South America Travel Tips

Mendoza: I will only remember 2 things…

After my long weekend full of wine and walks, I was ready to be in a big city again. But this time, unlike Salta, I decided to stay for a shorter amount of time – with the only and most important goal being going to Aconcagua, the highest mountain of the World if you exclude the Himalayas.

And boy – was I right. There are only 2 things I will remember of Mendoza: Aconcagua, and the… heat. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m Italian, and 38 degrees shouldn’t be a problem… but don’t forget I spent the last 9+ years in Ireland. My skin got lighter. My body got waterproof. My ideal temperature became 17 degrees. And I only wear t-shirts, no matter the weather.

So, 5 days of 35+ degrees killed me. Here’s why I’m delighted I didn’t spend too much time in the city, and so, so happy I got the chance to take a 4 hour bus to climb (half) Aconcagua.

Aconcagua: 6961 metres a.s.l. – the highest mountain of the World outside Asia

I took a look at the forecast as soon as I arrived in Mendoza. With Aconcagua being my only goal of the stay, I had to choose the best day between the 5 I had available. And so I picked Friday 2nd December, a somewhat mild day just before a heatwave was about to hit the Mendoza area.

My only choice, with the journey being over 4 hours, was to get up at 5am, walk to the terminal and get the 6am “Buttini” bus to Puente del Inca, the starting location (or at least what I thought it was) of the hike. I have to say walking at 5am on the sleepy Mendoza streets was a pleasure 🙂

And Puente del Inca is actually pretty from a geological point of view. Only thing – this is not where the hike starts… I had to walk another 2km uphill along the road to reach the actual entrance of the Parque National Aconcagua (Google Maps: that felt much longer than 2k… are you sure?).

Anyway, I finally entered the National Park. 300 pesos, 1 passport and 1 map later I was finally ready for my 1-day hike; my goal was to reach a place called “Confluencia”, located at 3400m a.s.l., a loop which should have taken approximately 6 hours as the guards warned me.

The first views of the Aconcagua from the beginning of the trail were unbelievable. However, you think hiking from 2900m to 3400m over 3 hours is not a bother. WRONG!

I never felt so tired and out of breath. I had to stop several times hoping I had arrived, to only find out I wasn’t even halfway through. I was literally out of oxygen – I then found out. Just a little thing that I totally underestimated… altitude means less oxygen – less oxygen means an apparently easy walk is 10 times harder!

3 liters of water and only 2.5 hours later, I got to Confluencia. I believe this is the highest altitude I ever hiked. And also the happiest – I wanted to shout a big “yes” to the whole valley once I got there. Finally I was able to relax with my sandwiches, apples, water and oxygen bonus.

I even made friends on a picnic table. I think we were all delighted to be right there at that moment. Beautiful sun, not a single cloud in the sky, not warm at all and a stunning view (watch the video below).

That was 3400m above sea level… to reach 6961 meters I would have needed 14 days according to the Swiss girl I met on the trail who was going to do the “whole thing”. Once again, the hike is not the problem – it’s the lack of oxygen that requires a longer acclimatization 🙂

A few more pictures, and then it was time to get back down.

On the way back I was overtaken by mules and got to take more pictures. Mules reach the various stops towards the top of the Aconcagua to carry equipment, food and sometimes people. They leave early so that when people get to the campsites their equipment is already there – and same applies on the way down. You first see a bunch of mules, and hours after the hikers catch up – out of breath.

Thankfully I was just on time to catch the 16.30 bus from the National Park entrance (well, let’s say I had to run fast, forget about my migraine and pray for the last 15 minutes).

I was pretty lucky – next one would have been 4 hours later, and trust me – I really wanted to get back home.

The 4 hours journey was a nightmare. The driver was either pissed off or wanted to get back home early to watch the match… here’s when I discovered that having something or somebody to pray for is actually a good idea sometimes!

I was sitting on the top floor of a double decker bus. Imagine rallying on a Kerry road (for my Irish friends) or on a Passo (for my Italian ones) with a double decker bus, at impossible speed, on the craziest and most dangerous bends. Felt like heavy turbulence on a plain, and I could not stop imagining the bus flying over the next bend at 2500m of altitude.


Seriously, I don’t know how I got back to Mendoza alive.

But I did.

And eventually I thought it was one of those epic days you’ll never forget.

What else…? Ah, soccer!

Oh yes – needless to say Saturday (the day after Aconcagua) I needed lots of rest. I just went out in the evening, looking for a Yoga class that was happening in the park.

Mendoza has a nice park, a lovely lake and lots of green, all located in the western part of the city.

Well, yoga did not go ahead. Pity. Would have been perfect for my post-Aconcagua. So, I decided to walk in the park instead, given that the temperature was only 35 degrees…

At some stage, 2 buses full of singing football fans drove by… what was happening? Is there some sort of match? Are we close to the stadium?

Well I figured out I was indeed beside the stadium and a football match featuring Godoy Cruz, the local team, was about to start at 8pm. I asked around and found out it was 15eur for the stands – and went for it!

Finally, the chance to see some second or third division match… NOT! At halftime I found out that was the Primera Division, the Premiership, the Serie A, the top league… lol.

But first – the fans. They didn’t stop singing for a single minute. They were outside the stadium singing 2 hours before the start, and kept doing it inside. Really cool. The team even lost against another useless team… yet, they kept singing and partying. Really cool. Oh – and there was a minute of silence for #Chape.

The match was kinda boring – the home team just couldn’t score. Atletico Tucuman scored with the only two shots on goal.

Incredible these players are the same ones who play against Boca Juniors, River Plate, San Lorenzo – not a surprise all the best Argentinian players are in Europe!

Having said that – it was actually lovely to be in a beautiful stadium, to listen to the fans and to look at the sunset while sitting down watching football.

I can say I’ve accomplished another thing I wanted to do, but this time it was totally unplanned!

The other days in Mendoza?

I swear I tried – Mendoza is the wine capital and I really wanted to rent a bike and go visiting a bodega (winery) or two.

Well, it was way too hot.

Full stop.

So, I stayed at home, air con on, and worked a bit.

All while day dreaming about my next stop, San Martin de los Andes… finally entering Patagonia and more temperature-friendly places.

In fact, the first night in San Martin was 1 degree. Reminded me of Ireland so much… lol

Well, the bus trip to San Martin was alright, and I got here safe.

And be ready, because if you’re going to love Patagonia as much as I’m loving it, you’re probably going to L-O-V-E the next article!

But for now, suerte to you all!

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