Catamarca Province: Visiting an Intentional Community

During the pandemic, a particularly creative family (nine adult siblings) living in sparse locations of Argentina (and even one in the Dominican Republic) decided to change their lives drastically.

Acquiring a plot of land in Catamarca – including a small mountain range – they would build a neighbourhood of cabins, including a vegetable patch for each family. The dream: to voyage back-to-the-land. To be in nature, live a simple, ‘good life’ and sustain themselves completely. This was the makings of La Manzana* (‘The Apple’), bringing together over 30 family members – mid-pandemic – to create this community.

They started their lives there in tents, trailers, small makeshift cabins – all with their young children, some for over a year. They cleared pathways, dug mud roads with their bare hands, until they could eventually roam free. These were old friends we were visiting and we were very curious to see the new life they’d created.

We got to La Manzana mid project – an overgrown, mysterious turn-off from a provincial highway, followed by a steep, muddy descent. Some of the houses were still being built, while others were already lived in. The echoes of cows and children playing in the distance felt refreshing as we left our campervan and prepared to stay in.

(*to respect privacy, a few names in this section have been modified)

We were filled with curiosity, exploring the shared facilities (a workshop, a warehouse-like storage unit, the school). On top of these, each family maintains their independence working remotely (painters, photographers, tech industry, lighting etc).

From friendly kittens leaping on our laps, to the hearty meals laid on the table to greet us, we felt very welcome indeed. Over the days, chicken, geese, goats, horses, cows, dogs (lots of dogs) made their presence known in symphony. The quantity of animals that share this space clearly distinguishes this life from the old life they were living.

We dropped by the school – a classroom come spare bedroom with bunkbeds for visitors. The older ones used to go to school and the younger ones to nursery before the pandemic, but homeschool is the norm since moving here. Adults teach their passions to the eleven kids and they have a numeracy and literacy tutor who comes in

intentional community (n.)

a community designed and planned around a social ideal or collective values and interests, often involving shared resources and responsibilities.

Apparently, in the early days, some of the children were challenged by the shift, getting covered in mud, or bitten by the swarms of mosquitos. By now they have rewilded: found bare-feet-deep in the soil, petting the lambs, swinging from the trees, zooming through the mudways on their bikes, or uprooting vegetables. There really wasn’t much technology around and we didn’t see any screens.

Over the course of a week we joined some of the families for meals. We explored their vegetable patches ( ‘huertas’ in Spanish) learning how natural sponges are made from the fibrous luffa fruit and which crops thrive (watermelons) and dive (broccoli) in the soil. We left with bags of mandarins and lemon verbena leaves to brew tea.

Our visit coincided with a family asado (a traditional Argentinian barbecue on a giant open fire) that each family had brought a dish to. Most of the foodstuff is made from scratch here, there are pantries full of all things cured and pickled. In ways, this week felt like a throwback to the days when there was less movement of people, families lived closer together and there were more communities like these. It was very intriguing!

La Manzana houses some of Argentina’s acclaimed painters and photographers amongst its families, known for their iconic portraits of Patagonia from the years they lived there. But, post this enigmatic shift in life, it seems priorities changed too.

At twilight, before we left, the grandfather of all the children stood smiling in his garden, entranced by their silhouettes, playing. In his comforting Stephen Fry-like voice, he said, “I was going to suggest we (him and Theo) make a film about my life’s work before all this… But then I lost motivation – I realised it’s better to live the movie than to make it.” His face lit up, tracing the small footsteps dashing around him. He broke into heartfelt chuckling. “And so I did…”

Our stay in an intentional community was a glimpse into a life more or less ordinary, yet extraordinary in its vision and spirit. It was a very inspiring visit that opened our minds in many ways.

Insider's Tip:

In this instance, we were visiting old friends at their farm in Argentina. For anyone who is interested in having a homestay type experience to get a sense of the authentic lifestyle in the places they visit, there are two websites (that we haven’t used, but have heard of) that could help with organising this: WWOOFWorkaway We would definitely recommend engaging in opportunities to interact with the local culture of places and where possible, forging deeper connections with communities. 

children can be found bare-feet-deep in the soil, petting the lambs, swinging from the trees...