Sunday 21 May 2006

Mendoza Province: Malargüe

PayuniaA small town in Southern Mendoza province. Apparently has 22,000 inhabitants. I don't think more than 22 of them are actually resident. There is not a lot happening here. It's the short off-season, when there are just a few summer travellers around before the skiers arrive mid-June. On the second night I have a 4-person dorm room to myself.

I want to do some trekking. Feeling itchy for action. But it's not going to be possible. They've made the interesting bits into Reserves so you can only visit with a 'guide'. I really want to go into Payunia, where there are between 700 and 2000 volcanoes, depending on who's talking. A horse ride would also be cool. The guide books and the excursion agents' windows make reference to 3-day rides but they don't happen in the off-season. So I take the only possible option, a full-day excursion in a 4x4. And that was pretty hard to come by. I decide to move on to San Rafael day after tomorrow.

Payunia turns out to be a very strange landscape. The whole area is covered in a black, or occasionally red, grit, like the old athletics tracks. Occasionally there are large boulders that have been spewed out by the volcanoes. There is next to no vegetation, just some yellowed grass. Apparently in the spring/summer, it's very colourful when the grass is flowering. It's like nothing I've ever seen before, completely different to the Andean mountains and entirely unrelated in their development. I take a lot of pictures and hope that some will turn out well.

Just outside the reserve it's a little different. The area around Malargüe was 4 times a sea. The 200m year old peaks surrounding it have been eroded into smooth lumps. There is a lot of oil here and YPF, the former national petrol company, is pumping out a lot from the area and undertaking further exploration.

I have just one real question for the 'guide'. Why are there so many volcanoes in the area? He couldn't answer it. Apparently no one has asked the question before. The 'guide' in the other land rover gets tetchy. He says that's what people are trying to understand. That's why there are studies going on. I thought there must be some theories but I didn't ask. I could see he didn't really know much about it and was agitated.

In the hostel, I met a French guy, who was travelling around on a moped. He called it a motorbike but I think the engine was barely a 1-stroke, 1cc. A little lawn-mower engine attached to a push bike. Interesting chap. He was working for some socialist organisation in Europe and was writing reports on economic conditions in Argentina. He was a little sketchy on the details.

And that was Malargüe.