LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 37
By: Rosana Acquasanta
Pictures: Federico Quintana
CANTONES IN THE PROVINCE
From the city of Córdoba we headed for Alta Gracia. After passing by Alta Gracia, still on the route, the landscape begins to rise. Under the acacias a pool of clear water stretches out, whirls and tumbles down into lower stones willing to become a river. Los Molinos dike is left behind; the higher you get, the more carob trees, "chañares", hawthorns, "morabillos", "piquillín", hackberry trees and even "tabaquillo" can be found. Thus, the Calamuchita Valley Gradually reveals itself.
After about 80 kilometres, the successive signs that show rosy characters and Gothic style letters offering lodging, wurst with sauerkraut and beer, confirm the nearness of a different world. You can't miss it; it's impossible to ignore the Central European transculturization onceived under the shelter of the Sierras Chicas.
For many, the history of this place begins with the sinking of the Graf Spec, the German battleship bombed in '39 by British ships and which was sunk by her own captain in front of Montevideo to avoid being captured. The captain sought political asylum for the crew and after the governments at both bank, of the Río de la Plata gave it a lot of consideration, finally a group of men was placed in Capilla Vieja, near the present VGB, while officers were confined in the Martín García island. As far as the captain is concerned, he committed suicide after he was sure his crew was in good hands.
A post house located 40 km away was the seed of the town. The first small houses sprouted with German, Hungarian, Austrian and Swiss immigrants who arrived about 1929-1930 and gathered in the so called EL Sauce village. The land had been bought from Pablo Heintze and Jorge Kaphun, first official settlers of the zone. In 1938, both El Sauce and El Mirador together became Villa Calamuchita Next, came the guys from the Graf Spec, who would often hang out in the village called El Bajo and also co-operated in the building; of roads. Once the war was over, may- of the German soldiers refused Logo back. The offensive acts against the flag in 1943 originated a major uproar, so the superintendent did not hesitate and named the town after the creator of our homeland's flag.
A large wooden arch borders the entrance to Villa General Belgrano. Low houses stand at both ;ides with their small garden, wooden fences, flowers here and crataegus bushes there, trees everywhere, in the corners signs with posts like tree trunks and chubby letters, well outlined streets which run along a rolling landscape, the El Sauce stream flowing to the right of the road with spots that invite you to have a picnic.
At first, the earliest settlers grew crops and raised cattle, but discouraged by the bad results after several successive seasons, they decided to change their business. They used to accommodate their relatives and friends who came from Europe, and every house had at least a spare bedroom available. And not everybody went hack home. Without anyone being aware of it, the Hansel and Gretel combined with Heidi model community had forged. Front country men they became tourism businessmen. Edelweiss was the first hotel. And the cottage fashion was horn ten sears ago with Cabaña, del Valle There is no shortage of lodging in the town. Julio A. Roca is the main street, a shop window line only, interrupted in the corners. Boutiques with souvenirs, including very tempting local delicatessen (marinated "vizcacha", German sausages, cheese, marmalades), and of course, a bevy of "typical" restaurants. Smoked chops, sauerkraut with assorted wurst, goulasch with spatzle, apfelstrudel leverwurst with cucumber, Frankfurt sausages with potato salad, beef with dark mushroom sauce, summing tip, those delicious things full of calories rule over the tables. Following the national custom, you can also find some "parrillas" (grills), but the point here is to eat the typical Central European food and to drink beer.
You can leisurly stroll around the heart of the town in a short time, including the ride around the José Hernández square. The Carriage Museum, a model of splendid eclecticism as far as vintage carriages are concerned, is worth visiting.
On sunny days, you should climb the El Mirador hill. From there, you will see the Zarzamora 'gorge, and a little further ahead, you will run across the Pozo Verde, a natural pool found in the midst of native botanical varieties. Overhead, there is no shortage of birds either, for birdwatchers' delight . Outside VGB there is a riding club in the "estancia" La Chacra, where they teach you how to ride on horseback and hire horses to gallop in the beautiful Surroundings.
On the way to Ato, Pampa and after leaving behind the Los Molles stream, about 2 kilometres ahead you can find the Cristo Grande, sculpture that moves even the hearts of non believers.
In the summer the hours are spent by the banks of Los Reartes, the river nearest to VGB (6 km), which locals and tourists blissfully enjoy. It has clear water and sand beaches, an unparalleled privilege. The closeness to the hills and the winding roads that make their way through them leading to many other natural delights, are suitable for horseback riding, trekking and multiple excursions.
