Ginger’s Paradise – Volunteering on an Eco Farm in Bolivia
Ginger’s Paradise is a strange sort of paradise. For me it is a sort of paradise. I have absolute freedom to do whatever I please be it drawing, writing, reading or sleeping. The only thing restricting me is, as usual, me. I’m a living breathing personification of the 21st century, first world phenomenon known as FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. Though if I start the day with a run I feel better. It slightly zombifies the pressure cooker within. Today I actually feel particularly good and I didn’t feel guilty for lying in a hammock while everyone else was working…
Ginger’s Paradise is an ecological, self-sustaining farm to which travellers turn up unannounced to volunteer or simply stay. It is a paradise really, set on a forested Bolivian hillside next to a trilling river, the farm covers several acres with fruit trees, herbs, veg, a cow which we milk each morning for cheese as well as milk, and scratching smooth-plumed chickens everywhere. And then there are owner’s four kids, who are just a little bit cute:
We’d taken the night bus from Sucre towards Santa Cruz, a route notoriously known as, “the bus journey from hell”. The road has been smoothed out of the desert as if by a giant piece of sandpaper, but really quite a rough piece. It’s as bumpy as you can possibly imagine and sometimes you can see the bus tilt worryingly before thumpingly righting itself.
We joggled along with a full moon spilling its unearthly glow over the cacti and rock strewn landscape until the mountains rose around us with the sun. The air started smelling less of smothering dust and the land was green. We were approaching Samaipata in Bolivia. We overshot and stood bewildered by our backpacks at the side of the road until a friendly taxi-driver bundled us in. Deposited, suddenly we were under the hand-painted wooden “Ginger’s Paradise” sign and crossing an incredibly threadbare wooden swinging bridge, 250m from our new home.
Fast forward and we’re sort of settling in. Our breakfast was astounding. A feast of scrambled eggs and basil, a tomato and rocket salad, freshly baked brown rolls, cheese from yesterday’s cow milking, pesto and dulce de leche (caramelised sugar and milk spread absolutely famous among all travellers on this continent), ALL homemade/grown. We wolfed it down after our supperless 12 hour bus ride.
I’d met the lovely leggy Dutch Eleina in Sucre 10 days before and she’d told me about Ginger’s. One abandoned Spanish lesson, a frantic trip to the bus terminal for a last minute ticket and the quickest packing session ever, and I was on the trip. My companions numbered three: ‘Leg Model Eleina’, (Will had believed Eleina’s supposed career for three weeks until yesterday, but frankly I’m not surprised); fun, witty Will, though we can never tell if he’s being serious or joshing us with his Kiwi sarcasm, and chilled out, lovely Dutch Aussie Mike, his long hair swishing to his waist.
Will and I napped for a couple of hours while the others explored the washing facilities – a gorgeous waterhole where we’d wash our clothes and ourselves every day.
The concept of Ginger’s is work for 3 or 4 hours a day and get 30 bolivianos off your daily 100 boliviano board. At just under £10 a day for a bed, three meals a day and an education in permaculture, the deal here is pretty sweet even at full price. And the volunteering is just that – voluntary. I’ll pitch in with the washing up, collecting water from the spring and milking the cow etc, but frankly I’m not going to pick beans for 80 pence an hour.
I have to add in here that none of our gang was up for hardcore volunteering least of all me, but ironically I bagged the biggest discount. When I first arrived, the owner, a hippy Italian North American with wild caveman hair called Cristobal said that I could draw for board. But I became too attached to my drawing to give it away. I did three more little sketches for the guys and for just the photos of these Cristobal gave me the discount for all three days. Nice!
Another aside – this is the first portrait I’ve ever done so I’m REALLY pleased with how it turned out. That’s why I got a bit precious about giving it away.
Our accommodation is an ochre and summer sky blue two storey house with mattresses on the floor, murals on the walls and no running water or electricity. It’s all and exactly what we need. Outside, I sit at the roughly hewn wooden picnic table under a broad tree. Huge chickens flap their green-black wings, wiggle their scarlet wattles with each neck stretched strut, and wockle and gobble around the yard, peck pecking the dust. A rusted broken down bicycle leans picturesquely against the tree and the cicadas screel and huzz an audio backdrop.
