Mendoza, Argentina, 6 November 2009, 25 degrees Celsius
The tour into the largest salt desert on earth ended with the bordercrossing from Bolivia to Chile. The difference could not have been bigger: from bumpy unsealed roads on to perfectly paved roads, from 5000m to 1500m in less than 2h, from the salt desert, with nighttime temperatures below zero into the hot desert-town San Pedro de Atacama. At the entrance of San Pedro we met by coincidence Robert and Yvonne, two Dutchmen, who we had met before on our Galapagos cruise! The reunion was celebrated immediately with a cold drink... Since the four of us had planned the same route and the next public bus was leaving in 4 days, we decided to organize the boardercrossing to Salta, Argentina together. Already the next morning we were driven in a minivan to the border Chile-Argentina. The interesting thing were not our border formalities, but that our Chilean driver gave two bottles of red wine to the Argentine border guards! One hand washes the other... While the landscape on the argentinian side was becoming more and more beautiful, it was evident that our new argentinian driver was getting more and more tired. No wonder! He had already driven 460km from Salta to the border and immediately after his arrival back with us towards Salta! So it was a rather chatty trip to give the driver no chance for a nap. We safely arrived in Salta, a city with charm and a beautiful center and very relaxed, friendly and helpful people. The four of us, two Dutchmen and two Swiss celebrated our arrival after an 11-hour trip with what Argentina is famous for: A good piece of meat and fine argentinian wine. That was the start of our tour through the wine paradise...
In a rented car we drove to the highest vineyard in the world: Colomé. Because of personal relations we already knew about the good wine and the beautiful landscape of the winery. And we were definitely not disappointed! In addition to the obligatory wine tasting in the mountains of northern Argentina, we also had the privilege of visiting the James Turrell museum. The night, we spent (for financial reasons) not in the luxury hotel of the winery, but in the nearby village of Molinos, where we felt almost like in the remote areas of Peru: the whole village had a blackout for several hours, so we were the only guests in the restaurant eating by candlelight and enjoying the full attention of restaurant owners. A similar attention we got in Cafayate: Still in Salta we were invited by a wine and deli shop owner to his own winery in Cafayate! He showed us for the first time what eating meat in Argentina means: For the four of us there was a portion of meat, which in Switzerland would be enough for 10! The meat was eaten with the hands, cut with a knife the size similar to a machete. The next day we covered ourselves with meat for our first BBQ in Argentina - for USD 5 a kilo, we got the best meat the butcher's shop had to offer! Yes, in Cafayate we felt almost like kings, with the excellent meat, many wineries around the town, 35 degrees Celsius and our cabanas (bedrooms plus kitchen) with barbecue grills for BBQ. In Cordoba, we understood why there is a siesta, because in a city and 41 degrees Celsius nothing can be made between 13:00-18:00 (except sleeping). Besides the heat, the city had nothing exceptional to offer for us, so we drove into the Argentinian wine capital of Mendoza. The city itself we did not like too much, but we liked the wineries and especially the remote town of San Rafael, 3h away from Mendoza. There we lived a little away from the town-center and once again got to feel the warmth of the Argentines, as we were treated like locals in the neighborhood. At the same time San Rafael was also the final destination for the time together with the Dutchmen, as they journeyed to the south, but we had Chile on our travel program.
In Valparaiso, Chile, we had to find out that we are now good in Spanish but not yet perfect: The Chileans seem not to like whole words as they swallow the endings and also have some words that nobody else uses in South America. Valparaiso is an incredibly colorful and hilly seaside town. Whereas Valaparaiso is the city of artists, the assembled Viña del Mar is the city where the business activities take place. Already after two days in Chile, we could welcome Carlo, a good friend from Switzerland, who is also on a South America trip. Together, we explored the two cities and enjoyed the fish dishes in Quintay, a fishing village north of Valparaiso. While we can recommend to go to Valparaiso, we were not so impressed by the capital, Santiago de Chile. Therefore we left the capital and moved to the surf mecca of Chile, Pichilemu. Although the waves were perfect for surfing, we went on to Santa Cruz after a short stay, because we were allowed to enjoy a personal tour of the Montes winery! And then we boarded a bus towards the south, as so often before in South America. But that the bus drops us off on the Panamerican highway (near the exit of the town where we had to catch the connecting bus) was a new experience for us. With a local bus we went further to the Andenrose, a hotel with a restaurant, owned by a very hospitable family from Bavaria. The reception was so warm and the food of the Swiss cook so well that we felt right at home. The fact that we stayed seven nights instead of three, had three reasons: we were the first time really tired from travelling, it is an excellent hotel with a great atmosphere and Andri took the chance to redesign the website of the hotel. With new energy we went further south to Puerto Varas where we randomly run into two Swiss girls we know. It quickly became clear they had booked the same ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. So we spent three days together on the Navimag, passing numerous fjords and enjoying our luck regarding the weather. But even greater was the joy when we met Andri's parents in Puerto Natales with whom we will explore Patagonia for 2 weeks...
See ya, we've gone away.
Corina & Andri