Vino, vino, more vino!
We arrived in Mendoza on Thursday 23rd April and after a 3am border cross that took over an hour; queues, passport checks and bag searches- we arrived pretty exhausted. We checked into 'Hostel Punto Urbano' and despite not being allowed in our rooms, we could descend on breakkie at 7am- crepes with dulce de leche, hard boiled eggs, cereal, coffee, oranges and croissants- without question the best yet! We got showered and headed out for our classic arrival mooch to get the vibes and feel the energy of Mendoza. First impressions were strong- the sun was shining and we explored the main Plaza Independencia and wandered about an hour up an adorable street called 'Avenue Mitre' that was lined with some really beautiful antique looking houses. We made it to Parque Central where we swung on some swings like little baby llamas- I got all nostalgic about my childhood and in particular about swinging on the swing and playing in the park in La Manga...as sentimental as ever. We collapsed under the sun and chilled out. The park is huge- wide open grass spaces, a lake, cafes and even roads where joggers are going hard roadside under the days' strongest sun- a little general observation is that Santiago and Mendoza have been the only places throughout our entire SA expedition where we've seen people out jogging- perhaps a correlation between the standard of living and way of life, compared to say that of Peruvians living in Lima. As a city, I really loved Mendoza and with that said, due to our tight excursion schedules, we didn't really even see all that much of it as we ventured beyond the city on virtually all 4 days. I definitely felt safe and relaxed in Mendoza, and despite it's working city atmosphere, it also feels somewhat like a village- it is so dissimilar to the pace in which smoggy Santiago moves. Mendoza rests on the eastern side of the Andes and is a perfect retreat for wine lovers. We really liked our hostel, especially the breakfast, although there was a disconcerting ripple of bedbug Chinese whispers towards the end of our stay- Lou woke up with more bites to her already impressive collection and the Oscar bite went to the one on her eyelid, resulting in a seriously attractive puffy eye- sunglasses to breakfast it was! Bed bugs has definitely been a reoccurring situation in most of the hostels we've stayed, though there's not really much to be done but wrap up like a mummy and hope for the best! On our first night we did an empanada cooking class, although it was more of a 'watch the cook, we've had too much wine class' (encouraged by the hostel from the 8-9 free wine every night). The loveliest lady led the 4 of us (3 llamas and a Swiss guy...who's name I can clearly remember) and she had with her a local girl around our age to translate. We made 2 mini beef and egg empanadas, although not the best i've had...and i've definitely had my fair share in Chile- the class was something a little different.
Our first excursion in Mendoza took us an hour out of the city to 'vinoville' or otherwise known as Maipu. We went with 2 British boys and a Swiss boy (still nameless) from our hostel and coincidentally met two of his friends on the bus going to the wineries- we formed a little family for the day. Fortunately this was to be Ryan and Chris's (Brit boys obviously) third vineyard tour so we were in good hands and furthermore, this was a sure indication that we were about to have a wonderful day. We hired bikes at a discounted rate (thanks to Ryan and Chris for their customer loyalty) from 'Mr Hugo bikes' and commenced our 10.5 mile cycle (fortunately for Dais it was smooth, flat cycle ground) one behind the other, Sound of Music style, to our first wine tasting- Familia Di Tomaso. We were given a tour of the winery and three wine tastings for 45 pesos each which converts to roughly £3. The local Argentinian tour guide was lovely and took his time to talk us through the old working winery that no longer ferments the wine but due to the optimum temperature conditions, continues to store wine for the ageing process. A couple of things I learned: Rose is made from red grapes only and the skin is taken out to stop it from becoming full blown red (I think that's right) and Argentina cannot export any wine because of the extortionate taxes issued by their president- a little unfortunate when they are a country renowned for their vino. Our second stop was 'Tempus Alba', a beautiful winery with an outdoor roof terrace that overlooks vineyards and far into the horizon the Andes stand gracefully posing as the perfect backdrop. We joined with fellow wine tasters, a few Irish and another fellow Brit, forming a large banter