Vail travel: Warm meal at the ‘big wooden spoon’ |

Vail travel: Warm meal at the ‘big wooden spoon’

Mark Cervantes
Special to the Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

The only heating supply in the old cabin that is home to our restaurant, “El Cucharon,” is the fire we build every day in the old 55-gallon tank sitting in the middle of the room. Before that there were open fires that would offer trappers and others comfort from the harsh climate.

The common meal made over an open flame is a stew as you can hang a steel kettle over it. You simply throw anything you may have caught into it with some boiling water and while warming the room you can fill your belly for the next day’s adventure.

This is a cabin sitting on atop a mountain in the Andean range deep in the lake district of Patagonia. This area has been referred to by many adventures and explorers over the centuries as the “End of the World.” It has gotten this distinction because the conditions in these mountain ranges are hash and very unforgiving. It also has to do with the beauty that seems as if the great creator took some extra special time to lay out these majestic mountains, lakes and skies.

A stew such as the ones that have been made in this refuge for many years would have been eaten with a spoon or, in Spanish, a cuchara. However the stew would be served with what is called in Spanish a cucharon (a huge spoon), hence the name “El Cucharon.”

The name symbolizes a welcoming place where you can get a warm meal to warm your bones and that is exactly what it is. We inherited the name but could have changed it. However that would be like trying to change the name of Lionshead – it simply would not make sense.

So that is the name of our little piece of the Cerro Bayo ski resort and it is now open business everyday by no little effort of yours truly and my loving companion, Marisa.

Our restaurant is so welcoming, in fact, that the owner of the ski mountain who is at the resort regularly, meets with his whole family daily to eat our place. He naturally has full choice of the restaurants on the mountain but likes the vibe we have added and the tantalizing flavors being concocted by our 70-year-old chef, Horacio.

Our specialty is as you might imagine stews or, in Spanish, “guisos.” Horacio, whom everyone on the mountain affectionately calls “Horacito,” has cooked in fine restaurants in Paris, Mexico and all over Argentina and has a heart of gold to share as well as his delectable cuisine. In fact, we recently learned that he traveled with Evita Peron and her entourage to Kuwait as her personal chef.

He is one of the most interesting and coolest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I even asked him once why he would subject himself to such a harsh conditions as running a restaurant in this behind-the-times ski resort on a mountain top in the Patagonian Andes with winter conditions that make even me want to stay in bed from time to time. He answered simply “I love it.”

We have been told that this winter season has been one of the hardest both from a climate and an economic standpoint. As you can probably assume the global economic crisis has affected even this little corner of the world.

Almost more impacting has been the weather conditions that this little microclimate high in the mountains and Patagonian Lake District produces. It can and has rained for 15 to 20 days straight both day and night. It can also snow a foot or five in a 24-hour period.

Lastly the skies can open up as if God himself wants to look down on his creations and enjoy them himself. When this happens, no place I have ever seen in person, print or on TV can hold a candle to this place.

For now, Marisa and I call it home and chapter one of our little movie. Often we sit in our home that has views that would warrant a scenic overlook sign even in Colorado and we thank God for the opportunity to experience this place first hand.

As I have been writing these words I can feel the subtle excitement building in the corners of my mind about the next part of this journey we are living. We are not quite done with Villa La Angostura, Cerro Bayo, El Cucharon or Patagonia but the kettle is on the fire and the next chapter is brewing. We just solidified plans for the development of a new business that we will be starting upon our arrival to Buenos Aires.

We will be teaming up with a new friend/colleague and ski industry leader that owns the skiing and snowboarding magazine of South America to create a tour operating agency. We will receive adventures from all over the world for few nights in the most colorful city in the southern hemisphere and then guide them to some of the most inspiring places located all over Argentina.

After the ski season here, we are planning a three-month excursion through parts of Patagonia, crossing the border over to Chile for some amazing beaches, heading to the wine country of Mendoza and then to Marisa’s mother’s hundred-year-old home to help with the remodel.

Someone much wiser than I once said, “Life is what happens to you on the way to where you think you need to be.” I took those words to heart when I first heard them and have tried to live my life with this mantra of the here and now instead of the distant future or someday.

I have not always had the opportunity to do so but right now I am doing so and I don’t know if I have ever felt so alive. Not one day goes by that I don’t see something, learn something or hear something and wish I had my family and friends with me to share the moment.

Perhaps these little articles will serve as the doodles of my adventure on the napkin of life’s restaurant. If you feel the urge to hit the road, see the world, or just change the scene I suggest you do so before it truly not an option. For that matter come meet us somewhere along the way.

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