Quechuquina

I’m in love with Dulce de Leche. I need no mistress in my life. I have Dulce. It’s delectable on toast, bananas, ice cream, apples, and many many other things. I once mixed it with avocado. That was surprisingly off-putting. Not recommended. The girls at Quechequina introduced me to taking full spoonfulls of it. The stomache-wrenching ache you get 10 minutes later is totally worth it. Drinkers deal with headaches after a night out; I’ll deal with bellyaches.

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I got back to Buenos Aires yesterday after a 20 hour bus ride across the country. I booked my ticket early, so I was able to claim the best seat on the whole bus. I was on the top deck, in the solo aisle, right above the cockpit. I had a 270 degree view out the front windows to look out over the dust-blown desert, stagnant farm towns of La Pampa and look out at the constellations of the night sky. There are pretty much three segments of the trip back to Buenos Aires. The first part is through the void, the Andes’ rain shadow. Next are expansive farms of La Pampa, and finally, as you cross into the Buenos Aires province, where over 75 percent of the Argentine populous lives, the landscape starts to look inhabited.

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This is quite a sight. It’s about two and a half hours east of the Andes in a small desert town.

I’d like to remark on the institution that is Argentine bus travel. Middle to long distance bus travel is much more popular in Argentina than it is in the United States. Most Americans tend to fly with discount plane fairs–or drive themselves– any distance that is over 8 hours by road. Here, cheap flights don’t exist. There are only two airlines that fly domestically. For the majority of people, taking a sleeper bus is the only way to cover ground within the country.

Here are notes from my book:

“At Retiro station–the central bus terminal in Buenos Aires–the departure deck is lined with about 60 double decker coaches that line up and stretch out into the horizon. Perfect for a drawing 1 exercise in perspective.

The station is always filled with a mix of locals, foreigners, rich and poor. All barrios come together. The young the old. It’s a sample size of the country. Walk here through Recoleta, then past the villas. The thin line bordering huge economic disparity.

The calming voice of the announcer over the PA system contrasts with the impassable throbs of people.

Relaxing warmth of a cloudless summer day at dusk.

I remember the first time I was here–going to Iguazu–sensed a chaotic disorganization in the bus system. Nothings really on time. Now I understand it and feel at home here in the gateway to other parts of the country. I know the system. Comfortable in the chaos. Anything less would feel eerie. It’s real. It’s departure, arrival. Tears, hugs, love, loneliness, excitement.

Someone next to me is bringing a fishbowl back from the capital back to home, I assume some place he can’t buy a fishbowl in town.”

My time spent on these buses has reached close to a full work week. (36 hours to Iguazu and back, 20 hours to Bariloche, 8 hours from Calafate to El Chalten and back, 16 hours from Puerto Natales to Ushuaia, then 42 hours from Buenos Aires to San Martin and back). I don’t really think of it as lost time. I get to read, think, draw, write. The worst parts of the trip are the meals. Likely plastic and more foul than any airline meal, the nice buses serve you wine and alfajores, though. All buses have some sort of mix up between the wiring of the AC and the audio system. Either sounds come out the air vents or air comes out of the speakers. The former is much more of a nuissance. You can always throw on another layer, but you can’t do enough to muffle the noises of the atrocious movies they play.

The buses never run on time, but they are always ‘on time.’ Once, my bus ran about an hour and a half late, but the clock inside said it was running 3 minutes ahead of schedule. Disorganized travel is a theme here. Things usually tend to work out as planned but if they don’t, it is not a big deal.

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I feel like I got a lot accomplished during my three weeks in San Martin de los Andes. I went out there on a spur of the moment, last minute decision. My original plan was to participate in a three week artist residency that I got accepted to in Buenos Aires. As I was hiking around Patagonia in December, I rethought that plan, as it was signifcantly expensive and didn’t include room, board, or materials. The idea of having to pay that much to paint seemed ludicrous.

I explored other options and found Jeannine Facht and her estancia in San Martin. She invited me down to her property on a lake in the Andes and said that we’d be able to find a place where I could post up and make some work.

