08 October, 2008

Argentina: The land of $10 steaks and terrible drivers

I am in love with Mendoza! It is a beautiful city full of wonderful, helpful people. Victoria and I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina October 1st at 9:20AM after an 11 hour flight during which we got to watch “How to Eat Fried Worms”. We promptly found a taxi and set off for the Terminal Omnibus (bus terminal) because we had been warned that Buenos Aires was not a very safe place to be, especially as a couple of tourists loaded down with 2 bikes and enough luggage to last us 8 months. We were able to find an ATM almost immediately and made the first dent in our summer savings. It cost us about $30 USD to get to the bus terminal (not including the $20 in tips that we spent paying everyone to help us move all of our bags and bikes from point A to point B at each stop) but the experience was priceless. The drivers in Argentina are TERRIBLE. According to one travel website I saw, Argentina had 7,500 deaths from automobile accidents in 2006 (which averages 20 deaths a day) and I can see why. Although there is some road signage, drivers seem to follow their own rules and no one seems to care. Turn signals are never used, lanes have absolutely no meaning, and honking is a popular pastime. Drivers seem to drift from lane to lane, or simply straddle the center line as if they cannot decide which lane is the one they wish to occupy.
At the Terminal Omnibus, we bought tickets to Mendoza, Argentina ($50 each) and then tried to entertain ourselves for 5 hours while trying not to attract too much attention from the locals. Although we look pretty similar to many of the people in Argentina, our clothing gives us away. Shorts, t-shirts, and brightly-colored Keens don’t seem to be in style in Argentina right now...Oh well. I was very worried about whether or not we would be allowed to put 2 bikes, 2 bike bags, and 2 suitcases on the bus, but no one seemed to mind and the baggage guy seemed content with a $3 tip. Then started our 16 hour bus ride.
We slept. Kinda. But mostly just sat in the relatively comfortable seats (better than a plane) and looked out of the window. Most of the ride took place after dark, so there wasn’t much to see aside from the occasional lit-up town. We stopped sometime after 21:00 (9:00 PM) and had a delicious dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes that was (apparently) included in our bus fare and then kept driving.
When we arrived in Mendoza, Alberto Aristarain (a family friend from Mendoza) had someone waiting to pick us up. Fortunately, he waited around even though the bus arrived an hour late and we were able to cram all of our stuff in his mini-van like car and eventually made it to our first destination: Casa Glebinias, Alberto and Maria-Gracia’s Bed and Breakfast, 15KM south of Mendoza. We introduced ourselves to Alberto and Maria-Gracia and ate a late breakfast on their veranda overlooking the sprawling grounds of their B&B. That afternoon, we took a cab into Mendoza and got a room at the Adventure Park Hostel, just blocks from Plaza Independencia, the center of Mendoza.
We spent the night at Adventure Park Hostel and spent two days wandering around Mendoza Casa Glebinias in one of Alberto’s cabañas with a cute little veranda and amazing breakfasts. It was all very surreal and enjoyable. Our third day in Mendoza, we slept in, ate breakfast, and eating delicious food and being tourists. Our second and third nights in Mendoza, we spent at then took a 45 minute bike ride around the community surrounding Casa Glebinias on two very old bikes with HUGE, incredibly uncomfortable seats. It was an interesting experience and difficult for me, as it was the first time in a long time that I had ridden for more than a few minutes on a bike that did not belong to me wearing something other than spandex! That night, we went to Patio de Pastas and I ate one of the best steaks of my life. It was well done, juicy, covered with cheese and mushrooms, and only cost me $10!
The other exciting event that night was that we were mistaken for locals 3 times! Considering that all of our other experiences had told us that we were very obviously tourists, this was quite an improvement. Unfortunately, stammering that we were not from the area and couldn’t give them directions quickly informed two of the three groups that we were indeed tourists, although I did successfully direct one taxi-full of people to continue “al derecho” (straight) to find the road they were looking for.
The next morning, October 5th, we left Casa Glebinias at 8:45 in the morning to catch the 9:45 bus over the Andes to Santiago, Chile. I was sad to leave Mendoza and the Argentine population, but hopeful that the Chileans would be just as hospitable.

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