Farewell team Poland, Farewell Chile; the next chapter begins after the tail lights of the taxi have faded into the distance leaving this band a duet once again. As out of tune as we sing, this duet can do some things in perfect harmony, such as get on with a holiday so get on with it we must. The anticipated next step is into Argentina which we’ve barely visited before but will spend more of our South American time than any other. This time a whole new tacit promise has been framed with the journey into Argentina from Santiago meant to be one of the most picturesque bus rides in South America. Combine this with our first stop being Mendoza, Argentinas famed wine region and the ever present spectre of Argentinian meat it seems we’re ticking a few major boxes for this duet. Thinking of what we could possibly want from a journey we might think of mountains of course, wine of course and delicious culturally true food; of course. Safe to say it’s not a challenge to jump into this stew of Cows, Wine and very big hills with wide eyes to the fore. Argentina: what have you got?
Good question it seems, Chile and Argentina combine forces to dish up a bus ride that confuses the very concept of tour bus and transport bus, we’ve paid for a transport bus but we have a tour bus. I wonder if they’ll ever catch on? We plunge into the Andes in unmistakable fashion, these hills are very big. This pass through the mountains is flanked by mountains as imposing as just about any I’ve seen before, and they’re quite up close to the bus giving a view that is very little outward and a whole lot of upward. Visually the view from the window is quite disorienting at many points with a high peak acting as just a facade for another peak further distant to tower over the top of it. And at some points a third range again, wow. Lets not get into the parallax error of viewing things from and angle and imagining just how high the further ones might be, lets just all agree that size of this scale requires a gape-mouthed stare. Of course we all know that big is nearly always better, proof is just out the window.
Another feature of the Andes that I’m sure to bang on about throughout this trip is the geology of the Andes. Now don’t doze off dear reader, I’ll make this brief. The Andes are geologically very young mountains so they aren’t eroded to smoother more passive shapes; they’re sharp, twisted and craggy. Add to that the sedimentary lines that have been folded like an airy meringue and these big boys are anything but passive sleeping giants. What all this lends is a common theme of aggression, violence and power. The Andes are alive and screaming, no wonder this area has an earthquake nearly every day. Now that wasn’t too laborious was it?
The ride continues up the best set of switchbacks I’ve ever been on and into the border checkpoint. This is all pretty customary except for two greek yayas waiting in another queue; it’s team Melbourne from our time in Valparaiso, looks like we have travel buddies for Mendoza. Border control is all bark and no bite here, I even tick ‘yes’ to all the stuff I shouldn’t have but not a peep. However the real laugh is Charlie’s lack of entry documentation into Chile, a small piece of paper which should have been in his passport. We do have our certificado de viaje (certificate of travel) but it’s in my name with my passport number. We pass it off as Charlie’s buying our tickets and we got a ‘perfecto’ at the bus station but the border is the real deal. To our relief it seems the guy at the border is just as lax, that’s three checkpoints with essentially a falsified official document. Go South America, all bureaucracy and no action. Or is that more or less the unofficial definition of bureaucracy?
We arrive into Mendoza with more than just a little bit of pre-wine excitement and filthy heat, apparently 37 degrees. The hostel turns out to be a bit of a winner, no complaints at all so we bunker down here to escape the heat. We have air conditioning to go along with a shower that works with hot water and everything so this equates to traveller heaven. But the laziness can’t continue, we need meat, we need lots of it and we need it cooked over a massive log fire; we are in Argentina after all. Mendoza is a pretty enough town with wide streets, plenty of trees and a distinct lack of dead animal in shop windows, not happy and starting to fret. At this point we’re faced with that other South American oddity, going out really late. It’s common here for families to go out to dinner at 11pm and for clubs to kick off at 2am, but after a long bus ride we’re not keen to wait too long. We eventually find a meat fire to reinforce the Andean premise that big is better, it’s proportional to the mountains of earlier today and we’re in. Not open for another 40 minutes. Is it shameful for a grown man to lay prostrate in public, punch the ground with his fists and scream ‘it’s not fair’? The soggy pasta and chicken at our hostel is; unsatisfactory. But we don’t revisit that difficult time, it’s too soon.
So it’s a wow of a day into Argentina but we’re not really here yet. We’ve seen big mountains but there’s a depressing lack of wine and dead animal despite seeing plenty of both on offer. We’re standing on the precipice staring at grand indulgence; Argentina is so close we can literally smell it but just out of reach, it’s tantalising and torturous. Indeed this is a land where bigger is definitely better and when it comes to wine, cows and big hills, it’s most definitely our kind of place. Argentina has answered the call and shown us what it’s got; we drift to sleep on dreams of promises delivered, mooo.