Mendoza, Argentina over the Andes Into Santiago and Valparaiso

Hello friends, family, and followers!

When we last left off we were in Northern Patagonia and heading out to wine country in Northern Argentina.

One major thing we didn't discuss in the last blog was the exchange rate in Argentina.  We didn't really want to get into it but now would be a good time.  When you first arrive to Argentina there is a big sticker shock.  Everything seems to be so expensive on the surface.  Oh, but that is on the surface.  There are two exchange rates in Argentina.  The official exchange rate and the "Black market" exchange rate.  Inflation is so out of control in Argentina that the official exchange rate at the time we got there was 5.7 pesos to the dollar and the black market exchange rate was 9.3 to the dollar.  We only had a limited amount of dollars but we cashed in everything we had.  All of a sudden everything was 40% cheaper.  This was a game changer!  We searched everywhere for dollars but obviously couldn't find them.  Hence, the black market rate.  We were able to find a website that we could wire dollars and we would then pick up the black market exchange rate in pesos (compliments to our friend, Monica, for the advice).  If you're in Argentina check out xoom.com.  It only works for American bank accounts but we've heard that other countries have there version of this service.  All of a sudden we had massive buying power and were ready to go!  We picked an amount that we thought would do and pulled into Mendoza looking to pick up our money.  Guess what?  It was closed for no reason!  We were told they would be open the next day so we made what little we we had work until the next day.  FYI, this happens A LOT in Argentina.  They just decide to close for no reason.  Maybe they have a party they want to attend or just don't feel like working so they close for the day.  Hmmm…maybe this is part of the reason the economy is struggling.  No order whatsoever and very short work days.  How do we move there?  Once we got our money we realized very quickly that we weren't going to be able to spend it quickly enough so we were forced to stay for two more days to spend our money (a nice problem to have).  The reason for this?  You can't sell Argentine pesos outside of the country.  Nobody will buy it because of the inflation issue.  This causes all sorts of interesting problems.  If you read through all of this and would like more info send us an email and we'll try to clarify it more for more.

With that back story we're ready to move onto the post!!

We were waiting for our bus in Puerto Madryn ready for our 25-hour bus ride.



One last chance for some whale watching.  Yes, we are dorks.


The buses in Argentina are pretty nice.  They have a waiter that gives you meals, drinks, plays movies constantly, and even calls out numbers for Bingo during the bus ride.  The prize for winning is a bottle of wine, of course.


Leanne became the babysitter at every stop as the mom hopped off the bus to smoke.  At first we thought it was strange when she asked us but after the fifth stop we didn't mind being able to spend time with the little one.


After the 25-hour bus ride we settled into our home for the next eight days.  It was a pretty nice one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, including a microwave!!  We spent a lot of time cooking and feeling normal again.


We even got to know the neighborhood.


Our apartment complex had longterm renters as well.  These cuties lived in the complex and always greeted us with wide smiles whenever we returned from an outing.


The main reason we visited Mendoza was to visit some vineyards and experience some of our favorite wines.  At home we usually drink South American wines because they are decent and have a good price.  Our favorites are Malbecs and Malbec/Cabernet blends in red and Torrontes in white.  Great affordable wines and we couldn't wait to get to the bodegas where they were made.  We spent a couple of days biking around the small town of Maipu getting our fill of the ol' vino.

The guy at the bike rental shop was always happy to see us.


We were offered some mate (Argentine tea) but turned it down because it was being stored in an adhesive container and we were expected to share the same straw as everybody else.  Probably not worth the risk.


Leanne getting mentally prepared for mass amounts of alcoholic grape beverage.


Ok, we're ready to go!



Equipped with our little paper map we were ready to conquer.


Have you ever had Trapiche back home?  It was such a pretty bodega and the wine was fantastic.



Llamas at the bodega?!  We must be in South America.


A little empanada action along the route to soak up the alcohol.


Vineyard with the beautiful Andes in the background.  Ahhh…so pretty.



At one of the vineyards we were given four bottles to "Taste at our own leisure."  This guy obviously didn't know Josh.


Wait.  Is it ok to drink all four bottles?  He didn't say we couldn't.  Let's do it!


More scenery along the way.


Are we floating above the wine barrels?  Oh, it's just a glass floor.  Maybe we should slow down.


Rounding up the barrels.


Wine makes you take artsy photos. A cork in the road is the road less traveled. 



This place looks good.