I tripped out west, slightly weighed down with guilt from having cancelled on the artist residency just a week before it started. The director was severely ticked off. She told me I was making an extremely unwise decision by forfeiting the networks and resources of the residency, but she said she wasn’t surprised given my young age and immaturity. The other reason that I should have stuck around, she claimed, was that they already taken the time to make a page for me on their website, but copying and pasting what I wrote into google translate isn’t really too hard.

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All being said, I felt awful that I had changed my mind so late and upset the other party. But you can only be young, wild, and free once, right? I have no regrets whatsoever. My two weeks in San Martin were some of the most remarkable of my entire year.

I stayed on a ranch 30 miles outside of San Martin de los Andes. The property had a couple thousand hectares with trails through the woods, lake-front with amazing hidden coves, a saw mill that manufactured pieces for log cabins, and a lunch-house where long-time customers and tourists alike visited for lunch.

The tea house was run by Jeannine and four Argentine girls, two my age were cooks and bakers and two 19 year olds served the tables. The place was open for tea, drinks, lunch, and pastries from noon until nine. There was no TV, internet, cell service, or anything out there. The place had the vibes of Camp Nor’wester. One of those amazing places out in a beautiful part of the world that relies on good old-fashioned human interaction, good food and good company.

Speaking of good food. I was served all sorts of culinary marvels: tongue that was boiled for two days, peeled, soaked in tangy onion, pepper, basil, oil sauce, venison milenesa, flank steak boiled in milk, home made pizza, I was taught how to fold an empanada, home made gnocci, blood sausage…just to name a few things. It was delicious. We ate all our dinners family style, besides empanadas that we took out to a field to eat under the full moon, and the home made pizzas that we ate around a fire.

They taught me how how to bake bread.

I taught myself how to juggle.

There was a ranch dog there, Bones. She looked like a super fit and skinny black lab. But she was some sort of mutt. Bones was a fantastic dog. One day, almost a decade ago, she showed up as a puppy. Someone had left a box with stuff on the side of the road near the ranch and she was in there. Living at the ranch, she has become one of the most capable, least domesticated dogs I have ever met. Bones was an outstanding jogging companion. As I’d weave through the forest trails, she’d keep up but not get in my way the way my dog Ollie does. She would also go off on her own pursuits and adventures to find water, take a quick dip in a pond, or catch a snack. I once saw her craftily catch a rabbit by pretending to maneuver one way behind a tree, but then speedily sidestep and come around the other side to freeze the rabbit in stride. I let out a supportive cheer for bones, and hurried back to the tea house to promote Bone’s accomplishment. It was nothing new, Bones is an expert rabbit catcher, she snacks on a least one or two a week and doesn’t even bother to cook em! She takes them down whole, hair, bones, and everything. Bones lived outside in a bush that one of the girls, Fleur called the portal. She would disappear in there for hours during the heat of the day.

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During the day, I’d paint in my abandoned stable studio, read by the lake, or go swimming. I got to read a lot in the past three weeks. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, about life in a Mumbai slum. Tales of a Shamans Apprentice, stories of ethnobiologist Mark Plotkin’s adventures in Surianme’s rainforest living among natives to understand medical and spiritual uses for plants. In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin’s tales of his Patagonian adventure. City of Thieves, a story of two Russians looking for a dozen eggs during the Nazi blockade of Lenningrad. It’s more than I’ve ever read in my life.

Here’s what I put together there:

My last day there, I hiked up to a peak on one of the hardest of all the trails I’ve done in Argentina. It was vertically straight up for 2.5 hours. At times I was keeled over on my knees huffing and puffing. I got to the top to a 360 degree panoramic view of the Andes range, but strong winds and ominous black clouds prevented me from reaching the peak. The rocks up top were soft, the footing was bad, and I didn’t want to get myself into any sort of trouble as I was hiking alone and I was the only person on the trail.

My nickname at the ranch was Boobs. Here’s why. Before I showed up, Jeannine told the girls that they were going to have a visitor, an artist/ traveler named David Bruce, David ‘Booze’ one of the girls heard and asked his name is David Booze?! A second girl was in the other room and heard David ‘Boobs’ then questioned, his name is Boobs?! They broke down into a hysterical fit of laughter, as they did about eight times a day and the name stuck. For the first two days, they called my boobs when I wasn’t around. After they figured out that I had a sense of humor, they let me in on the joke and it stuck.

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