Paraguay to The Andes

After a few (very hot) days in Asunción, Paraguay with temperatures of over 35C that felt like 42C we boarded a Expreso Paraguay bus costing £13 that was take us back into Argentina to a place called Restitencia. I quickly spent our last of Paraguayan guaraní on some water and a new purse in a panic thinking we’d just be carrying it around forever otherwise. We weren’t overjoyed at the thought of going back to Argentina, the people were grumpy, unwelcoming and they were super behind with the modern world. They didn’t want to take credit cards due to tax issues and accommodation was SO dated.

So off we went. We drove for about 40 minutes and we could see the border in sight (we were still on Paraguayan soil). We pulled up and there appeared to be a huge queue in front of us. This was pretty common: to be in a long queue while all the paper work was done, the bags thrown off and police did a search… an hour passed. About 6 or 7 sellers jumped on the bus offering everything from toys to ice cream. We couldn’t believe it… we were still in Paraguay and of course we didn’t have a penny to our name. We had about £5 left in Argentinian pesos which we knew we had to keep for a taxi the other end. In Argentina they charge £7 as a fee to withdraw money from a cashpoint/ATM. Absolute madness. Another reason why we were NOT looking forward to stepping back in Argentina.

Another hour passed. The bus was sweltering, the air con was non existent and we were the only English speaking people on the bus. The locals seemed just as confused as us why we were stuck here for so long. I think Jack and I watched a WHOLE season of Friends waiting for some activity. The border appeared to be completely shut, no one was coming in or out.

So we ended up waiting for 4 hours on the border. We couldn’t get off the bus and we only had water no food or cash to purchase anything. (These sellers had EVERYTHING… some guy was freshly squeezing orange juice). We finally approached the actual border where we were next in line for the big search. We peered out the window having no idea what was going on. We weren’t sure if this was the spot where we could get an exit stamp from Paraguay as well as an entry stamp for Argentina… or maybe we had missed it? We tried to explain ourselves to the bus conductor who seemed to be very sure of the fact we were in the right place.

We could see below all our bags being taken off of the bus and thrown on the floor. This is pretty normal: they take all the stuff off and search it with dogs. I could see a lot of really dodgy looking guys with orange shirts on passing the bags around. I knew we had to get off ASAP to grab our bags. The rest of the coach were piling off and grabbing their bags and going BA massive queue into the border office. We jumped off and saw our bags, as we approached a man in an orange t-shirt whistled to another guy. They both grabbed our bags and marched off with them. I said ‘NO’ repeatedly but they weren’t having any of it. We reluctantly joined the queue and I was FUMING. I knew exactly what was going on here, this wasn’t the first time this sort of thing had happened. They spotted us gringos, grabbed the bags took them to the desk in advance and would force us to pay to get them back. They thought we were stupid enough to fall for this and too weak to argue. I was so annoyed, I mean we were the ONLY people who had their bags taken off of them, it was so obvious. The way he dismissed me when I shouted no too, he literally looked at me like ‘you have enough money to pay me’.

So we finally made into the border office. The lady asked me a whole bunch of questions in Spanish of course, I got stuck on a couple and she got so frustrated she didn’t even wait for an answer and stamped me back into Argentina. I looked over at Jack and he was being asked LOADS of questions, they were even counting the pages in his passport! As I exited the border office I was honestly thinking ‘omg this is it our bags would have been bloody stolen by now’ I mean who leaves their bags unattended? US. WHEN WE HAVE NO CHOICE! We weren’t sure if the men in the orange t-shirts even worked at the border, for the bus companies or even we were just there to make a few bob off of us gringos…

I walked out and found our bags outside on the floor next to the security table. Another man whistles at another and before I knew it one of the orange t-shirt men were picking up the bags. I shouted NO really loudly and ended up telling him to piss off. It wasn’t a pretty sight but the guy was bloody fighting with me for MY OWN LUGGAGE! The guy finally left us alone. The security guard was more interested in finding out where we were from then actually checking our bags and let us through. What was even the point?

So we were finally all on the bus again. It took about 2 hours. We pulled off and we thought we were well on our way… oh how we were wrong AGAIN! The bus slowed down at least four times and turned around… everyone on the bus was up in arms shouting and laughing. No one knew what was going on and to be honest with you we never found out why we kept turning around on the main road…

Next came the real adventure!!! Jack and I were on our second season of friends by this point when a huge gush of water drenched me. The bloody air con (or supposed air con) had been overused and started leaking like mad all over the seat and ME. Jack had to sit on the floor and I moved to the edge of the other seat. This attracted much attention from some Paraguayan girls in front of us who offered to tell the driver. The girl ran down stairs and came back with a message on her google translate. ‘People are getting off soon you can change then’ it read. Well that was helpful! NOT!

