Saturday, April 29, 2006

Mendoza, Argentina (3 days)

Taking a night bus to Mendoza proved to be a very bad idea since we had to go through customs at 2am. The dark landscape teased us with tall snow-capped mountains under a clear starry sky, the full moon lighting the snow. The highest peak in South America, Aconcagua at 6960m (1000m higher than Kilimanjaro), is within these mountains, so you can just imagine the drama of the mountainscape in this area. The customs building was a strange dome that was very cold due to its isolated location- seemed straight out of a James Bond flick.

Arrived in Mendoza at a most ridiculous time of 5am. We got a cab to take us to the hostel where we had a reservation for the next night- of course they weren´t welcoming. The night guy let us in, but had no free beds (we already knew before arriving in Mendoza that it was fully booked for the Easter long weekend). We sat in a smoky front room with him for a while before I moved to a padded bench that was in a tiny outdoor courtyard in the middle of the hostel. Some guy offered Ali his bed since he wasn´t using it. I woke up once feeling light rain on my face (oh the joys of backpacking!), then snuggled back into my sleeping bag, exhausted. A tap on the shoulder a while later was Byron, our fellow British Columbian friend from Kelowna who we first met in Ushuaia and later in El Calafate. Ali got up and we all cooked breakfast together- crepes with fruit, sugar, fresh squeezed lemon juice and yoghurt. It was really delicious.

Byron had plans to go shopping at a mall, so we joined him (our first mall of the trip). We had ´real´coffee and were generally dazzled by the size, poscheness and vague familiarity of being in a mall. Outside reality set in quickly as young boys tried to help escort us to cabs for change. We went back to the hostel and walked to Byron`s preferred hostel, partly owned by a Canadian, where we had a reservation for the following night. We signed up for an asado there that night, which is an Argentinian institution- the big meat cook-up over an open fire. Went to an internet cafe and quickly emailed Sylvia from Madrid and Mary and Brian from L.A. (but really from Calgary), who I knew were all in town, but didn´t expect they`d show on such short couple-hour notice via email. They all did! Was fun reunion. First we drank in the bar, then had a wine tasting, and then the asado with a large amount of backpackers at a big long table. Was lots of fun. We all decided to try to go for a day hike out of town the next day even though we had no planned desination. Agreed to meet at a plaza at 10am. This night I went to bed while Ali went out with Byron and others to drink and dance some more. She came home very late sans camera which went missing on the dance floor to her great dismay.

Next morning, I packed up in preparation to move hostels, and Sylvia showed up before 10am. We walked over to the plaza together- she knew of a place we could hike but we needed to catch a bus at 10:15am. Would work as long as others show on time. They are 10min. late (got mixed up with plazas). Next bus didn´t leave until 12:45pm. Decided still enough time, so decided to grab breakfast and coffee at outdoor cafe. Had tostados, which are similar to toast, and a cafe con leche, which is coffee with milk. Missed next bus due to mix-up with Al, so gave up on hiking idea. Spent couple hours relaxing in hostel courtyard eating hung-over breakfast cook-up. In the afternoon, Ali headed to the police station to file report on her camera. Sylvia offered to join her since she speaks really good spanish- very nice of her. Mary and I decided to take in some of the classical music festival on at the moment so we headed to one of the historical areas of Mendoza- Fundacion. When we got there, turned out to be a local dance group who danced one song to Sting, really had nothing to do with classical music whatsoever! A large fountain at the center of the square puzzled us as the water was tinted red. At first not sure if it was supposed to be blood of Christ?? (it is Easter weekend after all), but find out it was for the wine festival on at the moment. We also checked out a local museum here about the history of Mendoza and wine in the area. Walked back through town checking out the paving design and planting along Avenida San Martin. Back out our hostel, Ali, Byron, Sylvia and isreali Ido of all people from Torres hike (we rain into him on the street) and I all make a huge and delicious chicken salad.

Next morning Ali and I got picked up for our fabulous day of wine tasting on bikes. Our ´bikes and wine´tour was an hour late when a taxi picks us up. Took us out of town and dropped us at a small shop on side of very busy street. Owner apologized saying car broke down. We were with one spanish guy, Marcus. Marcus felt free to complain and get us some discounts and freebies, great! We set off on our bikes. First stop was a wine museum which was very good. We got to see all kinds of old equipment used in the early days of wine production. Second was a boutique chocolate and liqueur shop. Lunch was fantastic, at a famous little place called Almacen del Sur, which is a family run operation. Almacen del Sur is an exclusive delicatessen which produces all of their natural ingredients for their products on this farm. Got a tour of the place, got to see how they make their own food and jams and all sorts for distribution, even how they sun dry tomatoes. In the afternoon, went to our favourite winery of the day, Tempus Alba. It was all fancy sparkling new with a great outdoor deck perfect to take in the evening's sunset. All in all, a wonderful day- biked 20km. and didn't get killed on the narrow road full of cracks and potholes while many vehicles, including B-train trucks loaded with grapes, whizzed beside us.

Back at the hostel, met Mary and Brian and went for vegetarian food buffet (hard to find in meat-eating Argentina!) with Sylvia. Walked Sylvia back to her hostel, she was all sketched out after having had a few rough incidents recently. Stayed up late writing postcards and watching movie in hostel. Said bye to Byron- he was on his way home to Canada the next day.

Next day we did the bus ride back to Santiago in the daylight and it was breathtaking. Since this bus goes over the Andes, at one point the highway is at an altitude of 3100m and it drops via something like 30 switchbacks down to the valley floor. Ali couldn't look out the window because when the bus would round the corner, it was hard to believe that we weren't going to take a nose-dive off the road.


Post a Comment

<< Home