Welcome to Argentina

Trip Start Dec 11, 2004
1
7
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Trip End Jan 01, 2005


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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Hello Everybody, Bruce here!

We spent Sunday on the very easy after having seen more colours and hills than we could ever remember the day before. A 500km round trip journey up to 4755 meters. I have never seen such colours: dusty rose, yellow ochre, copper green--all in whorls and veins on the mountains. Incredibilosa! There were almost no projecting rocks; instead, it was all crushed and shattered in screes while the faces were smooth dirt and the tops rounded. It was all in a palette of dust and grey yet with unimaginable variation and near shocking contrasts at times. Plus the crystalline lagoon... Coleridge may have gone up Mont Blanc, but he never saw this! I only hope the photos turn out. It was so windy at the top it was impossible to sit the camera still.

Anyway, Sunday we woke up late, had a late brekkies, then killed off two hours in the internet cafe trying to find salon cama bus seats and a place to stay in Mendoza (fruitlessly). We then went to the beach for the afternoon and relaxed. Vicki visited a filthy toilet (shudders of Asia) in a kitsch lighthouse resto at the end of the road to the beach. Then we found a spot under a palm frond covered umbrella stand and soaked in the shade (me) and sun (Vicki). I went for two frolics in the waves as well. On the second one I went out past the beachfront crashing where it was calmer---or so I thought. It was fine until one monster wave (ninth of a ninth) came toward me. I knew enough to duck under it rather than ride it but it coincided with a strong undertow and I was tossed and fluttered underwater for 10 seconds like a ragdoll. Good fun! But right on its heels I got soaked by another wave and got some sea water up the schnozz. I was fine but knew enough to come back in. Vicki was a bit angry at seeing me take a small risk but no big deal... hell after the mountain ride--windy switchback one lane crushed rock with a thousand foot drop at times--one can afford a bit of licence. Anyway, when we went back to town for a late lunch (empanada con queso and tomato/onion salad and beer) I went to blow my nose and sea water dripped out like a nosebleed. This happened again an hour later at the hostel! My sinuses must be salty by now.

We gathered our bags at the hostel, talked to an old Serbian coot from Toronto who had been everywhere Vicki had been in Asia and more, and headed off for farewell dinner at Daniel and Judithīs. They lived about 200m away in a pleasant family dwelling like a Montreal shoebox apartment but even longer and with an open courtyard where they grew lemon sprigs and Chinese tomato trees. All the family lives there but we didnīt meet them. Judith cooked us up two delicious pizzas (con pollo and con jamon) which were the best food weīd eaten all trip (though cheap seafood is hard to beat too...) because they had flavour in them. Seems like Chilenos only like salsa with spice and herbs. Everything else is bland, but for salt. Daniel then served us pisco sours (Chilean whisky, lemon juice and egg white) which are the national apperatif, and then two bottles of wine left over from the marriage (just 3 weeks before, and they were still kissy!). Vicki liked the Cab Sauv / Merlot best. It was from a small Chilean winery that doesnīt export so I canīt recall the name. just before midnight we waved goodbye and walked down the hill to the bus station.

We caught a midnight express to Santiago on Tur Bus, the dreaded low-end company ($18 a person for a 500 km journey...!) but it was not bad at all---Vicki went to sleep straightway. However, behind my seat was the loudest snoring beast in the history of travel. Everybody around him was going bonkers with this human camel hybrid. We clapped hands, shook his seat, prodded him, all to no effect. This man had the worst apnea I have ever heard--except of course I was hoping he would die. Still, sleepiness overtook us and the 6 hour journey felt like 3 hours. Sunrise came soon.

We arrived in Santiago, decided than the upstairs showers were too expensive (3$ each)
and went in search of a hotel to crash at for the morning. We ended up back at the
Casa Rioja where we had that terrible first night but I managed to convince the friendly Scottish doorkeeper to let us stay in a double for only $6. We went to sleep again at 7:30 am, then got up at 11am and had showers and hot choc and tea. Aaah, it was great,
even despite the band saw chugging away in the courtyard.

Then we went back to Tur Bus for the next leg of the journey--7 hours to Mendoza up and over the Andes into Argentina. The bus ride started out with a bad omen: we saw the leftover of a bus-van crash; there were sheets over two people and a big hole in the bus window where the assistant to the driver sits, doubtlessly sans seatbelt. Not good. The bus ride was dullish until we got up into the mountains and then hit one of the most amazing stretches of road in the world, a 30 curve mega-switchback up the face of a mountain. The mountain pass here is all rocky, just like Alberta-BC and provided a dramatic, if fairly colourless, vista. The bus driver was pretty daring and often passed trucks while in the other lane trucks were inching downhill slowly but definitely inevitably. One or two times I winced. The switchbacks have no escapes and no guard rails for the most part but I felt much safer on the whole than on the Saturday mountain ride where the back end would always fishtail on the loose stone and there was only one
lane for both directions...

So at the top of the mega-switchback there was a long tunnel that then opened onto a slight downhill and then the Argentinian customs. We all had to get out, walk through a cold domed customs building. Everyone says Argentina is lax and it was. No questions and no bag search for us. We didnīt take out our bags from underneath and no one asked us to open anything, so we just waited. There was only a cursory effort to check other peopleīs bags, mostly for people smuggling I think, and then we were on our way after 30 mins of standing around. We got all of 100 meters and hit a mountainside food stand. Lots of brave people rushed out and ordered up Argie beef sandwiches from dubious looking stalls. I just got OJ with my remaining pesos. The assistant on the bus had a good tip scheme--a donation system to collect peso coins left in your pocket!

The rest of the ride was uneventful and we got into Mendoza about 8:30pm. It is a very big city (1.5 million) and clogged with cars and diesel pollution. There were many squeege boys on the roads and you could tell immediately that Argentina is now much worse off than Chile, despite the former sophistication and cultural superiority the Argies had and still put on display. Though we had no hostel, we were immediately set up by a hotel pimp who turned out to have a fab place to stay--a swanky ceramic floor place with bidet, kitchenette, air-con and cable TV, all for $14 US a night. It would easily cost $150 in Canada. Of course, the ride in to town with the guy was hairy. His car was a shitbox and the drivers are crazy in Mendoza...obviously from economic frustration.

We got settled, headed out to buy supermarket dinner: fancy snausage, whole-wheat bread (hard to find in Chile), avocadoes, cherries, lemon-water, chick-peas, crackers, and to top it off, a bottle of Trapiche Malbec (made in Mendoza). Yum yum yum, all for eight bucks US. The prices here are ridiculous. I feel bad that I suggested Angus and Julia honeymoon in pricey Portugal when they could have come to Argie!

We had a nice dinner back at the hotel, watched cable TV and put on the air con. I managed to rip the cable-wire out of the wall but intrepid handy-with-pocketknife Vicki fixed it.

The plan for today was to find a laundry (check), internet (check), walk around town and get bus tickets for the 14 hour ride to Buenos Aires. Salon Cama is a must (near flat bed seats).

Vicki and I will doubtlessly revisit our one argument weīve had: which direction the sun goes overhead during the day in the Southern Hemisphere. That was a good fruitless discussion for 20 mins on the bus yesterday. Damn, still havenīt checked which way the toidy water circles either.

Maybe tomorrow we will do a wine tour. Mendoza has a lot to see but we want to get in
B-A for the 23rd so as not to get stuck in the Catholic shutdown.

Over and out, please send emails, maybe we can actually buy you stuff (which we have not done so far!)

Love Bruce (and silent Vicki)
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