This sign says "Bienbebidos" a play on words which we suppose means "Welcome to drink".  Don't mind if we do.





Our last wine tasting of the day was done by this lady and cost all of $2.00 for a 30-minute presentation.  She was very informative and it was money well spent.


It was time to bike back to the rental shop and check out some scenery.




On Sundays it's like a ghost town. Nothing is open and the streets are deserted.


We do have a story from this day.  Leave it up to us to find action on a deserted Sunday afternoon. People always ask us if we have ever felt in danger during our trip. So far, we have been fortunate to say that nothing too bad has really happened.  However, on this quiet Sunday morning we did experience our first encounter of what could have been a dangerous situation.  We were sitting outside of a small restaurant when we heard a man screaming and chasing after another man that was running ahead.  Apparently, the man running had stolen something from the other man.  Right before our eyes, the man chasing the thief pulls out a gun and starts firing.  He was shooting the gun about 20 yards away from us without even looking where he was shooting!  We've never witness someone shooting a gun and we were rattled.  That's not something you want to witness.  We ran into a building to take cover.  The thief got away and no one was hurt.  Our hands were shaking and we considered ourselves lucky.  We got out of there quickly before anything else happened.  Thankfully nothing tragic came of it and we shook it off.

We decided that the best thing to do was to try not to dwell on what happened and consider it an isolated incident.  We can't spend the remainder of the trip constantly worrying what might happen.  We are taking good care of each other and are always on alert for what's around us.

We spent the next few days checking out the town and shopping for a few souvenirs.


Josh really wanted to buy this statue for our backyard. 1) How the heck would we fit this into our tiny backpacks? 2) We don't even have a backyard to go home to.  
Needless to say, we decided against purchasing it. 



The lady told us to go outside and make a left, walk down some stairs and we would see a bus stop.  This is what it looked like when you made a left. Huh?


She forgot to mention the part about it being a 15-minute walk down the road and that the stairs were on the right side of the street.  Luckily, we have had our fair share of getting lost and finding our way on this trip.  We managed to make our way to the bus stop and caught the next bus into town.


We made it back to our cozy neighborhood around 6 pm, just in time for people to start opening their shops and restaurants.


During one of our outings, we stumbled upon this stadium full of people.  We had no idea what was going on but it was fun to be a part of it for a few minutes.


Getting in a little hike outside the city limits. 




There's wifi here?  Time for Josh to get caught up on Fantasy Football scores.


School outing!


They even have these stupid stickers in Argentina?  Ohhh boy.



A family enjoying a Sunday in the park.


We had such a good time in Maipu that we decided to go back and hit up a few places we missed the first time.







A bottle of wine with lunch? Now this is the life.



Easy there, tiger.


 Most of the bodegas had such a simple process for bottling and packaging.  It made you appreciate the family aspect of the wineries.  If all you need is a desk, a 1970s looking chair, and some grapes,  we surely can figure out this wine making thing.  Well, maybe there's more to it than that.



The parking lot was getting full so it was time to mosey on down the lane towards our next bodega destination.




After a few other stops, it was time to call it a day.  We wound up going back to our favorite little cheap bodega and shared one last bottle of wine before making our way back to Mendoza.

We truly enjoyed the beauty of the dusty roads with an incredible backdrop of the Andes and wineries.  Mendoza offers a unique wine tasting experience that we will forever cherish in our memories.  Between the good wine and tasty meat, we are fairly certain we gained several pounds in Argentina.



It was time to hit the road again.  This time we were bound for Santiago, Chile. We purchased our bus tickets early so we could get the front seats on the second floor.  We read that this drive was easy on the  eyes.


In case you were wondering, that's a "fleet" truck.  Too funny!


There's nothing like kicking back and enjoying the open road.





The border crossing from Argentina to Chile was easy, breezy.  It did take over an hour because they are serious about checking bags in Chile.


More easy on the eyes views.


The curves are numbered on this route.  This might be something we should start in Colorado.  It helped pass the time and made you aware of each of the curves ahead.


Santiago at last.  We only stopped in Santiago for a couple of days to break up the trip and to check out the capital of Chile.




It's impossible to look cool when you are leaning against such a ridiculous looking advertisement.


Mote con huesillo is a traditional Chilean summer-time non-alcoholic drink made from wheat and peaches.  Vendors line the streets selling their version of the drink.  Of course, we had to try it.  It was definitely sweet! 


