At 8 p.m. we put the motorhome on the ferry and headed towards Buenos Aires. The motorhome was down on the car deck and we were up on the passenger decks. The river was quite rough that night and several people were sick, including Paul. It took over three hours to make the crossing.
Once through customs we again had 90 day visas.
We spent couple of days in Buenos Aires again working with the Aduanas trying to get permission to import the motorhome. No one was willing to sign any papers allowing us to officially import the motorhome. There was no law saying we couldn’t do it, but then again there was no law saying we could. Kind of a catch 22. The run around was maddening, everyone would say yes, yes, yes, but no one would sign, sign, sign anything. And then they said they didn’t have the paper work we had filled out before we went to Brazil. So we started all over again.
We got fed up with the bureaucracy and drove back to Mar del Plata to El Griegos. The weather was warming up and the campground seemed like a good idea. We again settled into daily living.
A few things had changed since we left a couple of months before. The bathrooms had been finished and a man had been hired to keep the wood cut and fire the furnace all day long so there were hot showers 24/7. This was good because the water heater in the motorhome had decided to quit working and the only way we had hot water was to heat it on the stove.
A family of seven, one of the campground workers, his wife and four kids and his uncle were now living in the laundry room while a house was being fixed up for them. In a couple of weeks they were in their house. I think I mentioned the laundry room before, now there were a couple of “washers”. They had to be filled and emptied by hand - with cold water. The agitators were about seven inches across and located on the sides of the tubs. The only thing they did well was tie everything into fantastic knots. So I continued to wash by hand and hang things on the line to dry.
The prices in Argentina continued to go up daily. Canned food was ridiculous. A can of sauerkraut cost (all prices in US funds) $2.60, a can of peaches $1.50, a 3 ounce package of jello 45 cents. Meat literally doubled in price over night to over $1.50 a pound and this is a country famous for its beef. A whole chicken (including half of its feathers) cost $1.20 a pound.
And to make a long distance phone was another trek into town to the main telephone office. Then it would take any where from 1 to 3 hours to get through to the US.
We were undecided when we would return to Buenos Aires. And then came the proposition from El Girego himself that kept us there all summer.
We’d been back at the campground for about a week. I was taking the clean clothes off the line before it rained the usual afternoon rain when I heard Gil yelling at me.
What was he yelling?
He ran towards me arms waving, yelling at the top of his lungs. “Mom, Mom guess what? Guess what? Dad says we can stay here all summer! Wait’ll I tell Paul and John.”
Bill wasn’t far behind. He looked around until he saw me at the clothes line. “There you are.”
“Listen. El Griego wants us to run the restaurant here this summer. Says he won’t charge us for camping if we do. And he’ll give us a share of the profits. And we can get what ever food we need from his grocery store.”
I put the clothes in the basket and turned towards him. “Are you nuts. What do we know about running a restaurant?”
“What could be so hard - cook, wash dishes - you’ve been doing that for years.”
“He’s waiting. Let’s go talk to him. I think we should do it.”
“Come on.” He said as he started towards the office.
What an idiot I thought as I trailed behind him. Who does he think is going to cook and clean? Not me, that’s for sure.
As we got closer I studied the building that was the restaurant. Needed a lot of repair. Probably hadn’t been used for years. The walls were in desperate need of whitewashing. Birds and bugs had made nests under the eves. There were two wasps’ nests around one of the shuttered windows. Pieces of tile from the roof were scattered over the ground. The water tank on the roof didn’t have a lid. Looked like it leaked too. No glass in the windows just shutters.
El Griego was leaning up against the door jam waiting for us. One shinny black boot crossed over the other. He was kind of sexy looking in his baggy black “gaucho” pants black cummerbund and white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He was around 70 but looked 50. His hair and mustache were still black and curly. As a young man he wanted to sing tango. Instead he owned this campground and a market in Mar del Plata. Bill said it’s the good life here in Argentina that kept him young. I thought it was the good wine and the fact that his wife and sons do all the work. He straightened up and started towards us, hands outstretched and beckoning. “Come, come. Good, good! Let me show you what’s here.”
“The door will be fixed.” He motioned to a door lying on the floor just inside. “I’ve ordered a rotisserie and refrigerated case for out here.” Arms waved to include the front room. “And a couple of tables and chairs for over there under the window.”
Bill looked at me. “We can bring the TV and Atari game up here.” I just rolled my eyes.
All that was in the front room was a heavy wooden counter. A cash register sat at one end. I looked behind the counter the cobwebs were so thick I couldn’t see the floor. A shiver ran up my back.
They moved into the back room. “Here’s the kitchen, nice huh? Everything you need.”
Shaking my head I followed. What is he getting us into? I didn’t come to Argentina to be a cook!
