So… this weekend was my “surprise weekend” for Erin. It’s not really a surprise when you have to say, “Plan on being gone for these next couple days, but I’m not saying where.” So, there were bits of it that were a surprise, but she pretty much guessed it all. The surprise was renting a car and going to a mountain refuge for a couple days.
It was wonderful. I picked up the car around noon and headed back to the apartment to pick up all the stuff that we had ready. Then, it was off. I picked an alternate route from the standard one towards Chile. This was a famous backcountry road with a gorgeous view of the Mountain Aconcagua (22, 841ft). Now, some people seem to think that little 1.2 liter engines, 2 door and low clearance cars aren’t meant for poorly graded gravel roads. However, we’re in Argentina where anything goes, so off we went. There were a few moments where large rocks blocked our way, but we managed to drive around them, up the 365 switchbacks to see some incredible views. Along the way, we passed Villavicencio, an old hotel with gorgeous gardens among the fall leaves.
After we left the gravel road and came out at Uspallata, we headed back along the highway to Jerome Brewery. When Erin’s dad came in town, he noticed the label of the microbrewery was a German Shepard, which is the animal that would be on their family shield if they had one. So, we were on our way to taste the beer and try to pick up some t-shirts or sweaters, or something for the dog lover in us all. The beer was there, and it was delicious. They had a beer that was aged 12months in french oak and it was fantastic. Mmmm. We had lunch, a couple of vicuna burgers. Also, yummy. They had shirts, wait, actually, no they didn’t, they didn’t have anything. No sweaters, no shirts, nothing. That was a bit disappointing, to be honest, but it was a fun trip anyway.
From the brewery, the final surprise was still to be revealed to Erin: the San Bernardo Refugio. This is a small log cabin just outside of the ski village Vallecitos. Hikers use it in the summer for acclimatization, skiers use it in the winter to go skiing, but in the fall, it’s not really used at all. There were 3 other people at the lodge, that’s it. So we pretty much had the run of the place. We were dead tired from the drive in, so we went to bed around 10pm, which earned us ridicule from our new friends. But, it was good to rest.
The next morning we woke up, had a leisurely breakfast and went out for a hike. We weren’t planning on anything too strenuous. For example, one of the other hikers got up at 5am to summit a 5,500m peak. Nope, we passed on that opportunity. Instead, we walked up the catwalk. A nicely graded trail with two tracks where we could walk side by side and amicably chat about nothing. Which we did, stopping to play in the decrepit and unsafe chairlifts. When we got to the top of the mountain, we broke for lunch of delicious sausage and cheese. Then we headed back down to the refugio to relax from the exhausting hike.
Then, the last part of the day, was about to start. I had planned an asado of our very own. We put on some firewood, got it going, built up the coals, then put on the side of veal, some chorizo and blood sausage. We spent the night playing guitar with some Canadiens, talking politics and drinking wine out of a damajuana. (A damajuana is a classic argentina 5 liter bottle of wine, of generally low quality.)
This morning, we got up for some breakfast and gave the canadiens a ride to town. Back in Mendoza, we returned the car, bought some bus tickets to Cafayate, where we’re off to next. Today, we’re going out with an old friend, Dustin, who we met all the way back in Guatemala. There aren’t too many of our friends still traveling around the Americas, so it’ll be nice to catch up to see where he’s been.