Getting Wet

One of our favourite things to do is bum around in a car with a tent, exploring places and pitching up in the evening at a campsite. I love bus travel too of course, it’s also a great way of moving around, but the freedom of being able to cram all of your shit into the boot of the car and go where you want when you want is amazing. You don’t have to faff around waiting to check into accommodation so you can ditch your bags, you can just get on with it, and campsites are often a little bit more chill with check in times.

Tent erection lessons.

We’d sent our camping equipment back home after Greece and I’m still kicking myself for that. Not that there was a guarantee of the tent still being waterproof, we think it lost a battle with a kitten judging by the pinholes in the top, but Mendoza is the jump off for a fuck off great big mountain people like to climb up and you can rent all the equipment you need for said summit. It’s not very cheap on account of it being proper mountain gear but it didn’t work out much cheaper to buy a crappy little tent and a couple of mats to be fair. We hired what we needed, rented a car, and off we fucked in the direction of south to see some more Argentina.

Sexy rocks are sexy.

First stop, the Atuel Canyon close to the town of San Rafael. You can do all manner of exciting things here such as rafting, kayaking, and something they call Cool River whereby you hang onto a small inflatable object for dear, sweet life and throw yourself head first into the rapids. That sounded fucking amazing but first, accommodation was needed. We pretty much just stopped at the first campsite that didn’t sound like a cult. I’m looking at you, Camping Christian Family Movement. That sounded like the kind of place that burns people like us at the stake. We ended up at Camping Inty Wayra. It would do the job.

Does the job for a night or two.

I was a bit concerned that we’d rocked up on a weekend and wanted to be able to get on the water the following day. I knew there were at least three outfits, I was hoping one of them could squeeze us in for something. Yeah nah, we needn’t have worried. There are a shit tonne of companies determined to get you wet. As soon as we drove out of the campsite humans were jumping out at us brandishing flyers. How do you even know who to stop for? We were sort of aiming for a place mentioned in the Lonely Planet but ended up stopping for a woman working for Extremo Rafting who offered the Cool River thing. I really don’t think you need to book but we did anyway, so that was sorted for tomorrow morning.

What to do now then? Go for a little drive, that’s what. Because we’ve got a car and can do whatever the fuck we like. You can do this little circuit that takes you over the dam for a cracking view over the lake. There are loads of kiosks selling cold drinks, obviously there are more people thrusting flyers in your general direction, so dangerously close to moving vehicles I’m surprised they still have toes, so many places to stay including cabañas and more camping than I’ve ever seen in my life, and people sat by the river or having a little paddle. It was a proper hive of activity.

Views from the top of the dam.

It was absolutely stinking hot though and we didn’t fancy hanging out in the dust at the campsite whilst our eyeballs slowly melted… fuck it. Let’s go rafting. It’s so bloody cheap, just over GB£8 at the rate we last got with Western Union, you can’t even get two pints for that back home, and it’d be a fun way to cool down. We pulled into a place with a carpark called Portal de Atuel and were descended on instantly by the flyer wavers. All we had to do was decide when we wanted to do it; in forty minutes time or in three hours? Well why wait? We paid up and got changed and waited until we were kitted up in helmets and life jackets, and four rafts were carried over the road to the Rio Atuel.

Here’s the thing; I don’t think many foreigners come here. Everyone was Argentinian and the instructions were given in Spanish. We’ve been rafting before so we had a vague idea how to do it without ending up face down in a river, we just had to learn that adelante meant paddle forwards, atrás meant paddle backwards, and alto meant stop and rest your paddle across your knees. Piece of piss. We’ve got this. We figured they couldn’t be particularly brutal rapids anyway given that they were allowing small children on the raft.

Tarrant was helping yo carry the raft but I don’t think she would have bothered if she’d realised how bastard heavy it was.

It turned out to be a lovely float down an astounding river with several low grade rapids. We were absolutely encouraged to hurl water at the other rafts with our paddles and fuck me, it was beautifully refreshing. Yes, this was an excellent idea. We sailed past people enjoying the river, sipping their mate. We saw loads tents pitched right on the bank and definitely got a bit of camping envy but those sites were absolutely packed. Ours was a lot less busy though it’s a Saturday night in Argentina so I doubted we’d get much sleep.

What a stunning place for little float along a river.

We jumped in for a swim at one point, then after about an hour we pulled to the side. That was it then. What a cracking way to kill a bit of time. We were sufficiently cool, more awake than we were, and we’d had a great time. We were bussed back to the start and we hung out by the river for a bit before heading back to the campsite for dinner and a mate of our own. We were both pretty shattered. We’d had a late night last night, by my standards anyway, plus it was impossible to sleep in the dorm room. It was so hot it felt like someone set the fucking walls on fire. With the help of earplugs I don’t think we’d have much trouble sleeping through the domestic tourists and their penchant for late night music.

How to keep cool in Cañon Del Atuel. The water was surprisingly shallow though, my poor ankles weren’t expecting that when we jumped in.

So it turns out that foam mats are wank, I don’t care if they’re made by the mighty Thermarest, I might as well have been face down on a concrete slab. Mortuary tables would have been more comfortable. God I miss my lovely inflatable mat that just sort of molds around my ridiculous tits. So I barely slept because of that but that was fine as our main objective today was to have another bash at the Rio Atuel but this time we’d be eye level with the rapids whilst clutching an inflatable object. That’d wake us up.

