Sunday, 7 February 2010

Not a Lot to Write Home About

Today's title probably doesn't do my day justice, because as far as seeing the countryside is concerned you could be in much worse places. The day started at about 04-00 when I was woken by a disturbance outside. Looking down from the third floor window, overlooking the park, there was a crowd of about 100 people, all well behaved, chatting away and overseen by 2 police officers in a patrol car. Sleeping for another 2 hours and waking on the alarm, the same crowd were in attendance but the police presence had grown 7 fold. Mine host kindly got me a taxi and explained this was just a normal 'end of the party' gathering before calling it a day. I had to ask why so many police and it seems it's a 'zero tolerance' sort of place but the coppers were just doing simerlaly to the public and having a get together before going off shift. Fortunately, nothing sinister and I got to the Bus Station at 07-15 (with ticket) as planned. Leaving Santiago at 07-30 it was only a short half hour before we started to head into the foothills of the Andes, from there it was pure paradise. Shear cliffs, high hills and fast flowing streams for the best part, with a few recognisable birds including several Chimango Caracara, dozens of Black-winged Dove while most abundant were their larger cousins true Rock Doves. Gaining altitude, the poor old bus was feeling the strain but with no hurry to get anywhere this proved to great advantage as 2 or 3 Rufous-napped Ground Tyrant were easily identified, followed later by small flocks of Yellow-brindled Finch. Both of these are 'world lifers', and mores the pity I didn't have the camera to hand as the males of the latter were decidedly stunning.

It was 14-00 by the time we reached Mendoza, a little longer than I had estimated, but the 90 minute stop over gave me a chance to get a coffee and change some money. El Cambio was the same office as the bus line I was using, and having slightly over egged the custard with the Chilean pesos I had about 40 quids worth to chance. I was expecting a bit of a fall, but it seemed the rate was up as instead of the calculated 320 Argentinian pesos I received 350. The next leg, onward to San Raphael, started with confusion as each ticket holder was alocated a seat. Unfortunately, most of the numbers on the bus were missing so for once I was not the only one dazed. There were plenty of seats anyway and right on time we started out on a journey that should have reached destination at 19-00. We hadn't even left town before we broke down, but it may have been that they were carrying a mechanic or that one showed up in lightning time, but the repair was soon underway and fixed. This part of the run was totally different from the first which was dominated by high hills and mountains, we were now on the 'high plains'. Here, almost no vegetation gave way to mile after mile of rough scrub, a few fertile areas plus dozens of vineyards. We arrived a little late, but what's an hour between friends, at San Raphael which is a small and prosperous looking town, obviously much dependant on wine. Along the way there such names as Chandon and Mumm and I feel sure neither Champagne house would lend their name lightly to another vintner? In part I had a bit of a heavy heart, because I have only ever had one bottle of what might be called 'fine' Argentinian wine, when Tony Laithewaite sent me a bottle of Alma Viva as a gift. Not wishing to spout, but to fashion the story, I had no idea about this wine but soon discovered the Bordega was a collaberation between Baron Phillipe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi and this gift was worth about £50. When it arrive, I thought I'd been lucky to receive a 'magnum', but due to the thickness of the glass the bottle only appeared oversize and was in fact a bog standard 75cl. Laying it down for maybe a special occasion, the moment arrived when I was invited, via a friend, to dine with strangers and thought 'the bottle' would fit the bill. Meeting the people for the first time on the day before the dinner, the wine was handed over with the suggestion that it may be best opened the next day some hours before dinner. When you give, you give but I have to admit to getting mildly (to say the least) excited at the prospect of trying this wine, and by the time we sat down I was shaking. I didn't expect it to appear at the 'starter' but when it didn't appear half way through the beef, I gentley enquired as to its whereabouts. "Oh", answered mine host " we thought it was rather a good bottle, so decided to save it for whatever her f**ging name was"! So, stand advised by an Aging Fool, only ever take the Lemonade to strangers!

To end todays epistle, I have decided to leave out the town of General Pico (sounds totally uninspiring) and the next move will be the 8 hours to the coast. First intent was to try Bahia Blanca but that too sounds a little industrial and large so will make for Mar del Plata some miles north of the latter. This will either be tomorrow or the next day but either way there is only one bus per day and that's the 16-00 meaning a mid-night arrival.

Talk soon!


The 2 raptors from a couple of days ago, that remained unidentified, are thought to be one and the same species. After some investigation I can only get them down to White-throated Hawk, firstly, an adult seemingly in some stage of moult, and second, a juvenile. With the benefit of hindsight they did seem to be associating with one another so that at least fits.

adult White-throated Hawk

White-throated Hawk (juvenile)