Our last morning in Chile we hopped onto an 8 hour international bus over the border to Argentina. The long road would wind us through the basin of the Andes, passing through rolling green hills and vineyards to desert hills spotted with cacti. A dozen switchbacks and a few tunnels up the side of a steep mountain served as a fortress to anyone attempting to cross the Argentine border by foot. Large buses and semi trucks maneuvered the cliffside with ease as their turns timed perfectly as not to hit one another. The view was beautiful yet also unnerving having been seated on the top level of the bus in the front two seats, peering over the edge around every other turn. At noon we reached the border where there was a row of other buses parked. We de-boarded and waited in another queue to get our passports checked. This process took nearly two hours. A bit longer than we had expected. But once all bags were checked and passports were stamped we were on our way. The next couple hours looked very similar to the drive towards Palm Springs or Last Vegas. Once again leaving me with a weird feeling of a familiar place, yet I was still so far from home. At half four we reached the town of Mendoza, our destination for the next two days in the Argentine countryside. This was the mecca of Argentinian wine and we were right in the middle of it. With this knowledge it would become my duty to consume no less than two glasses a day, to properly experience and taste this region.
It had been nearly a month now on the road in South America. I’d memorized my passport number and had gotten used to carrying around my own toilet paper. And at that point, disposing of it in the trash can had started to become second nature. I still struggled with proper tenses in Spanish but could efficiently ask for directions and politely ask for a takeaway box at a restaurant. It was fun to feel the wheels turning in my mind in the midst of conversation and attempting to formulate a response back in Spanish as best as possible. The human brain is an amazing muscle when exercised and put to the test.
We booked a stay at a local backpackers hostel in town that had appeared to have good ratings online. But we would soon come to realize the room we were put into was more or less the size of a walk in closet. Beds packed in so tight locker cabinets couldn’t fully open, and the bathroom down the hall reeked something awful. We wondered how this yuck of a place had received such high marks and could actually be of such poor sanitary standards. Come to find out, the hostel bribed its guests with a free large bottle of beer if they went online and gave it a good rating. Creating the facade of a fun place to stay hidden its behind brightly painted walls. Fortunately we knew we were only staying a quick two nights and not much of our time here was meant to be spent indoors. We had heard this was the best region for wine and steaks, and we weren’t going to waste any time getting after them.
Our first meal was at a delicious restaurant where we ordered locally made Malbec wine and rib eye steak. I knew this would be the first of many steaks ordered here, and oh man, if this was any indication of what the rest of the country was going to taste like, we were in for a treat!
The next morning we signed up for a bike ride tour of the local wineries. The tour took us through wine country and even rounded off the day at a local brewery for a full taste of the town. It was such a nice afternoon following our guide around town riding through the vineyards on gravel roads. The sweep van only having to stop 2 or 3 times when bike chains would fall off. We were fortunate to have a lively group join us. A few from the east coast of the U.S and one token British guy named Harry. Unfortunate for him the worst Harry Potter British accents followed him for the rest of the evening. But he was a good sport. At one of the last wineries we purchased an organic reserve wine for 140ARS, which when converted into USD was only $9! Absolute steal! We gathered around the table that evening with our new friends, each sharing the delicious wine we had picked up that at home would have easily been $70 a bottle. We passed it around that table that evening like it was a bottle of two buck chuck and drank out of whatever plastic cups we could find. I have fond memories of this day turned evening, even at the grimy hostel. While hostel life has its ups and downs, the best part is getting to make a new travel family every place you go. Sometimes its not the location that serves as the best memory, but rather the people you meet along the way. We had successfully tasted some of the best wine in South America and belly laughed the day away.
Our last day I decided to take the morning to myself, and headed off to the market to collect my thoughts and write a bit. We had passed a corner cafe the day before with colorful tables and outdoor seating that flowed out to the curb. This vibrant nook lured me in and urged me to sit and let these stories flow onto paper. After a few hours Cody and I headed to the bus depot where we would hop aboard a long overnight bus to Buenos Aires. The ride in its entirety would take 14 hours. A seemingly long time, however the price was right, and only cost us $80USD to get across the width of the country. The hours passed as I sat deep in thought as the trees blurred by in and out of my peripheral vision. Cody slept sound in his semi cama chair and I was jealous only of his investment in such a comfy neck pillow.
Long bus rides like this give you time to think and really contemplate life as you are moving towards your new destination. There is something about them that is calming but at the same time a test of trust knowing there is no way you can get there without the help of others. I’ve come to realize when you become traveller you have to learn to accept that your life and fate are at the mercy of the people in the land you are visiting. Faith in people, good judgement, and pure acceptance that you are not in control. The road can often seem scary, but you have to keep moving, because we can’t see what lies ahead until we make the next turn.