We awoke early for our day of adventures. After a pleasant, hostel-provided breakfast, we settled down near the front door to wait for our tour van. On the hostel television, there was a Spanish-dubbed documentary about Mormon polygamists in Utah, for a morning dose of incongruity. The van arrived an hour and a half after we expected, but this turned out to be because the booking agency told us the wrong time. Once we were in the hands of the actual tour providers, everything went smoothly.
The company that provided our day of adventures was Argentina Rafting (enthusiastically recommended). We piled into their van to head towards Potrerillos, gazing out the window at wrinkly mountains and a crystal-blue lake.
The tour headquarters was a log building with slanting roofs and a diagonal glass front. It sat beside a gear shack, a changing room, and a deck that jutted out towards the Mendoza River. A wide, silty portion of the river snaked by, only thirty feet away.
Our first half of the day was a river rafting expedition. We were fitted into wetsuits and water shoes, and they also lent us a helmet, a puffy windbreaker, and a lifejacket apiece. Then, we climbed into a different van to drive upstream to the launch point.
Standing on the riverbank, we had a brief safety/how-to lesson, all in Spanish but sufficiently comprehensible (lots of review for me; I remembered many of the procedures from my last rafting trip in 2007). In our boat, there were four of us, plus the guide. I had one of the two front seats — splash seats! We waded out a few feet, and then jumped aboard our raft and paddled out into the rapids.
As we paddled, the guide shouted out commands to us in Spanish: adelante for “forward,” and adelante con fuerza for “even more forward than you already were,” as well as atrás for “good gracious, row backwards!” and alto for “stop what you’re doing and pull your oars out of the water; must I tell you twice?” (Translation approximate.)
We didn’t have a tremendous amount of time to stare at our surroundings (being in the involved process of trying to stay afloat), but we did manage to peer at the scenery a little as we proceeded down the river. There were many sedimentary cliffs with fascinating rocky layers: delicious geology! Occasionally we whizzed by riverside restaurants and hotels, whose inhabitants waved enthusiastically to us.
The river itself had brown water like light frothy chocolate, with frequent patches of rapids. The hardest rapid in our trip was a Class IV, but none of the rapids we encountered were scary or very challenging. In the desert heat, I savored every splash of chilly water that hit my legs during the larger rapids.
After our triumphant river rafting return, we sat on the patio overlooking the river and ate the sandwiches we’d packed. Then, we met up with the guide for the second part of our adventure: ziplining (the “Adrenaline Tour”). He fitted us with harnesses, and gave us special gloves with a thick rectangle of leather across the palm.
Appropriately outfitted, we hiked up a nearby hill to a preliminary zipline platform. Here, we learned various hand signals, as well as how to position ourselves and how to control our zipping. The ziplining I did in Viña del Mar was child’s play compared to this, since that experience involved attaching oneself to a string and letting the guides handle the rest. The procedure for today’s more complex ziplining was as follows: I started with my legs crossed, leaning back in the harness so that my head was safely below the cable. My left hand rested on the strap which connected me to the cable, while my right hand rested on top of the cable, maybe a foot behind my head (here’s where the leather-enforced gloves come in). To go faster, I’d loosen the right hand atop the cable, and to go even faster, I’d take the right hand off the cable entirely. To slow down, I’d try to press down on the cable, and to go extra-slow, I’d move the left hand up on top of the right hand, and pull myself up a little, all while minding that my delicate head doesn’t go near the cable.
Ziplining was actually a little bit terrifying: you’re flying so fast that any bare-skin contact with the cable would doubtless result in painful things, but when you’re rearranging your arms to moderate your speed, it feels as though it would be very easy to slip and brush against the cable. Next time I go ziplining, I think I shall wear a heavy leather jacket, and then I will feel much safer. (Is it strange that I was more afraid of the metal cable than of the obscene heights? We averaged a height of 200 ft/60 meters, but the heights were fine and even relaxing for me.)
We hiked deeper into the desert hills for our first tirolesa. This cable was short and steep; the guide gave me the signal to slow, and then to extra-slow, but even with the proper hand motions, my weight wasn’t enough to put a dent in my speed. I careened messily onto the landing platform, but there was a springy cushion around the cable for this very purpose. The next zipline was longer, so I managed a perfect landing.
We did a total of six ziplines, sometimes with the next platform a few feet from the landing platform, and other times with a ladder to climb or a hilly hike to get to the next one. I was really excited about the desert plants: various low-growing cacti, a single lily, and a bush that I am certain is a close relative of my beloved North American creosote bush.
The second-to-last zipline took us all the way across the wide Mendoza River. Once we landed, we had a steep hike to get to the platform for the final tirolesa: trotting up a hill on a tiny rocky path, lined with safety ropes. We had breathtaking views from the final platform (and, of course, during the zipline river-crossing itself).
The final zipline was so high that it had orange aircraft warning balls mounted above it. It was also the longest (1500 feet/450 meters long), leading from a high bluff all the way back across the river. It was a marvelous crossing, which engulfed me in a cool breeze and allowed a privileged view of the entire river basin. However, the cable was so long that my weight wasn’t enough to give me momentum to get all the way across. I stopped about 50 feet shy of the landing platform, even with all hands off the cable for maximum speed. I shinnied halfway to the landing platform, squirrel-like, and then one of the guides zipped out to me, hooked his harness to mine, and pulled us the rest of the way there. (R. was last and came tandem with another guide for added weight/momentum; even with that, they still stopped short.)
We shed our faithful harnesses, admired the view a bit more, and thanked our guides profusely. On both of our adventures, the tour people had sent a photographer along, so we bought a photo CD to share (for less than $6 apiece). The whole day was an amazing experience which I would joyously repeat, especially if I’ve got a thick leather jacket for the tirolesas!
We oozed back into the transport van and headed back to the hostel. After a few hours’ rest, R. and I tagged along in a hostel-mate’s car to buy supplies for dinner at a fine local store called Walmart. The two of us and M. cooked dinner for all our acquaintances at the hostel. I made a delectable guacamole, and we also had hamburgers, tomato-carrot-onion salad, and rice.