23.03.2014 - 26.03.2014 23 °C
Sunday 23rd - Wednesday 26th March 2014
The main reason, if not the only reason people go to Mendoza is for the wine. And we were no different. Everyone does at least one wine tour and normally on a bike. More specifically a Mr Hugo bike. And that's what we had planned. So let me get this out of the way now...we didn't end up doing a wine tour. Nope. We went to Mendoza and we did not visit one vineyard. We did however drink local wine, which definitely played a role in not making it on a wine tour. But I'm jumping ahead...
We were up early in Santiago to do the bus journey that we had heard so much about, crossing the Andes through the famous Los Libertadores/Uspallata pass. It turned out to be as amazing as we had been told it would be. The climb is incredible and the views breathtaking. Up and up these narrow winding roads, climbing steadily cutting right through the mountains. And then the colours! And what's also amazing is that you truly feel like it's the middle of nowhere and then we'd pass a house. A shop. A restaurant. And I couldn't help but think, who lives there?!
When we arrived in Mendoza we were completely shocked by the size of it. When I thought about it and the wine tasting I had visions of this small town with people riding their bikes into the country side. Hair blowing in the wind, basket on the front...it turns out, it isn't like that at all. In fact Mendoza is a city. This came as a surprise. And secondly, you don't cycle on country roads with rolling hills in the background. You cycle on main roads, with trucks zooming past blowing dust in your face. Or so we were told. It sounded like it was hard, sweaty, and sometimes dangerous, work. A little bit disorganised and chaotic, nothing like the vineyards we had visited in say South Africa. But people recommended that we still give it a go, just adjust our expectations accordingly. It sounded to us like it might be case of something being a 'must-do' and turning out not to be all it was cracked up to be. Guidebooks lie all the time. It's a fact. They are far too nice about everything.
It was a Sunday when we arrived and it was like a ghost town. We were informed that Monday was a bank holiday, so everything would be closed too. Sometimes things just aren't meant to be. We did some exploring, wandered the streets, found the main square, some good places to eat and declared Mendoza, OK. Not what we expected, but nice enough.
Cafe Jack looks suspiciously like Cafe Nero
I love the fact that we got served a slice of ice-cream as our desert in one place. Ah, Neapolitan, a favourite from my childhood
We decided to do the biking on Monday morning, seeing as there wouldn't be much else happening in the city. We got up early (it's never too early for Argentinian wine we were told) and set off with vague directions to a bus stop and even vaguer instructions on how to get a card to pay for the bus. As I mentioned it was a bank holiday so everywhere that sold bus cards seemed to be closed. 40 minutes later we eventually acquired a card and made our way to the bus stop. We just missed one and chased it down the road but it was having none of it and left us standing in its wake. And then the wait began. 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes...we took a stroll back up the road to check out some other bus stops and we were approached by a super friendly, super keen local who was very concerned about us and gave us very clear instructions on where we should be. Back at the original stop. We noticed buses turning off before our stop though and now an hour had passed and we went exploring again and it looked like maybe we had been on the wrong road after all and now we had lost so much time between bus cards and wrong bus stops that it didn't seem worthwhile going. It's a long cycle between each winery and you only fit in 3 anyway so we called it a day and sloped off back to our hostel.
The hostel, Hostel Lao, was really nice and had very friendly owners. The woman was very upset that our morning hadn't been a success and told us about a horse riding trip that afternoon if we wanted to join. There was an American couple who had signed up and having spoken to them ever so briefly the night before (and classed them as sound and normal) we thought what the heck, lets do it.
Calling it horse riding is a stretch. These horses are well versed on the route and pretty much lead the way. Getting them to change course would be a challenge. That said, mine had a little bit of a rebellious streak and at one point, took off, in the wrong direction, me bouncing up and down on the back, pulling at the reins for dear life, luckily I managed to turn him and get him back on track before I had to be rescued by our gaucho leaders, Nacho and Alejandro. These guys were pretty cool. The real deal. They looked like they had just ridden in from the set of a western movie. We rode down through a valley, that eventually opened up to a huge scrub filled plain, as far as the eye could see.
My little black beauty
Saddled up and ready to go
Caught in action. He constantly stopped and threw his head to the ground to eat, causing me to abruptly be hauled forward off the saddle. He was a handful, lil' black beauty
The sun was setting as we made our way back to the ranch
Afterwards they laid on a meat heavy BBQ washed down with local red wine (as mentioned in paragraph 1) and with our new American friends (Noelle A.K.A Jennifer Aniston and Dave) we ate and drank like there was no tomorrow. Nacho and Alejandro got in the party mood with us and whipped out their guitars and before long we were sitting round an open fire, swilling red wine, singing at the top of our lungs. Every time they stopped there were cries of "mas" "mas" and each time they relented and played "just one more". As the night went on, there was dancing, more bonding and a great pile of empty gallon bottles of wine piling up in the corner.
Photo courtesy of Noelle and Dave
The next day we were meant to attempt the vineyards again...we reasoned that we had drank enough local wine (in a local setting too!) the night before, not to feel guilty about giving it a miss. Noelle and Dave were leaving that night so we all headed to a local greasy spoon for something called 'lomo completo', basically a huge steak sandwich with everything you can imagine on it.
We were leaving the next day and wanted to make our way up north to Salta going through the San Juan and Rioja regions. There are two national parks that we wanted to visit but it was all very complicated so after a lot of humming and hawing we decided it would be best to skip that section and head straight to Salta. An 18 hour bus journey, the longest and most epic bus journey for us yet. So it was off to the bus station again. It's a time consuming process, there are lots of different bus companies and they all have their own offices, buses, schedules and prices. Meaning we had to visit them all. And none of them had two cama seats left. As we were discussing what to do in the final office, a young guy turned up and declared he had two seats in 'cama' left. This seemed odd as the woman was adamant she didn't. But he had a little chat with her and she confirmed they had seats. Where would we like to sit. So not only did they now have seats available, we had a choice. And no other bus company in the whole station could offer us one seat never mind two. It's tricky in these situations, you feel like they may be ripping you off, but they assure you they are not. He claimed it was a new bus and we were pretty desperate and had little options so took two seats. He then handed us two tickets each. One to Tucuman and the other from Tucuman to Salta. We weren't happy but again he convinced us that it was indeed a direct bus and it's just how they do their ticketing and we would not need to change buses. We were curious to see how it would pan out.
That night we bid farewell to Noelle and Dave, it had been fun. They were coming to the end of a year long trip. We agreed that we should definitely try and meet up again in the future, whatever the continent might be!
Although we didn't actually achieve much of what we wanted to in Mendoza, it now sits firmly up there as one of the highlights of our trip. The horse riding evening was so much fun, made even more so by the new friends we made.