Blog #28 - Don't Cry For Me Argentina!

After we said goodbye to Europe and the nice, warm summer weather, we started our 24-hour journey across the pond south to Buenos Aires (BA), where we were to begin our third phase of this trip...the Americas!  

Although we knew we would be arriving during their winter, we had no idea how cold it could be.  Well, it turns out we arrived during a cold snap.

Walking off the plane in shorts and t-shirts was not a good idea as we still were not feeling 100% from our cold/flu we acquired in France, and the flight itself made Vince even worse (Eustacesan tubes not working!).  We needed sweaters pronto.

You are probably thinking at this point, why Argentina? 

Well, Vince had heard great things about Argentina.  And since we had a few days before needing to be in Santiago, Chile, instead of just flying straight there, we could take a cheaper flight to BA, check it out, take a bus across to Mendoza (wine country), also check it out, and then lastly, go over the Andes Mountains to Santiago by bus.

With this plan, you see, we got to travel across Argentina for ‘free’ because the difference in airfare was equal to the price of the bus.  Awesome … what could go wrong? ;)

It’s just a short ride across the Andes to Santiago, right? 

BA was large and sprawling, and filled with a mixture of modern and not so modern architecture.  However, more important to us at the time was the fact it was expensive.  We went looking and looking for sweaters, and we discovered that the prices in Argentina were not going to be favourable to us in any regard.

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They are having a currency problem in Argentina (again!), and at an exchange rate of 5.5 to 1 USD (ATM rate), the whole place (especially BA) is a rip off.  But, if you bring US cash, which has a going street rate of 8 to 1, this place isn’t all that bad.

But since we’re not made of cash, US or otherwise, we bought exactly one sweater each to tide us over until Alex could join us in Santiago (and bring some extra sweaters for us from our friends Miranda and Phil– thank you)!.

Our first night we had a very snazzy dinner in BA.  We met up with Marcelo, Steph's work buddy who recommended our hotel, and also gave us a very informed tour of the city on the way to the restaurant.  He was more than gracious as a host, especially as we began to struggle with jet-lag toward the end of the meal, which of course, was steak.  It was amazing and plentiful, and in Argentina, it’s basically a non-negotiable.  You must have the beef.  This is not a country for vegetarians.  Thanks for the warm welcome Marcelo!

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On day two our colds still had a grip on us and we were no warmer, so we decided to declare an ‘indoor recess’ and catch up some things: our sleep, the blog and our usual calls to friends and family.  Finally, we’re in the same time zone!

We did however managed to find the bus station, where we got a lesson in the weather.  Let us explain.  You see, we could buy bus tickets out of BA to Mendoza, no problem.  However, from Mendoza to Santiago we were told that the road was closed.

What?

“Snow.”

Oh crap!

Ahem!  Right.  Now let’s think back to that day in Greece when we booked the flight to BA, and not Santiago.  Snow wasn’t on our radar, nor on anyone else’s within a five thousand kilometer radius.  But here it was now, somewhere in the Andes, and it was in our way.   We HAD to get to Santiago to meet our friend Alex by a certain day.  Urgh!

We took our lumps at the station, walked back to the hotel, and looked up the price of a flight across the Andes.  Plan B, right?  The cost was more than four hundred bucks, each.  So then the discussion got real, real fast.  And that’s when Vince got to learning about South American weather, in Spanish.  More on that later.

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Back in BA, the weather and our conditions were improved enough on our last day that we could tour a little.  We heard of a vintage artisan market that takes place on Sundays only.  We bundled up and explored the 100's of stalls for antiques, artsy items and picked up a few scarves, toques and mitts.  Just in time for our first South American bus ride, to Mendoza!

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Buses in South America are like trains in Europe.  They are everywhere, go anywhere, and everyone takes them.  For our first trip we had big, comfy, premium seats on the bottom of a double-decker coach.  The trip was 15-hours long and we slept the whole way. Phew!

