Más vino por favor!
Trip Start Jun 11, 2012
8Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
We got off the bus into a ghost town. Being a national holiday everyone was indoors spending time with their families leaving the streets of Mendoza empty.
We struggled to get a our bearings to begin with, forgetting to write down the address of the hostel, and not really remembering the name of it we quickly realised we had not set ourselves up for success. But after you travel for a bit, you realise that it always seems to work out one way or another.
Digging into the deep murky abyss that is my memory I remembered roughly where it was, we managed to find a map at the train station; during this time, Tom was able to access some local WiFi with his phone and we managed to get the address (I wasn't far off at all!)
We walked across Mendoza which turned out to be a lot larger than we originally thought
After picking up a few stray dogs hoping we would throw them some food; it didn't take long before they gave up. We're backpackers, we have nothing to offer.
We arrived at our hostel, but it felt more like someone's Villa, complete with a full wine cellar, vines growing on the terrace (during harvest season you're able to help yourself to their grapes) It was the first hostel that had 2 kitchens and seemed fairly well equipped with 3 ovens!
But feeling like a pizza we found the millionth pizza shop in Argentina and spoiled ourselves with a 4 way pizza and the standard 2lt's of beers.
When we arrived back in the afternoon we were welcomed to join in on Empanada making class using 'Grandma's Recipe'. We learnt how to make the meat filling and how to make the dough, The whole hostel were involved resulting in about 20 people around the table. We folded our own empanada's and while they cooked we drank the famous Mendoza wine we heard so much about. The wine is good! and stupidly cheap. We tried out a $4 wine, which was decent and then we splashed out on a $7 bottle and it was incredible; a young wine but extremely enjoyable, and with that sort of price tag who could resist another 2 bottles
Then the empanada's came; after living off street empanada's (which are usually just heated by a microwave) we realised what we had been missing out on, these were mouth watering, and very filling. I made sure I wrote down the recipe as I wanted to be able to make these again!
We continued to drink, I feel into deep conversation with an English couple and after not standing for a few hours, yet drinking consistently by about 12 we realised how drunk we were. Tom had gone out with a few others to a small club; I stumbled straight to bed.
The next day we took a stroll around Mendoza to their many parks, being a regular Thursday, the town had a lot more life. Tom & I both loved Mendoza, after the crazy week in BA it was exactly what we needed and had a very similar feel to a Mansfield, or a country town in north Victoria.
Gob-smacked every time we looked up and saw the Andes in the back ground, there really isn't a more appealing backdrop for a town.
But that night we had something special planned; horseback riding through the base of the Andes at sunset with an authentic Gaucho (Argentinian cowboy).
We were picked up at 3:30 and drove to a ranch about an hour out of Mendoza. Our Gaucho was Diego; quite possibly the coolest man I have ever met, sporting man boots and a hefty knife tucked into his belt we felt we were in safe hands.
We were all given a horse and with a 7minute tutorial on how to control the horses', no waiver to sign and a destination we couldn't see we were off
We continued up hill and came to the beautiful valley where we stopped and took in the view. Diego showed us how to identify wild thyme 'perfect for cooking' and then we continued on our way. Coming to a steep descent, Diego showed us how to tackle the hill and safely we all continued to the Ranch to which we would be having dinner.
We finally arrived at our destination, which was just a small ranch at the base of the Andes. The fire was already going and the meat was cooking. We all sat around the fire and watched Diego cook, being in Medoza wine was on the menu. Diego pulled out 3 5lt jugs of wine which we were more than happy to help with. Dinner was ready and we were all hungry after the ride.
First up was Pork Belly; slow roasted over coals (Diego had embedded onions into the coals for flavour) it was delicious, my parents cook an amazing pork belly but for the first time they have been trumped, it was so good that even Tom tried some (and loved it it!!)
To follow were various cuts of beef, chicken and chorizo sausages. It filled us and set us up beautifully for a night of wine drinking. Diego then turned down the lights and allowed the light from the fire to fill the room, he pulled out a guitar and began playing some songs that he grew up with. He was delighted to learn that most of us knew the Buena Vista Social Club. Belting out a few songs of there's and swooning the woman, and un-admittedly the men he changed the tune and played some western songs and everyone joined in with the singing.
Not wanting the night to end we all packed up and headed for the bus; but not before Diego showed us his true colours. When walking into the kitchen area a mouse ran across the bench, to all our surprise Diego screamed and ran out. He hands Tom a rolling pin and asks him to beat it. The mouse trapped and scared (not as much as Diego) Tom caught it in a glass and let it go. After questioning Diego's manliness he claimed that he can't handle rats/mice "I'll fight a puma before a rat"; I guess we all have our weakness.
Most of us drunk off wine and full from the feast slept on the way home; the awake people talked about their travels to Brazil and what to do when getting there. We had all decided to go on a winery tour the next day and wanted to get up early to make the most of it
We slept in. Still running off BA time this was half expected.
Fortunately our 2 Aussie friends Nicole and Sarah and the English couple Nick and Emma had too. We managed to get on a bus before midday and took the 45min trip to wine city.
There we found 'Mr Hugo' who had been recommended by anyone that had been to Mendoza.
