Life on the Ranch and Brewery


I will be teaching English from July 2 – Nov 30 in Manizales in Colombia.  It’s halfway between Cali and Medellin, smack dab in the middle of the coffee region.  It has a famous yearly jazz festival and theater festival, I think both in September/October, so I’m very excited to add this to my calendar!  Also, it’s famous for being a university town and has between 6 and 7 universities in the area.  According to Wikipedia, 10% of the population is composed of students!  There are even mountains, rivers, and plenty of parks around the area!

I will get a salary, health insurance (for doctors within Colombia), and a bonus of $80 if I stay to the end of the commitment– which I will.  I will probably be working with a coteacher, but as with many programs in Colombia, you just adapt to whatever happens.  For instance, one person experienced a teacher strike that went on for a month!  Truly, you never know.

Here are three reasons why I’m particularly excited about this program and applied for it.

  1. I’ve been wanting to see if teaching was a good fit for me, specifically for older kids (high school or older). I’ve thought about teaching economics in high schools back in the states, and while I anticipate this to be a good fit for me, I don’t have any actual teaching experience in a classroom.  This would give me that.
  2. I’ve also been wanting to see if teaching English was a good fit, as many people live abroad by teaching English. Getting the TOEFL certification takes about a month and $1000, so I didn’t want to make that investment unless I knew this would be a good fit for me.
  3. I earn a (good) salary! I don’t anticipate I’ll be saving a lot of money, but I think I’ll save some, and it’s nice to earn actual money instead of just trading labor for a bed and food.  I know Walden says that trade poisons everything it touches (his reason for farming his own food and building his own house instead of working for money and using money to pay for those things), but as someone who has done both….salary (back in USA) and work-for-room-and-board (~25 hrs/wk through HelpX and workaway), I can say that it’s nice to earn actual money!

OK so announcement out of the way…


Life on the Ranch and Brewery

I learned that I suck at all things ranching.

I’m not super strong, I’m certainly not very experienced with ranch work, and what seemed so obvious and intuitive to them was foreign and unnatural for me.  But I did do a few things right: I tried to talk Spanish with the ranch guys (who had a heavy accent and made communication difficult) and I never complained once.  But it was definitely a more trying time for me psychically because I couldn’t express myself well (their English was at “hello”) and that’s important to me.

But I have a new best friend, Jimmie, the dog at the hostel!bty

My brewery experience, by contrast, is pretty much the opposite.  Well, I don’t know anything about beer, so it’s not exactly an opposite.  But the couple (Mario and Root) speak English, at least a little bit, and Root is fluent in English!  Also, the food here isn’t just meat-and-potatoes or meat-and-lentils or meat-and-soup or….you get it.  In fact, here at the brewery, there’s normally only meat for lunch or dinner, but not both – which is super nice for me because I got sick of meat and it’s also a lot healthier!  Also, she bakes fresh bread every two days!  Mmm bread and butter!

Life on the brewery is basically exactly as expected.  Roughly 5 hours a day, 5 days a week (sometimes Saturdays).  Actually, it’s a bit better than expected: the food is better than expected, and the people are way better than expected.  Root, a nice Thai woman, is former engineer and a really cool person, and I’m pleased to have gotten along so well with her.  She adds a nice homely touch.  Mario is also very gracious and kind, but he’s also the smartest person I’ve met in Chile.  I love talking politics, culture, economics, and history with him.  Keep in mind that I can only keep a conversation going on these topics because I studied economic development of South America for a course in college, am super interested in economic development (meaning I read and ask people these kinds of questions all over the world, and read books on the subject), and I also happen to be fairly conversant in Marxist and post-colonial theory as well.  He, on the other hand, never went to university and so only knows about this because he wants to be informed and he has such a perceptive and analytical mind.  Damn!

I feel much more settled than I have previously.  I think traveling means you are constantly on the go, and though I’ve taken steps to stay at places for much longer than most (Porvenir for 2 weeks, Ushuaia for 10 days, El Chalten for 11 days – whereas most people stayed at those places for a third of that time.   I haven’t felt very “settled” before on my journey.  This is the first place that I have felt this way, and it’s affected how I live – though I’m also staying here a month, the longest I’ve stayed anywhere, so I’m sure that’s a factor.


What is Joshua’s schedule/routine at the brewery?

Most days, I wake up early – my alarm goes off at 6:02am.  I usually watch an epiode of Gotham or Sense8 on Netflix.  Then, I get out of bed and make coffee and usually work on Spanish until we have breakfast from 9-10am.  Then we work from 10-3, have lunch from 3-4, and then have the rest of our day to do whatever we want.  Usually I do hikes in the afternoon.


Goals while living here

My big-picture goal, for the past two weeks at least, has been to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it.  This is one skill I’ve gotten better at, mostly because I’ve gotten better at pausing and realizing “why am I doing this?  I don’t want to do this right now!” and then I get up and go do whatever I actually want to do.

