LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 82
By: Gabriela Pomponio
THE OLD BARS
There are points on the map that are neither villages nor hamlets. They are barely hotels either, having few - or no - beds. Almost museums that, whether open or shut, evoke former times and distances.
When it took days to move between the coast and the Cordillera, the hotels were exactly a day's journey one from the other. That's why Santa Cruz had so many of them. Most closed down as the vehicles and roads improved.
There was no point in them anymore. But just going into one of those that have remained open, and seeing that mixture of alehouse, general store and social club, is to understand the importance they had at the start of the last century. You can still play the sortija, drink a gin or a coffee and chat with the family running the place. Its history, however, is better found in books and in the memories of those who once anchored themselves in those roadside refuges.
Anecdotes, Bets and Loves
In her book El vasco de la carretilla, una historia patagonica real,[The Basque on the cart, a true Patagonia story] Patricia Halvorsen tells the story of Guillermo Isidoro Larregui, a Basque who had lost his job in Standard Oil, and made a rash bet in the Mata Amarilla inn: that he would reach Buenos Aires by cart. He set out in 1935 and arrived the following year.
He seems to have been welcomed with great celebrations and appeared on the front page of Critica and La Nacion.
Mata Amarilla - near Tres Lagos - formed part of a company whose members were Bach, Broderson and Jensen, who were also owners of the inns of Punta del Lago and La Leona. At the end of the 20's they split up and each kept one of the properties. La Leona passed into the hands of Bach.
It is thought that this place - still existing - dates from the first decade of the century. Records in 1917 say its owner was a certain Sanandres, but he is sure not to have been the first.
Further south, on Route 5, La Esperanza hides a story of mestizo (half-breed) love. It was founded in 1889 by the Scotsman, William Ness, who fell in love with the place, and took a Tehuelche woman as his partner, with whom he had two daughters who inherited his surname.
The queen of the south
In the 20's Pablo Farrays' Inn was famous in its own right: "The queen of the Pueyrredon". This was the name given to his wife by the Indians of the lake, who were astonished to see a woman so blonde and so white. Emma Miglio, an Italian woman of fighting spirit, had met her husband on the boat that brought her from Montevideo to Buenos Aires. They fell in love, married as soon as they landed, and left for the south.
In 1917 they set up the first inn in a canyon near Comodoro Rivadavia that is now named after her. Three years later they left for Lake Pueyrredon. Things went extremely well and later they bought the estancia La Peninsula and sold the business to Gerardo Mondelo. The inns were true centers for news relaying the stories carried back and forth by the travelers.
"If the inn-owner was on good terms with the nearby estancias, their people would come down to celebrate social events. But in general it was a place for laborers, peddlers and people passing through the area", explains Nohra Fueyro, historian of San Julian.
Memories of El Cordillerano
"It was two days' drive along Route 40 from San Julian to Lake Posadas", remembers Manuel 'Pocholo' Lada, who used to drive the El Cordillerano bus from the 60's till the 80's.
"We all had lunch in the Riera and slept in the Bajo Caracoles, that at that time could lodge 10 or 12 passengers", says Pocholo, who gave up the adrenalin of the road for the peace of his estancia, La Oriental.
By that time, many of them had been rebuilt in tin, but kept their original austerity, and the type of food that, as he tells us, left much to be desired. Like that time when in the Olnie they served horse meat for beef…
On Route 40, Las Horquetas is one of the oldest. A little further south, on Route 25 just before San Julian, is the Bella Vista hotel. It was built in 1943 by Marko and Maria Marinkovic on the former hotel Tres Huellas. Alex, the son of these Croatian immigrants has followed the family tradition and maintains the place with pride.
If you are thereabouts, stop and take a look at the details. It's nearly 60 years old, and hasn't changed a bit.