Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Carry On over the Andes: Part 1

Vuelvo! I have returned from a near week and a half of the most varied, wonderful and random experiences and sights I have ever seen, breathed and lived. To be fair, Megan and Ciara have been excellent bloggers in the last while, while balancing exams and TP and travel plans [Paris for Megan and California for Ciara; some mothers do 'av 'em]. Ciara's gone and met Sufjan, Megan's finished her exams and is packing for France, the Queen has visited Dublin and Obama has visited Offaly since me and Dee went off galavanting across the Southern hemisphere. 

So we too have such an amount to share with you all. I can't even begin to think of where to start and originally I was going to just give you all an overload of photos of all colours but then you'd miss out on the truly mad stories behind them. Equally, I don't want to bore yer socks off as if to say "Na, na, naaah, naaaah, na, look at me being all bohemian" because that is as far away from the truth as Ireland is from winning a FIFA World Cup. Instead, I'm going to dilute the overload of everything over the next week, if you will allow me that. 
I'll share with all our many readers [as wittily observed by Megan!] the places we went, the people we met and the things we did. It includes a first encounter with a horse, an Irish setter in a light blue jumper, the wisest of Mapocho men, being followed across the continent by a persistent young man, a Coyote Ugly moment, running out of money and 1000km from my temporary home, a sex-mad tour guide, a hostel so welcoming people assumed that we worked there, a lethal bottle of Fernet, meeting Mormon elders in a dark bus station and a bruise the size of Iceland. 

So let us begin with what may appear as boring scenery, but I highly suggest you view the pics on the widescreen slideshow. Immense doesn't cover it;


Córdoba, Argentina
Mendoza, Argentina
The Andes
Santiago, Chile
Valparaíso, Chile

We were four and came from all over Argentina. For Claire and I, we had first a 6 hour bus journey to Córdoba, the second biggest city in Argentina. Arriving at 4am in the morning, we managed to stay in a café until 8.30am by only buying a Pepsi. Schnaky out. After witnessing the Córdoba sunrise and manouvering our way around the supermarket, we made our way to our semi-cama bus to Mendoza. A total of 12 hours away, this is a typical bus journey in Argentina in order to get anywhere that is somewhere. However normally it is a night bus and you don't notice the time go. 

You do when you get on the bus at 9am and arrive at 9pm. Tis loooooonnnngggggg. Your sleep is very disturbed and you never relax even though the quality of Argentinean buses would put the Irish system to serious shame. We passed over Las Sierras de Córdoba for about 3 or 4 hours before hitting miles and miles and miles of nothing but dusty land. Not much exciting happened bar our growing impatience, giddiness, boredom and impatience again. There was nothing extraordinary seen except a nest of puppies by the side of the road with their mother standing over them protectively, though we were miles from anywhere or anyone.

We arrived into Mendoza, near the Chilean border, at 10pm. It was too dark to even spot the Andes mountain range which runs right along the city of 600,000. However, the clean air was most noticeable. A quick run to the bathrooms [thought better of upon sight], we scrambled into our taxi and to Hostel Internacional Mendoza, a known party hostel and where our friend Orla had arrived that morning and was making friends with our room-mates [she thought they were New Zealanders for two days to discover this was not the case!]. The details of how much we grew to love the hostel and the folk therein is for another post. I'll go into how we discovered that Dee's inability to jump and hatred of top bunks are connected and how AMAZING I am at cheating at pool in another post. Mendoza in the morning was a wonderful sight. The city is spaced out, relaxed, there's no hustle bustle. You don't feel immediately stressed walking around as you do in places like London or Buenos Aires. Though the climate fair and sunny, the air was chilling as the Andes were literally only half an hour away. 

To the largest park in the city, a huge green affair, we went for many hours of nothing-ness which is a welcome change from constant something-ness. The views from the park can be seen in the slideshow and there is so much more. I didn't even see all of it; hence my desire to return to Mendoza and the bodegas [what kind of tourists were we? Going to Mendoza and not seeing the vineyards!]. 

After a few days of eventful fun, we managed to swindle our way onto a bus headed towards Santiago, 6 hours over the reigning mountain range [we had slept in and missed our intended pasaje]. What a journey. What. a. journey. I cannot describe. As one friend described it, "it was like a 3-D movie, all there just in front of you". If we hadn't been so tired and truth be told hungover, I'd have documented every nook and cranny via my camera. But we are human and weak and slept until the Chilean border when we awoke to harsh, bare-faced monsters of mountains on one side and snow capped tipped peaks on the other. 

What awaited on the other side of the Chilean border was a different kind of rugged beauty but seeing it at sunset was an absolute treat. Best bus journey of our lives yet most seemed to take it for granted.

We arrived in Santiago that night and it was the part of the journey I had most underestimated. New country. Different rules. Different currency. Different vibe. I grew to absolutely love Santiago despite the mind-numbingly confusing currency [600 Chilean Pesos to €1!] and the fact that there are 6 bus stations one after another on the metro line. Had we known this upon arriving, we may not have needed to get lost when returning, getting off at the wrong metro stop with our back packs, running back onto the Metro, searching the wrong bus car park and finding the right one with one minute of the last night bus to Mendoza leaving, several days later. Murphy's.Law. FML. But you live and learn, right?!

Santiago was a treat, especially when the smog and cloud lifted and you suddenly realized that the city is cradled by the cousins of the Argentinean Andes. Valparaíso is an UNESCO Heritage protected site an hour and a half north from Santiago and where I first saw the Pacific Ocean, this past week. Not my favourite place in the world, yet I can see why people fall into its bohemian charms. It has its points but for me, a lick of paint and a tram does not suffice in covering up the real problems of a city with a large poverty gap. Yet, vale la pena.

Oh goodness me. I've ranted. And I promised I wouldn't! Forgive me. My favourite spots had to be Mendoza [the people] and Santiago [the city]. There's much more to all of this but that is the basic humorless gist. There was a lot of bus travel [an estimated 50 hours over 9 days] and one of our buses even broke down outside Santiago [a tow crewman came aboard and asked if some woman had panties in order to tie something together. Despite a brave volunteer, we had to change bus at 11.30pm, Murphy's. Law.] and we had to go through the Chilean border into Argentina at 3.30am in the freezing cold but despite all of this, I still can't wait to return.

Tune in for the next post about the extremely buzzed, cracked, vibrant and anything but monotonous people of South America and further afield. Each has a story.



  1. Thanks for your comment Sarah ;) and wow what a wonderful post, I can't wait for my holidays !

  2. i wish i was able to document my venturing as well as you are sarah. AMAZING stuff, ye're really making the best of it, can't wait to hear more woo=)


"We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far."
Swami Vivekananda


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