Restaurants in the pampa [an error occurred while processing this directive]
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Argentinean Locro

Generally, on a cycling day we take a lunch break at about 12:30. Somewhere along the road we eat our bread with cheese or with the sweet sticky liquid substance called dulce de leche (literally: marmalade of milk). However, as we are approaching Mendoza our habits change. Not that we don't eat dulce de leche anymore; how would we have been able to stop an addiction in such a short time. No, our change in habits expresses itself in the fact that we stop more often in a village to order lunch in a restaurant or comedor. This has become easier because lately we cross more eating houses than before. In addition, it has become more affordable because of the drastic peso devaluation. We take a :sandwich lomito, a sandwich with vegetables and a slice of beef, or a full course almuerzo de casa. When we try to order a café con leche, coffee with a lot of hot milk, we are often misunderstood because in Chile and Argentina it is mainly served as breakfast. In this luxury and abundance of food we cannot help thinking about other times we were also trying to find a simple restaurant:

Bella Vista

It was the 21st of November, when we cycled though the Patagonian pampas somewhere between Rio Gallegos and Puerto Natales. Like other days we had cycled in the early morning, pitched our tent at 9:30 and hided for the wind until 18:00. We were motivated to make some kilometers in the evening, because the map indicated that we were approaching something like a village, called Bella Vista. Hopefully, there would be a place where they serve a hot meal, as we were already slightly bored with the food we carried ourselves. We intended to take a larger variety and quantity with us next time; better for the moral. About two kilometers away, on the right side of the road, we could see the river (Rio Gallegos) running down through the dry land. On the other side of the road the old railway ran parallel to our road, sometimes near, other times too far to be visible. It had been used in the past to transport coals from the mines in Rio Turbio to the ports of Rio Gallegos. So far we hadn't seen any train using it. A small distance before we expected to enter the village, we reached a house with a sign that claimed we had found a hotel, restaurant and camping. Full of expectations we opened the door and stepped into a dimly lit room filled with tables and chairs. In the center of the room, a stove with burning wood radiated a pleasurable heat. It had started to drizzle rain in the previous hour. The walls were filled with maps and family photos. Next to an immense refrigerator, stood the counter and showcase, in which fishing equipment was displayed for visitors who want to fish in the river. Behind the counter lay several types of liquor, wine, beer and snacks. While we noticed that besides cookies and sweets there was nothing particularly interesting for us, a woman came from behind to tell us she could offer two meals: soup or sandwich milanese. A sandwich milanese is a sandwich with meat in breadcrumbs, tomatoes, lettuce, and sometimes fried eggs and cheese. A soup, a milanese, and a bottle of coke sounds perfect. We were curious about the camping facilities, but surprised when she answered that it costs 10 pesos with absolutely nothing included; no shower or anything whatsoever. Ten Argentinean pesos, which was at that time still worth ten US dollars, is an awful lot of money when you realize that a little bit further you can put up your tent in the fields for free.

While we waited for the food and had already emptied half of the coke bottle, a group of men entered the canteen. They most likely lived in Bella Vista and came to the restaurant to buy wine and cigarettes. Probably the only telephone in the whole area was located here, because the men all lined up to use it. The soup that Iris got was mainly water and Tore's milanese was just a piece of bread with only a slice of meat, but we really enjoyed every bit of it. The five men left just before us, and while we paid and filled our water bottles, they returned home. The peculiar thing was their way of transportation. They didn't go by foot, bicycle, horse or car. No, instead they packed all together in a little locomotive which they had parked on the railway before the hotel. The little train steamed over the rusty railroad in the same direction as we went. To the village, which turned out to be nothing more than two houses, a farm and a police station.

