Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ASADO and the Drunks of Cholila

Asado is a technique for cooking cuts of meat, usually consisting of beef alongside various other meats, which are cooked on a grill parrilla or open fire. It is considered the traditional dish of Argetina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and southern Brazil. (Wikipedia)

We hitched out of Bariloche in the afternoon, relaxed, fresh and recently showered. We had to wait a little to be picked up by a lovely aged female architect who drove us to El Bolson. Accidentaly, she also gave a lift to Jonathan Mouette, a famous french intercontinental hitch-hiker, only a week ago! We felt like we were following a hot trail...
We had a lunch of organic youghurt and freshly baked bread in El Bolson, got a quick lift from an organic farmer for 10 clicks and got stuck. The place to be stuck was a pleasant one, with an empty half-built and abandoned house with no fence around it (a division of Vagabond Express Chain of Hotels and Resorts) across the road, next to a medium-size supermarket. The mountains were all around us, hence the name of the hamlet: El Hoyo (The Hole). We got stuck in a hole. A gas station was a little ahead of us, on our side of the highway, but it mostly served local antique pick-up trucks. Their drivers in big ¨Georgian¨ hats (¨gruzinskie kepki¨ in Russian) made hand signals alluding to the very close proximities of their destinations and the vehicles themselves generally did not look like they could make it to Esquel, 180 km further south.
We were watching the sun approach the mountain silhoutte and decided that when it touches the forested outline, we will close up the shop, go have dinner and an early night in an unfinished room. Ha! Little did we know of the adventure awaiting us aboard the truck that was idling at the gas station!
Three minutes before our deadline, a rusty red, beat up flat bed pulled over somewhat strangely for us: the driver gave a few extra turns to the wheel in both directions, as if not sure of weather he was pulling over or just slowing down to let other cars pass. He did eventually come to a stop and layed on his horn as if he was waiting for us for an hour. We ran over, hopped onto the flat bed and were off towards Cholila. Cholila is 30 kms off the main drag. We wanted to go stairght to Esquel, but the friendly (and a little drunk) driver Carlos invited us to stay the night in his house and eat asado. We could not refuse. We stopped a few times on the way to the house to refill the supplies of beer inside the cab (we got a beer out back, too)and made it to Carlos´ estate on the top of the hill outside of Cholila around 10. That is when we got to meet his two companions: Jose, his brother and Gustavo, his half-brother.
Jose looked about 50, he had no front teeth and laughed sheepishly at whatever Carlos said, behaving very much like Ippolit Matveevich Vorobyaninov, aka Kisa (a hero of a novel ¨12 chairs¨ by Ilf and Petrov). Gustavo was only 19 years old, he had a big chin and an empty gaze. He did not say a lot, but did everything Carlos told him to.Carlos himself had a likeness of Mr. Bender, lacking only in youthfullness, handsomeness and intellect.
The trio returned from a delivery of a load of bricks to build a new cabin on Carlos` land. Another notable event in Carlos´ day was the fact that he was thrown out of his house by his wife. In the next 24 hours we must have heard this irrefutable fact repeated 50 times, with such an air about it as if it was delivered fresh every time.
¨You know what happened to me today? My woman kicked me out of my house!¨
When we got into the house, Carlos turned into Carla (his own words!) and cooked chicken and meat in the gas oven, proudly calling the meat on offer an ¨asado¨. He also bought a lot of beer, very cheap wine and a whisky-based liquer (which contained only 25% whisky and god knows what else) to go along with the feast. After downing a few glasses he got professionally drunk, with glazed over eyes and an unintelligable speach. He lacked front teeth just like Jose, he spoke fast and used a lot of slang. He got very upset with us when we missed his unwitty points. At 1 am he kindly offered us to sleep in his room, while he was to crash out on the dirty kitchen floor. We tried to politely protest such a fountain of hospitality, but his fist landed on the table with such force that we concluded it was better to do as was being suggested.
Carlos suddenly got furious at the very end of the night with Anastasia. She did not understand his mumbling when he told her to close the door to the room for the night. Instead of repeating his suggestion, he slammed the door with such force that the whole house shook and paint fell off of the walls. Unsure of what our host can come up with next, we went to sleep in a somewhat distressed state of mind. There were flees in the matress, too.
