South America Trip Day 9 – Argentina – Mendoza

Woke at 6:30 after a huge 4 hours of sleep. Avoided breakfast this time and went straight to the ski shop for the trip to Penitentes. We had to wait around in the cold before someone came to open up the shop so we could get our kit, and Mr. Dog was too far away for a morning pancho and coffee. There were other skiers waiting, and snowboarders too. The difference between them is there choice of clothing. Snowboarders wear silly hats, fancy-coloured snow suits, and have an air of youthful Generation X cockiness about them. Skiers are a more refined sort. More likely to drink gin and tonic. Or red wine. Or vodka martini. James Bond is a skier, of course. Others coming on the trip were just there for the sledging. They were the lucky ones.

The only think good about the day was the bus ride there, on a route snaking through the Andes. Some beautiful views. Then it started snowing heavily, and visibility was lost. When we finally got to the resort, we were told that only 2 ski lifts were open – 2 of the smallest runs. The reason? Too much snow. Avalanche warnings abound. We tramped off to the open chair lift. This was one of the oldest chairlifts I’d ever seen. It had a retractable cord you had to hold and you were pulled up the mountain, trying to keep your board steady. Almost impossible.

I couldn’t get on yet, however, as I didn’t have a tag that connects to the snowboard and wraps around your leg. I had to rent one, apparently. The ski shop back in Mendoza never told me that. And so I had to tramp back to the entrance in the thick snow to try and rent a tag, which took half an hour. I then went to the toilet in a wooden chalet and left my hired gloves in the cubicle. I went back 2 minutes later to find them, but, of course, they’d gone. This isn’t Japan, where they’d be handed in straight away to lost property. No lost property here. Finders keepers. My fault for being so careless. And so I wasn’t in the best of moods when I finally had the chance to ascend the mountain to try and get a run down. I couldn’t get up. I held onto the cable for dear life, and managed to keep my balance for 5 seconds before falling. To the back of the queue, try again. Fall. Try again. I wasn’t the only snowboarder having this problem. This clearly isn’t a place designed with the snowboarder in mind. Skiers could just put the cable between their legs, no problem. Alex was doing run after run. After the 6th failed attempt, and a nearly broken wrist, I tried to climb up the mountain myself, getting about 30 metres. I then strapped my snowboard on and had a 3 second run down the mountain, before falling face-first in the snow. My only run. I gave up, and went for lunch with Alex in the log cabin. He then went back to do some more runs. I went to a cafe for a chocolate caliente. Delicioso. At last, it was time to go.

The day was saved from being a total disaster in the evening. Alex and I successfully booked a flight to Santiago, Chile the next day. The bus was cancelled again, and nobody was sure when the route would be open. We needed to get to Chile, or we couldn’t go to Paraguay, as we had a flight booked on Thursday to Asuncion from Santiago. It was a relief to be able to get the tickets to Chile.

We celebrated with the best meal of the trip – on the patio of Jesus Maria restaurant we had sirloin steak, salad and delicious malbec. Then it was William Browns for fernet and coke. Again. Staff in here called us by our names now, and knew what we wanted without us asking for it. We got chatting to some ‘fernet’ girls – who were there promoting the deadly medicinal beverage we had so taken to. They gave us more fernet, and they were to be our last fernets of the trip. Dreams were not quite so vivid after that, mornings not quite so hazy. But we missed fernet. And we would miss this charming place too. Mendoza is a lovely spot. I’d love to return.

Author: Neil

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