Wine + Bike = Good Time
Andy and I awoke very early and saw Vina as we have never seen it before. The streets were quiet and the sun wasn’t up yet. The micros were moving, but we walked to the bus station. By the time we got there it was light outside. It was my last look at Vina. The drive over the Andes was spectacular. Andy sums up the views very well in his journal (don’t worry he said I could share what he wrote, “For the first few hours the land was flat and arid like we’ve seen before, but soon enough we met the base of the mountains and began our ascent. I don’t know how to describe them, but they were gorgeous. They seemed young to me for some reason, maybe because they were rocky and barren without trees or vegetation. The raw mineral deposits popped out in different shades and hues. The rivers flowed freely down their steep slopes with little to no curvature, which was the opposite of the road. It switch-backed its way up the side. At some points the road was one way where crews worked to clear debris from the other side. At times it felt tedious and slow, but it also gave time to take it all in and watch the clouds appear and then float up over the Andean peaks.” We arrived in Mendoza late in the afternoon and made our way to the Sheraton of all places. We were traveling with our friend Dan and he had a free room at the Sheraton and he invited us to stay. We took him up on the offer and stayed the night in a king size bed. We were a bit out of place with our big packs and Andy had quite the bidet experience. The next day we visited the vineyards near Mendoza in the Maipu area. We rented bikes from a place called Coco’s and went from vineyard to vineyard with Dan. The first place was actually a liquor and chocolate place called Historia y Sabores. All their creations were from old recipes with no additives. The process for some of the liquors involved putting fruit in vodka for months. Others were combined with chocolates and I enjoyed one called TiaMaria which was coffee, tea and rum. We then pedaled to some posh winery with snotty-American waitresses and wine that didn’t seem all that great, but what do I know. So we crossed the street to their neighbor, which was more laid back, our style and had a better vibe overall. After a brief tour we chose to taste 4 samples. We did one sparkling and then tried the Malbec line. I’m told the Malbec grape is famous to Argentina and is fairly new. So anyway, we had a glass of young Malbec wine (1-2 years aged), a medium one (3-4 years aged) and a fully matured wine (5-6 years aged). The neat thing was they all came from the same grape from the same winery. So it was interesting to be able to taste the differences between them all. We then cycled to our last winery, did the tour once again and were tempted at buying their premium ‘perfect crop’ wine for only $25 bucks, but settled for something cheaper and split a tray of meats and cheeses with Dan. We were going to attempt to take a tour of a nearby olive farm with time permitting, but my bike ended up getting a flat tire and Coco’s wasn’t about to fix it being so late in the day. So we just caught the bus back home. With us all being a bit tipsy, it probably wasn’t a bad thing not having to bike back. Back in the inner city we said our parting words to Dan and headed to the bus station to catch a 36 hour trip to Puerto Iguazu.
The World’s Sink: Iguazu Falls
Besides the expected bad movies the trip North by bus was uneventful and we actually saw a lot of the countryside. It was a spacious double decker bus and we sat in semi cama seats that reclined pretty far back and gave plenty of leg room. The bus stopped multiple times during the day and night. Sometimes we woud get off and stretch and breath in the cigarette smoke of the passengers outside of the bus. We also felt the humidity and heat increase the further up we got. The morning we arrived in Puerto Iguazu I saw the massive palm trees and greenery. The town itself is small and the touristy stuff is located around the bus terminal. With all our belongings on our back we walked and tried to orient ourselves in this new town. Finally I convinced Andy to get on a bus to a camping site called El Pindo. It ended up being fairly close, but on a hot and humid day with our packs it would have been difficult. A woman helped us and just took Andy’s name and showed us to the campsite. They only had cold showers, but they felt really good. Not sure I would have wanted to take a hot one. We set up and then headed for the park. Things were looking up as we had just completed the longest leg of our journey.
At the entrance to the park we paid 85 pesos each to get in! (That’s the equivalent to 22 dollars) It was a bit like an amusement park. We took the green train to La Garganta del Diablo or the devils throat. The boardwalk system in the park is very new age and low impact, but the building of it must have been a bit destructive. It needs very little maintenance and almost everyone can get around on it. After walking on the boardwalk above a flowing, but considerably calm river for about 10 minutes we saw mist rising in front of us. Andy commented that he thought this would be an excellent river to tube down. I reminded him that one of the biggest waterfalls was just around the corner. Sure enough we came to a platform that stood directly above the biggest waterfalls I have ever seen. They were all right next to each other cascading into the abyss below. It was almost too much to take in. The roaring sound, the mist splashing up at us, and the site of so much water moving so fast was incredible. The bottom couldn’t even be seen. We could look across the falls to the Brazilian side and see another platform with people sightseeing. I leaned over the railing and got dizzy from the waterfall beneath me. The train load of people that all hit the trail when we did started to disperse, but Andy and I stayed to really take it in. This was only the start to our waterfall exposure and by the end Andy took around 500 pictures. To finish the day off we took a stroll on another boardwalk trail that showed us a few other falls that weren’t as c oncentrated as La Garganta del Diablo, but just as beautiful. There were falls flowing into the same river off the same cliffs and each platform offered a different, spectacular view. On our way out we decided to double back to my favorite look out and caught a glimpse of a Coatis which is an animal that resembles a raccoon, wrestling with a garbage container. There were warnings all over the park about not feeding these guys and I heard that tourists have been severely bitten and scratched by them. They look pretty cute and they are not scared of people. Andy got a couple shots and we headed back to catch the bus.
