Monday, July 25, 2011


Tupiza. Nice.

Getting into Bolivia is a real eye opener. The poverty is immediately apparent and completely unavoidable.  It is everywhere on the streets. While the people aren’t about to drop dead from starvation they don’t have much room for luxuries in life. The contrast between here and Argentina is incredible, even in the few hundred metres between townships that mark the border.

We got to La Quiaca, the border town in Argentina, at about 7 in the morning and went straight to the border. The crossing was the smoothest I have ever encountered and would have taken about 20 minutes, most of which I spent chatting to a European chick. Then we were into Bolivia. Despite the obvious poorness of the place both Townie and myself were stoked to be there. It feels like a bit more of an adventure being in Bolivia than it did in Argentina or Chile.

The bus station was about a km up the road and when we got there it was pandemonium. Due to tiredness and convenience we ended up getting a taxi to Tupiza, about an hour and a half driving away. It cost ridiculously little, about 50 Bolivianos between us. This is less than $10 NZ. We were beginning to get a sense of how cheaply we would be able to live in Bolivia.

We got into Tupiza and went to the closest hostel, an HI job. It was adequate. Quickly we discovered that Tupiza did not have an ATM, leaving us cut off from our cash monies. There were bad times on the horizon but fortunately Townie and I are resourceful travellers and we had some American dineros we could exchange. A top travelling tip: always carry American dollars. They get you out of trouble.
It was Thursday which meant the markets were on. We went for a walk to get a vibe for the place. Commerce was thriving in many admittedly small transactions. True to form I bought several ridiculous hats before heading back to the hostel for a siesta. We were looking for our buddy Jack who was meant to be 7 hours behind us. We couldn’t find him and we realised milling around the bus station wasn’t any good so after sending him a message at a net cafĂ© we kept wandering around and then went out for a feed. The meal came to 12 Bolivianos for a burger and fries (it’s a bit over $2 NZ) and 15 Bolivianos for a litre of beer. We were living like kings.

Eventually we went back to the hostel and discovered Jack had checked in and gone out. We were pretty beat up from big nights in Salta and long bus trips so we just kicked back. Eventually Jack rolled up with a new buddy, Angus, in tow. We talked about going out (it was Angus’ birthday) but we were all a bit shattered so locked it in for the following night. We decided to move hostels the next morning to somewhere about half the price.

The next day was spent organising ourselves and trying to book in a salt flats tour and ‘triathlon’ tour (jeep trip, horse-back trek and mountain biking). We got both locked in, the tri for Saturday and the Salt flats for Sunday. We talked to a bunch of other Gringos in town and heard rumours that there was a lot of snow around at the moment and that tour trucks were lost in it. We found a fifth for our tour, Sandra, and went back to book her in only to discover that the truck we were meant to be going in ‘was broken down’. We were pretty mad that he hadn’t told us that earlier, but it looks like lying to the Gringo is a nationally accepted practice.

We went to another tour company which was much more honest and said that weather forecasts suggested it was too dangerous to take a salt flats tour until at least the fifteenth. Because of their honesty we booked a tri tour through them. We decided to flag the Salt flats tour for now when we were told one tourist had died – we are pretty into our lives.

We agreed to meet Sandra at a restaurant later and went back to our new hostel to tuck into some red wines in celebration of Angus’ ability to age. We had found a 5 litre bottle of wine but it proved to be basically undrinkable so we had to go with some other stuff. By the time 8.30 came around we were a bit tipsy and staggered up to the restaurant. Sandra was there with a couple of Irish girls we had met earlier. The meal was limited as two of the cooks had just had a fight and one had left, removing half the items from the menu. Despite this, we managed to have a good time. Later we went back to the hostel with the Irish girls in tow and got rowdy. All in all, a good night.

The Bolivian landscape is artfully enhanced by my fine self.

