Backpacking Dave is back with a vengeance and is now hitting the countryside of Argentina. This travel post would appeal to the more adventurous traveller who enjoys exploring countryside areas, and enjoys delving into the real character of the country.
We have enough stories here to rival Dave’s collection of armbands or the number of painful rear end dramas he has had to endure from horse riding. So ahem, ‘hold on to your horses’, as we travel through the Argentinian countryside with our man Dave.
I was on a good start as soon as I left Buenos Aires; the Argentinian overnight buses are luxurious in comparison to what was available in Brazil. A bus takes 16 people only and I’d liken it to travelling first class on an airplane. Free food and whiskey is provided, the seats recline and you are provided with a pillow and blanket. The added bonus is your own TV screen with a limited selection of movies, which are all in English (nice). Some bus services will have a problem showing movies in English – nothing more annoying than watching Terminator 2 in Portuguese. But these are the overnight buses in Argentina and they are fantastic! I would go so far as to say that the bus transport was actually nicer than some of the hostels I’d been staying at.
My first destination was Bariloche – the best way to describe is it’s like someone ripped out a piece of Switzerland and transplanted into Argentina. The only real difference was instead of the Alps, it’s the Andes and the language was Spanish instead of Swiss.
It’s also regarded as the premier skiing region of South America, but it was summer and there was no snow around. The buildings looked to me like a mix of Swiss or Austrian architecture and the town is located next to the impressive lake Nahuel Huapi. The restaurants here are first class and the chocolate is awesome (another thing common with the Swiss). In fact, it’s the best place in South America for chocolate. I was most impressed with the place and if I was ever rash enough to do something like accidentally getting married; it would be a great romantic place for a honeymoon.
Bariloche by Day
I didn’t have too much in the way of partying here, relative to previous places anyway, so I filled most of my time up with daytime activities and cooking at the hostel.
The first activity included a bicycle ride around the impressive Nahuel Huapi National Park. I rented a bike for a half day and proceeded on the 30 km journey, apparently all I needed to do this was a “half day” according the bike owner, and so that’s what I did. This proved to be the most exhausting experience I’d had in ages. I took in the recommended sights from the tourist map and had a bit of a “lah di-da”… start to my ride.
This area is at the base of the Andes, which in my preparation or lack thereof, I did not take into account, so after the pleasant first half of the cycle, I spent the second half trying to cycle up some mountains to get back to where I started. I would stop, take a photo of an epic view, and then peddle on again.
I managed to make it back in time which I was happy about, but my bum now felt like it had been smacked several times by a cricket bat. I chilled out at the hostel with some Israelis, cooked up a huge spag bowl, and then caught some zzz’s. I passed out after that, the first time in a while where alcohol was not involved.
Get on your horses
The next day, just for the heck of it, I went on a 6 hour horse ride. I had not been on a horse in about 15 years or so, and I was once a keen rider so I did know something about it. This involved taking in more “epic views” of the local area, some trotting, cantering and galloping and a very tasty steak lunch.
The only problem I suppose is that I would strongly recommend that one must refrain from horse riding for a day after a full day of riding a bike. The cricket butt pounding sensation from the previous days ride was now multiplied by 10 and walking was now an issue.
To dull the pain, I decided to go out for the evening, this involved catching up with my Irish friends that I’d been following or who had been following me from Rio.
This involved a huge reunion celebration and the pain of my rear end drifted away.
Chilling in Bariloche
The following day I decided to go shopping, my rear pain had been replaced by head pain from one too many beers.
I’d started a collection when I arrived in South America and my wrist was now covered in a few bracelets of various colours and different materials, leather, stone and plastic -but that did not stop me from purchasing another bracelet here. I also purchased a new wallet to replace made of cowhide to replace the crappy velcro surf wallet I’d had for several years.