In the morning Carlos woke us up by gently pounding on the door with both fists at around 7 am. He offered us mate for breakfast (we were happy to be drinking mate again!) and downed two glasses of beer himself. He sent Jose out to warm up the truck and announced to us that we are going to a place the likes of which we have never seen before and that we will never forget in our lives. It sounded a little stretched out, but we decided it would be better if he took us to where there were other people, so we went along. Carlos did not lie.
He took us to a local bull auction. The bulls were the finest Herefords, but that was not the highlight of the day. The highlight was the ASADO.
To get to the auction, we drove on the dustly roads around Cholila for about half an hour and then entered impressive-looking gates of a private ranch. We had to board a private FERRY that took people and vehicles across a swiftly flowing 30 meter wide river (from the parking lot to the grounds) - better barrier against thiefs was not invented since the middle ages.A 10 meter long fire was burning in front of the barn.16 big cow parts were stuck on iron rods around it.4 men were tending to the fire, pulling the coals from under the blazing logs and closer to the meat with long-handled shovels. A master asadero was busy directing the process, but he kindly answered our questions about it and even hailed his helpers over to pose for a classic 19th century photo.Our leader was so excited about the free meal that we rolled onto the empty parking lot at 10 am, the first guests to arrive. Asado was not due until 2 pm. Having nothing to do, the joly company fell soundly asleep on the lawn directly behind the public portable toilets. We sat nearby, in the shade of the tree, also catching a snooze after a short and nervous night.
The mighty snoring of the great combinator was interrupted by a loudspeaker, inviting all the assembled guests to the tables. The tables were set up in a huge and clean shed, there must have been around 500 seats. Each table was covered by a sparkling white table cloth with a smaller red one turned 90 degrees in the center, giving the barn a look of a 5 star restaurant.Soon after the people settled in, the meat started to arrive on special trays with hot coals underneath to keep it warm.Our particular table of eight received three such trays loaded until FULL and the red wine was also restocked thrice. The waiters ran around looking around for emptying trays and bottles. Carlos commented loudly after pretty waitresses passed nearby: ¨Hermosaaaa!!!¨(¨Beautiful¨). He pulled a huge Argentinian knife out (we notice that other men also used their own knives to eat) and started chopping away at the meat. The table space around him soon looked like it was a place of a furious life-or-death battle between the steak and the salad. Noticing the mess, Carlos shyly pulled plates and other assorted items found around over the extra juicy stains. We felt like we were suddenly tranfered from the side of the great Ostap to the side of a semi-human stage of Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov. Or perhaps our hero had both sides of the literary personalities in equal measure.
After the meat ran out, the plates and glasses were collected and ice cream was served for desert. This concluded the free feast and the guests followed out onto the fresh air to the set up ring where the bulls were to be auctioned off. We got to pay our respects to the team of asaderos who worked for 8 hours to cook the meat before we were dragged off by our excited friend.
As soon as we installed ourselves in the shade to observe the auction the action began.
¨10 chestnut chairs!...¨
Not exactly like this, but the auction commenced.
The first to be sold was the best and the most expensive bull by the name of AX-6738. A strange move by the seller. The following numbers were progressively decreasing in price. Carlos actively participated in the action from his grass seat in the last row: after the bull was sold for, say, 10 000 pesos, (around 2500US) he yelled out, apparantly wispering to Anastasia:
People looked at him from the corner of their eyes.
Jose behaved in a much more agreeable manner: he fell soundly asleep, stretching out across the grass nearby. When we got up to leave, a kick from Carlos´ sharp-ended cowboy boot was unable to wake him up. We had to shake him back into conciousness.
The drive back was slow and windy and we were lucky to part our ways with Carlos in town, masterfully dissuading him from inviting us to spend another night on his bed.
Заседание продолжается!Our quest to reach the ancient trees continues.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


We thought that we will be out of this town in a day, but the surrounding landscapes are so beautiful that we decided to stay the weekend to see more of it. Moreover, our CS hosts Paula and Denis were very welcoming and cheerful people, entrusting us with a key to the appartment and making us feel at home. Denis is an outdorsman and a Russian, from Omsk. We spent an evening listening to his stories of the routes around Bariloche - all in our native tongue:) Paula is a nuclear scientist, the first one we have ever met in person! There is a research facility in town.
There is a very strong German influence in Bariloche. The first wave of the immigrants came in the 1850s to clear and work the land. The second wave came when the Germans were loosing the WWII. The ones who could stuffed their pockets with jewels and gold and immigrated as far as they could from their fatherland. We have met a few young people who told us that their grandfathers were Nazis. This is the main square.The scenery around Bariloche is said to be very ¨Alpean¨. There are cristal clear lakes, vast forests and snow-capped mountains.
