Friday, March 4, 2011

Lakes & Wine

Ah, the bus to Bariloche-- what turned into a 30 1/2 hour journey through the most mundane landscape in South America.  Same, same and more of the same nothingness! Wait, there is a sheep grazing! ;-)

The only highlights:

1) I almost won at Andesmar bingo.  Yes, they have bingo on the bus and announce the numbers (in Spanish) using a ridiculous game show voice.   My Argentine seatmate translated all the numbers for me, which really wasn't necessary, but appreciated. The winner received a bottle of wine (which you need on a 30 hour journey-- luckily I thought ahead and BYOB-ed!)  

2) I accidentally left my North Face jacket on the first bus, only realizing a hour later.  Amazingly I was able to get it back using my limited Spanish and Google translator.   I was all proud of myself after helping some Israeli guy avoid queso on his sandwich, but  abrigo blanco was a tougher challenge.  I gave the bus driver a big hug when he returned with it- I think he thought I was loco.

3) The fact that I slept an unbelievable amount of the journey :-)

After a day on the bus (left at 4pm and arrived around 10pm the NEXT night), I was dirty and tired when I was warmly greeted with a glass of wine at 41 Below.  It was thankfully a very friendly bunch in Bariloche since it poured rain the next day .

It was actually nice to have a down day when it was too gloomy to go hiking or biking or whatever else was on offer in the Lake District.

One thing that was quickly discovered from Martin, yet another Aussie mate, was that the buses are again booked for days in advance.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!  I just arrived and I am already stuck here-- a place I had never intended to visit.  Ugh, Argentina was really starting to get frustrating!

No prob, I will just stay one extra day before attempt #2 at entering Chile for surf and Spanish lessons at the beach.

In the meantime I can get some Mexican food and fulfill that craving (not the best I've had, but it's been a while so better than nothing).

Although super windy, a few of us opted for a hike on  2388m Cerro Cathedral.  Yes, it should have been a ride up a chairlift and walk across and down, but it was too windy so the chairlift was closed. 

Instead Martin, Francesca (Germany), Casey (Canada) and I did the 20km round-trip hike to Refugio Frey with beautiful views of Lago Nahuel Huapi along the way.

Casey had enough sense to turn around just before it got hard, but we braved the wind for some nice views and pizza at the top with a Slovenian we happened to meet a few days earlier at 41 Below.

The following day I was all about the Circuito Chico bike ride that everyone does around the lake.  We heard it was pretty hard, so thought maybe we should take a bus to the town of Ville La Angostura and bike around Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes instead.

Oops, this bike ride is harder?

Okay, we'll take the boat there and bike back since it is easier- great!

Why does no one tell us that the boat is sold out BEFORE we bike down the huge hill that we now have to bike back up?  Ugh, Argentina!!!!!!!

We made the best of it and biked to a scenic lookout which seemed hard since it turned out it was all uphill.  We got back to town in no time which made us feel really lazy. At least it left time for more yummy ice cream--- I have mentioned that the ice cream in Argentina is fantastic, right?

We did have another moment of frustration when the next bus back to Bariloche wasn't for 5 hours, but thankfully they added a bus so we didn't have to cry!

Done with Bariloche; now for my second attempt at Chile, but first I had my thousandth tear-my-hair-out moment. (Really, in 10 months I've never been so frustrated!)

Of course it was Friday, so we had to make an ATM run before the town ran out of money-- a common problem in Argentina for some reason.

Then best to get money changed since I can foresee being stuck at the border with no Chilean Pesos and no ATM.  Of course they don't change money between 1-5pm! WHAT THE F!!!!!!!!!!

Teetering on the edge...

Get to the bus station and realize after some time that they don't mean Gate 5, they mean the bus is delayed until 5--- great, now I will miss all connections to Santiago.  Deep breath (after again temporarily hating the country)!  I can hopefully catch the midnight bus to Santiago if all goes well. 

WHAT? CANCELLED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Seriously, the only thing that prevented a full breakdown was coincident- ally hearing Fergie's "Big girls don't cry" in the bus station- I had to laugh.

It's all about flexibility!  Ten minutes later I changed course and hopped on the next bus--- Mendoza it is.  

A 20 hour journey that I wasn't really prepared for, but it was actually a nice ride along the Ruta de los Siete Lagos. 

The next morning I finally arrived in toasty warm, wine country (I am following summer, but it's been cold since landing in Ushuaia)-- things could be worse!

Sure I had to stay at a crappy place before I moved into Hostel Lao, but no big deal.  Instead I spent the day with some Americans I met on the bus and at a cafe on Plaza Independencia checking out the town and a great view from a rooftop pool.  (Rand from Nashville had just attempted to climb the western hemisphere's highest summit, Cerro Aconcagua, but weather was problematic leading to two fatalities.) 
In good Domingo (Sunday) fashion, I did nothing.  I have learned that NOTHING in South America is open on Sunday, so you might as well spend the entire day dozing and reading in an orange hammock.

I was pleasantly surprised to run into my Aussie mates, Nathan and Woody, from El Calafate who I joined for a movie (El Tourista, as they say en Espanol) and a tasty dinner.  Like Calafate, Mendoza is full of dogs, one of which followed us all the way across town as we ran into a truly bazaar bachelor party, at least that is what we think it was.

It's about time I got wine tasting! Per strong recommendations, I joined an Aussie, Swede, Oregonian and Brit to bike around the vineyards of Chacras de Coria.  We hit four spots:

Carmelo Patti- a family owned winery that took us a while to find since there was no sign.  It was worth the effort since we met Carmelo and he was DElighful even if we didn't exactly catch everything he was saying. The wine was good too!

We then rode to Cavas de Chacras for lunch, a tour by an informative (if slightly arrogant) guide and a tasting of their lesser quality wine.  I still wish we had tasted their "A" line.

Alta Vista, a larger producer, was quite a complex.  The wine cellar and tasting room, complete with our guide from New Jersey, felt just like home.  I was slightly disappointed to not try their highly praised Alto, but what we did try was very nice and I appreciated the complimentary tasting of dessert wine. 

Our last stop was Pulmary, another family operation that makes organic wine and pours a healthy tasting.  They even let you taste right out of the tank (which are concrete here in Mendoza, interestingly).

It was a lot of wine, but shockingly we made it back to the bike shop unscathed despite riding against the flow of traffic on a narrow street.

Funny enough, when I returned to Hostel Lao I learned that I knew everyone staying there from either wine tasting, El Calafate or Bariloche--- I know this is the 8th largest country, but it is beginning to seem pretty small ;-)

I had considered another day of wine tasting in a different valley, but instead Nathan and I opted for lunch at a vineyard, Nieto Senetiner.  Sure, we probably spent more on the cab and lunch than we had on a few days lodging, but it was SO worth it.  We LOVED it here and had the whole place to ourselves (after clearing security)!

In fact we so enjoyed the meal and bottle of Bonarda that we opted for a second bottle on the patio overlooking the beautiful grounds and mountains in the background.  It was the perfect day (until they made us leave since they wanted to close!)

What a good way to end my month in Argentina.  But wait, it can't possibly go smoothly.

Unbelievable- no one at the bus station would print my ticket despite the fact that they all had printers right in front of them and I offered to pay.  So nice of them to offer me one last chance to lose it! ;-)

Once on board the bus all was good as I watched the vineyards pass by and tried to guess which mountain was Aconcagua with my Canadian bus mate.

Fingers crossed I can cross the border on my 3rd attempt!

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