Weeks 37 to 38 - Argentina 2006

Mendoza Travel Blog

 › entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
James & Pam at the Iguazu Falls

Following our time on Easter Island we were now well rested and it was time to hit the bright lights of Buenos Aires and our first foray into Argentina. Our stay was only brief in the capital as we knew that we would be returning over the Christmas period, so we quickly organised an overnight bus straight to Puerto Iguazu in the very north-east, the jump-off point for the infamous Iguazu Falls.

Iguazu Falls

This was also our first experience of buses in South America, and what an experience. During the 19-hour trip, for the princely sum of GBP 23 each, we settled into fully reclining, soft leather armchairs, had the luxury of full catering (including alcohol) with full waiter service, and even played bingo for a bottle of wine.

Devil´s Throat
The last time we jumped on a bus was back in Laos, and this could not have been any different. Pure luxury!

Upon our arrival to Iguazu the weather was not particularly brilliant, but as we had arrived early in the morning, we wanted to take full advantage of the day ahead and made the short trip by local bus to the falls. Although the sky was heavy with the threat of rain, we wondered around one of the smaller tracks to take in some of the waterfalls. The noise hits you long before you actually see them. However, once they did come into full view, to be honest we were pretty disappointed. We have seen plenty of waterfalls on our travels and these were not particularly more or less impressive than any of those. Because of this we decided to cut our visit short and to return the next day, hopefully accompanied by sunshine, which no doubt would throw a different light on proceedings.
Calm before the storm.


That evening, we treated ourselves to probably one of the best meals that we have had since we have been away. Argentina is famed for its beef, and in this case certainly did not disappoint. We had the most amazing Chateau Briand accompanied with creamed potatoes and vegetables, and a very fine bottle of wine, all for GBP 13. We felt like kings. We are in a great position being able to exchange from the pound. For anyone who is interested, the restaurant, located in Puerto Iguazu, is called El Quincho de Tio Querido. It does not get any better (except for your Sunday roast, Mum).

The following day, someone was smiling down on us for the sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky; a complete contrast to the previous day. And with the change in weather came a change in viewpoints.
Heading for a fall.
Seeing the falls as they should be seen was an awe-inspiring moment. They are fantastic. The sheer size and power literally takes your breathe away, especially when you are dumped under one of the many waterfalls by a speedboat, which is just what happened to us. And to think we paid for the privilege. The particular highlight is known as the Garganta del Diablo (Devil´s Throat). To quote the Lonely Planet:

"Of all the sights on earth, the Garganta del Diablo must come closest to the experience of sailing off the edge of earth imagined by early European sailors...the deafening cascade plunges to a murky destination; the vapours soaking the viewer blur the base of the falls and rise in a smokelike plume that can often be seen from several kilometres away."

This is a very apt description.
Devil´s Throat (Brazil is on the far side)
Unbelievably, right up until 1938, it was possible to hire a rowboat right out to the very edge of the falls, with the rower fighting against the strong currents, whilst you took photographs, etc. This venture ended after one unlucky rower lost the battle and plummeted over the edge along with his passenger contingent of 7 German tourists - completely insane!

Salta

With the Iguazu Falls well-and-truly done, we boarded another bus for a mammoth 29-hour trek (equalling our Hanoi to Vientienne saga, although in considerably more comfort) across the north of Argentina to Salta. Our time in this beautiful city was spent mainly doing a few tours as well as hanging out at another hostel with new-found friends.

Argentina in colour (a village north of Salta in the Andes)
The first tour was to the northern village of Humahuaca, high up in the Andes. The long drive to get there was absolutely stunning, especially the Hill of Seven Colours, which is true to its name. On this tour we saw once again Mads and Jens, from Denmark, who we had initially met on the bus from BA to Iguazu, and then again from Iguazu to Salta. It´s a small world. We also made friends with Yves, from Holland, who we went on to travel with to Mendoza.

The following evening we attended our first culinary event of our travels, learning how to cook empanadas at the hostel that the three guys were staying at. Empanadas are basically an Argentinian spin on Cornish pasties, and just as tasty.
Hill of seven Colours
I like to think that we were pretty successful. Nobody died that we know of so they cannot have been too bad.