The first day we took a town bus to the nearby place called Llao-Llao (pronounced Shao-Shao in Argentinian Spanish). There is a short but beautiful trail through a Coihue (Nothofagus dombeyi) forest, and in the middle of it there is an ancient Arroyan (Myrceugenella apiculata) grove.Stunning. We hitched half way back to town and took a bus home from there.
The second day we followed Denis´ advice and made our way to Lake Gutierrez, also a short bus ride away from town. There we walked to the falls and climbed up to the lookout where we saw this view.This time we got tired out much sooner than we thought we would and returned home.
Tomorrow we set out towards Parque Nacional Los Alerces, home to 2000+ year old trees.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Having gotten out of Valdivia with sublime simplicity (a small red car pulled over without any prompting on our part) we headed ever south, to Chiloe.
It was very easy to reach Puerto Montt, but between it and the ferry to the island our luck abandoned us. We were deposited at a tough spot and waited almost 3 hours before a man in a grey pickup stopped. He took us half way to the ferry and during the ride he said not a word. The turn off where we got out was totally unsuitable for hitch-hiking, so we decided to walk the remaining 15 kms. The walk was refreshing and when it got late, we happened to be passing by an empty house, in which we camped for the rainy and windy night.In the morning we cooked a proper breakfast with hot tea, walked a bit and travelled the remaining few kilometers with a roadworking truck.We walked onto the ferry and were delighted to know that ALL ferries in Chiloe do NOT charge pedestrians!
Chiloe is an archipelago, but there is one main island. It is covered in perpetuous mist and it is almost always raining. The island looks like a funny mix between two great Canadian islands - Newfoundland and Vancouver. The landscapes are of Vancouver Island with the white peaks on the horizon and pasture all around, but the locals and their towns look more like the East coast.
As it rains so much here that the locals distinguish beween the different kinds of rain: heavy rain that rolls off of your woolen sweater and does not get you wet (!) is quite different from a drizzle that gets you soaked in a matter of minutes. The rain is considered ¨better¨ when the wind is strong - the clouds are moving and the weather may change soon, whereas when there is no wind it can rain for weeks on end. If it is raining only sparringly, it is considered a good day out! We were lucky to catch four sunny days on the island before the weather got back to normal - rain (the wet kind) with wind.
A few typical images of Chiloe:A harbour of AncudLos palafitos-traditional seaside houses on stills
A wooden church. There are many on the island, and most of them look like this one near Castro.
Our idea in coming to this island was to reach its southern port of Quellon and look for a boat to take us across the strait to Chaiten. When we came to Quellon, its port dissapointed us: there was only a very expensive (20,000 pesos=40 dollars) ferry that was doing the run to Chaiten. No other boats, fishing vessels or navy ships were going there. The fishing boats are even prohibited to approach the dock in Chaiten and this is why: In 2008 the volcano erupted and covered the town with a meter of ash. The town was abandoned in a hurry. Then, the fishermen from nearby settlements began raiding the abandoned houses, maraudering. The navy was forced to interfere and put up a barrier which no unauthorised vessel is allowed to cross.
In Quellon we were hosted by Carlos Villalobos and his family, deep in the countryside, 16 kms out of town. We spent three days with them, listening to their incredible stories of their 7 years spent on the shores of the Tic Toc Bay. Their closest neighbours lived a 100 kms down the coast!This is the backyard!
So, there was no ride available for us, and we were not considering to support the monopolizing ferry company. The only option available to us was to come back to Osorno, cross into Argentina and re-enter Chile at Fatalefu, which seems like a trip in itself.
On the way back to the mainland we were picked up by Jaime Cardenas, a scientific technician who was on his way to take water samples from a shell growing farm. He invited us to accompany him. We went to the farm, dressed up for the sea like the real fishermen, met the harvesters who were getting off work and then got to witness the cultivation of the mollusks first hand. The water in the bay was contaminated by red bacteria, so Jaime was taking samples to see if the levels were back to normal and the harvesting can resume.The shells are exported to Europe by an airplane!
After our little tour was over, we were back on the road and got to Chacao in the afternoon. There we stopped by a friendly InfoChiloe office to say hello to our friends we made when we first stopped there. This time we were invited to cook pizza, drink beer and stay the night!!!