The next morning we woke early for our triathlon. After frantically sorting out breakfast we headed to the tour company shielded from the harshness of life by sunglasses all around. We headed out to the North-West of Tupiza first to take in some truly amazing landscapes from the jeep. Then it was straight into the mountain biking. I found it pretty tame as it was all down a gravel road but the landscape was stunning. Our companion Sandra had a messy little incident resulting in a quick shower and a change of pants at this stage. The irony of this was that she had told us not to eat street food the day before, advice which we had ignored. We were all fit as Jessica Alba while she battled through the day.
The desert is a surprisingly beautiful place.

After riding back into town we were off into the jeep tour. We went to a site which contained some interesting rock formations, which we called gaps. Many bad puns were made. We walked for about a half hour and then ‘celebrated lunch’ with a picnic at the Land Cruiser. Next up was the jeep tour, which was frankly amazing. We got to see some incredibly beautiful landscapes and also had a whole lot of fun playing with the easy panorama mode on Townie’s camera.

A classic gap. Specgapular.
Last up was a horse trek, which I was fairly nervous about. I had only ever ridden a horse once before and I had found the experience to be relatively scary. To make matters worse my horse, who I named Steely Pete, initially seemed very hard to control, he was more into doing his own thing. As we headed down the road towards the desert we met a riderless horse coming the other way, and fast. This did nothing to reduce my fears.
The photo does no justice.

Once we got out into the desert it was actually quite nice. My horse wanted to be at the front and went the wrong way a few times but mostly it was no worries. As far as riding goes, on horseback I have about as much grace as a sack of cement. I was happiest when my horse was at a walk so I could take in the amazing scenery. It was pretty cowboy out there. Highlights included the Devils gate and yet another gap.

It was a pretty big day and none of the boys really had the energy to go large that night. Instead we just kicked around the hostel and played a few cards. This was a trend we continued the next afternoon, laxing back in the courtyard of our hostel and playing cards while drinking red wine in the sun.

Our bus was a night bus and held plenty of terror. As an introduction to Bolivian buses it was a damn good one, we were on gravel roads with a sheer drop off the edge of the road. It was good for a bit of excitement. The bus was also extremely cold so Townie and myself took our relationship to the next level by sharing a blanket (or unzipped sleeping bag) for the night. Tight.

When we were nearly at La Paz the bus was stopped and we discovered that protesting had blocked off the main road so we tried for an alternative route. It involved some bus 4wd through the desert, and after about an hour and a half of that we still ended up about 20 mins away from La Paz (I think somewhere in El Alto). We jumped in a taxi to a hostel that some French girls we had met on the bus knew of, and arrived very happy to be there.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

An ode to Steely Pete

Steely Pete was a horse, the finest of all,

If you were his rider he would not let you fall,

Long of the leg and black of the hair,

You could trot, walk or canter without feeling fear.

Around Tupiza he strode, travelling Gringos he bore,

He would work a full day and be eager for more,

He was my noble steed one fine afternoon,

And despite my fears he was eager to hoon.

A feisty horse, he led the pack,

If not at the front his ears would go back,

So fearlessly into the desert he strode,

While perched on his back I inexpertly rode.

Far from civilization we went, under a merciless sun,

On a trip with the boys, guaranteed fun,

For a two hour trek travelling by horse,

With many a sight to see on the course.

The time and the landscape slowly went by,

The hills and the sights sometimes obscured by Cacti,

We proceeded at a constant and steady rate,

Until soon we arrived at the Devil’s gate.

Onwards we surged, into the desert deep,

The serenity occasionally broken by jeep,

By the by to a canyon we went,

Where we took a break and some time was spent.

But then soon enough I was back on my steed,

And we started off home at a varying speed,

On the way we saw rally cars and we did a wee jump,

Over a culvert we went with barely a bump.

All too soon the trek came to an end,

But needless to say I gained a horse-friend,

So remember this tale when you’re feeling equine,

As Steely Pete is a horse remarkably fine.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I woke up from my bus ride in Resistencia still hung-over and very tired with a day to kill in a city I had low hopes for. After confirming my bus later in the afternoon and eventually finding luggage storage I caught a bus into the central city area. It was Sunday which meant everything was shut so my options for the day were pretty limited. I found a place which did coffee and Wi-Fi and chilled there for a few hours loading up on caffeine to get through the day. Then I went for a walk through the city, which was nice enough. In Resistencia there are statues absolutely everywhere so it took some time to take that in but after that I was done with the place and spent the rest of my day reading in the square.

