After catching the collectivo across the border to Chile we landed in San Pedro, where we boarded a 1 hour bus to Calama to head to the airport to try to catch a quick flight to Santiago, as otherwise it would be a 24 hour bus. We landed at the airport and the flights were not nearly as cheap as we had hoped, but we were able to get a flight within half an hour of arriving and it did give us an entire extra day extra. We landed in Santiago, caught the airport transport bus to the center, and wandered until we found a hostel with availability. We lucked into Landay Hostel which is very close to where the buses depart Santiago for Mendoza, Argentina. We treated ourselves to sushi that night and hit the hay early. The next day we woke up, packed our daypacks, and headed for the bus terminal for Mendoza. We barely made the bus as Argentina now charges Canadians $75 USD for a one time entry into the country, which is only available to purchase online (gah), meaning we had 30 minutes to run around the city and find an internet cafe, try to navigate the Argentinean website entirely in Spanish, buy our entry visa, and book it back to the terminal. It did feel like we were in the Amazing Race, which was somewhat exciting, but given the fact it was 35 degrees out and we didn’t want to miss the bus and waste a day, it was more stressful than fun. Luckily we made it, and the 8 hour bus ride passed quickly as we purchased the first Game of Thrones book as well as The hobbit, so we spent the entire ride engrossed in our books. We arrived late evening in Mendoza, and we were a bit surprised by the city as it is known as the wine capital of Argentina, so we expected a quaint little town. It was much larger and busier than that, and it took us 2 hours of walking from hostel to hostel to finally find a place for the night (that is partly our fault for not having booked one in advance). We wanted out of Mendoza as soon as possible, so we spent the next day researching where is best to stay to experience the wineries in the area. We discovered staying 30 minutes outside of Mendoza in Maipu is much better, as it is closer to the wineries and you are able to rent bikes (insert eye rolls here) and bike from winery to winery. We booked a hostel ahead of time (learning from our 2 hour debacle the previous night) and headed to Maipu on the city bus the next day. We arrived to Hostel Wineries midday and were immediately welcomed by Maria, the owner, and her sons Gabrielle and Alexandro. They spoke very little english but we could tell how sweet and caring they were immediately as they sat down with us and made recommendations for 3 days worth of winery visits. They offer a traditional Argentinean roast asado night which we opted for that evening to save ourselves from having to cook or find a restaurant. We relaxed most of the first day and planned our route for the next, as it was a bit late in the day to head out on bikes. The asado night was truly an experience, they start a fire on a clay pit using local oak trees, and allow the fire to burn down to only embers. They then transfer the embers to a second pile, place a grill over top of them, and place the meat on top of the grill. They then slow-cook the meat over several hours, keeping the fire going to the side to add embers as needed. The resulting meat is extremely flavorful and tender, and unlike anything we have tasted in our lives. We chatted (as best we could, Chris was much better than I) with the family and got to know a little bit about them and vice versa. They have 2 dogs and a cat, so it very much is a family atmosphere and almost felt like we were doing a homestay rather than guests at a hostel. On our last night we went to the supermarket and bought cuts of meat and sausage, potatoes, leeks and onions to share a meal with Maria, Gabrielle and Alexandro. We prepared mashed potatoes with fried leeks, and sautéed onions to go with the meat. They loved both, it was a very enjoyable evening and ended our stay on a memorable note. Our 4 day stay turned out to be an unexpected highlight of our entire 4 month trip!
