Monday, April 02, 2007

28th March - 4th April (Worrying about flight change, Israelis and cash card)

I had a flight booked as part of my round the world ticket from Santiago to Lima on the 30th of March but had planned to get this changed as I decided to take the journey south first. I didn't change the date straight away because I wasn't sure what to change it to. But by the 28th I was cutting it a little too fine and if I miss one flight I've heard they for some reason cancel your remaining flights and that would be a big problem. After ringing several numbers and getting nowhere my last chance was in Barriloche, my next destination, which according to the book had a LAN airlines office. If the book is out of date on this I'm in trouble. The only bus to Bariloche was at 21.30 ariving at 11.00 on the 29th. I walked along the street where the LAN office was supposed to be but couldn't see it which worried me but a visit to tourist information gave me their new address and everything got sorted. Phew! New problem. The Israelis are in town en mass and all the best hostels are booked up (nobody that I speak to has much good to say about Israeli travellers). I eventually found a place but the bathrooms were in a bit of a state. Some of the Israelis were a bit annoying but a couple were nice and friendly.

Barriloche, surrounded by lakes and mountains is a pretty big town and wants to be Swiss. The church and many of the buildings are modelled in a Swiss style and the town square would look lovely if it weren't for all the grafitti. Apart from the usual array of shops selling hiking gear and souvenirs to tourists there are a load of shops selling Swiss style chocolates, fodues and loads of different flavoured ice creams.
At the moment they have massive window displays with easter eggs the size of houses. I think dad would have slobbered over the window in a Homer Simpson style. Despite all the chocolate available I have noticed that some of the local women are of a higher standard than I have seen previously! I managed to book a nicer hostel for the next two nights.

The next day I took the local bus to Llao Llao for a pleasant forest walk with lookouts over a couple of lakes. Later, at the internet cafe I bumped into the dutch girls who were again planning to hire a car which I was happy to join for a trip to see the seven lakes tomorrow.

Sanne and I shared the driving of the little Fiat with Steffi and an Aussie guy called Lee from their hostel. We drove for about 400km over mostly bumpy gravel roads. There was some nice scenery but nothing amazing (maybe I have been spoilt by all the lakes and mountains in NZ!).
The final stretch did have some weird, gravity defying rock formations but we couldn´t stop the car as the fuel light had been on for a while and the sun was about to disappear.
We had already changed a punctured tyre but luckily we made it to a fuel station without further adventure. After a shower and some fast food I went to the girls' hostel where we played drinking games with red wine then went clubbing until gone 05.00. I didn't drink much after the hostel as I was worried about getting in to my top bunk with low ceiling!

The next day I had to find another hostel as they had reservations, again the best ones were full but I found a pretty basic one with a very friendly owner. I didn´t realise until later that the bed was far too soft, the matress was just a piece of old sponge and the pillow was disgusting. I had visions of a bad back and all kinds of crawlie things coming out of the sponge! I walked around the town to clear my head, cooked pasta for lunch and used the internet for a while before getting my cash card swallowed by an ATM. Bugger! Hopefully will be able to sort it out at the bank tomorrow. Back at the hostel I started to read 'Five Boys' by Mick Jackson which I had found in a hostel book swap area but then Rocky 3 came on the tv.

The next day was a public holiday so the bank wasn´t open. I was hoping to get on a coach to Mendoza today but will have to put that on hold. The weather is nice again and the town is pleasant enough to just kick around doing nothing much. I don't really want another night on the sponge (although I slept very well) but I can't be bothered to look for yet another place.

The bank opened on Tuesday. I was there by 09.15 by which time the queue snaked around the large hall several times. There was at least a hundred people waiting and it took me an hour an fifteen minutes to get to the front. I had rehearsed my opening line "a domingo mi tarjeta esta dentro la machina" which although I realised was terrible Spanish thought it would probably get the message across "on Sunday, my card is inside the machine". The man said something back which I couldn't understand but seemed to be dismissing me so I asked "¿alguien hablas Inglis?" and luckily a woman came over who understood me and managed to recover my card. I hadn't planned on taking this long so had to run to book my coach to Mendoza, run up the steep hills to check out of my hostel and take a cab to the bus station, arriving just on time for the 11.30 bus having had no breakfast and no time to buy any food for the journey. Luckily, they served up some edible lunch to keep me going. The first part of the journey went past some of the unusual rock formations and I took some photos through the window. As darkness came I slept reasonably well considering there was no 'cama' bus available and had to slum it in 'semi cama' meaning an ordinary reclining seat instead of the lay-z-boys I'd become used to.

I arrived in Mendoza at 06.30 with nowhere to stay, so hung around the bus station until it was light then went out looking. Again, most of the places were booked but I found somewhere then looked around the town. Not at all what I was expecting. The name 'Mendoza' to me conjures up pleasant rolling hills of vinyards and villas but is in fact a sprawling modern city with noise and cars everywhere. There aren't even any old buildings as the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1861 and was completely rebuilt. I hadn't seen a McDonalds in a while and thouroughly enjoyed my grilled chicken sandwich.

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