bus table on the roof terrace. We ordered delicious burgers, three more wines to taste and sat under the clear blue sky and melting sun- it didn't get much better than that! I must admit I am still not at all knowledgable about my wine, but I can tell you that all the Malbecs I tasted were without a doubt my favourite. The spicy kick, and velvety texture linger in the palette or so I learned and obviously these are the exact words I'd have chosen myself to describe the taste. I don't like white wine, so I have no excuses to not become a red wine connoisseur- watch this space. Two wineries down, we were all feeling extremely happy and perhaps a little too relaxed to cycle 100% alert on the road, however we did and what a glorious cycle ride it was to our next stop- Destileria Tierra de Lobos. At least cycling pissed and with no perception of time or distance, 5 miles felt like 1, and we swung precariously into the distillery all a little giggly- I felt like i'd been floating...had I even been pedalling? The distillery was owned by a peculiar man, yet the tasting was just as pisstastic all the same and not to mention the setting and open spaced, stone distillery itself was rustic and extremely picturesque. If you look to the album 'Mendoza' you will find a picture of the spirits on offer- the top row are hard liqueurs and the bottom row, sweet liqueurs. I obviously chose all 3 tasting from the bottom row. I tried Limon, Triple Sec Naranja and Dulce de Leche (which definitely didn't classify as alcohol). My favourite was the Limon- one for a sweet tooth! We dropped our bikes off, ensuring we lingered for a little to retrieve our free wine (x 3 bottles) because of course we needed more (to add to our free bottles of rose courtesy of Tempus Alba) and walked to a wine bar to do what you ask? Drink more vino! Our parent trap experience was one of my most memorable days yet. It is impossible not to get lost in the history of the wineries and beauty of the vineyards, it most definitely was another highlight!
The next day we got collected at 11.30am and driven to a working ranch in Cabalgatas, about 40 minutes out of the city. Once again we were blessed with a glorious blue sky and we saddled up and began our horse trek through the Andes. There were roughly 12 of us in the group, riding one behind the other, utterly engulfed by the spectacular landscape that surrounded us. Dais and Lou being pro horse hunnies had the opportunity to gallop off for a stretch and as Dais rode into the distance, her hair flowing behind her, poor Lou was stuck beside me with a stubborn horse that wouldn't do more than a slow waddle- watching Dais was painful for her and so funny for me. I had a gorgeous horse called FM and being the animal whisperer that I am, we had total giggles all the way around. Nearing the end of our 2 hour trek, our nostrils did the directing as the fresh scent of sizzling sausages, melt in the mouth steaks and fried onions pierced through the fresh Andean air. Or it was more likely the horses picked up the pace on the sound of their horsey buddies neighing for their return- they too knew food would be waiting. We all sat inside the ranch, overwhelmed by the wonderful food- rear juicy steaks, homemade sausages, fried peppers and onions, potatoes, fresh salad and crusty bread to soak up all the juices. There was little talking and mostly hand to mouth action, it was a feast! After the bbq the three llamas strolled down towards the horses and bulls and nattered under the afternoon sun about farming, just like 3 little retired cowboys. Right on cue, we were interrupted by real working cowboys as three rodeos came blazing in on their horses behind 2 manic cows. It was a close encounter, but fortunately the cows had already hit a line towards their enclosure and we narrowly avoided. It was a really memorable experience witnessing the cowboys rear in the cows- the ranch was just as i'd imagined a true country working ranch to be and it was so exciting to be a part of one for the day and in particular, part of one nestled in the Andes made it even more special. My camper water bottle was also lost to the Andes on this day by the man leading our trek- he was galloping hard and fast and I assume my poor purple camper just slipped out of his backpack pocket- you will forever be in my heart and you served me so well/ probably held onto bacteria that was constantly giving me the s***s- so good riddance! The following day we were on a major comedown after two absolutely magical days, although a chill out was definitely welcomed. Positively 'vinoed' out- we booked our most expensive bus for the following evening- 15/16 hours to Buenos Aires it was to be!