Day Trip – Saint Peter’s Burg

2011.Jan.22 Saturday · 4 comments

in Life, Restaurants

“The world does not need tourists who ride by in a bus clucking their tongues. The world as it is needs those who will love it enough to change it, with what they have, where they are.”

– Robert Fulghum, author, essayist

The guests lingered over their coffee and water. Dinner was long over. We chatted on and the hour passed 1:00 in the morning. Of course, on a night when I am hoping that all head out early, we have a group of really, really interesting folk with lots to chat about. It’s just sleep anyway. Up at 6:30, a quick shower, coffee, finish last minute packing, and into a cab headed to Retiro station. I already have my tickets, I’m off to San Pedro, a three hour trip to the northwest via bus (a cheap 42 pesos each way, especially given that the train costs 35 and takes six hours to make the same trip).

And the bus isn’t announced, in fact, few buses of the Chevalier line seem to be on the departure board, and the time drags on. An hour past the scheduled time and I finally head to the ticket counter where they tell me that one of their rival services has parked buses in their assigned lanes, blocking the Chevalier buses from discharging or boarding passengers. A battle is apparently in progress, and the powers that be have apparently declined to step in, refusing to assign alternate gates. In the world that I know, a company that carries a significant passenger load would figure something out, even if they had to escort people to and from a nearby street. Not here. They’re content to just wait it out.

Nearly two hours in and finally they squeeze in my bus – clearly disgruntled passengers disembark, having been stuck in visual range of the station but unable to exit the bus. More disgruntled folk, like myself, embark. The bus pulls out, we’re on our way. A stop in Liniers, a stop in Campana, and then suddenly the bus is coasting to a stop along the highway, and the motor is turned off. The brakes have failed, something the drivers have been warning the company of on this particular bus for weeks now, and they have finally given out – the driver having, given that we were moving at highway speeds when they went, skillfully maneuvered to the side of the road and let the bus drift to a stop.

It will be 2-3 hours until a replacement bus can make it, longer to get this one repaired. The driver and conductor actually show some initiative and flag down a couple of local route buses passing between Campana, Baradero and San Pedro and get us all loaded on, no charge. It takes a little extra time with a few local stops, and this bus feels like it could fall apart at any moment, but we make it in about 45 more minutes. The sky has, meanwhile, turned ominously grey with roiling clouds. Around the corner from the terminal a car service stand – it will be at least an hour until they have a car available, it’s a Sunday after all, and there’s a line. A look at my little local map printed out from the internet shows a mere dozen blocks to my hotel and the dispatcher confirms that and points me on my way.

I make it about five blocks before the skies let loose with a deluge and winds reminiscent of my encounter with a subtropical cyclone in Uruguay a few years ago. Bikes and other small objects are flying through the air, trees are bending over, and it’s hard to see any real distance – all in the space of about thirty seconds. I am on a little downtown pedestrian shopping area, nothing open but a trio of parrillas, I duck into the nearest one. It’s not what I’d hoped for for lunch, but I’m not going to kick at this point. I settle in, order some food, and wait out the rain. The restaurant starts to flood from the volume of water which has filled the street and is overflowing the door sill. We all move towards the rear of the restaurant and go back to eating.

An hour and a half later there’s a lull, I quickly pay my tab and hoof it, leaping puddles yet still getting pretty damp all over, to the Hotel San Pedro, a clean, well-kept motel – the only place I found with reasonable rates that had rooms available (most of the waterfront hotels along the river are ridiculously expensive, with prices ranging from 350-750 pesos a night, here, it’s a mere 189). The storm starts up again, I wait it out another hour, then suddenly it stops and I head out into the streets. My plan, to spend the evening at the national peach festival, which I’d read about – gastronomy, agriculture, and a show. But wait, despite confirmation via e-mail from the festival’s administrative office and online press, it turns out that the five-day show was really only a one-day show, and it happened yesterday. And, because of the rain, pretty much everything else is closed up.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Waiting out the rain in Parrilla Martin Fierro

Waiting out the rain in Parrilla Martin Fierro.