Tortas fritas

The map showed that there must be a hotel / restaurant near the place where the ruta 40 crosses the river. Because it was very hot that morning, we were longing for a cold drink. Several kilometers before the bridge we could already see the building concerned. Like all the houses and farms we had seen in this area, the hotel looked beautiful from a distance, but as soon as we stood in front of it, it became clear that the house and sheds hadn't been maintained for years or even decades. Rotten wood peeped through the cracked paint, windows were damaged and the roof seemed to be able to collapse in every moment. It was indeed a hotel / restaurant, but although a sign behind the window said abierto (open), the door remained closed after several attempts to open it. Except for some curious chickens running around the house, nobody answered the knocking on the door. This looked like no cold drink for us, let alone a nice meal. We could live with that, but we also expected to tank several liters of water at this place. That was something we definitely needed and we rather didn't take water from the dirty colored river. About three kilometers further along the road, we saw a second house and hoped for more luck.

We found a man, around 45 years old, working in the garage behind his house. He and his little dog welcomed us friendly and after he had explained that the owner of the hotel died three days ago, we were invited in the kitchen. He started to make some coffee for us. "Something I never drink myself", he said. "I stick to the mate". We filled our cups with instant powder and while he poured in hot water, he offered us something to eat . The man pointed to a bag, full with yellow brown things that looked like little cheese soufflés, but were actually tortas fritas: fried dough. Later, we found out that they can be very tasty. With a bit of sugar they are similar to the Dutch oliebollen, which are eaten around New Year. The tortas the man served us, were nevertheless hard as stone and more or less tasteless. He received once a week a new fresh bag, enough for seven days breakfast and once.

It didn't become completely clear what his occupation was, but if we understood it correctly, he was responsible for the state of the road in the area. Anyhow, he complained a lot about the economic situation in Argentina what has resulted in less work for him. We walked with the man to the front room of the house, because he said we had to do him a favor. Many years ago he had received a present from someone who came by. It was a green coat rack with several words painted on it. The man knew the words were English and was convinced it meant something very special. Finally, he met some people who could translate it for him. After we enciphered it, he thanked us politely but his eyes were not as bright and shiny anymore. Disillusioned, he looked to the coat rack with the words: "coffee time, 2nd cup free, make your choice: plain, with cream, complete".

Dag River

We hadn't felt a stronger wind before than in the afternoon of the 24th of November. The only reason we still continued, was the fact that at the end of this straight flat road, there was an estancia / hotel. It was clearly indicated on the map, no mistake was possible. Just a few kilometers further and there would be a shelter, hot soup, hot coffee… Pedaling in the lowest gear (22 front, 28 rear), it took ages before we reached the place. A big gate made from wood, welcomed us to estancia "Dag River". It took a while before we noticed a sign next to the gate. It plainly said the hotel was transformed into a scientific center for agriculture…

Pampa

Rio Boite

In the morning of the 13th of December we still had a long way to go before we would reach El Calafate. Although the route was completely paved, the wind made it some difficult 85 kilometers. Even the steep 8km downhill into the impressive canyon, didn't go fast. We were glad that around noon we bumped into a restaurant unexpectedly, which was named after the river Rio Boite that runs next to it. From the outside it looked more like a farm than a restaurant and from the inside it still looked more like a farm than a restaurant. The first thing we noticed was all the old stuffed animals in the room. Most of them were broken and a big condor had fallen from the concrete wall and still lay in the same position on the floor. Between the bottles behind the bar hung another animal. It was unidentifiable because it had colored brown black in the previous decades, but it was shaped like a circled snake. We gave the kitchen, which was also the living room, a glance and saw that it was decorated in more or less the same style as the eating room. Saying it was good to practice our immune system, we ordered the only meal available. We don't regret it, because it was unquestionably a good meal which was prepared for us: soup, bread, 4 milaneses (without sandwich), 4 fried eggs and a big bowl with lettuce. When was the last time we had seen fresh  vegetables anyway? We were surprised to see two other guests enter the restaurant that stood in the middle of nowhere to our feeling. The two, who worked for the telephone company Telefónica (easily deducible from their car) of course ordered the same meal as we had. While we went back to battle the wind, they started to drink their wine with soda.

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This page was last updated on Friday July 29, 2011
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