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Mendoza (Argentina)

Mendoza turned out to be quite different than what the Lion and I had expected it to be like…

We left Valparaiso around 8a (Sept 8) for a 7h bus ride with Cata Internaccional. Armed with snacks, fully charged electronics, and the expectation of first class seats that cost $4USD more than coach, we set off for what we were told would be a gorgeous ride through the Andes and into Mendoza. The ride was indeed nice, with clear skies and huge snow-capped mountains flanking both sides and; We actually passed some skiers who were trying to get their last run in before the snow melted. As we drove through, I reminisced about our Inca Trail hike the whole time we drove through the mountains. It was interesting to see such different “sides” of the Andes.

About three quarters of the way to Mendoza, we had to stop at the border for inspection and such. We stopped at this huge building, though it was more of a former military outpost with a round roof and windowless than a rectangular storied building. We waited around for probably 30 minutes, at least, before we actually lined up for something. Then after everyone on the bus were filed into a single file, we waited for another 30 minutes because the border patrol was dealing with a potential runaway (18yo boy was allowed to leave Chile but may or may not have had his parents’ permission, so border patrol was unsure of whether to let him go or not, despite the fact that he was of age). Finally, it was our group’s turn to move up to the booth to have our documents stamped. But we weren’t done just yet. After stamping our documents, they had to unload all of our bags from the bus and run them through an xray scanner that was in a car (portable metal detector?!). Finally, the process was over, and after some more paperwork with the driver, we were on the road again. As other travelers have warned, the border crossing took us about 2h. What a process.

After about two more hours on the road, we arrived at the omnibus station in Mendoza! Initially, we thought we had to take a cab to our lodging, so we searched for a currency chance center and waited in line at a Western Union (which doesn’t even change money), but it turned out we were already on the street our Mendoza apartment is on, so we headed off on foot towards what we hoped was the right direction. We started off at 500 Alem St and walked all the way to 41 Alem St… The worst part was, we were tired, semi-lost, and hot, which makes for a cranky and unpleasant 20-30 minute walk. And that’s not even the worst part. When we got to the apartment, I realized that I had left my cell phone on the bus…! I was in and out of sleep the whole ride over, and my phone must’ve just fallen out of my jacket pocket onto the seat, so that when I put my jacket in my backpack to leave the bus, I assumed my phone was there too. Of course, this was also the one time I didn’t turn around to scan my seat before stepping into the aisle. I haven’t stopped kicking myself for that yet… Fortunately, many of my photos from this trip are on my point-and-shoot camera, and I have backed up photos of my phone pictures from before this trip, but it still frustrates me that I was so careless. Smh.

Anyway, after arriving in Mendoza, we walked around the city a bit and realized that there’s way more to Mendoza than we thought!! The city actually has a really nice central park with fountains, and there are plenty of nice restaurants and cafes (not [yet] pictured). The city is also relatively clean, in comparison to some of the other countries we visited. There were definitely less stray dogs in the city too. I wish we had spent more time in this city than in Santiago, I think it would have been worth it to spend a relaxing day here enjoying the cafes and people-watching. The nightlife looked interesting as well, though we were still pretty tired from the hike for that.

On our full day in Mendoza, we had decided to do a winery bike tour. We had heard that Mr Hugo’s winery bike tour was the best, so we took a bus and headed out to Maipu, the city right next to Mendoza. As we left the city, I noticed that the area was becoming more dilapidated and dirty… The buildings were older in style, one-storied, and they were mostly housing small businesses (eg, supermarkets, auto repair, vs insurance agency, bank, etc.). There were also more open spaces that were like dumps, full of trash or broken building materials, and there was an increase in stray dogs… In other words, it didn’t look like we were approaching the idyllic, peaceful, wine country that I was expecting…

And indeed, at the stop where we got off for Mr Hugo’s, it was like we had traveled back in time to a simpler place. We went ahead with the rental anyway. This also differed from our expectations. I think the Lion and I both were expecting it to be something like Mr Hugo (or at least an employee of his) to take us in a group with other people around to different vineyards and explain to us the history/culture of the city and the wines, but instead a lady just gave us some old bikes, a paper map, and a cup of lemonade made with pineapple juice bc they were out of bottled water and let us on our way…

We first went to an olive farm that also made chocolates and alcohol mixes. We had a short guided tour and learned a little bit of how they make olive oil. Turns out you need quite a bit of olives, 10kg of olives, in order to make just 1L of evoo! And for the first few years of an olive tree’s life, it can only produce 4-5kg of olives. Then, around 7 years, the tree can produce significantly more as it has matured (please correct me if these numbers wrong, it’s been awhile since the tour…). The best part of course, was the tasting, where we sampled a couple of oils, acids, olive pastes, jams, and alcohols. The Lion got to try absinthe for the first time, but he didn’t hallucinate Tinkerbell, like the guide had warned.

After this tour, we went to lunch at Casa de Campo, a restaurant that was recommended by many Argentinians that we had talked to. I didn’t think the food was that excellent, so I won’t write much about it, but maybe the Lion thought it was excellent 😛 After lunch, we biked a long way out to another winery. Keep on mind, we were biking on our own and through a dirt city, not along rolling hills of vineyards here. We encountered gas exhaust from cars and trucks, dust and debris from construction projects in process and abandoned, and small rocks flying at us from the road as cars and trucks drove by! The Lion theorized that the vineyards were probably farther out into the country, and this was just the “storefront” of the wineries for easy access for tourists.

The winery we went to was a “modern winery,” so the style of the building and the design of their winery had a very different look to it than the more traditional winery you’d imagine. It reminded me more of a loft apartment in a big city than a winery! They had a self-guided tour, and we finished with a tasting upstairs.

We didn’t get to visit any more wineries after this one; we had started later in the day, and the bike-riding took more time and energy out off us than we had remaining, so we called it a day and went back to Mr Hugo’s to return the bikes. After another cup of pineapple “lemonade,” we hopped on the bus and left “wine country.” I was definitely ready to head over to “the Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires, the next day!

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