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Magnificent Mendoza – Spanish, Steak, Sun and … Wine?

Posted by on January 18, 2011

This post for the period from September 20th to October 1st.

Irrigation along the streets in Mendoza

Irrigation along the streets in Mendoza


It felt slightly odd starting a ‘routine’ in the morning. Get up, shower, grab breakfast at the hostel, and walk the 15 minutes up the hill to Ecela for class. I was quite excited about the prospect of doing some serious study, while still having fun – the two weeks of free afternoons ahead seemed full of possibilities.

Our teacher was appropriately bubbly and full of energy, the right person for the job of putting up with tourists butchering her language week after week. My class consisted of Rob, an American, Sharon the Irish girl, Keith – the Irish guy also staying at the hostel, Elizabeth – a middle-aged New Jerseyite, another America woman and myself. We did the usual introduction thing – noteably in Spanish, and I started to worry as the teacher insisted on ONLY speaking in Spanish – and most of what was coming out of her mouth was err… Spanish to me. Fortunately the blank, worried looks on the other students’ faces reassured me that I was not the only one concerned about this.

The Monkey Mendoza Hostel, my accommodation for about 3 weeks

The Monkey Mendoza Hostel, my accommodation for about 3 weeks


As it turned out, over the two weeks – this was a great strategy. More and more we were able to follow these sentences in Spanish, sure she spoke slowly and clearly for us, and we’d still hear a slur of syllables in shops and from other locals, but less and less she had to switch to English for us. After the first week I was feeling more confident in class, and starting to really enjoy it.

I’d organised a deal with the hostel and was staying in ‘the loft’. As it turns out, only Debbie (from Belgium) – one of the staff, was also up there, so it was quite peaceful, until they started some work to build an additional toilet and everything was covered in dust. Still, it was almost like a private room at a discount rate, so it worked out rather well.

Mr Hugo, the wine tour cycle hire guy

Mr Hugo, the wine tour cycle hire guy


Meanwhile, the afternoons were brilliant. Sure we had homework, but in addition to the two Dutch girls interning at Ecela organising social events for us every day, there was much to do in Mendoza. From the magnificent parks and squares where we could lay in the sun all afternoon drinking wine, to fantastic food.

A highlight was the Mr Hugo’s Wine Tours – where four of us went on a cycle tour. Mr Hugo loans you bicycles, and off you go with a map of the local bodegas, and do wine tastings, eat lunch and taste various oils and breads. And while the effect of the wine takes hold, you wobble back on the bike down a pothole-ridden road, as huge trucks roar past you. Brilliant!

The 'gang' signing up for wine and cycling

The 'gang' signing up for wine and cycling


Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia

One lunchtime, however, I was sitting in Plaza Independencia eating lunch, my daypack next to me on the bench. Enjoying my empanadas, I noticed a guy walk past and drop his keys on the ground. Being the kind stranger I am, I yelled some broken Spanish at him – Senor – llaves! but he didn’t hear and kept walking. Eventually I stood up, walked the few metres to the keys and threw them at him as he turned around. Satisfied I’d been a good Samaritan, I turned to see my daypack walking away with five guys. Obviously a set-up, and it took me completely by surprise. But I was both shocked and angry and ran after them, caught up and spun the guy with my bag around. Not able to really think up Spanish words I was yelling various things at him while noting my bag was open and desperately trying to remember what was in it beforehand. I’d had my laptop, harddrive, and two cameras in that bag, and I wanted them back. I then noticed his bag, and grabbed that as he started to panic a bit and protest. I confirmed it was empty and kept yelling at them while storming off. Success, another robbery attempt averted!

Melinda and Inge from Ecela

Melinda and Inge from Ecela

The evenings were more fun, including various fun times, asados at the hostel, a tango show, chocolate factory tour, and even a tango lesson. Tabata – a Brazilian girl and myself ended up being the only ones from the school going, and it was a little stressful as the entire class was in fast Spanish, and we were among the only beginners! In between I attempted to fix my laptop, trying all sorts of things, downloading Linux distros on the hostel computer, and eventually getting a dodgy Crunchbang distro to run off the USB stick on my laptop. It was brutal and buggy but at least I could get online and had some basic functionality.

The second week the class changed a bit. Keith and Debbie went off to Chile before they flew to Easter Island and on to New Zealand. The one American girl left on a 72 hour bus ride to Lima(!), and we were joined by David, another American who had done two weeks in Ecela in Santiago, and was now taking a change of scenery in Mendoza before returning to Santiago to meet up with his wife who was flying down.

The Spanish classes at lunch

The Spanish classes at lunch

Caught up with Andrew about the latest in Europe, and the roadtrip a few of them had recently been on around several countries as well. Sounded like a lot of driving, although if we’d known what was ahead, it would have put that into perspective a little…

Certificate says I speak some Spanish, it must be true!

Certificate says I speak some Spanish, it must be true!


I still had three days to go of Spanish, so while I did that Andrew got over jetlag, and was introduced to the wonders of Argentinian steak, empanadas and went on the wine tour as well. The last night before Spanish ended we had a ‘Spanish Olympics’ between all the nationalities with a variety of fun activities, as well as an asado. Proud to say NZ came in tie first, but lost the tiebreaker. Still, we beat America :) The Friday we had a farewell lunch and the big exam. You needed 75% to pass, and it wasn’t easy at all, but thankfully we all passed – I managed an 82 – but was pleased to mainly only mess up the slang, as I haven’t really focused on those much.

That night Andrew and I went up the main party street looking for steak. He’d had his wine tour so wasn’t too hungry, but I wanted my last big steak, and managed to find a brilliant 500g lomo steak, so was thoroughly satisfied before leaving in the morning….back to Santiago…

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