Finally! I have seen the Andes! Through layers of haze, sun and bus window there they were; like low lying clouds, waiting for the horizon to catch up with the road: the moment when my feet will catch up with my dreams.
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Mendoza very well may be the Denver, Colorado of Argentina. This was the city, most catering towards foriegn travellers of any we´ve been in. We got the sense that if you weren´t seeking to conquer Aconcagua, South America´s highest peak, you weren´t worth the time of the outdoor gear stores (especially Mountain Hardware).
The other industry that´s taken advantage of Mendoza´s “base camp” status was the luxury hostel. The town was littered with these Hostel-gone-Clubs for the wealthy 20 something year old backpacker. Seriously, hostels with names such as ´Break Point´, ´Campo Base´, and ´Life House´ littered the clubbing lane. They didn´t spare a dime to create a scene: bars and resturants inside the hostel, club-like facades, and advertizing in English. And they were expensive: 110 pesos to share a room and bathroom with 6 others, get woken up at 5 am from the partiers and meet people from my home country with a lot more money than I have. No thank you.
Ok, now that´s over with I can non-sarcastically go through the day by day of our amazing experience in Mendoza.
Monday: Ben and I checked into the cheapest hotel we could reserve online. Once checked in, we immediately looked for a cheaper place. Lo and behold, right across the street there was “Hospedaje Sao Paulo.” From the sense we got, a Hospedaje is like a hostel in that there are dorm bedrooms, but unlike a hostel, each bedroom comes with a bathroom and you can rent out the whole room. And they are dirt cheap. This, I think is more what hostels used to be like.
I remember stories my Mom tells of her family Hostel-hopping in Europe: it seemes like she had a totally different experience because you helped with the hostel chores like cleaning the bathrooms. No hostel we have encountered yet is like this, in fact I think Hostels have gone so mainstream they are just one step away from becoming a hotel-like fraternaty or serority house.
So this Hospedaje was just what Ben and I needed: the bare minimum for 50 pesos each (about 12 dollars). The ladies who owned the place were really sweet and we fell in love with the place. The lack of ammenities are not for everyone, but we managed just fine!
Also on Monday we gave the guidebook a second chance, and tried out a resturant it reccomended. We arrived at this swanky place and were immediately turned off by it´s English advertisements (this place was also on Hostel-Club Lane). The prices were expensive, and the food looked average, so we made the very adult decision to try out the hot dog stand instead. At 6 pesos a hot dog with an unlimited choice of over 24 toppings, how could we go wrong?
Tuesday. After a day of exploring the worst and best of Mendoza modern art and the public market, we hit up the first night of the Fiesta in Piazza. This is the Italian heritage festival that preceeds the wine festival in Mendoza. The plaza was surrounded by food booths representing each region in Italy. Let me assure you, each region represented itself well. Over the course of the next two nights we tried Lasagna, pizza, canolis, cheap wine, limoncello, pastas, the best polenta ever, ice cream and more.
Wednesday. On this day we decided to visit Mendoza´s big park, Parque San Martin. The guide book claims that this is the most beautiful park in Argentina. Well, it could be if you had enough money to be a member of its prestigious clubs. The public sections were not so pretty, just vast. The park made for an amazing running route for city dwelers. For visiters though, it was an endless green space to get lost in, and get lost we did. The maps we had were anything but accurate (the Rough Guide and the city panflet), and we wandered for hours before we found our way out.
In the city´s defense, Parque San Martin has a purpose: in 1861 there was a massive earthquake that flattened the city. When they rebuilt, they created the large park so the people would have a refuge away from buildings.
That night of the festival the crowds started to move in. The lines for food were over 30 minutes, so we opted to listen to the entertainment instead with some wine. A classically trained duo sang all the standard Italian opera anthems and the night finished with a polka-style band. “Cumbia” Ben called it. All the band members were over the age of 60 and everyone enjoying it was around the same age as well. We managed to stay up and dance with this crowd of grandparents until 2 am. Then, we had to leave the plaza, the band and the elderly, still partying and dancing tango.
Thursday. Thursday was museum day. We first visited the Mendoza Aquarium, which was quite sad. In the US, we have a standard of living for our animals on display: Lots of room, life-like plants to make it seem like they´re at home. They had a Sea Turtle which had been rescued from the beaches of Argentina. It was lonely, in a tank of concrete, and it was rather sad. But it got us thinking, do the sea animals even care? Or is it for our own comfort that we make their homes more life-like?
The next museum was the “Museo del Área Fundacional.” This was the most well put together museum we´ve encountered yet in Argentina. It focused on the history of the Mendoza area prior to the great earthquake of 1861. We saw artifacts from the pre-Mayans, Mayans, early settlers and the city before it was destroyed.
The museum was built over an active archeological dig, which was fantastic. They were excavating the old government building which was destroyed in the earthquake. We walked on glass bridges over the old tiles and floors. Another treat was our visit to the old fountain underground. We had a very charming guide who gave a lot of information (in Spanish, translated by Ben). The fountain was connected to pipes which brought water from the mountains, 30km away.
The last night of the festival was chaulk full of tourists, so full I was glad we were only there to take pictures. Lines stretched out into the surrounding streets. Ben and I were happy to go home early on this night, little did we know we would need our rest for the up comming weekend.