I took in the sights of the town and then as a hangover cure, visited a few of the local chocolate factories where I pigged out on free samples. I came back to the hostel, met up with some Israeli friends and had a lovely goulash at one of the restaurants here which included gluhwein (German food is my favourite cuisine and I was most impressed with what they had available).
I then caught up with my Irish mates for another reunion (this much shorter due to the previous night / morning), we headed to a Reggae bar and danced the night away.
The following day I packed up as it was time to leave for the town of Mendoza, the major town in the local wine district.
Wine, Springs and Partying in Mendoza, Argentina
Mendoza is considered the premier wine region for Argentina and the whole of South America. It is quite a pretty place, large trees overlook most of the roads and there are several park square located throughout the city where you can drift the day away.
The hostel I was located in was in the area regarded as the “party” district and there were several located within walking distance of where I was staying. I stayed there longer than I intended, 4 days in all, but the hostel I was at was excellent, good people, a lovely pool and excellent barbecues were put on for a fairly modest price.
Some of the highlights included a wine tour, the hot springs and the hostel.
The Wine Tour
I was quite excited by this, a self-guided wine tour on push bikes this sounded fraught with danger…
A group of us went on a bus from the hostel which took about 45 minutes out-of-town to one of the places that rent out bikes.
Upon arrival I wasn’t overly impressed, the area appeared to be deserted and there were squalid house all about the area. There was also no vegetation, just sand, the area looked abandoned and not what I usually associate wineries with, forest areas and thick green vegetation. The bikes we were given didn’t seem to have any brakes and were not roadworthy. We set out and after about an hour of getting lost with a very “not” detailed map, we found our first winery. This involved drinking a couple of bottles of Rose which I was not overly impressed with, though considering the heat our group thought that was the only option.
After finishing up there and stumbling back to the bikes, we hit the next winery over the road (there is 9 or so wineries on the journey, but like most people I spoke to, we only made 4). There we drank up lots of chardonnay sitting on the ground in an oversized tent. This was great fun, with a very nice surrounding and hilarious company, with the best “chardy ever” ever. After a few glasses Id noticed that my decision making was becoming slightly impaired.
A few more cycles and a few more wineries and this trip had turned into the best winery tour ever.
After about 4 hours we headed back to the bike rental, escorted by police on trail bikes no less. Upon arrival, free wine was provided by the bike rental shop, it was seriously the best red wine “ever” and upon finishing up there, we put back on the bus and arrived back at the hostel.
The rest of the night was a blur……. and I awoke with a massive hangover, and spent the day by the pool.
Did I already say that it was the best wine tour ever?
The Hot Springs
Another day, a few pals and myself decided to head out to the springs. This involved taking a cab as we had missed the public bus, we arrived about an hour later. I looked at the local arts and crafts which included a statue of a boy sitting on a toilet with a corkscrew for a wiener.
There were also several other odd arts and crafts available. We entered the “springs” park which was full of mainly elderly people and children. I was however very impressed with it as there were several levels of pools with varying temperature changes, and there was a steam shower room where you could really smell the sulphur and also a spring that was actually too hot to stay in.
I jumped out of the spring, my skin completely red raw, I then splashed around with a few local children in one of the less heated pools, had a steak for lunch and then caught the bus back, all very good fun.
The hostel was where I met some of the genuinely most crazy people on my trip so far, one in particular being a Norwegian guy that couldn’t stop talking about sex and STD’s and his constant bickering with a Serbian about all kinds of bizarre subjects which I won’t go into. They became best buddies by the end of the night.
Everyone there was from all over the world and I befriended some really good Aussies and Brits. The hostel also added to the atmosphere by providing to rather lavish barbecues, all you could eat meat and salad, Argentinian style, as well as all the red wine you could drink. They were determined to keep you inebriated, and they did a pretty good job of it. The staff also joined with the backpacker and as far as I was concerned, it was the best organised hostel Id stayed in on my trip so far.
The lavish pool and garden to hang around during the day when you couldn’t be bothered (or just couldn’t) do a daytime activity was also excellent to relax and get a tan.
