The city of Mendoza is Argentina’s wine growing capital, and we had made sure to meet up with a genuine Frenchman so that we wouldn’t look like complete amateurs when visiting the wineries. Matteo had arrived from New Zealand via Chile, and sported the same spectacular jetlag that we caught ourselves a few months back on the same long east-bound flight. Alcohol is one of the worst ways to try to cure a jetlag, but Matteo was brave and willing to try anyway. Apart from visiting an underwhelming modern art museum in the city center we accomplished little during our first few days in Mendoza. We moved hostel after three days as we are now stuck in high season and the room we were in was booked out – luckily we found another hotel closeby that had a room free. And no wonder…something was terribly wrong with this room – the place was a bit cheaper and had fan instead of a/c, but something else was heating the room up as a furnace… It kept least 10 degrees Celsius hotter than anywhere else in the hotel, clocking in at 32 degrees already at 7am in the morning! We checked the walls and floor but couldn’t figure out where all the heat was coming from… After two nights of awful sleep with the slow ceiling fan only gently stirring the air we found a third hotel to move to.
We went rafting one of the days – there’s a fast flowing brown river with lots of rapids an hour out of town. The water was higher than usual in the river and it was great fun. Between the rapids I asked the raft-leader if anyone ever fell off, “oh rarely, maybe three times in a season”, then ten seconds later someone fell off the raft just in front of us (the person was quickly recovered luckily). Matteo went paragliding the next day, then we organized to do the main thing people come to Mendoza for: bike around between the wineries for a day. Being good students we commenced the sampling already the evening before, so we got a bit of a late start and only made it to two different wineries during the day, plus a small olive farm. One of the wineries was very traditional, giant oak barrels, the second more modern with huge metal cylinders. It was nice to bike around in the sunshine, stop by the side of the road here and there for some bread, cheese and olives, then sample a few more wines…better the more kilometers you’ve biked. It was nearly too hot to drink wine though really…but it probably wouldn’t have been too good an idea to ask for a cold beer…
After eight nights in Mendoza – one of our longer stops for the whole trip – we had our final Argentinean steak and then the three of us got a long bus-ride across the Andes back to Santiago, then to Valparaiso, the cute rundown sea-port town me and Edel visited already once while making our way south in Chile three months ago. We were stressing a bit to make the bus…ending up with the only taxi driver in all of Latin America that stops for amber, and arrived at the station with just two minutes to spare – before having to wait an hour for the delayed bus. It got even more late during the border crossing 3,200 meters up in the mountains – standing still for hours in the queue. Once we got inside the checkpoint all counters except two were closed…long queues but the people behind all the other counters were busy playing patience on the computer or doing their facebook… The bus was meant to reach Santiago at 5pm but got there at 9pm..luckily we still found a bus to Valparaiso and the hostel there had kept the room we booked.
We spent two nights in Valparaiso, walking around town and looking at all the cool graffiti (some had been cleaned since out last visit – La Ganja es una Deidad no more unfortunately…) and riding the funky funicular lifts. Next we headed to Pichilemu – Chile’s surf capital – and signed up for some lessons at a surf lodge outside town. Matteo had already mastered the art in New Zealand, but me and Edel took a lesson with a real long-haired surfer-dude who thought everything was “epic”.
This beach was a bit less beginner-friendly than the one Matteo had surfed in New Zealand, but he still managed to stand up on the board unlike us. There were crazy waves running out from the beach to meet the real waves in a big splash, and currents dragging you along as you fight the waves trying to get back out. The hardest part was just getting far enough out to even get to try – my routine would be something like this: struggle for half an hour to paddle out, big waves beating me in the face, get tipped over and go under, swallow some water, get a bruise from someone else’s board, and find myself all the way back at the beach again without even having tried to catch a wave! Did get to catch a few waves eventually, body-boarding along the whole way to the shore with the wave breaking underneath me, but didn’t get as far as standing up on my feet. Just as often the wave would just pass by below without taking me along, completely ignoring all my frantic paddling.
I had probably swallowed a gallon of sea water at the end, with another gallon lodged in my sinuses (exiting gracefully through the nose in large quantities whenever I’d tilt my head…). Still fun though, but awfully hard work. Like snowboarding if you had to climb the whole mountain between each run instead of taking the lift… We went back a second day, and I managed to surf standing on my knees at least. Then I paddled out a bit too far “too catch that perfect wave” and the current caught me and dragged me some kilometer down along the beach. I was paddling until I was blue in the face but couldn’t quite tell if I was getting closer to or further away from the beach… Once I finally got back we decided to call it for the day. Me and Edel would fly to Bogota after this, but I looked in no shape to cross borders…three day stubble I didn’t want to shave due to a bad sunburn, blood-shot eyes from the waves beating me in the face – looking in the mirror even I would think I was smuggling! Then again, who ever heard of anyone smuggling drugs in to Colombia?
Stayed out of the water and sun the last day, then went in to town for leaving drinks with Matteo. Slept most of the bus to Santiago the next day, as well as the flight to Buenos Aires, the nine hour airport stopover, and the flight to Bogota…