In the morning we walked a hundred meters to the ferry, chatted with a trucker while at sea and travelled with him to Osorno. He was carrying a container full of frozen salmon destinied for Saint-Petersburg in Russia!In Osrono we were unable to get a lift so we camped at a road-side greenhouse.
The next day was rainy and miserable, the only ride we got was from a bus (who refused to charge us) to the next town Puehue 50 kms down the road. There we got all wet near an empty highway and seeked shelter for the night under a roof of a tractor shed of a local house. In the morning the weather turned around and the sun was shining once again, and with the sun our luck came back. A quick ride with the municipality folks to the border and then a touring couple taking us straight to Bariloche through a beautiful scenery of Nahuel Huapi Park.We are in Bariloche now, it seems like an obsenely touristic place, we will be on the road again as quick as we can.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Santiago to Valdivia

Uff, once again we kept putting off the blog and now there is so much to tell...
Let's start at the begining, go until the end and then stop.
We tried to leave Santiago for four days. The first day we met up with Armando. He is the crazy Irish-Argentinian whom we met back in Cusco. Over a glass of beer in his office an idea was born to travel together. We decided to go to Argentina, down highway 40 and cross back into Chile at Pino Hachado. Good. He had some work to finish so we waited for him for one day. The next day we agreed on leaving at 2pm, but it did not happen. We walked out of the house at 4:30, missed the last bus to take us out of the metropolis and the only thing we could possibly do was to buy beer and come back to the house we just left. Armando knew of a party happening a few blocks away, so we went there and finished the night at 4 in the morning. The next morning the awakening was hard but we managed heroicaly and were hitching out of Los Andes that afternoon. The first truck stopped in under 20 minutes and took the three of us over the beatiful snow-covered pass into Argentina. We camped outside of Portillo with a camp fire and a beautiful starry sky above us.It took us 5 hours to get a lift next morning though, and even that for mere 50 kilometers until the highway 10. The traffic was speeding by at 120 km/h. In addition, a passing thunder cloud dispersed a good measure of hail above our heads and we had to seek shelter in a road-side chapel. We were expelled from there half an hour later by a pious owner of a near-by business. ¨This building is for praying and not for hanging around in!¨ he said.Ok, we relocated to the near-by gas station and waited out the rest of the storm there. It was too late to travel by then so we made a tour of the surrounding area and located an abandonned church, in which we camped for the night.
It was drizzling in the morning, but the sky cleared later on and we were out on the shoulder again, but nobody would stop. We became bored with the scene and walked to the next on-ramp, some kilometers away. As soon as we installed ourselves there, a truck went by, with a strangely familiar passenger inside. He had his nose and palms of his hands pressed to the side window as he went by. ¨Jonathan!¨ It was him indeed, our travelling companion from Peru and Equador. We got a ride shortly after this ¨encounter¨, and then another one in rapid succesion, which deposited us at the entrance of Malargue. It was late at night and the place for getting off could not have been picked better. We saw in front of us a perfectly half built and then abandonned shell of a would-be hotel. The inside was remarkably clean and we did not even had to put up the tent, but spread our bed-rolls out on the second floor. In the morning we located the super-market, had breakfast and walked to the end of town.
There was very little traffic. After standing there for some hours and seeing no suitable vehicles to take all three of us, we decided to split up. As soon as we walked 200 m past Armando, we got a ride. The energies were changed and we continued our journey, meeting funny truck-drivers, sharing meals with them, camping in unexpected places and witnessing gorgeous landscapes and sunsets. Armando got a lift 5 hours after us and travelled very fast, covering the distance until Las Lajas in two days. It took us four days.
The driver who brought us to Las Lajas invited us to stay in his house, which we surely did. Carlos and his wife Carina were great hosts, we drank mate, ate asado and stayed up late for three days.On the third day Jonathan came to town as well and was also welcomed to the house. We talked late into the night with him. In the few months since we last saw each other, this guy has been to Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Buenos Aires and back to the cordillera. Wow.
In the morning our paths went in different directions: Jonathan went further south to Bariloche and we crossed back into Chile. A traditional group photo and Jonathan gets a ride in a few minutes, leaving us steeping in black envy on the opposite side of the road, waiting for our ride for hours.
We are in Valdivia now. The forests around here look identical to the ones in Canada, until you look closely: it is made up of entirely different species! We went to the botanical garden this morning and spend some hours walking amidst big strange-to-us trees that looked almost like spruces, cedars and poplars, but... different! We are very happy to be in the forested lands once again.