After his 40 days in the desert I’m sure JC needed a break. Maybe he considered volunteering at a hostel, a rustic little place on a shore of Lake Galilee perhaps? I felt much the same and after over 1000km of sandy ballbags I was well in need of a rest. Thus I set my sights on Mendoza and ended up volunteering for 10 days at Windmill Hostel – a laid back joint near the centre of the city.
Dario and Julietta opened the hostel a year ago and it’s already the highest rated hostel in the city on Hostelworld. They’re a lovely couple and I had a very relaxed time volunteering with them which was exactly what I needed but unfortunately stability and toilet cleaning don’t make for interesting blogging. I’ll see what I can do.
I had planned to keep heading south through Argentina but found the prospect of another 1000km of cycling through the desert profoundly uninspiring. I was resigned to a few weeks of sandy boredom when suddenly it struck me. Why not cross over to Chile?
My week in San Pedro was more akin to a week in Disneyland than a week in Chile and I was curious to get a taste of the real Chilean culture. I was also longing for anything other than flat straight roads and the idea of crossing back over the Andes gave me the kind of buzz I hadn’t felt for a while. So, after saying goodbye to Dario, Julietta and Philipp I set off for the mountains on an unseasonably grey and windy day (it’s sunny 300 days a year in Mendoza).
Since Leandro seemed keen I agreed to jump in. This was a mistake. Earlier I’d purposefully planned to stop trying to hitchhike at 2 o clock in the knowledge that reaching the border any later than 3 or 4 would leave me struggling to reach a town on the Chilean side before dark. Now, at 4 o clock, it was far too late to ride down the Chilean side and I faced the prospect of being dropped off in sub zero snowy tundra. Nonetheless I mindlessly put my bike on board and just as I went to help Leandro he had a change of heart and decided to cycle on to the next town. Dammit. It felt ridiculous asking the family to remove my bike and all the bags they’d just helped me pack so after some hurried goodbyes to Leandro, I jumped in.
Immediately I knew I’d made the wrong decision. While it was good to be out of the wind, the next town was only 5km away and the scenery instantly improved and would’ve made for fantastic cycling the following day past Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside of Asia. Yet there I was being ferried 25km to a freezing cold dead end. The family seemed nice enough. They gave me a chocolate dessert thing, which was good, although after the initial questions the dad proffered the classic ice breaker “In World War 2 who declared war? The English or the Germans?” Every so often I get these random war related questions as soon as I say I’m English, my favourite coming from a confused Peruvian bloke:
“England eh? You won World War 3, right?”
I explained how Germany invaded Poland and as a result the British declared war. The mum, who looked like a former model with a Dolph Lundgren haircut (circa Rocky IV), gave me a questioning look and asked her 14 year old son, who I should note was wearing a flat cap, the same question. The little know-it-all said “Germany declared war”. Despite him being wrong, the mum gave me a smirk that said “yes, that’s right, our precious child knows more than you and he isn’t even English”. I didn’t even want to get into this stupid van and now I was being made to feel like an idiot for speaking the truth. If this was a sitcom I would’ve started a massive argument before accidentally elbowing their sweet young daughter in the face while trying to yank the flat cap off the kid’s head. Instead I just writhed in silence like the Englishman that I am.
Once we reached the queue for customs we were in proper Arctic wildnerness and I cleverly decided this would be the best place to get out. I triumphantly turned around and cycled back down the mountain, intent on remedying my mistake and finishing the picturesque climb the following day as originally intended.
As I ate lunch on the grass in the town square everything went a bit wrong. First a passive aggressive gardener turned on the sprinkers soaking me. Then while I gathered my stuff a dog nicked some of my bread. To top it off my newly fixed false tooth snapped once again as I bit into what remained off my damp lunch. With my bandanna, growing locks and gap-toothed smile I’m now only an eye patch away from going full pirate.
I’m now in a great camp site only 40km from my 3rd coastal adventure. Here’s hoping it’s more like Ecuador than Peru.
Tunes: LCD Soundsystem – American Dream, Jeff Rosenstock – We Cool?, WORRY, Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold
Reads: Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer , In Patagonia – Bruce Chatwin