Monday, March 16, 2020

La Rueda - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

On Thursday, March 12, 2020, we had what turned out to be a very momentous dinner in many ways. 

We arrived in Iguazu Falls, Brazil on Wednesday evening, traveling with some trepidation because of the COVID-19 virus that was emerging as a threat. Our lodging that evening was in Brazil. We were shocked to learn that the NBA had suspended their season because a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus and other dominoes began to fall as well. We did a moon-light visit to the Devil's Throat that evening, on the Argentina side. Thursday we spent time at and near Iguazu Falls, taking a flyover in a helicopter, taking a boat ride up-river near to it, and walking on the walkways on the Brazilian side. That afternoon we shifted our lodging to Argentina. Friday morning we were going to do some hiking on the Argentina side of the falls, then take an early flight to Buenos Aires where we would spend the next 3 1/2 days. 

Thursday evening we had an early dinner at Restaurant La Rueda, recommended to my brother-in-law, Dave, by the staff at the Merit Iguazu where we were staying. We got there around 6:30 p.m. or so, very early by Argentine standards. 

We got some appetizers. We ordered enough empanadas for each of us to have a half empanada of fish and of beef. Judy also ordered some sort of salmon (lox) on bread. They were okay. The beef was much better than the fish. 
I've heard about Argentine beef for years and opted for a 600 gram (21+ ounce) t-bone, cooked medium rare, with hot three peppers style sauce and cream potatoes. What I got was two t-bones, layered upon each other, smothered in an absolutely amazing sauce. I believe the little red dots are peppercorns, although they were not real crunchy, and it was a little spicy, but not overly so. The meat was fatty, cooked perfectly, and as I shared pieces with Judy she kept asking for more. 

As I look on-line for what the sauce might have been, I believe it may have been a red chimichurri (I had not realized that chimichurri came in both green and red). In one particular recipe I find, a red chimichurri sauce includes garlic cloves, shallots, olive oil, red wine vinegar, parsley or cilantro, sweet smoked paprika, sweet ground red chile, salt, ground cumin and crushed red pepper flakes (this would be three peppers). It is added to the steak after it is cooked. 
The layering of the steaks is noticeable as I was eating more from the top layer than the bottom layer (because that is where the sauce was). 
However, before cooking, the steak is also marinated for about 30 minutes at room temperature in a marinade that includes olive oil, red wine vinegar, crushed garlic cloves, cracked black pepper, ground cumin and salt and ground red chile. 

This steak was incredible. I took what I couldn't eat back to the hotel and had it for breakfast. It was almost as good the next morning as it was that night. 

Anyway, part of what made this meal incredible, aside from the steak, was that we were sitting with three siblings, my wife Judy, her brother David and their sister, Chris and each of their spouses. We discussed the incredible events of the past day and a half and the rapidly momentous changes taking place with COVID-19. David and his wife are serving as senior missionaries for the LDS Church in Buenos Aires. Chris and her husband are from Billings, Montana. He is an investment advisor and the stock market had been taking 1,000 point drops daily. While we sat at dinner, we noted that the LDS Church came out with a direction that all meetings for the near future were cancelled, including regular sacrament meetings. Senior missionaries in Europe were being sent home. Dave wondered whether they, too, might be sent home in the near future as the virus made its way into Argentina. Dave got an email from LDS legal counsel in Buenos Aires that Argentina was considering implementation of a 14 day quarantine on visitors to Argentina from infected countries, that included the U.S. It was a beautiful evening filled with family discussion, concerns for the near future and how our adventure might turn out and gratitude for the time spent together. I expressed my feeling that we should take our scheduled flight to Buenos Aires the next day and that we would be better situated for an international flight home, or if it came to that, a quarantine. 

We finished off our long dinner with dessert. Judy and I shared a desert of crepes with dulce de leche. It came out flaming and with the scorched taste that accompanies it, I think the best dulce de leche I've ever head. 
That next morning, Judy woke up about 5:30 a.m. to a text from David saying that legal counsel in Buenos Aires had recommended to him that the quarantine was going to be implemented at any time and that flights to the U.S. might be suspended shortly thereafter. He suggested to Dave that his siblings should get back over the border to Brazil as soon as possible and fly back home. We met in the lobby of the hotel about 6:30 a.m. and started researching flights. We found one out of Iguazu Falls, Brazil at 8:05 p.m. that night. We decided that that was what we needed to do and coughed up $1,200 a piece for one way flights back to Los Angeles. 

We spent most of the day sitting in the tiny Iguazu Falls airport, made longer by a 90 minute delay in our flight to Lima, Peru, where we would than catch a flight to LAX. In Lima, we spent two hours on the tarmace while the pilots awaited authorization to enter U.S. airspace (fortunately I slept through that drama). We arrived at LAX Saturday morning about 9:00 a.m. to an eerily empty airport (unlike other airports, like Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth, that were getting the crunch of flights back from Europe and had waits of 6 hours for virus testing). No questions about our health, or even really where we'd come from. Only one carousel in the baggage area was running and we walked through customs virtually alone. 

Lots of feelings arise at a time like this. Concern about the huge financial loss of a mostly lost trip and the opportunities squandered. The feeling of comfort of being with family and the support it provides, particularly in a time of great uncertainty. There was something special about that meal, relatives in a foreign country, facing an uncertain near-future as events spiraled out of control. That meal was almost worth the flight down. Almost. 


  1. I feel the pain. I have two trips planned that look like they might be cancelled. Maybe when this all blows over we can take another cheap trip to Mexico. I still want to see Michoacan. I hear they have great popsicles (paletas).

  2. It's already hard to believe that this happened to us. What a crazy, crazy few days. I agree that there was something special about sharing that experience with family and working out a solution together.