Mendoza Region, November 14-18

We spent several days visiting a variety of areas in and around Mendoza province:
  • The area surrounding the city of Mendoza itself is Argentina's primary grape-growing region, producing 70% of the country's wine. We stayed outside of the city and did a nice bike tour of some wineries that even the kids appreciated. (Not to worry, that's sparkling grape juice Emily is sipping in photo 3.)

  • Heading west out of Mendoza city is a road into the high Andes that eventually goes over a pass (actually through a tunnel near the pass) into Chile. We drove as far as the tunnel before turning around. It's strange to realize that we were just a couple of hours from Santiago, which we'll pass through much later in the trip.

  • We spent a night at the trailhead for Cerro Aconcagua. At a towering 22,834 feet, Aconcagua (photo 2) is the highest mountain in both the Southern and Western Hemispheres, i.e., the highest outside of the Himalayas. We took a beautiful short hike up the trail, with excellent crystal-hunting for the kids, and an interesting chat with a Polish climber attempting his second of the seven summits. However, we weren't allowed to go very far -- most hikers are backpacking or trying for the summit, so permits are required to hike into the park. Even had we wanted to splurge on permits, the minimum age is 14. Odd!

  • In the nicely-located and very laid-back town of Uspallata, Emily and Jennifer finally got their horseback ride (photo 4).

  • Our last stop in the region was Parque Nacional Sierra de las Quijadas, technically just over the border in the neighboring province of San Luis. Although quijadas means "jawbone," apparently referring to all the dead-cow skulls in the vicinity, the park is more famous for its dead dinosaurs, and for its very scenic topography, reminiscent of a scaled-down Grand Canyon (photos 5-6, as well as "find-the-camper" photo 7). We took a couple of very nice hikes but again were somewhat restricted -- the reasons were vague, but our guess is it's the valuable dinosaur fossils still being discovered in the park.
Now, on to some logistical chit-chat.

Some of you may remember that during the first part of our trip we were continually concerned about our pace of travel -- we packed in the activities day after day, barely stopping to rest and certainly not taking time out for mundane tasks like schoolwork. We were seeing some travel fatigue at the end of the 3½ months, but it didn't take us long to recuperate at home.

So, how are we doing on this leg? We continue to be guilty of not letting a moment go to waste when we can help it, always opting for the "one last thing" that guarantees a full day, or a bit overfull. It seems to be in our nature. On the other hand, we're doing a significant amount of driving, and the kids have been extremely good about putting that time to use -- mostly doing schoolwork, although currently there's an ongoing mini-competition to accumulate the most points in an interactive computer Spanish course we brought along.

There's also enough time messing around in the camper (cooking; cleaning up; making repairs; taking on water and letting out, well, you know; loading and unloading bicycles; etc.) that the kids have been able to practice their musical instruments daily, and spend time just plain old playing outside. Really the bottleneck in the whole affair is Alex and Jennifer finding time to check over the schoolwork -- it's making for some late nights.

The monetary outflow on this part of the trip has been refreshingly low compared with the extraordinary prices we contended with every day in Europe. While the Argentine peso isn't quite as devastated as it was the previous time we visited, prices are still modest for us -- the critical comparison point, an ice cream cone, suggests that costs are about half as much here as at home, and a third of what we were paying in Europe.

Bank machines, however, have been a bit of a pain. They can have long lines, tend to run out of cash (strangely the line doesn't dissipate when that happens -- everyone feels a need to try), and sometimes they refuse our card. We haven't found one yet willing to spit out more than 300 pesos (about $100), although they all seem willing to spit out 300 pesos an unlimited number of times -- each time incurring the $5 foreign ATM fee. Oh well.

We've been eating most of our meals in the camper, although since restaurants are inexpensive, we do go out whenever there's a good opportunity. The food hasn't been particularly interesting, although Alex and Jennifer (normally your poultry-seafood-veggie types) did try the country's trademark beef and it was indeed quite delicious. Unfortunately, many restaurants don't open for dinner until 9:00pm, which isn't very practical for us given our two extreme modes of transportation (massive beast or daylight-friendly bicycles), not to mention maintaining a reasonable bedtime for the kids.

Weather has been quite good: no significant rain except the one thunderstorm that caught us on our bikes. We have seen extremes, though -- spring temperatures vary considerably throughout the day, and (as expected) even more significantly in the high mountains. We've already put our entire range of clothing to use. As we head into summer and move northwards, it will get consistently warmer.

The camper continues to behave itself. Our experience with "land yachts" (i.e., motorhomes), and even more so with regular yachts, has been that maintenance tasks and small repairs are never-ending -- it's not easy to keep so many systems running smoothly in a mobile vessel. So far the only really significant problem has been the recharger discussed in the previous travelog. We were able to find an electrician (via an English-speaking guide in the horse-riding town of Uspallata) who fixed it for us, smearing his greasy hands around the camper and uttering a shower of Spanish as we smiled and nodded.

Overall the camper is very well set up, with plenty of storage, and small conveniences like a paper towel rack, a good place for the garbage, and especially a nice (though compact) bathroom, all making a world of difference when multiplied by 72 days.

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