10 WEEKS IN SOUTH AMERICA

10 WEEKS IN SOUTH AMERICA

Brazil, 11 January 2020, 31°

 São paolo - 31 degrees. It’s summer in Brasssiiiuuuu! And what a shock it was going from the depths of winter in Switzerland to the equivalent of July in São Paulo. But we’re not complaining! (Although our off-white skin tones might have been quite disturbing for the sun-kissed Brasileiros we encountered. São Paulo. What an unreal, incomparable city. Quite often when we were waking around the city, it was almost difficult to remember where we were, as so many different influences come together here. The people: a mish-mash of so many cultures that came together to create “the modern Brazilian”, from the Indigenous tribes, to Portuguese Colonists, the African slaves they brought with them, and Italian and Japanese immigrants who joined the population later on. Apart from culture, São Paulo is also diverse in many other ways.

The city (which in my opinion, cannot be called a city anymore, as it is as big as 140 Zurichs) ranges from densely built-up sky-scraper blocks to low-lying, lush green residential areas to super-hipster, graffiti-covered, “young” neighbourhoods. One feels more or less safe walking around the city, with some extra precautions and with an awareness of which areas are deemed safe to be frequented by tourists like ourselves. The food: the traditional food you’ll get in São Paulo is heavily Portuguese influenced, but using mostly ingredients native to Brazil. We had coxinhas, deep-fried chicken croquettes, feijoada, a bean stew, picadinho, a beef stew with deep-fried banana and açaí, which tastes nothing like the açaí you get in Europe. Due to the Japanese influence of the city, amazing Asian food was never hard to find. And not to forget the caipirinhas, of which one a day keeps the doctor away, we’ve been told. Well fed, watered and with a heavy dose of big city life, we are off to the beach before we finally disappear on  to the farm!

Brazil, 16 January 2020, 28°

Praia do Rosa - a tropical, surf-haven with some of the most beautiful white beaches in the south of Brazil (or so we were told). The mosquito population makes up for the small amount of humans that live there, going from about 3,000 in low season to 20,000 when surf’s up. We experienced the typical, chill eco-hostel life in an old, lofty beach house which we shared with a bunch of floating traveler/surf types ( and again, a LOT of mosquitos). Update: we are slightly more “colored” now, meaning we no longer 100% blend in with the white beaches we were laying on! Our last night in Praia do Rosa left us swearing to never drink again, as we officially (after a week in Brazil) have reached out Caipirinha-saturation-point or CSP ;) Off to Porto Alegre we go!

Brazil, 19 January 2020, 34°

Chacara del Sol Nascente - Our time at the Chacara del Sol Nascente (Farm of the rising sun) is slowly coming to an end. We’ve had an incredible learning journey here, ranging from learning how to plough soil, dissect banana trees, cut down trees in an agroforest, cook using a wood-fire stove and oven and using only ingredients that are around or grown on the farm, living with a bunch of different people under one roof, speaking Spanish, Portuguese, English, French and Swiss German all at once and so much more... Through this experience we have met some very hardworking and forward-thinking people. Particularly at the course, we were able to take part in about soil health diagnosis through a process called Chromatography, we were introduced to a number of farmers and their families dedicated to fixing our food system and making it better and more sustainable day by day. Until now, I had definitely underestimated what it means to be a farmer or to work on a farm. It is such a complex web of so many different kinds of organisms from soil bacteria to human beings which somehow all need to harmonize with each other and amongst themselves for it to all work, and believe me, that harmonization is not always easy. But, it has definitely been one of the most interesting learning experiences I’ve had so far. We are now getting ready for our departure and our next journey to Uruguay which we’re so looking forward to!

Brazil, 4 February 2020, 30°

Pelotas was our last stop in Brazil before crossing the border to Uruguay. We decided to stop there a) to break up the trip which otherwise would have been pretty long and impractical and b) because we had been invited to stay at Helga’s, a lady we had met the weekend before at the course we went to with the farm. Helga, whose great grandparents immigrated from Germany, is a very interesting woman, having done a whole lot for the organic movement in Brazil, and especially the involvement of women in it. She also spoke German which was definitely a breath of fresh air at the course where 99% of the participants spoke only Portuguese 😁. And soooo, we left the farm, then took a rather improvised route to Pelotas (let’s just say we missed our 2nd bus and miraculously got picked up off the side of the road by someone else we had met at the course...) and were greeted, at the bus stop by the woman herself, Helga Heck. She went above and beyond to make our stay a memorable one, touring us around the old town of Pelotas, which is actually pretty cool and very up and coming, introducing us to her whole family, taking us to an organic restaurant (similar to Tibits for those who know) which the cooperative she is part of created and runs as well as an organic shop and so on... In return we made gnocchi for her and her nieces, helped her prepare a new compost, which we finished off with some biodynamic “preparations” which had to be put on the compost at midnight and using only the moon as light. We then all sat on our brooms and flew off into the starry sky. 

