I flew back from Patagonia to Buenos Aires, spent a few more days there and a single day in Uruguay before catching an overnight bus to Mendoza.
It was my first overnight bus experience in South America and I had heard good things about buses in Chile and Argentina in particular. The seats on Andesmar come in all shapes and sizes, as do the passengers. I sat on a small seat next to a large woman. Thankfully, my armrest was broken and I had an excuse to move to a window seat with no one beside me. I fell asleep shortly after the lackluster meal and the game of bingo; both dolled out by the frantic hostess.
I arrived at the main bus terminal early the next morning and took a taxi to el centro. The driver was a maniac, and when I told him “Conduces como un conductor de Dakar”! he proudly replied “gracias”!
It wasn’t intended as a compliment! My first impressions of Mendoza was “It’s a bit of a shit hole” A direct quote from my audio recording that day.
I was inspired by a Russian I had met on my one-day jaunt to Uruguay to make a concerted effort to get a free place to stay through Couch Surfing. She had travelled for eight months without paying for a single nights accommodation thanks to the site.
I’d contacted a few hosts, but unless you’re glued to the internet, offers come and go. The only offer I got was to join a host and some other travellers for a drink in one of Mendoza’s highest building – an unimpressive ten storeys. Mendoza is in an earthquake zone, so the heights of buildings are restricted.
The elevator had a dial and needle scale in it. I was hoping it was indicating people weight and not a Richter scale!
The building had a pleasant roof top patio restaurant with a good view of Mendoza. The menu claimed to have food and coffee, but in fact had neither.
The Cheapest man on Earth
It was here, that I was shocked to meet someone cheaper than myself!
A Canadian, with Chilean parents, who speaks fluent Spanish, but pretends not too (I still don’t know why). He lived off Super Panchos for breakfast lunch and dinner. He’d found the cheapest place to buy them too. Fifteen pesos (CAD1.50) for an oversized wiener on a white roll, with papa de lluvia (raining chips) and the usual condiments, as well as a small cup of coke. When he was not eating super panchos, he was taking leftovers off people’s plates at street festivals and sampling many flavours of ice cream in various heladerías with the intention of buying none. He pretended to be interested in hostels, asked for their wifi password, and then stood outside while he requested couchsurfing hosts! He even came into my hostel and helped himself to breakfast! He also told me about a filthy place he was staying at where he had to take a deep breath every time he went inside yet still stuck it out for a week! I was admirably appalled.
The group of us, the couple from Mendoza, the Iranian KLM aircraft mechanic, the cheap Canadian and myself went to the Italian cultural celebration in Plaza Italia. This is where we met Agostina, one of the Argentinian contestants in the Italian beauty pageant. She was very friendly and agreed to meet myself and Mauricio for a photoshoot the next day. I’d lugged around some portrait lighting that I was keen to try, and Mauricio claimed he was photographer too. I was dubious.
The following morning Mauricio and I met and climbed Cerro Arco (a meek hill on the outskirts of the city) then rushed back to plaza Independencia to meet the princess (she did not win so I can’t call her a queen) for our photo shoot. The shoot went well, and Mauricio impressed me with his picture taking skills. Perhaps he was a photographer after all; of course he did not have a real camera with him and borrowed mine.
A very good (but cheap) day
My friend Rob says that you can either have very very cheap or very very good, but not both. This day proves him wrong.
Agostina took us on a wine tour that even Mauricio could afford!
We took a local bus through to the outskirts of the city, where we got dropped off on the corner of a highway. We had to walk 40 mins in the blazing heat down the highway (with no shoulder) to get to a bodega.
When we finally arrived (dripping in sweat) a couple who were departing told us the bodega was closed!
The guy was German and the girl was from Cordoba. They were in search of another Bodega to visit, so we invited ourselves to join them. I extricated the spare tire from it’s place in the back seat; it was secured with the seatbelt. The couple were friendly, and we had many laughs driving around looking for another vineyard.
We found one called Kaiken, which initially was also closed. Our group and another car pulled up at the same time so the woman working there decided to give us a quick tour. When the tour was over, we got to sample the Malbecs. They had one bottle that was 600AR pesos (CAD$60)! It was far more expensive than the other bottles and I jokingly asked to try it. She said they actually had a bottle open (not always the case) and we could! Our luck had gone from bad to brilliant! She got distracted selling wine to the other group and we poured ourselves generous portions, leaving only ¼ of the bottle. I asked her if I could buy the rest and she said it was illegal to sell open liquor, but we were welcome to finish it on the premises. We did! After all the tastings we were all a little drunk, and did a fun photoshoot in the vineyard.
On the ride back to the city, we passed around the German’s maté cup careful not to say “gracias” once. If you say thank you after sipping mate, it means you’ve have had enough and you won’t be offered again. I said “no gracias” after each sip, which ensured I got 3 cups worth.
The Cheapest night
We all decided to re-unite for dinner. We were supposed to go to a parillo (steak house), but somehow ended up at Mauricio’s favourite Pancho place. It’s truly awful food, and a shame considering what delicious meat surrounded us. After ingesting more MSG than calories, we went to watch beauty queens on floats throwing fruit at bystanders. It was the final night of Vendimia – the annual harvest festival. We were looking, but the Canadian/Chilean was shopping! He was aggressively trying to get as much fruit as possible! I think he trampled a few small children during his efforts to get a melon.
I finished the night off watching a thunderstorm; taking a shower on a floor of broken glass and dropping my new towel into the bidet. It was a very very good, and very very cheap, day and night!
This entry was posted in Argentina, Mendoza
- budget travel
- hostel Square Independencia
- travelling south america
- trip of a lifetime