After ringing in the new year in Bariloche, my travels took me north (by way of another 17 hour bus ride) up to Mendoza, the heart of Argentinian wine country. I honestly didn’t have much of an agenda coming here (other than to drink delicious wine!) and so that’s pretty much what I did. I had met an American girl in Santiago who works here in Mendoza as a lawyer for a vineyard, I’d hoped we could meet up, but unfortunately, that didn’t work out. No matter though, I ended up making a lot of great friends at my hostel, and good times were had!
Arriving at yet another bus terminal in the early dawn light, I wrangled my bags and tried to figure out where I needed to go. I had a reference point for my hostel, which was just to the north of Plaza Independencia, but when I tried to boot up Google Maps on my phone, it refused to work. So I got creative. I knew from looking at the map when booking the hostel that the Plaza was west and slightly north of the bus station. Given that it was early in the morning, I was able to figure out which way was west by walking away from the rising sun. I proceeded in a west-northwest zigzag (at one point getting concerned because I felt like I’d been walking for way too long), but lo and behold, my path led me right to where I need to be! A fortuitous crossing of the street at just the right moment, and there I saw the large green sign for Hostel Independencia! I made it, solely on my own wits (a feat I couldn’t help bragging about on facebook once I got the wifi up and running).
The hostel was in a big old house and featured a lovely garden under a grape arbor, there was even a hammock! Also, there was free wine every night from 7-9, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. After I got checked in and cleaned up, I went out for a bit of exploring. It was around 1 in the afternoon by then and, as I was quick to discover, the Mendozians take their siesta time very seriously. Almost every shop was closed for the midday break and the streets were deserted. This didn’t take away from the charm, though. Mendoza is a beautiful, tree-filled city with lots of old-world architecture and pretty, cobbly streets. It was nice to wander the empty streets, feeling almost like I had the place to myself. Plaza Independencia is also a really fantastic greenspace, featuring huge fountains (one with the water dyed red to make it look like wine, which was actually kind of gross), along with lots of lawns and trees to lie down and read. So I did! After a while, I went in search of food and found a few places that did the menu del dia, a low cost, fixed-price lunch menu that I hadn’t seen much of since leaving Santiago. I got a nice steak and salad for just $65 pesos, which is more than double what it might have cost in Peru, but very reasonable for Argentina!
I headed back to the hostel for some quality garden time and immediately struck up a friendship with a trio of awesome Aussies. They were planning to get some groceries and cook up a feast and invited me to join in. It was the best possible scenario, as all I had to do was kick in money for the food and they were happy to do all the cooking. In true Argentine fashion, we had more steak, along with oven-baked veggies and the ubiquitous Malbec wine. As the night wore on, the group grew and I made more friends, as well as reconnected with Jeva, a Lithuanian girl who’d been at my hostel in Bariloche.
I spent most of my days in Mendoza relaxing in the garden or under a tree in the Plaza, lounging in the hammock (and of course, working on this blog you all love so much), and the bulk of my nights enjoying the fantastic asados put on by the hostel staff or going out for steak dinners with my new friends. Did I mention we ate a lot of steak? In Argentina, it is pretty much its own food group and almost impossible to avoid (not that I’d want to).
My one big outing was a day trip outside of the city to tour some wineries by bicycle with a big group from the hostel. Shunning the official (and expensive) organized tour, we figured out the bus system and traveled about 40 minutes from the city center to the Baccus Bike Rental, where our group of 9 cleaned them out of all the available bikes. Still a bit wary after my bike excursion in Viña, I was happy to get a bike with a nice, wide cruiser seat. The brakes didn’t work so well, but hey, that’s what feet are for, right? The bike shop gave us a little map and information about the hours for the various places (siesta being a holy sacrament out here as well) and off we went! It was a beautiful ride along (blessedly flat) tree-lined streets fronting the vineyards. The sun was shining and the weather could not have been more perfect.
We started off at Carmelo Patti, where Señor Patti himself conducted our tasting (entirely en español). Surprisingly, I was able to understand almost everything, and even able to translate a bit for others in the group. He was an adorable little old man, incredibly enthusiastic about his product, and also proud to tell us that he was a bit of a local legend, showing us various t-shirts his “fans” had made, all prominently featuring his picture. From there, it was on to Pulmary, a young-ish winery with a garden restaurant where the steak sandwiches were supposed to be amazing. The restaurant was full when we arrived, so we did the tour and tasting first (despite being somewhat faint with hunger). It’s a family-run bodega, and our tour was given by the son, Ramiro. He had misplaced a rack of glasses, and couldn’t scrounge up enough for everyone in our group to have their own, so we had to share 4 glasses between all of us. On the plus side, to make up for it, he gave us the tour and tasting for free! Here, we got to taste the wine at each stage of the aging process, from brand new, unaged wine straight
out of the steel fermenting tank (not very delicious), lightly aged wine right from the cask (better), and finally several bottled varieties (best!). After the tour, we got to help remove sediment from several bottles of their sparkling rosé (a process that reminded me of when the CSIs test guns, as we had to open the caps into a barrel due to the velocity at which the pressure made them come off. After it all, he also comped us a bottle of the rosé, right out of the cooler.
This comp would prove invaluable, as once we finished the tour and got to the restaurant, we were told they were out of pretty much everything on the menu, including the fabled steak sandwich (they ran out of bread). After much discussion and hemming and hawing about finding another place to eat, we decided to stay and make the best of it, splitting the last of the available steaks and grilled veggies, and supplementing the meal with all the empanadas they had left. When we were finished, they were really out of food, and closed the restaurant for the day. Bike riding through wineries is a hungry business!
The next stop was A la Antigua for something a bit different, where we got to sample all sorts of house-made olive oils, balsamics, jams, spreads, chocolates and liqueurs. I don’t know that I could pick a favorite, but the whiskey-chocolate spread was pretty incredible! It’s times like this when I’m sad I have a strict no-buying-stuff policy in place for my trip. But I just don’t have the space!
The day was growing late, but we decided to try to fit in one more place and pedaled over to Bodega Alta Vista. Sadly, we arrived too late for the last tour, but it was pleasant to cycle along past the vineyards anyway. We made the final turn back towards the bike shop, and this is where it started to get unpleasant. The sun was setting and we were riding due west, so it started to get rrrrrrrreal hot. The exertions of the day were catching up with me and that last stretch was a real beast, but I pushed through and we all made it back safe and sound (and incredibly sweaty). Walking back to the bus stop, we ran into a couple of Mormon missionaries, who I chatted with for a bit. I’ve seen a fair number of them out in the street since I’ve been on the road and it never ceases to amaze me how incredibly young they are. I know siblings (and a niece) of mine have been similarly young when they went out on their missions, but it is still startling. They were fun to talk to though and I wished them luck in their endeavors (can’t be easy trying to convert people in wine country).
All in all, a great day, and a great time was had in Mendoza. I met a lot of really awesome people here, and have collected a bunch of Aussie facebook friends that I have every intention of begging for a couch to surf on once I get to Oz :-). My last night was bit soured by a roving perv in the hostel (several girls, including me, woke up in the middle of the night to find him lurking near our beds), but we reported him and he was ejected (and his photo forwarded to all the hostels in town). But other than that one blight, it was a great trip to a great city. I look forward to seeing the friends I made there further down the road! (Spoiler alert, I met some of them again quite soon).
(Don’t forget to check out — and Like! — my Facebook page for full photo albums from every destination)