July certainly was a month of travelling as after returning from Peru I got to go to the other side of the Andes and visit the city of Mendoza, Argentina, when my aunt and her friend came to visit me in South America. We chose Mendoza because it is very close to Aconcagua, the highest mountain in both North and South America, and there are many things to do in the vicinity. The Argentinian city is actually very close to Santiago (about a 5 hour drive) on the other side of the Andes, but unpredictable weather conditions make travel by car/bus uncertain. We learned that they have been talking about digging a huge tunnel through the mountains to make travel easier, but the Chilean government has kind of put that project on the back burner, to the frustration of Argentinians. An insane number of trucks carrying cargo from Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay, ect use this pass to get to Chile: around 1,500 per day according to one of our guides. They have to wait in line to cross the border, sometimes for more than a week if the weather turns sour. There are only two roads that cut through the Andes to connect the two countries in central Chile, so this pass is an extremely important connector of Chile and Argentina.
We flew to Mendoza on Wed, July 27, after Sandy and Gerri had arrived in Santiago early that morning. Riding through the city to get to our hotel, I immediately noticed that Mendoza is very distinct from Santiago and other Chilean cities I’ve been to. With all the clothing, electronics, and trinket stores the downtown district resembled something you would see in the US. The people were distinct, as well, and looked much more European. Since Mendoza gets a lot of tourism from the nearby Andes and world class vineyards that surround the area, many more people spoke English than I was used to, which was great since my aunt and her friend don’t speak any Spanish. We were the first customers at the restaurant we ate at that night, arriving around 8pm. Argentinians generally don’t have supper until very late, after 9pm, which is much much later than I am used to!
The next day we took an Andes bus tour to see the mountains and countryside. It was a really cool tour, as we started at the base of the Andes and drove all the way up to the border with Chile. We saw how glaciers had left moraines and the subsequent melt water had carved huge cliffs into the sediment in the valleys. Slowly the amount of snow increased as we climbed in altitude, and we even made a stop at a ski resort that was in peak season at the end of July. My aunt and I rode up the ski lift to see the view and noted that the weirdest thing was the lack of trees on the slopes. In the US we are accustomed to seeing tree-lined runs at ski resorts but there are no trees in this part of the Andes. As we continued west, it became windier and colder. We were able to see Aconcagua in the distance along the way, and my aunt commented that unlike most high peaks we’ve seen in the Rockies, Aconcagua looked more like a hump than an actual peak. We learned that it’s 6,961 meters high (22,838 ft) and that it’s one of the more difficult peaks to climb due to constant weather issues and steep slopes. When we reached the border I was reminded of what winters in ND are like because of all the wind and blowing snow! We had lunch at a buffet there and I tried a traditional Argentinian dessert, queso y dulce, which is a piece of a harder cheese with membrillo, which is similar to jam but is much more dense and holds its shape.
The following day we went to the hot springs resort Termas Cacheuta, which is about 30km SW of Mendoza. They pump hot thermal water from the ground into different pools that spill into one another forming an interconnected hot tub system with varying temperatures. The hottest pool was about 38 C (100 F) and the coolest was like a swimming pool temperature. It was so relaxing to sit in the hot water and take in the view of the mountains. They even had a mud pot to slather mud all over your body in order to have a mud mask. The resort also had massages and a large swimming pool. We had an excellent lunch of many traditional Argentinian dishes featuring lots of grilled meats and vegetables, but my favorite were the wine-soaked pears for dessert. We had great day at the resort and didn’t want to leave that afternoon.
On our last day in Argentina we did a biking wine tour. I had never toured a vineyard or learned how to do a wine tasting so I was super excited for this day. We began our tour at a Chilean-owned winery called Kaiken and tried four wines, learned about the history of the vineyard, and toured the grounds. Although there were no grapes on the vines the fields and fields of branches of varying heights and types were very impressive with the Andes background. Then we rode our bikes to the next winery, Bodega Vistalba. We tasted four more wines here, including a chardonnay and a 100% merlot. After riding to our final vineyard (biking was starting to get a little difficult after 8 glasses) we had a lunch of grilled beef and vegetables and grilled pears for dessert. Two glasses of wine accompanied the lunch. During the tour and tasting we got to see where they ferment, store, and age the wine, then tasted four more of their wines! At the end of the day we had tried 14 different wines at 3 wineries in the Vistalba Valley. We were glad to not have to bike anymore after the last 4 glasses. I learned a lot about wines and now am really looking forward to touring some Chilean vineyards!
Mendoza was a super fun place to explore and had tons of restaurants, bars, and shops. Argentinians are very nice and accommodating, and speak a lot more English than Chileans do. It was crazy to see how different the culture and people were so close together, with just the Andes separating them.