Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mendoza days: lots of fun and crazy company!


Me, Ravid, Sivan & Efrat in the back of the pickup truck heading back for Mendoza

Short time after parting from Jimmy, I have joined three funny and totally crazy Israeli girls for some great times in Mendoza and the surrounding while preparing for the Aconcagua base camp approach (Plaza Francia)

Meet the loco-trio: Efrat, Ravid and Sivan
A day after I said goodbye to Jimmy, I was already posting adds in several hostels in Mendoza, looking for partners for the Aconcagua trek. Thing is, that the Aconcagua national park is “open for business” only from the 15th of November, and thus I had time in any case to find people to trek with. When I went back to Sosahaus, the hostel I am staying in, I was looking for Sergio, the owner, so I could ask him what can I do in the mean while. He was busy talking with an Israeli girl that I saw coming with a group of another four persons at the same day I came. She was also looking for things to do in Mendoza, and we talked a bit. Efrat, 22 of age, was traveling with her two friends, Sivan and Ravid, which she served with in a mixed combat unit (male and female) and just landed a week before in Santiago, looking for action and trekking. Turned out that the following week they were fixed with Spanish lessons but were enthusiastic to do the Aconcagua base camp trek once they finish with the Spanish lessons. At first I thought that I was better off doing this trek with more experienced travelers, but at the end I found these girls to be an excellent company for any trek, and I once again, told my self to give people more credit…
As I said before, they came to Mendoza from Santiago with another Israeli couple, which they found to be to YAVSHUSHIM to hang with, and at the same day I talked with them (Sunday) we went out to have some drinks and maybe even dance a bit. Well, I already knew that the Argentinean night scene is dead from Sunday night to Wednesday night, so I told the girls, no way, forget about it! No dance tonight! But they were a jumpy bunch, as I found later on, so only after walking across Mendoza they were settled on sitting in some bar and after reading the menu, I ordered my self a beer while the girls ordered some cocktails, that the waiter said they were not so strong…well, lets say that maybe for him, but for the girls…So, we sat outside on the sidewalk of hot Mendoza, waiting for the drinks, as I got acquainted with the girls.
Quickly, I realized I am in good company: While Efrat and Ravid were much more subtle, Sivan was a knocker, laughing and talking loud, talking about things that most people would not dare mention even when alone. Not that Efrat or Ravid were silent. Oh, no! The participation was full, and the combination of Efrat`s and Ravid’s cynicism with Sivan’s childish way of talking was a great humorous combination!
Then we got our drinks, the girl got their cocktails in High-ball glasses, of course, and took the first sip…well, you should have seen her faces! Twisted like they got a punch in their belly...and no shit, it was a really strong stuff! I drank it myself and it burned like alcohol on fire! (yeah, yeah, I am not that of a drinking person myself, but still…). So, like good girls they went on finishing the full high-ball drink, and as they got near to the bottom of the glass, they were getting more and more drunk! Just think, three crazy girls (when sober) getting drunk and one sober male enjoying the scene! And it was SO funny!
At a certain point, somewhere half way to the end of the glass (of Efrat, Sivan already finished hers and was totally out of senses…), the astonished waiters served us some Mozzarella cubes with sweet Cherries on the house. The cubes came with a spike to hold on, and soon Sivan found it hard to stab a one cubic centimeter Mozzarella (a HUGE chunk!) and was stabbing the plate trying to stab but miss every time, while laughing and shaking. Efrat, drunk also, tried to help her so she took her hand but that was even worse because both of them were so drunk and laughing their hands were going all over the plate but not on the Mozzarella chunks. At the end, we decided to go back to the hostel. Well, Ravid was more or less quite sober (she had a lighter drink, lucky for us) so we two tried to hold on Efrat and Sivan, which kept on knocking into each other, laughing as hell. Sivan was the best, calling and saying hello to strangers walking near us or sitting at cafes on the sidewalk, astonished at the laughing-blabbering two drunken girls. At one point she reached with her hand to say hello and almost gave a slap to a row of five sitting people that had to duck from the reaching hand while me and Ravid pulled her to the other side of the sidewalk…crazy, I am telling ya! To make matters “worse”, we were far from the hostel, so me and Ravid had to keep an eye on the two, as they swing from one side of the sidewalk to the other. Mendoza is also criss-crossed with half a meter deep water channels, and every time we neared one of them, me and Ravid went on chaperoning the two so they won’t fall into one of those deep trenches.
Finally, we came to the sleepy hostel around 3 am (I think) while Sivan blabbers and laughing in high volume and all of us tried to shut her up. Once the door opened, the lot came in one burst and quickly I found Sivan and Efrat on the floor, giggling and laughing in loud voices, while the night shift guy tried to lower their voices without too much success…Well, the best of the best was when after they got into their room on the second floor (while waking up the whole hostel, and I mean, EVERYONE!!!) Sivan didn’t want to go to sleep. Ravid and Efrat talked with her, but Sivan was stubborn, keeping on laughing and giggling out loud so Efrat though a “little” push toward the bed will shut her up. Well, she didn’t think that Sivan would fly and land in such a crash, that the bed would break at one side, while Sivan keeps on laughing on the floor beside the cracked bed…I was in my bed, trying to sleep, when Efrat came and asked if she can sleep in my dormitory, because Sivan broke her bed…
”How did Sivan break the bed?!” I asked in amazement, half laughing.
“I gave her a little push but she fell and broke the bed,” Efrat said sheepishly and she went to bed. Even after we closed the light we could still hear Sivan`s laughter in the background…what a night!