Victory! Salta from the lookout.

I was pretty pleased to get onto the bus out and even more pleased when I woke up coming into Salta. I found the hostel with no difficulty and smashed back a breakfast (most hostels in Argentina do a free breakfast). Townie woke up and we went for a look around Salta, heading up the Gondola. The view of the city was pretty impressive but that was about all that was going on up there. On the way down we decided to make it a bit more exciting and go a bit bush. We got stuck when at the bottom we hit barbed wire fence – a manmade bluffing – and had a bit of a mission to get back out, but      made it okay.

A bit off the beaten path.
Salta central had a bit going on and we went for a look. The square was pretty tidy and a bit further along we ran into an orchestral band. After a look around the city, we went back to the hostel and organised ourselves for the next day.

At 3 we had arranged to join a bunch of Americans (say it with a Southern accent) and go bungy jumping. It took about an hour to drive out to the site. The jump wasn’t huge but big enough to get the heart going. As I’ve jumped before I went last out of the group and it was great to watch everyone freak out a bit. This was partly because the operation was a bit haphazard (probably wouldn’t get certified by OSH in NZ). There was only one rope (back home they have 3 thicknesses to use depending on the persons weight) which was attached to a metal structure that seemed to move around a lot more than it should. Everyone jumped successfully and then it was my turn. The jump was fine but I was surprised to go into the water up to mid-forearm. This was definitely not part of the plan, but at least it added a bit of excitement to it all.

Back at the hostel the Americans were gearing up for some 4th of July celebrations and us Kiwis were keen to get amongst. We hit the super vea for some supplies to run a monster grill. A round of “Edward 40-hands” was on the agenda (taping a 40-ounce of beer to each hand, like scrumpyhands) but a few kicked it up a notch and went for wine hands. This proved to be a regrettable decision as I got absolutely obliterated a bit before the meat was ready. I’m told I really enjoyed my steak though, which one of the girls was good enough to cut and feed to me as I had wine bottles taped to my hands.

I woke up the next day with fewer memories than I should have had and also much less hang over than I deserved (Argentinian wine is good). The day before I had arranged to go mountain biking with a NZ guy who was now based in Salta. I laxed back until 2pm when he met me at the hostel and we headed up towards San Bernardo hill. As we climbed up the road it quickly became apparent that I was going to tear the guy’s legs off. I was beginning to feel like the tour was going to br a bit disappointing.

Niner goodness. even with ugly frame protection.
We headed onto gravel road and traversed along the hill for a while before hitting a small section of easy singletrack. Then it was back onto gravel road. The guide didn’t really know his way around the hill so we decided to go uphill and have a look. I had a feeling that if there was any singletrack it would be that way and I wasn’t disappointed. It looks like Salta has a reasonable but small trail network, mostly focussed on downhill. The guide was completely ignorant to its existence, making him more of a pseudo-guide.

Packing crate huck. Tiiiiidy.
 We hit a track which looked good. My guide was on a slightly haggard bike and looked like he didn’t ride much so I was riding away from him. The trail was dry and loose, reasonably steep in some places but mostly at a pretty reasonable gradient. There were also a few natural rock gardens about, and some hucks. It had enough going on to keep me interested and satisfy my need for riding. At the bottom we found a racetrack which had carts racing on it. Heading along we found some xc type singletrack which eventually led to a junction of many trails ending. It looked like there were 4-5 trails exiting at the same point. I also got to see some of the tidiest woodwork I’ve had the benefit of witnessing.

We started to head back via the gravel road and I again dropped my guide. He was a bit out of his depth on this tour but he was an alright guy and to be fair I think he is more focussed on 4x4 tours. Back in town he showed me where the bike shop was and headed off. We took it fairly easy that night, heading out to a Shisha bar. It was great to just relax and talk smack.

