Monday, June 27, 2011

Battling into Argentina

When I got back to Santiago I intended to jump onto a bus pretty promptly and get into Argentina. In fact, because of my visa I needed to. But the weather had other ideas with the pass through the Andes being closed due to a snowstorm. This led to a couple more days spent in Santiago.

We went out in a big way again that night. The next day the crew was splitting up further so we were celebrating that. Of course, we ended up in a strip club. Later we strolled around the streets but there wasn’t heaps going down so all we managed to do was get lost. Eventually we got back to the hostel and caused a ruckus in the common room. The night ended basically when the sun came up.

Obviously, the next day was basically a write off. My visa had expired and in retrospect I should have got onto that then, but instead I was all about the prone position. When I finally got around to it the office had closed. The highpoint of the day was definitely tea – three of us cooked a good steak meal perfectly. The meat here is excellent and stupidly cheap.

I was up early the next day to get down to the relevant office to sort out my visa. We were there about 5 minutes after it opened but already the queue was probably 50 strong. This put me into a panic as I was urgently trying to get onto the bus by 10am. The eventual solution was to simply cut the queue and grab ahead of everyone else. Getting my visa renewed was actually smooth enough as I had my needs written out in Spanish and the guy waiting behind me spoke some English.

The bike is probably worth as much as the van.
Not at all ideal.
I made it back to the hostel in time to go with the boys to the bus station. I was pleased to be leaving Santiago, despite the hostel being great with very cool staff. I started battling again when I tried to get my bike onto the metro as I was firmly denied. A taxi was the solution, with my precious bike hanging impotently half out of the boot. The driver was a madman and got me there in record time. I was waiting to get a ticket when the boys arrived. More difficulties were to come my way as we couldn’t get on the same bus. Worse, many refused to take the bici along. So we split up and I caught a minibus with Dobri, with the Niner strapped rudely onto the roof.

At least the wait for customs was beautiful.  
The bus ride up into the Andes was stunning. The climb seems to go on endlessly, with one section containing something like 32 corners in a row. Scenic doesn’t so it any justice. Customs, however, was far less good. A wait of about three hours had to be endured due to a hugely inefficient setup. When we finally got to customs it took about 20 minutes but we had to wait a long time while th buses ahead of us got sorted. Scanning our bags was a joke; one of the guys on the bus collected some dineros off everyone and we bribed the guards with it to get straight through.

The pass through the Andes.
Just like that I was in Argentina but sadly I wasn’t in Mendoza. The rest of the trip seemed to go on forever. Our average speed must have been something like 50km/h and as it was getting dark there was nothing to see.  My happiness was huge when we finally rolled into Mendoza, 9 odd hours after leaving. We got to Hostel Lao (which came highly recommended) and met with the boys. Sadly, there were no beds available so it was off around the corner to a far inferior alternative for the night.  We were pretty buggered but went out in search of a feed, ending up at a place offering free pizzas after a monster walk. The food was good and we got hooked up not only a free pizza but also free tapas as well, a great result.

The main plaza of Mendoza by night.
So if I had to sum up how things are going for me at the moment, I would have to say battling. Travelling with a bike in South America is an incredible hassle, matched only by the folly of not even having basic Spanish under the belt. Everything is a trial. It’s definitely character building stuff. On the flipside though, I’ve seen some incredible stuff and met some incredible people. Hopefully there are some lifelong friends in there already. I think things will settle down once I get into the groove of living out of a backpack, spending long hours on the bus and having long struggles trying to make myself understood.

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