Mendoza, Wine Country & Bus ride across the Andes

Trip Start Jan 19, 2008
Trip End May 01, 2008

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Where I stayed
Lifehouse Hostel

Flag of Argentina  ,
Sunday, February 17, 2008

After some indecision we eventually settled on catching the day bus to Mendoza. In theory this involves a 7 hour bus trip and so could be done at night. However, making our way through customs in the wee hours, coupled with the fact that the expected arrival time of the bus was five in the morning leant us towards the day trip. Also, by all accounts the scenary was to be pretty spectacular so to miss it through travelling in the dark might have been a pity..

And so it was - 3 hours after leaving Vina we started our ascent up the Andean mountains. A substantial part of the climb involved a staircase of maybe 30 switchbacks, and the view back down the mountain reminded Matt a little of the scaletrix tracks he & his father used to play with in the 80s. Fortunately none of the associated problems of dirty brushes, or power running out half way round, seemed to translate to this grown up behemoth of a route.

Quickly the scenary changed from lush green to mountainous and snowy. For a few moments we could make out, only 30km away, the highest peak in the Southern hemisphere, Mount Anoncagua, at almost 7000m. Customs was at 3km up and after slowly making our way through we trundled back into Argentina, just over 2 weeks after leaving it. We followed the path of the Rio Mendoza (Mendoza river) back down the Andes. The hillside was a kaleidoscope of colours formed by a combination of exposed minerals and the scant vegetation.

On the bus we met a couple of American girls who were studying Spanish, Lee and Heather. Matt got chatting to the girls and eventually came back to his seat wearing a huge grin and blushing slightly - apparently they thought he could pass for a 24 year old!

Mendoza was pretty full up accomodationwise so we ended up sharing a dorm with the two girls just a block or two away from the main square. Mendoza was levelled in the mid 1800s by a strong Earthquake and the town planners, fearing the worst, had done a great job of rebuilding the city - with wide boulevards (for the buildings to fall into) and generous plazas (for the people to congregate in). And so it was that Kathryn and I spent our Valentines dinner with Heather and Lee in a pleasant cafe on one side of Plaza Independencia (the main town square). Kat went off to bed around midnight and so Matt cheekily spent the rest of his first valentines night as a married man with a couple of young American girls wandering the streets of Mendoza in search of a bar and some live entertainment...!

The dorm wasn't available the following night so Matt spent most of the next morning chasing down some further accommodation, only to return empty handed back at check out time. Fortunately a double room had become available back at the same hostel we stayed in the previous night - might have been helpful to have been volunteered this information by the receptionist beforehand - but no!

That afternoon we took a wine tour. Mendoza and the surrounding area produces 2/3rds of Argentinian wine so there were rich pickings to choose from. Our plan of cycling around the wineries didn't transpire though and we toured by coach. In the end we took in just 2 wineries but also stopped off at an Olive Oil plant (oh, the anticipation...) and some hobbyists cafe selling homemade Chocolate and Liquers (more to our liking). We think that the wineries need to reconsider there tactics with these tours. Typically you go on the tour more for the wine tasting than the actual tour - after all, once you seen one winery you've seen them all right??? Why waste their time and ours - just cut to the chase!

The wines were pleasant enough, the olive oil plant was pretty unexciting but the sundried tomatoes they produced were super tasty as were the unlimited raisins (ok, we hadn't had any lunch and were getting peckish by this point!)

The chocolate and liquer man was really just a hobbyist but seemed to enjoy producing unexpected liquer combinations as well as some bizzare jams. Mushroom and Strawberry anyone???

The evening was spent on the main restaurant street where Kat managed to find the only pizza restaurant squeezed between all the Paradillas (Beef houses) and Asados (Grills).

The following day we did indeed hire some bikes though. Mendoza is a spread out city so this was the best way to get around it and cover off everything we wanted to do. After sorting out our onward journey to San Agustin at the bus terminal, we headed to the Museo Foundacion which was built on the site of the pre earthquake town hall. It wasn´t worth the trip...

Then we crossed town to Park San Martin, which is a huge park to the east of the town covering about a square mile. There wasn't much to see, but just cycling through the tree lined paths through the park and watching the Mendozans playing tennis, riding horses, rowing on the lake etc was a nice way to pass the afternoon.

Matt had noticed on one map that there was an observatory in the centre of the park. Although a bit out of our way we headed over there to see what it was. After cycling past the supposed spot and not seeing any domed buildings we eventually found a weather station. Meteorological Observatory - D'oh...

The rest of the evening was spent lazily wandering through the various Plazas around the centre. One was supposedly an antiques market, but as Kat commented, looked more like a car boot sale. Another, Plaza Espana, was very pretty, the street inset with tiles and adorned with mosaics and tiled seats. Matt was particuarly taken with the lamps made out of pieces of knarled wood - it's been added to his to-do list for when he gets back to the UK! (Only allowed in his study - insists Kat!)

The following morning we set off to San Agustin in search of dinosaurs - more of which in the next entry...
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