After two straight weeks of school that included both my first exam and my first paper, I was more than ready to jump back on the vacation train. Mendoza lies at the Western edge of Argentina, nestled at the base of the Andes mountains, whose clear mountain streams run down into the valley and irrigate the hundreds of miles of vineyards that make up Mendoza’s famous wine production industry. From wine tours to mountain views, Mendoza was the perfect getaway from the stresses of life in Buenos Aires.
And a getaway was precisely what I needed, despite all the traveling I’ve done in the recent past. Iguazu was fun, of course, but it was also a challenge, and I definitely wouldn’t classify it as a relaxing trip for me. And after the stress of cramming for my first partial exam for my Intro to Social Communication class and writing my first essay in over 5 months, I was forced to confront the worst obstacle of all: the labyrinthine Argentine bureaucracy. I had an appointment to complete the process of applying for my residency (a necessary step in order for my grades to transfer) the morning before I left for Mendoza. After wandering around in a strange, car-heavy, sidewalk-less section of the city, I finally found my way to the migrations building, where I received some unfortunate news. When I flew back to Argentina from Chile, they stamped my passport but never put it into the computer system, and so there is no official record of me re-entering Argentina. So I have to call each week to find out if they have located my “traveling card,” which they are supposedly looking for, and until they find it I cannot complete my residency process. It’s things like this that make me miss the efficiency and consistency of similar processes in the US. You never appreciate a solid infrastructure until it’s gone.
So when it came time to finally leave it all behind on my West-bound bus, I was more than ready. Many people have asked me about the bus experiences here, and although I took a bus to Iguazu, it was chartered by the travel company and wasn’t the true cross-country bus experience. I traveled in a “cama” (as opposed to semi-cama, which is narrower and doesn’t recline as far) and never regretted paying the extra 40 pesos. After a game of bingo (the prize was a bottle of wine!), dinner (subpar, but included in the price), a few complementary glasses of wine and a movie, I slept like a baby in my super comfortable seat, and the 16 hours flew by in no time. Upon arrival, I sought out a map and walked the 12 blocks from the bus terminal to our hostel, where I was greeted by happy friends and a delicious breakfast.
|It looked like this, except there were also eggs with mushrooms, onions and tomatoes and fresh bread.|
After breakfast and a much needed shower and change of clothes, my friends and I embarked on a wine tour that was organized by our hostel. We started out at an olive oil factory, where I learned a lot about not only how olive oil is made but also about the variety of products that can be made with olive oil, what happens to the unused parts of the olives, and the health benefits of consuming olive oil or using olive-based products. Olive oil is not made with the olives that you purchase in a grocery store to eat right out of the can or jar, but rather with a much smaller variety of olive, which is ground up into a paste and then placed between sheets of metal to squeeze out the oil – this is extra virgin olive oil. The remains of the paste are then sent to other factories which extract oil using chemical and heating processes, which is not extra virgin olive oil, and thus cheaper but also much lower quality. They also produce olive paste, which I got to taste during the tasting portion of the tour, and ended up buying because it was so tasty.
|Crushing the olives into a paste|
|Squeezing the oil out of the olive paste|
|Olive oil tasting. Included: classic olive oil, basil olive oil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, green olive paste, sun dried tomato paste, whole sundried tomatoes, and chocolate covered raisins.|
Out next stop was the Cavas de Don Arturo, a small family vineyard. We got a tour of the winery followed by a tasting. The one constant in all wine tastings in Mendoza is at least one Malbec. Malbec is the classic grape grown in this region, and produces the variety of wine for which this region is famous. One particularly interesting part of the tour was the room with the large old barrels (pictured below) which they stopped using because they were incredibly difficult to clean (someone had to climb inside of them, and usually emerged either drunk or hungover) and inefficient in the aging process because not all of the wine could be in contact with the inside of the barrel.
|The large old barrels, no longer in use|
|Wine tasting at Cavas de Don Arturo|
Our last stop of the day was the Vistandes winery, a very large, modern winery. The view from the deck was absolutely spectacular, with the bright reds of fall and the Andes mountains looming in the distance.
