The House in the Trees

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If we would have known the truth beforehand, we probably wouldn’t have gone there. A mildly misleading advertising campaign led us to a world we did not expect. The overall experience was not unpleasant. Indeed, it was actually quite interesting. Nevertheless, I still feel a little like I got sucker punched into a surprise. Oh well, what can you do? The universe deals the cards, all we can do is play them. How and why in the name of Buddha, Allah, Shiva and all the rest did we ever end up there?

We were staying in the small city of San Rafael in the Mendoza province of Argentina. It’s a pleasant place with great wine and a smattering of cultural activities. The hostel was good and so was the food but it was not outstanding or spectacular. And darn it, we wanted spectacular, we wanted the best accommodation in the whole damn province. We also wanted to get outside the city into the natural world of growing things for a while. I stumbled across a listing for “The Tree House” on the hostelworld website and I telephoned the place to get more detailed information. The advertisement and write-up describe it as a country getaway for backpackers in the wine growing region near San Rafael. The guy on the phone is from San Francisco and he says it’s a great place to “chill out” among the olive groves. I have visions in my head of a hidden hippie paradise. I’ve stayed in tree houses before and it has always been a delightful experience. At the very least, I’m hoping it’s the kind of place where I can score a little weed.

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The compound is located on the side of a major highway. We take a local bus from San Rafael but the bus driver doesn’t know “the Tree House” so he drops us off at the crossroads. After asking directions, we have to walk the last bit alongside heavy traffic. Big trucks, buses and lots of cars do not give the impression of an idyllic country setting. But we do find the place and it seems nice enough except it is as empty as the set of a bankrupt movie about a ghost town. No matter, we remove the chain from the gate and walk inside.

There are definitely lots of olive trees so I guess you could call it an olive grove. There is also a murky swimming pool and several barbecues. There are no hammocks in sight so that’s kind of a bummer and really, there is no comfortable outdoor seating of any kind. There are three buildings and we finally find a living breathing human on the back patio of one building. It’s a surly teenager with his brain inside a cell phone who does not seem happy to greet us. After some prodding, he tells us that Stewart, the owner, will return soon. Meanwhile, he shows us to a room. Its a whole huge cabana for ten people with three bedrooms, a full kitchen, bathroom and living room. The kid tells us to choose a bedroom and informs us that the kitchen and bathroom are to be shared with other guests. He looks around the totally empty cabana and laughs, “other guests,” he repeats. Then he leaves us alone to unpack and settle in.

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We meet Stewart and his wife Maria in the late afternoon when they return from shopping. We were so wrong with our guesses and prognostications about the character of our hosts it is unbelievable. Laid back California hippie American runaway is definitely not their genre. They are, what you might call… Super Christians. True Believers. Bible Quoters. Missionaries. They smuggled bibles into Soviet Union during the Cold War for god’s sake. They are as Christian as Christian as Christian can be. They have traveled the world spreading the Christian message and they are still on the lookout for souls in need of saving. Nevertheless, they don’t mention any of this to us when we first meet. Instead, they appear to us as laid back and easy going hostel owners who just want to know about us…. Are we, perhaps, troubled souls?

Fortunately, Ms. B. and I are not lost souls in need of saving. And our gracious hosts seem to realize this early on and therefore do not press the issue. Yeah sure, there are a few Bible quotes and some random mentions of Jesus. But no real attempts are made to draw us into the flock of the “saved”. Instead, they just tell us stories of their various adventures as missionaries in India, Romania and Russia while Ms. B. and I tell them stories from our travels around the world.

Can you believe, says Stewart, I once watched a Soviet KGB agent break down into tears because I gave him a bible. He told me his superiors would kill him if they knew he had it but he took it as a gift anyway.

That’s incredible, I respond, can you believe that I once saw the Hindu god Ganesh in the form of elephant in the deserts of Mali, Africa.

Of course Stewart probably didn’t really believe my story about Ganesh just like I didn’t really believe his about the KGB agent. That’s what happens when people live inside of different metaphors… They can never agree on reality. No matter, Stewart and Maria were very nice people and very gracious hosts. Everybody pretended to believe everyone else’s stories and we all got along just fine. You see, it is a beautiful world.

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Ultimately, we only stayed at “The Tree House,” for two nights. The empty apartment/cabana to ourselves for a very cheap price was quite a good deal but the location was just plain horrible. I never figured out where the name tree house came from. It was certainly no tree house by the usual definition. All the buildings were firmly on the ground. There were lots of olive trees around so it could, I guess, be called the house in the trees. Perhaps, tree house has some secret biblical metaphorical connotation that I am unaware of. Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter. We spend a day relaxing by the murky pool and wandering among the overgrown olive trees. There’s no tourist sites nearby worth seeing and no nature trails for walking or hiking. I’m almost out of weed and when I ask Stewart if he knows where to get some he practically has a heart attack. There’s no other guests so there’s no socializing except with the friendly proprietors. So why did we come here in the first place? To “chill out” in hippie heaven (smoke weed in a real tree house?). Or to find Jesus on the side of the highway?

Big trucks go lumbering by on the main road out front. Smiling Stewart offers us a ride to the bus station. You better believe it… We are outta here!

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