After many weeks of being on the road and just after completing our Salt Flats experience, it was time to find a place where we would be happy to spend a prolonged period of time and volunteering is an excellent way to stop for while and recharge your batteries.
A few reasons why we love volunteering:
- A break from non-stop bus journeys
Ridiculously, sitting on a bus, especially in Bolivia, is tiring and it can be very boring depending on the landscape and service provided. Many-a-days and nights have been spent on buses, some freezing cold, some swelteringly hot. Add to that; windy, narrow and unpaved roads at high altitudes in a tiny cramped collectivo (mini bus) and you have yourself a a very uncomfortable voyage. We easily take up to half a day to recover and we tend to dread getting on the next one.
- Done with the unpacking, repacking and carrying of your backpack?
My backpack and I have a love-hate relationship. I love that it enables me to pack so much stuff in one small space and carry it everywhere but I hate how heavy and cumbersome it is. Putting it down for a while is very refreshing and gives us time to rekindle our love.
- Take part in a cultural exchange
We’d say that the main reason to volunteer is for the unique cultural exchange it provides. Whilst travelling, you will spend two or three nights in one place before dashing onto to you next adventure. This natural hurriedness may leave a feeling of dissatisfaction, as you are unable to truly connect with not only the village or town but also it’s people. Volunteering somewhere helps achieve a feeling of connection; to work mates, neighbours, animals and so on. For us, over the course of seven weeks, we were really able to engage with the “Gaucho and Patagonian Campo”, culture and lifestyle that we had heard so much of, when arriving in the country. It truly unforgettable experience.
- Pick up new skills
When browsing the various volunteering websites (listed below), you will see that there is a real diversity in the opportunities offered ranging from; bar work, helping in animal shelters, hostels, permaculture type jobs and many, many more. For us, working on the Estancia in Patagonia enabled us to really get to grip with Spanish which is one of our goals for this trip. To help me with my Spanish further, whilst in Samaipata, I took Spanish lessons with well known local, Mario. At £2.50 an hour, they are very good value and well worth the effort. If you want to learn in Samaipata, ask around for Mario, everyone knows him.
- Save money
Volunteering is an excellent way to save money and I would say its usually one of the top drivers for most volunteers. Using the websites such as Help X and Workaway you will be able to set up a profile and search for hosts in most countries. The general rule of thumb is that you are required to work 4 to 5 hours in exchange for food and accommodation. Hosts will understand that you need your days off in order to explore the area. We spent nothing in Patagonia, as we were fed very well 3 times a day and lived in the middle of no where so had no temptations. What we saved in pounds, we most certainly gained in other way! In Samaipata, we did spend money on food and drinks, but in Bolivia, food is so cheap that it seemed easily justifiable. Having free accommodation is the main thing though!
- Get back into a routine for a short time, and resume control.
I love a routine, its the teacher within me, I cant help it. Not having one, has been one of the hardest things about travelling and although I have adapted well, volunteering has given me snippets of time where we have more of a routine again. When you are on the move, on and off buses, in and out of terminals, checking in and out of hostels, you grab whatever food you can to fill a hole. Often bread and jam is included in your room price and eating local lunches (which are cheap) means a huge plate of carbs, a tiny bit of dodgy meat and no vegetables. Being in one place allows us to cook for ourselves and do a shop, scouting out all the yummiest fruits and vegetables which have been delicious in South America. The amount of fried food, and food full to the brim with sugar across South America (and Asia) is astounding and unavoidable. There is also something very wonderful about sleeping in the same bed for more than a few nights, you can really ‘settle in’ and get used to your new digs! Making friends and seeing the same faces each day is one of the best things about establishing a routine, this was especially the case in Samaipata where we met so many awesome people from ex-pats, to fellow volunteers, to people who had got ‘Samai-trappered’.
As you can see, there are so many benefits to volunteering. We have had some of our best experiences whilst being volunteers and I highly recommend it.
A few things to check before taking a volunteering experience:
- Ensure you know whats expected of you. How many hours on? How many days off? Whats the minimum expected stay?
- What is included? If you volunteer in Argentina and food isn’t included you’ll end up spending a fortune as food is expensive. Bare this in mind for the country in question.
- Ask yourself, what, if anything, will I be learning during this experience? Don’t just choose any old thing, make sure you will gain from the experience in one way or the other. It’s still work and you must therefore be enjoy it and get something out of it.
- Accommodation; Dorm, private room, shed, hut, tent, shower? I have seen it all so be sure you know what to expect.
A little look at our time in Samaipata
We volunteered for a lady who rescues street animals. Originally Swiss, but having lived in Bolivia for 20 years, she is well know for her menagerie.
Our jobs in the house only took 3 hours, from 8am until 11am, so we had plenty of time to do as we pleased.
An animal filled month, in a charming little town with so many wonderful people.
DONT MISS: Amboro National Park and a visit to the ‘Animal Refugio’ 2.5km outside of town. An easy pleasant walk or catch a motor taxi for 5Bs.
FOR DRINKS: La Boheme is the best bar in town by far, located on the plaza.
FOR FOOD: La Cocina is run by a turkish chap. Really delicious and very reasonably priced. Order from inside La Boheme. The pizza place by the market, you cant miss it.