February 7th will definitely go down in history as my crappiest travel day EVER and might just be the worst travel day for anyone of all time. Isn’t it funny how just as you are riding high, like I was from my time at Eka Chakra and Valparaiso, that the greater forces in the world come and decide to take a dump on your life for a while, just to knock you down a peg or two.
Turns out the ceviche I had in Valparaiso to “treat” myself was malo and I got a bad belly before what was supposed to be an 8 hour night bus to Mendoza. The limited bathroom situation was pretty stressful. (There are a lot of bad experiences in life, but thinking you are about to shit your pants in public is way up there). When we reached the border at 2am, the women’s bathroom was actually closed and I was really starting to pace until they opened up a men’s bathroom for us to use. Of my 7 border crossings from Chile to Argentina this was definitely the worst one. It took nearly 4 hours.
We finally got moving again only to stop an hour or so later along a deserted mountain road. Everyone was sleeping, but around 7am (when we were supposed to have arrived) I saw the bus drivers all smoking outside and got their attention so they would let me off the now stuffy, stale bus I was trapped in to find out what was happening and try to find a bathroom. After talking to a few people I was able to understand that there had been a rock slide and now the road was closed. They said it would open again in a few hours, but when the bus driver put a movie on at 11:30, I took that as a bad sign. We were stranded for a total of 9 hours at the base of a closed ski area below Aconcagua. It had limited services, at first no bathrooms, and no internet to let the friends I was meeting know what was going on. No one knew if the road would even open that same day and I was contemplating how it would be to pull out my tent and camp beside the road. In the end an 8 hour bus ride turned into a 21 hour bus ride. And wait, there’s more!
While walking to the Plaza Independencia in Mendoza and hoping my friends would still be there waiting, I got robbed. In my tired state and through some misdirection and sleight of hand my small backpack got switched with one that looks very similar. I lost my camera, iPod, electronic reader, and wifi device plus tons of other useful stuff. The thing I am most sad about, though, is the journal I had kept for the last 2 months and all the pictures of the amazing people I met at Eka Chakra.
The funny thing is I felt strangely calm and relaxed about the situation. In the previous weeks, I had spent so much time and energy stressing out about little, pointless things and then something like this happens to put everything in perspective. I felt like an idiot for getting duped by the scammers, but in the end it was a non-violent robbery and everything they took was just stuff. It is all replaceable; my life isn’t.
And as always, there was a silver lining. I was wearing my money belt (a habit from my two days in Valparaiso since it is supposed to be so dodgey there) so I still had all my cards, my passport, and a flashdrive with nearly all of my pictures. Also the new backpack they stuck me with was way nicer than mine. (Score!) And within minutes of getting robbed, I was with familiar faces from home and spent the rest of the night drinking wine, laughing, and hanging out in the plaza, which helped dull the pain and stupidity of it all.
I was so happy to finally meet up with my good friend, Courtney, and her husband, Mike. We had all been traveling in South America for over 3 months now and like Benjamin Button were “meeting in the middle,” (of the continent, that is) as I was heading north and they were heading south to Patagonia. We had an awesome 3 days together, mostly relaxing at the hostel which was an awesome find. It had a backyard patio, pool, barbeque, and lots of great people. We spent almost all our time here when we weren’t dealing with errands (you know…filing police reports or picking up money orders), either drinking beer by the pool or making huge asado dinners paired with delicious wine. It really felt like vacation.
The one day we left town to be tourists, we took a bus to Maipo and rented bikes to tour the bodegas. We saw a historic one first where I found out about and got to try Torrontes for the first time. It is a white wine grape that is endemic to Argentina and was so delicious, it is now my favorite white wine. I love that about traveling. You discover things you absolutely love that you never even knew existed before. Next we visited an olive grove and oil processing factory, which had some of the best olive oil I have ever tasted and then ate a picnic lunch outside of a French bodega across the street. It was delicious: two bottles chilling in a bucket, goat cheese, salami sandwiches, grapefruit, and some figs we picked off a tree nearby.
For the ride back we decided to take a ¨quieter route” along the canal. It seemed pretty scenic at first, but then became a bit of a shanty town. It was weird how all of a sudden it didn’t really feel like we were in Argentina anymore. A policemen actually appeared behind us and told us it was dangerous and ended up riding behind us the rest of the way back to the main road. Leave it to us to find an adventure even in wine country. To top off the day we did some beer tasting at a cool beer garden near the bike rental place. It was a perfect day, police escort and all!
Our final day together, we just walked around massive San Martin Park, hung by the pool some more, and had an early dinner since we all had night buses to catch. It was probably the most delicious dinner of them all. When it came time to say goodbye, I was sad to see them go. Like always I wish there was more time, but I am so grateful for what we had. For quite a while it was seeming like we were going to miss each other entirely. Later I found out that just after I made it across the Andes from Valparaiso to Mendoza, they closed the pass for a week. So if I had waited just one or two more days I wouldn’t have made it across and I would have missed Courtney and Mike completely. So in the end, I suppose my worst travel day was actually quite lucky!