Its a Long Way to San Rafael!

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, October 24, 2008

Aim :  To get to San Raphael by night bus  (Our longest trip yet by bus)

Travelling by night is good in a lot of respects: you save on one nights accommodation and, hopefully you can sleep through some of the more boring landscapes.  Downsides include having to sleep along side a lot of sweaty, farting strangers and having to hang around for hours having had to check out of your room.  We had intended to have a look around the shops of Puerto Madryn, forgetting of course that everywhere closes down for siesta time from 1.00pm until 5.00pm!  Never mind, we find enough to occupy us as we hang around the hostel, trying, with the help of the hostel manageress, to book up some accommodation in San Rafael (but as it is siesta time, no-one answers the telephone at any of the places we try). We finally head off to the bus station at 8.00pm to get the bus leaving at 8.50pm.

Sods law dictates that the one time we have to hang around all day for the bus is the one time it is late (so far!). The bus eventually turns up an hour or so late at 10.00pm and we start off on the 20 hour journey across the Pampas  from the east coast to the west of the country almost to the Andes. 

We get a reasonable amount of sleep on the bus and, despite the long journey time, it is a very good way of travelling around. On this particular bus we are given an unexpected meal which compares very favorably with airline food and then settle down to get some sleep after watching The Bucket List (Jack Nicholson/ Morgan Freeman movie).  Unusually, the steward forgets to switch the DVD to Spanish so we have the unexpected treat of an English dialogue.

When we finally awake we (or at least I, as Carolyn is still fast asleep!) get to see dawn break over the Pampas. Obviously we had read about the massive grasslands in central Argentina, but actually seeing it for the first time is incredible.  The sheer size of the place is breathtaking.The extremely flat grasslands seem to go on forever.  I am not sure how big the Pampas is but we drive for many hours seeing barely another soul (it must be close to 1000 kilometres across).

Eventually, we reach a few small towns and then our destination of San Rafael, a small city in the famous wine producing province of Mendoza.

That evening we spend an hour or two wandering around the town looking for somewhere to eat and settle upon a Parilla restaurant called Malbec.  It is early by Argentine standards (9.00pm) and it is the only place in town that seems to have any customers.  We settle down, order our food and, only then notice that the restaurant clientele mainly consists of three long tables of students who suddenly erupt into song and combined with a bit of chanting.  The exception to this were those that were otherwise occupied in the toilets throwing up ! The students seemed to be accompanied by their teachers who seemed as through there were not really having such a great time  and soon left.    Soon after, many of the students wandered off and left us in peace to eat our delicious (and very big!) Parillada, a sort of mixed grill.

We had looked upon San Raphael prior to visiting here as a potential place to stay a while.  So we decided to take an apartment for a week and have a closer look at the area.   The apartment was fairly cruddy, but in a good location at the nicest end of the main shopping street and very near the largest supermarket.   Taking a tourist tour by minibus helped up see the main attraction of the area which was a large gorge, called Canon del Atuel.  It took all day and pleased that we were not driving, we got to see a resevour, lots of hydrostations, a lagoon, and a river all nestled in an area of strange rock formations.  

While in San Raphael we met up with Neil, an English realtor in town who, along with his Fabio his Italian partner, took us out to visit a number of properties for sale. We drive around the countryside and farmland around San Raphael and look at a wide variety of fincas, farms and houses.  Most of the farms here are growing grapes, plums, olives, apricots or walnuts or any combination thereof.  Over the course of a few days we visit a dozen or so properties.  It seems that only about three are nearly, or could be habitable.  A 37 hectare finca which is planted with walnuts, olives and plums, on which one would need to build a house, a large house which, until recently was used a restaurant set in 7 hectares of olive groves (which would make an ideal B&B) and, a traditional old house set in 15 hectares which is close to a brand new international polo club and which has potential for some sort of tourist accommodation venture. 

Property is cheap here when compared with Europe but it is all very confusing and not helped by the fact that we are still not sure as to what sort of venture we want to embark upon - or where !  We have decided none of these would be suitable for us though. 
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