Five days in Mendoza, Argentina, and each one was completely different. We traveled up into the Andes to see Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas, and we took a tour of the wineries. We got dance-party crazy at a hostel, and we sun-bathed in the park. One day we were having a snowball fight, and the next we were wearing t-shirts. I said in my last post that Mendoza was beautiful, but it is also changeable. Perhaps this is caused by the earthquakes that carve up the sidewalk tiles as quickly as they can be repaired or just a byproduct of the rapidly changing temperature in the desert. Either way, Mendoza in June, the “low season,” was an adventure.
Max and I were tired when we got to Mendoza. Chile was wonderful, but our time there had been short, and we had just fought through a bus ride that seemed much longer than it should have been (see previous post). We were able to check into our hostel (Hostel Mendoza Inn) with little trouble. We were placed in the room “Don Quixote,” and it felt like we had entered the deserts of Spain because all of the rooms were outfitted with gas heaters built into the walls. Each of these could run at temperatures ranging from “Death Valley” to “Hell’s Gate,” or they could be turned off. The Don Quixote only had 4 beds. The bottom two bunks were already taken by a couple of portenos (guys from Buenos Aires), so Max and I were left to sweat for our mid-day siesta in the top bunk. I turned on the ceiling fan, because losing my ear was better than waking up completely drenched in my own sweat. Let me remind you, June is winter in South America. The heater is necessary, but it got warm quickly in those rooms, and it cooled down quickly as well if you turned the heater off.
As it turns out, Fernando and Ignacio, the portenos, were really cool guys (despite Ignacio’s disdain for my lack of Spanish), and we hung out for much of our time in Mendoza. They dragged us along with them to the parrilla and tequila party. There we tasted all sorts of Argentine meats that we wouldn’t have been able to in other restaurants, and for a fraction of the price. The Hostelling International system in Mendoza is fantastic, with about 5 hostels that all get together and throw parties, pooling tourists and resources in the low season to show everyone a good time. We met some cool people from all over the world at that party, young, old, working, not working, rich, and people who had saved up their whole lives to come to the desert. Post-food, dancing ensued: lots of Rolling Stones, some hip hop, and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” So, even I got to dance.
Two days later, the boys and I got on a bus at an insanely early time to drive up to look at the mountains. Our tour guide was giving the tour first in Spanish and then in English, so if one was listening carefully, one could pick out what was coming by the Spanish. I played this game as I was juggling my iPhone and my camera, taking pictures first of the fields of vines and other crops we drove through, and then the foothills, and then the bigger foothills, and then the snowy mountains. We passed by Inca ruins (a low wall of bricks), and got so high condors were flying right over our heads.
We reached the Puente del Inca, a natural bridge that was formed when a glacier pushed a giant boulder into a ravine and stopped up the Mendoza river, forcing the river to then run over and the boulder, wearing it away but leaving calcium and iron deposits in its wake. This was to be as high as we were to go that day. We had been promised a view of Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes, in the Americas, but it was snowing. We had also been promised a view of the thermal springs, with their beautiful colors, also from minerals brought up from deep in the ground, but the roads were too dangerous to go any higher. No one seemed to notice. Instead, they threw snowballs. For about 20 minutes, alliances were formed and broken, snow packed and lobbed high into the air. A woman in her 50’s that Max nicknamed “Grimace” lay down in the snow and made a snow angel, giggling like she was seven. She had to change clothes later because she was soaked through, but she didn’t seem to mind. Max and I couldn’t stop looking at each other and marveling “It’s June!” and “I wonder how hot it is in Nashville right now?”
A few days later, Max and I were sunning ourselves in Plaza Independencia, and who do we see, not 25 yards away, but Grimace and her companion. They both looked totally normal, two middle aged women out in the park on a sunny but chill day, but they were both eating ice cream.