Keen to put the flights behind me I was happy to receive a text from Martin saying he was early to pick me up. The first stop was Jojoy (think whowhoey) a 90 minute drive where we picked up his son Mathias and nephew Juan. Aldea Luna is a further hour drive into the wild. We quickly left the tarmac behind and started driving through streams and making steep climbs. When the road became impossible by car we swapped into pickup truck better suited to the terrain. I was warned due to the storm the previous day, the one that stopped me from landing at Salta, that we might not be able to make it all the way. And we very nearly didn’t.
Aldea Luna is halfway up one of the Andes foothills (an altitude of 1500m) in 100 hectares of untouched heavily forested land, bordered by two streams whose flow rapidly changes due to the storms, one of which you need to fjord before you can access the property. After stopping to inspect levels we drove across and up a steeper road mainly made of boulders and mud.
On reaching the top I was greeted by Elizabeth, who would be my Spanish teacher, and Ana, 4, who is a bit of a legend around these parts. As I started chatting to Anna the volunteers returned from their morning activities: Amparo, Enrique and Rita, all from Buenos Aires and Melodie and Roman from France. Everyone went out of their way to make me feel really welcome especially as I quickly realised I knew 0 Spanish. Enrique chatted with me in English all afternoon and translated conversations for me.
After this, the daily schedule runs roughly like this (with Saturdays and Sundays free):
8am Wake up
9am Work, largely weeding so far
5pm Spanish lesions – I am the only one learning but more cake for me!
The second day I woke to a huge storm. I was told that we couldn’t work in the rain and later that morning we made gnocchi, which would be our lunch and dinner. I was told Rita and Jaun were impressed with my gnocchi making skills but I couldn’t tell the difference.
After lunch the sky cleared up and I was desperate to get moving, after having sat on my still for the better part of a week. We headed down to the river, slipping and sliding on the wet muddy paths. The stream was deep, muddy and really strong with the recent storms so we couldn’t go far. Juan jumped in and filled his boots with water. Something that seemed to be a pastime if his!
Here at Aldea Luna there are 40 chickens, several cows, that wander in from the farm next door, 4 dogs, 2 cats, one Poco breaks into our dorm each night, and three kittens.
The dorm building for volunteers where I sleep has 7 beds and there is another private building for guests. There is a communal building with a kitchen where we spend our days and another couple of buildings that provides accommodation for the owners. Due to the location there is no reception, unless you walk up the trails for an hour and no internet.
After lunch the Melodie, Roman and Enrique started drinking wine so I took off with Juan on my first proper trek to Punto Alta, a viewpoint with mobile reception. Various dogs always join anyone who is going on a walk and they raced ahead, behind and generally got in the way as much as possible. I was exhausted after 2 minutes as it’s a steep start but I faired well on the trail with forest on one side and a huge drop to more forest on the other and barely enough room for two people to pass.
Enrico left on the Sunday morning and Laura, an Argentine who lives in Canada, arrived. Rita, Melodie, Amparo, Laura and I decided to take the river walk to Los Manzanos, from my understanding a series of waterfalls. The day started off sunny, we carefully climbed over boulders, and crisscrossed the stream for over an hour before deciding to stop not having reached our destination.
Melodie and I read while the others carried on a short way. As soon as they were out of sight the wind changed and we sensed rain. When they returned the rain started falling and turned into a full on storm. Gone were the precautions of before and we splashed down stream. The water was rising and turning a dark shade of brown as the rain washed the mud into the water. I did start to panic a little as the area is known for flash floods but much sooner than I realised we were back at the main trail to hostel. Not a bad adventure for a second hike.
Today I finished reading American Gods and started reading Yes Man.
Rita left early on the Monday morning to catch her flight. We were put to work in the allotments weeding-apparently the best time to do this is after a storm-and I planted chilli. In the afternoon Romain built a fire and we were all treated to hot showers, my only one of the three weeks I spent here.
The following morning we were told that a tree had fallen during the storms and was blocking the only road into the hostel. We geared up with machetes and a chain saw and hiked down the road. Halfway to the tree Martin met us in the pick up truck. With fond memories of Namibia I jumped in the back although I suspect this was Melodie’s first time as she didn’t take to it quite as well.