We spent the next day looking around Salta with the Americans. We started off at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology which contained a bunch of Incan relics discovered at the top of a nearby mountain. It was great to learn about Incan rituals – the society was amazingly well organised and interconnected for the time. We also got to see a couple of sacrifices which had been unearthed. It was a bit creepy looking at dead people but kind of interesting at the same time.

The Cathedral. Impressive.
From here we headed to the Cathedral for a quick look around. I felt a bit out of place in there as a non-religious person. The cathedral was incredible, a truly huge room decorated with many unbelievable statues and paintings and the such. It was a bit humbling if I am being honest. From here we went to look at the outside of a nunnery – you had to be a nun to go in.

We were pretty hungry at this stage but decided to push on to an artisan market a bit out of town, a mistake as it turned out. The market was miles away and we got on the wrong bus, resulting in a good walk. About half of us were mostly thinking with our stomachs so by the time we got there we were a bit phased about the markets. There was some well-made stuff there but it was pretty pricey.  We split up with half of us heading for home and a feed. We battled, as everything was closed for siesta and ended up at the super vea. I have never enjoyed a precooked chicken more.

That night we went large again with the Americans and our new English friend Jack. The copa America was on, Argentina versus Peru I think, and we had a big grill again to celebrate. Along with the grill we got into the drinking games, and I ended up fairly mowed. The game quickly became a bit irrelevant. We had a bus at 12.30 and I was sort of sad to have to leave to catch it as the Americans were pretty good value. On the plus side Jack had decided to come to Bolivia so he tagged along to try get a ticket. There were none available so he sussed out a ticket for 7am the next day. Townie and I got onto our bus successfully and we were off to the Argentinian/Bolivian border.

Monday, July 4, 2011


Iguazu falls was one of my must see attractions in South America. If this is the first time you’ve heard of the falls, they’re located on the Northeast border of Argentina and Brazil and they are impressive in scale. Words don’t really describe the falls so here are some photos:

 And here is a cheeky wee video:

So multimedia.

The 'trails': sadness in my heart.
The morning I arrived in Iguazu I managed to just beat a tropical storm into the hostel. Despite the weather I headed straight to the Brazilian side of the falls. This side offers a better overview of the falls but there isn’t much there (I was done in a couple of hours). Also, it costs a hefty stack of pesos for what you get. Sadly, the Brazilian idea of national park management and mine don’t quite match up – their version has sealed roads and concrete paths. 

I was up early the next morning to go to the Argentinian side. It was still overcast but at least the deluge had stopped. While waiting for the bus I saw Townie come in but we didn’t meet up then. I did the top loop and the lower loop in the morning then headed over to the platform above the devils throat. It was there I ran into Townie, who had started at ‘Devil’s deepthroat’ as he called it. We agreed that if he came back to Devil’s I would redo the other two loops, so I effectively got to see the falls twice. Definitely better with company. It was disappointing to not get to San Martin Island, in the middle of the falls, but apparently the river was too high and the boat wasn’t going.

Under a cheeky little fall.
Lastly we did the Sendero Macuco trail, a 3.5km each way, mostly flat ‘hike’ into the bush. Compared to the other falls the one at the end of the trail wasn’t very impressive but it was very peaceful compared to the high volume (of people) main loops. We also hit a cheeky miniature bush bash in order to get around under the waterfall, which was a cool but wet experience.

That night we went large with some people from the hostel. The night was epic but had some negative consequences for me, which I’ll get to. We started with beers at the hostel, then went out for dinner. We tried a pizza with some weird stuff on it called heart of palm, which is kind of what it sounds like it would be. It wasn’t bad but probably won’t become a regular menu item for me. The Argentina-Bolivia game was on (it’s the Pamn American cup over here at the moment, a really big deal) and I found out just how little I know about soccer. I didn’t know who Messi or Maradona were before that dinner and even after getting an explanation I keep calling saying Maraloche instead of Maradona. I also accidently cheered for Bolivia at one stage, definitely a shankable offense.

At dinner some old guy had given us some free drinks vouchers at some club so we went for a look. After cashing in we moved to a nearby club which was going much harder, and shenanigans ensued. We were definitely in parts of the club we shouldn’t have been for a while (think deserted downstairs area with no lights), amongst other things. Messy.

