When we got to the end of the road, there was a great yellow colonial building called La Casona del Molino, and here we spent the next 11 hours and had the best experience in my time in Argentina.
All the gates were locked so we went round the back and a chef came out and said a lot of Spanish words in a short period of time, I assumed the gist of this was ‘piss off’ so went off round the corner, but on the way I had a look through the window, thinking maybe we’d come back later when they open.
Next thing I hear from behind, in quite a broad Lancashire accent, “ ‘ola you al’ite there lads?”
I couldn’t help but laugh as this stout old man called Sam, dressed in full gaucho gear – leather boots and a big poncho over his shoulders, address us in such an unexpected accent, his wrinkled leathery face beaming from under his hat as he said
“..come on in lads you must be bloody freezin’ ”
As he showed us to a table he said ‘now you’re a bit early but sit down over here and I’ll get you a beer when I get a second’ He had come to Salta 14 years ago and had worked there ever since. He spoke Spanish to the other barmen in the same Northern accent and lived above the pena.
The staff were rushing around lighting candles and arranging the tables while Sam went off with a reservation sheet, ticking away. Within the hour the place was packed. Pubs in Argentina aren’t like England, you are given a table and if you want a beer you ask a waitress to bring one over. So we were sat there, the only English in this huge pena that had 6 different rooms arranged in a big horseshoe shape around a central patio where Sam poured drinks for the waitresses and chefs rushed around a big fiery stove.
Its hard to describe the character that this place had, art hung on the colourful walls, it was absolutely crammed and people were playing guitars and drums, which were passed around from table to table. Open, wooden-framed archways allowed the sound from next door to float in. People were singing along to the Argentinean music and applauding after each song. I wished there were places like this in England, but I wonder what would happen if you turned up with a guitar in Weatherspoons – I imagine some assistant manager would inform you they don’t have the correct license, or you’d get a load of abuse from some skinhead with a skinfull.
We ordered food; locro, tamales and empanadas which were really amazing. empanadas are like little pasties, and you can get them in all kinds of different flavours with cheese, beef or chicken. I loved the locro, a typical Argentinean stew -real hearty food - and we sat there drinking more beer and tearing off chunks of bread to dip into the sauce.
We were a bit conscious of the strange looks we were receiving form many of the locals, especially when I tried to cut and eat the maize container that the tamale came in. The lady on the table laughed and explained that you have to untie the package and eat the contents only.
As the night went on we got chatting to the table opposite us, half of whom could speak English and eventually we joined them. I was really feeling the need to work on my Spanish though at this point because it’s still terrible. They talked about their own travels to Bolivia and shared their cocoa leaves with us.
The cocoa tastes pretty bad, but you kind of get used to the taste as you leave big bundles of the leaves in you’re cheek for hours, adding to it every now and again, along with little dabs of baking soda to draw out the juice. It’s meant tohave similar effect to coffee and the locals use it to stay alert and chatty. Apparently it’s also great for altitude sickness, and poorer people from the countryside apparently use it frequently as it also reduces your appetite. I must admit I didn’t really notice much of an effect, although that could be attributed to the stronger effect derived from the accumulating empty cerveca bottles sat on the table.
Later on when Sam finished work he joined us and told us the history of the Falkland Islands, which was really interesting but as the night wore on his conversation took off on more and more crazy tangents. He started ‘uncovering the truth’ about increasingly contentious topics that I think were all inspired by Audeus Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. Did you know fluoride in the drinking the water has no scientific proof in curing tooth decay and is being used to control us?
“Have you never heard of Baxter lads, you’ve got to know the truth about the flu jab! Wake up!”
“Did you know the media is controlled by 13 companies… and you can whittle that down to 3! Look on infowars! All these things, the big brother society in England…”
“Global warming, the hockey graph, load of bullshit! Humans only account for 0.0025% of C02!”
I left armed with his crazy array of scrawled citations. Thanks to this impressive conversationalist I learnt about; Maurice Strong – the Father of global warming, James Delingpole, Lord Monkton, Alex Jones…
Paranoid maniac, enlightened mystic or deluded former-northerner? I’d be interested to know your views…