Mendoza is famous for the iconic Malbec wine. A visit to Mendoza is therefore often associated with visits to many wine farms, presumably a bit tipsy from all the wine tasting. And well, I can’t deny I am one of the tourists in Mendoza biking around on the hunt for free wine.
But even though my view is a bit blurry because of all the Malbec wine, I do notice how incredibly beautiful the surroundings of Mendoza are. I realise the Andes mountains around Mendoza are ideal for a good hiking trip. Caught in my own thoughts I return to the hostel. That same day I meet Haiko – a Dutchman who worked in the Himalayas as a travel guide, specialised in mountain climbing. Not much later we start planning an adventurous hiking trip in the area around Potrerillos, just 70 kilometers from Mendoza.
Haiko had been in Argentina for 6 months at the time, of which he worked for a period on a sailing ship and hiked through Patagonia. Haiko is an adventurer and explored Patagonia mainly on foot and camping, completely by himself! Consequently, his travel kit is equipped with all sorts of useful camping gear, such as supplies for cooking, a tent and a sleeping bag and mat. I mainly hop from one hostel to the other so I am not well prepared. That’s why we have to rent a tent and sleeping bag in Mendoza before we leave.
Haiko wants to explore Potrerillos by bike, but this seems a little too much for me. We decide to reach the starting point of our hiking trip by bus and stay two nights, which leaves us with a full day to hike and then hitchhike back from the starting point. We are not mapping out the route of the hiking trip, we will figure it out when we get there. Before the start of the hike, we stock up some ‘camping proof’ food and carton packs of red wine.
DAY # 1
It is the first day of our mini adventure in Potrerillos. The bus drops us off at an office where tourist information is provided. A cold wind strokes my face and I absorb my surroundings. The area seems abandoned. At the office a lady smiles at us and hands over a map of the area. On the map Haiko immediately finds the route to the bridge where we want to start hiking. It might be convenient to have a private guide, I think to myself. Less than half an hour later we are in front of the bridge. Because of the sign ‘Peligro’ [dangerous] we feel a little discouraged to cross this bridge. We are discussing whether the bridge is safe to cross when a car behind us honks loudly and crosses the bridge at full speed. Seems like we have nothing to worry about.
The sky is gray and the wind whizzes through the mountains with a soft whisper. ‘Are you okay?’ Haiko asks. I realise I am having trouble with the heavy backpack on my back. After an hour of hiking I already need a break. Haiko takes some snacks from his bag when I see a cheerful furry creature coming our way. The dog politely sits down in front of me and stares at me with high expectations. ‘Don’t give her food,’ says Haiko. ‘Then she will continue to follow us.’
After long deliberation we found a place to set up the tent. We didn’t walk much the first day but I feel very hungry. Haiko gathers some wood while I cut the carrot for our five star meal: macaroni with carrot. For dessert we smash some carton box wine at a camp fire. During the night I often wake up because of the cold. I decide to do what I did when I camped at -15 ° C in Peru: put on every piece of clothing I brought.
DAY # 2
Somehow I managed to doze off into a deep sleep because the next day I wake up around 11. I am feeling hot and sweat trickles down my face. I throw off all the sleeping bags and sweaters. Hastily I turn around and see that Haiko is no longer here. I unzip the tent and the first thing I see is Haiko preparing a breakfast for us wearing just a T-shirt.
Next to Haiko lies the furry friend we made yesterday, glancing up at me whisking her tail. We didn’t feed her but she followed us anyway! My gaze glides at the view in front of me and I need to gasp for air. The grey clouds have given way to mountains with snowy peaks on the other side of the lake. Haiko grins at me. We have breakfast and give the name ‘Milka’ to our new travel companion. The dog has spots that kind of look like the Milka cow and I am craving chocolate, so the name feels suitable.
On our side of the lake the mountains are not as rough and certainly not covered in snow. We explore the area and Haiko helps me to climb the steep slopes. The contrast in landscapes is phenomenal, with snowy mountain tops, green hills, arid landscapes and a bright blue lake. Haiko spots a great view point and runs up a hill enthusiastically. I’m a little less experienced and I fall backwards with my bum on a cactus. I hope Haiko didn’t see this embarrassing accident but I can hear him laughing down here. Damn it! That same evening we had a laugh about my misfortune while enjoying a cup of red wine and a beautiful sunset.
DAY # 3
After our last breakfast we return to the ‘dangerous’ bridge where we started our mini adventure. Enjoying the beautiful views along the way we walk at a slow pace along the lake in company of Milka. At the bridge I say goodbye to our furry friend and as a reward I give her a piece of sausage that we had left. For our return trip we figure it would be fun to hitchhike back. It is always easier for a woman to get a ride so I’m standing on the road with my thumb up while Haiko looks after our bags hiding behind a tree.
Secretly I wish a truck will stop for us (I know its corny but I dream to make the honk gesture to another driver some day). I am out of luck because less than 10 minutes later a car with two Argentinian military slows down. The driver oepns the window and asks where I want to go. ‘A Mendoza!’ I exclaim enthusiastically. The driver signals me to get in the car. I call Haiko and by the look on the men’s faces I can tell they doubt whether they want to take us both. Fortunately, the driver unlocks the trunk and Haiko stashes our bags in the car. Less than two hours we arrive in Mendoza.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
Did I enthuse about doing more than slurping wine in Mendoza? Hiking in Potrerillos is very accessible and in the end its up to you to decide how many hours you walk on a day. Not a big fan of camping? No worries, you can also choose to do just a day trip. Potrerillos can be reached by hitchhiking or by bus. Bus company Buttini leaves from the bus station in Mendoza to Villa Potrerillos. Inform the departure times and the price at the bus station. Ask the bus driver to drop you off at Potrerillos tourist information.
Tip: make sure to download one or more hiking routes on WikiLoc before departure, you can use these maps offline.
If you do carry camping gear with you like me, you can rent it in Mendoza at Amerika Ski. It gets cold at night so make sure you bring lots of warm clothes. Bring enough food and loads of water if you don’t have a water filter, there is no infrastructure on the way. Finally, it is important to inform someone about your hiking trip as your phone will not have reception in this area.
Even though I didn’t do this myself, there is to possibility to combine your hiking trip with a visit to the hot springs Termas Cacheuta. The bus does not pass the hot springs so you have to hitchhike to get here from the bridge. Pay attention with hitchhiking as the hot springs are not on the main road 7 to Mendoza but on route 82. Hot springs are the perfect treat to end to your hike trip and relax your muscles, right?
Wild camping in the Andes in Argentina is an unforgettable experience. The biggest obstacle that you have to face is deciding where to pitch your tent because all views are equally beautiful. Please make sure you do not accidentally pitch your tent on the ground of an Argentinian farmer. Wild campers are also responsible for preserving the beautiful Andes mountains. Therefore I urge you not to leave garbage behind and ensure that your campfire is completely extinguished before departure.