Getting there . . . January 9 & 10, 2010
We met at my place at 6 a.m., G having picked Bob up on the way over. The gear was loaded, the final spouse kissed good-bye and we were off for a new country, a new part of the Andes, and hopefully at least one new summit. Given that the Nigerian clown had just tried to detonate his underwear on board a plane, we were planning to be at the airport no less than 3 or 4 hours before our scheduled departure. God only knew what security would be like and we wanted to make sure that we at least got on the plane in Denver with a minimum of hassle. We pulled that off . . . breezing through American's check-in line and then right through security via one of the shortest and fastest moving lines I've ever encountered.
Once on the concourse, G initiated his airport training program, which consists of walking an endless number of circuits from one end of the concourse to the other . . . . until the flight takes off. I don't know how many miles we walked but we did about 2 hours of walking, stopping only for potty breaks and to peruse the magazines at the various news stands along the way. We finally boarded our flight to Dallas and we were officially beyond the point of no return. More accurately, Bob was now committed to two weeks with us, two weeks of individualized torment, silly antics, extended narratives regarding local history with no basis in truth and . . . of course the constant threat of a visit to some red light district for God knows what.
The flight to Dallas was uneventful and as soon as we were in the terminal, we had food on the mind. Hunger, boredom, the specter of an overnight flight to South America, the reason did not matter to me so long as we killed a four hour layover with something other than another circuit of the terminal. We had good burgers all around and then walked off every calorie before the flight to Santiago boarded at mid evening. I will admit to scheduling long connections but when the gear bags have to get to Argentina . . . I mean have to get there . . . I think a good layover gives the airline the opportunity to get the missed bag on an intermediate flight and into my hands at the final destination.
The flight from Dallas to Santiago is an overnight run of nine and one half hours. I had a full stomach and can usually sleep on a plane, so I was confident that I'd survive the ordeal. G, the pharmacist, left nothing to chance and slept the whole way with the aid of a dose of Ambien from the start. Bob? . . . I dunno as he was two rows back and I was out in no time. The Santiago flight was uneventful and just after sun-up the next morning we descended along Chile's Pacific coast and came to a stop in Santiago, a new country in my logbook. We again had a long layover, this time to due to the next LAN flight to Mendoza being about 4 hours after our arrival. We killed more time, having breakfast at . . . of all places . . . a TGI Fridays in the Santiago terminal. We certainly were not looking to Americanize the trip from the start but unless you are willing to shell out over $100 to get through Chilean immigration, you are stuck in the terminal until the next flight.
Our flight to Mendoza was short, about 40 minutes and sure beat taking a bus or other road transport over the Andes for 6 or more hours. The flight distance is short but the plane has to gain the better part of 25,000 feet from sea level Santiago to get over the Andes and then lose most all of that altitude to drop onto the tarmac at Mendoza. Of course, the key is to sit on the left side to get the best view of the Andes, especially Aconcagua if that is your destination. It was not our endpoint but we were able to look beyond it to the Mercedario region, where we would spend the next ten or so days going for our selected summit. We were soon on the ground and walking down the steps rolled up to the plane, old style, and I was loving it. Nothing like the steps right onto the ramp and hoofing it to the terminal . . . seriously . . . that's what flying is supposed to be!
We sped through Argentine immigration and then picked up our bags at the luggage belt . . . almost. Long layovers be darned, there was one missing bag, the bag with my boots and other important gear in it. I queried the gal at the end of belt and she advised that what was now on the ground was it, no bag in sight meant no bag. Great, just great, I thought to myself. Five trips to South America and now when we aim for a relatively civilized destination, some bag comes up missing. We got everything else through the customs inspection and then I met up with the LAN representative at the counter to inquire of the missing bag. Sure enough, she found the record, located the bag in Santiago, and promised that it would come over on the next flight and be delivered to our hotel in Mendoza. The question for me was simply . . . is this real or just some "manana" based happy ending story formulated to save face and basically get rid of me? In Bolivia . . . well, you can guess what the answer would have been but now I'm in Argentina and LAN has a very good reputation and the outfit looks sharp! I guessed I'd find out the hard way by the end of the evening.
Anibal had arranged for a ride from the airport to our hotel and the fellow was there is a sign and our names . . . perfect. The van was there and soon enough we were on our way out of the airport grounds and speeding first along the highway and then along the sycamore lined streets of Mendoza to the front door of our hotel. The bags were whisked into the lobby, we followed, and soon enough we were in the room and fiddling the the air conditioner.
We rarely hunker down in the hotel and soon enough we were on the street looking for an ATM and a grocery store. Gotta have local cash, some bottled water, or similar, and honestly, the trip really has not really started until the local chocolate has been sampled. We found a grocery store and covered some basics before heading back to the hotel for a break before dinner. And you know what happened right after we got back to the hotel . . . LAN delivered my bag, just like they said they would. I knew then and without a doubt, that we were not in manana-land.
Next came Dinner . . . that was what we really had on our mind, but not just any old dinner, but Argentine beef. I'm not from Texas so I really should not use their regional prefix but I will just this once . . ."This ain' t no shit now, but" if you have never eaten the beef in Argentina, you have never experienced beef as it was meant to be. We made a reservation at a restaurant by the name of Azafran, which we were told by a contact in the states was a must. We arrived at 9:00 and did not leave until nearly midnight, having had the beef, the wine, the appetizers, the bread . . . the works. There was no doubt that we had arrived in a good place and this trip was going to be a good one, no . . . a great one for sure!