Sunday, July 12, 2009

Destiny: Closer than Imagined

Last night Roberto and I had our socks blown off by a new tourist destination: El Destino.

No, we did not go to the Big City nor the Andes nor the glaciers nor the seaside. Usually we have to drive at least seven or eight hours to go anywhere worth talking about, with the exception of some attractions in nearby Rosario.

We simply drove a mere 35 kilometers to the nearby pueblo of Ramallo, population 30,000, and known locally for its 1000 meters of natural sand beach. . . and a municipal government which has been thoughtfully developing it. (My years here have taught me the difference between good and bad city government as San Nicolas, long "managed" by Peronists, continues to lag behind Rosario, Villa Constitucion, and even little Ramallo, all run by Socialists and Radicalistas. Is this a pattern?)

The old road paralleling the beach has become a well-lit, palm-tree studded avenue, lined by several brand new clusters of cabanas--log cabins for summertime visitors. Totally by accident we stumbled upon the newest bistro, La Playa Blanca, and wondered if it would be as good as the tried-and-true Lo de Cacho, justly famous for its grilled fish, or the vanguard cuisine at the new Howard Johnson (yes, HoJos!).

In fact, it called us like moths to the flame with its pristine Cape-Cod white building among a small grove of towering trees. As it is mid-winter, it was easy to park near the entrance: a gazebo leading to a serpentine elevated bridge that connected with the multi-level deck of the be-windowed restaurant. Just getting to the door was a wonderful little foray through the tree branches, and around a trunk that the designer and carpenters left right in the middle of the walkway.

The chatter in Spanish assured me that I was not in Provincetown despite the sturdy plain white tables and Shaker type chairs, each one with a small fishbowl of alstromeria and a nautical candleholder. The outdoor panorama--the Parana at dusk and the lush greenery all around--was sufficient decor for us!

We sat down, and Florencia (as it turned out), smilingly took our order for cappuccinos and an extra glass of water for my Cretacolor watercolor pencils. The coffees arrived, and Roberto took to reading a book on Argentine history while I tried sketching the only other patrons. As the sun set, the indoor candles and soft lighting made for an intimate atmosphere, if not good drawing or reading light. A young couple entered, three boys in tow--and we quickly greeted them as they are our neighborhood pharmacists. We all commented on how delightful it is to have a place as wonderful as this so close (but why not in San Nicolas, we wondered?).

We returned to our table, but our romantic interlude was interrupted by the appearance at our table of a casually elegant 40-something blonde woman. She wondered if we were enjoying the evening. I was suddenly anxious that this was another person I should have recognized, and with some hesitation, asked her if we had met. "No, I'm Ana Lia, and this is our new place."

We offered our compliments and made just one suggestion: that the disco music be changed to something more in keeping with the ambience. At that point we were introduced to her sister and assistant, who explained that today technical difficulties were the only thing keeping them from something more listenable. Ana Lia soaked in our continued felicitaciones, murmuring that it was her dream to live in Ramallo. Then she offered to show us "the rest of the place." We placed an order for fried calamari and a salad of rucula with parmesan and donned our coats.

And that is what astounded us totally.

We crossed the avenue to "El Destino," so named because Ana Lia felt it was her destiny to build it after losing her rosary in the Taj Majal, if I understood her correctly. Although not yet open, the cabanas and service buildings are all up and ready, glistening white even in lamp light. Already tall palm trees grace the pathways. Ana Lia grabbed my hand to lead me through the few dark spots and up the wide porch stairs to the first of the cabins.

Robert and I gasped at the interior: again the clean white luminosity struck us. . . as well as the king-sized bed with white linens and hand-embroidered pillows. We marveled at the natural tree trunk table (a bit like a cross-section of a broccoli stem, with that asymmetrical shape), the carefully appointed bathroom. Everything was perfectly beautiful. . . a rustic statement of art and modern comfort.

We continued cabana after cabana, each one with its special touch: one with wicker picnic basket with stoneware plates and crystal, another with swaths of gauzy white and white wicker chairs, and so on. Our "oohs" and "aahs" were well received, and Ana Lia explained that she had personally ordered the custom-made furniture and art and the premium quality linens. She had already noted that this was not a place for children, and I could see why, and we followed her example in tamping the sand from our shoes as we continued our tour.

The Spa center was not yet viewable, and we can only imagine what visitors will say when they have cross the moat by bridge to enter it. Ditto for the "mirador," the lookout tower, "where you can enjoy a champagne toast at sunset," our hostess smiled. The design of the chapel left me puzzled, so I can't wait to see how it turns out. We continued through the main building with breakfast area, bar, and reception with hand carved art, and up to the reading room with the most beautiful of all the natural wooden tables, which is in the photograph.

Ana Lia's celular rang--our dinner was ready. We tramped back to the restaurant, our imaginations already satiated from our tour. Now fully night, our hostess proudly waved her hand to show us the decks, with two large TV screens (2x3 meter?) beaming the face of a young Paul McCartney crooning. Clearly the music challenge had been met. Daniela, our neighbor, was poised on a step, watching her sons and friend gamboling in the well-lit grassy strip separating the restaurant from the beach. The only thing missing were about 100 other patrons--but they will come!

Finally, we enjoyed a well-prepared, beautifully presented meal (at a very reasonable cost), and took our leave, knowing that this will be one of our favorite destinations from now on.

I absolutely loved meeting Ana Lia—and seeing what passion, vision, and, yes, a million dollars (my wild guess), can do to improve a place. And I believe that a lot more locals could make this a wonderful place to visit as well as live if they’d invest their own passion and vision. . . and it won’t take a million dollars each. And I’ll even offer them professional coaching at a highly discounted rate to make my own contribution to the quality of life here.

Any takers?


Beth said...

Sign me up! What a beautiful description of a lovely place and people - wish I could hop down there for a quick meal with you! Thanks for sharing your experience so eloquently, and reminding me of the wonders we can find, even close to home. Big hugs!

Katie said...

Oh, it sounds absolutely lovely! I wish I were closer so I could come have dinner with you there. I wish Ana Lia and company great success.

Patricia said...

Hello Gayle!
I live so close and still haven't been there!
It will be my next visit!!

streetand said...

boa noite, sou do brasil gostei muito do assunto que voce aborda um grande abraco

ate mas