Messy indeed for me as the next day I had an important, 24 hour long, get me out of the middle of nowhere bus to catch at the crack of dawn (okay, 9.45am). Despite Townie apparently waking me for it (I have no recollection) I was still unable to drag my sorry carcass into the land of the awake and upright until 10.15. When I did awaken it was full panic. A quick trip to the bus stop (across the road from the hostel, conveniently) confirmed I had missed my very important bus. The next best option was a partial refund and then an overnight bus to Resistencia that night, followed by a day there and then another bus to Salta over the following night. So I cost myself a lot of money, got stuck in Iguazu a day longer than I wanted to be in the throes of an animal hangover, and then had to spend a day in Resistencia. It also added 24 hours to my trip to Salta. So all in all a bad result and I’ve learnt my lesson from this world-class act of muppetry.

That day in Iguazu was excruciatingly long and extensively boring: so boring that I started reading the Lost Symbol. Awful. By 9pm I was pretty pleased to be getting on the bus, something I didn’t expect to ever happen. As usual I had to bribe my bike on and with that I was out of Iguazu for good.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Buenos Aires

After a painful overnight bus ride which arrived three hours late (but was at least semi-cama - like a lazyboy that reclines about 45 degrees) I found myself in the sprawling mess that is Buenos Aires. Straight up front I’m going to say that I didn’t have the best time here compared to earlier times (for a variety of reasons).

San Martin Plaza.
From the bus stop I had a monstrous walk to get to to MilHouse, the hostel I had been recommended. In a way it was good because I got to see a bit more of the city but the metro would have been a hell of a lot easier, it probably took 45 minutes at a good clip with a bike and two bags. But I got there no troubles and settled in. After a quick catch-up with a cool Irish chick I had met in the hostel in Santiago I was out for a bit of an exploration and to look for some running shoes. I hit the metro and went down to an area recommended by the hostel workers for a looksee.

I have to be honest and say that ever since I first heard of the BK five stacker available in Argentina I wanted to have a run at one. Since I wasn’t up to heaps I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to peg one back. The burger, called a Sabor 5.0, is up there with the filthiest thing I’ve ever eaten (certainly since my illustrious Pizza Hut days). There are five filthy, filthy BK patties each separated by a sheet of that vile yellow cellophane-like cheese (I assume to wrap the meat for 'freshness'). On top of this is several strips of delicious fatty streaky bacon and a salsa of sorts. Even looking at the thing increases cholesterol measurably and makes breathing slightly more difficult. Take that, arteries. I absolutely monstered the large combo while walking the streets, gaining disgusted looks from BA's more sensible citizens in the process.  It’s no lie to say that afterwards I was a little bit ashamed of myself and headed straight to the show store to buy some off-road running shoes.

I headed back to the hostel and milled about for a while. MilHouse is definitely a party hostel and even though it was Monday the place was clearly starting to gear up for a big one. I tucked into the beers and started yarning, and then ended up going to dinner with a slightly older girl from Switzerland. It was a kind of weird dynamic, set up like a date but clearly not one. I had a good time though, learned a fair bit about Switzerland and had a well decent meal which I couldn’t finish after my earlier ingestion heroics.

We then went back to the hostel where the party was starting. I didn’t have the night I could have. You know those nights when you’re too run down and just not in the mood to be particularly social? Well I was having one of those and didn’t really get into the swing of things. When the party moved from the hostel towards a club I was pretty phased and hit the hack instead.

The next day I slept in, getting up just early enough to catch the tail end of the complimentary breakfast. I teed up a bike tour of the city for the afternoon and swung down those ways a bit early to take in the sights of San Martin plaza, where the tour began but wasn’t focussed. The plaza was nice and airy, with some statues, some trees, and an interesting piece of temporary art: a spiralling tower made out of old books.

