Published: November 26th 2010November 23rd 2010
While sitting down to what would be our last meal with Blake and Rhiannon for quite some time, someone remarked that we hadn't seen a single other tourist in the last five days of travelling together. No matter where we are Tahlei and I always strive to stay clear of the hourdes of day-trippers, boring packaged tour sightseers, snobby jet-setters, know-it-all globetrotting backpackers and pretty much anyone else carrying a map and a camera. Although we never thought we'd find such relative seclusion in the province of Mendoza; one of Argentina's most visited thanks largely to it's wine-making and close proximity to the Andes. But here we were tucking into our milanesas de carne
, washing it down with yet another bottle of Quilmes, and talking about what crap service you get in all South American countries; with not another tourist in sight. I can't understand why Malargüe and San Rafael were so quiet on the visitor front, it's not as if they are devoid of beautiful scenery and things to do. On the contrary, we saw some breath-taking landscapes and filled our time with horseriding, hikes and of course, drinking.
Bus stations have quickly become my least favourite
places in Argentina. I have already vented my frustrations regarding maleteros
on a prior blog, as I take exception to having to pay for them to throw your bags on and off the bus. However they are only number one on a long list of people who rob you blind as you try and complete what should be the simple task of boarding a bus. Rolling up to the entrance of the bus station the taxi hadn't even come to a complete stop before there was someone yanking my backpack out of the boot and asking for money. It seems as if you have to give a propina
to everyone that your luggage comes within sight of. Having steadfastly refused to tip and told more than enough people to keep their hands off our bags, we boarded our "bus" to Malargüe. It was more of a van than a bus, and as luck would have it the four of us were crammed into the last row of seats at the back. If this wasn't uncomfortable enough for six hours, poor Rhiannon had to deal with the lady in front of her reclining her seat right back. Now I'm all for
looks can be deceiving
reclining your seat to better sleep on the bus for long overnight trips, even for a cheeky late-afternoon siesta, but I think it's a bit inconsiderate on an 11am mini-van where space is already at a premium. Who needs to sleep at 11am? Blake and Rhiannon took to shoving their knees and water bottles into the lady's back, and any other hard, pointy object they could think of. The lady seemed oblivious to it all.
Adding salt to their wounds was the stark contrast in views afforded by their side, in comparison with Tahlei’s and my side. They were bored stupid with flat, lifeless pampa
, while we sat gazing at the incredible peaks of the Andes. After what seemed like a lot longer than six hours we arrived in Malargüe. Our guidebook said it was “developing as a centre for hiking and horseriding in stunning open landscape nearby” so we were eager to quickly book a cabalgata
for the following day. While Blake and Rhiannon minded our bags at the bus station Tahlei and I went about looking for a tour agency. We couldn’t find any, and when we tried calling a few numbers out of the guidebook they
were either disconnected or rung out. Obviously this town was in the very early stages of “developing as a centre...”. Having been unsuccessful in our attempts to find a tour agent and book a trail ride, we were keen to get to our hostel and see if they could organise a tour for us. We had reserved two nights at Eco-hostel Malargüe, which is part of the Hostelling International association so we received a 50% discount off the first night for booking through the Mendoza hostel.
Before making our way to our accommodation we needed to do grocery shopping for the next few days, as being an Eco-hostel meant it was on a farm a fair way out of town. The girls waited out front while Blake and I tried a little “thinking-man’s foreplay” by doing the shopping. We failed miserably. After only five minutes we had both thrown in the towel and left the supermarket defeated without buying a single item. It all became too much for us when we couldn’t find all the ingredients for the meals we wanted to cook. Who’s heard of a supermarket without tomatoes? Anyway, the girls quickly took control of the situation
walking to the trout farm
it was much more fun than it sounds
and immediately purchased what was necessary for the coming days.
As Blake and I licked our wounds and prepared ourselves for the guaranteed looks of disdain upon the girls return, we attempted to flag down a taxi. Not as easy as it sounds considering we had only seen two cabs (both taken of course) in the whole two hours we’d been in Malargüe. Lucky for us the task was made a bit simpler when a taxi flet
ute pulled up right in front of us. I approached the driver apprehensively as I was sure he wouldn’t take all four of us – there were only two seats in the front. However he suggested the girls go up front with him and the rest, including us boys, go out the back in the tray. We were finally on our way to the eco-hostel with enough food and grog to last a lifetime.
