China. Maybe One Day #5: It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night – Uruguay and Argentina

It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night

Friday, 20th September,2002
Just as I would be getting to sleep the bus would stop, all the lights would
come on and the driver would shout the name of the bus station. As a result,
all three of us arrived in Mendoza after a restless overnight journey. None
of us felt like doing anything as energetic as walking, so we bundled into
a taxi for a short ride to the hostal. Once checked in it was straight to
bed for a good four hours sleep.

Remarkably, we all woke up around the same time
and quickly discovered that a tour of the local wineries was leaving in half
an hour. Fantastic, that left just enough time to drop my smelly clothes into
a laundry before hopping on another bus. Someone did make a comment about
lunch or even breakfast, but a packet of crisps from a petrol station would
have to tide us all over until we got stuck into some free booze.

At the first winery of the day we were taken through the production process
from picking to bottling. After that followed a detailed explanation of how
to properly taste wine. This was all in Spanish so I am none the wiser as to how
either process works. My Spanish has only improved to the point of being
able to cope with taxi drivers, hostel owners, waiters and bar staff. The
second winery was owned by a French bloke, and he ushered us straight past
the vats and into the tasting room. We were impressed and bought four litres
of wine between us.

In the hostal bar that evening we were told that it was national student day
the next day. This meant that a load of local university students would be
turning up dressed in school uniform. I had promised myself an early night,
but somehow my head didn’t hit the pillow until about 2am. It would have been
a bit earlier if it had not been for three girls that came up to me after Tim
and Liz had turned in.

“Hello,” said one of them in English, “My friend wants to talk to you, but she
is a bit shy when talking in English, so do you mind if we all sit here and
talk to you?”

The next day I was up early and ready for a full day’s horse riding. In the
truck up to the mountains I had my first taste of Matte, a traditional drink
in these parts that most people seem to have an addiction to. After a couple
of mug fulls I can only say that it is an acquired taste. Soon we met our
horses and were shown the correct way to get on them and hold the reins.
The rest of the morning was spent following paths and ridges, looking out
for condors, admiring the views of the Andes and learning about the land we
where riding over. Lunch was a barbeque, which in these parts means, steak,
more steak, some sausage, more steak, some blood sausage, “Come on, be a man,
have more steak”, “eat more sausage”, “just finish this last bit of steak”.
I worried about the poor horse that had to carry me! After lunch we rode up
to and past the snow line. We crossed rivers and rode through snow. It was
fantastic. The views were majestic and the air fresh and clean. It was the
best day I have spent since arriving in South America.

That evening we went out clubbing. I thought Tim had pulled, as after
shouting, “Bugger talking Spanish, the chicks love it when you speak English
to them!!” I didn’t see him for the rest of the evening. When I got back to
my bunk at around 5-ish he was nowhere to be seen. Predictably Sunday was a
complete write-off as we both had hangovers.

On Monday we went rock climbing and absailing. Tim was a bit useless at rock
climbing, mainly due to not being able to squeeze his size 14 feet into any
of the rock climbing boots provided, but also because he is just a little
bit too heavy to be any good at it. If you get my drift. I was also gutted
to find out, after half and hour of sweating and swearing in equal measures,
Liz had made it further up the rockface than me.

In the evening an earthquake rocked Mendoza. I was quite impressed. It was my first
earthquake. I found out later that Dudley had also been struck by an
earthquake and my excitement was short lived.

Tuesday I was feeling a bit shitty so I didn’t do anything except go to the
cinema in the evening. I watched Signs by the same guy who wrote Sixth
and Unbreakable. It was really scary and I would thoroughly
recommend the movie. Wednesday we spent touring the city of Mendoza in a
taxi (Taxis being so cheap in Argentina than you can do that sort of thing
and get away with it). Then it was onto a bus for a mammoth 19 hour journey
to Bariloche.

Thursday, 27th September, 2002
I have asked Tim to write a few words:

Arriving in Bariloche, we were delighted to hear the slopes where just 18km
away. We set about adding winter sports cover to our insurance (ah, the
wonders of the internet – Jez). I was assured that snowboarding was the only
way to travel down the snowy slopes, so we hired our gear, declined to be
photographed with a St Bernard by the lake and, on the dot of beer o’clock
proceeded to the Pilgrim. This English-style pub served raspberry beer
amongst other things. They were good enough to let us taste a wineglass of
each beer before committing to a pint.

After fibbing to a couple of young ladies from Montevideo that we’d really
enjoyed visiting their city, the excitement of the slopes the following day
made our early night decision one of the easiest so far…

I had a fantastic days snowboarding on the Friday. I left Tim with an
instructor he had hired for the day and headed straight to the lifts. There
I hooked up with an English girl we had met on the overnight bus and together we
skied and snowboarded every run that the mountain had to offer. I even managed
a couple of off-piste descents down the mountain. I met Tim back at the
hostal and found that he had thoroughly enjoyed his first ever day on a
snowboard. To celebrate a full day’s hectic activity we went out clubbing in
the evening. It was another 6am finish, so I will only recount the
highlights to you:

Meeting the two Aussie blokes that we knew from Mendoza.
Having a discussion on how Celtic and Rangers would cope in the English
premier league with a Scottish guy. Meeting a guy who had broken his ankle
snowboarding that day. Finding a club that looked like it was from the set

of Blade Runner. Discovery that they had a VIP bar in the club. Don’t know
how but we got into the VIP bar and discovered that they had plates of vodka
jelly, all for free. Asking people in the VIP bar if they were famous, then
telling them that I was a dolphin trainer at London Zoo. Finding the guy
with the broken ankle in a corner snogging with the girl I had been
snowboarding with. Mirrored bathrooms, ahh, there is no way out, and
finally, buying burgers from a petrol station and heaping it with salad
because it was free and I was feeling like a backpacker.