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Archive for December, 2010

(Mid March 2009)

Mendoza has a population of about 112,000. The climate is arid and the pace of life seems a bit slower here. Many of the shops and restaurants shut down for the afternoon siesta. This is wine country although it’s not the main sector. Tourism in the area consists of wineries, obviously, a hot springs retreat, and various day trips to the High Andes. I stayed at the Alamo Hostal – great place!

I never cease to be amazed by mountains and the trip to the High Andes was another encounter with the astonishing majesty of these landscapes. I was dazzled by glaciers, snow-capped peaks, Mount Aconcagua – the highest summit in the Western hemisphere at 6960 metres -, and the soft warm colours and subtle hues which seemed in such contrast to this ruggedness. And, I saw another condor!

Aconcagua is a popular climbing destination and it does claim a number of lives each year.  An international climbers’ cemetery is located nearby. Zig-zag fashion, our bus ascended up Mount Santa Elena to the world’s highest Christ the Redeemer monument at the borderline between Argentina and Chile. It was placed there as a symbol of peace and unity. (Note: when at the top of a mountain don’t leave your jacket in the bus.) Another unusual site was Puente del Inca where a natural stone bridge and the ruins of a spa are stained from the sulphurous thermal springs.

Enjoying a glass of Malbec in Argentina, in the heart of the grape’s growing region, is one of those small slice-of-life moments that I’m truly thrilled to experience. Yerba maté, however, is the Argentine national drink. The leaves are placed into a gourd and the brewed tea is sipped with a bombilla, an elegant straw with a filter attached. Hot water machines for replenishing your thermos are popular at gas stations.

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(March 2009)

Salta is a great city with a population of approximately 465,000 people. It’s more popular than I realized and finding a place to stay was a bit of a challenge.

A fact I missed in my research is that the electrical outlets are not the same as everywhere else I’ve been. I wasn’t able to find the right adapter and had to purchase a new battery charger.  It’s kind of nice to do non-touristy things like go to hardware stores. I even used a supermarket – the first one I’ve seen since leaving Canada!

I stayed here for five or six days but could easily have spent more time in this area. The late summer weather is amazing and Salta’s proximity to the Quebrada de Cafayate make it a highly appealing place.

The Quebrada de Cafayate is a truly awesome part of the country. The colours, textures and forms of the landscape are a feast for the eyes. I am here on a day tour and as part of the tour we also visited Bodega Nanni, an organic winery.

The wine is not very aged and is somewhat light and “crisp” on the palette.  Still nice though. Argentina is famous for its beef and I had an amazing lunch here in Cafayate. It’s the first time I’ve eaten beef in a long time and will repeat the country’s cultural food experience.

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Rights, privileges, identity, citizenship, contraband – borders are strange places. Leaving Villazon and entering La Quiaca took awhile.  I stood in line for two hours to get my Bolivian exit stamp. From here I proceeded up the road to stand in another line for another three hours to enter Argentina.

An hour or so later I was on a bus on my way to Salta.  The beauty of nature was once again central in my mind and I was wishing I had booked a stop in the Quebradas. I was mesmerized by the landscape’s subtle hues and forms and the play of  light and shadow as we passed through the spectacular Quebrada de Humahuaca.

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(Early March 2009)

Tarija is in wine country and to get from here to the border town of Villazon is a spectacular bus ride around the mountains. It took a little longer than anticipated.

I purchased a ticket and boarded the 10 a.m. bus just as it was leaving the station. No time to buy water or snacks. However, the bus broke down half an hour into the journey. We were in a lovely resort sort of area and I was able to get something to drink. Unfortunately, it took two hours to fix the problem with the front wheel. Repair completed – the bus travels with a crew – we were on our way again and 10 minutes later we reached the unpaved road to Villazon. The route is scenic – how I love mountains  – and, at times, it is somewhat scary!

After four hours with many curves and bends the bus broke down again. This time the problem was at the back wheels. At least we were on somewhat straight flat ground at this point. It took three hours to fix. We boarded the bus again and continued on our way. Neither of the repairs were actually tested.

We were soon winding our way around the mountains again and half an hour later it was dark. We stopped and our driver negotiated with an indigenous family to sell us some food. Being quite behind schedule we were now driving at what seemed to be a rather fast speed – on a dark winding mountain road. Many trucks were pulled off to the side. Soon, we too, came to a stop. There had been a landslide.

The bus crew started clearing the rubble. The truck drivers and  passengers watched. A few eager passengers helped. Once the road was reasonably clear, and everyone was off the bus, the driver accelerated up the road. The bus got stuck at the top. The driver started backing up and everyone scooted out of the way. A little more rubble removal was necessary. And some scrambling as a small truck came up the hill from the other side. It couldn’t go very far though as our bus was in the way. Enough of the debris was now cleared that the driver could back up and shift over to the side. A little more effort clearing the road and the bus made it over. We walked up and over and got back on board.

By now we could see a lot of lightning in the distance and soon after it was raining. We arrived in Villazon just after 10 p.m. Amazingly, the bus driver and the crew didn’t seem the least bit daunted by these obstacles. Just another day in Bolivia?

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