Heading south from Asunción we took a 20 hour El Rapido bus, at Argentine pesos 327 each, knowledgeably prepared with bags full of fruit and empanadas. Empanadas were slowly becoming one of our food pyramid building blocks in South America, some of our favorites or the ones we had repeatedly were: carne (meat), pollo (chicken), jamon y queso (ham & cheese), choclo (sweet corn), Chilena (steak with raisin & green olives) and Napolitana (tomato sauce, kind of like pizza). One or several of these were usually found at most snack shops or cafe’s and I’m pretty sure we ate our body weight in these baked, doughy meat pockets… At least they were gooood 🙂 Anyway, on the bus we were handed another 3 complimentary empanadas, and a box of wafery (read dusty) marshmallow candy bars. Not bad, considering we didn’t expect any refreshments!
On the border between Paraguay and Argentina they did scan and security-check our luggage (an interesting experience on a bus), but promptly had all our belongings back on to get on with the rest of the journey. Tom and Kiernan were really lucky they got their visas beforehand because at this border there is no way to buy one without a computer and an internet connection.
Technically our first stop in Argentina was Córdoba, since we spent 9 hours in layover between Córdoba and Mendoza… but we only saw the bus terminal. Yes, yes, with 9 hours I guess we could have done much more than lounge in the sunshine on the roof, jamming music, but we were spent from the bus, didn’t want to lug around our bags needlessly, and knew we’d be back round to explore the city about a week later. 🙂
In Córdoba we bought tickets for the next leg – 10 hours by el Rapido bus – and retired to the roof to wile away the time. With instruments coming out, we must have looked like an approachable bunch, because a group of younger Argentinians came by for a chat, and later an older guy (proclaiming himself a metal-head) picked up one of the guitars for a jam. Kiernan also played or watched an older country gent pluck old tunes, strumming on his guitarlele, and we were asked for hostel recommendations by a couple of Argentian backpackers.
At 6:30am we arrived in Mendoza where it was strikingly colder and darker than we were expecting (it only became light around 9/9:30am), but despite this we still had a slightly half-baked idea of camping up in the mountains, or hiking to a refugio… However, snow was settling in for the winter and most refugios weren’t even accessible. We hung out in a plaza to watch the sunrise behind the 25ft fountains with the Andes mountains in the background – quite a sight. So we stayed in Mendoza for 4 nights, at the Campo Base hostel, across from the Plaza Independencia – a really convenient landmark when taking buses or walking! They have a super lively Chilean guy who cooks dinner there a couple of nights a week (ARP30-40, depending on what he’s making); his grilled chicken is to DIE for!! 🙂 The rest of the hostel is kind of cramped especially when both of your shoulders touch the walls in the bathroom stalls, but it was fairly clean, had a kitchen, and some interesting people. 24 hour access plus access to most bus lines is also a major boon. Breakfast is lean but decent, any there was plenty of good times.
Besides walking around, exploring and chilling in the Plaza, we went to the Parque General San Martín – a huge park (971 acres), with sculptures, fountains and a regatta lake, among other things. Unfortunately there is also a big population of stray dogs in the city and it seems like the Parque is their hang-out joint. We had hiked up to see the amphitheatre and the hills beyond when a park ranger warned us away, and even gave us a lift back to the park entrance, to make sure we got there in one piece. Later we found out that it was behind this park, towards a natural amphitheatre (close to the shanty-town area of Mendoza), where a tourist from New Zealand met his dreadful end just two weeks earlier; presumably a robbery-gone-wrong.
Although nothing super remarkable happened we spent the next few days lounging around in the parks, meeting people, playing music, and wine. Oh man they have such good wine everywhere, affordable, good quality with a lot of selections from local wineries. Ryan and Tom even bought some bottles of homebrew Malbec and tinto negro from a guy in the plaza, which were divine. We also saw a lot of great street graffiti and murals which were plenty, and enjoyed some breath-taking views of the Andes.
The entire next day was spent in Maipú – one of Mendoza’s two popular wine regions… 🙂