Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I took a few days off last week and traveled to the “Outback” of Far West Texas. It’s a region that includes Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park and has been the location for some of my favorite movies, most notably Giant and Fandango. I’ve been there before and should know better than to go after May 1 or before October 1, as the region is also part of what is known as the Chihuahuan Desert, except it’s not in Chihuahua (yet).

I could write about a lot of stuff related to the trip and to the region and may do so in the future. But, this week I think I’ll limit it to one subject…Wwoofing. I guess I’m just out of touch. I had no clue about Wwoofing. But, if you go far enough off of “the grid” you run across such things. First, you need to understand that those who visit Far West Texas are very different from those who live there. Those who visit are tourists who leave their money and wonder how anyone could live there year-round. Those who live there take the money and wonder why anyone would go there for vacation. And most of those who live there only use first names. This is either because they are so stoned they’ve forgotten their last names or they are in the federal witness protection program.

At any rate, a number of these desert inhabitants are in effect old hippies. Some are life-time hippies and some are retired folks who finally got to be hippies (they prefer survivalists) when they no longer needed real jobs to support themselves. And some are Wwoofers. Wwoofers are the new generation of hippie/hiker/hobos who roam from place to place exchanging organic farm labor for room and board. WWOOF is the acronym for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. As noted on their website www.wwoofusa.org:

“WWOOF farms offer a variety of educational opportunities, including growing vegetables, keeping bees, building straw bale houses, working with animals, making wine, and much more…..One-half day of volunteer help is traded for food and accommodation, with no money exchanged. This is not paid work on farms, it is an exchange of education and culture…Any farm, community, or garden project that is willing to host and accommodate volunteers can participate in our program. “

So if you are willing to join this grassroots organization, you too can become a Wwoofer or a Wwoofee. Wwoofing in Far West Texas can’t be easy. I don’t think the Mexican drug cartels support free market capitalism, so I suppose these folks are growing legal herbs and vegetables, raising goats and trying to grow grapes. Lord knows how they get enough water. But based on what I saw, what they do find is not wasted on baths and showers.

I actually had a conversation with a Wwoofer. This guy was in his early 30’s, originally from Berkeley CA (of course) and Hispanic. He was working his way to Costa Rica. In addition to Wwoofing he also had a part-time job at one of the local high-end restaurants. (Which meant that he actually did take a bath now and then. And yes, there are high-end restaurants in the “Outback”. Champagne, caviar and calf-fries.). The next leg of his journey was going due south into Mexico. He had reservations at a friend’s WWOOF farm/hostel/commune located somewhere near Durango. He already had three burros lined up and he was going to take the overland route. I said something about “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” and “no stinking badges” and he nodded and grinned replying “Blazing Saddles…cool”. I just said, “Yeah that too.”

Burros? Seriously? I asked if he was concerned about the drug cartels and other banditos he might encounter along the way. He said no worries; they could tell he didn’t have anything worth stealing. I noted that three burros elevated him to middle class status in that part of Mexico and even if they didn’t value the burros they might just shoot him for being stupid. He laughed and replied that it was something he had always wanted to do. He had been drifting around the States for almost a decade and was ready for a new adventure.

I don’t know if this guy was legit or not. He may be some local who grew up in Presidio and has never been farther away from home than Fort Stockton, but this had the makings of a great story. He said he was keeping a diary. If all went well, he would settle down in Costa Rica and open an organic vegetarian restaurant. I wished him well and urged him to “dream big and think franchising”.

My wife concluded that this guy was just a hustler, probably a switch-hitting male prostitute and that all this Wwoofing talk was bullshit. (Even after I looked up the WWOOF website, she still holds tight to the belief that he was trying to hustle or sell something other than key lime pie.) Maybe she is right, but I hope he makes it to Durango with his three burros and his diary and eventually gets to live out his dream in Costa Rica. I can’t wait to read the book.

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