Argentina is exactly as you would imagine it in your dreams. Daily siestas are built into the days. Wine is everywhere. Local men are cat calling after every woman that passes and sexual energy fills the air. Nights are filled with tango dancing in local plazas. 75 year old men pressed up against 25 year old women. It´s warm. It´s calm. It´s slow. It´s beautiful. It´s clean. It´s friendly. It´s paradise. My favorite city in the world. Quiet. Relaxed. Laid back. Beautiful. Not too big, but not too small. Friendly. Lazy. Set in amoungst Argentina´s best vineyards.
We arrived into Mendoza at 5 in the morning off the smelly bus from Santiago. The air was warm and the city was dark and quiet. A change from the hustle and smog of Santiago. I sought out a place to take out cash and came up empty handed. Everything was closed. Everyone was sleeping. Unsure of what to do from here, we started talking to a girl who had gotten off our bus, Erika. Turns out she was heading to our hostel and was smart enough to bring some local currency with her and offered to let us ride along. We pulled up to the hostel and buzzed at the front door. A few moments later, the door was opened by a sleepy Argentinian guy in a muscle shirt, who yawned, showed us to our room, mumbled about how early it was and went back to sleeping on the couch. Ha! We dropped our bags and passed out as well.
At around 10am, I woke up and decided to head out into the city for a walk and get aquainted with my new surroundings. The city was still fairly quiet, but was bright and eager to show off it´s beauty. Large large plazas were everywhere. Fountains. Wide streets with tall bushy trees arching over the centre. Beautiful architecture. People strolling by. No traffic. No rushing. Just relaxing.
That first afternoon, Savannah and I started off with the essentials. We chatted with the Argentian guy who worked there… Juan, who was now slightly more alert. He pointed us to all the local places for groceries, nightlife, etc. We booked a biking wine tour through Maipu, a local wine region, for the following day. We sort of hooked up with our new friend, Erika, who was our age and from Brazil, traveling alone. Together we all picked up groceries for the next few days, along with a few bottles of local wine! (That cost us virtually nothing… maybe 2 or 3 dollars a bottle.)
Back at the hostel, we took our bottles of wine into the backyard and started out for a lazy evening in the grass. Travellers at the hostel started to join us, and before we knew it we had polished off about 6 bottles or so of wine and some cheese and crackers. The group had grown from us three plus an Irish girl, Andrea, who had been living in Australia, got laid off and set out on the road, an Irish guy, Tom, who only stopped traveling to make enough money to keep moving for the last 5 years, an American, Refike and his friend from London, Dave, both of whom were investment bankers and worked 80 hours a week and gave it all up to travel when the market went sour and finally, a quiet Swedish guy named Marc. We all decided that since the wine had run out, it was time to locate some local nightlife. We found a patio on the Avenida Villanueva (the street lined with patios and pubs) and drank wine and munched on tapas into the early morning before heading back to the hostel.
Funny… arriving back at the hostel, nearing 2am, Juan, the Argentian was standing outside and directed us into the shop next door. Confused, we followed up into the tiny shop where he opened up a hidden door behind the register that we all ducked through that lead back into our hostel! Turns out someone had taken the key, probably while he was napping on shift, and that was the only way in! So funny.
Our tour bus picked us up from our hostel at 10am. Turns out the whole lot of our new friends were doing the same trip as us. We drove out to Maipu and to the Bikes and Wines shop where we all got to pick out our bikes for the day. I called mine “Black Beauty”. The bikes looked like something out of the movie Now and Then. They handed out the maps and we head out for the day, water bottles in hand. The day was hot, even at that time in the morning. Probably about 34 degrees.
Our first stop was at the Wine Museum. We walked through all the old wine making equipment… half interested… eagerly awaiting the free tasting at the end! Our second stop was at a local, family operated chocolate and liquer shop. We got a tour of where it is all hand made on site by the pretty daughters and then got to sit in their sun room and start tasting! We tried chocolate coffee liquers, chocolate mint, chocolate banana… you name it. Then they brought out different kinds of solid chocolate to try. And finally, a selection of jams and spreads amoungst which we tried a Malbec jam, a chocolate hazelnut spread and an eggplant dressing (which we bought a small jar of to use while cooking down here). It was TO DIE FOR!!!! Part of me wishes I would have bought more stuff to bring home, but transporting stuff around country after country is such a hassle.
From there, we followed our map to try and find the first official winery on our tour… Trapiche. After about 15 km of biking in all sorts of directions, we found it… and it was closed. A huge disappointment and at this point, we were all getting frustrated from the terrible maps and the excessive heat (sheesh, what a tough life, I know). To top that all off… I was attempting to take pictures while biking and surprise, dropped my camera which broke completely. I still have all the pictures on my memory card but my camera was completely toast! Now we were completely camera-less in South America! My goodness! Thank goodness our next stop was at a local delicatessen where we were to stop for lunch. We arrived there and happily tucked our bikes aside in the shade and found a table in the yard. The patio sat in a beautiful rose garden. The scene was breathtaking. I imagined what putting an event on there would be like. Savannah and I had brought homemade ham and cheese sammies which we sat and ate and ordered a bottle of crisp white wine to go along with it. We observed service in Argentina. Just as slow moving as the city of Mendoza. No one is in any rush whatsoever. So, by the time we had finished lunch, it was getting into the late afternoon and we had to return the bikes by 6pm. It quickly became apparent, much to our dismay, that we would not be able to hit all 13 stops on our tour.
