Trip Start Sep 26, 2010
44Trip End Jun 10, 2011
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The border crossing from Bolivia to Argentina was one of the less pleasant ones we've had. Overland border crossings are always trickier than flying into a country, where you are provided with the appropriate forms on the plane and then corralled into the immigration and customs lines. This is even more true when you are traveling from a poor country like Bolivia into a rich one like Argentina. Apparently a lot of drugs enter Argentina through Bolivia and since we were crossing the border shortly before Christmas (when lots of people from Argentina came over to buy cheap presents in Bolivia), the line was incredibly long and the guards determined to go through every package. We were searched at the border and again an hour later as the bus passed a checkpoint. We got off relatively easy because of our USA passports, but almost everyone else had their bag unceremoniously dumped on a table, rummaged through, and then returned in a heaping armload. This delayed our arrival into Salta, our first stop in Argentina.
Salta is a university town with a central town square surrounded by upscale restaurants. We enjoyed a lovely meal here, some of which I shared with one of the many stray dogs. We also had our first of many helados (gelato/ice cream). Argentinian helado can rival Italian gelato and comes in many delicious flavors including Dulce de Leche, Marscapone, and Passionfruit. Needless to say, Jeremy likes it here :) Of course, a few days later I had a dream that I had a cholesterol test and that my cholesterol level came back as 550. I think perhaps it was my subconscious' way of telling me to lay off the helado and red meat.
Our next stop was Mendoza, 20 hours to the south
CATA International > Cruz del Sur > Crucero del Norte > Via Bariloche > MARGA/TAQSA > TourPeru > walking there on glass > AndesMar
Mendoza is wine country and while there we took a wine tour. We visited two wineries - one large, modern industrial style operation and one small, organic family-run business
other and then slowly press down on them with a giant press. The liquid is gathered at the bottom and put into tanks where it separates out into the brine (about 2/3 of the product is this dark bitter liquid) and the oil (extra virgin). This factory then sells the pressed olives to other producers who use chemical means to extract the remaining olive oil (to make virgin or regular oil). After the olive oil factory, we also visited a chocolate and liquor producer. It was here that we finally caved in and bought something. We bought a dulce de leche and banana liquor with chocolate chips in it. Put a shot of this stuff in a cup of hot chocolate on a cold day and it's bliss.
Other highlights from Mendoza included a hike to the top of Cerro de la Gloria and a visit to the zoo where a surprising number of the animals resided outside of their cages and where we saw a mama deer give birth. There were also several visits to Independence Plaza, where much helado was consumed
From Mendoza we made our way up and over the mountains to Santiago. We had the front two seats on the second story of the bus and had wonderful views of the mountains and a glimpse of Aconcagua along the way. Our arrival into Santiago was a smoggy one. Apparently Santiago is always smoggy, but was even worse than usual due to local forest fires. We arrived late in the evening with no place to stay. A woman from the bus was so concerned that she gave us her phone number and told us to call her if we couldn't find anything. Luckily we did find a place to stay, but the kind gesture was much appreciated.
Santiago has a good metro system and we explored much of the city, including Cerro San Cristobal, Cerro Santa Lucia, and Bellas Artes. We also made two trips out to the suburbs, both of which were interesting experiences. The first was out to one of the rich suburbs in search of a movie theater that was showing Harry Potter in English. We ended up at a high-end mall complete with Starbucks, a Nike store, and a Santaland with disgruntled-looking elves. After being in foreign places so long, it was strange and somewhat comforting to suddenly be somewhere that felt so familiar. The second outing was to La Pintura, one of Santiago's poorest neighborhoods
From Santiago, we flew to Puntas Arenas, Chile, where we would begin working our way north through Patagonia.