From the beginning, my goal for Mountain Walk was to offer two posts a month. This is number twenty-four and that makes a year of me trying to write something useful to your search for Forrest Fenn’s treasure while at the same time making sure I threw you off any track I happened to be traveling.
However, a problem came up. In trying to throw you off, I was often the one who became confused. But in doing so, I rediscovered the truth of what Forrest has said—there is a satisfying thrill involved in all of this and, for me, it often shows up when I am the most “confused”—a Mountain Man term for “lost.”
I suppose that should bother me but it doesn’t. You see, I’ve been lost so many times that, long ago, I started to enjoy it. There is an addictive adrenalin rush to getting lost and there’s no telling what will happen.
Back when I wandered Latin America, I would catch a random bus in a new city, ride it to the end of the line and then try to find my way back. That is how I found El Pulpo, a small family-operated seafood restaurant in the famously carnivorous city of Buenos Aires. Can’t say who had more fun, me trying bits and pieces of everything on the menu including squid, octopus, sea urchins, clams, and barnacles or the owners watching me eat. Being from the Valle de los Españoles in New Mexico, up until then anything stranger than a hamburger without green chili was really, really bizarre. Forty or so years later, El Pulpo is still there and I always recommend it to anybody I find who is going to that fabulous city.
Sometimes, I would just leave the hotel or restaurant and ramble, thinking about whatever I had to think about except about where I was going. For example, I once started walking after a dinner just off of the beach at Ipanema. The dinner consisted of way too much Brazilian asado—something best described as a never-ending parade of skewered lumps of lamb, pork and beef with sides of yucca and/or lettuce and carrots washed down with Brahma beer. I wound up after dark in the highest part of one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas.Two teenagers who became my BFs for thirty minutes or so walked back down with me. There are a whole lot of rich people in Rio who would be amazed at how beautiful their city is at night when viewed from up where the poor folk live.
One Sunday I left my hotel in Montevideo and found myself in an industrial park behind the soccer stadium where I saw a small building surrounded by several very old cars. I thought it was a junkyard but it was a restaurant. I went in, took a seat, selected a plate of tortelloni in a cream sauce from the menu and enjoyed one of the best, and least expensive, meals I have ever eaten. You can do that in Montevideo—beef and seafood all dressed up in Italian.
This is not to say that Uruguay hasn’t gone through some very rough stretches. The first time I was there it was all demonstrations, tear gas, and citizen beatings. This time though, even the graffiti was gone except for just one that I saw on that ramble: “Haute Cuisine” was scribbled in black on a high stucco wall. When I finished my meal, the couple at the next table graciously took me back to my hotel in their 1937 Chevy or I would probably still be walking. Both the food and the people in Montevideo are special.
I once stayed on the beach in Venezuela rather than pay the outlandish prices for a hotel in Caracas and while out for a late evening stroll I came upon an outdoor neighborhood dance. I stood just outside the ring of non-dancing dancers that surrounded those who were and a young lady came up and asked if I would join her party. As we walked back to where she had come from she told me that it was dangerous for me to be there alone. Her party consisted of two brothers, a cousin and her six-month old child (her army husband off on duty somewhere). An hour later it was nearing time to leave. They invited me to visit their home and I did.
It was a half hour walk almost straight up to what looked like a three-room partially built house set among a great many other three-room partially built houses stacked on and around one another. In all of them, plastic curtained doors separated the rooms and I know this because all of the houses had windows with no windows. They offered me what they had in food—a round, plump, deep-fried Twinkie-like arepa made from a cornmeal jacket stuffed with goat cheese—and a drink of local rum. When it came time to go, the cousin stuck a pistol in his belt and the guys walked me to the hotel. I have great friends in Venezuela though I don’t remember their names and have no idea where they live.
So, here is my special anniversary Forrest Fenn/Food Critic hint on how to find a whole lot of treasure: get lost (and I mean that in a good way).