We reached the tree and Martin took it apart with the chainsaw whist we pulled the felled branches to the side of the road. It was all good until I decided I’d take charge of the rope pulling the branch whilst it was cut. I probably should have moved quicker but being dedicated to the cause I realised I had no time to run so positioned myself between two branches as it fell around me. I was told by everyone else that they were worried but I only had a small scratch to show. I seem to have more lives than cats!
Later in the week Amparo, Melodie and Romain had started on the wine, i was invited but alas I had Spanish. They came in to get a couple more bottles during the lesson and after it finished I was keen to join them. So we sat outside listening to music and chatting before dinner. The next day was the latest that I’ve woken so far.
The next day we continued gardening but this time in the lower field before it was cut short by more rain. After lunch we took a walk down to the other river and decided to take a short walk along its banks. The stream was swollen so we didn’t get far but I did take the time to show Amparo how to play Pooh Sticks, I’m not sure she got it, and Melodie took a million photos on my camera.
Later that night we had an impromptu disco using the strobe setting on my ridiculous light before having mint tea.
Melodie and Romain left early on the Thursday morning. When I put on my boots I thought there was a stone inside. The stone the seemed to be moving around as I filled my bottle so I went to take off my boots and found a friend inside. Luckily for him he was unharmed and was set free.
As we were closer to the house I asked Anna if i could see the kittens and she brought them out in a bucket so we could play.
In the afternoon the sun came out and we decided to take on the same stream as the day before. Amparo took off to look for a secluded spot whist I documented Juan’s attempts at drowning himself in a stream about 30cm deep. I laughed when one of his boots washed off and he had to chase after it. His next move was to fill the boots with mud which I’m not sure really achieved much . He seemed happy and discovered some cow bones. We caught up with Amparo who was reading under a waterfall. It was a great place to stay and I went back a few weeks later, however, Spanish lessons beckoned so I headed back to the hostel.
Whilst in my Spanish lesson Ed (British), Nicholas and Leo (Argentine) arrived. It was our first clear night so we sat out watching the stars and looking at the ridiculously beautiful moon-I’m not sure the photos do it any justice.
When Elizabeth and Martin found out I hadn’t spoken to my mum since I landed I was ordered to trek to Punto Alto. This was also because there was a tree blocking the trail that needed felling so I took a machete and headed off with Laura and Leo. After finding the tree which was at one of the points where there is a huge drop to one side of the train we attacked it with machetes. At Punta Alta I called Mum and then some of my friends. None of them answered but I had a missed call from George. I phoned back and had a conference call in the corner of the office with Alexa (Yes she’s a real person who I called at the airport), Imogen, Gemma and I think Jordan popped by?
When I returned Amparo and Juan had left and Amparo had claimed the loft space for me so I moved all my things up.
After my Spanish lesson I was walking back to the lodgings and Laura called out to me and Ed. She had spotted something that made me grateful there was only a toad in my boots the day before.
I went to ask Elizabeth what to do and she suggested the person with the longest arms grab a shovel, lift up Jose and run as far away as possible. Being 6’7 Ed won this contest and after a couple of attempts my camera ran out of battery but Ed had him on the shovel and ran tostada the chickens. Elizabeth was worried… that the chickens would eat Jose alive! Now I’m not sure of which to be more afraid, the chickens or Jose.
Jose is apparently harmless to humans. He eats baby mice and is not poisonous. They do something that asphyxiates the mice. That said I’m now checking my boots!
The second Saturday was a day of hiking. Laura, Leo and I took some forest paths in the morning. I wanted to reach Los Manzanos in the afternoon and as we didn’t leave until 2pm Elizabeth showed the path via Sunset Point that cut off a section of the river. We were told to make a marker so we could find our way back but as soon as we got down to the river there was a rancid smell coming from a bull that must have drowned in the floods-it served as a good marker.
The stream was the shallowest I have seen it so we set off at a good pace and found the waterfalls. I hadn’t had a shower in a few days as we had been low on water so I took the opportunity to bathe in the stream. It was cold. Really cold. I’m also convinced it’s not a good thing that I found lots of small stones in my belly button later that night.
Finished Yes Man, started So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
The opportunity came up to take a day trip to the mountain of seven colours and the Argentine Salt Lake-I didn’t know either of these existed until very recently. I have a lot of photos that are well worth looking at and you can find them here. We left Laura in Tilcara, her next stop.
