Sitting here in the lobby of my hostel in Mendoza waiting for a guy I met today from Rotaract Mendoza to pick me up to go to a birthday party tonight. Its nice to finally be re-submerged in totally Spanish speakers.
I've been in hostels since last Sunday and have been able to speak reasonable amount of Spanish, but in general, people speak English at them. You always bump into people from Europe, Canada, & Australia, and they speak to each other in English. In some ways, it is great to hear about what other people did, where theyve been, etc, and get tips. Sometimes, though, it is just a broken record, because everybody is going to the same places on the gringo trail. Needless to say, I really like staying with people through Rotaract/Rotary and couchsurfing when I can. There are plenty of people in these hostels with their checklists out...I'd like to at least meet and make some new friends while I am at it instead of speed racing to some goal of checking all the places off lonely planet tells you to go. I've been doing a pretty good job of that I think, thanks to couchsurfing & Rotaract.
So I returned to Mendoza last night after 3 days in Uspallata, which is roughly two hours away, but literally in the middle of nowhere in the Mountains. Very calm & peaceful. The hostel there had a creek behind it and was surrounded by towering Andean mountains. It was a beautiful and blistering 1-1/2 hour walk into town (a whole 3 or 4 blocks of shops, haha).
The first day in Uspallata I rented a bike and biked my brains out in the desert-like mountains in the area. I hiked up a few small peaks to catch a view of the green valley below. It really is amazing. Desolate doesn't begin to describe the area outside the town. It was even cooler just being all alone in a giant valley:
The next day, I took a breather and just relaxed. I walked to town with a a girl from Buenos Aires and a girl from Canada who I more or less kind of was travelling with for a 4 or 5 days. She was also in English Opens Doors, and we bumped into each other in the hostel in Mendoza 5 or 6 days ago. Anyways, the girl from BA knew nada English, so I really got some good practice in and we talked about things for 3 or 4 hours.
Finally, I ponied up and took a tour on Friday of some of the sights in the area. We went to the border with Chile & Argentina, up a hairy 300+ turn dirt road, up to view a Christ statue at 13,000 ft(suprise, my 3rd christ statue this trip, but this IS South America, afterall, land of the Catholics). We also went to a few other places, including Puente del Inca, a natural land bridge formed in the glacial period, and of course got many looks at the Aconcagua, the western hemispheres tallest mountain, at almost 23,000 ft.
The road up:
Puente del Inca:
Christ statue. My first steps into Chile, then back:
Me & Aconcagua:
After my return to Mendoza, I finally got to meet up with some of the Rotaractors from a club here in Mendoza. I walked to meet Ana, the girl I had been talking to, and we walked to a members house, where the meeting took place. It had been since last Sunday or so since I was part of rapid fire group Spanish, so again, now I only got about 50% of the stuff :( Anyways, tonight I'm going out to this birthday party with one of the guys in the club, and tomorrow afternoon I'm going with the club to take some mate and relax in a park.
With the club members of Rotaract Mendoza Norte at the house for the meeting:
I've also decided that Uruguayans and Argentinians have lost their heat sensors on their tongues. The water they use in their mate is fresh off the the stove and while I wince at taking scalding, boiling water down, none of them seem to think about it for a second. It always takes a few days for my tongue to recuperate.
Finally, I have decided to go to Santiago on Monday. I still quite nervous after the last big aftershock (err, earthquake) a few days ago. But I've been talking to a few people I know in Santiago and all seems well there. I take a bus there Monday, right over the Aconcagua, then and fly out to Easter Island Tuesday morning until Friday. The airline wont refund me, so it's now or never for Easter Island. After that, I don't have a real plan, but I probably will head south, through Barriloche, Argentina (might take a week of classes there), and see if I can make it to Patagonia before the chill sets in. Then maybe make my way back up the east coast of Argentina, possibly Paraguay pending a few things, and definitely Bolivia, northern Chile, and Peru...maybe even Ecuador and Columbia. Unfortunately, I may have to avoid southern Chile cause of the quake action.