Helga had A LOT of stories to tell and we listened and made notes. Below you’ll find a summary of Helga’s words of wisdom. 

- Don’t get rid of things that still work. Buy only things that last and use them to their full potential. 

- You don’t have to know what’s next. Just start doing the things you know and what’s next will follow.

- Always take small steps and break up whatever you’re doing into small bits.

- You need all the support you can get in anything you do, always look for like-minded people to do things with. Life is not meant to be lived alone.

Uruguay, 6 February 2020, 28°

Punta del Diablo -  we came, we saw, we enjoyed the liberal marijuana laws, got ourselves something close to 3rd degree sunburns, thoroughly enjoyed the white beaches though, ate some of the worst Mexican food known to the existence of man, made up for it by making an amazing-ass pasta bake when we finally moved from our castaways-hostel to a little cabin with a kitchen for the last night and then, with semi-heavy hearts, put our backpacks on our extremely sore backs and got on a bus to La Paloma!

Uruguay, 10 February 2020, 22°

La Paloma - a bit of a “glitch” in our travels so far. We stayed here for two weeks, which, in hindsight, might have been a little too long for a little beach town with not much to see other than an ice cream shop and a somewhat scenic lighthouse. The reason for staying so long was our work at a hostel, which turned out to be a little farther away from the beach than we would have liked. Oh well. While there, we worked mostly in the hostel’s organic garden, building planting rows, preparing the soil and planting sweet potatoes and pineapples. We were also able to help out with some hostel-related tasks as our hosts and owners of the hostel were not hospitality trained and were keen for some advice in certain areas. The hostel was going through a bit of a down time with few guests so our stay there was quite uneventful and apart from biking to the beach in La Pedrera a few times, there really was not much to see or do. While we enjoyed our time in the area, we were also quite glad to move on after two weeks...

Uruguay, 24 February 2020, 29°

bonnie & gerald's - There have been few weeks in my life after which I felt like my perspective had been changed and I was as inspired as I was after being at Gerald and Bonnie’s farm somewhere outside Minas, Uruguay. Due to bad planning on our part, we were only able to stay for a week but trust me, we regretted this from pretty much the first day we arrived. Gerald and Bonnie and their 3 children are originally from the south of the United States and moved to Uruguay about 9 years ago, in search of a more truthful, less restricted life. We enjoyed many interesting conversations with both parents and kids who were all so intelligent and so full of positivity and interest for the world. The work we did was also very enjoyable as we were constantly learning things we had never done before, such as rotating cattle to fresh pastures or planting a syntropic garden. Bonnies cookbook library had me reading all afternoon and I definitely learnt a lot of new things in the kitchen, particularly about more traditional ways of nourishing ourselves. While Sämi and I cooked a lot while we were there, we also got to enjoy Bonnie’s southern cooking (homemade fried chicken just saying). Maybe the best part of our whole experience was a beautiful Saturday spent picnicking by the creek or was it maybe cranking our own ice cream for dinner? Hard to choose... We stayed in a tent for the whole week and while this had me a little nervous before coming, it turned out being totally fine and the little forest on a hill where our campsite was located was also a great point from which to watch the sunrise every morning. This type of off-grid living (closest neighbour is 30 minutes away by car, no wifi, no phone signal) really makes you think about the lives we live crammed in cities running around all day for...what? I’m so glad to have encountered this amazing family who strive to live an authentic life, in their own way and according to their own rules. We leave feeling very sad but also very inspired for Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.

Uruguay, 3 March 2020, 28°

montevideo - It was somewhat of a shock to be back in a city after a week of blissful peace and serenity. I know we were only away for a week but suddenly the streets were noisier, the sun harsher and the smell of car-exhausts more pungent in our noses. Nonetheless we very much enjoyed the pretty tree covered streets, beach views and more importantly our little home away from home in the form of an Airbnb. We were soo happy to have our own place after a long period of staying at other people’s homes or at hostels. By then, we had heard one too many comfort hippies try to sing along to a variation of the three chords they knew how to strum. Montevideo was also Sämi’s chosen location to celebrate his birthday. I know a lot of people don’t think birthdays are important but I do. I think birthdays deserve acknowledgement. If not for remembering the day you were born, at least it’s a celebration of who you are as a person. And that calls for cake and champagne as the essentials, and then anything else one desires. So that’s what we did! Brunch on the rooftop, champagne, followed by a siesta and then pizza accompanied by a really nice sunset. Montevideo gave us a feeling of home for a few days to process the preceding two months and for that we were very grateful.