We continued on to our next stop – a winery, finally. We did the quick self guided tour and tasted the sweet Malbec grapes right off the vine. We then moved up to the rooftop terrace and everyone sat outside and ordered flights of wine tastings. The service was unreal. They all spoke English and showed us how we could import the wines back to Canada if we liked them. Savannah and I shared two tastings which allowed us to try all the wines they had there. There were 6 reds and one rose. No whites to be found. Their prize wine, the Pleno, was our ultimate favorite, but because it was double the price of all the others, we each opted to buy a bottle of the Malbec, which was impressive as well, instead. We all took our time up there, chatting and sipping and comparing opinions before heading onto the next winery.
The next winery was just down the road and made our way inside. I remember fewer details about this one… most likely due to the amount of wine consumed in the heat of the Argentina day. I do remember that this place had two chardonnay´s which I was eager to try (as they are my fave!) but the guy working there did not have a tasting order set up and so I waiting impatiently for him to go through a few reds so that I could try to the old chard and the new one one after another to compare (as it SHOULD have been done for everyone). Haha. Anyways, it went good and I ended up buying a bottle of the older chard. Not sure if it was amazing or not… again, my memory was foggy at this point.
Making our way back through the local region on bike…. trying to get to the shop by 6pm and figure out how to get back to Mendoza (the stupid tour didn´t include transport back… of course!), the chain came off my bike. Of course, not a big deal, right? WRONG. The wheel that the chain was on on this old bike was covered and so we couldn´t get it back on. This meant I had to WALK along through the blistering heat carting bottles of wine and probably at least half cut at this point to the shop. I finally showed up at maybe 20 minutes after 6pm. The local guys working there questioned me with “Why are you late?”. Well… I definitely let them know. I think smoke actually blew out of my ears. They felt so bad that they offered me and Savannah a free ride home, which I did relax enough to thank them for. When in Argentina, take it all in stride. That is what I decided to learn from them… how to relax and go with the flow. After all, look where I was!
Back at the hostel we cleaned up and showered from our day (and sobered up a bit too!). We decided to go out for dinner that night and the Juan from the hostel came along, with another guy who had just arrived there from France, Baptista. We headed to the casino on the next block over and ate in the restaurant there. We were eager to taste this famous Argentina steak sandwich we had been told all about. Eager to see if it was truly better than the steak from our own dear Alberta (turns out it was pretty good, but not even close to an Alberta AAA beef tenderloin, boo ya!). The dinner was accompanied by… guess… a bottle of Malbec and we muddled through speaking a combination of English, French and Spanish which ended up blending together as the bottle grew empty and the night went on. After dinner, we headed back out to the Villanueva for some more wine, vodka and blurry chatter.
The next day we slept in awhile… exhausted from the previous days events. We met our new roommate… Lonnica, who we actually already knew! She had been at our hostel in Iquique and we had met her just briefly there. It´s hilarious how small the travel community is while we all are actually traveling through many countries and come from all over the globe. We found the day was too hot to do anything major, and so we sat on the patio at our hostel and shared some cervesa and listened to music.
Then… we did something… but it´s a secret until we get home, so can´t tell you now how the rest of the afternoon went.
The evening was basically filled with a homemade dinner (compliments of Savannah), more cerveca, some wine and… guess… back to Villanueva for some drinks. Walking back to Villanueva, Savannah, Lonnica and myself, we passed by a little plaza on the side of the street. There was tango music playing and the plaza was filled with couples dancing slowly and gracefully, twisting around each other. Most men looked to be older than the age of 60 and carried the ladies around the floor, pressed right up against them, with confidence. The ladies, none over the age of 25 or so, twisted their legs up as though they had pre-choreographed this dance and knew every step. It stopped us in our tracks… that something like this would be happening in the middle of the street at moments before midnight struck. I was mesmerized by it all. A gentleman with bright white hair approached me, probably intrigued by the look of wonder on my face, and offered to teach me how to tango. And so we did, right there on the street. Only in Argentina….
On our final day in Argentina, we took a taxi out to the other nearby wine region of Chakras and attempted to walk along a stretch of road to see 4 local wineries. All were closed. At one of them, they decided to let us come in for a private tasting anyways, since we had come all that way. We bought a Malbec and a Cab Sauv from that place. It was fantastic wines! That evening, we packed up our things and boarded our bus saying goodbye to Mendoza.