Cold thermals but a hot ride!!!
The next day Ravid and Efrat went to have their first course (after such a night…) while Sivan got bored in the hostel and I went to the Internet to upload my pictures. This routine was Monday through Friday, except for one time when I suggested we gonna go to the hot baths in Cacheuta, an hour drive by bus from Mendoza. So, once the two finished their class at 11 am, we took our stuff, catch a cab and took the 12 pm bus to Cacheuta. The scenery was lovely and in one of the valleys the bus stopped and we saw the baths, located on top of the roaring river, with numerous baths and pools, with a master channels that surrounds the lower complex. We went down and there changed. As I had to take off my underwear, and didn’t have any place to do that, I managed to find a small niche that I hope no one will see and changed there…Shamelessly, I know…Surprisingly, we found the baths to be far from hot and only after an hour in the cold water we thought about going up and check the rest of the pools. Well, they were by a bit hotter and after relaxing a bit we went further up and there we found THE hot pool which we stayed most of the time, laughing at this or that, and sometime going vulgar on some subjects that I can not dwell any deeper…
Well, at a certain point we decided that it is time to go back to Mendoza, only we found out that the next bus was around 6:50 PM and the time was 4:30 PM…shit, what are we gonna do in the mean time? Sivan, as so typical of her, suggested we gonna go with the cute guys waiting for a ride to Mendoza but we felt uneasy coming like this and asking for favors (even Sivan’s HUZPA has a limit…) but after the two guys climbed the green L200 Mitsubishi pickup and the car sped toward Mendoza, our mind returned to what we gonna do in this desolate place. We were surprised, however, when we saw it back up and stopping in a rumble of rubble. One of the guys approached us and asked if we want a ride back to Mendoza as there was one space free in the backseat and the rest can sit in at the back open pick up space. Well, what do you think?! Lets vamos!! So, while I was approaching the green and shiny car, I pondered whether to go backseat or to seat in the pick up. I managed to see the lady behind the wheel, somewhere around her 40s, looking great (!) speaking English and asking what I prefer. The girls already went straight for the back and immediately I gripped how much fun it could be to ride the back of an open pick up truck. SHIT, WE GONNA HAVE SOME JOYRIDE HERE! I said to myself as I jumped over the cargo door and landed on the plastic floor of the pick up.
Before I knew it, the car kicked into gear and the curves back to Mendoza were far from those we saw and felt only 4 hours before. WHAT FUN! The wind whipped us viciously as the car sped the curves and the marvelous scenery of mountains, valleys and trees past beside us at 100 km/h and more. The lady knew her way with the truck, as we went past cars, truck and the like. We were laughing and enjoying the scene, taking pictures of the scenery, and also of us with our hair flung in all direction like being electrified. An hour ride was done in a 40 minutes zoom while we grasped the metal casing of the car while it raced back to Mendoza. It felt AWESOME and so full of power, I wished I had a car like that…Damn!
We we dropped at Plaza Independencia, the main plaza of Mendoza and we thanked the lady and her companions (sons?) for their kindness. I even managed to squeeze a shot of the lot waving goodbye with my oldie camera as a souvenir.

