Okay, so...the first five places I went in Chile...Well...I'm going to modify this a little since my first time in Chile, the only chance I had to travel was when I was forced out of the country due to the threat of an expiring tourist visa. In that first year, E and I were so broke that we could barely afford the bus ride to his parents beach house. So my first travel experience turned out to be Mendoza! I actually didn't even get to see anything of Chile until my second trip where I finally got to know Vina and Valparaiso! Yes, it's hard to believe I let my first 4 month experience in Chile go by without having visited these two must see beach cities, or any other city besides Santiago for that matter.
It was a cold and gray Santiago day when an English pal and I made our way to the bus station with the common goal of doing the typical gringa run to Mendoza. We gringas do this in order to cross the border and renew our Chilean tourist visas which allow us to stay in Chile for another three months. Any border will do really...but Mendoza is the closest option and so many people opt for this version. Plus, Mendoza is all about wining and dining and full of fun things to do so it's actually a nice little weekend escape from the Santiago smog....or so you think...duh duh duuuhhhhhh.....(cue suspenseful music)...
So we made our way up and down the freakishly high and twisted roads that lead the way over the Andes and into Argentina. The weather can change drastically in the mountains from one second to the next. At one point I looked out the window to see relatively clear and pleasant surroundings but after coming back from the bathroom, it had become overcast and within 5 minutes had turned into a blizzard!
We made it to Mendoza safe and sound and spent a wonderful 2 days eating and drinking to our hearts content. Finally the time came to go back home so we packed up and were skipping along to the bus station only to discover that alas...the road linking Santiago to Mendoza was closed! It had been snowing up a storm in the mountains for the past two days (even though it was warm and sunny in Mendoza) and the roads were completely closed with no guarantee of when they would be open again. Bummer...not to worry! The happy plump little man at one of the kiosks said that this always happens in the winter and the roads usually open within a day or two max. So we thought, no biggie...that just means we get to eat and be merry in Mendoza for another day or two.
So off we trudged back to our hostel to sign up for another night. The next day we went back to the bus station for news on the roads only to discover that yes...the roads were still closed. Umm...no worries we thought...it's okay, they should be open later today. No luck. We checked back the next day...and the next...and the next...and the next...and no, the god damn blizzard was determined to keep us trapped in Mendoza and continued to keep our only way back to Santiago blocked off.
At this point all of our bosses were getting pissed off. A few other girls from the same institute we taught at were with us and so that poor institute was about 6 teachers short for that week. Thank god we still had our jobs when we got back...By now we all had a serious case of cabin fever since Mendoza started to feel more and more like a prison than a refuge. The weather sucked and the city turned into a ghost town...Every day we went to the bus station to check the latest status on the roads...then we tried to figure out how not to blow all our money on food and lodging for the rest of the week. We all started to get moody and everyone started needing their space and we started to get completely board and fed up with the same old routine. I swear if we had stayed one day longer than we did...we would have all killed each other! We looked at other options of getting home, like going down south and crossing the mountain passes there but the next two mountain passes were also closed and our only option was a mountain pass way down south which wasn't even guaranteed to be open so we decided to pass on that plan and stick it out.
Finally, it got to the point where we couldn't take it anymore. We were stuck in limbo, not knowing what to do or when we would get to go back. The little savings that us poor English teachers had was disappearing at an exponential rate. So, my English bud and I (the only one I managed to stay friends with after leaving Mendoza) decided it was time to look at flights. Of course to the Mendozians, blocked roads = prime opportunity to jack up flight prices for all those silly little gringas who were stupid enough to go to Mendoza in the dead of the winter and were now trapped and desperately looking for a way to get back to Santiago. Prices for a one way ticket to Santiago doubled from that of normal prices. It was way more expensive to fly from Mendoza to Santiago than from Buenos Aires to Sanitago for god's sake! But at that point, we were so willing to do whatever we could to get out that we paid the ridiculous price and booked the next flight out. It had been over a week of being stranded in Mendoza.
Our other friends decided to wait out the roads since they couldn't afford the flight (though neither could we...I guess we were just a little more desperate). The guys at the bus station said the same thing every day, "Oh the roads will be open tomorrow, no problem". They said that again the day we bought our tickets but we were so beyond believing them that we paid no attention. The next day, we left to the airport and were outta there! From that whole freak experience, the impression I had of Mendoza forever changed from that of a happy place, to one of an expensive prison hell. I still can't quite forgive it for what happened and can't get rid of this feeling of dread and claustrophobia every time I'm there. Weird I know...
We got back to Santiago, rejoicing at having made it and having outsmarted that damn storm. We thought we were so smart and pitied the poor souls who decided to stick it out back there, wasting more money with each day that went by, and not knowing when they would make it home again. But of course, Chile doesn't let gringas outsmart her and her sneaky ways and the SECOND....I swear...it was the SECOND we landed on Chilean soil, the news announced that the roads were now open and ready for operation. So in the end our friends had the last laugh and paid the cheap fair for a bus ride back to Santiago and arrived five hours later. Actually, they had their bus ride free since the bus company compensated them for their lost ticket.
Now, every time I'm forced to leave the country to renew my tourist visa...I plan my run to Mendoza waaay in advance and make sure the weather forecast is completely clear for the week. Though you still can't depend much on the weather forecast, I at least avoid traveling in the winter at all costs. What a great first traveling experience in Chile haha!