Las Lenas, Argentina – Skiing in the Andes

If you read our last post, you were probably expecting to read all about our trip to Santiago in this one. Well, our bus to Santiago was on Monday morning at 7:30am. We got up early, checked out of our hostel and headed to the bus station only to learn that the passage between Mendoza and Santiago was closed. In order to get between the two, you basically need to go straight through the Andes Mountains, and whenever there’s any bad weather, they shut down the road. Before even leaving for our trip, I told Dave that if something were to go wrong with any one part of our trip, this is the part I thought it could be.

After talking to several different people at the bus station (the people from our bus company, Andesmar, were anything but helpful – in fact, they were actually very rude), we found out that the “final word” about the passage would come in via phone call from Chile at 9am, but the route would likely be closed. They didn’t know when it would be open again (we’ve heard of the route getting shut down for a day and also for a week), but we didn’t have time to wait. In addition to that, we learned that we could have the same problem on the way back to Buenos Aires. After looking into flights (it would cost us an extra $600 for the flights plus $300 for the reciprocity fee that US citizens are required to pay when entering Chile through the Santiago airport; if you come in by bus, there is no fee), we decided that if the route were in fact shut down, we would have to skip Santiago and come up with a new plan. And, it was.

Now, not only did we have to get our money back for this bus, we also had our bus from Santiago to Buenos Aires to worry about as well. Once again, when we tried to inquire about a refund from the people at Andesmar, they were anything but helpful. They told us we had to call the company and there was nothing they could do from the bus station to help us. Luckily, the people at CATA (the bus company we were using from Santiago to BA), were the complete opposite.

After a quick search on our blackberry, we came up with a new plan. Besides actually seeing Santiago, the thing we were most excited about for our visit there was our plan to ski in the Andes at Valle Nevado. Well, in the past week or so, we had learned of another ski place, Las Lenas (actually the biggest one in South America), and it was a 5 hour ride from Mendoza. Not only that, but CATA just happened to be the only bus company that went there. Done and done. A very nice woman from CATA sat down with us for an hour and helped us figure out our new itinerary. We traded in our tickets from Santiago to Buenos Aires for round trip tickets to Las Lenas leaving that very night at 2:30am, and then one-way tickets from Mendoza to Buenos Aires. We pretty much had an even exchange and we couldn’t believe how well this was working out. Besides the fact that we’d now be able to ski the biggest mountain in South America, we were also cutting out 8 hours from our next very long bus ride to BA. And most importantly, we eliminated the risk that this might happen again when we came back through the Andes from Santiago to BA. Thus, this may have even been a better plan than the one we had to beign with.

After we got our tickets sorted out, we headed back to the hostel we’d been staying at in Mendoza and after running out for another lunch at the market (unfortunately this time, only a fraction of the vendors were open, but we still had an awesome and very large sandwich) and a big bottle of wine (it was called the magnum bottle), we came back to the hostel, figured out details for the next day, and made pasta for dinner (our first “home cooked” meal of the trip).

We could have just done a day trip to Las Lenas, leaving Mendoza at 2:30am, arriving in Las Lenas at 8am, and then returning at 6pm, but that just didn’t seem like enough time. We had decided to only ski one day (between the rentals and lift tickets, just one day of skiing cost $300), but we thought it would be fun to explore the town and stay overnight. We searched for a hostel nearby, which was actually not that easy to find. Everywhere actually in Las Lenas was pretty expensive, but after a little research, we learned that Los Molles was another town about 15 minutes away. And, these still were not cheap. We decided to stay in our first dorm room of the trip, for $40 a bed per person ($80 total). We were a little worried about finding a way to and from the mountain, but figured we’d just deal with that later.

Once we were all finished figuring out our plans for the next two days and eating our great pasta dinner that Dave made, we went to sleep for two hours.

We arrived at the bus station (it feels like we’ve pretty much been living at that Mendoza bus station!; fortuntately, taxis to and from our hostel cost only $3) at around 1am and our bus took off promptly at 2:30. We immediately fell asleep and next thing we knew, we were pulling up to Las Lenas. Everyone ran off the bus to get their equipment and hit the slopes, but Dave and I weren’t skiing until the next day, so we got off and started to explore.

