After the weirdness and wonder of Easter Island, coming back to a big, polluted, noisy city like Santiago is daunting.
But we meet up with a friend of a friend who takes us to the Bohemian district, Bella Vista, for a night out.
Tomas and his girlfriend, Margarita, take us salsa dancing. I can tell by the horror on Geezer's face that he is as mortified as me. But we say nothing to our new friends.
The other couples in the class manage to salsa within the space of a square foot. Geezer and I require half the room. And while they make it look so effortless, Geezer and I are clomping around and counting out in booming voices “ONE, TWO, THREE, TUUUUURN..” (usually followed by a “whoops... sorry”).
After half an hour, we decide that we’ve humiliated ourselves enough and opt for pisco sours instead.
The next day we combine a visit back to Buenos Aires with a Boca Juniors game. The security is intense and we are forced to wait in the stadium for an hour after the game to make sure the opposition’s supporters have left the area.
We are warned that cheering for the opposition, San Lorenzo, is a ‘matter of life or death’. So we join in the continuous chanting and camaraderie of the Boca supporters feeling the stadium vibrate underneath our feet. Boca wins, riling the San Lorenzo supporters who leave the stadium shouting obscenities and banging metal grates.
Next we zigzag west across to Mendoza, Argentina’s wine-making region, on the bus ride from hell – a moody bus driver, food you wouldn’t feed to the dog and the heating so high the bus soon reeks of sweat. I beg the bus driver in Spanish to turn the heat down and five minutes before we arrive in Mendoza he relents.
We head straight to the hot springs to recover arriving early afternoon and, with the bus home not leaving until 7pm, forcing us to spend four hours at the springs... damn!
The springs are nestled amongst the Andes out in the desert. The springs are so hot that I have a funny turn and spend most of the afternoon recovering on a rock in the sun.
That night we are treated to a special guest in our dorm – a pissed Brazilian guy who comes in at 1am, pees loudly with the toilet door open and spends an hour packing his bag with the light on. I lie in bed pondering the point at which you can tell someone to shut the hell up. We tolerate him for an hour before I yell out “Amigo!!!” so he drags his bag into the toilet and packs it there. He then snores loudly and laughs like a maniac in his sleep. Freak...
The next day we catch a local bus out to the wineries and attempt a wine tasting tour on bikes - our main reason for visiting Mendoza. All the wineries are within a few kilometres of each other and on a flat road so biking between the wineries doesn’t sound too hard (ha!).
The first stop is a mass-producing winery and when they find out I’m a Kiwi, they insist on asking us our opinion of their Sav Blanc. I politely tell them that we serve white wine cold and omit that it tastes freakin weird. We stumble upon the most gorgeous beer garden set in a paddock with sofas and bales of hay as tables. The delightful owner makes us fresh empanadas and melt-in-your-mouth tapas.
After a few beers we wobble our way to the next winery – the luxuriously modern Tempus Wines – that has a giant balcony, fantastic music and the best lamb burgers imaginable. Instead of doing the wine tasting we treat ourselves to their best red and kick back in the sunshine.
By this stage, being the lightweight I am, we are wondering how on earth we are going to ride our bikes back to the start. We befriend the owner of the winery, the charming, party-loving Christian, who encourages us to get another bottle of red, reassuring us that the bike ride back is no problem. But when he sees me staggering back to toilet, he phones the bike hire place and says that ‘his amigos’ have had too many beers and kindly offers to drive our bikes back in the morning.
We eventually stagger out to catch a local bus back to Mendoza but soon realise we are on the wrong bus and in danger of missing our very expensive bus to Salta. So we jump in a taxi with an unhappy driver and I tell him to drive to our hostel in Mendoza to pick up our bags and then on to the bus station within half an hour. He nearly has a heart attack.
It is peak hour and he’s not impressed at having two pissed gringos in his cab. We throw some money in his lap and he speeds through the traffic like lightening. We make our bus with two minutes to spare. Geezer passes out before his head hits the bus seat but I’m too wired to sleep and spend the entire bus journey sobbing loudly from watching movies about bloody dogs dying. Geezer occasionally wakes up, sees me bawling and shakes his head before passing out again.
The bus company puts on a game of ‘bus bingo’ where they give all the passengers a bingo card and call out numbers in Spanish. In my inebriated state I manage to win the game and when the bus driver broadcasts that I’m a kiwi, someone makes sheep noises from the back of the bus. Bloody Australians!
We arrive in Salta about 20 hours later hungover as hell (hiding my puffy eyes behind sunglasses and cursing the bus driver for putting soppy movies on). We have no expectations of Salta but it is our last stop in Argentina so we are determined to make it a good one.
To be continued...