Argentine Andes to the Chilean coast

Goodbye Kyle Mapp, goodbye Bariloche- you will both be missed. After an overnight bus ride, we woke up in Ciudad de Mendoza, still Argentina. Out of the deep south, out of Patagonia, and straight into the middle of the South American wine country. Despite being born and raised in Northern California- North American wine country- none of us know much of anything about the production and consumption of fine wines beyond asking if it tastes good, and if so, how much it takes to make talking to pretty Argentine women in horrible, broken Spanish, painfully easy.

The big tourist thing to do in Mendoza was the “bike and wine” tour, but we didn’t do that. First of all, everyone we talked to who had done it seemed disappointed: the portions were too small, the staff was unfriendly, and the bikes were a chore to ride. Beyond that, in being a graduate from UC Davis (a school known for it’s wine program in one of the most bikable towns in the world), I would have a minor in “bike and wine” tours if the university had recognized it- I didn’t want to be disappointed. But we couldn’t visit Mendoza without tasting some wine, so instead we walked a few blocks off the main square and found a tasting room that we thought was fairly priced. Inside we were greeted by a beautiful lady who didn’t speak a lick of English. She told us that either she could pour tastes for us then, or we could come back in a few hours and a guy would be around who could do it in English. Spanish it was. We tasted something like 20 wines and only understood most of what she was telling us about each one. By the end, there had been a couple that we really liked, so we bought a couple bottles.

We didn’t do much else in Mendoza besides taste those wines, recuperate from Bariloche with lots of napping and sleeping in, and play quite a bit of hacky sack in a few of Mendoza’s many fine parks and squares. After a bit of bus confusion (resulting in three unused $30 tickets), we finally said goodbye to Argentina and got a bus across the Andes and the Chilean border to Santiago, Chile. That bus ride was the first one in our entire trip that didn’t exclusively feature poorly dubbed, cheesy, American action films. Seriously, before that, every movie on every bus ride had either Jean-Claude van Damme, Steven Seagal, or Jason Statham in the lead role. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much of a chance to take advantage because it was one the most scenic bus rides of our trip so far- up, over, and through the Andes that line the border between Argentina and Chile. On the way we even caught a glimpse of Aconcagua, the highest peak in both the Western and Southern hemispheres.

Once in Santiago, we spent time touring the city with friends who live there. Lana showed us the good local food joints. It seemed that popular foods in Chile were very similar to that of Argentina- i.e., put heaps of ham and mayonnaise on everything. One thing that was nice was that avocados seemed to get a bit more popular, and we went all out in making guacamole one might. Felipe showed us the nightlife hotspot- it turned out to be at the peak of a park overlooking downtown, with a beautiful 360-degree view of the entire city. I think we were the only gringos in the place, thanks to Felipe, which gave us the interesting edge with the ladies right off the bat. Later, Rose took us to the giant, local, everything-market, with vendors selling all types of everything, all under one roof of a giant warehouse (where we bought the makings for our guacamole).

We also spent a good amount of time roaming around the city ourselves. We made it to an art museum with an exhibit on the city itself and free entry (in our budget), through many great parks, to the biggest mall we’d ever been, and all around the impressive government buildings. Based on what we had heard from other travelers, none of us expected to be very fond of Santiago. We found more or less what the reputation told: a big city with poor air quality. But to be honest, we were all much more fond of the city than we planned. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but we all enjoyed the time we spent there and all admitted that it would certainly be a city worth returning to in the future. Maybe it was that we weren’t expecting much, or maybe it was again the people that we met there. Whatever it was, the city just had a really good vibe.

After Santiago we spent a wonderful 4 days reuniting with the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Online we had found information on a little-well-known slice of heaven called Playa Ritoque- a very long beach, only a couple hours northwest of the capital. The place we were staying was quite secluded- to get there from the nearest town, Quintero, most people take a cab. We were lucky that a local we met on the bus insisted on driving us the 4km or so out to the beach.

Once out there, there really wasn’t much of anything- a couple places to stay, a couple restaurants, and a few houses. We brought some food out with us, bought some stuff from a few locals, and hitch-hiked back to town once to buy some stuff from the weekly market. No internet, no busy streets, no expensive excursions to get talked into, just a beautiful beach to lay on, tons of hammocks to swing in, massive dunes to play on, and a most relaxing time to be had.

A big part of the wonder of staying in Ritoque was that in such a small, peaceful place, it was inevitable that we were going to make some fellow-traveler friends. Julie, Cookie, Angie, Sascha and Meike all made the stay even more enjoyable and memorable. We had a big group to share our first bottle of Mendozan wine with, over new card and dice games.

The Dutch girls, Sascha and Meike told us that they were traveling with a video camera and had been making movies everywhere they went. With a relapse into our Crazysauce Movie Production state of mind, we helped them think up a ridiculous premise and then we all starred in the film. It’s in post-production now, but we’ll certainly let you all know if it ever hits the scene. We found out later that by “make a movie” the girls just meant that they would film themselves wherever they were, saying whatever came to mind on the spot. We were the first fellow travelers to collaborate with them on their film, which made it a much bigger production than they had done in the past. Ah, well I guess how the movie turns out will determine whether or not that was a good thing.

From Ritoque we backtracked a bit to the south to stay in Valparaiso for a few days. It’s on the ocean as well, but there are really no beaches to speak of as it is a huge port town. The one beach we did make it to while staying there was in the neighboring city of Viña del Mar. We spent our days in Valparaiso roaming around the labyrinthine streets and stairways, catching up on internets missed while on the beach, getting laundry done, and planning out the next part of our journey- a huge step north, towards Peru.

Our time was cut a bit short on the coast of Chile seeing as none of us seem to ever get enough time on a nice beach and our visit with friend Bri, teaching English in Valpo, was regrettably short lived. It was an area we were really enjoying and hope to return to someday. But, John had bought a plane ticket home while we were in Mendoza, and there was still much to do and see before he left. Additionally, there were friends to meet in Peru who were flying out all too soon as well. We had to get a move-on.

For our next step, we opted to go big. We took a 32 hour bus ride from Valparaiso all the way to very near the border with Peru. It was 2 days of cheesy action flicks, some nice views of the coast but mostly boring views of desert, and awkward, uncomfortable bus sleep. We did have to skip a hot spot to make that journey- San Pedro de Atacama. It’s a town in the middle of the Atacama Desert in Chile. We had heard good things about it, but opted to skip it to get to Peru sooner. Chile had proven to be a lot of fun, but very often out of our budget. From what we had heard, Peru would be much more reasonable for travelers with our price range. Plus, we had heard that the Atacama was just as stunning in Bolivia, and for a fraction of the price. So we didn’t skip it entirely, we just put it off.

After the ride, we finally got off in the town of Arica, only a short drive from the Peruvian border. We had planned to spend 2 nights there to recuperate from the bus ride, but were all surprised to not be too broken down- I guess that’s travel mode for you. We also found that there really wasn’t anything in Arica to stick around for, so we moved on and into Peru the next morning.

We looked forward to doing some more hard trekking in Peru, but we knew that each day put us closer and closer to having to say goodbye to a third of our wonderful travel crew as John was flying out of Lima sooner than any of us would have liked. After crossing the border and making it to the Peruvian border town of Tacna, we took yet another bus to get a ways into the country and the city of Arequipa. From there we planned our final two weeks as a trio. We had to do our best to get in some epic stuff before John left. More on that to come.

Thank you as always for reading- it is our pleasure to share our adventure with all of you. We all send our love.

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