The women's bridge.
The tour kicked off by taking in a monument to the war between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland islands. We moved off to the La Boca district via the nature reserve and Puente de la Mujer (the Women's bridge). The bridge was a pretty impressive piece of architecture.  The reserve was less impressive until we arrived at what I assumed was the East Coast but what was actually the worlds widest river, Rio de la Plata (the River of Silver). Although not hugely deep this bad boy is 220 km wide at its widest point. Fair to say it might be just a bit far to swim.

La Boca. Colourful.
We moseyed on down to La Boca proper and looked at the outside of the stadium, home of one of the two big teams in BA (the other big team, Riviera, had lost a few days earlier and been relegated to a lower league, resulting in rioting and general bad times in that area). We also looked at some of the old neighbourhood which had been preserved as a tourist attraction. It was very colourful but pretty touristy.

The final part of the tour took in the main square, home of the mothers and grandmothers monument, and in sight of the government house and an important church. The monument was erected in recognition of the mothers and grandmothers who protested when a particular repressive government was disappearing people. In Argentina’s most peaceful protest, these women simply wore placards with the details of their missing loved ones and milled around outside the government house.

Mothers and grandmothers monument.
After the tour I got back to a hostel with only partial power. It wasn’t good news for me as it meant an ice cold shower (I was also serenaded by a couple getting intimate in a nearby room, making it probably my worst shower in South America to date) and a battle to find clean clothing (a battle I think I lost, instead going for backpacker clean). Later I went to MilHouse’s sister hostel for a tango demonstration (which I was up for) and lesson (which I wasn’t). Later when I went back I was hoping for power and therefore a party but there was no such luck so I had an unplanned early night (most of the guests were taking this as an opportunity to catch up on sleep).

I was up earlyish and went for one last walk around the city to check out some monument I don’t know the reason for (I need to learn Spanish) called the Oblesco and also to get some old inner tubes. Then it was another 45 minute wai-wai to the bus station where I managed to get a ticket for the 1.30 bus I was hoping for con bici. I had some downtime before the bus so I used the old innertubes to wrap my frame as some sort of rudimentary protection from travel damage. The result is probably the ugliest Niner in the world and is a complete travesty but if it protects my frame I’ll take the aesthetic hit. The guy loading the bus was very unwilling to take it but again a 50 peso ($15 NZ) bribe smoothed over the difficulties.

Looking across Rio de la Plata. Hard to believe its a river.
So now I have been on the bus for 8 hours of the 18 hour trip and endured two terrible movies (the bus company must have a deal with Vin Diesel as he seems to be in all the movies they show – it’s not a winner). I am quite glad to be out of BA. Although good it was like any other big city and I was just a bit run down to really enjoy it. I also found the hostel to be a bit dull on for me in my slightly battered state. It would have been good to either be there for the weekend or take the (expensive) polo lessons offered but you can’t have it all. Now I am on my way to Iguaza falls to get into a National park finally and enjoy some wilderness. I have heard amazing things about this place so I’m pretty excited to be getting there.

More pics from BA here.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Mendoza: It's pretty tits.
I love Mendoza. I had a very good time there. The city feels nice and relaxed. It has big wide streets and many plazas. The story is that it was rebuilt this way after an earthquake in 1861. The locals were afraid another one would come so they made wide streets for the rubble to accrue in and plazas everywhere as meeting points. As luck would have it there has not been another quake but because of the future-proofing efforts that were made the city is particularly beautiful.

One of the main reasons I had such a good time there was because of the place I stayed, Hostel Lao. This place is amazing. Everyone who works there are great sorts. The co-owner Mike not only has an excellent name but backs it up by being fun to yarn to and genuinely interested in the wellbeing of his patrons. I would recommend this place to anyone over those ways.
The gates to the park.

