We arrived in Mendoza, Argentina at dusk on Tuesday. We quickly found a hotel, and set about making arrangements for rafting the Rio Mendoza the next day. We initially set up a half day trip (2 hours on the river), but found another company that offered a full day (5 hours, plus a break for lunch). Having been misled about water levels and river conditions by the booking agent in Bariloche concerning our trip on the Rio Manso, we asked to speak with one of the "guides" for the Rio Mendoza trip (he turned out to be the company manager) to try and determine whether there were still high enough levels to make the excursion worth our while (especially with a full day trip). Abi spoke with the "guide" for nearly 10 minutes, and it sounded like it would be a very nice day on the river (even though we had missed the highest water levels from the summer snow melt).
When we got to the put in the next day around noon, we were not impressed by the amount of water in the river. I asked our guide what we could expect, and he told us Class 2+ (as opposed to the Class 3 and 4 that we had been told the night before--before paying, of course). I will give our guide, Amerigo, credit for attempting to squeeze every bit of excitement out of each drop of water still running in the Mendoza; we tried to surf every wave, ran up on nearly every boulder, and played smash-up derby with the other boats. I had fun, it just wasn't what we had been told we should expect. On the other hand, Abi was a little tired of rafting by this time, and given that it was a cloudy, cold and windy day (and we were given nylon spray jackets and pants, rather than wetsuits), she dropped out after the lunch break and went back to the base cabin to enjoy some hot tea and a book for the rest of the afternoon. The second half of the trip was by far the better section of the river, several people got tossed from other rafts (there were four boats in all), and one raft capsized and was pinned against a large boulder by the current. A safety line was attached to the stuck raft, and myself and four other guys were unable to overcome the force of the current and peel the raft off of the rock (the guides later returned to deflate the raft and pull it off the boulder with a wench). The passengers in that raft were divided among the other boats and floated down to the take-out. Hopefully we will have some photos of the rafting trip to add to the site soon (taken with another person's camera).
With time quickly dwindling before our scheduled flight from Santiago to Quito on the 24th, we decided to leave Mendoza on Thursday afternoon. That morning (after buying our bus tickets) we hired a cab and had a "quick and dirty" tour of the city before being left off in Parque San Martin, a park of several hundred acres on the west side of the city. During the cab ride, we had to stop for gas--natural gas, and the cab driver popped the hood of the car and told us how it worked. The cabs, all buses, and most cars in the area have engines which can use either gasoline or natural gas for fuel, the later costing 1/4 as much, causing much less pollution, and providing equivalent engine power. Sounds like a great idea to import back to the U.S. Anyway, the portions of the park that we saw were very nice, and we wished that we had more time there, but...
We arrived in Uspallata (a town of about 5,000 people, two hours west of Mendoza) early that afternoon. We were taken to the Hostel International Uspallata, 7 km outside the town. It was the proprietor's first year of operations, and they really made us feel at home. They arranged a horseback riding outing for us that afternoon, we and the other two guests joined the family for dinner that night, and they really went out of their way for us.
The next day, Abi and I (along with a young Canadian lady from the Hostel) flagged down a bus to Puente del Inca. This is a natural bridge over the Rio Mendoza in the mountains near the Chilean boarder. Somehow the bridge is covered in calcite and sulfer from hot springs in the area, and a hotel and spa was built into the side of the canyon to divert the thermal waters into baths. The building was destroyed in an avalance in the 1960s, but you can still climb through the ruins for a closer look at the underside of the bridge. On the land just across the bridge is a natural thermal pool that seats eight to ten people and is still in use. There were souveniers for sale consisting of various items (wine bottles, cans, ceramic figurines, cowboy boots) that had been placed in the flow of the mineral water and encrusted in a dark golden calcium deposits--not exactly our decorating style, but unique.
We had been told that there was a lake about 2 km from the Puente del Inca that offered great views of Cerro Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere at 6960 meters. So, we hiked along a ridge on the south side of the Rio Mendoza, and about an hour later we had a very nice view of the mountain, however, it was far away on the opposite side of the river and the aforementioned lake (which was not in our line of vision) was probably 10 km away. We had no way of crossing the river from where we were, so we had to backtrack to Puente del Inca. We hitched a ride part of the way to the trailhead for the lake and the lookout for Aconcagua, but hiked the last few kilometers in an awful wind, under cloudy skies and spitting snow. By the time we got to the lake (pond, rather; very over-rated), the clouds completely blocked our view of the mountain. Disappointed and freezing, we headed back down to the highway and failed entirely in our attempts to hitch a ride back to Puente del Inca (let alone our ultimate destination, Uspallata). We ended up having to wait for the 4:45 bus, and missed our opportunity to go on another horseback ride that we had planned to do that afternoon.
We were a little bitter about how our day had gone, but a meal of homemade pasta and pesto that night with the hostel proprietors, several of their friends, and the other guests made a better ending to the day. The next morning, we said goodbye to our new friends, and caught the bus for Viña del Mar, Chile.