The first thing we wanted to do was get the lay of the land and figure out our rental and lift tickets for the following day. For about a minute, Dave thought we might be skiing for at least half of the first day, but those dreams were quickly crushed when we learned that although they had a half-day lift ticket option, there was no similar deal for rental equipment. We just couldn’t justify spending another $200 for half a day of skiing, so instead, we continued on with our exploration.

Las Lenas didn’t really have much of a town, instead it was mostly hotels. We peeked into a few, took a look at some of the ski shops, and then found our way to the supermarket to pick up something for lunch. We ended up with some cheese and crackers, chips, cookies, and a bottle of vodka (we weren’t getting picked up for like 6 more hours, so really, what else were we going to do other than drink!).

We ate our lunch in one of the hotels (the whole time Dave was very nervous that we were going to get kicked out), and then by 2pm, we were sitting outside with a couple of drinks in hand and an amazing view of the slopes. Not only was the ski mountain and the whole area breathtaking, it was also 55 degrees outside. And, if that wasn’t enough, by 3pm there was a band and a huge party going on right at the bottom of the mountain. We were loving this “new plan” more and more by the second. And as Dave likes to say, “the best part about skiing is the apres skiing” (aka drinking at the base of the mountain).

We had emailed our hostel to see if they could pick us up, and arranged a ride at 5:30. By 4:30, we went to find something to bring back for dinner (we didn’t know if there would be any food near we were staying), and then we were ready to go. We had a great day and by this point, we were pretty drunk after finishing almost our whole bottle of vodka.

At 5:30 on the dot, our car was there to pick us up. But, they were stuck in a ditch. Somehow, Dave helped them out and the owner promised him a beer, though he never delivered and Dave was probably too drunk to drink one anyway:).

After the 15-20 minute ride to the hostel, upon exiting the vehicle (a 4×4 jeep), Dave didn’t realize how big the step was and accidentally fell to the ground. In doing so, he hit his head and hurt his hand, and within minutes, he had a huge bump on his head.

I tried to make sure it was ok, but after this, we decided that we should probably just put ourselves to bed… at 7:45. The hostel owner showed us our room, told us we’d be on our own in the dorm (with 8 beds), and helped us make our bunk beds (I had called top bunk much earlier in the day!). We started out together in one bunk bed (I wanted to keep my eye on Dave), then a couple of hours later, I woke up to go to the bathroom and Dave politely asked me to get in my own bed.

Dave woke me up once more in the middle of the night frantic that he had lost his wallet. Luckily (thank god) after 20 minutes of searching, we found it and went back to bed for the rest of the night.

We were up at 7 in the morning and ready to ski. Our hostel owner told us he would give us a ride back to the mountain after breakfast at around 9am. About an hour later than we had wanted, but at least we got a good breakfast before hitting the slopes.

By 10am, we were on our first chairlift, and by 11am, we were finally at the top of the mountain (we had to take 3 lifts and one T-lift to get there). Everytime I go skiing I realize (once again), how much it terrifies me. Of course, Dave always makes me go down the hardest runs, and I think I’d be able to do them other than the fact that I’m always just so scared. Everytime I go skiing, I tell myself that I have nothing to be scared of and just do it, but low and behold, I always find myself frozen at the top of the moutnain, looking down, and praying for my life!

Well, I made it down our first two runs (the second was the hardest of the day and probably took me twice as long as it would have taken Dave). But we were seeing some of the most beautiful scenery (the Andes mountains) and we couldn’t believe it but it was even warmer than it had been the day before (probably 60 degrees by the afternoon).

We took a short break for lunch, and then got back on the slopes for the afternoon. By this time, I was starting to feel more confident and it turned out to be an amazing day of skiing. We were so happy that we ended up at Las Lenas and this made us realize that sometimes the things that you don’t plan for can end up being a blessing in disguise! We really made the best of a potentially very bad situation, and I’m very proud of us for how we handled everything. Tomorrow, we’ll be on another bus, on our way to our last stop of South America, Buenos Aires. Praying no bus complications this time..

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