A Lesson in Hospitality

I wish we could share with you every amazing story of the people we’ve met in our month of travel so far. People have been so, so good to us. It makes me truly value the little ways we can be kind to one another. Especially in patience, because people have patience with me and my bumbling Spanish a lot. 

We stayed in El Chalten, the trekking capital of Argentina, for nine days at Hosteria Koonek, a small bed and breakfast run by Maria and her husband Hugo. We cooked all of our meals there, enjoyed breakfast in the common room, and it rained a lot, so we had plenty of opportunities to chat with Maria. Her English was a bit better than my Spanish and we were both eager to learn from one another. I truly looked forward to my conversations with Maria. Topics included how to stay safe in Buenos Aires, navigating the subte (subway), differences in Spanish pronunciation in Argentina (oof, it’s tough), their family, and their previous careers. Maria used to be an elementary teacher so she was very clear, slow, and articulate which allowed us to converse a lot.

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El Chalten was incorporated as a town in 1985, so I knew that Maria probably wasn’t born and raised there. After peppering her with questions about how she came to be the owner of a B&B, I learned that she and Hugo lived in Buenos Aires for many years. They once visited Patagonia on vacation and thought “one day we would love to live here!”. So in 2007, when their children were adults, they made the move to remote El Chalten and began running the hosteria during the summer months, which they call “their project”. They retired from their professions, she a teacher and he a fireman, and now spend their days taking care of every detail that comes with running a bed and breakfast. And though they visit friends and family in Buenos Aires during the winter, they live in El Chalten year round with just a few hundred other folks in the off-season when tourists are scarce. We compared “winter pictures” of the hosteria and our condo in Boston and they look pretty much the same. Mucha nieve.

A few times over the nine days our key (all old fashioned giant metal keys) got stuck in our door from inside our room. We were essentially locked inside with no way out. We thought about climbing out the window but doubted either of us could fit. So we resorted to knocking on our door from the inside, shouting “Hola? Hola?”, hoping that someone in the hall or common room would hear us. Maria saved us twice and we all had some good laughs.

Every Sunday evening she hosted a knitting circle in the hosteria’s common room with women from El Chalten. Those ladies seemed to have the best time together. It made me wish I knew more Spanish and remembered how to knit.

Maria has a true gift for hospitality; always available and always excited to give advice on what to do. She made us breakfast an hour earlier than advertised because we had a bus to catch. She made us feel special, valued, and known. And not dumb for trying our hand at Spanish. What greater gift is there to give? After being AirBnb hosts in Boston for the last year, it felt refreshing and humbling to be on the other side. When we left Maria and Hugo they were 12 days away from closing up for the winter. It doesn’t feel like there was much we could “give” to them after all they gave to us, but I hope they were encouraged and refreshed by our short friendship. We’re certainly inspired by their resolve to live out their dream of running a hosteria in the mountains and by their warmth and love for their people who stay with them.

We’re so grateful for getting to know Maria and Hugo! The photo above is of them with their godson whose family was visiting while we were there.