Day two we had to take care of plane tickets and money. I stood in a long line at the only ATM in the town of Puerto Iguazu while Andy ran around trying to exchange our Chilean pesos or American dollars. Eventually the ATM ran out of money, but Andy exchanged enough dollars to pay the half priced entrance fee into the park. Of course the ATM in the park had plenty of pesos. We looked at the map of the park and decided to head down the lower loop and check out these boat rides that take you almost into the bottom of the falls. The lower loop consisted of more boardwalks and gave a panoramic view of La Garganta and the falls to the right. Right in between the sets of falls is a small island that is usually open and people can take boat rides to the trails there. We were told that the water level was too high right now so the island was closed for now. We made our way down to a platform that stretched all the way out to a waterfall that you could almost touch. This ended up being Andy’s favorite spot. There is nothing as powerful as standing next to a huge waterfall. We got even closer as we bit the bullet and got tickets for the motorboat ride that took you part way up the river to La Garganta and then to the other side to get doused and drenched by the falls. This was probably the best water ride I have ever been on. The first round we got up close to the falls, but not in them to take pictures. There was a guy in a waterproof suit filming all 20 people on the boat. The next round we all put our cameras in the waterproof bag that held our other belongings. Our driver gunned the engine and got the nose and most of the boat into the fall as we screamed and fell the wind and energy from the falling water. He took us to three different falls and I can officially say that I have kissed under a waterfall! Feeling great, but soaked we got off and refused to buy the 30 dollar video as we felt that our memories would capture the experience.
The heat of the day was on us so we made our way to the museum to check out the info. After resting a bit we started our last hike. The path was totally shaded and encompassed by jungle. There were very few people which seemed out of the norm at this park. We heard rustling in the trees and saw a family of monkeys on the move. We watched them for a long time jumping from tree to tree. One little guy was hopping around in search of scrumptious spiders that made their webs over the trail. He would grab onto the webs and try and pull the spiders towards him. On one attempt he pulled and the spider was hanging on the opposite tree. Being very determined he climbed down the tree and crossed the path on the ground and valiantly tried to jump to catch the spider. He pretty much gave no notice to us. It was an amazing experience, but the poor monkey didn’t get his spider and moved on and so did we. We made it to the end of the trail to a small fall where you could swim, but feeling tired we enjoyed the scenery and headed back. Andy was putting the pack on when he gave a yelp. There must have been a wasp on the pack as he was putting it on he got stung again! Pobrecito Andres. I ended up taking the pack and we enjoyed the shaded trail all the way back to the center of the park. As we were walking to the bus stop and saying our goodbyes to the park we saw a group of tourists crowded around a tree. We looked up and saw a toucan. This had been Andy’s wish to see a toucan before we left the park and there he was with his brightly colored beak in plain view. Feeling good about our time here we headed back to camp and cooked dinner and fell asleep. The next afternoon we got on a 17-hour bus ride to Buenos Aires.
La Bamba in BA
We arrived in Buenos Aires after another long bus journey. Not knowing where to stay, we found a place in our guide book and figured out how to get there by using the local train. The train was old and rickety and when we told Nick about it he said he has never taken it and he has lived in BA for months now. The guide book must be a bit dated though because we couldn’t find the hostel, but located another nearby. We got a few things together and hit the streets to tour around. Rachel was responisible for navigating our way through the streets and neighborhoods of BA. Later that night we met up with our friends Nick and Anna. We lived with them in Chile and they are back in B.A. studying abroad through a U.S. University with a new term about to begin. Nick knew of a place called La Bamba that he wanted to take us to. We arrived a bit late and caught the finishing act and encore. From what we experienced it was a live band made up of different types of drums, which created a rhythmic beat that changed as the director guided them. The place had no roof, the band was placed on a wide platform which resembled that of a staircase near the center of the floor and the people were shoulder to shoulder flowing around it all with small, but friendly mosh pits breaking out here and there. Rachel was kind enough to push me into the mosh pit and I really felt the beat then. After the show ended, we walked down the street deciding what to do next when a bus full of drunken people pulled up next to us beckoning us to get on. They said it was a party bus and that they were going to a sweet party with free drinks. So we got on. Onboard there was a guy playing a drum and others pounding their hands against the bus roof to keep the beat of the s how alive as we rolled down the streets of Buenos Aires. It was quite the spectacle I’m sure because everyone turned their heads as we passed by. The bus stopped at some hostel with a club downstairs and NO free drinks of course, but we knew better anyway. We hung there for a while and eventually called it a night, saying goodbye to Nick and Anna again. The next day we awoke and found out we were not alone in our room at the hostel even though we were the only ones in there when we went to bed at 2 am. The 4 other guys had wandered in during the night… hostels are weird like that. Anyway, we cruised the streets some more and went to one of the oldest parts of the city. We toured some churches and walked up Defensa to the barrio of San Tomo. Rachel really enjoyed this part of the city and felt we needed more time in order to really get to know it. There was always a breeze that broke up the humidity. My favorite part was walking across the widest street in the world. I counted 20 lanes in all! That afternoon we flew out to the small, southern Patagonian town of El Calafate.
-Rachel and Andy