Sunday, March 14, 2010

Aconcagua 2010 - Salt Lake City to Penitentes

Got up early on February 24 to go to the airport and fly Southwest to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles I had a few hours to kill, and there was a major order issue with the Satphone that required I pick up a Fedex at a nearby Fedex facility, so I let Southwest keep my bags for me and walked to Fedex about 3 miles away. I rode the B-lot shuttle back, retrieved my bags and wheeled them over to Tom Bradley where I passed them on to LAN.

Tom Bradley still sucks. I made a protein shake and hung out killing time on my DSi (which is one of my new favorite airport/airline time wasters). Finally I got on the plane and flew on to Santiago Chile, where I would have another few hours to kill. Santiago at the time was under construction, and it was hard to find a money change place and food in the international wing. Chile has odd rules, and if you leave that wing you have to pay a fee to enter the country (even if it's just to go to the bathroom). I finally found the money changer and grabbed a vegetarian sub sandwich at Dunkin Donuts.

Santiago Chile Airport

I got on my plane for a very short flight to Mendoza. Customs and immigration was easy. In Mendoza I was met by Jose of LANKO, and his sub-contracted driver Eduardo. They grabbed my bags and loaded them in the Mercedes minibus and we drove to the city center where Eduardo guarded the van and moved it around the parking police, and Jose took me to the tourist office to get the permit invoice, to a money changer to get Argentinian pesos, to a Western Union to get the receipt for the invoice, then take the invoice back to the tourist office to get the permit.

I should point out that my poor Verizon world phone did not work here. It's dual-band GSM and I guess you need quad-band here. Oh, well. There's still the satphone.

Jose took off then to do other busy work involved with running LANKO in Mendoza while Eduardo took me to Walmart to get supplies. He followed me around and helped pick stuff out, which was mildly frustrating, but at least helpful when I couldn't find anything instant like I was used to finding. He explained that they don't do that here. Everyone cooks everything from scratch. That sucks for backpacking. He kept trying to get me to buy tuna and canned veggies, and even loaves of bread and fresh fruit. Um, yeah. 26 miles on the back of a mule. Then I haul it up the mountain on my back.

On the two hour or so drive from Mendoza to Penitentes we stopped at a restaurant where Eduardo eats for free because he's such a good networking driver person. He gave me a business card and invited me to bring all my friends and have a great tour. This was also my introduction to the typical Argentinian diet. Three or more courses. Lots of meat. Dulce de leche (caramel) on all the deserts.

In Penitentes I was dropped off with Osvaldo running interference to keep me from either tipping or talking to Eduardo. Interesting. I was given a bunk in a dorm-style room upstairs and shown a place to sort my bags. I got right into sorting my bags, and managed to get done fast enough that he sent them up with the next day mule trip. Normally your stuff goes up a day after you, but I was fast.

I took a shower and changed, then went outside to make a satphone call. It was annoying, to say the least. Not sure if it's just my destiny, but overall the service sucked. I would hate to have an emergency and need it. Anyway, then on to the typical Argentinian late dinner. 8:30 PM. Meat. Desert. Wow, I'm going to be so sick.

LANKO Penitentes Hostel

Got to bed and woke at 7 AM, and had to wait an hour for the typical late Argentinian breakfast. Very continental. Sliced meat and cheese and rolls. It was now time to make the transfer to the trailhead. Osvaldo loaded me into his old Toyota 4x4 diesel truck and make the half hour trip to the Horcones entrance.