Eventually people did get off and we changed seats to nearer the front. It was well into the evening now, we had been on the bus about 9 hours with no food and we were trying to drift off and just pray we woke up when we were finally in Resitencia. Next minute I know we were being searched YET AGAIN by Argentinian police who jumped on with HUGE dogs. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not great with dogs… the police were trying to ask me something to which I didn’t understand. I was clearly scared of the huge dog in front of me which humoured the policeman greatly. Next minute I know the policeman ordered the dog to jump on top of me. Literally the whole dog over my face…everything. I screamed so much. The policeman laughed and walked off. Omg Argentinian’s are the WORST. I looked down at my leggings all stained with the dog’s paw prints… SOMEONE GET ME OFF OF THIS BUS!

So the journey took 12 hours in total and was meant to take 6. It was really late by the time we pulled into Resistencia so we couldn’t even eat. We were so exhausted. We had paid for a hotel which cost £30 a night as there wasn’t many options here and we only stayed in it from 1am-9am. We were so annoyed. To make it worse we had to get an overnight bus that we had already booked the same day to our next destination, Córdoba.

We spent a few hours in Resitencia. One word of advice: don’t go here. It’s a popular spot for people passing across Argentina but there’s nothing here. It reminded me of so many tacky Australian towns I found on a road trip a few years ago. Apparently this city is famous for its sculptures, and indeed the city was covered with these little sculptures all shapes and sizes… but that was that really. We found a money exchange place because we refused to pay £7 to withdraw cash and tried to change some dollars. The staff laughed so hard and made a HUGE deal about the fact we were English… we didn’t ask them to speak English or anything… this was the typical Argentinian experience we had become used to in Buenos Aires & Iguazú. We ate a huge tasteless pizza that evening that had a rock hard base and went back to the hotel to collect our bags. It was time for another night bus.. YAY!

We boarded the Ciudad de Resistencia bus costing £47/ $1298 ARS from Restitencia to Córdoba. We’d purchased the last tickets on the bus meaning we were right at the back on the top deck next to the water cooler. It was literally like sitting in a cupboard. Jack loved it but I hated it. It was so claustrophobic. We were served a rather weird chicken and rice meal on board and the bus conductor was adorable. He kept running up and down stairs with bottles of sprite for a refill. It’s not that common to get a meal on a bus anyway, let alone drinks too so it was quite the surprise. Once again on this bus we were stopped by police who boarded the bus searching for what I can only assume was drugs. A policeman approached us in the middle of the night asking if we were family members… I know…we were just as confused as you are. The policeman searched high and low behind seats and everything… it seemed strange as we weren’t even crossing borders, but I guess we were crossing into different ‘states’ which have their own policing systems.

We arrived in Córdoba at 7am the next morning. We were pleasantly surprised on arrival that Córdoba seemed like a pretty nice city. We checked into Casa Helsinki which I cannot recommend enough. It was an actual dream. A super swanky modern Scandinavian style guest house with huge kitchen, garden and all the modern features. The owner Diego was lovely and on hand to help with everything. There was also a super slinky cat who fitted in with the decor perfectly and jack took in as his pet!

A new pet!

We booked in to stay in Córdoba for 5 nights. We mainly wanted to relax and reenergise ourselves for the next few weeks ahead. We knew there wasn’t much going on in Córdoba but we chose a comfy guesthouse in the form of Casa Helsinki so we could just chill. We also decided to have a while off the alcohol after a booze heavy Christmas and New Years.

Some of the main attractions in Córdoba consist of: Museo Del Che Guevara, Plaza de San Martin, Museo de la Memoria, Iglesia de Los Capuchinos, Evita Fine Arts Museum (all of which seemed to shut all the time…) The famous Cathedral of Córdoba, Argentina was beautiful and the colour peach so striking. It’s an elaborate 18th century place & definitely worth checking out. The city itself is full of quite a few gems but to be honest with you we really struggled to find anything open. The timings of the churches and museums were completely wrong on the websites, every time we turned up the gates were locked. It was SO frustrating. We spent our whole time in Córdoba using the well equipped kitchen at the guest house so unfortunately no restaurant recommendations. On the whole I wouldn’t really recommend visiting Córdoba, there’s not much to see really. But if you’re passing through then it’s worth checking out a few spots and staying at the uber comfy Casa Helsinki if you’re in need of some home comforts…

