Getting Lost in Mendoza

And…we’re back!  Been a little quiet on the blog recently – having too much fun hosting parents in South Africa during the month of January.  Now that they are back home, we’re back to the updates now:

One 19-hour bus ride later, we arrived in Mendoza. Though 19 hours sounds incredibly horrible, the luxuriousness of the Argentine buses makes for a surprisingly unoffensive journey. A couple movies, a good book, some not-so restful sleeping and you’re there!

So, remember our friends Courtney and Jed that we stayed with on the coast of Ecuador just after our computer got stolen? Well, they have since moved from Montanita, Ecuador to Mendoza, Argentina, and we had the pleasure to see and stay with them again. Their apartment was ideally situated on a main plaza in the heart of the city. Between the gorgeous tree-lined streets and the pedestrian mall full of outdoor cafes, we knew we were going to like this place.

Our Gracious Hosts

We did some wonderfully typical Argentine things on our visit, including a winery tour in a nearby suburb. We intended to visit more than one winery, however, the walking directions we were given were not-so-good and after a good hour of wandering, further mis-directions, and conflicting opinions, we ran out of time and the winery closed on us. Oh well, we chose to drown our sorrows in an inexpensive bottle of wine at an outdoor cafe instead. Who needs a tour anyway – it’s all about the tasting!

The biggest barrel in Mendoza

We also went to a soccer game between two regional teams in the area. After getting slightly lost again thanks to a lazy cab driver, we made our way to the tailgating pre-party. Once in the stadium, we discovered that there is essentially a crazy section for rowdy fans with noisemakers, painted faces, firecrackers and banners who don’t like to sit down, and there is a place for the rest of us. Beyond the soccer, which sadly ended in a scoreless tie, I was thoroughly entertained by the people-watching and more specifically the mens’ hairdos. Mullets? Yep. Rat tails? Lots of them! One random dredlock combined with a mullet and/or rat tail? Definitely. It was disturbing to say the least. This problem was not unique to Mendoza but rather is a nationwide epidemic.

Rowdy Fans

Wicked Mullets

A huge thank you to Courtney and Jed for their hospitality TWICE, and we look forward to returning the favor somehow back in Colorado.

The Capital of the Inca Empire

There is a lot going on in Cusco. It is the most visited city in Peru – and for good reason. Anyone who visits Machu Picchu travels through Cusco on their way to the ruins – whether they take the train, hike the Inca Trail or do an alternative route like we did. Beyond the draw of Machu Picchu, the city has a lot going for itself – it’s beautiful, there is a lot of history there (being as it was the capital of the Inca empire shortly before it’s demise), there are tons of great restaurants and beautiful hotels, and it serves as an access point to the Sacred Valley which is an awesome spot to do just about anything outside including hiking, horseback riding, rafting, mountain biking, etc.

As part of our trip and activity research for Adventures Within Reach, we had the opportunity to do some mountain biking in area and we were not disappointed.  The group consisted of Ted and me, as well as another couple from Canada. We had a lead guide in front and an assistant guide who brought up the rear. Both Ted and the other gentleman from Canada had some mountain biking experience under their belts so they were able to fly down the hills with the lead guide.  Myself and the other woman were not quite as experienced and appreciated having the assistant guide back with us going our pace.

The Sacred Valley is a wide open valley used heavily for farming but also surrounded by 20,000+ foot mountains. The scenery is spectacular. Just before lunch we had the opportunity to visit the ruins of Moray which anthropologists believe were constructed as an experimental farming technique that dates back to Incan or possibly pre-Incan times.

After a delicious lunch the mountain bike trail changed from mostly flat and rolling hills to being essentially a straight downhill ride. It was at this point that our guide informed us that we would be riding on one of the most popular downhill racing routes in the South America and that he in fact competed in the race! It was a fun ride, for sure, but as it maneuvered around tight corners and over slippery gravel patches near the edges of a cliff, I found myself relying more and more heavily on my brakes.

On the way down we stopped another time at the Maras Salt Pans. People from the town of Maras still use the the pans and literally mine for salt. The water that comes out of the mountain is naturally high in sodium and as it evaporates in the shallow pans, salt forms. Every few days they gather the salt and allow more water to fill the pans. It’s quite a sight, actually! We were told that some of the salt is used for human consumption and some is used for animals.

After the final stop, we cruised down a bit more before celebrating with a beer at the bottom. It was quite a day and we were able to strongly recommend Amazonas Explorer’s mountain biking day-trip to Adventures Within Reach for their future clients! We looked forward to doing a rafting trip and hiking trip with Amazonas Explorer as well, however, our plans were unfortunately canceled due to a nationwide strike that was brewing…

Puente-ing (aka Bridge-ing) in Baños

No mom, this is not us.  But it is happening all around us in Ecuador’s adventure capital, Banos.  Sort of a Queenstown, NZ vibe, but without the lake and with a little aggressive Latin American charm.  There are more tour operators here per square meter than i’ve ever seen in my life, and they all have more staff on the street encouraging you in their shop than people working within.  Banos is arguably more of an Ecuadorian tourist town than one aimed towards foreigners, popular with families and individuals from both the sierra and the coast.  Once you get past the heckling, Banos is a fun town with great activities and a beautiful setting.

Ok, back to the bridge jumping.  Baneros like to claim that they’ve invented a new adventure sport – puente-ing (or bridge-ing in English).  Kind of a mix between a bungee jump and a canyon swing – a bridge swing.  You jump off one side of the bridge, your rope is connected to the other side, and after a short freefall, you swing around to the other side.  Fun.  Not sure how safe.

After soaking in the thermal springs the town was named after, we rented some mountain bikes and cruised down a mix of trail and road leading towards the Amazon town of Puyo along a tour of spectacular waterfalls.  The largest, known as the Devils’ Cauldron, allowed for a behind-the-falls view of it’s powerful descent.

A short hike up the trail leaving town provided some awesome views of Banos as well as the 16,456 ft Tungurahua Volcano, which threatened serious eruption in 1999, evacuating residents and closing the town for months.  Banos is definitely worth a visit if you’re into medium-sized adventure sport-focused towns surrounded by mountains.  Obviously, we fit right in.

Ecuador´s Most Popular Sport

Soccer, right?  Well maybe, but equally as popular as the world´s game is an Ecuadorian version of volleyball: EcuaVolley.  And it is everywhere in this country.  Courts are in every park, in every town – way more prevelant than soccer fields.   It´s similar to volleyball as we know it, but with a few important differences:

  • Generally played on cement courts with a soccer ball
  • 3 on 3
  • Higher nets, preventing most players from spiking the ball (Ecuadorians aren’t the tallest people)
  • A much more liberal touch time for each contact with the ball

When we first witnessed the game, I thought everyone was cheating – you can’t palm the ball in volleyball!  Well, in EcuaVolley, you can.  There are some talented players down here, and games we witnessed got competitive and heated.

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