I had an absolutely fantastic time in Mendoza. The city itself was a nice, walkable town filled with shops, parks, and the most amazing food market (more like a flea market for various food vendors). But the reason for visiting Mendoza is not for the city, but rather to see the provence surrounding the city. Vino. Mendoza is the Argetinian wine Country.
Like most places, what made my time in Mendoza truly special was the amazing group of people I had the pleasure of sharing my time with. My hostel here was one of the more social hostels, and a very nice environment for meeting people. This was perhaps the nicest overall group of people I have encountered so far on my travels. Tori, Richard, Mike, Jess, Dale, Sarah, Giollome, Emily… and all the others, thank you all for a special few days! I am glad we all left at the same time – otherwise I would have been much more sad to leave.
My first evening in town I went horse-back riding in the foothills of the Andes at dusk. I have not ridden a horse since I was, maybe 10 years old. I was not nervous, but I also was not very good at it (at first). I got placed on a horse named Morena, and she was a rather stubborn broad. Early on she decided to stop following the pack and tried to take a short cut back to the ranch. She did not listen to me when I told her to turn around. Gato (the nickname of our guide, which means “cat”) came to my rescue and told me to “stop being such a girl, tighten up on the reigns and be more forceful”. Being the animal lover I am, I didn’t want to make the horse do something she did not want to do… But as soon as I acted a bit more confident, she seemed to respect me more.
The feeling was not initially mutual. She still chose to stop every 20 seconds or so to grab some shrubbery to eat. “Stop being such a piggy” I told her. We followed along the path, up and down hills with the stunning backdrop of a firey sunset creeping it’s way behind the mountains. Before turning back we all got off of our horses for a 15 minute break.
Of course, Morena had her face buried in shrubbery chowing down the entire time. It was then that a girl approached her touching her stomach and informed me that my horse is, in fact, pregnant! Awwww! That little slut. After this, my attitude towards her completely changed. When I got back on the saddle I told her “I am really sorry they are making you work when you are pregnant, but you know, they would make me work too, if I was pregnant”. From that point on she and I had a new understanding. I stopped getting annoyed at her constant need to stop for a munch, and I think she liked that I was now calling her “Mama”. We rode home together in the dark of night with a new found respect for one another. We got back to the ranch and concluded the evening with a very mediocre barbeque – the mediocrity was agreed upon by both the vegetarians and meat eaters.
The next day, sadly was less wonderful. In fact, I would describe it as an epic failure. Daily tours are offered in one section of the region’s wine country. These tours include a visit to three wineries, while riding from one to the next via bicycle. After talking to a few seasoned Mendoza tourists, I, along with others in the hostel, discovered that you could do the tour on your own for half the price. Tori, Richard, Sarah and I decided to do this. We would need to take a bus to the region, rent the bikes, and visit the vineyards ourselves. Sounds like a wonderful plan. SOUNDS like it.
By morning, half the hostel seems to have decided to join along. Our little group of 4 turned into a large group of 11 (and we picked up a stray on the bus ride, making us 12). I was actually quite impressed that we somehow created a tour all of our own! However, being in such a large group proved to have it’s challenges when it came to getting out the door in a timely fashion, and then when it came to choosing which bike rental company to give our 70 pesos a piece to (aprox 7 dollars). Then half the group wanted to stop for empanadas first, while the other half wanted to get started right away on the vineyard tour. Somehow, early on, our original group of 4 separated from the rest and got moving on our bicycles.
It was very hot. Very very very hot. No shade anywhere. You basically are riding your bikes down an ugly, busy highway without a spot of shade anywhere. I had pleanty of water, fortunately. Our plan was to bike to the farthest winery first, and work our way back towards the bike rental shop.
Before we got very far, Richard bumped into a rock – or something – and took off a chunk of skin on his big toe. So we all stopped to check on him and make sure he was ok. He was basically ok, but bleeding a good bit. When we decided he was well enough to get back on the bike, Sarah suddenly turned white and had to sit down. The sight of blood had made her nearly pass out. Off to a good start, team. After a bit more time, we were all well enough to start moving again. We got about half way to the first vineyard, and suddenly I felt very light-headed. Low blood sugar, perhaps? I was not sure – but I figured I’d better hop off my bike and eat a little snack. Tori, being motherly turned around to check on me. She was such a sweetheart and sat with me until I felt my strength come back. “We are never going to make it to 3 wineries today, hopefully the rest of the group is not waiting on us”. So far our original 4-some was off to a truly terrible start.
We got back on our bikes and started moving again. I felt better-ish for a little bit. After a few blocks we spotted Richard and Sarah, stopped and off of their bikes at an intersection. Tori and I stopped to see what was going on. The right pedal on Richard’s bike had completely fallen off. Hmmm…. He insisted that he could make it to the winery by putting the pedal back in it’s hole and properly balancing on his feet. This doesn’t seem like a good idea. Thankfully, we are all wearing helmets. But just as the group was about to re-mount our bikes, I realized I was feeling ill again. I had to sit down. This was not a low blood sugar. I looked up at the other three and told them to go on without me. I needed to sit, and I was not going to make it to the winery. No, wait, I didn’t need to sit… I needed to… vomit on the side of the road. Well, that was embarrassing.
Richard and Sarah rode off to the nearest restaurant they could find to call the bike rental company (Mr. Hugo’s) and ask them to come pick me up, and bring a new bike for Richard. Tori waited with me the whole time.
So that was that day. I did not make it to a single winery.
I could not visit Mendoza, one of the top 10 wine regions in the world, without seeing a vineyard and tasting wine. So I decided that tomorrow, I would throw away my budget and go for an expensive wine tour that would DRIVE me from place to place, take me to 4 wineries for tours and tastings, and provide a 5 course lunch. Like a proper lady. No more of this biking in the heat crap. This tour was wonderful, and well worth the money. And I don’t think I have ever, in my life eaten a lunch where there were 5 forks and 5 knives set out for me. And I certainly have never had a 5 course meal where each course was paired with a different wine by wine specialists.
The last stop on our tour was to a winery specializing in sparkling wine. Not my favorite. But they allowed us to inject the final step of sugar into the wine, which is meant to eat away the remaining dead yeast. We then each corked and labeled the bottles, and signed them with our names. That was cool.
Back in the hostel, wine flowed like water. No, correction, wine flowed more than water – the desert region has a water shortage. Nearly all the tours people took ended by sending people home with a free bottle of wine. So at the end of each day in the hostel we all sat around the outdoor courtyard, sharing free wine and discussing our travels. How lovely!