I stopped off in Buenos Aires on my way to Paraguay, to visit a friend who was working there. Together, we set off for Mendoza, a lovely little welcoming town in the west of Argentinathe famous for its wine and close to the highest peaks of the Andes.

Getting to Mendoza was no easy task. At least, to my inexperienced travelling eyes. We arrived in Buenos Aires Airport to get on our flight and were promptly told that our flight to Mendoza had been cancelled. Having then been shunted at the last minute onto another flight, we finally arrived at our hotel in Mendoza to find an ant's nest in our bedroom. Having been assured by the hotel owner that the ants were perfectly harmless, even in such large quantities, we set off into town to find a bite to eat.

The town has a relaxed and easygoing atmosphere and seems bustling with life. But, like a lot of Argentina in a post economic crash situation, the hustle and bustle hides a different story. Many poor and hungry people were out in the streets, hunting for something to feed their families. The moment we had finished our meal on a terrace outside a café, a very polite old man walked up to us and asked us if we had finished eating. Having been assured that we had, he then asked us if we would mind him taking the leftovers home for his family. We agreed straight away, much to the dismay of the café owner. Having finished our prime argentine steaks, we set off back to our hotel in a taxi, which, invariably, managed to burst a tire and had to stop in the middle of nowhere.

The next morning we got out of bed at the crack of dawn to set off on an all day excursion into the high Andes. We were picked up at the hotel and set off up a road, which then turned into a dust track at the foot of the mountains. The track wiggled its way straight up the steep mountain in an incredible series of 365 bends, offering a panoply of incredible views. Once at the top, we joined a slightly more important track and continued upon it until we found a herd of lamas crossing our paths, which we invariably leaped out of the minibus to take photos of, by which time they were nearly over the horizon.

Calcium formations - Puente del Inca

We continued our tortuous ascent alongside an incredible disused train line which used to link Mendoza with Chile. The train line in question is undergoing restoration work and should eventually be open to tourists. If the project ever does get finished, the ride will probably end up being classed among one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world. The road took us high up to the top of a mountain on the Chilean border. When I say high, I mean 4200 meters high. The views were fabulous but the mountain air and pressure were not meant for the light-headed. From this vantage point we had a perfect view over to Aconcagua, who at 6885 meters is the highest mountain in the Andes. The road up to this view point was tortuous to say the least, with the bus leaning precariously over to one side on the bends, so much so that on several occasions, we could see straight down the valley (instead of over to the mountains opposite) and everyone in the bus was oooing and aaaahing in horror.

Back down in the valley we once again followed the road along the train line, this time stopping off at a place called Puente del Inca where natural hot water springs had been channelled into a series of thermal baths. The water comes out of the ground at 36 degrees and there were several people bathing in the pools despite the low temperatures. The most incredible feature of this attraction was the amount of calcium content of the water. The levels were so high that any object left in the water for a period of 2 weeks would come back out totally covered over in rock solid calcium. It left the most incredibly coloured formations over everything it touched. Following the thermal baths, we visited a rural museum about the different minerals that could be found in the area. The museum explained the mining history of the area and had interesting geological information about the composition of the different layers. The journey back down was also spectacular and by the time we arrived home we were suitably exhausted.

The following morning we got up at a more leisurely pace and made our way to a nearby café for breakfast. Following this we embarked on a wine tasting tour of the local vineyards. We tasted some absolutely disgusting wines and some fabulously scrumptious one. The difference in quality was amazing considering that most of the grapes come from neighbouring fields. Water is the important factor in the production and I guess some farms have better irrigation than others. Following the wine tasting tour, we visited the town of Mendoza itself and found out about its history. We also visited an aquarium (not very good) and various monuments in and around town, one of which being the famous statue that adorns the argentine peso notes. All in all Mendoza was a nice place to visit. Our only disappointment was that we could not stay longer and visit other areas of interest outside of town. We could have easily filled a couple more days!!!

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