Tuesday, 18th November
I slept well last night except for waking around 1pm to find a cat in my bed. There is a cat that lives in the hostel and it had obvisouly crawled into our room through an outside window during the night. I awoke to a wet nose on my foot but oddly wasn’t that freaked out. I think it took me back to living with a cat at home and in my half asleep state it seemed to make sense. It was quite well behaved though and didn’t fuss when I picked him up to throw him out the door. Kirsty couldn’t quite figure out what was going on though. Being not he top bunk I needed her to open the door but when I told her there was a cat in my bed I think she thought I was sleep-talking. We got there in the end and the cat was dispatched to the corridor.
We had a bus booked to Mendoza in Argentina today that left at 12 noon so after having breakfast, packing and checking out, we jumped into a cab for the short ride to the bus terminal. This was an honest cabbie who used the meter. I gave him a bit extra anyway, pleased with his honesty, a rare find. Our bus was with ‘El Rapido’ and would be an eight hour ride across the Andes and into Argentina. We left promptly at 11am and started our way eastwards. The first part of the journey was very scenic, passing through vineyards and green agriculture with ever increasing hills either side of the road. It wasn’t long before could see the foothills of the Andes looming up ahead, some with snow-caps. At one point we climbed very steeply and slowly up something like 28 hairpin turns. You also get a view of Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Andes (at 6,962m) and the highest mountain in the world outside of Asia, along the way. Quite spectacular.
We passed through the Chilean border and into Argentina at around 3pm and just drove through a checkpoint, not having to show our passports. A bit later we drove through a tunnel under a mountain which officially saw us leaving Chile and entering Argentina. It was a while though before we got to an official that would stamp our passports. A few kilometres into Argentina and about the time I was beginning to wander when we would stop, we pulled off the road, high in the Andes, and into a bunker type building where the bus stopped and we got off. The Chilean and Argentinian migration officials were sitting side by side in a kiosk and after getting our stamp to leave Chile we progressed to the next window to get out stamp into Argentina. I had printed off the receipts of the reciprocity fee, which we had to pre-pay, as instructed by the website, but we, having logically folded the pieces of paper to put inside our passports, annoyed the migration official and was told quite sternly that having folded the paper it might not scan. We shrugged this off as somebody having a bad day. Were we meant to print off the paper and have it laminated or placed in a binder for transportation to the border? Surely this must happen every day, somebody folding the piece of paper. Anyway, we got in and were back on the bus on our way to Mendoza.
After the snow and winding roads of coming over the Andes, the next stretch was more straight and took us lower and through quite arid land, albeit with patches of green covering the sandy coloured earth. Then the famous vineyards of the Mendoza region appeared. I guess this is really the main reason we have come to this city, to taste wine and to go on a tour of some vineyards. It felt very Mediterranean as we made our way into Mendoza city, with sandy coloured earth covered with bright teen agriculture. We arrived at the bus terminal at 6pm, two hours ahead of schedule and stepped of the bus into a blistering heat. It was in the mid-thirties today and was still roasting when we arrived. Mendoza is the capital city of Mendoza Province and is located in the northern-central part of the province, in a region of foothills and high plains, on the eastern side of the Andes. Two of the main industries of Mendoza area are olive oil production and wine making. The region around Greater Mendoza is the largest wine producing area in Latin America. As such, Mendoza is one of nine cities worldwide in the network of Great Capitals of Wine.
After collecting our bags and resting the money changers we got a cab to the hostel, ‘Punto Urbano’, which is situated right in the city as the name suggests. It’s a nice large hostel with the important addition of air-conditioning in the rooms. Considering how hot it was when we arrived we were very glad of this fact. After dropping our bags we went out straight away for a wander around the city, to get some money out and to find something to eat. The main drag, San Martin, is where all the shops and banks are so we headed there first and after checking out the ‘Blue Market’ money exchange we got some money of out an ATM. I will come back tomorrow with some US Dollars to exchange on the street as you get about 40-50% more value to your exchange then the official exchange rate. Something like 12 or 13 pesos to the dollar rather than the 8 you get from the back. We have come to Argentina with plenty of dollars for this reason.
We then tried to find a relatively healthy dinner but failed, all you seem to get around here is pizza, hamburgers and meat plates. So, we opted on a place that did a set dinner for a reasonable price along one of the pedestrian streets that leads up to the Independencia Place. Kirsty has chicken and I had a steak, wanting to try out this famous Argentinean steak that everyone goes on about. It was very good, I know I got a cheap cut but still very good. And large, too large to finish. The steak took up the whole dinner plate with some potatoes ships dumped on top. After finishing up we walked back to our hotel and retired for the night. Mendoza seems like a decent city, very busy, very hot and mostly used as a base to explore the surrounding countryside with all the vineyards on offer. We will see what the city has to offer tomorrow, with a wine tour booked for the day after.