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Vail man rolls up his sleeves

Mark Cervantes
Special to the Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail Daily/Marc Cervantes
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Back to our contractor, if that is what we want to call him. His smile and mate were great but they were both tones of a very relaxed guy who was clearly not going to achieve the goal of finishing on time and had already made peace with it.

It was at that time that I had to truly take a step back, a deep breath and swallow my first real dose of the nonchalant attitude of the Argentines. The Argentines love to complain and have long-winded conversation about the country’s many problems but they will be the first to tell you that none of them is doing anything about those problems. The saying is “es asi,” meaning that is “how it is here.”

In fact, complaining about the lack of advancement by their country is almost a national pasttime. Argentineans are in no rush to get anything done – ever. These people cherish their family, mate, naps and asados (barbecue) like nothing I have ever experienced before. They cherish these things so much so that they make time for each of these passions every single day everywhere in Argentina except for Buenos Aires.



During lunchtime, banks, stores and restaurants – yes, even restaurants – close so that everyone can go home and enjoy a mate with the family, nap for a couple hours and have a lunch that will hold them off until dinner at around 9:30 p.m. or 10:00pm. The Argentina time clock does not march to the same beat as the rest of the western world and that is all there is to that.

Knowing “how it is here,” we decided that the only way we could open close to on time – or even late – was to role our sleeves up and get to work with our contractor. We started the remodel project with our new best friend, Guido, and created stories I would have to share over a glass of wine with you to really breathe any life into them.



To give you a brief glimpse, Marisa and I began the daily search of buying the materials that were needed to complete the construction while also jumping in on construction projects with Guido from time to time. Understand that there is no Home Depot but 10 fereterias (hardware stores), all of them specializing in absolutely nothing.

If you need three different type or size screws you are likely going to find them at three different fereterias. If you need three types of lumber you are also likely going to find them at three different lumber yards and so on.

Now it is imperative that I give you a brief description of how this resort and the six restaurants function so that you can wrap your head around the task at hand. Try to picture what I am about to describe and then you can put this experience into perspective.



Our Refugio is located on the top of the ski hill and is roughly 150 to 200 yards from the top of the chair lift. There is only one way to get supplies and materials to the top of the mountain where we are located and that is on the chairlift. The path to the restaurant is part of a rather steep ski run and is coved in snow.

Whether it is the lumber to finish the floors or the 250-pound tanks of gas that need to be brought every two weeks to run the kitchen, it all has to come from the chair to the Refugio in someone’s arms or on you back. Organizing snow cats to bring the supplies to all the restaurants is far too much for the director of mountain operations guy to fathom. He is somebody that used to fish with Jon Pier and drove a tractor so he qualified as the mountain operations manager – now you’re getting a feel for the Argentinean way of doing things.”

The restaurant is a whole life all of its own. I will share it with you as it first came to me. We knew that our place was the oldest on the mountain and had many lives before we took it over. It wasn’t until we began to get regular visits from an older gentleman in a ski patrol outfit by the name of Isaiah Ortiz did the blanks get filled in.

As you can imagine, we did not open on time and the ski hill had opened on schedule. No one came in, but we did get a daily visit form Isaiah. At first I simply said hello and respected that a ski patroller was scouting the place out and assumed he simply wanted to know if there was any danger that he need to be aware of.

I pictured a guy like our Vail mountain Mongo (Chris Reeder) inspecting a building that was under construction on the Vail ski mountain just to eliminate the unknown. However this gentleman was doing far more than that and finally I had to approach him and ask what business he had there and if I could be of any assistance. It was at that time that he informed me that he was the first and only ski patroller on the ski hill for Jon Pier and had lived in the building for many years.

In essence he was walking through his old home and his curiosity kept him coming back day after day. He was inspecting all of the changes and additions, many of which were being made with my very two hands. As he explained his history, relationship and affinity for this old structure made of the very logs cut off the land, it was clear to me what I needed to do. I offered him a mate and we have seen him every day since.

He is our biggest fan and a walking billboard for our menu. He has been kind enough to share some stories and one of them is how the place got its name “El Cucharon,” meaning big spoon. He explained that when he lived in there and even before then, our place had served as a refuge from the harsh Patagonian winters and even summer conditions for trappers, trekkers and the like.


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