After our week in Buenos Aires we arrived at Retiro, the Buenoes Aires bus terminal with precisely zero cash as the cab fare, which we were told would be $AR 30-40 cost $AR52.78 and I only had $52.75. The whole process of catching a bus in Argentina was a bit stressful at first. When you buy your ticket, they tell you a range of platforms where the bus will show up and then you have to be ready to get to the right platform when the bus shows up. It’s not so bad once you get the hang of it, but our first time out it caused us a bit of worry as our bus didn’t show up on the board until five minutes before our departure, which of course left me wondering if my Spanish had totally failed me and we were destined to miss the bus we had paid for and would have to buy another ticket… But it was fine.
Let me take this opportunity to offer a few personal observations of Arentinians. First, soccer (fútbol) may be the national pastime, but standing in line must be a close second. They stand in orderly lines for everything. Second, the main modus operandi for just about everything seems to be, if it came from a cow, we’ll use more of it. Lots of beef, plenty of leather, and pizzas with more cheese than crust.
Our first bus, a semi-cama level, though not as nice as we had heard many were, was still quite comfortable. But as we rode out across La Pampa for a few hours, it was definitely warmer than we would have liked. When we arrived in Rosario, it was still very hot, although the evening was beginning to cool a bit. We walked the 3 km to our hostel and showed up drenched in sweat to check into our private room that only had a window to the interior of the hostel, and not to the outside. After a dinner of pasta cooked in the hostel kitchen, which left us once again drenched in sweat, we went to take a walk out in the evening air and finally cooled down when we got caught in a downpour of rain.
The next day we wandered the town all day. We came to Rosario because our guidebook described it as having a vibe similar to Buenos Aires, a city full of culture. But it seems that maybe they just meant that it has a happening bar scene, which was too late and too expensive for our tastes. But I think we would have enjoyed visiting Che Guevarra’s hometown if it hadn’t been so bloody hot. The day we spent there got up to 97 degrees, and even the breezes as we walked along the Rio Paraná didn’t stop us from nearly melting when we arrived at the fine art museum to find it mysteriously closed.
The next morning we took a much cooler walk back the bus terminal and caught our bus to Córdoba. This ride was a bit nicer and much cooler, to the point where I had to put on my sweatshirt. Córdoba was billed by our guide book as Argentina’s other second city, beside Rosario, and the home to many universities; a place with an unbeatable vibe. As is our normal plan, we spent our first day there wandering around. We walked out to the main park and had lunch there, and then wandered back through town checking out Paseo Buen Pastor and the main mall (which was blessedly air conditioned). Then we walked out through the Mercado Norte and along the banks of the river. It happened to be a national holiday that day, celebrating the Immaculate Conception, so many things were closed and the streets were pretty quiet.
We had another full day in Córdoba as we were taking an overnight bus, so we spent a pleasant and low key day around town as our hostel wouldn’t allow us to stay inside unless we wanted to pay half of the cost of a night there. We spent much of the morning sitting in the square, then a few hours at a cafe before heading back to the mall to wander some more.
Our overnight bus began with a surprise dinner service (the company was running a promotion we that they hadn’t told us about) and then The Expendables 2. Wow, what a start. We spent a fitful night sleeping on the bus wishing the air-conditioning were more powerful.
We arrived in Mendoza the next morning and checked into an absolutely fantastic hostel, Lao Hostel. The moment we walked in it felt completely different from our first two. People were friendly and welcoming and wanted to chat with us in English! Even though we couldn’t check in yet, they invited us to have coffee and breakfast. Our first two places had been largely filled with Argentinians and Europeans who didn’t speak much English, but this was much more like the hostels I had stayed in before, friendly Americans and Europeans who were there to meet other travelers and not just find a cheap bed. We spent our first day wandering around the town and out to the main park, taking a dip in the pool, napping, and then going to an Asado, an Argentinian barbecue, that the hostel was hosting with about 15 other guests from the hostel. The food was really good and it was a lot of fun to get to hang out and talk with the other travelers.