The next night was the big event in the hostel´s calender that week. There was a conference in town and the hostel was therefore putting on a full-on barbeque for ca. 90 people. To cater for this many people they deemed it necessary to cook a total of 50kg of meat. In Argentina you can never complain about the size of the servings. The night unsurprisingly moved on to the local bar, and before we knew it it was 05:30 in the morning. Normally this would not have been a problem, but we were due to be picked up from our hostel an hour later to go on another trip to Cachi. With this in mind, rather than doing the sensible thing and cancelling, Pam went to bed for 1 precious hour whilst I deemed it a safer policy not to go to bed at all.
Pam gets to grips with making Empanadas
Needless to say, when we were picked up by the minibus I was still a jibbering wreck (what has changed, you may be asking yourselves, and to answer, not a lot), and Pam was not fairing much better.

Much of the short journey was spent hanging on to the side of the window gasping for fresh air as the bus wound its way up into the Andes one more time. Fortunately, everyone else on the bus seemed to be of a similar disposition, and thus, when the fan belt dropped off the engine, must people were not too disappointed to find the bus turning back to Salta, myself included. However, this was not to be as simple a process as perhaps first thought. Whilst making our way back down the mountain, we were stopped by an oncoming car, the driver of which informed us that the road had been blocked further down by a bulldozer which had fallen off its transport.
That´s a lot of meat ... 50kg to be precise.
Ironically enough the bulldozer was being brought up the mountain to repair/build the road that had caused it to fall and it was now blocking. A 281-point turn and one dented minibus roof later, we were going back up the mountain, hunting for a way down to the riverbed (!?!) which was to be our bypass. Now this would have been fine had we been in a 4x4, but we were in a 2-wheel drive, Ford transit minibus minus one fanbelt. It made for an interesting ride, ploughing through the river with an overheating engine, but remarkably we made it.

Mendoza

That night, after catching up on some of our lost sleep, we caught yet another night bus to Mendoza, Argentina´s wine region capital.

Jens, Yves and friend
Unfortunately this was where our luck was to run out with regards to criminal activities whilst travelling, and I had my wallet pick-pocketed. Basically, we had been on the bus for 19 hours, and when we got off I had to take my wallet out to get to the tickets for our bags. As I was waiting in the scrum for the bags, I distinctly remember being banged into by a woman holding a baby, who I am now pretty sure was the diversionary tactic, whilst someone, who had watched me put my wallet away, helped themselves. I only discovered that it had gone when we went to get our tickets for our onward journey and I suddenly found myself without any means of payment. Fortunately they had not taken our passports which were in the same pocket. This was either a case of luck, or as I later learnt, there is not much of a market for British passports in that part of the world.
Pam & Mads go ultraviolet
Everything is covered by insurance, and I had spare cards kept separately in case something like this should happen, but it is just damned inconvenient and a complete pain in the rear-end. At least there was no malice involved. For once the electronic translator proved particularly useful, and we even got to have a ride in a South American police car, although I would not recommend doing this too often as the back seats are not built for comfort. The only really annoying thing is that I had only just acquired the wallet as it was a birthday present from Pam for my 30th. I will not be replacing it until we get home, that is for sure.

The hostel that we stayed at in Mendoza is definitely worth a mention at this point. It is called Hostel Lao, and is owned by an English and Argentinian couple, who are very, very friendly and full of great tips and advice.
Jens starts to feel the pace.
However, aside from the great rooms, swimming pool and hammocks in the garden, the free wine and probably the most homely communal area we have come across, they are eclipsed by their pet dog, Astor, a German Shepherd. He will not leave you alone until you play with him. Many hours are wasted playing tug-o-war with whatever toy he has acquired. Great times.

After a day or two chilling out we finally decided to do something a bit more energetic, and joined by Yves, we donned our wetsuits and crash helmets and went white-water rafting up in the Andes. Pam and I have rafted before in New Zealand, but that was not a patch on what we were about to experience. In our raft were the three of us, the instructor, and a trainee to balance the numbers. Joining us were 3 safety kayaks. In hindsight we should probably have read that as a warning.
James & Pam makes friends with the locals (Fernando from Cordoba)
The rapids themselves were classed as grade 3 - 4. The maximum is 5. The water was glacier melt and thus absolutely freezing so was a good motive for not going in. The plan was to raft 25 kilometres over 4 hours. This was made particularly easier by the fact that the river was essentially one long rapid, with very little flat water, so there was plenty of opportunity to let the river do the work. We were going to be grateful of this very quickly.

