Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

44. Mendoza (Mendoza, Argentina)

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One thing I forgot to mention in my last Santiago entry - karaoke! Thad and I went to a karaoke restaurant in Santiago with a couple of girls Thad had met clubbing. As I said, the place was a karaoke restaurant, which meant instead of the whole crowd being drunk and shouting along with the words as is the karaoke bar tradition, everyone was instead quietly enjoying their meal and listening to the same 5 people sing song after song, and sing them well. The girls wanted us guys to sing a song and after much no-ing I thought, well stuff it, I'm here in Santiago and can make as much of a fool of myself as I like. So I got up and attempted to get the crowd rockin' with "Born to be wild", in honour of my American friend Big Bad John who I met a few years ago in Brisbane Australia. He always rocked that one at our weekly karaoke night. So I was up on the stage, strutting Jagger style, swinging the mic around. Unfortunately, the mic I was singing into wasn't switched on, I was supposed to be singing into one of the other mics. Take two. The music started again and I started strutting, but the crowd just wasn't giving me the energy I needed so I bowed out after the first verse, telling the crowd they weren't yet ready to rock. My friends thought it was great though.

Karaoke Matt
Me rockin' Santiago

The next day I intended to return to Mendoza to continue my trip north through Argentina. However, due to snowfall that day the pass through the Andes was closed. It was closed the next morning too, but it finally opened for a couple of hours in the afternoon, so once we received word our minivan was hurriedly packed and we set off. A word of advice, if you're going to cross borders, try do it in the smallest bus possible. Otherwise you'll have to wait for the entire busload to get processed through customs and their bags searched etc. I'd already thought of that so booked my seat in a ten person minivan, so we only took about half an hour to get through. It could take over 2 hours with a 50 seater bus...

Andes - 01 (Large)
Andes

Upon arrival in Mendoza I checked into Sosahous hostel, where Kalin, an American friend of mine from BA was working. I recommend the hostel too, it was pretty cheap at $14 pesos (NZ$7) and friendly, the majority of guests were Argentine so I could use my Spanish.
I loved Mendoza. Mendoza is at the foot of the Eastern side of the Andes, and receives little rainfall as the Andes act as a giant barrier for the rainclouds that come from the Pacific Ocean. So while the Santiago region of Chile on the other side of the Andes is really green, Mendoza is quite desert-like. Well not quite, because of the amount of sunshine it gets it is both the main wine region of Argentina and the main olive growing region. Tierra del Sol, (Land of Sunshine) they call it.

Andes - 02 (Large)
My favourite Andes photo

There's also lots of great day-trips you can do. Paragliding, horse-riding, skiing, wine tours, and a "high-mountain" tour to name a few, as well as seeing the city itself.
OK, enough of the tourist-brochure talk. Unfortunately for me, the next 2 days were cold and rainy! So much for Land of Sunshine, I'm thinking, so I didn't really get much done, other than walk around the city. As well as the usual bus network, Mendoza also has a small trolley-bus network, which are large buses with electric wires overhead, which provide the benefit of trams without all the tram infrastructure. A good compromise, and a nice smooth ride too as the motor is pretty much silent and non-polluting - yay. That's something I enjoy about travelling, seeing the different methods of public transport other cities have.

Because of the foul weather the pass from and to Santiago was still closed, so the hostel had quite a few people staying on longer than they expected as they couldn't get to Santiago. On Day 3 I decided to risk it and head up the mountain for a day of skiing. I hoped that the weather would clear by the time I got there. So I caught a 6am bus from Mendoza, and although they tell you the trip to Las Penitentes takes 3 hours in fact it takes 4 or 5, so we didn't arrive until around 11am. Really, I should have come here directly from Santiago rather than going to Mendoza to save myself backtracking 4 hours but oh well. I hired all the gear from the ski shop there, it was $40 pesos (NZ$20) for skis, boots, poles, pants, gloves, and sunglasses, but another $20 pesos for a jacket so I didn't bother and just used my leather jacket. I figured if I didn't fall over and get it too wet I'd be OK.

Snow - 03 - Matt ski (Large)
Ready to go

Because of all the recent snowfalls the upper slopes were closed for avalanche control, which meant we could hear the occasional boom from above. I paid my $50 pesos for the lift pass, but as I said the lifts were still closed, the only thing open was the beginner's and an intemediate poma. I hadn't skiied in about 6 years but it was OK, I made two cautious runs down the intermediate slope without falling over. "Still got it". The weather was great too, although the skies were gray there was no wind at all so it wasn't cold. I was soon skiing with just the jacket and a Tshirt, no need for my woolly hat nor scarf.

