is known as wine road.  He stopped at three or four vineyards for us to take photos.  A couple of them were world-renowned.  He had said that Disney and Pepsi co, along with many other world-recognized organizations have vineyards down the road.  He said he would call and try to set up a tour for Sylvie and me tomorrow at this one vineyard—it is a 4-hr tour with a lot of wine drinking at the end of it.

Wineyards in Tupungato, Argentina

On the way back we stopped in the middle of a ditch and he told me “trabajo”.  I picked up a shovel and proceeded to shovel “organic” sand into the bed of the truck for 20 minutes.  After this we dropped the sand off at one of his daughter’s house.

Orlando has me dig up organic soil in Tupungato, Argentina

Sylvie and I got back to the farmhouse around 5:30.  She went to shower and I started to fix prepare our dinner.  The days are so much longer for us guys—this entire Machismo mentality is pretty convenient for the women.  Earlier this morning Orlando told the girls that “we were leaving for the town in 20 minutes” and Sylvie said she would go help the guys out for a few.  Orlando said, “No, you just relax and we’ll leave shortly”.  Also, while I was shoveling dirt for 20 minutes Orlando made a bouquet of flowers for Sylvie.

After dinner Sylvie and I attempted to make stovetop cookies with the ingredients available to us on in the farmhouse.  I used sugar, oats, flour, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and oil.  I cooked in on the stovetop and it came out very VERY good.  Sylvie’s, on the other hand, didn’t taste too good.

Sean had stayed out late that evening because Orlando asked him to go to a farmer’s meeting in town.  There they discussed farming topics.  The next morning we dug more trenches and planted zucchinis, tomatoes, and squash.

It had rained Saturday morning so Orlando gave us the day off.  We went into the city and were followed by Willow, one of the dogs.  We had to leave her with Sean who was working the shop.  We went to a casino in the city and to a supper market.  Everything else seemed to be closed from 1 to 4.

Willow follows us all the way into town in Tupungato, Argentina

Willow follows us all the way into town in Tupungato, Argentina

Later in the day Sylvie worked on a painting at the house while I read by book, Inferno.  I started reading The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown but had to stop 1/8 of the way through because it was horrible.  I baked a cake in the evening using the ingredients around the farmhouse.  It turned out pretty good.  I even made my own dulce de leche.

Homemade cake, candied walnuts, and dulce de leche I made in Tupungato, Argentina

On Sunday Sylvie and I were eating breakfast when Orlando came in with two delicious loafs of freshly baked bread.  We came out to offer our help but Orlando told us to take a trek.   We insisted on helping but he said it was, “domingo” and that we could help tomorrow.  We really wanted to help, but we took the trek as he suggested.

The trek that Orlando had suggested, according to him, was only 4km.  We were frustrated to have gone 6km to then find out we had another 5 kilometers before we got to the campground.  Sylvie was frustrated but we pushed on.  Once we got to the park we walked around and Sylvie napped on my lap for half an hour.  Then we walked back.  We had spend the better part of the day walking.  After walking 22km (13.5 miles) we were finally back at our farmhouse around 5pm.

Sylvie enjoying one of the 6 ice-cream cones we had during our stay in Tupungato, Argentina

The map Orlando drew for us

There were many families in the park cooking Asado, Argentine BBQ.  Sunday is a day to be with family and they really make an entire afternoon/night of it.  I really enjoy this part of the culture.  I wish I could have my entire family over from 6pm to 2am on a Sunday evening while we drank wine and beer and ate thick cuts of meat that took hours to cook on the grill.

Last night we watched “Party Monsters” in bed and tonight we watched “Angry Men”.  Hopefully tomorrow we’ll get to tour a winery after our day of working on the farm.

