Viña o Vinedo? Meh, no importa! Semana Santa en Mendoza
This past Easter weekend (referred to ‘round these parts as ‘Semana Santa’), we in the 3-gringo wolf pack decided that our long weekend would be best spent hopping across the border to the surprisingly awesome city of Mendoza. The third largest city in all of Argentina, the city is both a commercial and cultural hub, teeming with tourists from ‘todo lado’ and surrounded by the Andes mountain range on one side and what seems like never-ending vineyards on the other. Due to its ideal geographical position, the province of Mendoza benefits from an ideal microclimate for wine production, and as such, is responsible for about 90% of Argentina’s entire wine output (the region is especially well-known for their wines made with the malbec grape). For a bit more context regarding their vino, let us take a look at the following Wiki excerpt:
“Two of the main industries of Mendoza area are olive oil production and wine making. The region around Greater Mendoza is the largest wine producing area in Latin America. As such, Mendoza is one of nine cities worldwide in the network of Great Capitals of Wine, and the city is an emerging wine tourism destination and base for exploring the hundreds of wineries in the region.”
Needless to say, we took full advantage. However, we will get to this later; for now, onto the trip!
After a 7-hour trek from Vina Del Mar, including a three-hour border stop in the dead of night, we officially arrived. Getting off the bus, we encountered a German chap who had just ran the Santiago marathon and was looking for a bit of R&R before he participated in another down in Patagonia (I know right, who in their right mind runs TWO marathons within a month of each other). In any case, as he was pretty ‘buena onda’ and also without concrete plans for lodging during the weekend, he quickly assimilated into the group (regarding the latter point, our planning and organization of logistics leading up to our departure were a bit sloppy. This is important to keep in mind in order to truly appreciate the element of serendipity that prevailed throughout our trip). In dire need of fuel, we grabbed some espresso, croissants, exchanged currency, and hit the streets looking for a place to rest our heads for the weekend.
After our first two inquiries about hostel availability were met with equal disappointment and concerned looks, we were feeling a bit pessimistic about our prospects for shelter. However, after a few more minutes of wandering, an older woman walking her two dogs detected our misfortune and told us about a small place that her friends rent out. Open to anything at this point, we heeded her recommendation and walked a few more blocks to said residence. Slightly suspicious, we rang the doorbell and were met by a woman in her early 60’s. Before we had the chance to utter a word, she had whisked us all upstairs, sat us down, and started brewing coffee. Still reeling from what seemed like the most unlikely of negative-turned-positive situations, we inspected our living quarters. The ‘hostel’ in question was in the home of Reina and Alfredo, an old Argentinian couple who one year ago converted their top floor to accommodate visitors, and eventually, tourists. The floor was equipped with a room with two bunks, a large terrace, as well as a kitchen which we could use at our whim. And to boot, the going rate was about 15 bucks a night; trato hecho! We left our bags, paid both nights in advance, and headed to the center. We had lunch (I tried the infamous “Lomo”, the Argentinian equivalent to the Philly Cheese-steak) and beers in one of the main paseos, wandered around the various plazas (of which there are several), grabbed ice cream, and with full awareness of the infamous long Argentinian nights, went home to rest up.
“The Lomo”: chalk-full of steak, ham, fried egg, lettuce, and tomato. My Dad would absolutely love this.
When we awoke that evening, we were met with a platter full of cakes and bread, courtesy of the older couple. We brought the snacks onto the terrace, where we met up with the couple alongside two Chilean women. We all congregated, chatted about the Chilean vs. Argentinian Spanish dialects, sipped mate, and readied ourselves for the night. We headed out around 11:30 (actually quite early in Argentinian time), and went to a small little restaurant to grab a bite. As some of you may know, Argentina is particularly well-known for its meat, particularly beef and steak, as well as the asado. I ordered the ‘bife de chorizo’ which was, I kid you not, one of the best slabs of meat I have consumed in my life to date. Believe the hype! After our meal, we wandered around a particularly lively strip called ‘Aristides Villanueva’ to meet up with Rachel, one of our fellow volunteers, as well as some of her Mendozian friends. We went to a few different bars, drank some fernet, which may just be the national alcohol of Argentina, and got back just early enough to beat the sunrise.
We were greeted the next morning by another warm, sunny day, perfect for a romp in the vineyards. Our spirits high, vibes positive, and stomachs content after some more crumble cake for breakfast, we ventured out. After a lengthy bus ride, we touched down in vineyard territory, rented our bikes, and set off on one of the most fun and enjoyable activities ever I’ve ever had the pleasure to participate in: wine-tasting by bike. We spent the day cruising around the vineyards, visiting three sites, including an antique wine museum that offered unlimited ‘desgustacion’, or sampling, of their wines, an olive oil and chocolate house, as well as a tranquilo, bohemian cerveceria with dark beers and cheap, delicious empanadas. I must say, I had forgotten how amazing the world looks from behind handle-bars. Riding around aimlessly, wind at our backs and sun in our faces makes for quite a life-high. To boot, when we got back to the rental shop (more of a house, actually), we were met with free wine, snacks, and good conversation with other travelers.
Later that night, we went back to our place and hung out with our “Argentinian Host Family”. We relaxed a bit, recounted the day, watched boxing, continued the vino-sipping, and got some good Spanish practice under our belts. However, the best part had to be the asado that they had prepared for us. After some amazing steak, bread, salad, wine, and dessert, our stomachs were content and bodies ready for some rest. As our bus left early the next morning, we said our goodbyes that night, as well as exchanged contact information for the next go-around.
All in all, an amazing little 3-day getaway! We will definitely be returning soon to this neat little city to see some things we missed, as well as to pay a little visit to our “Argentinian home away from home”.