Do You REALLY Want To Leave?

Trip Start May 30, 2005
Trip End Sep 30, 2006

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Where I stayed
Vieja Estacion

Flag of Argentina  ,
Sunday, January 1, 2006

The plan was simple. Go to the Andes, walk for a couple of days, return to Mendoza for New Year.

It started off well enough, I got the bus out to Puenta del Inca, which practically sits in the shadow of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the world thatīs outside the Himalayan range. Itīs a tiny little town but has the best hostel (Vieja Estación) that I may ever have visited, it was a bit rough and ready round the edges but the two guys, Julián and Federico, that ran it were amazing, hearts of gold, great trek leaders, brilliant cooks and amazingly funny. You can visit their trekking website if youīre interested, it appears to be only in Spanish though.

So now that the sales plug has been done, now what happened. As I arrived in the afternoon of the first day I didnīt do much, just took in the amazing scenery and went for a small walk with a few others from the hostel. It was quite exciting to start with as well as we had to walk over an old rail bridge that wasnīt designed for pedestrians and hadnīt been maintained as well as it could have been! We stopped for a while and one of the girls got her Poi out. These are basically tennis balls on the end of strings that you twirl around and do tricks with ( if youīre interested). Iīve never given these a proper go before but before the afternoon was out I was hooked, Eva showed me a few tricks which I managed to get the hang of. Now all I need to do is grow my hair long, get dreadlocks, a dog with a rope for a lead and turn vegetarian and my transformation will be complete.

The surrounding hills really require that you take a guide and this is where Julián stepped in. Five of us hired his services for a walk up the hill behind the Hostel. It didnīt look far from the bottom, but this is always how it looks. The hill was really steep and since we started at 2700 meters we had to take it easy due to the altitude. It didnīt take long though before Aconcagua appeared from behind the hills on the other side of the valley. What a marvellous sight.

After a few hours we were rewarded with the best views of the entire valley at the top of our little (3700 meter) hill. Julián made us all hold hands and run to the summit point together to make sure we all got there together. After a very windy lunch it was time to decend again, we shot down the first part so quickly, we basically did a scree run down the first section, laughing and giggling as we went. Halfway down there was a waterfall which was about 100 meters high. The spray was so fine that the wind kept on changing the landing point of the waterfall. I was a roasting hot day so a couple of us dared each other to run through it. Like a mug, muggins here was first through, and strangely enough I wasnīt followed either. We were all knackered by the time we got back, but itīd been such an amazing day.

On the second day of walking we had a different bunch of people, Fran the Brit, Veronica the German, Coco the Japanese, Pablo the Spaniard. We took a bus to the next town up the valley, Las Cueavas and then climbed up towards El Christo Redentor, a statue built on the border between Chile and Argentina. It was a steep climb and followed the path of the old road before a tunnel was built here. Again we had marvellous views of the entire valley. At the top we found some really weird shapes in the snow, there were little pillars that had been carved by the wind.

As we got to the top we found El Christo Redentor, at 4200 meters itīs a new height record for me! (higher than Mount Kinabalu). The statue looked brilliant, built to celebrate Chile and Argentina settling their border dispute in 1904. It was also weird being right on the border of two countries with no-one around. I was able to wander quite freely back and forward between Argentina and Chile here. We stayed for a while here sheltering from the wind behind the statue. We had great fun getting down the hillside again, Juliān led the way as we slipped and slid our way down the snow and scree, down in a fraction of the time it took us to get up.

I finalised my decition to head north from here, rather than south. In fact Iīd agreed to head north with Fran, leaving on the bus after this walk. Near the bottom of the walk though Fran asked me "Do you really want to leave?". To be honest I didnīt, itīs quite amazing here. There was another walk up to a Glacier that we could do the next day. As we were waiting for the bus we decided to toss a coin to decide. It came up īheadsī, that means we leave, ermmm, best out of 3. īTailsī, hurrah, 1 each. īHeadsī best out of 5, īHeadsī, best out of 7. īHeadsī Ermm, best out of 9. We stopped at this point and decided that despite loosing 4-1 weīd stay anyway. Federico met us off the bus with our bags, "Federico, Weīre staying!". He went in a bit of bad mood once he learned heīd carried about 30Kg of bags to the bus for nothing. I was at the end of my clean clothes though and had to do some bad hand washing to keep me going.

The third walk in three days was arguably the best. Again we got the bus up to Las Cuevas but walked up the opposite side of the valley to a Glacier called "El Hombre Cojo", "The Lame Man". This was a much harder walk, it wasnīt as high as the Redentor walk but since we climbed inside a bowl there is an effect whereby the air pressure is lowered due to the wind whipping over the top of the valley and sucking air out. This made things pretty tough as we reached the top. At one point Juliān got everyone to estimate how long itīd take us to get to the Glacier, it looked really close so I said 6 minutes. What a fool! it was more like half an hour of tiny steps up a steep bank.

We spent a little time up the top drinking it all in, and drinking a nice cup of tea. I loved the Glacier that I saw in New Zealand, but the effort that I had to put in to reach this one just made it so much better. And of course we were the only ones around for miles. Sometimes Iīm really happy that more people donīt like hill climbing, otherwise hills like these would start having too many people on them. Of course the way down was heaps of fun again. It was a four hour climb up, and a one hour slip down, I almost wanted to climb it again just to slid down again.

This time Fran and I bought our tickets back to Mendoza. Neither of us had any money left (and there were no ATMs), and I didnīt have any clean clothes left. "Do you really want to leave?" asked Fran again. Itīs true I didnīt. We talked about the options. If we headed to the north of Argentina then weīd arrive in the afternoon of the 31st, knackered and without any clean clothes. If we stayed, then weīd be staying in a beutiful place with fantastic people. Federico came and met us off the bus again. "Weīre staying Federico! We Love You!". Of course he was happy we were staying, just not the 30Kg walk again. I had some Chilian Peso which I was able to exchange in order to keep us going for another couple of days.