The next day we walked to Orange Bikes and rented 2 bikes for the day. Now, let me clarify. My bike had an adorable basket on the front and was in no way shape or form a mountain bike. The town had bike lanes on all main roads, and was entirely flat. If ever there was a time biking was semi-okay for me, this was it. The first winery we went to was Domiciano which is a small scale winery that produces less than 100 000 bottles per year. It was a lovely winery and a great way to kick off our tour! We also stopped at an Olive Oil Boutique and sampled numerous types of oils and balsamic vinaigrettes, which we purchased as one of the 4 souvenirs we invested in, only to have the bottles shatter on the way home making a giant mess of Chris’s bag. Womp womp. One our favorite vineyards was Trapiche which is the largest producer of wine in Argentina. As an added bonus, it exports to Canada and you can find most of its varietals in any NSLC. I highly recommend the Malbec, it is exceptional and only $12-15 dollars per bottle. We also toured Tempus Alba, which is a small scale family run vineyard. It had by far the best atmosphere, with a gorgeous balcony where you could have lunch. We spent one afternoon enjoying a tasting, lunch, and the free bottle of wine that went with the purchase of lunch. Quite the life!
Unfortunately, on our third day of biking I had troubles parking my bike which resulted in a large cut that has scarred nicely for life. That my friends, was the grand finale of 4 months worth of biking. I have come to realize that I really do need to keep to my word of “never biking again.” Luckily the scar will serve as a ahem, gentle reminder of that.
Therefore on our fourth day we opted to take the city bus, which was an excellent option in the 40 + degree heat as the buses were air-conditioned and very cheap. We headed to a lovely vineyard (I forget the name now, started with a “C”), that you were able to have lunch among the vines. It was one of my favorite afternoons, it was so beautifully picturesque and the food was delicious. The wine of course, as always, was impeccable.
After our relaxing week in wine country we headed back to Chile to the small port city of Valparaiso, which is a world heritage site. We had met numerous other travelers who highly recommended a visit there and it did not disappoint. We stayed at a family run B&B called La Nona (the husband and wife live in the house as well) which again had an excellent atmosphere and definitely the best free breakfast of the entire 4 month trip. They make their own yogurt, have delicious deli meats, goats cheese, homemade jams, and homemade breads. They were excellent with making recommendations of places to see around the city. They city has beautiful cobblestone streets and very interesting elevators (highly inclined cable cars) as it is built on dozens of very steep hillsides. The city encourages graffiti and the alleyways are full of incredible art. It was a much cooler climate than Mendoza, and much less busy than Santiago, so it was an excellent place to spend our last few days relaxing. We then headed back to Santiago to catch our flight out the next day. We were very apprehensive about this as we had been keeping a close eye on the weather and it was not looking good for us. Many flights in the days leading up to our flight had been cancelled or delayed, and the weather looked questionable at best the day we were flying in. With crossed fingers and toes we headed home to surprise both of our families, who thought we were not coming home until January 15th. Santa must have wanted our surprise to happen as we had absolutely no problems with any of our flights. I hopped off in Halifax and Chris continued on to PEI. I pulled into the yard and Mom poked her head out the kitchen window, which made me believe that she had seen me and my surprise was spoiled. When I walked in the front door she was not waiting for me, so I continued onto the kitchen where she was distractedly working on a pie. As soon as she heard my voice she whipped around, and looked like she was having a heart attack which made me question my surprise, but she then tearfully spoke “You’re home.” Which was a really great moment, but was followed with “There’s no lobsters?” Lol. I asked what they were having for Christmas Eve dinner about a week earlier (as I was selfishly hoping for one of my favorites when I arrived) and when she told me ham I said “Oh…really???” She then said they were thinking of getting lobsters, which I proceeded to try to encourage without being obvious. Unfortunately, she interpreted that as I was having lobsters delivered to her for her Christmas gift. It was a very comical moment as I pointed out I just travelled almost 24 hours to surprise her on Christmas eve and she was disappointed with the lack of lobsters. It was absolutely a Christmas to remember. (We invested in lobsters for New Years Eve).
Chris and I are now living in Halifax and trying to get settled back into “real life.” It is quite the change of pace, but in many ways a welcomed one. Thank you for joining in our travels, I hope that you enjoyed the blog. I really enjoyed writing it and Chris and I are going to have the blog made into a memory book. It is a great way to document all that happened so we can look back fondly at our memories some day. We are committed to work year contracts, and after that our next big adventure (tba). Until then..