let’s start this post with 2 numbers: 10 and 13. 10 is the exact number of months I’ve been traveling and 13 is the number of countries I’ve already visited when I cross the border from Chile to Argentina. Although I still have a few months more to travel (I decided to go back to Europe only for Christmas), I can’t help looking back from times to times at what I’ve accomplished so far and I have to say that I am quite proud of me 🙂
But the time to wrap up this trip has not arrived yet! 🙂 So let me tell you in this post about the first part of my stay in Argentina.
As musical background, I hesitated a lot to chose the worldwide famous “Don’t cry for me Argentina” as I thought it would have been too cliché, but then I remembered Messi crying on television after his last game with the national team when I was in Colombia and all the people in the bar where I was laughing because of the ridiculously theatrical aspect of the scene. So, in memory of this funny moment (and also to make my friend Guillaume F. happy), here is the link to a live version in buenos aires:
The bus drive from Santiago to Mendoza is quite long. It takes a total of 8 hours, including a 2 hours stop at the border. Technically it is not the first time I am in Argentina. Indeed in 2014, when I visited Brazil, I crossed the border half a day to visit the Argentinian side of the Iguazu falls.
The immigration control at the Argentinian border is the most inefficient I’ve seen in my travel so far. They not only check and stamp the passport (which takes only 5 min), but they also check all the luggage one by one (also the hand luggage) which takes ages as for all the buses waiting (6 or 7 when we arrived), there were only 4 uncoordinated guys to do all the work (unload the buses, control all the bags and reload everything back in the buses). However, the good point is that the view along the road is very scenic as we cross the Andes mountains.
Finally, I arrive at the bus station in Mendoza at around 18:00, and take a taxi to my friend Macarena’s place, where I’m welcomed cheerfully by her dog Gorda. Macarena and I met in Chiang Rai in Thailand (see my post from january), and similarly to my Colombian friends from Bogota, she made a very active lobbying to convince me to come visit her in Mendoza and get a better taste of the famous Malbec wine 🙂
My first day in Mendoza is quite light. As I am still a bit tired (and lazy) from the bus trip from Chile, I start exploring the city only around noon. After a quick but nice lunch with a juicy steak and a cup of red wine, I walk a bit along one of the main street and am surprised to see a lot of shops closed. Indeed in Argentina, shops are still doing a kind of siesta break and close at around 13:00 to reopen later at around 17:00 until 20-21:00.
I spend most of the afternoon in the beautiful San Martin park, watching people running around or rowing on the park lake.
Day 2 is a bit more active. I go for a short hike on a small mountain North West of Mendoza called Cerro de Arco. This hike is very famous among locals but less among tourists as the transport to get there can be a bit tricky.
The bus from San Martin park drops me off about one kilometer from the trail head. As there is no sign pointing to the Cerro de Arco trail, it takes me some time to get to the starting point but after a couple of minutes, I finally start the ascension. The trail is normally not so hard, a couple of km and not a high height but surprisingly, maybe because of the heat, I still struggle to get to the top.
The area at the top of the mountain is not really friendly as it is full of communication antennas, but it offers a nice view on the city and its surrounding.
In the evening, as a reward for those few hours of sport, we go for dinner and a few beers with Macarena and her boyfriend Nico.
On day 3, I spend the day on a bike and wine tour. I am picked up around 09:30 by Sergio, the tour guide and as it is low season for the tourism in Mendoza, I am lucky to be the only person in the group: I will be on a private tour the whole day! 🙂 The region we’ll be visiting is called Lujan de Cuyo. Just to illustrate the importance of wine production in Argentina, in 2015, Argentina was the 5th biggest wine producer in the world behind Italy, France, Spain and USA.
After about an hour drive, we park in front of the Chandon domain and from there we start a 2 hours relax bike ride in the vineyards. The landscape is wonderful. Thanks to the good weather, we enjoy a nice view on the vineyards with the mountains in the background.
