So my new job started with Yuan a 70 year old man picking me up from town. He asked me had I enough food for the next week because there was nothing up in the mountains with it 40km away. The only thing I had was a few pumpkin seeds and stock cubes so off to the supermarket we went. I immediately questioned my sanity when I arrived at the ‘refugio’ there were no tourists here (surprise surprise) just my good self and Yuan.
There was no electricity, fridge, heating or worst of all people. I kind of figured I might be working at reception or making the breakfasts. Yuan had something else in mind he wanted me to chop wood for 5 hours a day. It soon transpired I couldn’t use the axe so I got the painful job of moving tree trunks from one area to the next. I’d swear Yuan was just looking for company and was making up jobs as an excuse to make me stay. The first day, I ended up pretending to have diorrhoea so I could take regular breaks from the wood carrying (it was full on and definitely not the recuperation I needed). I ended up cutting myself really badly in some thorns which was actually a blessing and bought me some time ‘mending my wounds’. The days were long and nights even longer it really was hell. At night it was absolutely freezing Yuan had a few bunk beds (for all of his guests!) made out of tree trunks of course . Thank god I had my sleeping bag otherwise I would have been snookered. We slept in the same room and I was serenaded by his irritating snoring. I really was hating on Yuan at this stage and it had only been one night. I pretended to sleep until 12pm the next day blaming the antibiotics trying to avoid the laborious tree carrying tasks. I didn’t bring enough food and survived the few days mainly on crackers, rice and dry cereal. Yuan wasn’t the most generous kind! I would occasionally rob some prune jam with nothing else on offer. I half considered asking could I pitch my tent outside wanting be as far away as possible from the old man but figured it wasn’t worth the upset.
One of the days I was given a machete and told I had to make a new pathway (for what?).We literally spend days moving branches from one area to the next. When I asked what were the branches being used for he replied saying ‘nada’ and apparently the empty space is being used to build another refugio for all the ‘tourists’. At this stage I was loosing the will to live. The ‘free accommodation’ i.e trunk of tree definitely did not warrant the hell I was putting myself through. There was no signal either not that it mattered as my phone was dead and no electricity to charge it. Thank god the kindle has good battery life and that was my only saving grace. Reading Shantaram at the moment (excellent book, thanks Orla for the recommendation). As the days progressed the work got tougher due to the heat. Yuan spend the day talking to himself and I eventually followed suit and felt like I was drifting into a similar craziness.
Yuan had offered me the choice to go wash with him in the lake which I politely refused. I’d rather smell and look homeless than bathe with Yuan. He brought me to one of the nearby private lagunas and in fairness it was stunning. This was my break from tree transportation. I purposely got lost for a few hours to try and kill some working time. I spend the afternoon swimming, reading and sun bathing it was perfect (expect for the horrific sunburn that soon followed). It was so horrific I could barely walk let alone lug tree trunks around the place. My whole back and legs were covered in blisters and I had a constant splitting headache. Obviously I had nothing for the burn so covered my whole body in egg whites. I’ve been doing this for years and who knows if it actually does anything but the eggs seems to cook from the heat of your skin and create a layer of cooked egg which gives a little relief. Anyway I figured it was better than nothing and Yuan seemed to think it was an excellent idea. That nights sleep was impossible I was barely able to move my body and sticking to the sleeping bag because of the eggs and of course Yuan’s disturbing snoring/spitting enhancing my painful headache.
Yuan once spent 47 days in the hut an without leaving and survived on butter and pasta he just smoked his pipe and wrote down his thoughts…. this is when I knew I needed to leave pronto and reminded myself I am 25 not 75!
After 4 days I surrendered and told Yuan I was unwell and needed to be brought to the hospital asap. He also needed to go for his arthritis so off we went together for my 4th trip to an Argentinian hospital! The doctor took one look at me and the first thing asked me did I want a banana? Obviously I said yes she then came back with a bag full of bread, bananas, tea, chocolate and water. She said my burns were bad so gave me anti inflammatories and pain killers. A successful trip all round. The friction from the backpack is ripping my skin it’s torture!
