Thursday, March 14, 2013

Weekend in San Rafael

San Rafael, southern region of the Mendoza province
Probably one of the hardest things to drill into my brain in these last few weeks has been that I should be engaging settle-down mode. I’m still in the antsy-traveling mode characterized by constant worry over bus price changes and hording food for subconscious fear of not knowing when or where the next meal will come. Antsy-traveling mode happens to be second nature for me, thanks to being on a plane at least once every four months for the past three years. Nevertheless, the gringo train had a pretty awesome weekend on our main organized trip of the semester to San Rafael in the southern region of the Mendoza province. This was definitely the most of a genuine restful vacation I’ve had within all my travels in the past few months: it was hard to return to Mendoza, so that’s definitely saying something.

The next-door restaurant for each meal
Outrageously early on Saturday morning, we piled onto a bus yet again to drive a few hours south, through arid desert as the sun rose opposite the Andes cordillera to the west. Arriving in San Rafael was a shock; I was expecting tents but instead we were greeted by gorgeous little cabanas brightly painted with overflowing window planters, surrounded by an oasis of pools, ponds, and roses amongst tall rock faces in a desert canyon. After an immediate swim in the freezing pool, we headed next door for the classic several-course Argentinean lunch with some of the best vegetables I have had thus far. I have seriously never been quite so excited for a salad bar as I was every meal at this open-air restaurant.

Don Gato the cat, who happily joined us for each meal
Instead of a siesta, we were carted off up the canyon to take a catamaran across a reservoir lake to a beach for the afternoon. This was GREAT. I cannot even remember the last time I was on a beach, so I was pretty thrilled to have as much swimming as we packed in as we did this weekend. The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to swimming or paddling around the surprisingly nice lake in canoes and attempting to pull off handstands in the burning sand. Thanks to my desert childhood, I will forever be a bit befuddled by water, but this was still so much fun.

The lake from the cliffs above
After late dinner at the next-door restaurant again, a majority of us all ended up sprawling out across a grassy area away from the light of the cabanas to look at the impressive expanse of stars. It wasn’t a match to Patagonia, but the southern hemisphere stars are nevertheless so gorgeous in areas this far away from mass civilization. Caitlin happens to work at her school’s observatory, so she whipped out her official laser for pointing out stars and gave us a great evening of constellation stories and facts—it was SO much fun. To those astronomy friends of mine, I have happily seen the Southern Cross, now straight from Patagonia and from the Central Andes as well. The Milky Way and its depth from the dust clouds within it, along with the Magellanic galaxies, will never get old. The rest of the evening was filled by several card games in various cabanas spent with great company.

Hiking the canyons of San Rafael
The next morning we headed back into the mountains for a short morning hike through the canyons, complete with a super friendly guide and a few adorable dogs. I cannot even begin to explain how eerily similar this entire landscape is to New Mexico—I honestly feel completely at home hiking through these hills. We ended the quick hike with one of the highlights of my entire time in Argentina: dune running! Finishing off at the top of a rather tall dune obscured by plant growth, we were encouraged to sprint the full way down and try our best not to completely face plant. It was so simple but SO FUN, plus the half-kilo of sand stuck in our shoes as souvenir afterwards.

Welcome to the land of steaks
This whole day ended up being a marathon of activity, since we barely had time for the most gigantic lunch I’ve had here in Argentina before being thrown onto a raft for an afternoon of white-water. Argentina is obviously known for the steak, but I have had exceedingly little while here due to having a vegetarian host mom. In fact, I’ve essentially stopped eating meat in the last few years of cooking for myself since it’s just ridiculous to buy and grill an entire steak for one small person such as myself. Therefore, Argentina and its steaks are overwhelming at best, but I’m excited to give it a shot outside of my home meals. Still, this mountain of meat was a bit much for me, apart from the chorizo, which was delicious. I’m still going to admit I was far more excited for the salad bar than the asado, but I’m expecting to experiment with better steak over my time here in Argentina. I still haven’t experienced the two steaks a day phenomenon, but oho, I will.
Smidgebit of sand in the shoes
Our raft guide was a woman from Maine who had come down to South America after graduating from college to intern in Peru, went on a white-water raft trip in class IV and V rapids in Colombia, and never left. She’s now worked all over Latin America either interning with NGOs or guiding for white-water raft companies and loves every bit of it. She’s ended up with a crazy mix of Spanish dialects and some Quechua thrown in from living in so many countries: she says she gets laughed at for her Spanish mezcla, but she gets to laugh at the Argentinians for pronouncing “kayak” as “kah-zyAHk”. (Just imagine: “kahzyahkeestah” = “kayakista.” Ham it up). The more time I spend away from the computers of cubicles and outside surrounded by Spanish, the less I consider coming back and returning to the life track of a software engineer: meeting people like this raft guide and just about everyone in Patagonia is dangerous.

Gorgeously painted cabana

Nevertheless, we had to come back to Mendoza, “la tierra del sol y buen vino.” Bummer. BUT word is that it’s only about US$10 for a bus to San Rafael, so I’d say it’s not out of the question to take the three-hour bus ride just to camp, climb, and hike for a weekend sometime. Too bad my tent is very much so still broken and useless, therefore keeping me grounded. I’m afraid I’m going a bit stir crazy in the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, and it’s only the third week. I’ve been in search of rock climbers and fellow hikers this entire time and I think I may be close to finding some Mendocino mountain gurus. Ojala!

Much love from the Argentine steaks,

P.S. – My professor got absolutely bombarded with text messages halfway through class yesterday until he finally caved and checked his phone—the new Pope is from Argentina! And people have been honking ceaselessly all day long in celebration (they usually do this when someone gets married). A new Pope from Argentina is an endless honking affair and I imagine Buenos Aires is one hell of a party right about now. My host mom thinks this is all incredibly foolish.

Kathryn, Katie, and me with some super attractive PFDs on the catamaran en route the lake beach

1 comment:

  1. No surprise that you notice similarities between NM and Argentina. Swainson's Hawks annually migrate from here to there and you probably saw tons of creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), the same as here except diploid. Now we have a newly discovered Baldwin species that appears in both biomes.