Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Backpacking in South America - Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza. Oh Mendoza... You were so bright and hopeful when we first arrived.  Now we kind of can't wait to get out of here.  Well, I suppose I'd better explain myself there...

I will start with the incredible bike & wine tour we went on, which is half the reason for coming to Mendoza.  We walked to the bus stop and were approached by a guy explaining to us, in English, that we shouldn't take this bus, that it would take too long to get to the bike route, that some of the drivers are paid by the bike companies to stop in front of said bike companies when sometimes the company is located halfway down the bike route. 
You can understand if we were a little suspicious, since we still didn't even know the guys name at this point, or actually who he was at all.
But he gave us a flyer and said that his brother owned a bike company and it costs 30 pesos (instead of the 45 we were expecting) AND you get a bottle of water.  He informs us that he will let us know when the right bus gets to the stop, and so he does.
So we rent the bikes and head out on our tour.  Turns out the guy really is a nice guy and the bike company (Coco Bike Rentals?  Pull the bus dinger as soon as you see the giant bottle of wine and the bus will stop right there) is completely legit and they give good service.  It was a beautiful day.  So perfect to be out riding bikes through tree lined streets, wine vinyards and olive tree farms.  We rode all the way to the end of the route (10 km!!) to start the tour with an olive oil tour.  Actually first, we stopped for lunch at a more traditional winery where we had a little tour and got to taste the wines they make.  The lunch included an asado of chicken and steak, french bread dipped in red wine vinegar and oil, and a salad.  Oh yeah, and we got to choose their best wine to accompany our meal and they pour a BIG glass.  I was absolutely not sober by the time we finished and got back on our bikes to keep riding...

So we finally made it to the end where we went on a tour of an olive oil factory.  It was very cool to learn that they press the olives with the pits because the pits have the most oil to give.  We got to taste some bread dipped in oil and also some bread with grilled eggplant as well as bread topped with sundried tomatoes.  We bought a bottle of olive oil and were on our way.  The next stop of the day was at one of the chocolate factories where they make chocolates, liquers, sweets and jarred fruits.  We weren't overly impressed, but got to taste some of the liquers and jams, so that's always nice.  We did stop at another chocolate shop where we bought a jar of homemade dulce de leche con chocolate and then went back to the first winery we visited and bought a bottle of Petit Verdot wine from La Rural Winery. 

For dinner that night we went to the Mercado Central to buy some meat, cheese, olive oil, fresh bread, pickled vegetables and some fresh fruits.  Then we went home, laid it all out and FEASTED on our dinner, dipping our bread into our fresh olive oil and savouring our delicious wine.  It was AMAZING.

So, what a great first day in Medonza, right?????

The next day, Ro wanted to see the Andes.  Mendoza is very close, you can drive right through them by going about 2 hours away.  So we bought bus tickets to visit this small town called Uspallata.  There isn't much there, but it's worth the drive.  We only planned to stay in the actual town for about 1.5 hours before we caught the bus to go back. 
Towards the end of the bus ride there, we were getting confused.  It seemed like everyone had already gotten off the bus, save a few people, and it also seemed like the bus had gone to the end and turned around and was now going BACK.  We were a bit on edge about what was happening but when the bus finally pulled into a very small, dingy bus station, we were excited that we had made it and jumped up to hurry off the bus.

Without our camera.

It was completely an accident that it got left on the seat.  We were distracted.  But Ro noticed that he didn't have it no more than 30 seconds after we got off the bus.  He panicked.  "Where's the camera??"
"I don't know, I thought you had it between your legs" (he had been taking pictures)

He jumped back on the bus to grab it, knowing he had left it on the seat, but it was already too late.  There were only 2 people who left the bus after us - a mother and her son.  We frantically looked around for them but they were nowhere in sight.  They were gone and so was our camera. 
It was pretty heartbreaking - not because we left it.  I mean for god's sake, accident's happen.  Who hasn't left something behind by accident?  But Ro remembered LESS THAN 30 SECONDS after getting off that bus.  Those people who took the camera were sitting in the seats beside us for 2 1/2 hours.  They clearly knew it belonged to us.  And they decided to take it anyway.  It feels like they robbed it right out of our hands.  We didn't even know what to do - instinct told us to start looking for them everywhere but it was impossible to know where they went.  We did go to the police station and file a claim though, but there is nothing they can do. 

The emotional pain is a little less today, but the physical pain is not.  Ro kicked a wall really REALLY hard after he had the self-realization that the camera was gone and in doing so kind of really hurt his foot.  Last evening was spent with foot in air, packed in ice.  Silly boy!!! 

So, today, our last day (and another day of day-killing before our night bus) we decided to walk to Parque San Martin just for something to do.  Well, I walked and Ro limped.  So we're walking, the day is sunny, fresh... we are talking, he starts explaining something to me about the street signs and how they say [insert compass direction here] [insert number here] and that indicates how many blocks from dowtown the street is when BAM. I fall into a giant pit. 

Oh, and I don't just casually trip.  I was listening very intently (as I ALWAYS do) to my husbands explanation of the street sign, looking backwards and walking forwards when my foot reached out for some more pavement and there was none to be found.  It was all very confusing and whirl-windish.  First, my left foot lands after like an hour of falling into water (?) and my left knee and left elbow smash against the cement wall that is creating the pit .  My right heel drags down the other side of the cement wall, also landing in the mysterious water, which stole my havaiana from my foot and carried it down stream.  Now I realize I am standing in sewer water, bleeding and only having one shoe.  I was very distraught.
So, I'm sitting on the side of the road now and Ro runs limps for help and to get some sort of stick so he can fish my shoe from the sewer.  To make matters worse, some old ladies saw me fall across the street and one came over to me while I was sitting there and started asking me questions in spanish like "how did I fall" and "I need to be careful with these big holes" and "jibba jabba jibba" I didn't understand the rest.  Which means I couldn't respond.  When i get nervous here, for some reason my instinct is to speak Portuguese???  I can't even barely speak Portuguese so I'm a little impressed that I'm instinctively speaking Portuguese here. 

Anyway, Ro returned with a big metal rod (hahahahahah that's what you found???) and actually managed to find my shoe about 3 sewer drains down.  We decided to keep going on to the park in spite of our state. 

And as we both limped away into the sunset, I looked at him and laughed.

"We really look f'ing retarded right now."


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