Arriving in Mendoza we could already tell we were going to enjoy this place much more than BA.  It’s a smallish town, doing well in the wine world, and we finally had some warm clothes!  Our hotel was smack in the middle of the town, close to all the restaurants, and prices seemed to be more reasonable (especially the steak and wine ;). 

With our time in Mendoza we hiked and took a wine tour. 

No, we didn’t ski (frown).  Money and time are the usual travel headwinds, and they were both present here.  However, keeping one’s bones unbroken is also important… ;)

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On our first day we hiked westward up and into the national park, just west of downtown Mendoza, with the intent of keeping in shape for the Inca trail walk that’s now quickly approaching.  That day we learned there are a lot of street dogs, smart street dogs, in South America.  LOTS!  And Steph found out very quickly after talking all cutie, cutie, cutie to a local pooch, that they will adopt you instantly and for as long as they want. 

As a result, for most of our walk to the park (about 30 minutes from town) we were accompanied by a big blond scruffy K9.  He even crossed streets when we did, and followed our scent (and giggles) when we tried to lose him by running down a side street and making a quick turn.  He showed up a few seconds later with a “hey guys, where ya going?” expression…

Also, whenever Steph did her morning jog in the nearby park, she would attract a complement of 3 or 4 dogs as escorts.  OMG, SOMEONE IS RUNNING!!! 

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On our second day we went on a wine tour, a la minibus, where we were taken in a large group to two vineyards (OK) and an olive oil factory (awesome)!  The only issue with the tour was that it was largely in Spanish, but since the language of flavor is universal we were quite happy just sipping and nodding. 

But by day three, it was time to head to Santiago. 

So, how’s the weather Vince?

Vince: “Um, I guess we won’t really know until we get to the bus station…”.

So, before sunrise on the morning of third day in Mendoza, with our fingers crossed, we took a taxi to the bus terminal. 

The cold snap had ended and the mountain pass was open!

And better yet, we already had tickets!  Good ones!  :)

You see, in total defiance to what we were told at the bus station that day in BA, it was indeed possible to purchase tickets for the Mendoza-Santiago bus, ONLINE!  In fact, the entire bus was empty!  So we ended up getting the two very best seats on the bus.  Top deck, front row, passenger side! 

Take that BA bus station ticket-sales guy who has to use Google Translate to converse in English!  (Just kidding, we were super-grateful for the help!). 

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Vince certainly was the hero with his Vegas-style booking here, and as a result we were treated to front-row for our 6-hour drive through and over the Andes mountains. 

The views on the drive were breathtaking, and the Andes, up close, are the most massively impressive natural wonder we have so far taken in on this trip (New Zealand included).  In fact, on the way up, we passed the highest peak in the Andes, 6962 m, and Vince just caught a quick glimpse of it on the right side of the bus.  It was really quick, hence, no photo.  ;)

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The Chilean border ran like a well-oiled machine.  Our only hassle was self-inflicted.  Steph got a little scolding for declaring (rightly) her trail mix, which was resolutely given the blue dye treatment right in front of our eyes. 

Chile is just about as strict as New Zealand when it comes to “bio security”, which comes as little surprise when you think how this place is in essence an island with the mountains on the east, an ocean to the west, a desert to the north, and the end of the world to the south (especially in winter).

As for the drive, soon after crossing the border the bus slowly snaked down from the mountain pass through no less than 26 crazy “Las Cuervas” switchbacks. 

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This is the best-known part of the trip from Mendoza to Santiago.  And to add to the crazy, people ski right over you! 

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The drive was beautiful the whole way, except for the last bit.  You see, on the approaching Santiago, the pollution creeps in slowly.  It’s a bit sad to go from crystal clear sky to one of the more heavily polluted cities in the world in just a few hours. 

Nonetheless, we made it OK and on-time, and we got ready to receive our friend Alex, who was coming from Toronto the next morning to join us for a FOUR WEEK EPIC SOUTH AMERICAN ADVENTURE!

She has signed up for a whirlwind month long adventure withTeam Luciani.  The rest of Chile and Peru lie ahead!  We are so excited to have another friend from Toronto come visit us.

Until the next adventure...Adios Amigos!