That night a few of us from the hostel headed over to the hot springs. They are on the other side of the Puente Del Inca that youīre not supposed to cross, this mean taking a torch and crossing in the dark! It took us a while to find one of the hot springs and Fran volunteered by going in first, it turned out to be more mud than anything. This is when Ruben from Buenas Aires suggested heading down to the old bath rooms, fair enough. We got down and had a look around, it was pretty decrepid but I think everyone was keen to give them a try. We found a likely candidate and I headed round the corner to change into my cossy. When I got back I found Fran and Coco outside the bath room and Ruben inside it.
"Arenīt you going in?" I asked.
"I donīt think I really want to" replied Coco
"Why not?"
Fran then whispered at me "Heīs naked in there!"
"I was standing in the pool testing the temperature when he just stripped off and jumped in! Are you going in?" said Fran.

Maybe we are just prudish, but Ruben could have chosen better nationalities to have naked baths with, The Brits and The Japanese just donīt do that!

"Ermmmm, Ruben, Errr, The waterīs too cold for us, weīre away back to the hostel. Bye!"

Hogmany was a pretty quite day. I slept in, then had another snooze in the afternoon, the three days trekking had taken it out of me. Strickly speaking I could have got Fran to hand wash some of my smalls since I was lending her some cash to be able to stay, but I think that would be more than a little unfair on her, so I had to do it myself.

Just like in Mendoza we all put some cash into a slush fund, Despite being in the middle of nowhere the guys at the hostel managed to rustle up a bit of a feast. Federico was busy in the kitchen all day cooking a storm. A few of the locals were finishing a conversion of an old railway maintenance shed into a bar for their opening night and the rest of us lounged around.

Iīd seen the railway shed a couple of days before, and itīd looked like a shed. On the evening of the 31st, it had changed to look like a themed bar (The theme of course being a railway shed), but theyīd done a great job. Just as well it wasnīt in the UK as there were numerous trip and stub yer toe hazzards around. In fact later than night Fran fell down a gap in the floor seriously bruising her knee, and I stubbed my toe quite badly.

One of the locals cooked up the biggest barbeque that Iīve seen in my life, This is something that the Argentinians are world class at. It didnīt matter that the smoke from it completely consumed the room, itīs the food thatīs important. We were all well fed before the bells. At this point it was just the same as in Scotland with everyone wishing each other a "Feliz Aņo", but rather than a rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" the Argies broke out the Fireworks!

Youīll be pleased to know that they appear to have a firework code, but it may differ a little from the one that youīre familiar with:

- When buying fireworks, make sure they will provide you with a massive bang or shower of colour
- Keep fireworks beside you as youīll want to light another one in a second
- Use as many as you like at once, the bigger the better afterall
- Store Fireworks wherever you want
- Donīt bother reading instructions, just light the bottom and wait, how hard can it be?
- Use a cigarette lighter, or even better a cigarette to light your firework
- Make sure your audiance in no further than 10 meters away, if your firework doesnīt go off, then return to it and give it a kick
- Ensure that all chidren are given their own fireworks to play with
- Throw fireworks if it makes the bang better
- Alcohol and Fireworks DO mix
- Allow your dog to run up to and bark directly at the firework as itīs going off.
- Ensure that your firework heads straight up by holiding onto the bottle that itīs held in.

With this advice itīs no wonder that Argentina suffers many accidents each new year.

The party in the converted railway repair shop was brilliant, people came from surrounding towns and villages to the grand opening which gave it a brilliant party atmosphere. Our little group of friends started off the eveningīs entertainment with Cuba Libres, however these came to an end when the Rum ran out, for some reason we thought that it may be a good idea to continue with Escocia Libres, looking back, they were pretty disgusting.

I did the tour of the room with a little bottle of Whisky Iīd bought, wishing everyone a happy new year and making them take a swig from the bottle, Iīd tell them all that itīs a tradition in Scotland. I also got into a deep conversation with a local after offering him an Escocia libre, despite my ropey Spanish and his strong Argentine accent we had a great conversation, I just wish Iīd remembered what it was about.

As the night drew to a close we return to the Hostel and Julián brought out the guitar while we all listened and sang along. They were all wanting Mate, so I acted as Mate mum for them all. Making sure we had boiling hot water for all and passing the Mate round in a fair and orderly manner, making sure that Julián waited his turn despite his best efforts to queue jump. Federico was quite dismayed at my efforts after a while and would instruct me on how to make good Mate, I didnīt realise that it was so hard! there is much more to it than you realise.

During the session a couple of locals came to the door of the hostel. It was the man that Iīd had a deep conversation with and his wife. It turned out that sheīd been looking for him during that time and thought that heīd been off with another woman, I had to have a conversation with her to try and convince her otherwise. She wouldnīt believe me that Iīd been drinking with him at first, but eventually came round to it. After a little longer it was time to head for bed.

As I walked around the little town the next day I started seeing faces that I recognised from last night, including my new friend, without his wife this time. Despite the fact that it was still morning he was sitting in his stall having a beer to pass the day. He was obviously keen to return the favour and feed me some brew, but I had to decline his kind offer. He didnīt appear to have any black eyes or other injuries, so his wife must have calmed down.

Just as I started to feel really settled and enjoy the local company it was time for Fran and I to leave, no second chances or choices, it was time to leave. We had the most amazing send off that Iīve ever received from a hostel everybody there really was brilliant. So with a sniff we boarded the bus back to Mendoza.
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