We arrived in the morning and spent the day walking around the city. We enjoyed a really good coffee at Bonafide, amused at the possible Spanish pronunciation, and ambling the pleasant avenues and plazas. Upon returning to the hostel in the evening we saw a poster of a multi-colored rock overtaking a sunken building and said to our hostel owner, Gustavo, "We want to go there!" He immediately set us up for a tour the next morning.
The tour took us to a dozen locations between Mendoza and the Chilean border from which we had arrived the previous morning. (It was much more pleasant riding in a minibus and not sitting in a big full-sized bus at the border for 4 hours, which we had endured the night before.) We did have a "hiccup" with our minibus though; a quarter of the way into the trip we noticed the driver was going really slow
. This observation was definitely confirmed when we got passed by a loaded 18-wheeler headed for Bolivia. They called into HQ and we ended up waiting for a short time at a rest stop for them to bring another bus. We thought we were just going to change buses, but they thought it would be a better idea to swap parts from the working bus onto our broken bus. Even though it wouldn't have been our first thought, the repairs were successful and we continued on. Most of the stops on the tour were places that didn't entirely interest us, and many of the stops for "beautiful mountain views" seemed silly, particularly after we'd spent so much time hiking in the mountains and seeing them so up close and personal. Regardless, the tour was beautiful and interesting, and at the very end of the day we got what we wanted: a stop at Puente del Inca, deceptively named as it was really an English hotel with natural hot thermal baths that sunk into the rock after an avalanche and was subsequently abandoned, resulting in the acquisition of an incredible color display of minerals. The hot thermal springs now run out of the roof and windows of the former hotel, continuing to deposit more color and marvel to the crazy-looking cliff.
Heeding the advice of travelers before us, we got an early start the next day for the world-famous (a.k.a. everyone since Buenos Aires has been talking about it) Mr
. Hugo's bikes. Mr. Hugo himself greeted us and gave us two very nice bicycles and a map of the wineries, and sent us on our way. The pictures tell the story better than words, but suffice it to say that we saw many beautiful wineries and tasted some great (and some not-so-great, but nice to know the difference) wines. Most of the wineries gave us informative tours and we learned a lot about the process (art, really) of wine-making from the large, export-scale vineyards of Trapiche to the small, hand-decorated bottles of Vina del Cuerno and Familia di Thomas. We also had a great tour and tasting of the "olivery", which exports under many different labels to the U.S., and a delicious chocolateria with fine jams and flavored dulce de leches. The chocolate factory, oddly enough, also had absinthe and they did us up some flaming shots. After the chocolate factory, it was already getting dark, and we were greeted outside the gates by a policeman who was waiting to follow us back to Mr. Hugo's on his motorcycle. Apparently the police in Maipu (the town outside of Mendoza where all the bikes and wine tasting occurs) are constantly on-call to make sure tourists don't fall off their bikes (or worse) after a day of wine tasting. Back at Mr. Hugo's it was a regular party; all the tourists who had rented bikes that day were gathered in the outside patio sharing stories, mate, and more wine until Mr. Hugo walked us (about 30 of us) to the bus back to Mendoza. No wonder this man has earned a name in the traveler world! The bus must have been an adventure for anyone normally riding the line at this hour. It was chocked full of tipsy gringos speaking English quite loudly!
In the morning we walked to the San Martin park, much like Balboa Park in San Diego, a huge park with a variety of attractions including even a university. For USD$2 we were driven all over the park with a private guide who pointed out the main attractions and gave us some history about each place
. On the way we found an incredible campsite, with hot water and BBQ's at each site, that would have been great to know about a few days before! (Not that we were disappointed with our hostel by any means, but camping in warm weather would have been a welcome experience). Our park guide left us at the Mendoza Zoo, purported to be one of the most "important" zoos in South America, and we spent the rest of the afternoon walking the 4 miles of trails and seeing the animals. Some were zoo-like and very sad, like the lions in tiny cages and the bears that obviously do not belong in the area, but others, like the guanacos, nandus, sheep, and goats, were awesome and entirely amusing. (Do not miss our favorite video below of guanaco-feeding.)
Saying good-bye to Mendoza that evening was bittersweet; there was a lot we felt we didn't get to do in and around Mendoza, but we were very much looking forward to meeting Ron Ball's college fraternity brother and his family in Cordoba.
Mendoza did not disappoint our high expectations, although it had more to offer than just the wine tasting for which we came.