Monday, January 25, 2010

Santiago, Mendoza, Bariloche

Howdy all,

Welcome to our second travel update.

Since we last sent one of these horribly impersonal emails, we've been taking it pretty easy, but we have managed to cross the Andes (twice), spend a few days in Chile's capital, Santiago, do a bicycle wine tour in Mendoza, and most recently spend 2 weeks attempting to learn Spanish whilst soaking up the amazing national parks and lakes that Bariloche has to offer. If any of the above peaks your interest - read on.

So after 12 days or so in Buenos Aires we were very keen to move on. BA is a nice enough city but that was just far too long to spend there for us.
The plane trip from BA to Santiago was excellent. It starts out like any other. For a few hours we flew over very flat, featureless land, until the Andes started to emerge on the horizon. Within 10 minutes the land suddenly jutted up beneath us and we were flying over snowcapped peaks. Really quite beautiful.


Contrary to our expectations we ended up liking Santiago much more than Buenos Aires. The city itself is basically an oasis in a desert landscape. Thanks to the water that flows down from the Andes, the city is able to pump a heap of water into their numerous parks, creating a surprisingly beautiful city. Our biggest surprise though was the stunning amount of public affection that was on display in all the parks. Every direction we turned there were young couples getting it on. Apparently it is because most young people can't afford their own accommodation so still live with their parents, and therefore use the parks to meet up. All in all, pretty entertaining stuff.
What else happened of note in Santiago?
- We caught a lift to the top of a mountain that overlooks Santiago, were there is a church and a huge statue of Mother Mary (the chileans love to put statues on top of mountains).
- We got interviewed by unseen TV about our views on birth control!
- The night before we were due to catch a bus to Mendoza, we ended up having a great impromptu night with a few people from our hostel. One was a Canadian who lives in Santiago for half the year to teach English, another was a German who spends every fourth year traveling somewhere in the world. This year he was traveling through Patagonia on a bicycle. Well we had a bottle of wine with our dinner that was shared, then the Canadian brought out bottle after bottle, until we finally called it a (great) night in the early hours of the morning.

The next morning we rose early, and quite a bit worse for wear, to catch our 8hr bus to Mendoza, Argentina's premier wine district. To get there the bus has to drive over the Andes, which was a pretty amazing experience actually. One I would definitely recommend to anyone with the time traveling through SA. It was where we both experienced our first over land border crossing, where one person stamped us out of Chile, and the guy sitting right next to her stamped us into Argentina!

Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza was good fun for a few days. It is cleaner than Buenos Aires, more of a tourist town. The primary attraction for us to go there was the wine, so first chance we got we headed out for a wine tour. We decided to do it on bicycles, which is a great idea in theory, but when it is well over 30 degrees, it was a bit of hard work. Still we had a great time. We met an animated Scottish lad (Joel), who of course had been living and working just down the road from us for the past year in Glebe. For those in Sydney, his brother has just opened "Clover", a new cafe in Annandale.

Our first stop was a chocolate / olive / liquor boutique. After coughing up 10 pesos (about 3 bucks Aus), we were given a quick tour of olive trees before being allowed to try anything we wanted. We started off with some wonderful savoury dips and olives, before moving onto chocolate and sweet jams, until finally we got to the good stuff - the liquors! They had it all. We tried a few of the softer chocolate varieties before Joel decided it was time to try their Absynthe (75% - it was the real stuff). The guide melted half a teaspoon of sugar dipped in the absynthe with fire, then dropped in the shot glass. Po and Case split a large shot glass full whilst Joel downed the whole thing.


Joel's face immediately turned bright red, Casey seriously pondered throwing up, and Po had to sit down for a few minutes. Note to self - Never, EVER, drink Absynthe again, especially before a 12km bike ride! So whilst still breathing fire, off we went on our happy way, riding along the side of the road, on our way to the next few wineries.

The rest of the day was great. Good wine and good times. The only dissappointing thing is that Argentinian wineries don't let you try the wine for free. Still it was cheap enough, and some of the wines were delicious especially coupled with their tablas (cheese and meat platter!). At the end of the day we brought our bikes back to "Mr Hugos", the shop that rents out bikes, where we were greeted with a big glass of water and and another bigger, bottomless glass of wine, complimentary of Mr Hugo himself, a very friendly old Argentinian guy who cannot speak a work of English, but can he ever pose for a photo. (See attached).


After a few days we caught a 16 hour overnight bus from Mendoza to Bariloche, where we had booked in 2 weeks of Spanish lessons. We had decided to stay at a homestay whilst studying, where you live with a family in the hope of practicing your Spanish. We were billtted with a very nice older couple, the Van Dittmars, where we have since been absolutely spoiled rotten. Every night we get a full 3 course meal, we're we manage to absolutely stuff ourselves silly.

Unfortunately a week into our stay Susanna (our host mum) fell off a chair and broke both her arms. She had to travel to Buenos Aires for an operation an only arrive home yesterday, with both her arms in casts. Still when Case asked her if she needed a hand with anything to just asked, she said I'll let you know when I need two!

Since we've been here we've studied Spanish every day from 9 to 1, then spent the rest of the day doing homework and traveling around the surrounding areas. It's really beautiful here. Bariloche is situated right underneath the Andes on the Argentinian side. There is heaps of national parks and huge, crystal clear lakes. We've been on several hikes (yesterday we walked 12 kms around a peninsula North of Bariloche, this was after driving through Butch Cassidy's windswept, lake bound land!), including climbing mountains to see the most amazing views. Fortunately we've had good weather for the most part because it can get very cold here. Our Spanish has improved, but we still suck (no hablamos Espanol muy bien).

And finally tomorrow we depart again. From here we still spend the next few weeks working our way down Patagonia (including the amazing Perito Moreno Glacier), before reaching Ushuaia (the southernmost town in the world) from which we will fly up to Iguazu Falls. So we will be covering two of the most amazing natural phenomenons in the world. Can't wait!

So that's it for today folks. We love hearing what you are all up to, so keep sending us emails and we'll reply when we can (the net is a hit and miss affair over here).

Love and miss you all,

Case & Po.


Anonymous said...

Sounds Awesome! Can't wait to join you guys. My Spanish refresher course starts tonight.

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