Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Mendoza: other than wine...

May 11, 2012
The highlight of our recent trip to Mendoza was definitely the wine tour, but we did other stuff there, too.

First we had to get there. Flights were very expensive, so we took a (slightly less expensive) bus. The bus is 14 hours each way, and comes in three classes. The most expensive class includes a curtain around each fully-reclining seat. The cheapest class is an ordinary tour bus. We took the overnight cama ejecutivo class in the middle. The seats came with pillows and blankets and went down enough to sleep, there was some (barely edible) food served, a movie, and wine. We didn't sleep as well as in a bed, but well enough to function upon arrival.

Mendoza is both a province (with all the vineyards, among other sites) and a city (the provincial capital). We stayed at a hostel in the city, with a private room but shared bathrooms. We arrived on Thursday morning and ate some brunch until our room was ready to check in. Then we walked to the center of town in search of an activity. Companies were offering wine tours, parasailing, skydiving, horseback riding, rafting; we decided to go rafting.

We reserved a spot on the afternoon group. A few hours and an 80-minute bus ride later, we were at a roadside kiosk. The rafting company's van picked us up there and drove us with a bunch of other people to their lodge. We got geared up - neoprene wet suit and booties, rain jacket, life jacket, helmet - and got on another van, also towing two rafts, to drive to the river.

Our raft had five people: the two of us, an Australian couple, and the raft guide. We basically just followed orders: "Forward!" "Backward!" "Stop!" Everyone paddled in unison and he steered. The water was mostly calm, so he pulled some silly stunts, getting the raft flooded, getting stuck on rocks. At one point we were stuck on a big rock, we tipped hard to the left, and the Australian guy fell out of the raft into the cold water. (Before we went rafting, I had to reassure Steph that it wasn't really going to be that rough, so I was very glad Steph, who was on the same side, didn't fall in, too.) Overall I thought it was pretty silly: I'd much rather steer my own boat, and get wet when it's actually rough, and avoid the big rocks that there's no reason to get stuck on. The Aussies seemed to be having a good time, at least. (We had to leave our cameras at the gear house, and they wanted to charge us 70 pesos for the photos their guy took, so we don't have any action shots.)

For dinner Thursday night, we went to a really good restaurant called Florentina. The menu was very creative, we were very hungry, and we weren't yet hung over from the wine-tour-to-be, so we enjoyed a good Torrontes (a white grape unique to Argentina).

Friday was the wine tour. 19 wines, almost a full glass of each. It took us a day and a half to get over the hangover, and I still need a few more days before I can drink another Malbec.

On Saturday, we took a city bus to the neighboring town of Maipu and rented bicycles. Maipu is home to a number of vineyards, including the huge Trapiche and a bunch of independent producers. We were still too wined-out from the previous day, so we mostly skipped the vineyards. A wine museum was filled with old wine-making instruments. A small chocolate and liquor maker had a good sampler platter, but was too expensive to buy more, and probably small because they weren't good enough to be bigger. The bike rental shop recommended the town "Beer Garden" for lunch, but it wasn't easy to find: one sign pointed in the wrong direction, another incorrectly said that we had reached the beer garden, when it was actually half a kilometer away. The town has a petty crime problem - we overheard one group of tourists reporting an attempted bag-snatching to a cop - and another cop stopped us from getting too lost finding the Beer Garden, probably thinking everyone was better off if the cycling tourists stuck to the main roads.

We finally found the Beer Garden, and their "artesanal" pizza and beer demonstrated the generally-true principle that "artesanal" means "not good enough to sell in bulk."

We went to one last vineyard before returning the bikes, and enjoyed (as much as we could given the overdose) another glass of small-batch Malbec. The lady working at the visitors' cabin was a teacher, and had a small laptop that the government issued to every student and teacher in the country. She was telling us how she liked learning new things about wine from the internet, especially YouTube. I had heard about the laptop-giveaway program before, and find it very impressive, so I need to read more about that and write about it later.

On Sunday morning, we rented a motorcycle from Mendoza Moto Adventura, a 250cc Honda Tornado dirt bike. It was a cold morning, with the sun not yet warming us up. The road out of the city was closed, so we improvised a detour. We got to a dirt path at one point, but seemed to be going in the right direction toward the road. Steph thought we should follow other cars but I thought, it's a dirt bike, we don't need to follow the cars... until we got to within a few meters of the road, with a big metal median blocking us. A bunch of bicyclists were lifting their bikes over the median mockingly.

Finally back on the road, we rode west toward the Andes mountains, through Potrerillos to Vallecito.  Past Potrerillos, the road was an unpaved switchback trail up a mountain. We bumped along around the tight curves for several kilometers. It wasn't clear where or how far the road went - were we supposed to keep going, or just go as long as we wanted and turn around? - so when we hit our halfway point (with a bus to catch in the evening), we just turned around. We had lunch at a wonderful ski lodge-style restaurant called La Charamusca (translates to The Ugly Hag), with empanadas, chicken stew, and hot chocolate.

A few hours later, we got back on another bus for another long, overnight bus ride back home.

- Ben

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