Mendoza to Cordoba – First Stops in Argentina

Mendoza has so far been the agreed upon favourite place on our trip. Whether it was the wine, the beef steaks, the local fresh ice cream or the super friendly people we weren’t sure but our four days there could easily have been stretched for many days if our time was not finite.

Highlights in Mendoza included our flat, well located near the main Parque San Martin where we were able to take a tour of the city, wine bodegas and scope out where we wanted to spend more time. The center of Mendoza is busy and vibrant and we felt safe and comfortable getting around. We definitely did not need a car in Mendoza as the city is easy for walking and taxis and buses are cheap. We stayed in an Air BnB apartment in a great location close to all the action. 

We had enough time to explore around Mendoza and to see the vineyards that make this area of Argentina world famous. We took a local bus to  Cacheuta, about a forty minute ride from Mendoza, where they have hot springs or as they say “termas”. Parque de Aqua Termas is great, although crowed it has so many different pools and various terraces cut into the hillside above a river that you can easily find a “private” spot for your weary bones. In addition their are slides and a “river” of colder water if you enjoy being flushed around in a long circle of bobbing kids. The pools are surrounded by beautiful scenery, below a river and above the Andes. Plenty of food is on hand at the restaurants bordering the parque and souvenir shops abound.

Inside the Parque there are ticket booths for other activities and Javier and I went river rafting and there was just enough white water, making it worth our $25 CAD. The whole area around Mendoza is set up for adventure tourism including climbing, rappelling, and serious white water rafting. Given the prices it would make a vacation very inexpensive if you are coming from places like Canada. Sadly for the Argentines, their peso is very depressed at the moment which means a good rate for foreign tourists coming from a stronger economy. If fact we are finding Argentina to be considerably cheaper than Chile.

All good things must come to an end and with some luck and a little planning we decided to fly to our next destination, Córdoba, which as we flew over the vast patch of brown pampas we celebrated our serendipitous decision. Córdoba itself lacked the appeal of Mendoza and we spent one very hot Sunday wandering the streets only to discover that many of the thing we wanted to see were closed and the streets were eerily empty of traffic and walkers. A university town we explained the absence of activity on “sleeping late” since it was Sunday morning.

We were impressed by the number of colonial buildings and churches and the history behind these impressive reminders of the colonial era.

Like so much of Latin America, street art dominates the inner city and Cordoba had it’s fair share. I love the vibrant colours, the social messages and the sheer courage of public display.

By early afternoon, we found museum that was open in the former “palace” of the Ferreya family. The art pieces on display seemed lost and minor in the splendour of the palace but I enjoyed an exhibit of the works of local woman who were expressing their thoughts and ideas about the inequalities between the sexes. The works spoke to the violence and oppression experiences of women in Argentina, Because this was a government sponsored project it could be a hopeful sign that the consciousness around women’s rights is growing as it is in North America with the “Me Too” movement. 

Argentina still has a discernible siesta time lasting from anywhere between 2 and 5 pm, making it difficult to find open restaurants, shops and attractions. By late afternoon we had had enough of the heat and downtown and the call of our swimming pool was strengthened by the hour and so home we went for pool time, beer and a special visit from the usually reclusive house turtle.

Crossing the Andes – Chile to Argentina

Driving back to Santiago, from the Chilean coast, we made good time on the divided freeway, left the car at the airport and took a taxi to the bus station in time for a bite to eat before we boarded a bus to Mendoza, Argentina. Originally we had planned to rent a car for the duration of our trip but decided not to based on what we understood to be a time wasting and expensive border crossing from Chile to Argentina. The buses are cheap and comfortable in Chile so other than a man who picked his nose with great concentration and coughed out great whooping clouds of germs, it was quite pleasant. (I had seen him earlier in the restaurant and had jokingly said to Ale that he was probably going to sit beside her in the bus and sure enough….Ale changed her seat!!!) 

This bus trip rivalled one that I had taken in the Colombian Andes both in scope and beauty. The views were spectacular and we climbed to great heights on hair pin turn roads with steep drop offs. The sheer size of the Andes and the shape and contours of the various mountains more than make up for the somber monotony of their granite greyness. 

Finally, after 5 or so hours of steady climbing we reached the border where we were required to leave the bus and file slowly through the customs which turned out to be a nonevent. Passport handed over and stamped….no questions asked and we were on our way once more. As we got further into Argentina the bus started its decent and the valleys below reached up with green hues to meet the bus. Not too far into Argentina our friend with the cold left the bus and took his cough with him. We didn’t miss him. Another young man on the bus was from Mendoza, our destination and he had been away in Texas studying piano tuning. He was very excited about returning after months away from home.

As Mendoza approached the view outside the bus window became a friendlier landscape of rolling hills and pastoral vineyards a perfect harbinger of some wonderful wines to come.

Santiago Chile

There are so many reasons to go to Chile the least of which is the Capital, Santiago. Santiago is encircled by the Andes to the east and the costal mountains to the west. On a breezy day this is a beautful setting but when the wind drops the air is grey with pollution, captured in the bowl of the mountains. I read that Chile is making an effort to clean things up and that they had signed the Paris Accord.

Chileno’s are warm and friendly people and we were very lucky to rent an apartment close to el centro that kept all four of us together. It was high up on the fourteenth floor and we a great view.

Altogether we had four days for wandering around and hitting the highlights including Santa Lucía park. A bit of a climb to the top but well worth the effort for the views. Santiago is easy to explore, a good guide book, google maps on your phone and maps from local tourist booths point the way to the main attractions.

Santiago like other South American cities has been rebuilt many times after devastating earthquakes and so it is a jumble of architectural styles depending on the era, the amount of rebuilding needed and the economía of the day. The oldest building we saw was the Iglesia San Francisco which dates back to the 16th century….a while ago.

I was in Santiago briefly in 2006 or so on my way to Valparaiso to catch a cruise ship bound for Antártica. At that time I had very little time to “see” Santiago so was happy to have a longer stay this time. We weren’t able to see as much as we wanted but we have one more day as we exit South America and return to Mexico.

Food in Santiago was very good and like many places in the world restaurants are using local ingredients to prepare innovative and traditional dishes. Chile is of course no slouch when it comes to wine and we had our share of very good ones. There are lots of wine tours available we did all of our tasting with meals or relaxing in our apartment after a busy day of sightseeing. Fish and shellfish were great as were the asados (barbque) and emanadas, although my friends from Mexico felt that the food lacked spice but they carried small bottles of chile sauce to pica the food.

Our plan is to see the central part of Chile first from the Pacific to the Andes, so after leaving Santiago we took the bus to Valparaiso, a coastal port town.