On Monday we planted two types of beans.  Afterwards Sylvie and I fixed up the adobe water heater insulator—this time we mixed stray and dead grass into the mud and this made for a much stronger adobe.  We had an English-guided wine tour at 4pm at Juan Bousquet’s winery.  We had walked 45 minutes towards the winery but when we discovered we still had another 6km (4 miles) left we decided to hitch hike.  We hailed down a car in now time.  The driver was happy to take us the extra 6kms.  The guy had actually lived in the states for 22 years, most recently in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.  Our driver was actually a cab driver and was happy to drive us “free of charge”.  In fact, he had told us that he was on his way to pick up a couple from London for a 4 o’clock tour of Juan Bousquet’s winery.  We were shocked when we had the tour along with this British couple.

Our tour guide was a Brit in her 3rd year of Uni.  She was spending 6 months in a Spanish speaking country and another 6 months in Russia—as she was studying Spanish and Russian.  The tour was nice and we learned about organic grape growing.  At first we didn’t chat much with the other couple, but that changed during the tasting part of our tour.  During the tour when the guide was talking about Juan Bousquet—Sylvie and I looked at each other and grinned.  It was only a few days ago that Orlando had introduced us to this world-famous winemaker.   Our host, Orlando, seems to know everyone in the town.  Even the driver that we hitched a ride with knew Orlando.

Juan Bouquet wine tasting in Tupungato, Argentina

Juan Bouquet wine tasting in Tupungato, Argentina

We had several options to choose from for the wine tasting.  Sylvie and I both like Malbec so we opted in the “Malbec Experience”.  This tasting consisted of 4 different Malbec products from the winery:

  • Premium Line – Aged 3 months in used oak casks
  • Reserve Line – Aged 10 months in used French oak casks
  • Grande Reserve Line – Aged 12 months in new French oak casks
  • Dulce Line – Dessert Malbec w/ 18% ABV similar to port

Each sample was a full pour.  The British couple got a different sampling, all wines in the Grande Reserve Line though.  We began getting very social with everyone since everyone was enjoying himself or herself.  We spent at least an hour and a half drinking and talking.  The couple was traveling for 2 weeks in Argentina.  They had been planning the trip for almost 2 years.  He said he purchased the flights 9 months ago.  In 2 weeks they were planning on going to Buenos Aires, Mendoza, El Calafate, and Torres del Paine…a very ambitious itinerary.  I ended up giving them one of our travel cards.  They were envious of our travels and said they hoped to be able to do something like it in their lives.

A British couple we met while at Juan Bouquet Vineyard in Tupungato, Argentina

Sylvie tastes Malbec at Juan Bousquet's Vineyard (click to view video)

Our guide brought us some crackers and said if we wanted to that we could pour ourselves another glass of whatever we wanted.  After a while she even opened a sparking wine, rose, and poured us all a full glass.  All in all we each had between 7 and 8 glasses of wine.  Sylvie paid but somehow in all the commotion she only paid 160 pesos ($10)—it should have cost closer to 300 pesos.

Sylvie has the time of her life talking with everyone she hitchhikes with. (click to view video)

Sylvie had the time of her life on the way back to our farmhouse.  After being shy about hitchhiking on the way to the winery her feelings have changed a little.  We’ve heard that hitchhiking in Peru, Chile, and Argentina are commonplace.  The people here don’t have as many cars as in the states and there is much more a sense of family and helping one’s neighbor.  When we asked Orlando how to get to and from the vineyard he simply said to hitchhike.  Sean, the other guy volunteering, hitched in Patagonia and ended up driving with the same guy for 16 hours.  Sean even drove for several hours while the guy went to sleep.

We hitched a ride from the winery to the Tupungato pueblo where we bought some veggies and chorizo for dinner.  Then we hitched a ride to our farmhouse.  We actually went too far and hitched another ride back to the right address, which was literally just down the road.

This workaway has been among our best experience to date.

Sylvie painting 'Willow' and 'Dinky' during her time in Tupungato, Argentina

Sylvie painting 'Willow' and 'Dinky' during her time in Tupungato, Argentina

Sylvie draws our farmhouse in Tupungato, Argentina and give it as a gift to our lovely Workaway host, Orlando!