In my previous post, I went on about how nomads are not tourists. However, there is nothing stopping us from ‘taking a break’ from the nomadic life and be a tourist for a while. This is exactly what I did this weekend as I visited Mendoza, the wine region of Argentina.
This trip also shows the importance of making friends wherever you go. I was lucky to befriend Dario while looking for a place to live in Buenos Aires, and he invited me to Mendoza, where he grew up. Having Dario as a guide opened up a side to Mendoza that few other tourists would see.
Day 1: Driving to Mendoza
We drove to Mendoza. It is a 1.1 Mega Metre journey one way from Buenos Aires to Mendoza City, and then we spent the next few days driving around the region. I’ve never spent quite so much time in a car before. Dario said it was an eight-hour drive; it was eleven. It didn’t matter. Driving through the pampas is beautiful, and if you get bored, you can always entertain yourself by counting dead dogs. You don’t see them much in Buenos Aires, but as soon as you leave the capital, you’ll see stray dogs everywhere, and many of them end up as morbid milestone markers along the roads.
Day 2: Puente del Inca and the Chilean border
Today it was time to hit the Andes and explore a pearl necklace of sights along the way. The car snaked its way up winding mountain roads and through mesmerizing landscapes. The air was fresh and the spirit high!
There were two main stops for the day. The first was Puente del Inca, but we were twice stopped on our way. The first was at the bridges of Cacheuta, were we were told that the road we wanted to use had been closed for years. Bummer. Our alternative route was also blocked, this time by police telling us that there was a snowstorm coming that night and he wouldn’t let us through without snow chains. So we went and rented some. Problem solved!
Puente del Inca is a natural bridge over a river. It is also a place where sulphur and other minerals have coloured the ground yellow and created strange rock formations. It has been a tourist attraction for many years; Charles Darwin was once here and marvelled at the sight.
The Argentines thought it would be a great idea to build a spa right in the middle of this unique natural phenomenon. Now abandoned, it looks more like a strange prison. (Somehow, it adds to the atmosphere.)
Our other stop for the day lay further into the mountains: the Chilean border. The road follows an old abandoned Victorian railway. The black rock of the mountains with patches of snow and this ghostly remains of a railway creates a creepy yet captivating air of abandonment and loneliness. I recommend listening to Sigur Ros while driving here.
We got as close to the border as we could. I was excited to have crossed the South American continent by car. I mean, sure, there is Chile too, but that size-0 anorectic super-slimmed country barely counts, right?
Driving back, we took an alternative road that went over a mountain as opposed to around it. This was where General San Martin once rode in his liberation of Argentina and Chile. I wouldn’t be surprised if the road we drove along looked no different back in the 1800. I was surprised, however, that our poor car didn’t break down on this terrible road. (If it had, I wonder who of Dario and I would first give in to hunger and eat the other…)
It was late in the day when we began this part of the journey, for good and bad. We broke the ridge during the blue hour, awarding us a wonderfully spooky panoramic view of the land below. However, we had to drive down from there in total darkness along a winding serpentine road, which was more than spooky; it was terrifying!
Day 3: Salentein and San Rafael
We left Mendoza to drive (more car time!) to San Rafael, the city where Dario grew up. Along the way we stopped at Salentein, one of the many (many many) wineries in the Mendoza province. After a sumptuous three-course lunch helped down with as many large glasses of wine, we wobbled into the winery itself for a tour. I barely listened to the guide. I’m an easily excitable photographer, and the winery, with its dark moody rooms, like caves, filled with locked up bottles (like little mini prisons) and wine barrels stretching into the distance, well, it was too much!
In San Rafael, we stayed two nights with Dario’s parents. Hotel rooms are fine, but it is infinitely more interesting to stay in a real house! You learn so much more about the people of a country when you get that close. For example, during the two large family dinners we shared, I learnt that Argentinians eat fantastically well (meat, homemade pizzas [with meat toppings], empanadas [with meat fillings] and stew [guess what was in the stew…]) and that Argentinian kids fight just as much as Swedish ones.
Day 4: The Atuel Canyon
Road 173 runs from San Rafael south-west along the Atual River that cuts into the mountain, forming a canyon of such transcendent beauty that it makes the heart and soul come together in song! We drove through the canyon, along the river, up onto the Valle Grande dam (forming the most beautiful lake I’ve ever seen), up over mountain highlands, through yet more mountains with strange rock formations and eventually ended up at Lake Nihuil, a name that surely must have been taken from the Lord of the Rings. I fully expected to see Frodo sneak around these dramatic landscapes, but he must have been hiding.
Pictures are better at describing this trip, so without further ado…
Day 5: Driving back to Buenos Aires
Tired but happy, we returned to Buenos Aires with a couple of parents in the back seat for souvenirs. By the end of this trip, we had driven 3100km or 1926 miles. If you want a map of where we went, you can check out this google map link.
I also shot videos along the way. The edited version is below. Enjoy.