Uruguay, 7 March 2020, 29°

colonia del sacramento - Before cruising over the Rio de la Plata to get to Argentina, we wanted to stop over in the town of Colonia del Sacramento that we had heard so much about from other travelers and locals. Coincidentally, two other workawayers, now friends, had told us about a very cool hotel that was being constructed there, using only natural and recycled materials, following the “earthship method”. They had volunteered there and encouraged us to go check it out. And so we did. The owners were nice enough to let us stay two nights in exchange for watering their garden and fruit trees for one of the days. Mauro, one of the owners was running the restaurant on the property that was already open and Jessie helped out their too. Construction was currently on hold. The first thing we saw when we pulled up to the hotel was a trailer sporting a big “Tattoo Truck Tour” sticker on it. As we later found out, Gabrieli, his mom Stella and his best friend James had set out from their hometown near São Paolo on the exact same date we had arrived there and were following almost an identical route as we were and were continuing in the same direction as us also. We enjoyed their company for the two days we were there and promised to see each other again in Argentina or Bolivia where we were all intending to travel to.

Argentina, 9 March 2020, 24°

buenos aires - We got off the ferry on a damp, drizzling afternoon during rush hour. My Uber was refusing to work, taxis would only accept cash (which we did not have) and to take the bus you had to get a card which they did not sell at the bus stop or anywhere in the vicinity of it. Welcome to Buenos Aires. To be fair, our first impression was quickly replaced by the truly cool side of Buenos Aires with its many different neighborhoods that are like little towns in themselves. Variety of food is abundant, there is so much to see and do. We spent the first two days there getting accustomed and waiting for my mom to arrive! When she did, we spent 1.5 great days walking around the city, drinking, eating, before the Coronavirus made its first appearance, in the form of a cancelled return flight. And that’s pretty much the point until which I would like to remember the last 2.5 months. Although we did have some amazing steak the night before my mom eventually got a flight back. So maybe I’ll incorporate that into my memory too. Sämi and I stayed in Buenos Aires for a few more days after my mom left in order to plan our next moves and try to “outsmart” the pandemic.

Argentina, 21 March 2020, 32°

san rafael, mendoza - This is where our trip takes a somewhat strange, unexpected but mostly disappointing turn. Let me start at the beginning. After a few days in Buenos Aires, staying mostly inside, we decided to take a bus to the countryside, earlier than expected, because we had heard that they would closing the province borders soon and that public transport would stop working. Our hope was that, things would be easier in the countryside when yet country would start imposing strict measures countryside and that we could just spend the coming few weeks on the Workaway farm we had arranged to work on, until things relaxed and we could continue our travels. The actual situation could not have been further away from our expectations. While on the 13 hour bus we were told that we would be forced to quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival in Mendoza Province, where the farm was. This was fair enough and not a problem as we were going to be working on a farm and not going anywhere else for at least two weeks. However, we were both a bit uneasy and thought about getting off the bus while it was still in BA, more than once. Our feelings were confirmed when we woke up to a text the next morning, while still on the bus, from our Workaway host who was letting us know that he couldn’t host us as the police had been at his door warning him that he could not allow any more foreigners to stay with him.

After seeing this we lost signal for an hour, driving through the middle of nowhere, with no plan and no way of coming up with one... Long story short, Jeff, our planned host found an alternative arrangement for us at a friends place. After another round of complications we got to Robbies place, about 20 minutes from the center of San Rafael. In the meantime, Argentina had gone into total lockdown. Robbie was kind enough to let us stay in a part of his house which was vacant. His place was surrounded by agriculture, but unfortunately he himself was no longer working his land, leaving us with almost nothing to do there. With the lockdown, and a complete inability to predict how long this situation would last, we decided to look into our options. We didn’t have too many. And that is how we decided to come back home. That and also the fact that the Swiss government was sending a plane to repatriate all of its citizens who were stuck in Argentina. From Buenos Aires. So after about 3 days of “chilling” in the countryside, back to the big city we went...

Argentina, 23 March 2020, 29°

back in buenos aires (lockdown) - After a long and troublesome journey, which also included waiting outside the airport in Mendoza for about 3 hours before being let in, we finally arrived back in Buenos Aires. A taxi drove us to our Airbnb that we had been able to reserve somewhat under the table since the platform had been blocked by the Argentinian government. And then, we waited. We cooked, watched movies, read books, did online workouts, went grocery shopping once in a while and waited for the Swiss government to let us know when they would be sending an aircraft to pick up all the remaining Swiss citizens here. We ended up spending10 days locked down in that tiny apartment, but I think we managed quite well. On the 10th day, we made our way to a very empty airport, with a clearance letter from the embassy in hand and off we went, back to Switzerland crammed in a plane with 298 other passengers.