The taxi driver had to stop a few times to ask for directions because he wasn’t exactly sure where this hostel of ours was. Eventually we made it to the front gates to be met by none other than the inconsiderate zorra
who was sat in front
of Rhiannon on the bus. Yes, she and her husband ran the place – talk about a small town. We mistook Gabi’s looks of confusion for looks of contempt. No she didn’t dislike that we were there, she just didn’t know WHY we were there. Nobody had told her we were due to arrive even though we had booked and paid for part of it.
Once Gabi was able to locate the keys we were shown to our four-bed dorm. It was small but looked recently renovated and had a nice, new ensuite. The place felt like a ski-lodge, it was open planned and had lots of wood furnishings and fittings. Being Eco it was made from mainly recycled materials, some of the windows were old car windscreens. It seemed perfect, and better still we had it all to ourselves.
Gabi broke the news that we wouldn’t be able to do horseriding the following day. She had called around and the logistics of it were just too difficult to organise with such short notice. However, she would do her very best to arrange it for us the day after. This meant we would have to tweak our plans
a little as we had only wanted to stay two nights in Malargüe. But seeing as horseriding was the main reason we came to this little corner of Argentina, and we did have a ski -lodge to ourselves, the decision to stay that extra night was an easy one.
That night the girls cooked up a feast and we all sat around the television watching movies and sipping French wine. If this was the last thing I could say about that night it would have been perfect, but later that night at around 3am the Eco-hostel got a little too eco for us. Rhiannon awoke to find she was not alone in her bed. She was sharing her cama
with every backpackers worst nightmare – Bedbugs. Her chest, shoulders and neck were covered in bites. Blake and I were able to locate one of the little bastards in her bed and when we killed it blood splattered over the sheet. That confirmed our fears. So Rhiannon jumped in the shower (I must say she handled it incredibly well, if it was me I would have been over to Gabi’s house and beat down the door) and we threw her
mattress, linen and pillow out into the hall. Knowing that bedbugs can live in the framing of the bed we thought it best that Blake and Rhiannon move over to our bunk. So they squeezed onto the top bunk, and Tahlei and I did our best to squeeze onto the bottom bunk. Needless to say very little sleep was had for the rest of the night.
The next morning Gabi burst into the hostel to excitedly tell us that a new foal had been born on the farm during the night. We were concerned about more microscopic animals that had appeared in the night and she could tell straight away that something was up. She gave us some half-hearted spiel about how the place is fumigated every six months and she had a friend who stayed in our room a few nights ago who had no such problems. She did however offer to wash our clothes for us and move us to her other hostel in the centre of town. We still had to pay of course. It was sad we had to leave the Eco-hostel as it was in a lovely, quiet location and we were the only
guests. Having said that we later found out a group of 14 arrived that afternoon so the place would have completely changed and lost much of its charm. Could bedbugs ever be a blessing in disguise? Rhiannon probably says no.
We couldn't move to the more central hostel until late that afternoon so we decided to go for a walk to a trout farm some 7kms away. We were told that the trout farm was on Rio Malargüe and had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. The walk itself was quite easy and we simply followed a long, flat road passing numerous farms. We found ourselves at a nice, quiet spot alongside the river where we stopped to have lunch. We decided against eating at the trout farm and had packed a picnic lunch instead. The views were amazing. After a couple of cheese and salami breadrolls we went for a quick look around the trout farm and all shared a beer from their restaurant. It was a pleasant day and a good way to keep our minds off what had happened the night before. We all did pretty well to complete the 14km round-trip considering the lack of
sleep we'd had. Go team.
When we arrived back from the walk Gabi told us she had sorted out a horseride for us. She had been on the phone all day calling people to organise it and finally she had succeeded. So she said anyway. Gaspar, who was to be our guide, told us he ran into Gabi's husband at the supermarket late that afternoon and had agreed to take us on the spot. She hadn't been calling people all day, she probably hadn't called anybody. She'd been lying to us for a day and a half. If Gaspar hadn't had a chance meeting with Gabi's husband she would have had a lot of explaining to do.