SO peachy

Iglesia de Los Capuchinos

Pretty streets

Lots of pink makes me happy

After an extremely boring but relaxing few days in Córdoba it was time to head to our last destination in Argentina. We were pretty pleased to be moving on in Argentina as well as getting closer to leaving this slightly frustrating country. We took yet again another overnight bus (CATA INTERNATIONAL) from Córdoba to Mendoza costing £34/$939. This bus was a complete dream. We had these huge comfy seats in the more expensive downstairs section (Top Tip: downstairs are worth the money!) and slept like babies. We also got a meal included and coffee & cake in the morning when we woke up. There was no angry police or angry police dogs on this journey! We woke up to our first view of The Andes and WINE COUNTRY! We were pretty excited to say the least. We headed to our apartment we had booked, it looked OKAY but nothing amazing… all the accommodation online had been really dated and expensive so we just had to go with one… we dropped our bags and went in search of a well deserved Starbucks. En route to Starbucks my flip flop broke. I couldn’t believe it! My trust havianas had finally given up! As we sat in the comfy Starbucks Jack amazingly managed to fix my flip flop temporarily using a hair pin! As we left Starbucks we stumbled across the central market and tried our first Andes beer. (Pretty nice) As I sat at the table my other flip flop broke! WHAT?! HOW DID THAT EVEN HAPPEN? It was like one flip flop KNEW… so Jack fixed both flip flops and we walked back to ‘Wine Aparts on Riojia Ave’ (no joke) we checked in and found our apartment. We opened the door and looked at each other in disbelief. It was HORRENDOUS. Literally one of the worst places we had ever seen. The ‘kitchenette’ was a one ring burnt hob, a sink the size of a saucer, NO pots or pans to even cook with, a TV from 1990 and a decor enough to make you feel sick! It also stunk of gas… honestly this place hadn’t been done up in over 30 years. We knew we couldn’t stay here, it looked nothing like the pictures and we had 5 days! There was also no wifi which isn’t acceptable for nearly £30 a night!!! Cut a long story short we went downstairs, ended up on the phone to and cancelled the booking for a full refund. It wasn’t that difficult really which made me think that they were pretty used to people walking out! We ended up in another hotel called Cordon Del Plata which was super comfy but also pretty dated… expensive too for nearly £40 a night! Mendoza certainly isn’t an affordable place. We were shocked really.

Mendoza was an interesting place. Obviously hugely famous for it’s wine it’s a very popular tourist destination for not only foreigners but also Argentinians themselves. There’s a huge nightlife there which was pretty unexpected. All the fun lies on Avenue Arístides which holds loads of really nice restaurants, bars and clubs. It’s really busy all week and offers ALL types of food which is quite unusual in Argentina. We ate some delicious burgers at Torito, a Milanesa at El Club de la Milanesa (breadcrumbed chicken or beef) the size of a serving platter, and got crazy drunk at a corner shop that had music & loads of tables outside on cheap rum that gave us a hangover for 24 hours. We shamefully ate two McDonald’s here too… Mendoza was very pricey. If you’re wanting to eat and drink out here expect to pay at least £4 for a pint, £4 for a cocktail and £8 + for a main meal. Not really backpacker friendly but friendly nonetheless!

On day three we decided to venture to the public park which houses a view point for The Andes and over the city. It was a long walk (about 12km there and back) to the General San Martín Park but it was a great bit of exercise after being couch potatoes in Córdoba. We found the viewpoint which is very steep but only takes about half an hour to summit. The views at the top are spectacular over the city, vineyards and a huge war memorial, it was well worth it. Funnily enough there was a car park at the top and it turns out everyone else just drove up!

Views of The Andes

Cheesy poses

The main attraction of course in Mendoza is the wineries and vineyards. I am ashamed to say we didn’t really do it properly, nor did we plan properly for these excursions. We set off on our trip to the vineyards on day 4, knowing we could take a train to Maipu where the wineries are located. Finding the tickets for the train was the most difficult part. You have to buy a top up card called ‘Red Bus’ in a news agency and add on credit (like an Oyster card) it took us about an hour to find one… another reason why Argentina is an annoying destination… there was no info anywhere. We finally boarded the bright red train and to be honest it was pretty fun. It took about half and hour to Maipu. As we arrived we were anything but impressed. The area seemed so run down and it just wasn’t appealing at all. The big tourist attraction here is the bike tours – you rent a bike and cycle from winery to winery wine tasting. First up we couldn’t find the bike shops and secondly I was feeling rather anxious about cycling – I’m not a great cyclist and I pretty worried about cycling around drunk on the roads – but in hindsight we should have just gone for it. We thought we should walk around first and see what we could find. It turns out everything is miles away from each other and it’s really hard to walk from place to place…

The Mendoza train

Despite all this we went to Antigua Bodega Giol, an historical winery formally owned by the government, had a tour then did a wine tasting session, followed by a tour and wine tasting at Bodegas López. We also found a little shop serving cheap cups of Malbec after. Not quite the experience we hoped for but we still got an excellent feel of Mendoza wine production.

The wine museum

Once the biggest wine barrel in the world

Wine tasting

Bodega Lopez

Huge productions at Lopez

Our time in Argentina was over and we couldn’t be anymore excited to get to Chile. We checked out and made our way to the main bus station. We had booked this bus in advance and even stayed in Argentina longer than we had planned so we could get front seats on this bus! We’d heard it was an amazing journey through The Andes to Chile…

I made a friend at the bus station (which was really expensive by the way.. don’t buy anything there!) from Salta in Argentina she asked me SO many questions and I did my best to answer them in Spanish! She just couldn’t believe we didn’t have children, weren’t married, had all our clothes in a Rucksack and were travelling for one whole year!

We boarded the CATA INTERNATIONAL bus costing £37/$1022 ARS bound for Santiago! Country number 41 I was TOO excited. You know what? That bus journey was the most incredible bus journey we have and probably will EVER take. It was SPECTACULAR. Hours and hours of winding roads through The Andes. Streams, brooks, rainbow coloured mountains, snowy capped peaks and one of the most famous dangerous windy roads in the world…

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