We spent some time in Mendoza wandering around the town and doing a walking tour, however most of our time here was spent relaxing on the camp site! We spent a day on bicycles, touring the vineyards in Maipu with Roger and Anita, what a great day! We started out at our first vineyard, Vina el Cerno, a family owned Bodega. We expected the amounts of wine for tasting would be quite small however we were immediately proved wrong, as we all got 3 large glasses almost full on our first tasting! Well, the four of us were tipsy after the first glass. Roger began singing falsetto (I like to ride my bicycle-Queen); Anita was crossing herself and muttering "Oh Jesus" and Gav and I were laughing at them!
Back on the bikes and we weaved our way to the next bodega, Tempus Alba, where we decided that it would be a good idea to have some lunch before drinking more wine! We then finished with Trapiche winery, which is the largest exported brand of wine from Argentina, exporting its wines to more than 80 countries worldwide. Here we had a tour and finished with 3 more "tasting" glasses of wine each!
After the bodegas, we went to a wonderful olive oil production shop, where we wanted a break from the alcohol! We tasted some delicious olive tapenades, olive oils, malbec and chardonnay honey and then chocolate and liqueurs! (More alcohol-oh no!!!)
We somehow made our way back to the cycle hire shop-who promptly ushered us into their "bar" and produced more wine for us to drink! We managed to get back onto our bus to Mendoza and the campsite, and slept very well that night!
We really enjoyed the company of the campsite dogs. One worthy of mention was Simona, an overweight labrador, who was absolutely brilliant at football! She could dribble it, control it etc and we named her Maradonna after the other overweight great Argentinean footballer!
The time came for Roger and Anita to leave and this was definitely the last time we would see them on this trip. We finished in style with 2 nights of asado (BBQ) and a crazy night of pisco sours and karaoke, at the campsite, singing along to Jen`s ipod. Gav was the DJ, whilst Anita, Roger and I belted out the cheesy greats such as Sex bomb, Dancing Queen, and Mamma Mia. We were sad to say goodbye the next day but know we will see them again one day.
A few days later, Frank and Sharon from Australia turned up in their landy-we had been facebook friends for a couple of years so it was great to meet them in real life! We spent our last couple of days in Mendoza with them and, again, had a wonderful last night BBQ (minus the singing!)
We dragged ourselves away from Mendoza and crossed the pass into Argentina at Paso Internacional Los Libertadores. From the Argentine side the route to the pass is a slow, gentle incline until entering a tunnel at approximately 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) elevation. On the Chilean side the slope has a far higher grade, and the road descends down a long series of switchbacks to make the descent. It was snowing when we got to the border, which was a huge contrast to the warm weather of Mendoza. The border was fairly easy to cross. Both the Argentine and Chilean officials were in the same building-so we went from one to another to complete the paperwork and then had the car searched by Chilean officials. We had heard that they could spend hours searching the car, insisting that they inspect every nook and cranny. We were lucky and they only looked in a few boxes before sending us on our way.
As we left Argentina, we reflected that this was our last time in the country on this trip. We had first entered Argentina in October of last year and then spent a lot of time in the country, as well as zig zagging to and from Chile and entering Uruguay for a couple of weeks. We have loved Argentina-for many reasons but mostly because of the incredibly friendly people. We have been overwhelmed with offers of food, lifts and just the great nature and spirit of the people. We have felt no animosity from anybody about the Falklands (Malvinas), although a lot of people feel very strongly about the islands. Those who asked our opinions about the Falklands (Malvinas) did so with interest and not hostility. We want to return one day as there is so much of this great country we have not yet seen.
So, Ruby zig zagged her way down the mountains heading towards Los Andes, where we planned to spend the night, before heading into Santiago. As we got to the outskirts of Los Andes, Ruby decided she would go no further and her clutch stopped working! We could run the engine, however could not change gear and were stuck in the road. We were happy that we had made it down the winding mountain roads but felt a bit stuck! Again, the wonderful South American people came to the rescue and we got a tow to a nearby hotel from a lovely young man and his Dad, in a small jeep!
We left Ruby at the hotel and went into Santiago, as we had an appointment at the US embassy to apply for a 6 months US visa. We already have our 3 months ESTA, however realised that this would not be sufficient, given the US visa "clock" would start to tick as soon as we entered Alaska, giving us only a short time to drive up North and then transit back though Canada and return and explore the US. We had completed our application on line and had to go into the embassy for an interview. We were delighted when our visa application was approved. To celebrate, we went to see the film "Train spotting 2". It was in English with Spanish subtitles, but how you capture the wonderful dialogue in subtitles, I`m not sure, and some people left the cinema before the film ended looking a little bemused!
We returned to collect Ruby in a pickup truck and she entered her last South American capital city kicking and screaming!! She is currently with the mechanic and we hope to get her back soon. We are staying in a wonderful airbnb on the outskirts of Santiago, with great parking and when we get her back we need to clean and pack our things ready for shipping from Valparaiso to Canada.