On the whole, I wouldn’t say Mendoza is the best place I’ve been too, the quality of the wine I find debatable (mind you I don’t have a clue about wine). The wineries themselves aren’t the most attractive (try the Barossa or Margaret River, even Mildura is better) and I do believe I stayed there longer than necessary.).
However the hostel was terrific, the springs were lovely, the people I met were hilarious and I had a good time. I would thoroughly recommend stopping by if you’re around and you like what you read so far.
Anyway, now it was off to Salta, way up north…
After another superb overnight bus trip, I arrived in the city of Salta. Salta is known for the stunning landscapes that surround it. It’s in the mountain area of northern Argentina, quite isolated compared to the south and a lot less tourists. It’s only a couple of hundred km from the Chilean border and is at the base of the Andes. I stayed there a few days and it was relatively quiet in comparison to everywhere else I had been so far.
I arrived early in the morning and then made a somewhat debatable decision to take another horse ride. Though not forgotten, my butt was over the pain from the last horse journey, so an hour after arriving, I was on my way again.
This horse-riding trip involved taking a 4wd for about an hour up a mountain, 3000 metres above sea level approximately. There was only a small group of us and our guides were known as Groucho’s (Cowboys) attempted to lasso some horses, after about half an hour or so, the Groucho managed to catch-all the horses required.
The horse riding was most impressive, more so than Bariloche, these horses were fit and not broken like the Bariloche trail horses so the riding was a lot more fun. We were riding through thick rich forests, the wildlife and scenery was very interesting.
Our guide put on a decent steak lunch (I fear I was turning into a steak and still very much enjoying them), drank some “mate”, a local herbal tea drank with boiling water out of a device that looked suspiciously like a bong. I then had a siesta, another ride, and then some beer at the end of the day, it was all very relaxed and one of the better experiences I’d had so far.
We headed back to the hostel at around 9, chatted with some of the people staying and then collapsed in bed.
The Central Town Plaza
The next day I decided to check out the town itself, the central town Plaza is dominated by a by a pink church (I’m sure it has some significant meaning to the locals).
After checking out the local arts and crafts and eating yet another steak lunch, I decided to exercise off the food by climbing A La Cumbre Del Cerro, a mountain that overlooks the town and surrounding valley. This involved ascending 1075 steps and some heavy breathing, I reached the summit in about half an hour, and I was starting to get quite fit.
The views were spectacular, I also noticed that there was a cable car ride up the mountain which I could have taken, however I decided to head back down the way I’d come up.
Went to the hostel after that, had a siesta and a few beers with the lads from the hostel and crashed for the evening, I was off to Cafayate for a day trip which started at 7 in the morning.
The following day I was picked up by my guide, we then picked up four other tourists and we headed towards Cafayate. This tour was a bargain as it was small, relatively cheap and it included the guide with a serviceable modern van… Argentina is full of cars I’d consider to be bombs, mainly old Ford F100’s, Peugeots and Fiats.
“I was not sure what to expect, and was very surprised by what I saw. The region heading to Cafayate is spectacular, gorges, valleys, canyons, rivers etc. The landscapes are genuinely stunning and it was sad in a way that I did not have more time to make further excursions around Salta.”
There is an area referred to as the “Mini Grand Canyon” where I was informed that camera crews quite often shoot footage and use the footage for commercials and movies; for cheaper production costs.
We visited a few wineries in the town; I had some goat for lunch, thought I should mix it up a bit, and then headed back again, taking more photos.
On the way back my guide informed me as to where I could get the best hookers, deciding against this I headed back to the hostel and went to sleep early.
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. We started this series a while back and finished in another part of Argentina in our last post. We will continue this series in Chi-Chi-Chi, Le-Le-Le, Viva Chile!
He just completed another world trip including stops at Vancouver, USA (numerous cities), Copenhagen, Paris and various stops around the UK, Spain and South Africa.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.