Archive for the ‘Patagonia’ Category

Ravioli and hot showers

December 28, 2008

Found in a sign-in book at the Cervecería Artesanal, a restaurant in El Chaltén:

Sunday 20th March 2005-
Dear Mr. Bar Man,

We came in this afternoon and noticed that you were really hot……
…….So we brought our friend back to meet you.

….Only to discover that there was a different (but equally hot guy) behind the bar….

From talking to you the night before we knew a bit about you so we asked the (new) guy if he was your friend and you were traveling together….

…..He seemed a bit confused and so did we…..

……until we realized that you are in fact
THE SAME GUY and must have had a shave!

Patagonia is magical like that.

Hot guys aside, there really is something strange, wild, and magical about Patagonia. Most of it is empty of almost everything but wind. There are no bounds to what you are looking at—the sky keeps going, as does the land. And then, in the midst of all this emptiness, there are the glaciers. There is no way to describe what a glacier looks like, only what it did to me to look at them and to feel some of the strongest yearning I have ever felt for something to exist and continue existing, no matter what were to happen to me.

But after gazing and hiking and yearning, you must eat. And the best place to eat in strange, wild, and magical El Chaltén is the Cervecería Artesanal, the very same restaurant in which we found this funny story.

You could almost miss it from the outside, just another wood-hewn building among others, with no clear sign indicating its name. We might have walked right by it the first day, if it weren’t for the hikers who looked so happy sitting outside drinking the home-brewed cold beer.

When you walk in, though, you can see immediately how much the owner loves her restaurant. The walls are papered in articles and photos, from James Dean to Leo Tolstoy, and there are sturdy, good-looking cakes on the counter. The aforementioned sign-in books are scattered on the tables, and you can spend a very pleasant afternoon flipping through the happy memories of people from France and Australia and Spain while the light streams in the windows. It is always a refuge, whether it’s hot or windy, and I’m sure even when it’s cold.

That same love and attention is obvious in the food. The salad is composed beautifully and creatively. Everything, the pears, tomatoes, celery, walnuts, blue cheese and cream, tasted clear and sure, cut and placed authoritatively in the bowl.

The lamb ravioli was firm and tender at the same time; no fear of sub-par Argentine pasta here. In classic Argentine fashion, you can pair any pasta with any sauce, but I think I did well in picking the light and tangy tomato sauce.

Bodegon is a good place to have a beer with some complimentary peanuts and popcorn at any time, but I highly recommend going there especially if you have camped for five days eating nothing but Knorr instant food.

That is Patagonia. Yearning for something you can’t even identify, and then finding happiness in a hot shower, a bowl of ravioli, and a quiet place to read funny stories.

Argentine cookies

December 9, 2008

You may have already heard my theory on how a country’s junk food reveals a lot about its culture. Ta-da, here is Argentina’s rendition of the Oreo:

An alfajor is two cookies bound together with a filling, dulce de leche in Argentina, and then covered in a thin layer of chocolate. Like all Spanish words that start with “al,” it’s derived from the Arabic word for “relleno” or “filled,” and entered Spain with the Moors during the time of Al-Andalus. Hmm, that would explain their extreme intense sweetness.

And then there are the chocolate cookies with beef fat in them:

And cows everywhere:

The best drink in the world

December 9, 2008

I don’t want to sound like an ass, but you haven’t lived until you’ve had some whiskey on ice from the glacier you’re standing on. It doesn’t even need to be good whiskey. It can be Famous Grouse, and it will still leave you with a weird and wonderful feeling of chilliness, warmth and delirium.

Zizou* and I arrived in El Calafate in southern Patagonia bleary-eyed and dog-tired. We’d stayed up all night drinking with new friends before getting on a 5 a.m. flight, which was unfortunately dominated by a very loud and boisterous group of French tourists. Despite being half-awake, with only one eye open, I distinctly remember hearing one of them say, “J’ai peur! J’ai peur!” (“I’m afraid! I’m afraid!”) as the pilot went for a second try at landing around the giant lake. I was especially surprised that I understood what he was saying, because I don’t understand spoken French.

But we somehow managed to haul ourselves to our hostel, America del Sur, and to book ourselves for a “mini-trekking” trip on the glacier the next day from Hielo y Aventura.

We approached the ice by boat on water that was a milky blue from the sediment in the glacier. Marco, our guide, was waiting for us. As Zizou said, “Good God! You get off the boat and there’s a handsome Argentine waiting for you on the dock!” There is mucho eye candy in this country, mucho.

The guides tied crampons, giant metal teeth, onto our boots, and we soon marched onto the ice in groups of ten. The crampons felt fantastic—we could walk up steep slopes like we had been given Spidey powers. Our group was the “English-speaking group,” though it was mainly Germans and French people, which meant we got to hear Marco say in his very flat and funny way, “Now we go hi-gher,” with a hard “g.”

We marched up, we marched down, in a quiet single file, too awed by what we were seeing to say much. We walked around pools of water and looked down deep blue holes. We cupped water into our mouths, and I surreptitiously crunched on ice. The glacier, as smooth as the ice looked from far away, was made up of tiny little bits of ice, so that we were walking on a path of crunchy glass shards. We were told to wear gloves, despite it being a warm day, because if we fell, we could cut our hands.

There is so much more texture and color and variation in a glacier than I’d ever imagined. I had learned, from a book, that glaciers move, but nothing could have prepared me for the sense of movement beneath my feet. From the viewing balconies, the peaks had looked like giant teeth crowded and pushed against each other. Up close, there were also soft, undulating waves that reminded me of Gaudi.

Near the end, we marched up one last slope and found a little tableau, like a movie set, two small tables with glasses, a bucket, and a few bottles of whiskey. We stood around, finally laughing, while Marco poured drinks and we ate alfajores, the national sandwich cookie.

The whiskey tasted sweeter than any whiskey I’d had before. I could feel happiness spreading through me. It was the best drink I have ever had.

*My friend has asked me to identify her as “Zizou” to protect her privacy. I, unfortunately, am not a traveling companion of the great Zinedine Zidane.