Mendoza city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1861. The city was later rebuilt with large walkways and parks, so that if an earthquake occurred again there would be room for the buildings to fall. It is a really beautiful city, but our first impressions were a little different. We had caught an overnight bus from Santiago to Mendoza. The bus was scheduled to depart at midnight and arrive at 8am. We didn’t get to sleep until about 1am,then we had to stop at the border crossing at 3am to cross into Argentina. By 4am we were back on the bus and sleeping again. However, at 6am we arrived at the bus terminal. We were 2 hours early. Having only 4 hours sleep, we were all on edge and not very good company.
We decided to walk to the hostel, as it was only a few blocks away and see if we could drop off our bags there. We followed the directions down Alem street in the dark. The area looked quite rough and we were getting a bit nervous walking along. We were to walk 7 blocks down Alem street, but the road stopped at 5 blocks. After investigation we found there were two Alem streets that left from the bus terminal and we had taken the wrong one… in completely the wrong direction. So now we had to walk back to the bus station and then a further 7 blocks. Needless to say, it was a tense time. We did manage to find the hostel after an hour of walking and the sun had finally risen. The hostel allowed us to store our bags there and we slept on the hostel couches for a few hours.
Whilst in Mendoza we went on a white water rafting trip. It started early, with pick up scheduled for 9am. However, at 8.30am the driver came busting through the doors demanding in Spanish that we hurry up. The hostel receptionist was trying to translate politely what the man was yelling, but it was obviously he wasn’t using the pleasantries that the receptionist was telling us. We drove for an hour and a half to reach the river. It hadn’t rained in a while, so the river was quite low. The rapids were grade 2 and 3. We all got wetsuits and helmets to wear for the trip. Most of the wetsuits had large holes in them and the helmets were all cracked. It looked like whoever wore the wetsuits last came to a violent end. But we obediently put them on and headed for the river.
There were three boats and we went with the English guide. We didn’t realise at the time that this guide was an adrenaline junkie. We had only just pushed off from the bank and he had us going backwards down the river. He didn’t even seem to be watching for the rocks jutting out all down the river. One of the first moves we learnt was to jump in the middle of the boat and hold on. This seemed to be some kind of emergency procedure. However, the guide soon started yelling “get down” each time we went over a very high rock. There was a path down the river that looked quite peaceful, but instead we went down the roughest looking route. As we got down in the boat, this seemed to make us sit at the bottom of the waterfall and got us all very, very wet. We later found out this is called “surfing the standing wave”. Our guide was ensuring that we all got drenched in the five degree celcius water. In one case the guy sitting in front of me toppled out and fell in the water. He looked less than impressed with the tour guides cowboy antics. What made it worse is that he didn’t speak much English, as he was French and there was no French boat. The guide did manage to get him back in the boat and we continued to go sideways, backwards and do twirls as we went down the remaining rapids. I’m sure we were about to try for a back flip, but we came to the end of the trip before we could try one.
Mendoza is primarily famous for being a wine region. We stayed in Maipu, an ajacent city where all the wineries are based. We hired bikes from Mr Hugo’s Bikes (and met the actual Mr Hugo). Ben and I got a tandem bike. At first it was difficult to ride, but the more wineries we visited, the easier it got. We started at an olive and chocolate factory. We went on the “tour” which lasted 5 minutes and involved looking at one olive tree with two olives on it and a machine that wasn’t in use that they use to crush the olives to make olive oil. The tour was obviously riveting and soon enough we were on to the tasting room. We tried olives, olive oil, chutneys, spreads, jams and chocolate. The last tasting was liquour. They had all sorts of crazy flavours like pepper (black and white peppers) and tobacco. We then ventured on to another three wineries to taste their wines and have some snacks. We finished with a beer garden, with home-brewed beer and empanadas (delicious little meat pastries). By this stage we were expert tandem bikers. We got a lot of stares as we weaved down the roads with big grins on our faces.
The next day we had to catch a bus back to Santiago. We left at midday this time and were due to arrive at 7pm. We were looking foward to the trip, as we heard the scenery is very nice and we didn’t see anything on the previous trip as it was nighttime. We boarded the bus and were all ready to go, but for some reason we sat there until 1pm. We finally got going and while driving through the Andes we had great views of the surrounding mountains. Then we stopped at the border. We were behind about seven buses, “shouldn’t take long” we foolishly said to each other. Six hours later, it was dark, the drivers were fast asleep and we were moving nowhere fast. The buses in front slowly moved forward, about one an hour. Finally we were at the front and it only took 15 or so minutes to process us. We eventually made it to Santiago at 2am in the morning.