_Everything started on a beautiful spring day in October when my sister Hortensia and I went to an old Almacén. On the door, there was a yellowed sign, which read cerrado.
We resumed our journey, hoping a family celebration or a special event might be the reason for the locked door. But as we discovered later, the reason was that the place had closed its doors permanently. Sad, since we were both particularly fond of this lonely little house. It had been one of the few Almacenes preserved in its originality. It was quite remote and could only be reached by dusty roads or, in the past, by train. In fact, I am happy to report that this Almacén was reopened a few months ago by a young man.
We went home in my sister’s 1931 vintage Model-A Ford, travelling slowly and sunk in thought, along the great grass plain, the Pampa, with its wide horizon, its deep blue sky, the many birds and herds of black cattle.
This home is on my sister’s stud farm, about 300 km south of Buenos Aires, close to the little town of Rauch. She breeds English thoroughbreds and each year I spend several weeks there.
Both of us were born in Argentina and used to live close to Buenos Aires, in Lomas de San Isidro, a suburb which had earth roads and open fields back then. Our parents were passionate equestrians and we were taught to ride at an early age. The nearby Panamericana highway, which was still under construction at this time, served for our canters and gallops. Our childhood was shaped by country life in the European tradition.
From childhood on, our parents would take us along on all their trips to far away Estancias, and it always was a little adventure for us when the streets turned into bumpy, dusty roads, which led us past remote Almacenes. There we would rest, talk a little with the locals, have something to drink, and then continue on our way.
We grew up to love this way of life, following in our parents’ footsteps, finding places still unaltered by the passing of time.
When my sister and I came back from our trip to her stud farm in the late afternoon, it was dusk. A warm light spread over the paddocks, and the clear air carried the fragrance of the blooming acacias. In the house, fires blazed in every room, the petroleum lamps were already lit, and the smell of home cooking drifted through the house.
We sat down at the fireplace with a glass of Caipirinha, reflected on the day, and flicked through an album of photos of bygone years when we used to make trips with our family and friends to the Almacenes.
It was on this evening that it occurred to me to write a book about these traditional general stores in the Pampa.
My sister Hortensia knew the remote Almacenes in her neighborhood, I would do some research, we would ask friends from other Estancias; and the rest would come together somehow once the project was underway.
That was back in October 2012, and a few days later we set out.
Quite often, we spent a whole day at a single location, visited traditional Gaucho Fiestas, slept in little towns in curious hotels, and occasionally had to seek shelter from thunderstorms; but time and again, we met wonderful people. By spring 2014, we had found 15 Almacenes located in the Provincias of Buenos Aires and Entre Rios.