|Looking into the Vistandes vineyard|
|View of the Andes overlooking the vineyard|
|Me and my friend Pauline on the patio overlooking the vineyard|
The next day we ventured to Parque San Martín, an enormous park on the West side of Mendoza, nearly as big as the city itself. After picking up some necessities (cheese, cherry tomatoes, fresh bread, salami, avocado, and a couple of bottles of good beer) we headed over to the park, where we wandered through the various sections that ranged from lush green woods and open meadows to sparse desert landscapes, complete with cacti. We stopped in a particularly lush spot to enjoy our picnic, and then made our way up to the top of Cerro de la Gloria, a small mountain with a statue at the top and excellent views of both the city of Mendoza and the Andes mountains.
|Parque San Martín|
|A glorious picnic|
|Taking a steep shortcut up Cerro de la Gloria|
|Statue at the top of Cerro de la Gloria|
|View from the top|
After making our way down the mountain and back into town, it was time for Melissa and Kristi to head back to BA, so we said our goodbyes and then Pauline and I headed back out into the city. We discovered a really great artisans market in the main plaza, called Plaza Independencia, where we indulged ourselves, buying such trinkets as earring and hairclips and a caricature of us. (Yeah, that happened.) We finally made our way to a late dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant, complete with a bottle of Mendozan Malbec.
|What more could you want?|
The next day we woke up and figured out how to get ourselves to Maipú, a town 15km outside of Mendoza, where we could outfit ourselves for a bike wine tour. One hour-long bus ride later, we found ourselves standing on the edge of a dusty road in the middle of nowhere. We made our way to a bike rental place called Mr. Hugo’s and rented two bicycles, which for $35 pesos came with a map of the wineries in the area, an explanation of the costs of each winery, mechanical insurance (if the bike broke, they would come and replace it for us) and a bottle of water. With our purses in our bike baskets and our bottled water in hand, we set out in search of beautiful vistas and good wine, and oh how we were rewarded.
|Off we go!|
Our first stop was as Historias and Sabores, a chocolate factory of sorts. We were the only people there, and we were treated to an incredible tasting with two different kinds of marmelade, a green olive paste, a black olive paste with anchovies, a variety of different chocolates and two different homemade liquors (we chose Café Chocolate and Dulce de Leche with Banana). At 20 pesos per person, this was well worth it, and every item was an incredible flavor experience.
|The tasting at Historias y Sabores|
|Grapes hanging over our heads as we indulged|
Our second stop was at a decent size, very classy winery called Tempus Alba. After a self guided tour, we tasted 6 of their wines sitting on the rooftop patio overlooking the vineyards. We were on a pretty tight schedule, so we made our way across the street to Viña El Cerno, a much smaller winery where we each got one full glass to taste – Pauline had the malbec, and I had the syrah. We were both very pleased, and once again were the only visitors at the vineyard, allowing for a very personalized experience.
|Tasting at Tempus Alba|
Our last stop of the day was at Trapiche, an old winery and the biggest wine producer in Mendoza. We got a personal tour with a wonderful friendly, bubbly tour guide who treated us to 4 wines (instead of the standard 3) at the tasting so that we could try the unusual red dessert wine, which we naturally ended up buying. It was the ideal end to a easy, relaxing, wonderful trip.
|Some of the original machinery, from before the winery was restored|
|A remake of the original wood flooring, ideal for rolling the wine barrels out to the train platform to ship them off. This was also the only winery with a private railway line!|
My time in Mendoza definitely made me question why I didn’t choose to study there instead of Buenos Aires – a beautiful city with thousands of vineyards and easy access to the Andes mountains – what was I thinking? But after discussing it with my friends, I realized that I would never have encountered the same challenges there that I have here – the frustrations and the fears that make up life in Buenos Aires are all an important part of the process, and I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much, about myself and about the world I live in, without the negative elements. Not to mention – there’s so much to do! Tomorrow my boyfriend Andy arrives, and I plan on ticking many, many items off my tourist list in the next 12 days that he’ll be here exploring the city with me. More updates to come!