It would be all too easy for us to continue to move from place to place. The whole process of checking into and then out of hostels and buying bus tickets becomes almost instinctive. But as was the case in Thailand we started to feel that we needed to stay still for a week and Mendoza seemed like a good place.
We left Cafayate in the mid afternoon and along with Andrea we boarded a local bus to Tucaman. From here we then had to buy a ticket for and board a night bus to Mendoza.
The first part of the journey was only 6 hours which by South American standards is a short journey and we weren’t expecting much. I find that such nonchalance is great preparation for amazing experiences and thus my senses started to liven as the bus rattled its way through winding climbing desert roads with cactus and eroded pink cliffs against the back drop of rugged mountains and the occasional ruined buildings.
Eventually after 2 or 3 hours we reached the highest point of our journey, the small town of Tafi del Valle at 2000m above sea level.
Then we began the descent. At first the road followed a small river but this soon became a raging torrent of water which fell fast and slow. The road did similar with tight switchbacks accompanied by views of terrifying drops over the edge. The surroundings now had become dense forest and the river continued to grow and at times dropped a hundred feet below us crashing over huge boulders. The bus continued to steadily descend giving us amazing but terrifying views. I moved seats for a different perspective and the window was rattling itself loose and the seatbelt didn’t work. I moved back after an amusing attempt to use the on board toilet.
Eventually the road reached the plains below and neared the city of Tucuman. Tucuman was a stop off in my original “plan” but we had been told that it was not a great place to visit. So we went from bus company to bus company comparing prices before being dazzled by the prospects of trying our first “Cama Suite” class. This mythical class of travel seemed too good to turn down so the three of us booked our tickets.
After a couple of hours wait (and another ice cream) we boarded the bus. Within minutes we were laughing at the comfort. The huge soft leather seats reclined until flat. A leather padded footrest was then heaved into place to create a completely flat bed. Pillows and blankets were handed out to complete the comfort. We felt more flashpacker than backpacker!
(Andrea making the most of the on board hospitality)
We all slept fairly well though the fact that the bus is moving and occasionally pulling into bus stations can be disruptive.
We arrived in Mendoza in the morning feeling as refreshed as we will ever be after nearly 20 hours of bus travel.
Andrea had read great things about a hostel in Mendoza so we walked there in the hope they would have room. Sadly they didn’t but they could take us in 2 days time and in the meantime they recommended another hostel close by. So we we continued our walk for another 10 minutes.
The hostel seemed ok though I was immediatly set upon by an old English woman. She thought I was James, someone who obviously liked to carry her heavy bags. Despite me not being James she expected my assistance nonetheless and I obliged reluctantly.
It soon became clear that our temporary hostel was not great. It was seriously in need of a refurbishment and most of the guests were ill. The staff were pretty good though.
On the morning of our departure to the utopian hostel we all packed and at 10am the three of us trudged back through the city with our various bags. The new hostel welcomed us and gave us a nice breakfast for free, which served to highlight the contrast.
Our beds were readied in a 6 person dorm and within minutes Claire found a bed bug under her pillow. A quick inspection of the room found more. This began a 4 day battle between the hostel and bugs. The hostel called the fumigators in immediately but Claire was still bitten, though they seemed to not like me. This was a rather unpleasant part of our stay in Mendoza. Because it was a long holiday weekend we could not find another hostel. That said the hostel we stayed at never hesitated in trying to sort the problem.
Mendoza itself is great. The city is fairly small and we could easily walk accross it in under an hour. The streets are lined with trees and the network of intricate irrigation ditches which enable the desert location to be so green. The area surrounding the city is home to 70% of Argentina’s wine production.
That first night we sat in the garden and got to know some of the other guests and one by one they all started to sign up to the same Biking Winery Tour that the three of us we going on the next day. By the next morning there was 11 of us, 4 Brits, 4 Germans, a Belgian, 2 Canadians and a bloke from LA.
We spent the day touring 3 wineries on bikes one of which gave us a huge pizza lunch. The free wine combined with the wine we bought at lunch combined to get everybody a little drunk which just added to the fun.
During the day we discovered that Gregg, the American, was in fact a film director of some reputation. He is in Argentina on a short break having been sent by his wife to get away from work for a while. We all sat and watched his Oscar nominated short film which was superb. Claire had a theory that he was researching for a film by roughing it with the backpackers. He denied it, but if a backpacking film ever materialises look out it may feature Brits being terrorised by bed bugs.
The next night the Germans departed as did Andrea, who was heading south to Bariloche. The remaining seven of us went to what was supposed to be the best steak restaurant in Mendoza. It didn’t disappoint. I doubt I will ever eat a better steak.
(Kristen and Kirsten not necessarily in that order, Claire and I, Nick, Susan and Gregg)
During our final full day in Mendoza the rest of our group started to leave and by the evening only Nick from Belgium remained. The hostel were throwing a BBQ so we joined that and chatted to the new guests.
Our time in Mendoza was great fun. We have never stayed put in a hostel for so long before and it was great to make friends with such a great bunch of travellers.
The next day we departed to Santiago de Chile by way of yet another breathtaking bus journey, this time through the Andes and two more stamps in the passport.