Parrilla Martin Fierro

I told the waiter to pick a couple of small appetizers and a main course of local river fish. He brought an empanada – fried and filled with nothing but ground beef and a little egg white, unseasoned except for too much salt; and a morcilla, which he proceeded to watch me eat, clearly having figured that this wet gringo wasn’t up for something like that. For the main, a grilled boga, not one of my favorite river fish – too bony and has a strange, slightly ammonia taste to it – overcooked and with soggy french fries. As I said, this isn’t where I would have picked to eat….

Downtown San Pedro

A part of downtown San Pedro as I’m walking to the hotel.

Beautiful garden

This is from my later walk, I spotted this beautiful garden behind one of the old, amazingly well kept buildings from the Paseo al 900 (more in the next post), as I walked past the center of town headed towards the area where most of the museums are.

Ensaimadas

After discovering that all the museums were closed up for the day (despite having posted open hours), I took a few snaps from one of the lookout points. It was starting to cloud up again, so I decided on heading back towards the hotel. But one of the things I wanted to sample in San Pedro was an ensaïmada, a Mallorcan pastry that has found its way here through a community that I gather settled here many moons ago (strangely, though, it seems there are no Mallorcan, nor even Spanish, restaurants in town). The signs for these treats are everywhere, and each place claims to have the best, or the most authentic, or the most traditional, or… you get the idea.

Ensaimada

And this is one version of it. First off, they’re generally huge – this is the “individual” portion, a pastry that’s an easy 6-7″ across. The pastry itself is a light butter and yeast dough, something like a danish. This particular spot offers it filled with a too generous schmear of dulce de leche or heaps of custard – the latter strangely completely unflavored. I make my way through a decent portion of both halves (my waitress insisted I try both, so she gave me half of one of each) and give up. I think I’d prefer the pastry just by itself or maybe with some fruit (which apparently is common in Mallorca, though I’ve never been, that’s just based on a bit of internet searching).

Lime trees

I realize that many of the streets are lined with lime trees. I find that fascinating, because good limes are hard to come by here in Argentina – they’re often small and hard, many times they’re really just unripe lemons being passed off as limes, and they’re always expensive, often outrageously so. So here’s a town with street after street of beautiful limes (I could have filled a duffel bag and probably resold them back here to my neighborhood verduleria for enough to cover the costs of my trip!

Lime trees

A closeup on the limes.

La Matrera de Bruno

Thankfully, it never starts to rain again (at least not until late night, long after I’m in bed. So I wander a bit more, attempt to hit a couple of art galleries that are supposed to be open, but they’re not either. I go back to the hotel and get some writing and reading done. I chat with the owners and they recommend two spots in particular for really good river fish – which is what I’ve pretty much decided will be my fare on this day and a half journey. I head to one in the evening, La Matrera de Bruno, at the far end of the street that my hotel is on, down by the river. It’s 9:30 p.m. (I took this photo the next day when it was light out), and I’m the only one in the place. In fact, I’ve seen pretty much no one in any restaurants as I check them out in passing. My waiter assures me that it’s just too early.

La Matrera de Bruno

I order the grilled pacu, a relative of the piranha, one of my favorites. This is cooked perfectly, just barely done, with a buttery, melt in your mouth texture, a nice hint of the grill smoke, and it’s even seasoned! The accompanying squash puree unfortunately literally nothing more than mashed squash – no butter, milk, cream, oil, seasoning. But at least the fish was outstanding. Around 11 p.m., shortly before I depart, a family of six come into the restaurant, but no one else. Either folks eat really, really late in San Pedro, or no one was dining out that eve.

Off to a good night’s sleep and then a bit of exploration coming up in the next post.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Manuel June 19, 2012 at 23:11

Gostava se passar um dia por ai para sabureare a tradicao portuguesa na florida em sanpeterburg.
Queira trucar correspondencia .os meus comprinentos

dan June 20, 2012 at 09:04

Uma coisa diferente. Este é San Pedro, na Argentina, não St. Petersburg, na Flórida, e as tradições de Mallorca … não de Portugal.

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