Trip Start Aug 16, 2005
43Trip End May 02, 2006
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Left Valparaiso early morning and began the 8 hour bus ride to Mendoza. Had it not been for the Andes mountain range and the border crossing, would have probably been a 3 hour ride, but it was well worth it and a magnificent bus journey in terms of eye candy even though I was knocked out for a good portion of it.
The Andes looked much as I had imagined them...finally...saw them in all their splendor I think... sharp, steep, enormous black peaks speckled, in some cases, piled with snow. Very beautiful. Quintessential mountains...
Border crossings on buses full of tourists are a pain. Let me just say. Buses, cars, and semi tractor trailers line up at the border, await their turn to unload while we, the load, scurry to the gross bathrooms we have to pay to use even though they are void of toilet paper, soap, and dryers
Arrived in sunny, wonderfully warm Mendoza around 3 in the afternoon and Jeroen thought it would be nice to walk to our hostel. So cute...I have increased the load on my back substantially and even the boys that pick that darn thing up have to exhale loudly! I have not weighed it to be sure but by my guestimates, with the sleeping bag, my new cold weather jacket and the smaller day pack, I'm lugging around about 80 pounds.
Twelve blocks later we arrived at our hostel. Other than "La Cupula" where we stayed in Copacabana on Lake Titicaca (Bolivia, for those of you who might have forgotten), it was the best hostel I have been in so far. The staff were all young Argentinians, friendly, helpful, and fun. We had a traditional Argentinian "parrillada" the night of our arrival, one of the things Argentina is famous for...MEAT! I have to say, some of the varieties might be a bit too "authentic" for my taste, specifically "morcilla" (blood sausage, black in color) and intestines, still shaped like braids in all their original glory...gross
Mendoza is wine country so of course we had to do some good ol' wine tasting! I was (and continue to be) on antibiotics so that wasn't the best thing I could have done. But I figured I would likely not be in Mendoza, Argentina again any time soon so I had to FORCE myself to sample the delicious liqueurs, wines, brandies, chocolates and jams. TOUGH DAY FOLKS...GRUELING!
Also took a tour of an olive oil vineyard which was very interesting. Much better than the stuff at home. Not sure why. We sampled different types and had yet more food there. A deliciously drowsy day all in all.
Headed out the following afternoon with two American lads on an awesome, unexpected little thrill ride. Took a 4x4 up the mountains that overlook Mendoza, a very bumpy ride, got out when we reached the top, strapped ourselves to a large semicircular balloon and a nice Argentinian man and ran with all our might off the edge of a mountain top. I was the last of the three to go. The winds die down a bit in the late afternoon hours, and as the lightest of the three of us I had to go last since too much wind and not enough weight are not a good combination I hear
Anyway, the first lad, Austin from Evergreen, Colorado seemed to have a rough take off. I watched him and thought, "Yikes! Running off a mountain looks as stupid as it sounds!" You are told to run your little heart out, even when you are lifted up into the air and no longer feel the ground beneath your feet, you must keep running like a fool...in case the wind "puts you back down."
Luckily, my take off was awesome. Very smooth and one of the most exhilarating feelings I have ever had. The wind picks you up firmly, yet gently and before you know it you are soaring like a bird, effortlessly, quietly, peacefully. I thought that paragliding would be more of an adrenaline-pumped kind of experience, but it really wasn't. It was tranquil and relaxing. Most of it anyway...As we were starting to head in the direction of our landing spot the guy strapped to my back asked me if I liked roller coasters. "Not particularly," I said. Which I don't. In fact, I HATE that feeling. I told him I didn't need that kind of excitement and asked him what he had in mind. He said we could do some spinning, start out slowly, then gradually increase the speed. What the hell..."Go for it," I said, but "when I say BASTA!, then that means BASTA!" The initial turning, in a figure 8 kind of motion, was nice but it wasn't long before he picked up speed, and then it wasn't so gradual, and I said "BASTA!" like 10 times
I had wanted to try this sport out in Rio or Capetown but at only $40 I couldn't pass up the opportunity in Mendoza.
We headed back to Santiago after 3 days in Argentina. I am very excited to return to Argentina. For starters, it is cheaper, the people seem much friendlier, and the currency is easier to manage! One U.S dollar is 534 Chilean pesos. $20 is over 100,000 so it can get a little confusing and I lose sight of how much I am spending.
Jeroen has continued on to Easter Island, Tahiti, New Zealand...and on and on...What I am doing is not that rare. I'd say maybe 50% of the backpackers I meet are on Around The World trips, each a little different in terms of places they are visiting and time spent, but not all that novel a thing to do really. I am also finding out that the U.S dollar is not near as strong as it was when I visited Australia three years ago and some of the "developing" countries I planned to spend more time in like Brazil are not going to be all that cheap. I don't know where this leaves me in terms of my return trip home or where I will end up going during the rest of my trip, after February anyway. But there could be some changes ahead. We'll see!