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Perfect steak tartare

POSTED: August 29, 2012 4:00 a.m.

Technically we were not to be where we were. There was a corporate policy about driving through dangerous jungles after sundown. It was an ivory tower policy, but we were now nearly lost as we worked our 4x4 along a muddy, red clay slop of a path in the western rain forest of Suriname.

We figured senior management wouldn't even try to find us out here.

The goal had been to find a location to drill a water well that had to precede any drilling for oil. Bad roads and worse directions now put us deep into the dark green forest.

My long-time associate Bob was pretty sure he knew how to find our way back to the main east-west road.

I trusted Bob.

We had shared a number of adventures over the years, somehow always returning in one piece. Right now though, the sun was well below the horizon and in the jungle that meant everything was pitch black.

We arrived at a fork in the road and Bob instructed me to turn down an even worse path. His comments worried me more than the wet rutted road. He thought there was a little hotel in a village just up this path.

"Don't worry," he said, "They have great steak tartare."

I was covered in red wet mud, sore from wrestling the steering wheel all day and now I was going to eat raw beef in the middle of the jungle. Maybe corporate policy had more merit than I originally thought.

The truck lights bounced beams of light all over the place as we worked slowly toward this hotel in the jungle.

True to form for Bob, suddenly we rounded a turn and I could see a few lights far in the distance. Finally we pulled up in front of the South American version of the "Hotel California."

Rickety and paintless, the weathered grey two- story hotel featured a broken board porch and out of balance ceiling fans turning odd arcs across the high ceiling lobby. To the right was the restaurant with the fabled raw beef dish.

My room filled me with less confidence than the food hall. Frankly I didn't see me surviving the night.

Either some weird night clerk would burst into the room and hack me to pieces, or some slithering thing would crush me for dinner before the clerk got his chance.

But first I had to face dinner.

Sitting on wobbly chairs at a corner table, I suppose I was to be comforted by the fact we had a white table cloth and silverware that appeared to have been washed.

I didn't need to bother with the Portuguese menu. Bob ordered for us.

All too soon I was staring down at a scoop of raw, finely chopped meat with an equally raw egg floating on top of it. Dinner was served.

The next morning I awoke to the buzz of my watch oddly surprised to still be breathing.

Following a fast breakfast of actual cooked food, Bob and I found ourselves again banging along the muddy road that connected to the main highway just a few miles from our overnight stop.

We were in Nieuw Nickerie by mid-morning.

Sitting in my open windowed office going over our report I pondered that in fact the steak tartare had been very good. I never got ill and I had a very nice rest in that old hotel room.

From time to time over the ensuing decades I would be in some fine dining establishment on this continent or another and I would order their steak tartare.

It never matched that served by the Suriname "Hotel California."

So, things may never quite be what they seem, and sometimes our minds make things seem worse than they actually are. Years later while Bob and I were on yet another adventure I made mention of this revelation.

Bob just smiled.

Charlie Auvermann is a longtime Dawson County resident and former editor of the Dawson Community News. He is also the executive director of the local development authority.

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