Beautiful Mountainside
in Mendoza, Argentina on 21st March, 2013

We retraced our journey from Puerto Natales back to Santiago before catching a bus to Mendoza. It felt like a waste of time for the most part as we were just revisiting places we'd seen already and didn't find to be very interesting the second time round. The Sunday we spent in Santiago was okay, it was hot and sunny outside. I bought a 1L bottle of beer and watched the Australian Grand Prix. Life seems to run in slow mo when the weather is so hot.

Our bus was due to leave Santiago for Mendoza at 5pm on Monday. I got the cleaner of our apartment to agree to let us stay late till we were ready to go catch our bus. For lunch I ended up picking between some bad choices and going for McDonalds. As I was ordering there was a man yelling in the queue. The till workers tried to merge two queues and the guy wasn't happy. Customers were arguing and the worker taking my order was only half-listening to me.

I wanted a meal and then a separate portion of fries for Triin. They couldn't understand what I was trying to ask for and I had to repeat my order a few times. They eventually just gave me a meal without the extra fries. I tried to clarify in English what I wanted. Speaking to them in English was as useful as speaking to them in Japanese. I eventually just cutoff another customer and placed a second order for the fries on their own.

It was sad to see the staff there treating the customers like applicants at a German Immigration office. I wish the staff would try a little harder instead of just looking at me with an empty, dead look in their eyes and their mouths open. They might not have peaked in their career yet but it's training for other jobs they might obtain in the future.

At 4:40pm our bus which would take us to Mendoza arrived. The bus assistant demanded a tip for placing my bags in the hold. I walked away from him but he grabbed me by the shoulder and demanded 200 pesos (about 28p). This would be the first of many times they'd demand tips off of us.

When we first got on the bus it was clear the bus itself had been sat in the sun without cooling all day. It was as hot as a Turkish prison in there. Once the bus started moving the temperature dropped to a reasonable level. The scenery during the drive was amazing. Beautiful vineyards and stunning mountain backdrops kept my eyes glued to the windows.

There was one point where we came up to the foot of a mountain pass. It was very close to the border and I thought we were stuck in border traffic for 90 minutes. There was no indication of how long we were to wait for or what the wait was for. Turned out the pass was being re-built and did one-way traffic in intervals. It was a 30-minute stretch of road winding up a hill. People cheered when we finally started moving.

But when we started the journey up the hill I realised we hadn't yet even got to the border and there was 90 minutes of travel delays we weren't expecting. The border itself was supposed to take two hours to get through so I was starting to worry that we'd be arriving well into the middle of the night in Mendoza and then have to drag our bags through the streets looking for our hostel.

We passed through the Chilean/Argentine frontier driving past a man in a booth and then some soldiers on the Argentine side. We then continued to drive down a mountain. I thought we'd just entered Argentina with no checks and no stamps in our passports. After 20 minutes or so we came up to a shared Chilean/Argentine frontier post. I guess they placed it at a lower altitude.

The border guards from each country shared the same booth. They were really quiet, they typed out our passport numbers into their computers and then quickly stamp our passports. Our bus driver took the bus over to another area where he unloaded our bags to be x-rayed.

It probably took an hour at the border and by the time it was all done it was pitch-black outside. All I could see were silhouettes of mountains and a lot of stars in the sky.

We eventually got to Mendoza and dragged our bags to our hostel. Our room looked nothing like the photos on trip advisor and was by-far the most run down place we'd stayed in. The pillows were stained brown but the owner gave us new pillow cases. It was so loud at night I thought there was a window open but all the windows were closed. There are prison bars on the front door and a three-centimeter gap between the bottom of the door and floor. Sleeping in this hostel was like sleeping underneath a bridge.

In the morning we found a bank, took out some Argentine money and bought some croissants and apple juice for breakfast. The woman in the bakery told me the 100 peso note (~£13) I was trying to pay with was too large for her to accept. I had to go to the shop next door to break it before buying our breakfast. The woman gave me change which included 2 x two peso notes. They were so destroyed I handed them back for less-destroyed ones. They looked like small bank notes you'd find in India or Egypt.

After breakfast we made our way to buy a day trip and then headed for a park. We walked along streets with some of the best-looking restaurants we'd seen our whole trip. Food has been a disappointment for the majority of our journey so we were really happy to see such good-looking food on offer. The park we eventually reached was one of the nicest-looking and relaxing I'd seen in ages. It felt as though our holiday was finally 'beginning' after all these weeks.

In the late afternoon we visited the zoo. While walking around one of the Baboons left it's enclosure and started walking around. I took a photo, ran to a zookeeper to show him and he said it was normal and there wasn't a problem. Later we saw some farm animals that had broken free from their cages walking around eating grass.

For dinner we had some Argentine steaks and other assorted meats at an outdoor restaurant. We'd been warned by a British friend who'd lived in Argentina that we should expect London prices but I'm not sure where in London two people could chow down on Argentine steaks and drinks for a grand total of £26.

You know you're on holiday when the menu is full of spelling mistakes. But it was kind of the restaurants here to add translations to their menus.

The next morning we were up early for our day trip. We'd booked a Gaucho-guided horseback riding day in the Andes. Before leaving the hostel we sat down to the breakfast they provided. This included cornflakes so hard they would make Ice Cube run outta' Compton and were covered in some bizarre-yet-looks-like-milk liquid diary product.

Luckily our guide Juan turned up and drove us away from this dive in his Toyota Helix. We picked up an Austrian girl and headed off for the Gaucho's house in the mountains.

Juan does this tour guide job twice a week and works for the wine industry the rest of the time. We drove past a lot of Vineyards and listened to his insights he had on the industry. He travels to Moscow and a few other European capitals four times a year to attend wine expos so we had a lot of travelers tales to swap.

When we arrived at the Gaucho's house we drank some tea while the Gaucho got the horseback stales ready. We spent the day riding through rivers, up mountainsides, through valleys and eventually settling for some lunch by a stream. It was really lovely and won't soon be forgotten.

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