In This Instant

Trip Start Jun 16, 2006
Trip End Aug 15, 2006

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Monday, July 17, 2006

This weekend certainly exceeded my own lofty expecations.

So I go on a Wine Tour! Two bodegas (wineries). Excellent wine. The Malbec and Cabernet were certainly up to par. Unfortunately, there was not enough wine to go around to get sauced. I end up drinking 4 glasses of the stuff, but the elevation must have raised my tolerance. Or maybe I had too many EMPANADITAS for lunch.

This was also the time for me to start developing what I refer to as "irrational infatuations." Some people may call it "desperate," but I prefer my cute moniker. After you travel alone for a month, you find any reason to be attracted to someone, no matter how stupid that reason may be.

I meet a girl from London whose name I can`t remember. She`s been living in South America for a year. She speaks Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, and Italian. She still has a year left of university. She worked in Sao Paulo doing translations for a law firm. She worked in a hostel in Copocabana, Rio. She interned in Buenos Aires for the Buenos Aires Herald, writing the occasional English language article.

Now she is here in Mendoza not really talking to me. She`s clearly single. Icy personality. Whatever. I`m good at getting people to talk and tell me interesting things even if they don`t want to. We talk about traveling and how I switched hostels due to the poor service. She agrees with me that hostels are hit and miss, and especially, with how: "You end up hanging out with people you wouldn`t otherwise hang out with." I`m not sure if she was referring to me or not, but she did end her sentence with a preposition.

I also meet a girl who just graduated from Berkeley. I meet a girl from Mexico. They`re all staying in the hostel on the otherside of the one I left. When they depart from the tour van, I think to myself, "Hey, wait, would you like to get some coffee? I`ll promise I`ll be charming!" Not enough gaul to say it though.

Absolutely irrational infatuations--not a trace of desperation.

Now, in this other instant, I`m rafting down the Rio Mendoza high in the Andes. It`s cold. It`s wet. We`re getting soaked to the bone. Our guide tells us that the water is 2 degrees celsius. I struggle with my paddle because I`ve never done this before. We`re only doing Class 3, but you sure do get wet. I don`t care. Right now, this is where I belong. This is my training for the mountains of Bolivia. I`m Ed Visteurs (one of the few who climbed the 14 summits above 7000 meters). I`m also the greatest paddler in the world. I`ve got a new squall jacket and I want to boast the river, "Is that the best you can do?!" Put me in a tempest I think to myself. I`ll show you who can navigate.

I haven`t done this much imaginary boasting and indulging in self pride since I was drunk on caipirinhas in Northeast Argentina telling a Mexican friend that: "I could take down the Chupucabra with two knives and a gun."

But this time I don`t need alcohol. The exhiliration of exercise and the scenery is the treasure of the voyage. Panoramic views. Chocolate hills give way to the snowcapped Andes cutting into the sky without mercy. The river carves it`s destination down the canyon.

I`m riding with three guys from L.A. on their last hurrah from graduating from UCLA. We play cards at lunch. We`ve also got the two guides and a young Mendocina couple.

After lunch I`ve organized a bike ride for myself. It`s just me, my guide Tito, and an aptly named dog called Tigre. We`re crashing through the barren steppe in the shadow of the Andes. My only regret is I didn`t bring my camera (I`m afraid I`ll lose it in the rafting or break it on the bike). Good reason I didn`t bring it. The trail is the most technically challenging I`ve ever encountered (In my rather limited experience in Arizona and Mexico). They don`t make trails like this at South Mountain. I`m close to falling much of the time. I`m cutting up my legs on the brush and occasional cactus. We`re bombing down hills. The bikes slip on the lose terrain. It`s only a little coarser than sand and it`s filled with rocks.

Tito guides his bike down elegantly. He`s got more balance and equilibrium than I. I`m clunky and clumsy. But he`s not in better shape. I`m pushing him on the hills and he knows it. I`m the Asian Lance Armstrong. We`re at 5000 feet and counting and we`re both sucking air. We barrel down the international highway to Chile, back towards the base camp, glad for the respite from the hills.

The only entity not in trouble is Tigre, a black and orange striped mut, looking something like a german sheperd. He can keep pace with us. We`re moving 20 mph on the flats and 40 downhill (which he clearly can`t do, but he catches up), and this is the fastest and strongest dog I`ve ever seen. We cylce 15 km I think.

I`m also riding the best bike I`ve encountered--The Black Currant Corsair. Finally nice to have something of worth. I`m sorry Huffy. I still love you.

Best mountain bike ride. Ever. You can`t match the sheer ruggedness and beauty of the Andes. Where lake, mountain and sky meet.

Tonight I sleep well. Tomorrow I go to Chile. This is exactly where I belong. This is the most free I will ever be. I`ll spend more money here in Mendoza than I anticipated, but it is like that $500 you blew in Vegas on the weekend. In this instant, it`s worth it. When you`ve got the wind kissing your face and the mistral singing, you think to yourself, "Life ain`t so bad."
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