|Having registered several days of overtime over the course of last year I was able to take leave for exactly one month, which was split between mountaineering in the Andes for two weeks and then exploring what we could of Argentina in the remaining two weeks!
The mountaineering part consisted of making an attempt of Mount Aconcagua. To the uninformed, this translates to a 14 day trek and alpine-style ascent to the top of Argentina's highest mountain. It also happens to be the highest mountain in South America. And the Southern hemisphere. Oh, and the Western hemisphere too. So you could say it was pretty high, at 6962m over 1km higher than the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Unfortunately I got sick about a week before leaving with a sore throat and bad sinuses, just the things you DON'T want on a high-altitude peak. Fortunately this time I was with a group of old friends from UCT, so I had plenty of company and support. Richard Mauchle's mother's homoeopathic pills were downed four at a time twice a day, as well as some detestable mouth drops that left your mouth in a state of numbness. They seemed to work a little though, as I got a little better, although I never felt 100% throughout.
Everything went according to schedule and despite bad weather on one day, we were in prime position to make our summit attempt on Christmas day. Unfortunately all Santa gave me that day was a bone-crushing headache that forbade me to move anywhere in a hurry, let alone try to ascend a further 750m in seven hours at -20 temperatures. I tried two aspirins but due to the lack of fresh water I used mango mix to down them, which was a huge mistake. Back up came the aspirins, and down went my hopes of a third continental peak. I swallowed my pride and did the sensible thing by opting out of the summit attempt. Three of our team of seven made the summit, and well done to Baz, Rich Mauchle and Sele for making the top. Personally though. it was a lot of planning, effort and money to get all the way to 6200m and not be able to give the summit your best shot - but such is life, and that high, damn ugly slagheap known as the stone sentinel will be around a lot longer should I one day wish to return and give it another go.
But there was no time to dwell on what could have been, on the 27th we were heading back to the city of Mendoza, civilisation, alcohol and running showers. Tanith had made her way to Argentina after Christmas, and the picture of six unshaven (2 weeks without shaving), unwashed (two solar showers under trickling water in 14 days just doesn't cut it) and distinctly honing (we had worn some of our thermal underwear for up to six days without changing!) Saffers and two Argentine guides could not have been a pretty sight! But bless her soul she came down and gave me the hugs and kisses I had been craving for days!
Getting straight into Argentine culture, we went out for supper that night at around 11pm, and tucked into some HUGE cuts of beef for laughable prices. We discovered this to be the norm here, which I for one found very strange. I have never been to the likes of Thailand and so am not used to paying so little for so much, but throughout Argentina we found everything to be exceptionally good value for money, from accommodation to public transport to clothing and CDs. We never felt ripped off, and funnily enough it was more often than not the guys and not Tanith (although she was always keen to join in) who went shopping mad, picking up suits, sneakers and casual wear at phenomenal prices. On my return to SA one trip to the shops made me wish I had bought more, although sneaking home with 38kgs of luggage I did fairly well to escape through Customs unscathed.
Mendoza is a sleepy city close to winelands, and prospers as a cosmopolitan venue with sidewalk cafes and trees. Siestas between 2 and 5 in the afternoon are practically mandatory (we never complained!) and the shops are open until after nine, the restaurants after two. We spent new years at a restaurant and had only got through our main meal by the time the countdown for new years had begun. "diez, nove, onze, sete..." - good thing we hadn't had too much to drink at this stage! There were plenty of fireworks which everyone ventured into the streets to see, and then everyone went back to finish their dinner! We finished with the restaurant at about 1am and went through to the 'happening' part of town where all the pubs were, and were amazed to find only a few open. As we sat down at one of the open ones and tried some of the national drink of Fernet and Coke (definitely not recommended!), we noticed the rest of the bars opening up at around two thirty in the morning! At half four everyone was still having drinks and pondering where to go to dancing! Our body clocks couldn't take the pace and we headed home around five, at which stage every single bar and food joint was packed! Only in South America!