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Mendoza – Sun, Steak, Wine, and a Change in Plans…

Posted by on November 19, 2010

This post is for the period from September 12 to September 16, and takes place in Mendoza, Argentina, one of my favourite places in all of South America.

Sunday I caught up on some sleep and internet stuff in the morning, and decided that this wine tour was indeed a good idea (rather, people from the asado the previous night had convinced me) and signed up for that for Monday. Not a wine person normally, I was a bit suspicious – and there was talk of an aroma room whatever that is (I have no sense of smell), with three bodegas (wineries) and a four course meal for lunch. But this was wine country, and these things need to be done. Plus I was hanging out for a four course meal.

In the afternoon I got talking more to Marco (Swiss geek – nice to have geek talk occasionally), and Sharon (Irish teacher… in that she was from Ireland, not that she was an Irish teacher). We decided to head up to Cerro de la Gloria, a hill on the outskirts of Mendoza, with a manificient memorial on top to the glory of General Mendoza’s march over the Andes to Chile. We’d had the view at sunset recommended to us, so we started the 6km walk about 90 min befor time.

The walk is up hill most of the way, and takes you through General San Martin Park – the magnificient park to the west of Mendoza. It is huge, and includes lots of picnic space, sports areas, random shops, a bank, a rose garden and a rowing lake! A feature to note of Mendoza is along the sides of the roads, where normal cities have ‘gutters’, Mendoza has these waterways. These are apparently irrigation lines designed by the Incas many years ago (given Mendoza is in the desert, how else are you going to get water). The settlers maintained and extended these irrigation lines, and integrated them with the city blocks, adding this nice feel to the city when the gates are opened and the water is flowing down past you as you walk up the hill.

Past the park there are a variety of other sights – a bmx track, the football stadium, the zoo (from the outside it didn’t look thrilling – goats, horses, llamas and so on, but apparently it has pumas and more interesting animals inside), and finally the rather steep hill. We power-walked up it, just in time to be treated to a glorious sunset over the Andes, spectacular shades of changing pinks and reds. Over the back of the hill you could see the … less salubrious outskirts of the city, and Sharon’s first sight of the stray dogs we’d been telling her were everywhere in South America.

Walking back down it was quickly dark, when just passing the zoo again a police car flashed its lights and pulled in next to us. Slightly on edge, more so as they started asking direct questions in Spanish, it turns out that the area is considered very unsafe after dark(!). At their insistence, we got a free police truck ride back into town. All this was Sharon’s first day in South America – quite the start to her trip!

Monday saw me on my wine tour with Priscilla from Brazil, two girls from Trinidad and Tobago, and Matteus from the hostel. We headed off out of town and soon enough the surrounding buildings went down in quality on the outskirts of town, and then changed into fields, and then vineyards, empty in winter, but many, many fields. In the distance despite the low cloud we could see the Andes, and before long we were turning up a magnificent driveway between two vineyards to a giant Mayan Temple. Or rather a bodega shaped like a Mayan Temple, a great pyramid looking towards the mountains.

We visit three bodegas during the day – Catena Zapata, followed by Belasco De Baquedano, and finally the smallest – Carmelo Patti, where we met Carmelo himself. He doesn’t advertise – all his international sales are by word of mouth, and he even proudly showed us a clipping from a US Newspaper about his wines. Each was different, each wine was fantastic – I discovered that Malbec is definitely my wine type of choice, and we learnt a lot about the process, the harvest, the styles and the area. But mostly we drank good quality wine. Detail is unnecessary, but I should at least mention that at the second one – Belasco De Baquedano – they have an aroma room, something quite unique. It’s a long scarlet room where 48 glass ‘boxes’ with flip lids contain unique aromas – the aromas you can apparently smell (and taste) from wines. While this was a waste on me – I was able to just barely detect that there was even an aroma in only three of them, the idea is brilliant. We also received our lunch at this bodega, a magnificent four course meal, incredibly presented, served, and complemented with several glasses of wine, including dessert wines. By the time we finally made it back to the hostel, as I would see many doing from other tours – a couple hours of napping was certainly required!

I should at this point throw in a thank you to Matteus from Mendoza Monkey Hostel – he knows his wines, isn’t a snob but points out that the best wine is the wine you like the most, whether it be a $20 bottle or a $200. The tour itself was brilliant and I can highly recommend it to anyone else staying in Mendoza in the future.

Over the next two days I began to enjoy Mendoza more. Even the hostel’s house wine was pretty amazing, there was a great group at the hostel, and the weather was stunning. I only had to hang out until Thursday, when I would make my way to Santiago, over the mountains.

By Tuesday night, however, I’d worked out that Andrew Macklan was coming over around the 1st, the plan being to meet up with me for a few weeks. The problem was that I didn’t know where I’d be when he arrived. Probably in northern Chile or Peru, but do I let him come to a main city and try and catch up with me? At the same time, I was really liking Mendoza. I had a plan forming…

The next day in between other explorations of the town, I asked around about Spanish schools. Turned out that there was one only 15 minutes from the hostel, so I walked on down for a chat to the staff. The school was Ecela – relatively new in Mendoza – they’ve got branches all around South America, but had fewer than 10 students here. As such they were offering discounted courses, and started every Monday at any of 12 levels, after you do an initial test.

On the Wednesday evening, Marco, Sharon and I decided to try El Fuego – The Fire, a steak restaurant recommended by the hostel. Walking in we were fairly early (around 9pm) so the place was nearly deserted, but the restaurant was very smart, so I wondered what we’d gotten into. El Fuego may well have been the best tourist discovery in Mendoza after the wine. 36 pesos for one of the most amazing steaks I’ve ever had, great service, great sides and a starter plate, even by Argentinian steak standards it was outstanding.

By Thursday, Sharon and I had both decided to do Spanish at Ecela – although she was only doing a week before heading to Salta to meet other friends, I’d worked out I could just about fit in two weeks before Andrew arrived in Santiago, and he could pop over the mountains to meet me in Mendoza. This was brilliant. We sat the test, which didn’t worry me – all I cared was that I didn’t get absolute beginner, and paid up. I organised a two week discount with the hostel for my return, and packed my bags for a trip to Santiago on the weekend – it’d be brief, but it was the bicentennial, and I wasn’t planning on missing that! My El Rapido bus left Thursday night, so while Marco, Sharon and others went to a salsa lesson (which I’d researched but couldn’t fit in) I headed down to the bus station for an overnight bus trip to Santiago. Leave 10pm, arrive 6am in a different country, how could this not work out brilliantly?

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One Response to Mendoza – Sun, Steak, Wine, and a Change in Plans…

  1. tolomea

    There is an aroma room at the big picture in Queenstown. One of the things I found interesting was the way some were really strong for me but Andrea couldn’t smell them at all and vice versa.

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