After a safety briefing, and quick instructions on how to paddle in the raft, we got the raft into the river and started to make our way towards the first of the many rapids. Although we did not really need to paddle between them, we were certainly made to work once we were in them. The lack of exercise over the last few months soon took its toll. We were knackered and we only had a further 24 kilometres to go.

When there´s no road ...
.. The rapids were awesome; one moment you would be ploughing through freezing cold water, the next you would be high above the water and your paddle would be flailing around in the air.

And then it happened! On what looked like a very innoculous part of the river we found ourselves side-on against a stopper (boulder in the middle of the river which causes the current to hold you up), and although it was not very big, it had enough power to flip everyone out of the raft, including our instructor. Pam, having taken in every word of the safety briefing, immediately chucked her paddle down the river (to quote from our instructor, "whatever you do, at all times hold onto your paddle..."), before being hauled out by the instructor who had been very agile indeed and was already back in the raft.

Only way is down.
I was then hauled in like a beached whale, before I collected Yves. The trainee was picked up further down the river after he had swam after Pam´s paddle. We could now say that we had had a proper rafting experience. We were wet, cold and all had huge smiles on our faces. The only thing for it was to paddle faster and to hit the rapids harder. Learning from the first fall I managed to go over the side once again (on my own this time) much to the bemusement of everyone else. I seem to a have a habit of falling in. I was feeling a little warm and needed to cool off!?!

The rest of the day was spent getting very wet, sore and tired, but we had a great time and a lot of fun, enhanced by the brilliant guys that were looking after us. To top it all off, when we had finally made it to our pick up point , we were treated to very welcome steaming hot showers, pizza and beer.

The Andes
Could not have been better.

Our last day in Mendoza was spent on an organised wine tour. We had originally toyed with the idea of hiring a couple of bikes, and to make our own way around, but after our exploits on the river the day before, our bodies were feeling somewhat worse for wear and would not have thanked us for the additional exersion. Instead, we sat on a minibus and allowed ourselves to be guided around a couple of bodegas (vineyards) and a whiskey producer, before our final stop at a restaurant where we were treated to a gourmet delight, and the biggest lunch that you have ever seen. Although we did not consume as much wine as expected (and hoped) our stomachs were satisfied to the point of exploding, and we cut a very contented picture on our return to the hostel.

Having finally got to the vineyards as per our original intention of visiting Mendoza, we jumped on a final bus for the dazzling journey up-and-over the Andes, to Santiago.

The Andes
The 7-hour journey is well worth doing if you ever have the opportunity as the views are truely stunning, and help immensely to while away the journey, the only downside being the 2-hour wait at the border to get back into Chile. There is often a lot of discussion that New Zealand has the most stunning scenery in the world, but in our humble opinions the Andes must equal if not better it for its sheer size and immensity.

With the north of Argentina now well travelled, it was time to enjoy one more night in Santiago, before catching our flight down to Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world, where we would board our ship heading for the 7th continent, Antartica. Hopefully our ski gear has arrived from the UK .

Iguazu Falls
..

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
James & Pam at the Iguazu Falls
James & Pam at the Iguazu Falls
Devil´s Throat
Devil´s Throat
Calm before the storm.
Calm before the storm.
Heading for a fall.
Heading for a fall.
Devil´s Throat (Brazil is on the …
Devil´s Throat (Brazil is on the…
Argentina in colour (a village nor…
Argentina in colour (a village no…
Hill of seven Colours
Hill of seven Colours
Pam gets to grips with making Empa…
Pam gets to grips with making Emp…
That´s a lot of meat ... 50kg to …
That´s a lot of meat ... 50kg to…
Jens, Yves and friend
Jens, Yves and friend
Pam & Mads go ultraviolet
Pam & Mads go ultraviolet
Jens starts to feel the pace.
Jens starts to feel the pace.
James & Pam makes friends with the…
James & Pam makes friends with th…
When there´s no road ...
When there´s no road ...
Only way is down.
Only way is down.
The Andes
The Andes
The Andes
The Andes
Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls
Devil´s Throat
Devil´s Throat
The Andes
The Andes
The Andes
The Andes
Sponsored Links
Mendoza
photo by: montecarlostar