Physically, I have 4 daily goals I try to do every day: stretch, meditate, do sprints, and do 75 push-ups.  I can touch my toes when I pull myself toward them, and I can almost touch my toes when I stand up!  In my entire life, I can never recall a time when this was possible, and it’s a major goal of my SA time.  I also do 75 push-ups (not all at one time!) and meditate for 15 minutes almost every day, and lately I’ve been sprinting because I eat so much bread and don’t want to get fat!  😛  I’ve still gained weight though.

I also practice Spanish every day, spending a couple hours every day (2-3 hours?) to either review vocab, learn grammar, review grammar.  Then, I also use Spanish subtitles for any movie, TV show, or comedy video that I watch.  I also have a couple videos that I use for Spanish audio – though I admit that they speak so fast, it’s hard for me to keep up.

Lastly, I’m trying to change my food preferences.  I’m trying to be less picky with food!  I used to NOT like the following food items, but now I like them to such a degree that I will go out of my way to add them to my food.  Craziness!

  1. Chocolate
  2. Sweets – cakes, pies, cookies, etc.
  3. Nuts and seeds of all kinds (almonds, peanuts, chia seeds, everything)
  4. Caramel and Butter toffees
  5. Butter
  6. Bread (well, it’s homemade, and I’ve always liked homemade bread but still…I’m that guy that will buy bread, and I’ve NEVER been that guy!)
  7. Pickles
  8. Parmesan cheese


Enjoying Patagonian winter

I’m also really enjoying the winter here in Patagonia.  I’ve liked winter ever since I took note of the symbolisms of winter.  While I don’t like the cold that much, I’m also drawn to popularized themes of winter: renewal, cold, damp, dark, patience, healing, barren.  Very plutonic, if you follow astrology.  So yes, the symbols draw me more than the actual experience of winter, but I’m not going to lie…I’ve also been enjoying the actual experience of winter of Patagonia.  The mountains are gorgeous and covered in snow, and there are outdoor trails to go walking on through the bare and frozen woods.  I do a walk almost every day, though I usually do them to practice Spanish and my bare hands often freeze holding my Spanish notebook lol.  🙂  There’s ice on the roads in the early morning and in the evening (which means I can’t do my sprints at these times), and the gas lines are sometimes frozen when I wake in the morning, but still!  How cool!



Cerro Castillo

Yesterday, this (annoying) German girl expressed amazement, and a little disdain, when I told her that I was staying in this village, Cerro Castillo, for two months.  Girl, its my life shut up!  Also, whatever.  Water off a duck.  Just goes to show that everyone is different, I guess.

For those who may not know where this village is (I say village because at 400 people, it’s definitely not big enough to be a city, and probably not even big enough to be a town…and that’s by Patagonia standards!!), it’s on the Carretera Austral, the famous “number 7” highway from Villa O’Higgins all the way to Puerto Montt in Chile.  It’s about…halfway up?  Anyway, it’s a beautiful and quaint little town that has one of the best 4-day hikes I’ve ever done!  I was fairly lucky because I came here on a whim, not having heard of it before a guy who picked me up hitchhiking told me about it.  Also, lucky me!  I’m staying here for 5 weeks at a brewery and 2 weeks working for a hostel.

Anyway, so I do the hike – pictures below – and it’s fantastic.  I headed out by myself (on my birthday, April 4) and at the restaurant where I was picking up a birthday sandwich (wasn’t that good), I met a cool German guy named Alex who was my hiking companion for the whole hike.  I’m slower than average and he’s faster than average, so unfortunately, he was waiting on me a lot of the times, but he was charming and gracious and we had a great time together.


a Chilean friend we met on the way, me, and Alex on the right



we hiked up a pretty good way!


OMG it’s snowing!  Day 3 of our 4-day journey, in the morning.


OMG we met new friends on day 3 night, heading the opposite direction.  We camped together.


Finally we get to head downhill!


I finish the 4-day hike, go say hello at the brewery (they seem nice) and then try to work at a hostel to save some money while I figure out what I’m doing until May 5.  Basically, I had 3 weeks to kill.  I kill a few days staying at the hostel and figuring out what’s going on.  Then I go to Puyuhuapi where they have this lovely little national park – and it’s a very small park! – where I get free apples.

Weird story!

The people who picked me up hitchhiking (I’m always hitchhiking) go inside the park while I set up my camp.  Apparently they found an apple tree (I never saw one), picked apples, thought of me, saved me some apples, came back to find my campsite (how’d they recognize my campsite???) and left me 4 of them.  I recognized their truck as it was driving away and they stopped to say they left me apples.

Only in Chile….Have I mentioned how amazing Chileans are???  Yes, yes I have.  And I’ll say it again.


Such nice people


Glacial shot of inside the park.




Anyway, cool couple down, I spend 2 nights in the park and 1 night in the village of Puyuhuapi, and then head back to Cerro Castillo.  People had told me that it was a can’t-miss area, which is why I came here in the first place, and…I wasn’t impressed, sadly.  It didn’t stick out to me at all, but ironically, what DID stick with me was the large city of Coyhaique on the way to Puyuhuapi, with its many restaurants and cafes, and everything you could possibly want to buy and the beautiful river/foothills range north of the city.  Now THAT was beautiful, and I can easily see why someone would want to camp there.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see any spots to camp there!  😦

Sometimes, it’s just nice being in a big city, you know?  Oh the Coyhaique Café!  Best torta (dessert item?) that I’ve ever had in my life – it literally melted in my mouth (not exaggerating), and it was so sweet and delicious and the raspberries were so fresh and yummy omgggggg.  And the hot chocolate that went with was really good too!!  I’m totally going to go back there hahaha.