I decided to leave San Martin and head towards Mendoza, an area famous for wine. As I was waiting for a hitchhike a random guy cam over to me with some fizzy orange and marshmallow biscuits he said he felt sorry for me. It was like feeding time at the zoo today. I really must have looked really shook post Yuans (anyone would)! I got dropped 30km north where I met two young Germans who were also trying to hitch hike north they wanted to get as far as Bolivia. They didn’t speak any spanish so it was up to me to try to sort us all out. Delira with myself the first guy I chatted to in the garage said he’d bring all 3 of us 3 hours further north. After 3 hours it transpired that we actually went South and ended up back in Bariloche (god only knows how!) The Germans had hitch hiked from there earlier that day. Needless to say they were furious with me and as light was closing in it looked like we’d have to sleep in Bariloche. Miraculously just as it was getting dark a young Argentinian police man stopped and said he was heading 6 hours north and would take us all. The ungrateful Germans were still in a huff! Santiago the police man was a gent and we lapped for the 6 hours while the Germans caught up on their beauty sleep. He dropped us at the bus terminal where we all booked a bus to Mendoza for 6.30am the following morning (a 15 hour bus journey).
My first day in Mendoza was v chilled exploring the leafy town, It kind of reminds me of Barcelona. I decided to go explore the Maipu wine region just outside Mendoza the following day. There are really expensive wine tours you can do and some with matching food pairings which I was obviously tempted by. Instead I settled for the backpacker option of renting a bike and cycling through all the different wineries. It was excellent and cheap. I was expecting the wine tours to be really touristy and busy but it was so chilled out and not crowded at all. I did a tour in the first place with a lovely couple from London and then for the rest of the day I just did wine tastings. Mendoza’s most famous wine is Malbec and then Shiraz. They also produce white wine and rose thank god as it got as hot as 43 degrees. Mid way through the day I did an olive oil tasting with different tapenades (they are also famous for their olives) and chutneys, jams and choccie. A welcomed break from all the vino.
There were about 10 different wineries you could choose from, spending on average about 1 hour at each. I made it to 5 different ones and choose to go to the small family run ones as opposed to the big ones. The setting was absolutely stunning with stretching views of vine yards and olive trees. A fantastic day and nicely finished off with happy hour in our bike rental shop with 2 free glasses of vino on offer.
The following day I left Mendoza to make my way north towards Salta (over 1,300km away of course!). Most people say hitchhiking is so much easier in the south and the further north you go the less common it is. I decided to give it a go and after waiting in the blistering heat (40 degrees). An old couple took pity on me and brought me to the nearest town 130km north to a place called San Yuan. I was absolutely drenched in sweat and ruined their expensive air-conditioned car.San Yuan is famous for its melon production and when I arrived there was a melon festival happening. Delish melons and wine (they also produce excellent wine) the most exquisite combo.
So after my usual Spanish spiel the couple couldn’t believe I was travelling alone and hitchhiking. They told me their son owned a hotel and I could stay for a night if I wanted and the son would show me around the town. Obviously an amazing offer so I said yes! So it turned out the son was a professional tennis player in Argentina, owned a hotel and was ONLY 23 years. What a way to make you feel inadequate. I checked in and couldn’t believe it was I was given a family suite. Nacho the hotel owner picked me up an hour later and must have wondered why the hell he was given the job of babysitting me for the day. It reminded me of the kind of situations Dom has oftened landed me in so I felt sorry for the poor chap who obviously didn’t have a say in the matter.
He told me we were going for beer which I obviously didn’t object to but what I didn’t realise he was bringing to a pool party of one of his other tennis mates. It was basically a mansion with about 40 beautiful looking people going around in expensive bikinis. It was the most amazing setting of outdoor pools and bars with a backdrop of the Andes mountains and vine yards. Stunning. Needless to say I stood out like a sore thumb and not your typical pool party clientele. I camped myself out near the free bar and tried to explain in Spanish to people who I was and why the hell I was here.
A rough start to the week finished off we me being treating like a queen! Absolutely blessed!