When one travels, one leaves pieces of themselves behind. Every step, every breath, every conversation, every heartbeat. The wind and sun flake pieces of ones self like grains of sand, and like grains of sand these pieces fall to the ground and fuse with the very land they walk upon, making it one’s own. Not in the sense of ownership, but in the sense of belonging, a connection, a conversation between muscle and rock, blood and dirt, man and earth. One leaves pieces behind in order to begin to pay the debt owed to the stars who birthed, the earth who nurtured and the universe who cultivated. When one leaves home, pieces fall from them like boulders, dislodging from one’s self and crashing earthward, shuddering and reverberating with each step further from home. Far from feeling lighter, the absence makes the going harder, the weight unbearable, the heart heavier. As I stood in the stark white of the terminal, a rose stuffed haphazardly in my backpack, I anticipated the reunification of the biggest piece of myself I had left behind, the boulder that had dislodged and struck my world like an asteroid. Together we would stride across mountains, together we would bask in sun and wine, together we would stand at the throat of the devil himself, and I would be at home, because we would be together.
During a month break from studies at the Universidad de Chile, my girlfriend at the time flew to Santiago to see me and we had planned to backpack three weeks through Argentina. This would be my first trip outside of Chile and I was excited to finally start filling out my passport with stamps and the opportunity to experience a completely new place together. I picked her up from the airport and tried to impress her speaking Spanish with the taxi driver. The next day we jumped on a bus to cross the mighty Andes into Argentina, the land of maté and guachos.
Our first stop was Mendoza, a city right across the border, known for it’s wine and as a good jumping off point to travel further into Argentina. At this point we were unsure exactly where we were going to travel to in Argentina, we had considered Cordoba, a city steeped in colonial architecture and history, Buenos Aires, the vibrant capital of Argentina, known as the Paris of South America, and Igauzu Falls, the large chain of water falls nestled between Brazil and Argentina in the brim of the Amazon jungle. We arrived in Mendoza and walked to a nearby hostel, again I tried to show off my Spanish and was politely corrected a few times by the young Argentine behind the desk. We put our stuff away and began to explore the city, grabbing a dinner of famous Argentine steak and beer. The next afternoon we took off for a horseback trek with traditional guachos (Argentine cowboys). Before saddling up I was lucky enough to befriend some of the guides and we sat around drinking maté, a popular Argentine drink similar to tea but overflowing with nutrients and caffeine (the best way to describe it is tea on steroids). It is drank from a hollowed out gourd with a metal bombilla (straw), and hot water is continuously poured over it, Argentines drink it socially, passing the gourd around in a circle. We then took off on the horses, unlike my first trip horseback in Chile, these guys encouraged us to get the horses going, making fun of people who weren’t going fast enough. I laughed like an idiot bouncing up and down as the horse sprinted around.
As the soon started to go down we returned to the farm, where the majority of the people on the trek headed back into town, while some of us stuck around for a traditional “asado” (barbecue) and Argentine wine. I was excited to try the famed Argentine barbecue and the food did not let me down, plates upon plates of meat were passed around between foreigners and guachos.
And after the food came the wine.. I won’t beat around the bush, we all got plastered, the guachos passed around jugs of wine twice the size of my head, the stream of delicious red seemed to never end. The group converged on a large campfire with jugs of wine and remnants of food and cheered on some of the guachos who had picked up guitars and were playing traditional Argentine songs, including a young Argentine boy who my girlfriend at the time dubbed “The Argentinian Justin Bieber”, unfortunately for her she didn’t know how to say it in Spanish and I ended up being a favourite of the guachos for my maté skills and sense of humour in Spanish.
We returned to the hostel very late and with our heads swimming in red wine, asado and music. The next day, with a couple of wicked hangovers, we went on a repelling trek out in the Mendoza countryside. It was a great time but the altitude was rough on the hangover, luckily at the end we enjoyed some beer and natural hot springs with some French Canadians we met.
The following day my Belgian friends who had to leave Chile in order to renew their tourist visas met us in Mendoza for a bike vineyard tour. We spent the day biking around to different wineries, enjoying the weather and wine. We were all taking the “Vitivinicultura y Industria de Vino en Chile” class back at Universidad de Chile so we practiced our wine tasting skills, and probably looked like pretentious tools the entire time.
That night we enjoyed some beer with other travellers at a bar on the terrace of the tallest building in Mendoza, we watched the sun go down and retired to the hostel to relax and drink more wine. The next day while waiting for our over night bus out of Mendoza, we had decided to go to Cordoba, we explored more of Mendoza, walking to the top of the Cerro de la Gloria, topped with a monument commemorating the independence of Argentina, which included a condor to symbolize Chile and Bernardo O’Higgins role in the liberation of the Southern Cone from Spain.
We said adios to my Belgian friends and the other travellers we had met and headed to the bus station to head to Cordoba, I was excited to see the colonial city but most of all I was looking forward to going to the nearby town of Alta Gracia, the childhood home of the famous Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.