Santiago was founded in 1541 and has been the capital since colonial times.


Changing of the guards.



Leanne tried to blend in with the crowd with her random outfit.  Our clothes are starting to fall apart and unravel before our eyes.  Since we are so close to the finish line, we refuse to buy anything new.  That means Leanne must get creative with her wardrobe.


We were especially excited this morning because Josh read about a famous local restaurant for breakfast and coffee.  Yes, a big breakfast and a real cup of coffee?  Oh wait, it was just some toast with a smashed avocado on top and a big cup of weak coffee for way too much money. Total disappointment.


Yep, that's a huge tire outside of the art museum.


The good thing about Santiago was the cheap avocados.  We got our fill of avocados.  We spent a few hours hanging out in several markets simply checking out the sights, sounds and smells.





We tried to go to one of the most famous bars in Santiago one night but there was a huge bar fight going on and several people getting arrested so we decided to move along and come back the next afternoon when it would be more tame and we could check out the decor.  The mural in the front of the building was worth the trip alone.



The famous cocktail in Santiago is called the terremoto (earthquake) which is sweet fermented wine, pineapple ice-cream and fernet.  Sounds tame, huh?  One of those things will make your head spin!  Josh passed on it and had a local punch called chicha but got one for his second.  It was no joke and the patrons could attest to that as they were all obliterated.  We could only handle a few sips of the one terremoto that we bought.  


We hung around as long as we could tolerate.  Don't get us wrong, they were fun but trying to communicate with a bunch of drunken Chileans talking a million miles an hour wears on you after a while.  We said goodbye while they could still stand and there were still smiles on all of our faces.


Texas?  Nope, that's the Chilean flag.  Pretty good-looking' flag.



This guy loves San Antonio


We spent our days checking out beautiful buildings and parks.


As close to the Easter Islands as were going to get this time.


Taking a train to the top of the mountain overlooking the city.


Such a beautiful view.



Here's an up close and personal picture of the Mote con Huesillo.



We stumbled across this poster of what Chile deems as a "tourist".  Josh is missing the hat, trendy camera case, and basically the whole look.  Is that a yoga mat?


After Santiago we headed west to Valparaiso.  More than any place on our entire trip Valparaiso was sensory overload.  Every inch of the town is covered with street art.  They were having problems with graffiti so the town started allowing local artists to cover their buildings with street art.  The result is a working piece of art and it is unbelievable.  Valparaiso is full of talented artists. 




We went on one of the better walking tours we've been on and checked out the town.  If you're in town check out Wally Tours.




We spent our days exploring the city...






Ummm…interesting?



The nights were spent drinking the local wine, Carmenere, and figuring out ways to have fun for free. We saw children sliding down this rain gutter during the day so we decided to take a page out of their book and channel our inner child.  It was actually fun. 




We rented a one-bedroom apartment with a new fridge, oven, flat screen tv, microwave, etc.  It was a nice setup and and we enjoyed shopping, cooking, and feeling like we had a home for a few days.


Despite the weird meats at the store we made it work for making a home cooked meal.  These items (whatever they are) were definitely not on our menu.


Our neighborhood


Although it was a little chilly for beach weather we took a short bus ride to the beach for a change of scenery.


Pelicans!


A city view and the Pacific ocean


While one might think this says "no going to the bathroom on the beach" it really means "the beach is not suitable for swimming."


Here are a few more shots of Valparaiso







Use the bicycle!


This lady was in a house so far away from us but she kept waving and smiling at us.  Leanne had to use the full zoom on the camera to capture this shot.  What an infectious smile!  The power of a smile is one of those small wonders of the world.





Before heading out on our night bus to San Pedro, we stopped by a local restaurant to catch the match between Chile and Ecuador.  Everyone in the place was glued to the television and frantically cheering for their team.  It was exciting just to witness their passion for the sport and their team.  We are happy to report that Chile won!


Whew, this post was a long one because we are still several weeks behind on our posts.  We had the more pictures in this one than any of our other posts.  We hope you enjoyed it!

We miss you all so much and as always, thanks for following!

Cheers, 
Josh & Leanne

3 comments:

  1. Bingo on the bus?! Awesome. And Valparaiso looks incredible. I've always wanted to go to South America - this post makes me want to go even more! Looking forward to seeing you again soon!

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  2. What a great journey it would be visiting three different places and three totally opposite in direction, great pictures and I really loved it. Keep it up!

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