Last stop in Argentina: Mendoza
Mendoza is a medium-sized city (around 1 million inhabitants) located close to the Chilean border, at the foothills of the Andes mountains.
The region is famous for its wineries or bodegas. It is the largest wine-producing area in South America and it is one of the nine cities included in the worldwide network of Great Capitals of Wine. There are many wineries close to the city and also many travel agencies that organize daily tours, so I believe it`s worth trying this original experience. Some of the wineries illustrate refined examples of contemporary architecture.
As I was in a hurry to get to Santiago, I only had one day in the city, which gives you enough time to visit the center, to take a walk in the park and to admire a great view of the mountains. But visiting the surroundings takes longer, so you should book a few days if you plan to visit the enchanting wineries, the olive trees plantations or other nearby destinations.
The most tourist-friendly street is definitely “Paseo Sarmiento”, a pedestrian street with many terraces, restaurants and cafes, as well as many wine stores where you can purchase the famous local wines. This street connects the main boulevard, Avenida San Martin, with the main square, Plaza Independencia, surrounded by beautiful old buildings. This is basically the heart of the city, where people go to relax, to socialize and, of course, to drink mate. And as people from Argentina love to shop, this is where they organize artisans` fairs.
From the square I walked to the main park, Parque General San Martin, located a few blocks away. The park is huge and it is crossed by several roads, but you can enjoy the view of the lake, the flowers, the trees and the Andes in a peaceful setting. It is also the perfect location to go for a jog or a bike ride. Mendoza is a very green city, with many green areas and with old trees that border the streets.
As always, my CS host made the experience unforgettable. He invited me on a hike to a nearby mountain to take photos of the full moon, but unfortunately the rain didn`t allow us to take the trip. However, we drove out of the city up to a panoramic point from where we admired the city illuminated by the moonlight. It was the perfect place and moment to say goodbye to Argentina.
It`s funny that 3 months later I returned to Argentina as my Chilean visa was expiring and again I arrived in Mendoza on a full moon. Now each time I see the full moon I think about Mendoza and my CS host.
Many travelers use this trick when their touristic visas expire because each time you exit and re-enter a South-American country you receive a new 3-months visa. But this doesn`t apply to all the countries, so check with the authorities before planning your trip.
The border between Chile and Argentina is by far the strictest frontier I`ve passed. They take all the baggage out of the buses, then scan everything and re-check the bus and the bags with police dogs. You also have to fill a form with information about your stay and the baggage you are carrying. You are not allowed to pass with seeds, plants, animal products or other objects of vegetal or animal origin (for example the ones used for handcrafted jewelry). Also, if you are carrying several products of the same type (like 3 bars of soap, for example), they will assume that you are going to sell them and they confiscate the “merchandise”. The atmosphere is a bit intimidating as you have to enter a room and sit in a line in front of metal tables where they check the hand luggage, but as long as you don`t have anything to hide you shouldn`t worry.
The road connecting Mendoza to Santiago crosses the Andes at a maximum height of 3200 m. At this height the picks are covered in snow all year round and the weather is highly unpredictable, so buying a bus ticket can be tricky. If it`s raining in Santiago or in Mendoza it means that there is a snow storm in the mountains and that the roads are closed for at least 12 hours. The most interesting part about the road is that you can see Mount Aconcagua (6962 m) from a distance.
. From Mendoza the mountains seemed very white , but as we got closer to the top I realized that only the higher picks were actually covered by snow. I was expecting a view similar to the Alps, but the truth is that after we passed several beautiful lakes at the base of the mountains, the landscape became rocky and dry. For me it looked more like a dessert and I even noticed a few cacti. I couldn`t help but imagine Coyote and the Road runner chasing around. The fact that the movie “7 years in Tibet” was shot here should give you an idea about the general atmosphere.
One of my last memories about South America is a sunset view of the Andes from the airplane. From there you can admire the strength and beauty of this mountain chain that seems endless.