Monday, 16 April 2012

On the Road Again

After a month of cozy hospitality (and good ol' hard work) in El Bolson, Vincent and I are back to backpacking.

In the hope of helping ease our re-acclimation to life on the road, we decided to head straight to Argentina's biggest wine region, Mendoza, to try to drown our sorrows of leaving Rosie with bottle after bottle of Malbec. Perfectly acceptable behavior for two adults, right?

Mendoza is a large city surrounded by smaller wine-growing communities, best known for its Malbec, which, if you have never tried it before, is a really drinkable red wine. Too drinkable, actually.

Mendoza itself didn't particularly captivate us, but the stay was worthwhile because we were able to explore the wine region during a day-long biking wine tour. If that sounds dangerous, it's because it is. Four wineries, three or four wines to taste (read: drink) at each, over the span of eight hours and 20 kilometers in the hot sun. It was so much fun.

Biking was really the way to do it, both for the views of the vines and the Andes beyond, and for the rush of adrenaline we got every time a massive truck nearly pushed us off the road. But the upside of multiple near-death experiences during a wine tour is that we were both too tipsy to really notice the danger we were in, and the day passed with nothing more unpleasant than a headache towards the end of the afternoon. We tasted some delicious wines and bought a bottle to take with us at each stop.

It was a blast.

Only the second winery and we're already having trouble holding it together...
Kidding ourselves into thinking we could eliminate all of the wine we drank over our three days in Mendoza, we decided to head up into the Andes near the Chilean border to do some hiking. We chose the village of Uspallata, on the Ruta de los Andes, since it was on the way to Santiago, our next destination. In high season, Uspallata might be considered a sleepy mountain village, but when we were there, it was positively comatose. We rented a cabin on a campsite just out of town (meaning, away from the town's one intersection) and had the entire campgrounds to ourselves. The main reason, though, that we chose Uspallata was that it was a good jumping off point for hiking around the Aconcagua mountain, which at 22,800 ft (6960 m) is the American continent's highest peak and the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas.

To explore this monster, we took a bus further into the Andes to an even smaller village called Puente del Inca, a veritable shit hole if I've ever seen one. The guidebook tricked us into thinking there was something worth doing in the town itself besides hiking as far away from it as humanly possible. There is a "sight" so to say: a natural bridge over a gorge, its stone surface yellowed by sulfuric gases from hot springs below it. That sounds kinda cool, right?

Well, it isn't.

In reality, it's a jaundiced rock arch that competes for view with a decrepit shell of a concrete building where hot spring baths used to be. While walking on a trail by the gorge, we saw a dead horse, which was infinitely more interesting.

Making the site even more underwhelming was its location behind stand after stand of the cheesiest tourist crap I think I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of tourist crap. There were at least ten stands, all selling the exact same assortment of sculpted figurines made of the yellow stone- everything from The Virgin to a life-size replica of a leather boot. Who, please, tell me, who would buy a full size boot made of yellowed rock? And what would they do with it if they did???

I was baffled by it. Still am.

All of this is to explain why we spent no time in the village itself and instead high-tailed it out of town to the Aconcagua park trail head, which is in a stunning location in a valley between the snow-capped, craggy peak of the Aconcagua mountain (and a few of its lesser peers) and a line of lower sandy mountains seemingly painted with swirling hues of pink, beige, red, violet, gold, green and blue. While we were supposed to be hiking towards the Aconcagua, I couldn't help but spend most of the time looking back over my shoulder at the vivid display of color behind us.

We spent two nights in Uspallata before saying goodbye to Argentina and crossing the border into Chile (where Vincent got pulled out of the Customs line and interrogated because his bag contained popcorn, which is apparently considered to be a dangerous foreign foodstuff in Chile. While he was explaining his ignorance to one official, another one took out the little guitar Vincent bought in Bolivia and proceeded to play it. So bizarre).

We had spent nearly two months in Argentina and leaving it really solidified the realization that our time in South America is coming to a close. Just one more week in Chile and one week on Easter Island, and then we take a plane across the Pacific to New Zealand and another continent altogether. We have already done almost one third of our trip!

Time is going by way too fast.

1 comment:

  1. As an avid wine drinker and bicyclist... this time sounds delightful.