What was eventually planned for us was a full day trail ride in the Las Molles Valley - 20km shy of the ritzy, upmarket ski resort of Las Leñas. Not only would we be close to this famous chic ski resort, but we would be close to the site where Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in 1972 (made into a movie - Alive/Viven
). Sixteen people survived 72 days high up in the Andes mountains by resorting to cannibalism, before two
of them trekked out (approximately 55km) and alerted the authorities to the whereabouts of the wreckage. We didn't have to worry about any of this as transport, guide and food were all included for 240 pesos - not bad at all.
The views on this tour were indescribable - I certainly can't do them justice and lucky for you we took thousands of photos - and they started from the moment we were picked up by our transport. We had to drive about 60km, most of it up, and the views got better and better. Poor Rhiannon hardly uttered a word as she was petrified at the thought of getting on a horse for the first time in ten years. Luckily though, the horses were strong, calm and capable - a far cry from some of the other nags we've been on in South America. Rhiannon was given the calmest horse of the lot, he was so calm that it bordered on narcolepsy - if we stopped for a minute he had his eyes closed and dozed off. She named him Gabriel. Tahlei had Gitano
(Gypsy) who was the runt and looked more like a Shetland pony, but was
view from the toilet
aire libre toilet that is
stronger than he looked. Blake had a fat plonker which he named Diego after the most famous of Argentinean fat plonkers, Diego Maradona. I had a strong, stubborn horse who wouldn't listen to any of my commands, or pleas as they became later in the day, so naturally I named it Tahlei.
After saddling up the horses we were on our way with Gaspar (the guide), Dario (the owner of the caballos
) and a dozen greyhounds. We were also accompanied by the last horse of the group, which was not needed as we all had horses but he came along so as not to be lonely. Thankfully the greyhounds returned home after only a few hundred metres, but this was not the case with the lonely heart horse. He came the whole way and was a bad influence on the other horses, always stopping to eat and holding the rest of us up.
The route took us on a circuit into the foothills of the Andes and was easily the most stunning scenery of our South American trip so far. The ride was easy enough up until just before our stop for lunch - between us and our
designated lunching spot was a steep, 20m deep ravine which the horses (and us) were not too keen on tackling. The guides didn't seem so phased, leading the way down the slope as their horses slid in the loose soil with large rocks rolling away under their hooves. The horses were more than capable and got us safely to our destination.
While Rhiannon and Blake battled the effects of heat exhaustion (the latter claiming it was altitude sickness - possibly the first ever case at 2000m) our guides started preparing a fire for our asado
. Most tours provide little packed lunches of sandwiches and biscuits, but lunch on this tour blew us away. Not only were we in a stunning location beside a crystal clear mountain stream, but we were able to stuff ourselves with juicy beef ribs cooked over an open fire, accompanied by simple but delicious toasted rolls and tomato salad. To top off the perfect meal Gaspar gave us a bottle of decent red wine, only problem was he had forgotten to pack cups so we had to glug it from the bottle. Since our now-all-too-English friends were struggling with the heat it was up to
Tahlei and I to finish the bottle between us, so we were fairly tipsy when it was time to get going again.
Thankfully the last half of the ride was a bit more tranquilo
and feeling a lot more comfortable on our horses we were able to just sit back and take in the scenery. A great day was had by all - some of us overcame fears, others ate their weight in red meat, and we all appreciated what a beautiful part of the world we were in.
To round off the trip we went back to Gaspar's hostel in Las Molles (CAP Hostel, nice place), where he gave us a Gatorade each and we tended to our aching knees. It was the most well-planned and complete tour we have done to date. Gaspar was a great guide and I strongly recommend to anybody visiting these parts to do a horseriding tour with him. Don't waste your time trying to organise it through Malargüe Hostelling International or their travel agency Choique, they'll just screw you around. Contact him through his hostel's website - [www.caphostel.com]
To cap off a wonderful day Blake and I cooked the most
mouth-watering, michelin-star-restaurant-quality hamburgers for the girls. Did we get any thanks for it? No, they complained that they were able to watch a whole movie in the time we took to prepare them. I think they were a little jealous that we cooked the best meal that week, not them.
Our time in Malargüe definitely had it's ups and downs, but overall we had fun. The accommodation options are quite limited at the lower end of the price scale and there isn't a whole lot happening in the town itself. This is completely forgiven by the fantastic (the only superlative I haven't used yet) day we had. If not for a chance encounter in the supermarket this blog wouldn't have been so... great.
There are more photos below