Winery and Mountain Tours Galore...
NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that there have been some complaints that my travel blog entries are "too long" and that no one has "time" to read the whole "thing". The only way I know how to respond to this is to now make my entries TWICE AS LONG. So there.
So I finally caught the 17 hour bus from Iguazu, land of a million waterfalls, back to Buenos Aires and arrived in Giramondo Hostel in cool and shady (as in trees) Palermo only to find that there were no beds available for me to sleep in. Shoshana at the front desk was nice enough to allow me to leave my mochila in a dark curtained room in the back and she sent me off to the showers until she could find me a bed. I went into the bathroom and discovered Giramondo Hostel´s...uniqueness. All the walls were constructed of shiny aluminium, gray pavement for a floor and 3x3´ shower stalls. I know they were going for some kind of postmodern thing but the whole place looked an army barrack. I took a much needed hot shower and went upstairs to the kitchen to make some salad and military eggs for breakfast and lo and behold, who walks in but Paul, who had ended up delaying his flight for 2 more weeks to hit up the beaches in Santiago. I´m telling you...this place SUCKS you in. It´s like Amsterdam...hundreds of people who meant to stay for 2 days but have lived there for 2 years. Within an hour, he convinced to come with him to Mendoza, the NW wine region of the country, right on the border of Chile. We booked an overnight bus for that evening and begged Shoshana to let us leave our bags for the day, though Shoshana was none too happy with me. After all, I had already received both 10 minutes of hot water AND two army eggs (I dropped the first one on the floor) without even paying for a bed. Not good business, tsk, tsk. But nevertheless, we went merrily on our way, well, separate ways, Paul went shopping for his designer crapola while I decided to once again tackle La Boca, the neighborhood I had botched up the week before. I finally found the "right" neighborhood, a few lively blocks of brightly painted buildings of blues and yellows and reds with fake tango dancers in the streets and an heladeria (ice cream shop) every block, right on the port. It was very nice for an hour or two. I caught the bus back to our hostel to meet Paul for dinner and we caught the 7 o´clock bus for Mendoza.
Now this bus...before I tell you what was in store for your little adventurers, let me tell you the expectations. Let´s just say that we had already been arguing about which post-dinner dessert goes best with champagne, chocolate eclairs or tiramisu. Our trusty little Tramat (now forever known as HazMat) pulled into the station and the first thing I had to translate was a sign on the door that said: "For fear of spreading cholera, bathroom is only to be used in emergencies". This is an 18 hour bus ride, people! We settled down in the wet and dirty brown leather seats and held on for the ride, most of which was in a 50 degree climate with no blankets, no food, and coffee with icicle pieces in it. The bathroom stopped working at hour 5 and our seats were one foot away from ground zero so I´m calculating that we got cholera about 23 times. I wrapped my pajama pants around my head to block out the cold but not before making a heartfelt speech about this "not being right" and how we should "do something", but everyone pretty much ignored the girl with the pants on her head, so eventually I went to sleep.
We arrived in Mendoza at Hostel Lagares, a really cute and new hostel owned by a young couple expecting a baby in a month. We walked around the shopping bonanza that is downtown Mendoza, especially in the main Plaza Independencia and ate a whole pie of pizza with green olives at Rincon de la Boca, the best pizza crust in town. The next day, we went on a wine tour of a few of the 100 or so bodegas (wineries) in this area. We first visited Don Arturo winery and had some Malbec, the famous wine of this region. We then visited an olive oil factory where we learned that black and green olives are actually the same olive, not two different types, and then we got to taste all these different olive oils, yum. I got a little too into it, stealing bits of french baguette soaked in oil, until the tour guide shot me a dirty look. After that was a larger winery where they fed us more Malbec and Chardonnays and I don´t even know, everything was getting blurry. And the very last stop was a liquor factory, where this little old lady showed us dozens of different liquors (sp?), from chocolate and bananas to peaches, and told us of her little old grandma who would take a shot of whiskey every day before going to bed, for purely "digestive purposes". Righhhht. That night was another parrilla dinner of steak in mushroom sauce with bruschetta and the next morning Paul left for good to explore Santiago with his friend.
I set out on a trekking trip with 4 girls from Buenos Aires, where we climbed a mountain with our guide Sebastian and then rapeled down it with ropes. I completely sucked going up the mountain, all out of shape. My only saving grace was Cecelia, who had been drinking til 5 the previous night and who had to stop every 5 minutes to catch her breath and stare blankly around, so fortunately I was able to blend in. And then going down, I was like a mountain goat, skipping gracefully from rock to rock while everyone else kept falling and hitting bushes. I think they should invent a sport where you just go down mountains, not up them. Yes, that would be perfect. We skipped down half the mountain and then rapeled down a 140 foot drop with ropes. Very scary but ultimately fun, though I kept screaming Mierda! Mierda! as Sebastian chuckled. Cecelia unfortunately fell into the side rocks and started bleeding from her elbow. Poor girl, rough 24 hours. We ended the day with a visit to the thermal springs across the street, relaxing in warm currents for two hours while being served some hot empanadas. What a day!
The next day, I took a tour of Alta Montana on a bus with a bunch of friendly old Argentinians. We visited Puente del Inca (http://www.cuyo.com/altamontana/puentedelinca.asp), a bizarre looking rock formation that had formed over an avalanched hotel from the early 1900´s. The Incas also once used this path as they crossed the region. We visited the base of Aconcagua Mountain, the highest mtn outside the Andes. Amazing! The next stops were Los Penitentes, a famous ski lodge, and Uspallata Valley, where if you stand in the middle and do a 360 degree turn, you will see bright green plains, then hot red valley, then snowpeaked mountains, then pure black peaks, all in the same panoramic view. The final stop was Cristo Redentor, the final frontier with Chile, where you dizzyingly climb a mountain to reach a 4000 meter point with the wind whipping violently around a huge Jesus statue. On the way up, all the drivers we passed would hold up a diaper, as a way of calling us sissies and egging us to continue on up the scary path. Lucas the tour guide´s explanations of the scenery were more confusing in English than in Spanish. For example, at one point, I understood that one month ago, the Argentinians had carried a cannonball up a mountain and shot it up in the air, setting the world record for the highest cannonball shot from the top of a mountain. I´m not really sure this is what really happened, but it definitely makes the story more interesting. I was again only with Spanish speakers for the whole day and I got by on staring intensely at everyone as they spoke, which I think might have freaked them out, but I succeeded in understanding maybe 20% of what they said, which is a definite improvement. I even added to the conversation by talking about the weather and they all smiled at me when I finished.
My new strategy of dealing with Spanish conversations is to just talk about what I want to talk about, regardless of what the conversation is really about. Usually, I pick something that rhymes with whatever it was the person said, which is very easy in Spanish. An example:
Carlos: Y cuantas horas trabaja un abogado?
"How many hours does a lawyer work?"
Me: Me gusta helado? Claro!
"Do I like ice cream? Of course!"
This little strategy of mine has really been amusing me but it usually just confuses the other person. No matter!
(At this point, drunk Irishman Peter comes up behind me and says "Well bloody hell, that is the focking longest email I´ve yet to seen. Well, fock it! What are you writing??" I point a finger toward a beer bottle in the corner and he leaves to claim it...but I realize that I probably should end this entry lest I get more complaints from very busy people)