A desolate landscape of rough land lies before the traveller who sets out to La Cumbrecita. Only when you get to the San Miguel river does an oasis, spread out on sandy banks, revivify the valley's view.
Atos Pampa: Three houses lost in the dense perfume of violets and the shade of the trees. At the roadside red and orange crataegus multiply. After the bend, where the signs indicate the way to Villa Alpina, La Cumbrecita. and other places, a small church reminds us that in spite of loneliness, there is no abandonment.
Crossing to the other side of the bridge over the Río del Medio, is entering a small community with German reminiscence. The main street is a dust road that does not follow any planned outline. On the other side of a hilt, it runs into the Wilbach - wild stream - and that's it. End of the winding road. At the sides few roads, like trails, open Lip.
A young wilful lady with a big smile welcomes us at the Tourism Information office, in this case a small cabin, and provides us with useful information. Villagers can be seen on horseback inside their "ponchos" and there are occasional passers by who seem to go nowhere, but keep a friendly indifferent eye on those who arrive and leave; in few seconds the foreigner that casually arrived in the calm of La Cumbrecita, has been duly registered.
In 1934, Helmut Cabjolsky bought a 500 hectare farm in the present Cumbrecita hill, where he and his family established together with a housekeeper and country labourers. He starred to build a house. A year later, the residence, which Don Helmut had imagined as a summer house to accommodate friends and families, was completed. In a short time, the house became an inn.
Don Helmut may have been the dreamer of La Cumbrecita. but Liesbeth Mehnert - his housekeeper - is the one who contributed to the good taste and the fame. She arrived with her master and never left. Together with her husband, she built the house that stands on the opposite side of the Wildbach, and equipped it to entertain people with a sweet-tooth. At 87, Liesbeth tells about the feats of the old times while she oversees her daughter-in-law, now in charge of baking the cakes and depository of the family's wealth. Cheesecake, walnut, apple, chocolate and plum cakes are examples still baked in a stove fuelled with wood. The raspberry "empanaditas" (small pies) are sublime; they would leave any French baker speechless. The one who calls on her house will never forget those flavours.
Frau Liesbeth, a devoted baker, planted an oak acorn in what now is the park of the La Cumbrecita. hotel: the acorn sent out Shoots, the shoots grew and became a splendid tree that casts a shadow in the backyard of the hotel. Its current owner, Daniel Sofia, proudly tells as about it. He was not born here, but is delighted with belonging in a piece of nature protected from pollution and massive tourism.
The people meet at the piano bar, while somebody plays a melody. As the night becomes rainy or starry, and cold, the tired people gather in this warm place, well served, to eat, for example, a sandwich with home-made bread. The large dining room has big windows, a fireplace and a deer's head. There is a reading and video room, but no TV sets in the rooms. People come to La Cumbrecita. to rest, to do without any urban custom. For many, this is not easy. Others are so grateful that they come hack again and again. The bungalows, the swimming-pool in the park, the tennis and paddle courts, the several escapisms provided by the hotel without need of going somewhere else (strolling in the trails with benches, arriving at a waterfall, trekking in the woods), all of it make a trip to this retreat worthwhile.
In La Cumbrecita the urban and the natural overlap. The mountain and the trees get in through the windows, the sound of the water that flows down the Río del Medio, where the Ambach and Wildbach streams empty and where trout swim, can 'be heard everywhere. The air smells like air. The wind rocks birch, pine and oak tree tops. You have to climb very high to find the native "tabaquillo", a relative of the myrtle practically extinct in the zone. And in the openings brooms, dog rose, blackberries and the incredible digitalia, can be found. In autumn, Amanita muscaria, the red mushroom with white spots seen in the pictures of the children's stories, grow from the ground in an incredible amount. These mushrooms are beautiful to he admired but should not be touched.
The weather at La Cumbrecita. is gentle, with a lot of sun during the day and cold that makes you shiver at night. During the winter it often snows. This year early snow fell on Los Linderos and Champaquí hills. LUGARES made its way to it on a 4x4 that left a deep track in the snow. The sun was setting, a vulture flew towards the horizon and we could catch a glimpse of an evasive fox. We went back to the hotel on a dark night without moon. Before turning in, we stopped at Zur Glocke, a table of German delicatessen kindly offered by the house in generous servings.