Finally, after almost a week of delay, I’ve found time to try to describe my trip to Mendoza. As always, I’ll remind you that my account here really can’t do justice to the full nature of the experience: the emotions, excitement, everyday observations, and little events that make a trip truly memorable. Still, for my sake and yours, I want to give at least a small taste of the delicious treat I enjoyed two weekends ago.
Mendoza was the second major trip of the semester, alongside the stay at La Margarita in Tapalque. The estancia was a warmup; a 6 hour bus ride, couple nights away, and simple itinerary served to give me the feel for Argentine travel. Mendoza, on the other hand, was going to be the real deal. I had a set itinerary, two sets of bus tickets, hopes, dreams, and carefully controlled expectations. My travel companion for the voyage was a girl named Jess, a freshman at Colorado University, and the youngest member of our API group. About a week prior to my departure, I posted my itinerary on the API Facebook page, and Jess decided to come along for the ride. Throughout the entire trip, our conversation and interactions coursed with the excited thrum of two people who don’t know each other very well, but still look to the other for support in an unfamiliar place. Again, I was given proof that although they may come from all walks of life, people who seek out travel can always find a common connection.
The trip to Mendoza started in much the same way as that to Tapalque: departing from Retiro bus terminal in the upper deck, reclining in a semi-cama seat and day-dreaming of the adventures to come. The trip to Mendoza, however, is roughly 15 hours instead of 6. Jess and I were able to put the comfortable seats to good use, and day-dreams soon faded into real dreams. I passed a night of travel through the darkened Argentine countryside, waking at about 7:30 to a view of the Pampas. As we neared our destination, I got my first view of the famous Andes. They appeared in much the same way as the Rockies, towering, snow-capped peaks rising out of an otherwise flat landscape. The sight itself was like a steady stream of fresh air, fanning the smoldering excitement that had been building in my gut since I started planning this trip. I was finally back where I felt most at home- in the mountains.
Jess and I left the Mendoza Bus Terminal and headed into the heart of the city in search of what would be our home base for the weekend, Hostel Empedrado. It sat tucked into a corner of the web of avenues, on historic cobblestone street. This was my first ever experience, and it turned out to be just about everything my wandering mind had conjured up. Our room held three tightly packed, well-loved bunks that were the perfect place for a tired traveler to pass out. Downstairs was a series of rooms for lounging, cooking, eating, and watching TV, all plastered with calendars and travel flyers. An eclectic mixture of people went about their business with baggy clothes and unshaven cheeks. Honestly, if felt more like a home than any hotel I’ve ever been to.
The long journey had left us with plenty of pent-up energy, so Jess and I dropped off our stuff and quickly ventured off to explore our new surroundings. The city of Mendoza is to Buenos Aires what Burlington or Portland is to New York. Where BA is rushed, bustling, and in-your-face with activity, Mendoza is relaxed, controlled, and calm. Oh sure, there are all of the ingredients of a city: plenty of people, cars, taxis, buses, gutters, shops, restaurants, and businesses laid out in blocks. The substance is the same, but the feel is totally different. If Buenos Aires is a pounding waterfall, Mendoza is a wide, meandering river.
Jess and I placed ourselves in the current and drifted through the streets for some time, enjoying the sights and good vibes. Eventually our feet led us to a simple lunch outside, followed by a visit to sample the confections at a chocolate “factory.” We picked up ingredients for a taco dinner, and I visited a ski shop to rent a snowboard and boots. You see, I was in view of mountains, and there was no way I could come this close without strapping in and seeing what the Southern Hemisphere had to offer for snow and steeps. In my room were snowpants, jacket, and a second set of bus tickets, granting me passage to Las Leñas ski resort. My bus was set to leave at 2am that night.
With another bus trip looming, I thought to just make a relaxed dinner at the hostel and ready myself for the trip. The travel gods, however, obviously had other plans. We were sitting in the TV room around 6:30, watching a soccer match with a group of Aussies and Englishmen, when the woman from the front desk came in to ask if anyone felt like playing real “futbol.” A group of guys from Empedrado and another hostel had a game scheduled…but they needed extra players.
Now, I should preface this by stating the obvious: Argentines are good at soccer. I’m not joking when I say I have seen groups of 12 and 14-year olds playing in the park that could dribble circles around me. In a typical group of guys my age (and older), probably about 80% of them could play D1. It’s in their blood; it’s their passion. I knew all this, but also knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I passed up the opportunity to play real futbol with Argentines. I put my name on the list, and next thing I knew, I was packed into a shuttle with a group of happily chatting guys, destined for a nearby field.
We arrived after 5 minutes, and all piled out onto a small, turf field. We were 12 in all, and the field was perfect size for a 6-v-6 game. The teams were a colorful mixture of Argentines, a few English blokes, a traveler from Germany, a kid from Chicago, and yours truly. Yells in a mixture of languages punctuated the rapid passing, and the overhead lights gave the simple game a larger-than-life feeling. I played with all skill that my limited training and carefully maintained fitness would allow. I was probably one of the least valuable players out there, but the focus was more on fun than winning, and the feeling of international comradery was palpable. I finished the hour of play with a smile on my face, and we toasted a good game with cold beer.
I was back in the Hostel Empedrado in time to whip up a dinner of beef fajitas and pack my bags for a trip to Las Leñas. I caught a taxi at 1:30 am with another girl, a Colorado native, who was going to be at Las Leñas for the week. I checked my board, climbed on the bus, and settled in for another night’s sleep in a semi-cama seat. Sleep came easily, considering I felt like a child on Christmas Eve. You see, I was less than 10 hours away from having snow underneath my feet again…
…which is a story for next time. One of these times I’ll be able to fit a trip into a single blog post, but this is not it. Look for an account of my adventures in Mendoza’s mountain playground, coming soon to a computer near you!