44. Mendoza (Mendoza, Argentina)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.