After checking in late in the morning we frittered around for a good while before eventually heading out to the cities park, Parque General San Martin. This place was a little bit on the disappointing side, although there was a little bit of interesting stuff in there. It was good to see some different kinds of trees compared to what we are used to in NZ but there was a pretty serious litter problem. It looked like some riding was on offer in there but none of it much good; we saw some haggard berms and extremely marginal jumps. We walked right through the park, having a look at the big artificial lake and the soccer stadium.
The monument to the Army of the Andes.
The artificial lake.
We made our way to the back of the park to have a look at the zoo and the highest point in town, which was supposed to offer some views of the city. In the end though it was a whole lot further than we thought so we didn’t have time for the zoo. We cruised up to the lookout at the top of the only hill around, Cerro de la Gloria ('Mount' Glory)  via the particularly steep path and I was disgusted to finds myself struggling a bit. Anyway, at the top (at 1000m but probably only 60-80m above town) there was a big statue of something. Obviously I couldn’t read the Spanish so pretty vague on what it’s all about but it’s impressive. The internet tells me it's called the Monument to the Army of the Andes and represents a force, lead by General San Martin, which liberated Argentina and Spain from the Spanish. Anyway, Dolbri was straight up onto the statue despite the signage prohibiting the act, resulting in a good photo and a yelling at.

We cruised back down and were looking at catching a bus home when we saw a bunch of people on mountain bikes congregating. We had no choice but to roll over and have a yarn (although with my knowledge of Spanish I was purely ornamental). Turns out there are some trails in the area but they aren’t safe to ride alone or in small groups as robberies are common and deaths not unheard of. Our new friends offered us a ride which we took (I know, rides with strangers and all that noise, but mountain bikers are a different breed). On the way it came up that I was after 29er tubes and they said they knew a place that might so took us there even though it was well out of their way. They dropped us there and I got some tubes and we bussed home.

A sidenote on Argentina: there is a severe shortage of coinage. It is extremely difficult to get and should be held onto for as long as humanly possible when acquired (I have lied many times to hold onto precious coinage). The relevance of this is that buses only run on coins and we had fuck all between us (we got some from a supermarket). But yeah, that is one of the many joys and challenges of travelling South America.

Back at the hostel we tucked into some free wines. The night was shaping up to be a big one and didn’t hold back. A good crew of people from the hostel came out and on the way I stopped in at another hostel to collect some English friends I had met in Santiago so we had a big mob of Gringos going large. We hit the place that we had got free pizza from the night before and it was pumping with a good mix of locals and Gringos. The bar was two stories and had several rooms with people crammed into all available space. Long story short, a good time was had. On the way home I got separated from everyone but got walked home by a lovely Argentinian chica and her less than impressed boyfriend. She spoke Englais and worked at another bar in town. She was better to me than I deserved and even gave me a couple of free passes to the club she worked at.

The solution to most of life's problems can be found in
these waters.
The next day started atrociously. I was in a bad, bad way and none of the boys were much better. The only solution was to go to the hotpools and it proved to be the best possible idea given the situation. After missing our first bus and lingering an hour or so we were on our way out of town to Cacheuta, about an hour from Mendoza. He place was pretty amazing; a tiny little town up in the hills with an incredible semi-desert surrounding. The pools themselves were awesome, with an inside and outside section which included an infinity pool and a couple of waterslides, one of which was operating (some of it wasn’t going, being off season over here and all).

If you are ever hungover in Mendoza this is the place to be. We absolutely dominated the art of lounging. The sun was out, the landscape beautiful and there were people to yarn to which made the experience as relaxing as possible.  Even the hawks were about and playful. There’s only so long you can lurk in a pool of hot water though and eventually we all reached our limit and went to get the bus home. Again we had missed it resulting in more waiting, this time in the cold in the middle of nowhere. It was grim but we had no choice but to laugh and eat the most atrocious corn-based snacks ever devised. A couple of hours later the bus arrived and we were safely back to Mendoza.

Not a bad setting to enjoy some
warm water.
One of the boys, Townie, was all set to head off to Cordoba but ended up staying after flipping a coin. The hostel looked set to go off but this never really eventuated. Instead good wine, average beer and excellent conversation with some Irish lads and some Englanders went down before a earlyish night.
The worst corn snacks known to man

The next morning when I got up I said goodbye to Dobri, the last of the trailbuilding crew left with me. It was pretty weird to see him go; I had been with these boys constantly for over three months and now they were all elsewhere. It’s a hard feeling to describe, not quite loneliness or anything but not entirely pleasant either.