There was a cast-iron sink, the white enamel worn off long ago, attached to the grimy wall. Next to it a big black stove. Six burners and a grill top. I looked behind it. There were gas lines so at least it wasn’t a wood burner. In the middle of the room sat a table about 4 feet by 6 feet. The oil soaked wood was nicked and grooved from years of cutting and chopping. Its surface was wavy, like a wood floor that had been walked on for years. A deep fryer, a small metal table and a once white refrigerator stood along the far wall.
I pulled the handle and the refrigerator creaked open. “Look at this." It was working cause it sure needed to be defrosted. The ice was so thick it completely filled the freezer compartment. Not that that was such a big deal, clean the freezer could only hold three ice cube trays, if there were any. The rest of the room had cupboards and shelving full of dusty cobweb covered jars and boxes. There were flies all over, dead and alive.
I nudged Bill and pointed to the gaping hole behind the range.
El Griego saw where I was looking and said, “Oh, an exhaust fan goes there. It comes next week. What do you think?”
Smiling and extending his hand, Bill said “Looks great we’ll do it.”
“Are you crazy?” I snarled at him.
They shook hands. I stood there with murder in my mind and heart and looked around at “our restaurant.”
El Griego left. I turned on Bill. “You realize there are a few minor things that need to be done to this place. Like doors and windows for starters.”
“I know. The guy‘ll be here early tomorrow to put the front door on and Griego’s son said he’s going to put screens on the windows. Come on. Don’t stand there with that sour look on your face. It’s better than being stuck in the motorhome all day on some street in Buenos Aires. Tomorrow we’ll get the kids to help us clean it up a little.”
Back in the motorhome the evening passed slowly and very quietly. I wasn’t speaking to The Driver.
“Get up, come on Mom get up. We wan’ a go help in the restaurant.” I swatted at Paul as he tugged on my arm. “Dad’s already gone, come on.”
I had my coffee and trudged through the campground towards the building. Goody! I get to clean and cook. John Mc and Randy were already at work dragging stuff out and dumping it into the trash. I heard Paul and Gil inside talking to Bill. “Where’s John?”
“You mean Houdini?” replied Randy. “You know him. Never around when there’s something to be done. Last I saw of him he and Juan were chasing that pony, Petiso to make her fart.”
As he came out arms loaded with pieces of broken concrete Bill looked towards the southern sky, “Looks like it’s going to rain. Hope the truck with the case gets here before the road turns to mud.”
I squeezed past a young man as he muscled the door on to its hinges. “CRRRRACK. SHISS.” Two of the eight panes of glass broke.
“Don’t worry. No problem. I’ll be back tomorrow and fix it,” Ernesto said as he gathered up his tools. “I have to leave before the rain, I’ll be back.”
Bill shrugged his shoulders and headed for the back room where he had started cleaning the stove.
He was right; it rained. I’d never seen rain like it rained there. We could watch the storms roll in from the South. The first time I saw this phenomenon I thought it was the end of the world. Towering purple and black clouds boiled throughout the sky. Lightening was continuous and all round. Thunder pounded. The air felt heavy, as if a blanket had dropped over us. The sky got even darker and then the rain began with drops so big they hurt. Twenty minutes later it passed over and continued north. After the rain the flies came out.
Guess I’d have to be a good sport and do something. Randy took the fryer apart and scraped the crud off of it. John Mc had unplugged the refrigerator and was chipping the ice out of the freezer. I tackled the greasy table. “Are there rubber gloves anywhere?”
Bill looked over his shoulder at me. “Why don’t….”
Just then Paul ran in “Dad a trucks coming. Griego says it probably has the cookn' thing and your case in it.”
We stopped what we were doing and went to watch. After a rain the dirt road turned to black, slimy, slippery mucky mud that was impossible to drive on.
As we watched the truck, it slowly rotated sideways and slid off the road. The tractor was already moving towards it.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. The rotisserie worked. The refrigerated case was white with a sloping glass front and two interior shelves. It was old but clean and in pretty good shape.
“Uh, Bill, you better come back here.” I was behind the case with the plug in my hand.
“Now what? Just plug it in. It’s getting late and I want to make sure it works.”
“Okay. Any suggestions where? And don’t you say what you’re thinking. There’s no outlet back here.”
Randy and John Mc watched the exchange without comment. “Well we’ll just have to run an extension cord to it,” he said.
“Uh, Dad, if you run the cord across here someone will probably trip on it.” Randy pointed out that the cord would have to run right across the doorway leading to the kitchen.
“Paul go find Griego’s wife and ask her to hurry over here.” El Griego’s wife is 4’10”and around 350 pounds, the thought of her “hurrying over” made me giggle.
Maria said “No Problem. I’ll send Hector to the store and tell Griego to call an electrician to come out and put in a new plug. Tomorrow it will be fixed.”
As Bill wiped the case out he said, “I guess that until it’s fixed we can just sit stuff in there for display.”
I stood, arms crossed, watching him. “What kind of stuff? Without electricity it will be pretty warm in there.”
We had another very quiet evening at home.
Back in Argentina, Decemer 3, 1978