Mendoza Region (Argentina), part 1 – from 12/10 to 17/10/2012

We left Santiago with a minibus on Friday afternoon, straight after my Spanish class.

The first part of the drive, from Santiago city to Los Andes, at the bottom of the Cordillera, was pretty boring. But still, for me, first time outside of a city in 2 weeks! All the side of the road was full of rubbish, I was told that it is South America… so kind of “normal” thing to see here. It makes me feel a bit sad, because nobody cares about the impact of throwing stuff everywhere… Even the locals! The bus driver threw some papers/plastics rubbish through the window during the trip :-/

The bus was nice, a small vehicle for 16 people, which was full, but we could see pretty much everywhere around pretty easily.

When we got closer to the Mountains, we could see the snow on the top, we could see the whole mountains, which is impossible (pretty much) from the city. And we started climbing, through canyons, on the right lane, on the left lane, overtaking trucks and cars on a double yellow lane, in a curve… driving way faster than what is written on signs… yea, to calm down myself, I tried to tell to myself that the driver knows exactly the road, he is used to it, it is his job, and if there were any risks he would not do that… and as everybody else in the bus was really calm and didn’t seem to care at all about all of that, I felt (a bit) better…

first “real view” on the Cordillera de los Andes

I felt better when we were at the bottom of the Mount Aconcagua, the highest mount there. The view on the mountains around, we went up to the snow, and on the top of the pass, some red mountains, yellow, orange, brown… we had a lot of different colors, beautiful.

The landscape is really new for me, pretty dry, not much vegetation, nothing at all, only rocks.

After a while, we arrived at the border Chile-Argentina. We got our passports checked, stamped to exit Argentina, and the next person in the next office (1 meter between them) stamped it to allow us to enter Argentina. It is not allowed to carry meat, vegetables, cheese, milks… and a lot of stuff from one country to the other. So we threw away the old warm melted cheese and ham that we had for lunch.

It got pretty fast, and we were at this moment the first bus crossing the border, so it is probably why. But while scanning the luggage of everybody, at some point they were just waiting, nothing was happening, it was just to make us waiting. But it took us around 45 minutes to get back to the minibus.

On the way down to Mendoza, it started to get dark, so we had time to see weird canyons, a little bit more color full mountains, and the night came.

The view on the Chilean side
The way down, in the Argentinean side, differents colors of the mountains

We slept until we arrived to the bus terminal in Mendoza.  The hostel we booked was really closed to the bus station, easy to find, and it was quick. We were really tired so we went out straight to find a place to eat dinner.

Every were was the soccer game on : Chile-Argentina… 🙁 we found a restaurant with tables for 2, with the chairs in a way that both of us could watch the game, and not in front of each other, like you would expect it everywhere ! anyway, we got good food, and went to bed pretty much straight afterwards.

Saturday, we could sleep a bit longer, and we started moving around 12:00… so we didn’t do much because everything closed at 13:00! We went to a few car rental offices, to the information center and ended in the main park, just to lay down in the shade after a pretty big lunch. When we went back, we planed the next day : a trek in the Andes 🙂

So, on Sunday, we left at 8:00 in the morning (earlty for south America) to get a bus to Potrerillos, to hike there with people from Couchsurfing ! We were 14 people to meet, from a bit of everywhere, following David, who organized this trip and new the track. It was really nice and warm, we started going up and after a while (2 hours or so), it got a bit colder. We put on jackets, jumpers, hats, pants… and it was better. After a quick lunch we kept going up to the cascada el salto, it was really steep but it was worth it. Under the waterfall was a pile of snow, where we slide on and started a snow balls fight!

The trek in the warm weather of Potrerillos
To the waterfall, now it is really cold
The deserved waterfall
The bottom of the fall
The view on Potrerillos lake (dam)

The way back felt pretty long, we were exhausted but we found after a few tries some cold beer in a small kiosk. We shared beers and cookies while waiting for the bus, and 2 hours later (mostly sleeping) we arrived back in Mendoza.

It was a nice trekking day!!

The second really important thing to do around Mendoza is the road of wines 🙂 They have a lot of Malbec here that it is well known. So we left the city with a bus, to Maipu. There, we rented bikes and started our way south. We went straight to the last vineyard, that we only have to come back the 12 kilometers in a few steps between the different vineyards. It was smart, after 4 different wineries, we were a bit tired and our mouths a bit full of tasting (probably our blood as well) so we drove to a liquors and sweets place, where we tasted liquors (chocolate, chocolate-coco, lemon, mandarin…) and chocolates. And eventually we came back on time to drop off the bicycles!

