Friday, September 20, 2013

The Escape from Malargüe, and Santiago Redux

My debit card finally arrived! And the evening it did, I got the f*ck out of Dodge. No offense, Malargüe. You are a charming little town in a truly stunning location, but when Las Leñas closed and bus service to the mountains stopped, my reasons for staying were not many, and with Creepazoid prowling about my reasons for leaving were many.

My card arrived at around noon. I snatched it out of the arms of the FedEx guy, tore the package open, ran to the nearest ATM, and withdrew as much cash as it would let me. Just enough to pay for the hostel stay, not enough to pay for a bus ticket out. So I hit every ATM in town, and then started making an ATM cycle every hour, until finally I was able to pull out more money, enough for the 2am bus ticket to get me out and back to a place with snow.

Elated, I wandered through town, loving everything in sight. I loved the birds. Loved the dirt streets. Loved the buses rolling through town honking their horns and blaring sirens celebrating the return of the high school Judo champions, loved the friendly people, loved that my Spanish had improved to the point where I could sort of talk to people and make myself understood, loved the views of mountains in the distance.



I did a final round of sink laundry, put my clothes out to dry, and treated myself to a fancy dinner ($35 for a three-course meal involving locally-sourced goat meat, pasta, and wine-soaked pears as well as my own personal bottle of wine), spending two hours eating and drinking alone in a state of pensive ecstasy. I returned to the hostel around midnight to a horrible smell, which I traced to the ball of goo on the heater that had once been my ExOfficio anti-microbial underwear. You can't win them all.

The dessert course of my celebratory fancy dinner
My melted panties

At 1:15am, with the taxi I thought I had ordered nowhere to be found, I began the long lurching journey from the hostel to the bus station, rattling down the otherwise silent gravel streets of Malargüe with my 50lb snowboard bag, 40lb backpacking backpack, 20lb work backpack, and a purse slung over my neck full of food and wine for the journey ahead. About 10 minutes in, one of the wheels broke off of my snowboard bag, making the movement even more difficult, and progress far slower than I had hoped. It was exhausting, but I had to make that bus, so rattle and lurch I did, sounding like an earthquake, sweating despite the freezing temperatures in my t-shirt, grunting, lurching, panting, and lurching all the way to the bus stop. I arrived just as the bus was pulling away from the terminal. I dropped my bags and sprinted to the bus, yelling and waving my arms. I caught it, slapping my hands on the doors, the windows, whatever I could reach as I ran alongside. The bus stopped. I showed my ticket and pointed to my bags and the bus driver scolded me (or something, I didn't understand except the tone), but I retrieved my bags, put them on the bus, and collapsed, dripping sweat, into my seat.

Woke up to this view. Not bad.

I arrived in Mendoza at 8am, having almost sort of slept on the bus, and spent the hour between bus connections eating most of the food I had brought with me (since I knew it would be confiscated at the border crossing). Then with significantly less drama than the first departure I got on the second bus for a reverse of the Paso Los Libertadores trip of two weeks prior. Except Chileans are waaaaaay pickier than Argentinians about what is brought into their precious, disease-free, unjustly beautiful country so where the border crossing took about 40 minutes on the way to Argentina, it took close to 2 hours complete with bag searches, luggage scans, and questionings. 

Me, post-pat-down
Portillo ski resort. The U.S. ski team trains here in summer. Poor suckers.

Oh, and as the sole North American on the bus, I was singled out for an on-bus pat down and thorough bag hand search. Racial profiling at its finest: hey light-skinned girl, hand me your passport. Oh you're from the United States? Gruff voice! Stand up! Empty your pockets! Eagle position! Give me your bag! I think the guy was disappointed not to find anything, although I was sweating bullets because I had a pretty rock in one bag pocket that I worried would get me into trouble. But the pretty rock was never found, the one pocket he didn't search. Rock aside, I decided that the special treatment was acceptable. It's only fair that I, racially privileged white blonde girl (the red has been sun-bleached almost completely out of my hair now), be treated in the darker-skinned part of the world the way all too many darker-skinned people are treated when they arrive (and when they live) in the U.S.

Anyhow, I made it safe and sound with no rocks confiscated and no fines levvied and no arrests made back in Santiago, descending into the city just as a squadron of what looked like 20-some F-16s roared in formation overhead in honor of the Armed Forces Day part of the September Fiestas Patrias celebrations.

Fiestas Patrias. Biggest holiday in Chile. All the stores and restaurants were closed and I had eaten all my food.

But it was okay, because I arrived at my hostel (having left the wheel-less snowboard bag in bus terminal storage) to a wonderful group of friends-I-hadn't-met-yet and they fed me in exchange for the bottle of Argentinian wine I had. The conversation ranged from the best places in Chile, to engineering special beer fridges, to safety tips for visiting Brazilian Favelas ("Oh, the people are super nice! I love the Favelas! I hang out there until 3am all the time! Oh yeah, but if you don't speak Portugese and know people there, you'll probably die."), to strategies for the cultivation of soil fungus, to earning a living via travel blogging. I got to my dorm bunk bed and crashed hard, sleeping like the proverbial rock.

Food! Glorious food! And a creep-free hostel! Good folks at the Princessa Insolente Hostel in Santiago.

And the next day, I ate mind-blowingly delicious seafood empanadas (have I said yet how much I love empanadas? mmmmmm empanadas), filled a bag full of more empanada (you can never have too many empanadas, I have determined, but you can always have too few. my stomach thinks I have too few right now), and went to go chase more snow. This time to the Chilean side of the mountains, to Nevados de Chillán, the place I had originally intended to go first before the rain drove me across the Andes to Argentina.

OMG <3 Empanadas!!!
My stomach is growling just looking at this picture. Ohsogood.

And sweet, sweet baby Jeebus, I hit the jackpot.

(but you'll have to wait to hear about my awesome snow week until the next post)