Extremo Rafting. Behind me is a large carpark and a kiosk where you can pay for your activities. They looked after the car key for us too. There are lockers if you’d prefer. There’s a restaurant upstairs in the building in this photo, and a swimming pool behind it. They also have a day use area if you’re hanging around.

Yesterday only Spanish was spoken but the company we used today, Extremo Rafting, had English speaking staff including our guide which was pretty handy given he had to give us full instructions on how to avoid kneecapping ourselves on various rocks as the river took us wherever it damn well pleased. We were fitted with helmets, life jackets and fins and after a bit of practice steering the bugger and what to do should the rapids tip you off your little floaty thing we kicked into the current and off we fucked.

This was SO MUCH FUCKING FUN!! Our guide was lovely, he was in a kayak and he expertly steered us through the rapids, carefully avoiding rocks. The water is pretty low here and at some points we had to pull ourselves onto our minirafts and paddle with our arms. The water is probably a bit lower this afternoon given the quantity I swallowed. I also inhaled one of the tiny flies darting over the surface which I guess is an easy way to add a bit of protein to my diet.

I think Tarrant was having a good time.

There were here were some parts that were mundane in a raft but when you’re actually in the water they’re hell bent on relieving you of your tube and perhaps a bit of your dignity too. Any illusions of grace and elegance are out of the window as you’re flapping like a crazed penguin, the rapids smashing you in the face between frantic breaths, and oh look, there’s the photographer, better smile and wave and sorry lungs, a little bit of water won’t hurt, right? The rafting here is nice. Cool River, as they call this activity, is epic.

Our guides were in little kayaks, all the better to spot rocks in the shallow rapids.

We chilled for a while afterwards, had a few empanadas because empanadas are life, then carried on heading south. We wanted to make a bit of a dent in the next leg as our next proper destination, Copahue, was a whopping 700 kilometres from Valle Grande where we’d been doing the rafting. We knocked a couple of hundred kilometres off and made it as far a Malargüe. There’s nothing here but there a Municipal campsite. I haven’t got a fucking clue what that means but a lot of towns seem to have one and it’s cheap! Like, AR$1000 a night cheap. That’s £2.30 at the Western Union rate. For both of us. Guys, bring a tent to Argentina. We didn’t, we had to rent all this shit, and I’m absolutely regretting not bringing our own kit.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

Cañon De Atuel, Valle Grande & Malargüe, Mendoza Province, Argentina

Stayed at: Camping Inty Wayra, Valle Grande & Camping Municipal, Malargüe

Camping Inty Wayra. We paid AR$1500 each, this includes electricity. There are BBQ grills spread out through the site but each pitch doesn’t have its own. The ground is dirt but I think all campsites here are similar. The showers and toilets were grubby but functional. They’ve got a small swimming pool.
Camping Municipal Malargüe. They cram you in here and there’s no hot water but for AR$1000 for both of us we coped. To the right of this photo is a large green space with benches for everyone to chill.

Useful shit to know…

  • There are several car rental agencies in Mendoza. The local ones were weird about us taking the car out of Mendoza Province. One flat out refused us and one wanted to charge us for every kilometre over 3000.
  • Neither Hertz nor Avis/Budget asked us where we wanted to take the car. Kilometres were unlimited.
  • Avis/Budget gave us the best price by far but would only accept card.
  • We were charged AR$159,872 (US$793 officially, US$444 Blue Dollar) for 14 days.
  • As we paid by card we were originally charged the official rate but as per the new scheme we were refunded 44% four days later to make it close to Blue Dollar.
  • The deposit (and therefore the excess in case of an accident) was AR$80,000.
  • Whilst we could pay by Mastercard Debit card the deposit had to be a credit card.
  • English was spoken at the multinationals but not so much in the local places.
  • El Refugio in Mendoza rents all manner of equipment designed to get you up a mountain. This equipment is also fine for car camping.
  • Prices are quoted in dollars and you can only pay in cash.
  • If you want to pay in pesos they charge you Blue Dollar rate which was AR$360 to the USD at the time of writing so there’s no saving there.
Prices as per January 2023. They’re subject to change regularly though.
  • There are loads of places to camp in Valle Grande and some of them have riverside pitches. They were quite full though.
  • We didn’t book and had no problems getting a pitch at the site right in the middle of high season. Some others were advertising space available, some were full up.
  • There is no shortage of rafting companies either. People stand on the side of the road waving flyers to get you to stop.
  • Several trips go out with each company every day. We were there on a Saturday in the middle of summer and had no problems getting on a raft that day.
  • We could have done the Cool River that day too but we wanted to go in the morning before heading off.
  • We saw several local buses taking people in and out of the valley.
  • The bus company is called Iselin. Click here for the timetables and click into media distancia for the buses between San Rafael and Valle Grande.
  • They have more buses in January and February and they even include a handy map of the route. The rest of the year there are only three buses a day.
  • There is no phone signal in Valle Grande. Some places, Extremo for example, have WiFi but it’s questionable.
  • We didn’t book at Camping Municipal Malargüe and they only had a little bit of space left. Enough for our tiny tent. I’ve a feeling it’s school holidays too be fair.

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