Thursday, September 29, 2005

Mendoza Flyin'

Well, last we left off I was on my way to Mendoza, heart of the Argentinian wine industry. My first activity there was what they call parapenting. In English, paragliding or parasailing. Basically, we drove up to the top of a mountain and jumped off (with a parachute). The ride up was actually the scariest part, as our little 4x4 wound its way up a narrow dirt road to the top. Some of the hairpin turns could not be made without backing up, leaving the rear of the vehicle perched on the edge of a death defying dropoff. At the top, there was a large gathering of school children - and I have no idea how they got there. There were people trekking up and down the mountain, but I cannot imagine getting all those little kids to hike that far. And the road would be impossible to negotiate with a bus. Nevertheless, there they were to watch us fly. After some brief instructions (run that way) I was strapped into to a chair, which was then attached to my operator´s seat (it was a tandem flight, of course). Next thing I know, whoosh, we were flying down the valley, back up, and overhead the takeoff site. It was a pretty amazing experience. You just float there and fly over the landscape below. You can feel the wind rushing past you and the occasional pull when making turns. But otherwise it is just like sitting in a chair hundreds of feet up in the air. After 15-20 minutes, we started heading towards the landing site. Coming down, he did a few acrobatics - I am sure it was nothing spectacular, but you could defiinitely feel the g-forces as he spun back and forth.

Next, I headed to Los Penitentes. This is a ski area a few hours west of Mendoza, just before the Chiliean border. I spent three days there skiing (which was probably one day too many - the boots ended up hobbling me for a couple days, and I´m still shedding my ski sun burn). It´s near the end of the season, so the snow wasn´t great. But they had three decent runs which they kept groomed. I also ran into some people I had met before - a South African couple that I first met in Salta, and saw again at the hostel in Mendoza, and a couple of guys from Australia. So I was able to hang out with some English speakers for one night - otherwise everyone at my hostel was Argentian and spoke mainly Spanish.

Back to Mendoza I went - and this may have been the best part of the trip. The road hugs a narrow shelf between the mountains and a canyon carved out by the river. The Andes are spectacular (I iterate, or possibly reiterate). The Argentina side is quite dry, so there´s rarely any vegetation. Thus the mountains are striped bare, with their inner being exposed to the world. All the different minerals and layers of silt offer an insiders view of the earth. It almost seems that every mountain is a completely different entity then the one next to, there´s that much variety in their appearances.

Arriving in Mendoza, I returned to my hostel and spent a couple days recooperating. Currently, I am in La Cumbre, which is near Cordoba, in northish-central Argentina. The Sierras loom just outside of town, and there are a variety of outdoor pursuits to explore (wait for the next update to see what I did). After a couple days here, it´s back to Cordoba (I just passed through the bus station this morning). And a definite must see - Oktoberfest in Villa General Belgrano.

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