My stallion. Charger.
If you go to Mendoza you shouldn’t leave without going on a wine tour. This place makes some exceptional red wines and has made a name for itself particularly for the Malbec variety. About half the hostel was going on a bike tour of the local vineyards so I tagged along. Along with my Irish and English friends there were also a bunch of Americans in the mix. It was a recipe for good times. Our steeds for the day were less than brilliant: apart from being a few sizes to small my bici also changed gears randomly and battled at braking. The first winery was a couple of km away and housed in an impressive building. The tour was interesting as we learnt about the process of making wine and the intricacies involved. It seems like timing and temperature are a big deal when it comes to winemaking.

All of the tours involved some free wine samples and that was what we were all about. At the first one we also mowed an excellent lunch of gourmet pizza at the attached restaurant. The second winery was a bit more modern than the first. The tour basically covered the same stuff as the first: machinery to separate grapes from stems, one to crush grapes and potentially remove skins and seeds depending on the grape type, big concrete fermentation tanks and oak barrels for aging the wine. Then it’s into the bottle using a machine before a label is slapped on.

Pretty tidy building.

Straight from the wall to my mouth.

After necking as much vino as we could get away with it was on to the third winery which was an absolute mission to find. Eventually we got there and they got straight to the point with some samples. A tour followed, although the place was easily the most run down of the wineries visited and the guide spoke Spanish so my comprehension was zero. The last winery was an organic one and the highlight of the tour. We got to sample wines straight out of the fermentation tanks and directly from the barrel which was choice, it was interesting to taste the different stages and the finished product. The owner was also a pretty talented artist and had some very interesting pieces on the walls. When the tour came to an end it was kind of late so the owner invited us to stay for a while and help drink the opened bottles. We also got into a small barrel of what I thought was wine but which I was later informed was port (I was somewhat marinated at the time). This was good stuff, sweet with a kick. All too soon the bike rental place arrived looking for us so we returned the bikes and went back to the hostel.

Stupidly good sandwich.
When we got back Townie was about to leave so I said goodbye to him after meeting some new friends he had made during the day at the hostel. They adopted me for the night and we went to cook up what proved to be a truly epic sandwich. In Argentina they have this stuff called Chimichirri sauce which is unbelievably delicious. We combined said sauce with fresh baguette bread, thin cuts of steak, flavoursome Chorizo sausage and some lettuce and tomato to make possibly the greatest sandwich ever.  We also proceeded to get mowed. It was shaping up to be a big one but just before we went out the night lost some momentum. Still, three of us were game so after a bit of a mess-around trying to work out where to go we ended up at the place I had gotten free passes to.

Inside the bar was pretty spacious and had a two-level stage which was currently being filled by a local Reggae-ish band that I thought were pretty good. My saviour from two nights past was there working and hooked me up free drinks too which was pleasant bonus. We swayed to the music for a while then headed back to the hostel soon after the gig ended where a couple of us ended up falling asleep on the couch.

One of the excellent hostel staff woke me early in the morning and I grabbed a couple hours bunk time before heading back to the couch for some A-grade self-pity time. I was planning on getting a reasonably early bus to Buenos Aires but was too sackish. Late in the afternoon the junior rugby world cup final came on so I hung around to cheer on the junior All Blacks. Of course, we beat English but it was an interesting game and tight at the finish.

I had no more excuses so headed to the bus station, bici in tow. One of the reasons I had put off leaving so long was a worry about getting the Niner onto the bus. In the end it turned out to be simple, mostly because I had my new English friends with me and they provided service as translation and temporary money-lenders. I said goodbye to them and then after an hours wait and a bribe to the bus packer (damn bike) I was on the way to BA.

Mendoza was an awesome time and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone in the area. There’s a whole lot there I’d love to do if I had the time and if I have any spare time at the end it’s likely I’ll be back. Mike the hostel co-owner had told me that he’d ended up there for six odd years now and I could easily see how you could get sidetracked there for that long, between the good wine, relaxed atmosphere and shockingly beautiful women.

Mendoza from the lookout.
More photos here.