Vendimia to celebrate the grape harvest, then hot springs in the Andean foothills with one of my favorite travel companions
We landed in Buenos Aires at 1:30 a.m., too late to take the overnight bus to Mendoza. I had not planned that well, but when I purchased our plane tickets from Brazil to Argentina it was either the afternoon flight or the 6:30 a.m. flight, and I don’t do 6:30 a.m. flights unless I have no choice. So we spent the night at EZE airport aiming to take a shuttle to the bus terminal and catch the 7 a.m. 16-hour coach to Mendoza. I perused air flights, but the cost although not prohibitive didn’t make sense. I needed to learn to travel light on my wallet.
So we lounged in the plastic seats with our feet propped on our backpacks while we watched “Friends” on Netflix until the free wifi kicked us off around 3:30 a.m. We lost Maggie’s cellphone when we left it unattended in the bathroom to charge: lack of sleep usually results in poor decision-making. After trying to sleep on the plane from Rio, maybe snoozing for a half hour here or there, I feel I can safely say I pulled an all-nighter. At one point I spotted a figure across the terminal and with my lack of sleep and poor vision, concluded the immobile figure was a cardboard cutout of a man. Then it moved. Yikes!
The Manuel Tienda Leon shuttle to Retiro Bus station actually dropped us off four blocks away (what?) and we took a taxi in the rain, as even the bus the MTL people said they could put us on cost 90 more pesos (the taxi guy took 40 although his meter read 30) but again, lack of sleep makes us sheep. We arrived at Retiro around 6 a.m. and found a really nice guy behind the window who gave us both a student discount, so we had enough pesos for the trip ($640 AR each) and didn’t have to use my credit card and lose our cash advantage.
The bus station was pretty gross. The bus was even worse. CATA, catainternacional / omnilineas, was the only operator leaving at 7 a.m. Maggie and I found our seats in the very back. Mine looked like something had died in it. But the seats leaned back somewhat and throughout the 16-hour trip I read Farenheit 451, wrote and catnapped. I was grateful for the napkins I’d stuffed in my pocket while at the airport, as toilet paper was a rare find on our overland journey. For meals, they served us alfajores cookies with soda and in the morning, sugar-sweetened black coffee and more alfajores. We cruised through the endlessly flat Argentine pampas. The bus stopped often. I vowed that for my next trip from Mendoza to Buenos Aires I would take the overnight cama bus or possibly I would travel heavily via airplane.
At one point Maggie wandered away and I thought she wasn’t on the bus. I had talked to her at one of the thousands of stops we made. I couldn’t remember if she’d gotten off the bus as she told me we could. I worried she had stepped outside and the bus left without her. The bus hurtling through the Argentine countryside was pitch dark inside as I scurried up and down the corridors of the double-decker coach, even checking the stinking bathroom. Then on my way back to my seat, debating whether or not to take my panic public, I spotted her. She was laughing at me, knowing I was freaking out. She had changed seats to sit closer to watch the movie and was talking to another girl. I had a splitting headache and realized we had packed my Advil on the luggage that went inside the belly of the bus.
The damn bus ride ended up taking almost eighteen hours. Maggie woke me excitedly to announce we’d arrived in Mendoza at around 1 a.m. We stumbled around the Mendoza bus terminal trying to find her friend who had offered to pick us up, but without a phone we had no way to reach him and at one point Maggie wanted to leave all her bags and packs with me so she could approach a car she thought was his. I almost shouted “No!” and insisted we follow my earlier suggestion of asking a nice person if we could use their phone. Two grandmotherly types readily agreed to dial the number, trying several times, but each time no answer. So we took a taxi for 50 pesos to our hotel Hospedaje Mallorca in an upscale neighborhood by Parque General San Martin. Upon arriving I took a shower and passed out until 11 a.m. the next day.
After two nights at the charming Hospedaje Mallorca, we resettled into Hostel Empedrado. www.empedradobb.com.ar Two kitchens, plenty of indoor and outdoor lounge space, an amazing daily breakfast featuring Clauio’s crepes, really nice people staffing the 24-hour reception desk including Barbara. A washing machine (FREE!) and a clothing line on the rooftop terrace. Daily activities and every night, happy hour with FREE red wine!
One of my favorite things about hostel living is that at a certain point you really don’t care what anyone else thinks, whether it’s showing up for morning coffee in your mismatched pajamas and bare feet five minutes before breakfast service ends, or swimming in the grungy pool in the backyard with the dead bees and grape leaves floating on the semi-opaque surface.
One of the best things about this hostel, like most hostels, is the people. Hostel Empedrado is a long walk from the restaurants and bars on Aristides and Sarmiento, so it attracts a more mature crowd. Still lots of college-age travelers and the ones I met at Empedrado were wonderful, especially the three young women from London who are steaming through South America with plans to stop in Chile then Peru for Machu Picchu. At one point they all had a meltdown and started snapping back and forth at each other. Still hopelessly cute.
Maggie and I signed up for the weekly asado and spent all night eating and drinking and talking with an entertaining Irish couple who had stayed at Hospedaje Lautaro and even had a picture of our favorite dog, Lampi, along with great stories from their travels in El Calafate and elsewhere.
Tourists have a million ideas about traveling. You have to sort through them, try some, ignore others. I spent one evening listening to a group of people tell me the best way to see Igauzu Falls. They convinced me I had to go, that it wasn't just another tourist trap. But I found my own way.
But in Mendoza for the week-long Vendimia celebration, I spent an inordinate amount of time performing kegels and peering anxiously for an establishment with a bathroom that wouldn't charge me an inordinate amount for whatever they were selling that would allow me to use their bathroom. I eyed the gringo traps and envied the horses during the parade. No port-a-potties along the entire parade route! And then for the Vendimia show in the mountains, I couldn’t contain my glee when I saw a row near the bus drop off. Fortunately, I didn’t need the smelly things.
After another stifling hot day, the weather broke with a crash. The wind blew away all the laundry hanging on the line and then a drenching rain cooled the air and swamped the streets. Maggie had already left for another evening's Vendimia production with her classmates. The weather prevented my mate date with Guilla, but that night, as every night, free cheap red wine flowed at Hostel Empedrado, and I was a happy clam.
Maggie returned around 10:30 p.m., wet and bedraggled. Her group had made it to their seats at the Frank Romero Day Greek Theater, the outdoor venue for the Vendima show, and after the rain completely soaked them, the event was cancelled and they headed back home via bus without dinner. I tried to convince her that on a Sunday night at 10:30 p.m. when every neighborhood store is closed and only a handful of non-vegetarian restaurants are a half-mile walk away, peanuts and Pringles and Oreos constitute dinner. For dessert, Friends reruns on Netflix.
I sweltered through my last 24 hours in Mendoza, but after dousing myself with water and lukewarm showers all night, the morning breeze helped cool me a tad. Maggie refreshed me on the different conjugations of regular verbs in Spanish; I learned them decades ago in school. I taught Maggie how to sew.
The heat had sucked the life out of me. Usually Mendoza experiences a dry heat, but the rains turned Mendoza humid. I was worn out from all the walking and late nights.
My Spanish had improved slightly and I seemed to understand people better overall. But after two weeks in Mendoza, I was ready to hit the road for a different view. For my last evening, we had ice cream before I boarded the 10 p.m. overnight bus to Buenos Aires. After six weeks of traveling with my amazing daughter, I cried as I waved goodbye to her through the grimy window before heading off on my next adventure, leaving her to hers: five more months living and studying in Mendoza, Argentina.