Snow - 06 - Penitentes
Las Penitentes the ski town, beneath Las Penitentes the mountain

Then I noticed the nearby chairlift had been opened but most of the seats were still empty. I skiied over and got on, and was like the second person that day to get to the top. Because the chairlift had just been opened the trails had yet to be groomed, which meant one thing - powder! About a foot of virgin snow! Although the powderheads and snowboarders were stoked, I soon found out that I don't really like skiing in powder - my skiis sunk in up to my knees so I couldn't really turn. I could do a long slow traverse but when I tried to turn I'd fall over head first. Sucked!
After a few more runs on the intermediate poma I had a rest for lunch, and while I ate I noticed the groomer machine grooming a trail down the chairlift run. So I spent another hour or so
mucking around there before calling it a day as my legs were aching. It was kind of boring going skiing by myself too, I think it's probably more fun when you have someone to race or to follow, but I didn't know anyone there.
That night I went to one of the restaurants and noticed all the sunburnt bright pink faces. Many kids had patches of sunburn where they'd failed to apply suncream, which at first I thought was some horrible rash. Although the sky was cloudy all day the sun still got through! I'd put suncream on but so I was left with only sunburnt ears.
That night in the dorm I met my dorm-mates, both from BA, Flavia and Leandro. We decided to head to Puente del Inca the next day, which is a nearby tourist attraction. Another guy in the hostel gave us a ride there, and here it is:

Snow - 15a - Matt Puente del Inca (Large)
Me and Puente del Inca

Behind and below me is a river and above that is a natural rock bridge which supposedly the Incas used to cross through the Andes. Well, I guess they might have. But the river's not exactly a raging torrent so they could have waded through it if they had to. Next to the bridge is the remains of a hotel which was built into the rock face; the rest of which was destroyed by an avalanche around 100 years ago.
From there we had a 3km walk along the road to the viewpoint of Mt Aconcagua, which at 6960m is the highest mountain in America. Unfortunately we couldn't see it too well because of the cloud, but here it is.

Snow - 09 - Matt Aconcagua (Large)
Me and Mt Aconcagua

Along the way we picked up a couple of stray dogs which were super friendly as they were probably hungry. They seemed to be having a ball, playing in the snow as if it were sand on a beach, chasing each other and burying things. One of them got a kick out of chewing and licking the rocks which seemed to be full of calcium.

Snow - 11 - Snow dog (Large)
Stray dog burying a rock

That afternoon Flavia and I hitchhiked back to Mendoza to save us waiting for the 5pm bus, my first hitch-hiking experience in South America, and it was a success. Even better was that she sat in the front and made conversation while I dozed in the back.
A few days later my girlfriend from BA came and visited me in Mendoza. She'd never seen the snow before so we did the same day trip again, from Mendoza to Puente del Inca. After that we played around in the snow a bit, building a snowman and hiring a sled to play on. I'd been to the snow five or six times in my life to go skiing, but I don't think I'd ever built a snowman or played on a sled, at least not that I could remember. The snow was already much firmer and drier than when I was there 4 days earlier, so much so that we didn't even need to hire those funky red Santa Claus boots I'm sporting in the photos above.

Snow - 19 - Matt Ruth Snowman (Large)
Snowman

Seeing her again was great. We really missed each other. When I first left BA I was looking forward to hitting the road and getting a bit of breathing space, but after Juan and the other guys left me behind it got a bit lonely. I loved the freedom of travelling alone in SE Asia in 2002, meeting other backpackers, but now I just wanted to be curled up next to someone in bed again. Also, sitting around smoking and speaking English with other backpackers doesn't have the same appeal it did to me then. Maybe that's why I have a suitcase. So, I decided to return to BA "for a few days" to be with her a bit longer. Which meant that night we caught back to back buses from Puente del Inca to Mendoza to BA, arriving at 10:30am the next day, just in time for her to start work at 11am.

Snow - 01 - Suitcase snow (Large)
Not quite a backpack(er)

6 Comments:

  • hey matt sounds like a wicked time.
    been keeping track of your adventures... brightens my dull work day.
    have a good one bro

    By Blogger Callum, at 4:01 PM  

  • Looks like you've got some of those bastard comment spammers in here, fuck 'em I say.

    Also, those who have RSS ability can subscribe to http://suitcaseonwheels.blogspot.com/atom.xml using their favourite application.

    Ta,

    Ed.

    By Blogger Slag, at 5:20 PM  

  • Hey Callum, glad to hear you're here.

    Yeah cheers Ed, I can delete comments so I'll try keep on top of those damn spammers.

    -Matt

    By Blogger mattyboy, at 2:13 PM  

  • Those comment spammers sure are annoying. Not too hard to keep under control though.

    How did you get an email notifications thing? Is it tremendously complicated?

    Cheers
    Barns

    By Blogger afraid, at 3:25 PM  

  • The email notifications thing doesn't work automatically or anything. I have to go to the Messagebot page to send an email to my subscribers, the latest subscriber being the honourary big.hairy@balls.com

    But it was easy enough to set up and I don't think the owner of it is going to sell email addresses.

    By Blogger mattyboy, at 2:50 PM  

  • PS. For those of you who missed it, the comment spam was a couple of advertisements for another site posted here as comments, which I have now deleted.

    -Matt

    By Blogger mattyboy, at 3:13 AM  

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