Victor Jara - Te Recuerdo Amanda
It’s time for goodbyes with Tonya. Madie and I embark on a long journey of bus rides through the Andes, where we hop between Argentina and Chile for a few weeks. Our first 10-hour ride takes us from Buenos Aires to Córdoba, only a layover for us. We heard good things about Córdoba but are too eager to get to the Andes. The city does introduce us to two Argentinian phenomena: the Sunday ghost town effect, with only us in the streets, and the Monday banking madness, with incredibly busy roads, packed sidewalks, and long lines at the ATMs, which will all be empty only a couple hours later. Argentina still has 20% inflation; holding cash in your bank account is not a good idea.
We’re on another night bus, this time in business-class airplane seats, to the city of Mendoza, the home of Malbec. Our budget is limited, so we opt for the place with free wine from 6 to 9 pm, and join the cheap tour with a guide named Miguel, a friend of the hostel. We’re immediately categorized as the SF wine snobs, especially the Frenchie who should have nothing to learn about wine. But we are taught two important things: organic wine is a gift from the devil (especially without sulfate), and after wine is made, the leftover hard paste is pressed once again to make the cheapest wine, usually in a box, for the perfect hangover headache. And yes, it’s probably the free wine we’re getting at the hostel.
The next day we hang out with Miguel, who is back at our hostel and helping set up the parrilla. He shares stories about life in Mendoza and Córdoba. He is a River Plate fan, and his team just won the Copa Argentina so there is a lot to talk about. He drives hours every week to support his team. He tells us about Argentina, Chile, his girlfriend, and his two dogs; about his friends from high school who graduated in Buenos Aires and work in the petrol plants of Patagonia. They make a lot of money there, but they don’t even have time for football, he says. So what’s the point?
The third long bus ride in a week, this time by day as we prepare to cross the Andes. The scenery changes dramatically from the quaint wine country to the unforgiving dry and windy highlands. The Aconcagua’s snowy peak rises at 6,900 meters, amongst the jagged pink landscapes shaded in morning haze. We follow a vertical drop to a river below, reminiscent of canyons in Arizona and Utah. The plateau is bare, of small bushes and not a single bird in sight. The cold gusts at night prevent most wildlife from living here. Madie’s camera keeps clicking away, but the area’s solemn beauty is hard to capture. We get to the Chilean border, our first border crossing by land, huddled in our jackets to fight the icy chills.