I’ve been back from New Mexico for a few months now and I figure its about time I get to writing a review of my experience at the Abominable Snowmansion a few miles north of Taos, New Mexico.
When I was looking at how to travel cheaply for the summer (’09) I joined the USA chapter of the World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) Organization. The Abominable Snowmansion was the only one of a few that I contacted which responded. We arranged a commitment for two weeks for myself and the possibility of longer. So after my stay with a friend in Texas I hopped a bus to Taos and called from town.
I can’t recall who picked up, but the front desk of the hostel was under informed about the coming and going of ‘WWOOF’ers. The hostel and grounds are owned by the Brothers Subra and Amu; but the garden is the playground of their Mother, Mouna (Moon-ah is how I came to pronounce it). I was told to show up during office hours (8am-12pm, 4pm-10pm) and we’d figure it out when I got there.
The Local bus does not actually go all the way to Arroyo Seco, Toas, NM (where the Mansion is; as opposed to Arroyo Seco, NM, many miles south west of Taos) but I didn’t walk more than 5 minutes from the northern most stop before someone pulled over and offered a riding. I was told hitchhiking was common in the area, and sometimes it is more time consuming but I got lucky.
There are a number of people who help with the garden but it appeared I was the first of those invited through WWOOF, and I think the front desk got more aware of it, but it would still depend who you catch when calling. Mouna is in favor of people relaxing their first day but it wasn’t uncommon for new people to learn that after jumping right in their first day.
Generally speaking even working in the garden people would spend a certain amount of time each week helping with some task for the Hostel; Be it working on a side project (building a fence, tiering a hill for growing herbs, ground keeping, building a green house are just a few of those I saw), taking a desk shift, or turning over rooms and cleaning common areas between guests. Its roughly 4-12 hours helping the hostel and as much time as you want on the garden each week depending where your staying. This leaves time to take paying work elsewhere and a number of workers staying longer do just that.
On the subject of the garden it really wasn’t my thing so I quickly shifted to a more hostel oriented work schedule. Serious WWOOFers may find the garden to be a rather chaotic assortment of farming tricks, techniques and fumbles. If you seeking new rigid farming philosophies your probably best looking for a more commercial farm; however if you you want to experiment with multiple styles at once you might find the opportunity here. Mouna is very open to trying new ideas and enjoys interweaving philosophy, spirituality and life into her personal learning of field tending. A question may result in many tangents and likewise you may need to hold the reigns to gain her concentration on a single subject; but one can only admire her nearly always mirthful eagerness for each day in her garden.
The main shifts in the hostel are pretty straightforward. Front desk will deal with checking people in and out; as well as doing laundry. The cleaning shift will take a person through any room that has been left that day as well as common areas, kitchens and bathrooms. Changing sheets, towels; Making sure they are supplied with soap and toilet paper; and disinfecting etc.
The duties of the garden and hostel are not all that happen. Mouna will also teach of herbs, medicine, body work, cooking and a number of other subjects. The Seco Pearl and Arroyo Seco itself occasionally host musicians and artistic events. During my stay there was also a weekly sweat lodge and dinner; Tuk has since left the area but I think Mary-ann and Pat were going to continue leading it (not sure if they’ll do it during winter months though).
Overall I found my time as staff to be very enjoyable. I met many wonderful people, both guests and staff. As employment Subra and Amu are pretty relaxed bosses and none of it is complicated to learn. Accommodations range from camping to small cabins (work load depends on where you stay) and all of them are plenty enough for the basic traveler. They prefer workers to stay at least two weeks and to be trained on desk tends to assume a few months stay. I’d highly recommend it for a short stay or as a multi-month stop. What was a two week commitment turned into almost 3 months in total.