What we discovered there, is that within a 7km radius there were upwards of 9 wineries. Arriving late we decided to go to the furthest winery and work our way back but first we had to get a bike. Assuming there would be release forms, insurance and a set of rules to follow we were all shocked when all they asked for was our names and 30pesos. Given bikes and optional helmets we set off.
Before I continue I must mention the gutters in Mendoza; they are enormous, they sit about 1.8m deep and almost a meter wide; strange considering Mendoza gets very little rain; since all the clouds don't make it over the Andes it before very dry. But on the counter they receive a great deal of water from the snow capped mountains that surround Mendoza. (it's why their wine is so amazing) So you can't miss these gutters, well anyone but me
As we took off along the road, with me leading the charge we came to a round about, I looked to my right and realised I was in another country and looked to my left noticing a cars coming I thought I would slow down, hitting the brakes I was quick to realise I had none. I took to long to think about whether I try make to gap or work out how to slow down, not looking forward I heading straight towards these large gutters. Realising at the last minute and hitting the panic button I jumped off, falling over yet managing to hold onto the bike I stood there for a moment thinking that this could of gone a lot worse! Taking a moment we jumped back onto the road.
The beginning of the ride was pleasant, with our own bike lane the traffic didn't bother us, until we hit the rural parts of the town where the bike lane disappeared and the road was wide enough for just 2 cars. We attempting to ride on the dirt footpath, but the bikes weren't in the best shape for this; mine particularly with no brakes and a slight lean to the left (direction of the road)
Braving the elements we stuck to the edge of the road and hoped as the vans and cars flew past us that they would go round; whilst in BA such would not be the case.
We safely and finally arrived at Bodega Familia Del Tomasa; an old winery that began in 1865, there we went on a tour of the winery. We learnt how they used to ferment the grapes in large concrete tanks, and now due to health regulations they must use different stainless steel tanks; they use the old concrete tanks to store their wine bottles for distribution
We tried some wine; which was amazing. We sat down to eat a meal, but unfortunately me and Tom poorly judged how much money we would need and the place having to card facilities we passed on a meal.
When riding to the next winery we passed a petrol station, convinced there would be an ATM inside we pulled in. I was wrong, in Argentina 'Cash is King', a credit card has no value to them and ATM's are scarce.
So we rode on, the next place was very modern and possibly the largest distributor in the area. having a group of 6 we decided rather than wine tasting we would all chip in for a bottle and enjoy the view of the Andes on their terrace. Surprisingly having card facilities I brought the bottle and gathered cash of everyone to get me through the day.
We spent a while there and devoured anther bottle, realising we only had time for one more winery it was back on out bikes.
As we pulled in, we ran into Neil (our Canadian friend who welcomed us into his house party in BA) we said hello and discovered we would meet him in Santiago.
We again shared a bottle at the last winery; opting for no tour and just the bottle we sat and drank as we had been doing all day
Getting progressively more drunk and the wineries closing we made our way back to Mr Hugo to drop off our bikes.
There we were welcomed with 'Tang' and chips which we devoured rapidly. Our crew were all heading to Santiago the next morning so we decided to take it easy and cook a feast. Nicole and Sarah were cooking meatballs, Tom and I were going to try our hand in cooking empanadas and Nick and Emma were cooking Banafy Pie.
So we caught a bus back to the hostel, swung by the supermarket to get our ingredients, took over the kitchen in the hostel and began the cooking the feast.
Our empanadas turned out awesome. I cooked the mixture which I couldn't of been happier with and after folding about 24, Tom is now officially empanada folding king. We handed them around as we cooked way too many and even the local's working in the hostel loved them; to say the least we were very happy with ourselves. The rest of the feast was just as good, the meatballs were exactly what the doctor ordered, fresh loaf of bread and the Banafy Pie topped it all off!
Full and knackered from the bike ride we all went to bed early.
Getting up early we caught a taxi with our new friends
The bus from Mendoza to Santiago cuts through the Andes, the border was roughly 3 hours from Mendoza, I expected to get some reading done. I was very wrong. As we climbed higher, the mountains grew larger and larger. Tom and I kept looking at each other gob smacked at the views we were witnessing, but it was when we arrived at the border that the mountain ranges really hit home.
We piled out of the bus and were lined up, we had to check out of Argentina and then check in Chile, there we stood outside and took in the fresh air. Piled back onto the bus, we drove about 50meters to Customs, we were all asked to step out of the bus and lined up with our bags in front of us, x-rayed and then sniffer dogged, the customs officers found what they were looking for, which was various fruits and nuts
We headed down the mountain's which were covered in fresh snow, the views kept getting more and more beautiful. We then came to the famous Switchback Pass; a serious of 29 switchbacks that scale down on of the 1000 mountains. Most people take these precariously sharp turns with caution and pace; not our driver, a seasoned pro (or lunatic) would take on these corners in excess of 60km/hr. Seatbelt on and holding of for dear life we made it to the bottom which turned into lush, green mountain ranges. I again attempted to read my book which I struggled to put down, yet every time I glanced up I couldn't take my eyes off what I was seeing. The Andes have left me with a profound thought of insignificance; no matter how important we may feel, these mountains ranges, their flora and fauna have no care about us. They've been here long before us and will last (here's hoping) long after we're gone. They're monstrous yet so elegant, reaching the stars and stretching across 7 countries it's no wonder the people of South America have such respect for these mountains.