It has been a while, but we have been busy and away from WiFi for a while. Please bear with us!!! We left Salta on 6th Jan and headed south to Mendoza on another comfortable overnight bus.Mendoza is no stranger to devastating earthquakes and the city fathers have taken advantage of these opportunities to redesign and build a well laid out, green and spacious town.Most of the roads are lined with trees so it is easy not to notice that many of the buildings are rather bleak concrete eyesores.We spent 4 nights in the city, staying in an ok apart-hotel, which was 'fine' though our room for the first night was so noisy that Jodie did not sleep at all (great company the following day).The amount of activity outside was not helped by the fact that the Paris-Dakar Rally was also, obviously, in town.I thought that perhaps Mark Thatcher had been leading and everybody else followed, but we learnt that Al Quaeda had made it too dangerous for the Rally to stick to its normal route so it now goes nowhere near Paris or Dakar. When will Wimbledon move to Sheffield I wonder?
The main draw to Mendoza is its status as the wine capital of Argentina, and as you may know, we like wine.After our experience of free wine tasting in Cafayte, we decided to pay for a good wine tour in order to get to know some of the better Argentinean wines, and enjoyed a great day out.There were 5 other people on the tour; four youngish Americans and a Essex Scot, who all had a sense of humour.Wine tours are odd things; they always start off very formally and stand-offish, but end very noisily.I think it maybe the booze.In Argentina they 'drink wine, not taste it' and give very healthy glasses so by the time we where about half way through the 16 wines we tried during the day, we were all a little giggly.I tried to break the ice very early on by telling the Americans that they were not to go home and tell anyone that Mendoza also produced oil as well as wine, as it was far too nice to have a war in.Unfortunately this quip came during the guides intro, 5 minutes into the trip, and all I got was stony silence and a kick in the shins from Jodie.However, by the time I told the young pharmacist that he had a ginger beard and smelt of wee, we were all relaxed enough for me to avoid being punched.
This tour confirmed to me what I have long suspected after many years of wine tours and general drinking, and that is that my palate is not very sophisticated.I can tell when wine is awful, and on the odd occasion when I have had really good wine I can see why it is rated so highly, but the stuff in the middle just tastes nice.Invariably I like the third one I try the best.My palate is awake by then, but I am not yet so under the influence that I am merely necking the stuff.Perhaps I should spit more, but that would feel so wrong.I have met people that spit wine out; they are nearly always thin and dull.I don't think I could ever trust them.
We visited 4 lovely vineyards and had a great lunch in one of them.They had been well chosen to illustrate 4 very different approaches to wine making and we were very well looked after throughout the day.The first is worthy of mention due to it's construction.It is owned by one of the members of the family who used to own Trapichewines, which is a huge international product therefore unsurprisingly was bought up by an investment bank.One of the brothers took his fortune and built a new winery over 5 years, from 2001.It is obvious that no expense has been spared and the use of local materials, great lighting and extremely imaginative architecture made a wonderfully unique set-up.It also reminded me of a James Bond arch enemy lair, but then again so many thing do - much to Jodie's irritation.The bestthing about this one was that shortly after I had expressed my thoughts to Jodie, the large American biologist with us, without prompting, declared that he also had the feeling that it should have been the home to a man with a huge laser and the unwise habit of trying to kill Bond slowly, watched over by one disinterested guard.
This tour also represented a 'treat' to mark my last day in the British Army, and at midnight that night I stopped being paid for the first time in 20 odd years.I am now a statistic.
Mendoza is also home to many many restaurants and it is worth summing up our view of Argentinean food and restaurant culture.Firstly, they do beef very very well.The problem is they can do sod all else.Whilst I have enjoyed some of the best beef I am ever likely to eat, we have also endured the worst Thai, Mexican and Chinese food.It takes real effort to w*** up a stir fry.Secondly, a casual observer would come to the conclusion that Argentineans are real party animals as they are always out until one or two in the morning, with children, everyday of the week.After spending 5 weeks in the country we have realised that it is all a bluff, and whilst they are indeed out late, they sleep until 5 minutes before they come out, eat half a dead cow washed down by a glass of wine, then w*** off home within the hour.I do wish though that they resisted the urge to bring their kids and feed them a litre of Fanta.There is nothing better to ruin the atmosphere in a restaurant than half a dozen over-tired children, hyperactively running round with veins full of e-numbers.
Mendoza marked our last stop in Argentina so I may as well cover some general thoughts about Argentina.It is a lovely country, with stunning scenery, great wine and beef, charming people and we have thoroughly enjoyedour time here.Language has been a challenge and the Argentineans make life harder by adopting phrases and pronunciations unique to the country.We have been amused by conversations in either bad English or Spanish that take on a surreal quality:J&J - "Can you recommend a place to eat inthis area?". Tourist Policeman - "No.You will find that most people buy furniture out of town, in places by the side of the road." J&J - "Thank you".
The edge is slightly taken off Argentina after delving into a little of its' history and realising that some rather nasty things have happened here.Allegedly, 200,000 Jews were gassed in Argentina in the 40's ('every body else is doing it, so why can't we' perhaps) and since then the two worst atrocities against Jews post WWII have occurred in BA.More recently, during the 70's and early 80's, thousands of citizens were murdered by the state, the most favoured method of disposal being to throw victims, drugged but alive, from aeroplanes into the sea.The most disappointing thing is that this was done by the armed forces who are still to admit that they were wrong to do so and have those that committed these crimes serving as senior officers.I can't help but feel uneasy about a society that allows this state of affairs. *
Argentina is also very corrupt and this must be a significant contributor to the fact that 40% of the population live below the poverty line, in a country that obviously has tremendous wealth.When I asked a local if there was a Mafia in Argentina, she replied that a Mafia is not needed as the role was filled by the government.
We discovered why coins are so rare. It is not just that they cost more to produce than they are worth; the bus companies are trying to hold the Government to ransom and horde the coins they collect.Essentially, say A$1m costs A$1.4m to produce (and these are numbers plucked from my butt), the bus companies are not banking their coins, but rather trying to sell them to the Government for A$1.2m.You could argue that everyone is a winner but perhaps there would not be an issue with coins if this greediness/inefficiency did not occur, and perhaps one difficulty could be removed from peoples already difficult lives.
The whole Malvinas/Falklands issue is also interesting.Firstly, no opportunity is missed to remind people that this remains an issue.On every map, the Islands are marked 'Los Malvinas - Argentina' and on border crossings notices proclaim that Los Malvinas are Argentinean.The defeat in the war is still a tender subject and I got the impression that, regardless of the politics, many felt it was not a fair fight putting ill equipped conscripts against well trained regulars and therefore the conflicts result is null and void.However, despite all this strong feeling there is still no proper pension or care for the veterans of the conflict and the wounded are still protesting in the main plaza in BA.Young men being used, abused and discarded for questionable political goals seems to be a global theme!
All that aside, it has been a great 5 weeks and we are looking forward to returning, but Jodie may bring a packed lunch next time!