I come back to the city because I have carpentry work to do!  I expect to be doing it for the next 3 weeks, which didn’t happen, and I learned an important life lesson!  Or a couple.  Unfortunately, it’s one of those valuable lessons you learn because you made the wrong decision, but I’ll take what I can get.

I came back to Cerro Castillo, and lo and behold, this guy who told me he’d hire me won’t return my messages!  Whyyyyyy???  And because I had gotten so stuck mentally on doing carpentry work and getting paid for it, I just could not let it go and readjust my plans!

It is important to be flexible and not sabotage yourself because youre overly attached to failed options.

I was already feeling a little bit guilty for spending so much money on stuff that wasn’t explicitly “necessary” (though enjoyable, for sure) and also feeling constrained with money, such that that I was feeling weak (lack of money), powerless (I cant get him to talk to me), and shamed (I spent too much money on stuff I dont need).

It is important to make a decision when youre in a state of abundance, of power, and of strength. 

Needless to say, the decisions I made at this time were not the best ones because I was unable to overcome this state of weakness and guilt.  I stayed for 2 days at a hostel, paying $15/day to waste my time and have shitty wifi.  Then, instead of going after what I really wanted (carpentry work), I settled on working at a hostel for free room and board in exchange for working on their ranch, about 4 hrs a day.  All in all, not a bad gig – but not the best either because its not what I was really after.

I really wanted carpentry work and I settled on ranch work.  In fact, I didn’t even look (hard) for carpentry work!

Yes, the hostel/ranch owners are nice and I’m growing in Spanish.  Yes, I’m eating local food (which is spicier than I thought it would be).  Yes, it’s free and I am saving lots of money.  Yes, I’m learning how to repair/construct cow fences, herd cows, clean stables, and pick apples.  I’m also learning what goes into keeping cows (selling them, weighing them, anti-parasite injections, moving them around, etc.) – and unfortunately, it’s sad how we treat animals that we use for food.  But is this my best self?  No, it’s not.

For those curious, I did, however, about 8 days later, think about my time and what I wanted.  I took some time to change my state (“change your state, change your life” says Tony Robbins) and then, while in that state of power and freedom, I decided to stay here at the ranch.  I only have 6 days left anyway, and I have to come back here to work at the brewery, and I want to go hiking for another 3 days anyway.  But I wish I had changed my state to make a better decision (whether to look for carpentry work and/or travel around) back 10 days ago when it would have made much more sense!

So we’ll say that this is one good lesson learned.  Maybe 2.  🙂

Also, we don’t treat animals well.  I’m not saying every animal has a soul, but cows do for sure.  If you just hang around them any substantive length of time, and especially if you mistreat them, you’ll see it.  They have pride, a sense of dignity, a feeling of companionship with other cows, a motherly concern for their young.  So do horses.  And dogs.  Cats too.  Pigs too, so I’ve heard, though I haven’t spent any time around them – in fact, I’ve heard that they are some of the most intelligent animals on Earth!!  I’m convinced that going vegan is the only ethical option, and an obvious one at that.  Unfortunately for the world, I’m not a wholly ethical person.

Also, you know what’s fun?  To think about life design.

I took some time just to reflect and came up with 4 alternative lives (lives that I’m thinking about having when I finish this trip) and did a couple things.  First, I did a written description of each ideal life’s “best”.  It normally started out with “This would be an awesome life because…” and then I would detail what my life would look like!  That got me excited about each one.  Then, I did a list of pros and cons, what I would be giving up and what I would be receiving in return.  Then, if applicable, what I would need to make this “life” a reality.

None of them can coexist together at the same time, but that’s okay.  It’s about having each life be independent from the others (can’t live in the middle of a big city and live in a self-made cabin/farm in the woods at the same time).  And even though it was a little sad to realize I would have to take turns with them, I guess I can save some of my best living for my future too.  🙂

It’s fun to imagine possibilities, though I also admit that it leads to some sense of discontinuity in the sense of my life.  Like, how right now doesn’t feel like a part of my life…it feels like a pause on my life.  Is that a bad thing?  I just get so envious of people who feel that their travel life IS their life.  I guess, I mean that I’m acclimatized to this “pause’ of my life, but I don’t feel that it’s “my life” as much as it is a break, a time to renew myself and grow and learn new things and then take those skills, lessons learned, etc. and use them to construct an even better life than the one I had.

Imagine, if you will, going on a 4-day hike and then seeing a side path that is completely off the main path but is supposed to be worth it – so you spend half a day, following this path around a mountain and then you arrive at a beautiful glacier and it’s amazing, and you sit there and take it all in – and then you head back to the main path route.  It’s valuable, worthwhile, beautiful, fun, etc.  But it’s not the actual, main path either.  My current life of travels feels like that side path.