We spent this past week on a family farm, Granja La Vinita, in Pelequen Chile. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to get out of the big cities and see smaller towns that many tourists would pass by. We found the farm through World Wide Organization of Organic Farms (WWOOF) which is a network of small scale farmers who need volunteers on their farms. You help on their farm in exchange for board and meals. As a bonus (for those like myself who LOVE farming and gardening) you get to learn their techniques and approaches to farming, gardening, livestock care, processing wine, etc. Granja La Vinita is an old family farm which is primarily a vineyard that process’ chicha, a slightly fermented grape juice. Like many farms in the area though, it does its share of pasture crops and has a ton of animals - 2 cows, 2 horses, 2 goats, 4 sheep, 1 pig, 5 ducks, 45 geese, and lord knows how many chickens along with the dogs and cats. Our host, Ximenas, family has lived here for over 100 years. Such history is impressive and so different from what we find in the States!
Our first day here we were greeted by Ximena, her daughter in town from college, her brother visiting from Switzerland, and her local beekeeper friend Rodrigo. We quickly realized this was going to be a wonderful opportunity to socialize with Chileans which we hadn’t had the chance to do while traveling as tourists. My Spanish lessons were finally going to be put to the test now that I was having conversations instead of transactions at stores and restaurants! After a whirlwind of introductions we got a quick tour of how the beekeepers process honey before everyone tucked in for the night. In most of Chile, outside of the big cities, the heat comes from the fireplace and the occasional heater but mostly just blankets. With the fireplace in the living area it was quite the shock for two warm blooded Floridians coming from 80 temperatures to 40. We snuggled into bed and quickly passed out without the sound of a television, car, or anything else for that matter. Fun farm fact… Do you know what a rooster uses as his alarm clock? Geese. Do you know what time geese like to wake up? Around 3am and then sporadically the rest of the predawn hours! FYI, when visiting farms although the general ambiance is peace and quiet animals don’t follow people’s daily routines so bring earplugs.
Unfortunately we missed the harvest and processing of the grapes by a month. We are here in late May which is the start of their winter, especially this far south. At this time of year they needed some help tending the animals but the majority of the work was field preparation for next season, maintenance after that year’s harvest, and cutting firewood. Our first few days were cold and overcast and we got a little worried that it was going to be just too cold for us but luckily it warmed a bit and we got gorgeous days with blue skies towards the end of the week. I had a moment when Shane went to go patch a hole the goats were using to sneak into the vineyard without something to do. I sat in the corner of the vineyard against a fence post for a few minutes and took it all in. The vines were golden yellow with the change of season; the sky was blue with not a cloud to be seen. I could hear the geese in the field across the farm and the two cows were grazing nearby. It was one of those peaceful Zen moments that are far too uncommon. I’m not sure if it is like this for other people but those rare but amazing uninterrupted moments in nature are when I feel the calmest and most centered. I think that too often even when we are in nature it’s filled with hikes or taking pictures or setting up camp. Not necessarily stopping to take it all in. I swear nature could be medicine in and of itself if we choose to utilize the opportunity.
Sundays are a day of rest in Chile. It is time spent with family and friends relaxing at the house. We were lucky enough to be able to spend the afternoon with Ximena and her two friends Rodrigo and Delphie. Delphie is from France and wanted to cook crepes for our lunch (the main meal of the day in Chile) at Ximena’s house. Shane who is still having quite a bit of trouble following conversations in Spanish quickly perked up when he heard us talking about panqueques aka crepes (funny the words he remembers). So that morning Shane and I decided to take a 20 minute walk into town to buy something to contribute to that afternoon’s meal. We ended up coming home with an assortment of homemade desserts from a small stand in town, flowers from a roadside tent, and fresh kneaded bread and fresh cow cheese from the house a few minutes up the street. A minor contribution for the delicious meal we got to enjoy! It was fun while we all pitched in and prepped the ingredients for the panqueques completa (crepe batter made from scratch with homemade almond milk, buckwheat, and ground chia seed - ummm yes please). The crepe maker was set up at the dining room table and we took turns making our crepes topped with a sunny side up egg, fresh goat cheese, Serrano ham, and mixed greens. Que rico! After lunch we went into the pasture and played Petanque/Boules a yard game similar to bocce until the sun set. Then it was time for tea (I swear Chileans have more tea times in a day than the British do – with every meal plus two or three times throughout the day) and desserts. It’s pretty amazing the relationships and opportunities that arise when one opens themselves to the possibilities. A lovely ending to a lovely day.