After this nice warm up, the first wine cellar we visit is the one of the sparkling wine producer Chandon. Chandon Argentina was founded in 1959 and belongs to the famous French champagne producer Moet & Chandon. During an 1 hour tour, I get a nice reminder about the sparkling wine production process (especially the champenoise method), the most interesting thing for me being the production of the rose sparkling wine based on the local Malbec. The domain is visually very similar to the Moet & Chandon in Napa Valley where I stopped with my friends Geraldine, Mandy&Seb (see my post from june) when I arrived in California .
The second wine cellar is a smaller one and produces mainly Malbec. After another interesting visit of the production area, we then have a nice 6 courses lunch with Sergio, where we try different wines with excellent food.
Back to Macarena’s place, I feel a bit tired by the bike tour (I swear it’s not because of the wine 😉 ) and I have a nice short power nap (2 hours lol).
Nothing very touristic to report for my last 2 days in Mendoza. On Saturday, I spend the day relaxing and organizing my next days in Patagonia. In the evening, we go to the theater with Macarena and some of her friends. The play involves a famous Argentinian actor (Rodrigo de la Serna) and is about the last days of Juan Manuel de Rosas, a former governor of the province of Buenos Aires in the 19th century. The actors are very good, the only problem for me is that I don’t understand a single word of what they say 😀 As my friend Pilou says “Saypra, sometimes you’re doing very strange things”, but still it was a nice experience.
We finish the night at the birthday party of one of Nico’s friend in the building where he lives. Sunday is quite short 🙂 In the afternoon, we are invited at a BBQ at some of Macarena&Nico’s friends.
After having enjoyed nice meat and good wines, it is time for me to get on the bus to continue my journey further South.
My next stop is the city of San Carlos de Bariloche. Bariloche is located at the border of the provinces Neuquen and Rio Negro and is a nice small city surrounded by mountains and lakes. This environment makes it a very good play field for outdoor activities like skiing in winter and hiking/moutainbiking the rest of the year.
During the first afternoon, I go on a short hike to stretch my legs after the long bus ride on a mountain called Cerro Otto. The hike to the top is not very demanding but I am several times surprised by the Downhill MTB riders coming in front of me at full speed. Indeed the walking track is at some points shared with the bike riders. The view from the top is very nice especially with the nice light reflecting on the lakes. On the way back down to the city, I am lucky to cross the way of a fox, which doesn’t give me much attention as I have no food for him 😉
On the second day, I spend the morning walking in the city center and along the lake shore. The weather is perfect for outdoor activities and take pictures of the mountains.
After lunch, I take the bus to a further place called Llao llao. The hike to the top of the mountain Cerro Llao llao takes a bit longer and still a bit snowy. However it is very worth it, the view from the top on the lakes is simply breathtaking.
After those 2 nice hiking days, I get on the bus one more time for the longest ride I’ve ever done in my life (30 hours) to the city of El Calafate in Patagonia. The change in the landscape is very noticeable. The city is very small and lost in the nature. I fell now far more in the wild. Moreover I am very surprised by the weather. As it is the end of winter, it is supposed to be very cold. However the temperatures are pretty warm for the season and don’t go lower than 5°C.
On the first day, to stretch my legs, I take a walk in a bird reserve not far from the city center at a lake called Laguna Nimez. It is very interesting to observe the different type of birds and the colors of the sunset on the water are pretty amazing.
On the next day, I wake up quite early to take a shuttle to one of the touristic highlight in Patagonia, the Glacier Perito Moreno. It is located about 80kms from El Calafate and is simply an unforgettable place! Different trails are taking to viewpoints, where I can enjoy the view on the giant ice wall in company of 3 other crazy fellow travelers met in the bus. One of the group, Fernando, makes the good remark that the glacier is so high that it reminds very distinctively of the Wall in the Game of Thrones series. As opposed to other glaciers I’ve seen so far, Perito Moreno is active and moving and from times to times, we can hear the impressive sound of the ice blocks detaching from the main stream and falling in the water.
At the end of the afternoon, we go back to the restaurant of the visitor center to experience a very touristic thing 🙂 A glass of whisky with an ice block from the glacier! Not bad at all 🙂
That’s it for El Calafate. On the next day, I take the bus to a city not far in the North West and known as the trekking Mecca in Patagonia: El Chalten.
To be continued.