In my last post I mentioned heading to the farm with no expectations and that turned out to be a wise attitude as nothing was quite as advertised. The place is called ‘Organic Country House – Quinta Ecologica Hare Krsna’ and is located between San Salvador and Santa Ana – near San Andres. My stay lasted around 12 days, which included a one-day ‘getaway’ day for my sanity.
Terribly poor timing on my part, I arrived during a 3-month window that the couple that owns and runs the house were out of the country on vacation. They left the place in the hands of a 27-yr-old local volunteer, Mario, (who lived an hour away) and a few teenagers.
I’m not sure anyone was actively living there for at least a month before my arrival. Though the jungle had reclaimed the gardens and the bugs and dirt had reclaimed the living areas so it could have been a year by the looks alone. For instance, when Mario and I opened the door to the kitchen there was a scorpion staring back from the sink. I dug deep and decided to put away all my hesitancies in order to make the most of my volunteer time (minus the no toilet paper rule, for me that line in the sand was firm).
The days fell into a routine: wake up to the neighbors roosters around 4am, try to sleep until 7-8am, help make breakfast, endless weeding, help with lunch, more weeding, shower outside, help with dinner and read whenever I could. Some days got really crazy and I’d work longer in the morning so I wouldn’t have to later on. And one day I even planted some cucumbers, eggplant and cilantro in the garden. Most of what had been planted before my arrival hadn’t made it through the time of inconsistent watering or had been overtaken by weeds. There was still a steady supply of avocados, bananas, coconuts, occasional papayas and random herbs though. As soon as an earth shattering crash on the roof was heard, I knew there was an avocado ready to be picked up. All the meals were vegetarian and usually consisted of some combination of rice, beans and vegetables. When Mario’s girlfriend came over we made homemade pupusas, which were too delicious. Another night his vegan/raw activist friend came by and we ended up making a fresh coconut soup.
One night shortly after arriving I was going to be on my own so the caretaker convinced some of the local kids to stay with me. I’m not sure which was the better option: alone in the El Salvador’s countryside or hearing I was ‘mama’ for the night?! In this main living area room (where I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor) three kids ranging in age from 12 to 17 piled in for the night. As their electronico music raged on and on the oldest boy turned to me and asked ‘you like?’…’no, no me gusta’. Unfortunately that was nearly the extent of our interaction. Then again, who wants to be hanging out with ‘mama’ on a non-school night…
Two more volunteers eventually arrived – a guy from LA and a girl from Canada. They instantly made me feel less like a wimp for thinking the place was in sore shape and in need of a cleaning. I think LA’s assessment was ‘maybe with a day of cleaning we get this place to a level medium jungle status. Right now we’re at a low’.
Oh the insects. Mosquitoes immediately assaulted me as I chose to travel during their wet season. Just when the itching slightly subsided, the biting ants attacked. And while those were enough to push my sanity, then the spiders and cockroaches appeared. As I turned off the light one night I heard flapping in the corner of the room. I flipped on my headlamp and there was a cockroach nearly the size of a small bird. In trying to get it outside it may and have landed on me and there may have been a lot of screaming. The following night my headlamp happened to hit the wall behind my mattress and 100+ newly hatched baby spider were staring down at me hungrily. I think after several of these trials, I’m slightly tougher and definitely more optimistic that I can handle whatever comes my way on this trip. Coming straight from my sister’s comfy, air-conditioned home probably didn’t help my cause either!
I definitely had a different experience than anyone else would have if the owners were home (the advertised yoga and Spanish lesson were non-existent for starters and I didn’t learn anything about organic farming). The local boys didn’t come as much as they may otherwise either, limiting my experience to volunteering only in the garden. But despite all the differences between what was advertised and the reality, I walked away with an interesting experience nonetheless. 12 days of mild manual labor in a peaceful countryside jungle setting. 12 days interacting with new people, trying new foods and challenging myself in new ways. And lets not forget, 12 nights of so very many creepy crawlers. Looking back, I’m proud of my work ethic and attempts to make the most of the situation. Mario did his best to make sure we had food and were having a good time, but ultimately I would still recommend checking this place out while the owners are home!