Trip Start Nov 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 27, 2006

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Malargue Hostel International

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Malargue - 21st to 25th November 2005 (by Ray)

From Monday 21st to Friday 25th November 2005, we based ourselves in the Malargue region, about a 6 hour bus ride south of Mendoza.

The dirty old "TAC" bus crawled out of Mendoza around 16:30 hrs on the Monday, with us passengers wondering why it was hotter onboard than off. We decided that the bus was officially "KAK" when we saw that most of the seats were broken and there was no air conditioning. Even better was to come, when after 1 hour the bus pulled off the road, the driver revving the poor engine into submission. After coughing and spluttering along the highway (Ruta 40) at a nerve-jangling 20 km/h and a "surprise" tour of the inside of the "KAK" bus maintenance depot in San Rafael, we eventually arrived at our destination, Malargue Hostel Internacional, at 01:00 hrs.

The hostel is situated about 5km from the town centre, amongst cultivated fields, which turned out to be a very peaceful location. This was a tonic in itself, because Gilly by this point had developed cold symptoms. Her recovery was aided by the peace and quiet and the unusually good quality of the facilities at the hostel.

By the Wednesday, Gilly was better (or so we thought!) and we therefore headed off on an organised tour to the "La Payunia" reserve, 208km south of Malargue, crossing the mighty Rio Grande on the way. (General note: Weīre finding it very difficult to organise trips on our own. The sheer scale of the country and the harsh landscapes means that the only way to get to places of note is to pay a tour organiser to take you there.)

The Malargue region is a vast relatively untouched area of grasslands, volcanoes and lagunas and here we were hoping to immerse ourselves in some serious landscapes and see some interesting bird life.

The scenery within the reserve was spectacular, particularly the views of the extinct snow-capped volcano "Payun Liso" at 3,715m; the lava flows; the golden tufty grasses growing from the jet-black lava soil; and the llama-like animals "Guanacos" which roam these lunar-like areas in their thousands (although we only saw a small herd).

We knew that this would be a long drive in the minibus, but 12 hours later, with aching backsides and stomachs full of dust, we were looking forward to stretching the legs. However, the wind in this region was astonishingly strong, possibly 80km/h. So, it
was back to the minibus!

There are no paved roads in this region, so riding in the "non 4WD" minibus was truly a shaking, rattling and rolling experience. This rough ride no doubt contributed to the Hamilton contingent shouting out after lunch "stoap the bus!!!!". The driver had no time to reply "Cīmoan get aff" as Gilly slung open the door and legged it behind the nearest innocent bush (important note: this bush had probably been left untouched for about 60 million years). Poor Gilly was seen to bend over double and give it severe "Hughie". And the result? Gilly was complemented on not leaving her lunch on the bus, and the poor wee bush was given a new appearance that could keep David Attenborough in a job for years.

The following day, as if we hadnīt enough of sitting on minibuses by this point, saw us undertaking a 15 hour tour of more of the Malargue region including:

A) Caverna de las Brujas (Cave of the Witches) - where we crawled through the caves on hands and knees, up and down ladders. In terms of other caves around the world this was small and unfortunately many of the stalagtites and stalagmites have been broken. But for sheer physical effort to get through the caves, this was a mini adventure. (Worth noting that 3 of our party had to be helped out of the labyrinth of caves due to claustrophobia! Also worth noting that we were told by the guide that once a rather rotund nun got stuck in one of the narrow passages and the guide refused to push her through because he thought it improper to touch the backside of a nun wearing her habit - the tight squeeze is now known (by us anyway) as the "Nunīs Passage" - Aherm!);

B) Palaeontological site Manqui Malal - where we were shown many fossils by the guide, whose long red hair apparently came from his Norwegian/Romanian "roots" (boom boom!). Here we also found the "Timotei" waterfall which Gilly tried to take full advantage of (not having washed her shirt in 3 weeks...). We learned how this region used to be under the sea and had risen over millions of years to its current level, the heavier Pacific plate pushing up the South America continental plate (Scottish note: this reminded us of the time we found the "trumpet rock" fossils at the top of Beinn Eighe in Torridon - similar geological effect); and

C) the fantastic Laguna Llancanelo. Here we found a huge salt lake which was the remains of the sea which used to cover the whole region. Now the lake is home to thousands of different species of birds including the Chilean Flamingo (striking pink body with black wingbars). We were lucky enough to see a few hundred of these flamingoes and were glad of having brought the wee binoculars (thanks dad), the birds were that far away!

In general weīve been eating very well and subsequently, Ray has not lost any weight. During this week we visited a trout restaurant where every dish (well, apart from the sweets), was composed of trout. In honour of our visit to the Malargue hostel (and being the first Scots to visit!), the owner Gabby had a goat slaughtered. Not as high-falutinī as you may think......we were charged for the meal! On the final day we spent some time with a really tremendous character called Horatio, who lives across from the hostel. After looking around his house, which he built himself, he took us to the best restaurant in town. This meal set us up well for our return to Mendoza on the Friday afternoon.
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