The next day the river was clear enough to pump water. I’m not sure exactly how the pumping works but it involves having several generators, the first pumping water from the river to barrel, which overflows and then having 3-4 more generators doing the same, moving the water up the hill. I had one job. That was to turn off my generator if the water from the pipe stopped flowing. After 1 hour and 45 mins this happened. I turned off the generator and ran down the hill to the generator by the river which I was also instructed to turn off (two jobs-see I’m going up in the world). Martin was already there and we had enough water. Today Ana and Guille arrived.
After we hit the sunset trail at the weekend I had suggested it would be fun to clear it. Ed, Ana, Guille, Nicholas and I set off with machetes and diligently hacked everything growing on the path to pieces. Especially the annoying scratchy plants that had been pissing me off on the walks. At some point we must have taken a wrong turn so had an impromptu photo shoot in the stream.
In the afternoon Martin pumped out Dr Dre. My class was once again cancelled and I finished So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and started E2, the first book was recommended by Siobhan. Siobhan, the second book is good.
I felt a little down in the evening mainly due to so many people having left so I opened my first quote: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” – Mary Oliver
The next day Anna brought one of the kittens up to the main building so I took the opportunity to get some pics.
On the second Thursday Nicholas left and Fran and Caroline, a couple from Carlisle, arrived. They have lived here for two and a half years. After they travelled South America they decided they didn’t enjoy living in England so moved here permanently. After this point the English speakers outnumbered the Spanish so I understood most of what happened!
I finished reading e2 and started The Psychopath Test.
On the last Saturday I went with Ana and Guille to El Charco and back along the river. The Sun was shining and it was a fun walk. Like a child I walked in the water all the way back.
The next day was a washout which put and end to Ed and my plans of venturing on a long walk and tackled the much shorter green circuit. Ana and Guille left in the morning, leaving the dorm to Ed and myself. Which in hindsight was possibly the best thing that could have happened.
I finished reading The Psychopath Test
There was some unexpected drama on the final Sunday. The rain did not stop and it stormed well into Monday morning. It literally was a scene from a movie with water coming from all angles-I was excited to test my waterproof trousers for the first time. Before we went to bed Elizabeth told us that one of the guests was taken ill with a fever. He had a high temperature but the problem is with the storm there was no where he could go. So we gave him what supplies we could and waited out the storm.
That night I took a turn for the worse and had a stomach upset that would last for three days. I skipped breakfast and felt okay around midday. When I awoke no one was around so I thought I’d look at the stream. When I got there Martin had arrived and everyone was helping the couple through the storm surge. Luckily I was there as my help was needed to help everyone across the stream-it’s not been this high in eight years! The guy was taken to hospital and was fine, he also had a preexisting medical condition that we were unaware of and hadn’t brought his medication.
Once back up at the hostel we returned there were just five of us left to run the place (including Ana). It was a weird feeling to, not feel trapped, but to be nearly alone with no solo means of escape whilst the surge continued-if we needed to leave then there were methods. Stupidly I had some boiled rice for lunch which did not help my stomach so I took to bed. Ed, Caroline and Fran were great at nursing me and I counted my luck that everyone could speak English. Elizabeth returned the following day and I still had several Spanish lessons to catch up on so we crammed them into the final few days. On Thursday I began eating plane boiled rice but I’m desperate for all the food I’ve been dreaming of. Still is been hoping for an illness that would help me lose some weight and boy oh boy dreams do come true. Just be careful what you wish for.
I’ve really enjoyed my time at Aldea Luna. It’s like living with a family and I’ve definitely learn some more Spanish. Hopefully enough to build from. I do have to say I am looking forward to having WIFI again, and eating meat. I’ve realised I am more of a city person, which will be interesting as I head to Patagonia one of the least populated places in the world! But I tried being a vegetarian, and maybe it’s the fact I’ve not had a proper meal since Sunday, but it’s not for me. But will help me eat less meat. And initially not having the internet was fun. I don’t miss social media but I do miss communicating with people. But as I said it’s been a fun few weeks, I’ve made some great friends who I hope I will see again when I get to Buenos Aries and Mendoza. And if I time Mendoza right I can be there to celebrate my birthday with Jaun, who’s is the day before mine. Elizabeth has also convinced me to visit Uruguay so this has been added to the agenda.
Here are some more pics to finish off: