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Argentina Part 2 & Atacama Desert, Chile

posted by Kevin and Mandy

sunny

Feeling clean and well rested, we left our friends in Santiago and headed to Mendoza, Argentina. The road was long and windy, with jaw dropping views of the high desert landscape. The view was especially good and at times a little frightening because we were able to ride on the top front of a double-decker bus.
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As we made our way to Mendoza, we passed several vineyards and got really excited for our Argentinian wine adventure. At this point in our trip, we had started getting a bit lazy about reserving hostel rooms, and spent about 2 hours finding a reasonably priced open room. We finally settled on a mediocre hostel on a very busy city street. After checking in, we received news from our friend, Alicia diVittorio, that we would be spending the following night at the Park Hyatt Mendoza.
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Her treat, as a wedding gift. Woo hoo! The next day, we took advantage of early South American noon check-in, and spent the afternoon lounging poolside and watching cable TV. Our room was really nice, as expected, and was such a great relief from the dingy and uncomfortable hostel rooms. That evening, we decided to continue our day's theme of luxury travel by going out to a really good meal. The restaurant is called Azafran and would be good even by San Francisco's standards. We contemplated extending our stay at the Park Hyatt for the remainder of our trip, but realized it would cut it short and we would have to fly home a week later. Darn! The next day we toured the town, explored Mendoza's large city park, and tasted wine at an excellent wine bar called Vines of Mendoza (recommended by Alicia).
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Our last day in Mendoza was spent bicycling from vineyard to vineyard (called bodegas in S.A.). The experience was super fun and informative, and we tasted a few new wines that we really liked.
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That night we had another epic meal at a less formal parilla to chow down on some more bife de chorizo (steak). We reluctantly left Mendoza and experienced our first overnight bus to Cordoba, Argentina. We really liked Argentina's second biggest city, also referred as “the cultural capital of Argentina.”
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By chance, Cordoba was hosting a giant craft faire, so one night was spent rubbing elbows with locals, checking out cool artisan crafts. We also visited many of Cordoba's great art and colonial history museums. One that especially stood out and was a little creepy was a 17th century Jesuit catacomb, which was located underneath downtown Cordoba. As a stopover to northern Chile, we spent a couple days in the small city of Salta, Argentina. It was charming enough, with a few picturesque colonial churches and rolling green hills surrounding the city.
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We visited an Incan museum, which housed 3 mummified children that were sacrificed on a nearby volcano. The bodies are well preserved because of the high altitude where the sacrifice took place. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for some), we could not take photos. We met 2 ladies from Germany at our hostel, and spent the evening with them, eating our last steak dinner in Argentina and singing karaoke.
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Kevin made friends with a few locals and a family of 20 invited us to an asado at their ranch the next day. Unfortunately, we couldn't make it because their ranch was over 2 hours away. The next day we hopped on another bus and made our way back to Chile to the Atacama desert, which happens to be the driest desert in the world (so they say). This was one of our first experiences with extremely high altitude, as we went over a 4,200 meter pass. The route was just as spectacular as the ride from Mendoza, especially when we drove through Salinas Grande, one of the largest salt flats in the area.
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We stayed in the small, dusty town of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. The town was a cross between the wild west and Jerusalem, with small white stucco buildings on tiny dirt avenues.
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We arrived on Good Friday, and again, didn't have a reservation. We were blindsided with the inflated hostel prices because of the holiday weekend, so we decided to camp instead.
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We attempted to have an asado for Easter, but were sorely unprepared, which caused the asado to fail miserably. Basically, all that we had was a wood grill (no utensils, no plates, nothing!) What were we thinking? In the end our bellies were full and we had a good laugh. That night was spent at a French-owned astronomical observatory in the middle of the desert. Because of the clear sky and no city lights, we were able to see an infinite amount of stars and learned about the constellations of the southern hemisphere. The next day, we headed out to a nearby salt lake and salt flat. Swimming in the salt lake was a crazy experience! The lake is 60% salt, which causes you to be completely buoyant. We felt like men on the moon, with almost no gravity.
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As we dried of, we realized how salty the lake really was!
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After, we drove to a picturesque salt flat, which sat below a series of active volcanoes. We enjoyed the sunset with a mango pisco sour and took many amazing photos.
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The last day in Chile was spend cycling through the desert valley and visiting pre-Incan ruins. We saw some spectacular views and rock formations.
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Our time in the desert was unexpected, but very memorable.

Posted by rd2nowhere 20:51 Archived in Argentina

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