Preparation for the Aconcagua’s base approach
Eight months ago, when I just hit the South American continent and didn’t know left from right in the muchiler life, I knew that I have to run away from stinky Santiago and Mendoza was the main target. Why Mendoza? Because of the highest mountain in the Americas, and actually, in the whole world outside the Himalayan range, which is a lot at that! Not that I had any plans of conquering an almost 7 km high peak (6962 meters), but I have heard and read quite a lot about this mountain and the surrounding park, so I wanted to check it out. I didn’t know that then, but good thing I went to San Pedro instead, because not only I was not acclimatized back then, it was out of season in any case, and no outdoor activity was allowed in the park’s area.
But, now things are different. March was the end of the season and November is the start of the season. I went to check at the park’s offices in Mendoza and found out that this year the snow was heavy than usual and it is expected to be hard to walk to the base of Aconcagua.
Speaking of which, this mighty mountain range, has not one but three (!) major base camps: Plaza de Mulas (4300 MASL), Plaza Francia (4200 MASL) and Plaza Argentina (4200 MASL). Climbers for the normal route start from Plaza de Mulas while those of us who just want to get close to the giant take the three days hike to Plaza Francia, looking at the west face.
We started our arrangements on Thursday, one day prior to our departure (or what wt thought is our departure). We went to the tourist information main office and there three nice girls gave us a lot of info about the park and the different treks in the area. Trekking to Plaza de Mulas requires 5 days while trekking to Plaza Francia requires only 3 days and due to the fact that the permit costs around 10 USD per day, we quickly chose to go to Plaza Francia.
To reach both base camps, we first need to get off on the international route to Chile near Puente del Inca, and walk two hours to the entrance to the park, Horcones. There we were to check-in into the park, and then continue on trekking to the minor base camp, Confluencia, which is located at 3300 Meters ASL, some 4 hours trekking from Horcones. Confluencia is sitting on the Rio Horcones in the split between the western and the eastern valley that “hug” the Aconcagua ridge. Usually people spend their first night in Confluencia, and the next morning hike 5 hours to Plaza Francia, take pictures and return to Confluencia as it is not allowed to spend a night at Francia due to lack of facilities, mainly drinking water and adequate bathrooms (they have a serious thing here with the issue of natural, haaa, relief, and actually it is not allowed to make a “dump” in the whole park except in arranged facilities…yeah, right, I want to see the nut case that will carry his shit 5 hours and even more till he reach Confluencia…)
Snow was not a big issue, they told me, though at a certain point they stressed that we would need plastic boots and crampons to go as high as Francia, but after some consultant with the park rangers at Confluencia, they said it is ok to go with normal hiking boots, “but take extra boots or socks because you gonna get wet feet once you reach Francia”. Well, not really but never mind. We planned on leaving right after Efrat and Ravid will finish their Spanish lessons, Friday morning, sleeping one night in Horcones (for free) and only the next morning check-in with our 3-day permit. Meaning, doing a 4-day trek, to maximize our acclimatization. Cool! Only we found out that the bus leaves twice a day, at 6 am and 10 am, which meant we had to wait for Saturday morning. OK. We bought the permit, only to realize that we need the original passport and I almost went back to the hostel to pickup my passport because they were VERY stiff about this identification shit…man!
Well, after finishing with this issue we went to the streets and while I was looking into buying a wind proof fleece jacket, Sivan started with one of the salesmen and when I got my coat she got a date to the next day’s morning (Friday). We also ride to the bus station to buy tickets to Puente del Inca leaving for us and for two Argentinean doctors that decided to join us to see Puente del Inca and that were staying also in Sosahaus. The next day, we went to rent a 4-person tent and food for the next day, and after the successful date Sivan had with her Argentinean friend (Alejandro his name) she told us she had another one at 11 PM…We reminded her that the next day we gonna leave at 7 am from the bus station, which meant we need to leave the hostel around 6:30 am. She said no problem and I walked with her some of the way to her date meeting location as I wanted to send an email to the family about the trek and some important phone numbers of the park’s offices.
Another trek was underway!

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