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.


  1. It was an adventure!!!
    Have you ever thought about being a writer?:)) Literary?:)

  2. Hello Writer!
    This is Jonathan, the internationnaly famous French traveler, ahah! Very funny by the way...
    Damn, I love your friend Carlos, I have to meet him on the way back to the north!
    Well, ya francus, spasiba!

  3. O, francuz, zaebis`!
    Well, if you plan to visit Carlos, we suggest you approach him fucking carefully...
    Do vstrechi!