We have been traveling long enough now to start wondering what it’s like to stop. We are not sure what that’s like, and are not sure we like the idea of stopping. What if we cannot get jobs? What if we do not like the jobs we can get? What if we hate the weather back home in Ireland? What if we’ve changed so much we cannot fit in any more? So many questions, and not that many answers. Some travelers have the solution of just not stopping, and some are on fixed timetables with return trips booked before they start so they cannot have the debate we’re having. What’s it like to stop? We heard it on the grapevine. We heard of an English couple that traveled round the world for a few years, but decided to stop in the province of Mendoza, Argentina as it was the nicest spot they had seen. The climate was great, the lifestyle good and it’s easy to own way too many dogs (Ok, I made that bit up). We got in touch with them to see what their lives were like, and went to stay for a few days, maybe a week. This post is about the 2 weeks we ended up staying on their Finca.
John and Annette have a Finca, which is a fruit farm just outside of San Rafael. They live in the countryside on their farm along with 5 dogs (told ya!) – Mo Didley, Rosey Lee, Posh, Rita and Blackie. There is also a collection of hens, ducks and 2 geese (George and Mildred for those who like old British comedy’s). They have a superb old tractor, an old ford pickup and a collection of all the tools you need to do all your own work on a Finca. Their year is busy as they grow a number of crops, mainly plums and grapes but also some walnuts. For the house, they have a superb vegetable garden and grow most of their own vegetables and herbs. They do all the work themselves, and welcome overland travelers to come and stay with them, pet the dogs, peel the spuds and help out with whatever is going on. Within a few days you really feel at home, and their enthusiasm for what they are doing is infectious!
a birthday party
It’s not all business at John and Annette’s. We were lucky enough to be there when it was a neighbor’s birthday, and we were all invited. Sarah and I have been working on our Spanish for a long time now, and it meant we could understand much of what was said, and have basic conversations with everyone, so that was great. The party was held inside a tiny Bodega, and as they were still making wine, the smells were fantastic. They served some of their previous years wine, and it was superb. It is a “casa” wine, which means they are only allowed to produce a few thousand bottles. Any more than that and they are “Artisans” and they then have a limit of 15,000 bottles per year. Any more than that they are treated as commercial, and this has serious tax implications. Anyway, for us it just meant we were drinking wine that never leaves the region, and it felt like a real treat. They served home-made empenadas, and the filling and pastry was made that morning, and as they came out of the outdoor wood oven, they were served. Wow! They were superb. After this, they served Pork. A whole suckling pig to be precise, and a cabbage salad with oil on shredded cabbage and a spud and carrot salad. For dessert they served an ice-cream cake that was so big they must have been eating it for a week!
Harvest time on the Finca
We arrived at the beginning of April, which is the end of the plum harvest. It’s more tricky that we had thought, and there are different ways to harvest plums from trees. You can harvest once, twice or even three times from each tree, taking different amounts each time. You can pick the plums from the trees, you can shake the tree and pick them all from the ground, you can put a huge teller under the tree and shake the tree causing all the plums to be collected in the teller(bit like a huge nappy, I think you can get the picture). We were there for the last harvest from the trees.
Once we had the plums harvested, the next decision for a Finca is what to do with them. You can sell the fresh plums for whatever price is being offered at harvest time, or you can store your plums and sell them later in the year when the price hopefully goes up. To store them you have to dry them, which takes a bit of work, loads of sun, tons of plastic and a fair bit of grunt work. Deciding on which to do is a tricky problem, and it reminded me of the sort of decisions my dad had to make on the farm back home. Some things are the same the world over.
Once the plums were done, the grape harvest was ready, but this takes a large team of skilled and experienced pickers. Sarah and I made an attempt to pick some, but could not keep up with the local harvesters who actually run up the rows with the empty and the full baskets, and pick as fast as they can. This does affect their wages, as for each container they pick, they get a token. At the end of the week, your wages depends on the number of tokens.
Once the truck was full, it went to the Bodega. Some Bodegas make fine wine, some normal wine, and some grape juice and other grape products. The top end Bodegas grow many of their own grapes, but do buy some from local farmers, and a large Bodega could take the crops from hundreds of smaller farmers. Many of the trucks are old bangers that are taken out for a hard months work, ridden hard and put away wet. As everyone wants to harvest around the same time, there is a shortage of trucks and harvesters some days, so anything goes! In fairness, these old trucks generally get the job done, and have been working for over 50 years! Power brakes, power steering, decent lights and tipper bodies are all ideas that were not quite around back then. Unloading can be quite a task, but when you see 60-year-old guys forking out 5 tons plus in just over 30 minutes and not breaking a sweat, you just have to give it a go!
End of the harvest on the Finca
Tradition dictates that each farm has an “end of harvest Asado” as a way to thank everyone who worked on their harvest. This is quite a serous affair, and can dictate if your harvesters will come back next year! John and I were assigned to be the Asado guys, but luckily we got some help from the neighborhood Asado Meister, and he really knew his stuff! I had never seen beef cooked for a full hour on coals, and to come off perfect! our European style is to cook hot and quick, but this slow and calm approach was superb.
Annette is pretty handy with her garden and kitchen, so when Sarah and Annette got busy in there one day, I was pretty pleased with the result!
Each evening we all did a few chores, lighting the fire, cooking dinner, feeding the dogs etc, and we eat and chatted until someone declared they were off to bed. We chatted about other travelers we knew in common, places we all had been and how they had changed over the years, places we could recommend to each other and solved a few of the world problems while we were at it. Sarah and I tried to find out the answer to our big question, what is it like to stop traveling? I am not sure if we know the answer yet, but we are sure that a Finca in Argentina is a pretty nice way to plant your roots!
How to get in touch with John and Annette
We really enjoyed our time on the Finca, and felt like we were “at home” for the first time in a long while. We hope to be back some day, and we don’t say that about many places! For anyone thinking of getting in touch with John and Annette, follow this link and contact them via the hubb.