Mean Sea Level at 4000 feet…

.. neither refers to a hidden pool of salt water in the mountains of Greenland,
.. nor to an apocalyptic scenario of Global Warming!

Here it simply describes the experience of a marriage made in heaven – well, almost. A marriage between the amazing stimulation of my tastebuds by the effects of lower atmospheric pressure at altitude and a seafood dish prepared in best Spanish tradition.

No, this time I was not cruising in First Class above the shores of the Mediterranean.
Terra firma under my feet today, or better: under my butt a comfy chair in front of a table weighed down with delicacies.

The cook had invited me spontaneously for an impromptu Sunday lunch. The cook is my friend Carlos.
In search of an affordable place to live where Ali and Lola, his two Labradors, were welcome, he ended up at 4000ft. In the cabaƱa of Julio, a retired doc, who had built a wonderful home on a spectacular site in the mountains.

“Bring a drink, a desert if you want; come around 12”. It was 9:30 when the message popped up on the screen of my cellphone. Ah, the Argentinean spontaneity – this wonderful aspect of life here. Just come by, bring something to share and let’s enjoy the moment.
No planning, no formal invitation three weeks in advance – life is now, caballero!

I found some gin, tonic and limes in the fridge and drove up that mountain.
Kuka was already there crushing menta in a mortar. Mojitos were the drink of the day, forget about my old fashioned Gin Tonic..
Now a Mojito is basically a very potent nutritional supplement – don’t let anybody convince you otherwise! The inspiring power of freshly picked peppermint combined with the energy/push of raw, unfermented sugar and the fire of Cuban Rum provide about 500% of the daily allowance in energy enhancers and good vibrations.


After two highballs of iced up drinks at altitude I was all anticipation for the sea level part: paella mixta a la Carlos…

First it hit my nostrils with a scent of open sea floating on a cloud of ‘herbes de Provence”.
And as always when the nose sets off an alarm the palate gets excited. How easy it was for the shrimp to score the first points.

Carlos paella

The Malbec Roble Julio had fetched from his wine rack was the perfect supporting cast. Faces turned mellow, tongues loosened up. Carlos II, a well read and travelled retired agro-engineer, began to tell stories and jokes.


I’ve heard some of them, this one seems to be an archetypal one, cutting right down to the essence of land and people :

Saint Peter, looking at the incredible richness and beauty of this huge land “of silver”, asks the Lord: ” Sir, isn’t it a bit too much what you so generously bestowed upon this country?” God contemplates for a couple of minutes and finally concurs: “You have a point there, Saint Peter, I’m going to balance things a bit and put the Argentineans there!”

Well, my felllow lunchers here are not balancing anything in that sense and to see the beauty of the country I only have to move a couple of steps toward the ledge in front of the house.
There a vista opens up, stretching – in a way – from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

It turns out that right here we’re on the roof of the Andes. Well, within reach anyway – let me boulder up the hill another 1500ft and I’m there.
To my left the creek Chapelco Chico heads for the swamp lands of La Vega and then turns west towards Lago Lacar which drains into the Pacific over in Chile. Hardly a mile to the East Chapelco Grande cascades down into Rio Quilquihe whose waters end up in the Atlantic more than 1500km away in the opposite direction.
Yes, this here is the Continental Divide – and just imagine: it runs right through your house, across the kitchen counter:
the Espresso cup on Atlantic, the Pisco Sour on Pacific and you on a barstool in the middle.
Mean Sea Level at 4003 feet!

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