July 26

Managing Expectations in Argentina

Book 'em Danno!There are times when you travel where you have a certain expectation of how things with go and they end up very far from that expectation.  This is sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse…

My friend Lesley and I decided on a whim to take a trip to Argentina.  We dreamed of dancing the tango with Argentinean men, dining on world class steak and wine, and taking in all the beautiful scenery the massive country has to offer.

We started in Buenos Aires (BA), traveled west to Mendoza, and then south to Bariloche before returning to BA.  Flights within the country were too expensive for our budgets and there isn’t an extensive train network in Argentina, so we decided look into the overnight bus options.

The last time I was on an overnight bus was along the eastern coast of Australia and it was a horrible experience.  The seats barely reclined and stops were at ungodly hours of the night, which resulted in practically no sleep and therefore an extremely unhappy backpacker.  At that moment, I vowed to never take an overnight bus again.

I was about to break that promise to myself and I was not pleased.  However, the only other feasible option involved us, two super white redheaded females mind you, renting a car and driving 12 hours across predominantly desolate plains.  That sounded like the plot to a horror film entitled Pelirrojas en Peligroso (Redheads in Danger – at least that’s the translation I am going for…it’s much catchier in Spanish).

Grudgingly, I sucked it up and gave into the overnight bus.  But perhaps that dreadful experience encouraged us to spring the extra cash for “prima classe” (first class) on the bus in Argentina.

Now, I’ve been lucky enough to have flown first and business class before (for work or as a free upgrade) and it is fabulous, but I must say that prima classe on an Argentinean bus is tough to beat.

We got a hot meal for dinner complete with dulce de leche and a complimentary glass of champagne.  In a delightfully unexpected twist, we participated in an after dinner game of Bingo.  Man, am I happy I still remembered my Spanish numbers because I beat out all of the native speakers and won a bottle of Malbec!  You don’t get that on any airline!

Argentina 347
Best Bus Ride Bingo Prize Ever!

One of the most appreciated features of prima classe was that the seats were covered, they reclined 180 degrees, and you had your own privacy screen cloth between the seats, which worked well to block the early morning sun.  Talk about riding in style.

The next morning we were greeted by a full breakfast and gratuitous Spanish music videos with a decided focus on Ricky Martin and Menudo.  And don’t forget about the view of the beautiful Argentinean countryside if you get bored by the videos.

Argentina 351
Slice of Argentina’s Beauty

Let’s recap:

  • Expectation – Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad night
  • Outcome – Bingo, free bottle of wine, two meals, a solid night’s rest, and hilarious music videos…priceless.

But of course you can’t always have your dulce de leche and eat it too…

After the pleasantly surprising journey, we arrived in Mendoza – the epicenter of all things Malbec.  The top priority on our list was wine tasting, of course.

Earlier that year I traveled to Marlborough, New Zealand with my friends Sarah and Ed.  We took a peaceful bike ride between vineyards.  We had charming chats with the owners, sampled delicious wines, and soaked in the fresh air as we breezed through the paved streets.

Not only were we provided bike helmets, but also handy bags for transporting wine bottles!
Not only were we provided bike helmets, but also handy bags for transporting wine bottles – those Kiwis think of everything!
Showing the grapes some love
Showing the grapes some love
Our sweet stash
Our sweet stash

When I saw that Mendoza also offered bike rentals to traverse between vineyards, I thought this was a surefire win.

I could not have been more wrong. 

Lesley and I didn’t do too much research around this idea, thinking the bike rental companies were all more or less the same.  We haphazardly chose one and quickly coordinated a ride out to the countryside, eager to get our fill of Malbecs.

By that point in time we were getting hungry for lunch, so we thought we’d eat at one of the wineries.  We soon found out that the closest winery that served food was TWELVE KMs (about 7.5 miles) away.  I suppose the silver lining was that a big cluster of wineries were in the vicinity of the one with food, so after the long haul we’d be practically swimming in red wine.

With a sense of determination, we set off for our destination.  Surely, once we had food, we’d be good to go.  The paved road soon turned to a dirt road clogged by traffic, which even included semi trucks that kicked up dirt into our faces with each pass.

Sample of the gravel/dirt roads we traveled
Sample of the gravel/dirt roads we traveled

To make matters worse, we passed an elementary school that just let out and were met with swarms of children laughing at the two disheveled pelirrojas on shoddy bikes…I’m sure that’s not a sight they see every day!

Ja Ja Ja
Ja Ja Ja

About halfway there (or so we thought, we really had no way to track our progress), we stopped to ration our snacks we thankfully brought with us.  It provided temporary relief to our ever-growing hunger.  Probably a mile after that we had bike breakdown numero uno.  The chain of my bike fell off.  Lesley to the rescue – she hopped in there to fix it like she’d be doing it for years.

We grew slower and slower, with the heat getting to us.  We got another mile or two before bike breakdown numero dos…the chain of my bike fell off again.  While Lesley was stopping her bike, she somehow managed to fall over with the bike, which caused a bit of bruising and scraping of her knee.  Literally adding insult to injury, her attempted fix did not return the previous successful results.

Lesley the grease monkey
Lesley the grease monkey

We were stuck.  On the side of the road.  In Argentina.  With no food.  Or wine, for that matter.

But then, in the distance we saw a Police pickup truck.  Lesley, with her hands pitch black from bike grease, wildly flagged down the police.  In my broken Spanish I explained the situation to them and they enjoyed a hearty laugh.  They tossed our bikes into their truck bed and told us to hop in.

Book 'em Danno!
Book ’em Danno!
Saved by La Policia!  Time for wine!
Saved by La Policia! Time for wine!

We were beyond relieved – we were finally on our way to sweet, sweet salvation!  I could practically taste the wine on my lips.  We piled in the truck and settled in for the ride…whiiiiich took all of 1 minute.  The winery was right around the corner from our epic breakdown.  Had we known, we could have easily abandoned the bikes and walked there.  So close, yet so very, very far…

Once we arrived, the winery called the bike company and while we enjoyed our well deserved lunch, they delivered new bikes to us.

Unloading the dud - note the broken chain
Unloading the bicicleta rota

Needless to say, we drank a LOT that afternoon, had a good laugh at ourselves, but didn’t do too much more bike riding!

Side note: Our trip back involved a very questionable vehicle and more police car rides, but we arrived safely back at our hostel.

Check out the very busted windshield held on by tape
Check out the very busted windshield held on by tape


  • Expectation – Peaceful and magnificent bike ride through Mendoza’s countryside
  • Outcome – Semi trucks propelling dirt in our face, children laughing at us, hunger pains, heat exhaustion, broken bikes, and a police rescue…with a side of bruised knees and egos


You could interpret this as a cautionary tale of setting expectations too high (and/or not doing our research!).  But I think the real issue here is that my expectations were drawn from my past experiences, which did not take place in the same country, let alone continent, as my new experiences.

Each country has its own way of doing things, which needs to be embraced since it’s all a part of the overall experience of that destination.  I urge you (and myself) to wipe the slate clean with each new place you go to and be open to their way of living.

I mean, wouldn’t the world be a better place if every time you hopped on a bus you had a chance to win a bottle of wine??


Argentina, Australia, Bike Riding, Buses, New Zealand, Police Encounters, Transportation, Wine, Wine Bike Tours

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