Thursday, September 5, 2013

Crossing the Andes, or, Awesome Adventures on the Megabus

I crossed the Andes in a bus, and it was awesome.

We were just barely able to stuff two of us, my snowboards,
and my backpacks into the back of a Santiago taxi on my way
from Ignacio's place to the bus terminal.
To prepare, I spent a final night in Santiago with Ignacio and had my first empanada (I thought they were with cheese and had avoided them, but no! I can eat them! Empanadas are *awesome*). We stayed up until the wee hours of morning drinking wine (of course, when in Chile... the stuff is soooo good and is about the same price as water, so why drink water when I can drink wine?) and having a deep and emotional conversation about my ill-starred love life. I love this about Chileans, at least all of the Chileans I've gotten to know so far. It's like they meet you and instead of shaking hands go straight for the heart. It was a conversation I had been dreading--Ignacio is a mutual friend of someone who I've spent close to a year and a half hoping would be eaten by tigers--but left me feeling strangely lightened.

Lightened and ready to spend 16 hours crossing the Andes by bus! Bus left 9am from Santiago (following an extremely frantic last-minute purchasing of the $160 "Reciprocity Fee" that Argentina charges--the "sorry we're assholes about letting people into the U.S." tax--at a bus station internet cafe), was scheduled to arrive at 5:30pm in Mendoza, Argentina, and then I had another bus from 6:30pm-1:00am to get me to the hostel in Malargüe, Argentina where I had booked 4 nights.

The bus! I was on the upper Peasant Class level, not the lower Royal Suite level. I think I got the better deal: inexpensive and excellent views. Also, the mountain scene on the back is of where I was headed. I took that as a good sign.


View from inside the bus.
Also, that's a lady reading the bible.
People actually do that here.
The bus left from the main Santiago bus terminal and wove its way out of the city, into the countryside, and through the canyons and hills at the feet of the Andes. We passed through at least three villages perched precariously on gully ledges about which I thought, "I want to live here someday." Just me and my goats. Added goat herding in the Chilean Andes to my list of "if science doesn't work out" backup plans.

And then, BAM, the Andes, starting with this incredible pass (Paso Internacional Los Libertadores) that winds up the mountains to the Argentinian border. Winds 29 times up to the Argentinian border. And you pass underneath a bunch of chairlifts (part of the famous Portillo ski resort) on the way up. While researching how to get to Argentina from Santiago, I read blog posts saying "do not attempt this in winter, too scary!" So I was pretty jazzed. It wasn't as scary as I had hoped--and I had great, grow-hair-on-the-chest upper-deck seats--but it was still pretty rad, especially when the bus driver decided to gun it and skip ahead in the line, careening up the hill and around blind curves in tunnels in the lane of opposing traffic.

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores. Do you see that? 29 switchbacks! Those long blocks are all semi trucks! Craziness. And this is the *main route* connecting Santiago and Buenos Aires via Mendoza.

More photos from the Paso Los Libertadores trip in the Photo Album

Gracias por su visita? No, thank you, Chile.
Then there was the border crossing, where we all had to get off the bus, file through a series of lines to check out of Chile and check into Argentina, file back onto the bus, and continue on our merry way.

The other side of the Andes was dry and barren and mountainous and colorful: Death Valley on steroids. Finally we dropped down into the desert plains that are somehow (magic) used to produce grapes for some more excellent red wines, especially Malbec.



When I arrived in Mendoza, I set out to buy an Argentinian phone card, when I had a heart-stopping realization: my debit card was nowhere to be found. After sitting on a park bench for 15 mins collecting myself, I set off to find a place where I could exchange the Chilean pesos I had recently withdrawn (which is probably where I lost the card) to Argentinian pesos. Not much, but enough to hopefully survive a few days. I didn't have time to call my home bank and thought there was a chance it was just hidden somewhere and I'd find it when unpacking, but hours later when I finally got to the hostel in Malargüe, no card. Shit.



Mendoza. Wine and mountains. I like it.
With the help of Google Translate I was able to communicate (at 1am) to the hostel proprietor what had happened. He said "no problem" to letting me pay him for the first two nights and then pay him for the other nights once my replacement card came in.

Little did I know, an "emergency express" replacement card from my bank (BECU, which I'd thought was a great credit union until this happened) wouldn't arrive for another two (? here's hoping...) weeks.

To be continued...