Mike and Will just turned up. We talked about why we’re travelling, our dreams and I taught them Racing Demon. And they didn’t like it!! Ah well.
MILKING THE COW
After breakfast each day we visit Valluna, the friendly Fresian. She docilely slots her head in the wooden vice and slops away at a bowl of meal while Cristobal trusses one rear foot to a post behind her. Already milk is escaping from a teat. We all have a go, grabbing handfuls of said teats and squeezing out the milk. Cristobal gets a bucketful in around the same time as we manage 100ml between us. Soon it’s time for round two.
We stand back as Valluna’s calf Hamburger scampers from his enclosure, buckles his front legs to shove his mouth into his mum’s udders. When the milk lessens he gives a violent head-butt to his food source while his mum stolidly puts up with the booby punches. Meanwhile Cristobal has carefully positioned himself on the other side and is sneakily taking a second round of milk that’s been released by the mother-calf bond.
Have a look at this 13 second clip: How To Get More Milk With A Headbutt
In the afternoons we explore the river. There’s a beautiful pool we swim in with three little waterfalls streaming into it. Either side of the gushing green thread are broad expanses of flowing dove grey rock smoothed by aeons of rushing water, bleached by the sun. This is where I run every morning before the heavy heat descends. It’s a full-on obstacle course of hard rock, sticking terracotta bright mud, incredibly fine pink sand and a billion stones to flick my feet over. Good exercise!
THE RAIN CEREMONY
Last night Cristobal asked us to carry out a rain ceremony to break the drought. After ‘snack’ (we don’t have supper, just a little snack at night), we trundled to the river hopping down steps made from truck tyres. Everything is recycled here, I’m picking up so much inspiration for my future life. When I eventually settle in one country. Some of us had torches, others went by the light of the moon. The forest was making its usual night time noises and as we snaked in procession the river’s ripple and rill got louder. We walked out onto the sand and sat as we were bid in a circle, full of curiosity, scepticism and a dose of trepidation. He’d already said something about beating a frog with a stick. And Cristobal isn’t the most predictable person. Our leader unsheathed a wooden (thank goodness!) frog from its velvet home and started to speak:
“There’s a frog that brings rain that sounds just like this,” he whispered as he sharply slid a rod over the frog’s ridged back. It made a rapid musical, “Tock, tock, tock.” “We don’t have that frog, so we make the noise with this one in imitation, hoping that it will also make rain.”
Then Cristobal passed the frog to Jade on his right and asked her to tell a positive story about a time of rain in her life. No tsunami or disaster rain stories allowed. Jade began, “It was New Year’s Eve in Mozambique. I was with my sisters, but despite being with my favourite people in the world the party was pretty bad. Then it began to rumble… and RAIN! We ran down the beach and started to dance, freely, madly in the rain… naked. It was amazing! Yep, one of the best New Year’s Eves ever.” Cristobal liked that one. And so it went round – being eight years old and dancing in a rain-drenched Bolivian market; being surprised by the soft rain of South East Asia after a lifetime of hard, cold Kiki rain; trapped by a beautiful storm while rock-climbing in Thailand…
When the narratives had completed a circle, Cristobal coaxed us into the water. Slipping and laughing over rocks, we formed a circle, bent down to cup water in our hands and threw it up into the air so a million little drops rained down on us. I did wonder how long we’d do this for as I was getting rather wet, but after three minutes we were encouraged to close the ring for a group hug and pep talk by Cristobal’s wife Sol. Pleasantly at ease with each other in our strange shared experience, we meandered back up to the house and our little gang (Will, Mike and I) wandered the eight minutes back to our house for cards and bed.
As I started this post, so I’ll end: Ginger’s Paradise is definitely a “sort of” paradise. While I learnt a lot and had an amazing time with my travelling friends there, four days was enough. Go, explore, learn, but temper the experience with your previous life experience and knowledge. Have patience, listen and enjoy. And remember, it’s ok to ask for more food! Our main gripe haha 🙂
Have you ever worked on an eco-farm, woofed or volunteered in another country? How was your experience and did you have any leadership issues, for example, just for a random example, a slightly dictatorial feel to the community? I’d be interested to hear all stories!
PS Contact me if you have questions.