After an unintentionally long weekend, Felipe and I are back in Chile after making the “Mendoza Run.” I’m legal until I need to leave the country again on May 1st, which is a relief. It was quite an adventure, filled with chocolate, meat, wine, and lots of driving.
The first leg of our journey started at 2am on Saturday morning. Why that early? Currently, there is construction happening on the pass. They are only allowing people to pass through from 7pm-7am to Argentina and 7am-7pm to Chile. Felipe had to go to work on Friday, so he got home around 9pm. We ate, took a nap and then we were off!
The drive to Mendoza from Viña del Mar usually only takes about six hours. If you go by bus, it is a bit longer as you aren’t allowed to speed and you have to wait in the bus-specific line at customs, which is always way longer.
We got to the pass just before 5 am and then sat in traffic as all the huge trucks in front of us tried to make their way up the single lane pass at a speed that was less than 10 km per hour. We didn’t make it up to customs until about 7am, and got finished with customs at about 7:30.
From there, we were free to drive to Mendoza without any traffic. We finally got there at about 10:30 am. 8 1/2 hours of driving. Not too shabby, but still. We were really tired. We had to wait until 2pm for check-in at our hotel though. So, we walked through some shops, had some breakfast and took some pictures while we waited. By the time we got to the hotel, we were dead on our feet.
Naptime was from the time we checked in until about 6 pm. It was hard to get out of bed. We stayed at Mod Hotel in Mendoza, which had an extraordinarily comfy king-sized bed, and the room was bigger than apartments I have seen in Santiago. It was beautiful and inexpensive too! About $85 dollars for the night, including wi-fi, breakfast, parking, jacuzzi, and pool. Apparently all hotels in Mendoza are inexpensive like this, and you can find even cheaper hotels that are still really great.
Once we got up, we got dressed up and hit the town again. This time, the town came alive with people! The town seemed pretty dead earlier in the day, and suddenly every street was crowded. We went and had some ice cream in Ferruccio Soppelsa and stopped by a chocolate factory called La Cabaña (the cabin) and then went through some more shops. There are so many stores in the center of town, it is ridiculous. Everything is really inexpensive too, especially compared to Chile.
We hit the artesian fair in plaza Independencia (the main plaza in the city) after that, and saw some beautiful handmade artwork from various vendors. Finally, once we got hungry, we went to dinner in a restaurant I found on TripAdvisor called Florentino Bistro. On the outside, it doesn’t seem like much compared to some of the fancier restaurants they have in town. On the inside, it was not as it would be expected either. It was decorated like someone’s home instead of a restaurant, kind of hipster. The menu was varied, but there was one reason we were there: Argentinian steak. We ordered their ribeye steak with spanish french fries and grilled peppers and onions.
It was delicious. It was quite possibly the best steak I have had in my life, and that is saying something considering I was raised on a cattle ranch. We chose a Malbec wine, which is made from a certain kind of grape and has a taste in between a Cabernet and a Merlot. It was an exquisite dinner and it cost less than $45 for the entire thing for two of us. Two steak dinners and wine for less than $45? I must be joking right? Oh no, my friends. That is the magic of Mendoza.
Sunday, we ate breakfast at the hotel (delicious, if a little on the sweet side. Argentinians pile on the sugar for breakfast worse than Chileans do…candy, croissants, brownies, juice, dulce de leche, etc.) and then we checked out before touring all of the plazas of the town. The town has so many trees and plazas with amazing statues! I was happy about all the trees, it made it look like home and fall with all of the changing leaves.
Our last stop was park General San Martín that they have on the West side of town. We barely went through it due to time constraints, but we made it to the Fountain of the Continents and Glory Hill.
We left Mendoza at about 3pm to make the trip back home to Chile. Here is where it got to be a little frustrating. Supposedly, the pass should have been open from 7am-7pm. Up at customs, they told us that they recommend at least 2 hours from the town Uspallata at the base to customs at the top of the pass. They did not at any point mention to us that they closed the pass at 5 pm at Uspallata. We got there at 5:10 pm and the nice argentinian military officer informed us that we had to turn back. Nice. We were not the only Chile goers that had the problem though. Cars were being turned back well after us.
Felipe had to work the next morning, so he was a bit bummed out for a while. It was more frustrating than anything, but we found a nice little hotel and stayed the night. Uspallata is an extremely small town that only really gets visitors during ski season, so I think it was a plot by the hotels to bring some more business in. Since we had nothing to do, we toured the 4-5 little shops they have there trying to spend the rest of our Argentinian pesos and went up a dirt road to see what is called Seven Colors hill.
It is literally seven colors! I found seven different rocks of each of the colors too, so I was happy. We went to dinner afterward at a little restaurant right by the hotel and ordered a parrillada (grill of various sorts of meat) for two and a little bottle of wine. They gave us enough meat for 5 people since there weren’t many people in the restaurant, and even served it on a mini barbecue still cooking with charcoal. They even served us some things that have not come across my plate before: Intestines and blood sausage.
I tried the intestines, called chunchules in Chile or chinchulin in Argentina, which were overly chewy and rubbery, but otherwise ok. I also tried the blood sausage…that was not ok in my book. In Chile they call them “prietas” and they are coagulated blood cooked inside of a sausage skin mixed with various spices and other ingredients. I am just not vampire enough. Also, we forgot the camera, so no pictures of that.
After that we got some sleep, woke up bright and early on Monday, and drove home six hours. Part of that, again, in traffic on the pass. Felipe didn’t make it to work, but I was happy. It was beautiful passing through the Andes in the morning and I am glad we had the extra night’s rest before having to sit in traffic yet again. We also got to stop by some landmarks we couldn’t in the dark: Inca Bride and Portillo.
Now, there are just two weeks until I am traveling again, flying back to the States! There were some easier routes to get my tourist visa figured out, but I am really glad we took the trip. Spending some quality time with Felipe before I leave for a month was a good choice. We talked a lot over our 17+ hours of driving, and things are looking good. I have been recharged for the next few steps of life, and I think I found a new favorite getaway spot! Though, I think we’ll wait until the construction is completed and have bit more time to take the trip again.
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