The next day we took a bus down to Lujan, much farther into Lujan than we wanted as the jerk driving the bus neglected to tell us when we got to our stop even after I asked him a second time, and rented bikes to ride around and do some wine tasting. You can read more about that in Bowen’s post. But let me just take a moment to say that Argentina produces some really fantastic wine, and it’s quite reasonably priced, although most stays in country. The woman who led our tour at the second winery had only tasted two non-Argentinian wines ever because they try so hard to keep local wines in and foreign ones out. And after tasting some, I understand why.
The next morning we set out for our trip over the Andes. We had reserved seats at the front of the bust to get the panoramic windows, but unfortunately, our bus seemed to be the only one we saw that had an advertisement on the front obscuring the view. We still had a beautiful ride over the Andes, passing just south of Cerro Aconcagua, the highest peak in the western hemisphere, and then down the Caracol (snail).
We arrived in Valparaíso in the afternoon and walked over to the apartment where we were renting a room. It was a basic, no frills place, but with a really friendly hostess. We walked over to the center of town, through street markets and Christmas markets. This was the first place where it seemed like Christmas was coming. We took an ascensor, one of the funiculars that run from the lower part of town to the hills, and wandered the lovely and more touristy neighborhood before stopping into a bar for our first Pisco Sours.
The next day we took the metro to the neighboring town of Viña del Mar for a lovely day relaxing on the beach.
Our final day in Valpo, as it’s known, we wandered around the town more, doing a bit of walking tour and stopping into a really fantastic free museum in the Palacio Baburizza. The house itself was incredible, but it also had wonderful, primarily Chilean Art, and gorgeous views of the ocean and the brightly colored homes that cover the hillsides. That evening, after a seafood dinner complete with Tango singers, we happened upon a Christmas parade composed entirely of 6 bright Coca-Cola floats driving the main streets of town surrounded by crowds and blaring music.
The next day we caught a bus to Santiago, the capital of Chile. When we arrived we took the metro into the Bella Vista neighborhood and walked to our hostel. We spent the afternoon and evening wandering around our neighborhood and the downtown. We really enjoyed Santiago. It felt very fun and relaxed, but with a bit of a cosmopolitan city feel. Our second day we visited the main produce market, a giant area filled with all sorts of fruit and vegetable vendors. Chile has some of the best looking and tasting produce I’ve ever experience (for more on food in Chile, see Bowen’s post). If you are eating something fresh right now, chances are pretty good that it came from Chile. Blessed with warm, dry weather, but lots of water coming out of the Andes, the Chilean stuff put the sad stuff we saw in markets in Argentina to shame. After the produce market we headed to the fish market where we ate paila marina, a traditional Chilean seafood soup, and salmón a la mantequilla. That evening, after a dinner culled from the produce market, we went to a wine tasting at a sister hostel and met some of other travelers who were really neat.
We had all of the next day in town before heading to the airport to spend the night. We spent the first part of the day wandering around the fancier neighborhood of Providencia, then headed to La Piojera. This popular spot among locals serves the strangest drink I’ve ever had, the terremoto or earthquake. It is made of a special unfiltered wine called pipeño, pineapple sherbet, and Fernet Branca. I’ll just say it grew on me. After that we headed down to the Plaza de Armas for a great free walking tour of the city. The guide was great and took us to a ton of sites and told us all about them over the course of about 4 hours. Definitely worth doing.
After that, we headed to the airport only to find that, no we could not check our bags in because our airline counter was closed, despite the fact that we had called to check. We spent about 45 minutes wandering around trying to figure something out, including going to the airline offices, which were closed but for one clerical worker. Resigned to our fate, we spent the night out in the public lobby. I slept for a couple of hours while Bowen read. Waking up around 3:30 in the morning to the janitorial staff having a dance party in the area where we were sleeping was one of the strangest experiences of my life. Around five a.m. we headed back to the gate area, checked our bags and headed through security, on our way to Peru.