The “ruta del vino” : pretty dry, we needed drinks ! 😉
All the time, the view on the snow on the Andes (it rained in Mendoza the night before)
Some visits of some vineyards…
and some tastings! even krtek didn’t resist to taste!
and after the last vineyard we made, here is the sign… meaning : please, don’t get lost, you have our bikes 😉

Back to the city, a bit of shopping for our trip for the next days: we booked a car for the next 5 days, bought gas, a bit of food and went back to the hostel.

Tuesday morning, we left the hostel and picked up our car, went food shopping and drove north to San Juan. On the way, we turned in a dirt road to have a break and lunch, far away from the main road. We had to cross some puddles, and we were not that comfortable after the first one because we almost bogged the car :-/ the mud flew all around and the car was really dirty, but we didn’t stop 🙂 But, we knew we had the way back to do…

We stopped after few kilometers along the dirt road and it was really really quiet. Some cows, horses and goats a bit around, otherwise nothing… sand, small dry bushes, and on the west side, the mountains. The silence was great, it was my first real time in the wild, it felt good!

The lunch break spot 🙂

The city of San Juan is not really big… simple, but it looks like you can get everything that you need there! We asked a few questions about camping grounds around and on the east part, information about the things to do in the national parks “valle fertil” and “valle de la luna” and where to find some petrol stations.

So after an internet – relaxing break in a square of San Juan (free wifi in squares here! We can geek outside! ), we drove again, filled the fuel to the maximum, and stop in Vallecito , next to Difunta Correa. The camping spot was next to the road, so pretty noisy all night, but it was convenient to have toilets not too far and a proper table to have dinner and breakfast!

In the morning, before driving to valle fertil, we decided to have a look to this Difunta Correa, because some people told us to stop, and the lonely planet said that it is a  “mandatory stop” if we pass on this road. It is actually a sanctuary because a wife of a soldier died there, but her baby son survived with breast feeding even if she was dead… so she is like a saint, and everybody goes there to pray and thank her for anything. “travels, houses, life….” There are all along the way up to the sanctuary, many plates from cars, some spare parts (broken ones) from vehicles, helmets from bikers… all the people who stopped there left something of their car. It looks like everybody also left a copy of their houses, very small onces… so the whole hill is covered with houses, plates, pieces of cars… and on the top, a huge pile of bottles… people leave there some bottles with water in it for her… but heaps of the bottles are empty and it doesn’t look like anything else than a rubbish pile.

It is also covered of red straps and strings and rags, like a lot of trees along the Argentineans roads, to “protect the travellers”.

Anyway, we can say that we went there, we also have pictures to prove it !

THE Difunta Correa place…

We drove again to San Agustin del Valle Fertil, it was really quiet, we didn’t meet too many cars or trucks on the way. So I did my first experience with driving in South America… on the roads it’s alright, except that the people don’t care about the speed limits… but in the cities… or towns, or villages… that is weird. The rule is that there are no rules! You forget the right priority, the traffic lights… but you have to start honking! I guess you have to honk when you feel like it, or to warn a pedestrian or any other moto-bicycle or scooter which could come at the same time… or maybe nobody has breaks and that is the only way to go through crossings!

It took use a while to find a camping place. Actually, we found many of them, but it was like 8 kms away from the town, on a dirt road, NOTHING ELSE around… we decided to go back in the town, and get a “proper” camping : to have shower and drinking water, and a barbecue place !

We eventually found one open after 3, and we set up the tent., and after a long rest (because the supermarket/shops/kiosks/anything is closed until 18:00 because it is “la siesta”) we went shopping, and got meat for a typical south American barbecue (asado) : it is a big piece of beef (with fat of course) and some chorizo sausages. The “secret” is to cook it really long, really slowly, that all the fat will get crunchy, and the meat will stay soft and juicy, but well cooked. And you only eat meat, so you count 250 grams of meat per person :-/ yea, it is like that here! I will not do it every day for sure, but it tasted really good ! And we had the opportunity to speak Spanish (the Argentinean way, with a different accent and pronunciation than in Chile) with the owner of the camping and with the others in the camping (4 people). They were having a goat asado : the full goat was on the barbecue for hours, and they offered us to have a try, it was interesting !! and good local meat!

The camping place
First meeting with a cactus!
The goat on the barbecue (and our choriso and beef)

On Thursday, we got up before 8 o’clock because of the sun, it was already really warm in the tent… so we slowly started our day, and drove the last 80 kms to the “valle de la luna” (valley of the moon) national park.

You will know everything about the valle de la luna and after in the next article… 😉

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