With extra time in Argentina due to Marieke not having a passport (and therefore not able to enter Chile, Uruguay or Bolivia), we decided to head back to Mendoza to meet up with a friend we had met in Puerto Natales at the end of our “W” trek in Torres del Paine National Park. But we still had a few days to kill before then, so I did some guide book reading for inspiration.
Arriving at 8:10am in San Juan just north of Mendoza, we managed to make the daily 8:30am bus to Barreal, a small town towards the Andes and Chilean border. This was the town where we would go Blo-karting. We set up camp in the lovely municipal campsite, offering some of the cheaper accommodations of the trip, at 90 pesos ($9 CAD) per tent. Then we trekked into town (the woman on the bus tried to convince us it was a 15 minute walk, but realistically, it was closer to an hour), and signed up for a tour the following day. What exactly we were getting into, we weren’t really sure.
Blo-karting confirmed, we found the only restaurant still open with siesta about to start (seriously, we still have not figured this out), had a delicious steak sandwich, and wandered over to the main park where we discovered free wi-fi, that even worked! I had been a little worried about internet in Barreal as there was none offered at the campsite, and I had a few hours of work to get done, but there I was receiving a Whatsapp call from my Mom in the middle of the park! How times have changed since I first started traveling, buying phone cards for payphones!
All caught up on the world, we trekked home and spent some much needed time playing Yahtzee and drinking wine. The Yahtzee that is, as we have been seriously deprived of the game after epic rounds of it waiting for food in India. Wine…not so deprived of.
We woke up pretty early to the sounds of construction and blaring music, as the campground seemed to be constantly in throes of completion, without much progress actually being made. Why is it so difficult to sleep in in Argentina?
At 4pm we headed off to our adventure. The guys taking us blo-karting would be surfers if they lived on the coast. Super cool. You know the type. They strapped the contraptions to the roof of the jeep, handed us some juice, and we were off. Driving towards the clay flats where all this would happen, we could see mini tornadoes, or wind twisters in the distance. And lightning. We were just thinking that the weather seemed a bit intense when the guys turned to us and said “Chicas, la clima is muy extremo”. Marieke and I looked at each other and laughed a bit nervously. We played in the clay a bit while waiting for the weather to improve.
When it still seemed pretty damn windy and ominous, the guys started putting the equipment together. To our relief, a few other jeeps turned up, meaning we weren’t the only ones crazy enough to try this. We were however, the only ones crazy enough to try driving the karts ourselves; it appeared everyone else was just along for the ride. The contraptions set, we were explained how they worked, in Spanish of course. Luckily, the guys had a plan, and my first ride I was the passenger, trying to pay attention to what the driver was saying, translating in my head, while holding on for dear life as we changed directions. You see, in a normal vehicle, to turn a corner you slow down, then speed up just as you’ve made the turn. In a blo-kart, you speed up as much as possible, pull the sail as sharp as you can, hold on amidst the severe shaking, and attempt to get wind into the sail as quickly as possible so you can continue hurtling across the clay fields as quickly as possible. With no brakes of course.
After Marieke had a go at being passenger, it was my turn to drive, with the guide in tow. Then Marieke did the same. Somewhat convinced of our abilities, it was time to go off on our own. We looked at each other and said “here we go!”. Hey, we’ve got this. My attempt at driving was OK, barring the stalling a couple of times following a turn, and a general wrong course of direction. Following more explanations, Marieke got the hang of it and we spent the next hour racing across the clay fields. When we thought we must be done, we got out to watch the incredible sunset, but it turned out no one else was done, so I got a chance to redeem myself as a driver. Mission accomplished. The winds had died down a bit so we had a much more relaxing time speeding off through the stunning 360 degree sunset happening around us, thunderstorms and all.
The absurdity of the activity could probably be summarized by my conversation with one of the other Argentinian participants (who probably smartly opted to be only a passenger), who asked “is this a sport anywhere else except here?”, to which I exclaimed “I really don’t think so!”. Finally, we headed back to camp as it got dark, another ridiculous extreme sport and exhilarating day behind us. Check!