Hola Hola from Argentina
Our taxi was there to meet us in Buenos Aires. Heaven help me, they drive like absolute maniacs. They seem to use two lanes so they can squash an extra car in. The fact that he smelt of alcohol didn’t do much to allay our fears. I thought I’d picked a hostel in a trendy area but Jane’s book said we were in a blue collar area and what with the delay we were arriving very late. At least he found it so we had our usual cuppa before bed (nice to see we’ve become an old married couple in a matter of days).
We have a day to spend in Buenos Aires before we head to Mendoza. Armed with a map we made our way straight from San Telmo where we were staying to the Puerto Madero area. It’s almost like a renovated docklands with water, expensive restaurants and housing. Unlike cold Patagonia the sun is out and it’s a glorious day. There are a couple of really old clipper ships on the water and at the end a building that resembles the Sydney Opera house. We then did a walking tour so started at the edge of the city and the clock tower which was closed so we made our way to the Richmond Tea house. It’s very old fashioned but beautiful. We then walked through the main pedestrian shopping street called Florida to admire the painted ceilings in one of the malls. Then time to go to Plaza de Mayo. This houses the Metropolitan Cathedral which has an amazing mosaic floor and is absolutely gorgeous. On the plaza you also find the huge pink building of Casa Rosada. This is the building that Evita and Juan Peron made their speeches to their people from. I have to say the architecture here is stunning. In fact I love the feel of this city.
We also need a hostel for Jane´s last stop here after christmas so went on a bit of a hunt back in San Telmo but without much success. San Telmo is lovely. There are some great antique shops and a lovely square which has loads of people sitting at cafes. At night though, it does get a bit dark so not sure I’d want to be based here if I was on my own. We didn’t end up booking anything but at least we’ve got a good feel for the area. Time to pick up our bags and head to the bus terminal, we’re off to Mendoza.
Buenos Aires bus terminal is very chaotic. It’s huge !! The taxi driver spoke to us all the way there. When he asked our names, I told him Jane’s and said Tarzan so he’d understand, he did find this incredibly amusing and said “cheetah”. Now as I said I’m travelling with Lady Jane so for this bus we are taking Suite class. This is the best !! The seats were huge. We were downstairs where there´s less seats which usually means less noise. There were only 6 of us – it was spiffing !! We were given an aperitif before dinner and then the 3 course meal with two glasses of wine. I then fell asleep. Jane had more trouble settling so the steward brought her a huge glass of whisky. She detests whisky after a bad university experience so put it down and managed to spill it all over herself. I slept all through this despite the fact that I hadn’t realised the foot rest actually lifts up so it is completely flat in to even more of a bed. Next time !! I woke up about 20 minutes before we arrived.
We hadn’t booked anything but managed to find a hostel in a central location. Mendoza is possibly my favourite city to date (in Argentina). It’s so relaxed. There are around 100,000+ people here and due to the fact that an earthquake flattened the original city it has been rebuilt with wide streets and a main plaza with 4 smaller plazas so the people have somewhere to run to should one ever hit again. We walked around to each plaza (we tried to go up a look out point but this was closed, seems to be the same in the whole of the country). Everywhere here seems to be named after other countries and each plaza had different tiles and fountains. Because it’s so hot, many trees have been planted in the streets so you get to stay in the shade as you walk along. We skipped lunch and headed to a famous ice cream parlour that’s been open for 80 years. What a choice !! Now full, we walked down past what must be the expensive neighbourhood (looking at the houses) until we reached the park. The park is huge so we actually took a tour bus around it. They seem to be quite in to their fitness, although how they can run in that heat I don’t know. We were taken up the hill to Cerro de la Gloria. There was a statue sculpted by Juan Manual Ferrari (some relation ?), he was Uruguayan but it was for all of the Italian settlers that had come to the region. Now the ice cream makes sense !!
After that it was time to freshen up for dinner. We headed to Mi Terra an amazing restaurant where you can taste the regions’ wines. We opted for our usual Pinot Noir after a champagne starter and I had a great steak. Yes the steak is great here too !! The roasted veg has also given me a few new ideas…..
Day 2, and the real reason for coming here was a spot of wine tasting. The Mendoza region is responsible for around 80% of the country´s wine output and much of this is exported. We have taken the backpacker option for today and chosen an excursion called “Bikes and Wines “. Surely the two don’t mix but apparently they do. We were picked up late by car at 10am and stopped to pick up 2 other girls called Megan and Fiona. They like us had also met as expats as teachers in Japan. Fiona had gone to school in Hong Kong so we all had something to bond us immediately. We were dropped at the bike shop in a wine valley called Maipu (yes it’s pronounced “my pooh” so became a long standing joke when referring to matters of the toilet for the rest of the trip). After having my saddle lowered (no comment), we set off. You are bascially given a map with all of the vineyards on and just make your own way there. In all there were 9 stops over 12 km. I suggested we started backwards so the journey back wouldn’t be as long but as the first stop was the museum of wine we went in the correct order.
We arrived at the museum and had a look around. It smelled lovely !! There were lots of barrels, artefacts and the full history of the original owners. Now as museums go I would say this should be one of my favourites, after all could there be a better subject matter ? In order to have a tasting of their vintage we had to join the tour which we managed to do for the last 10 minutes (we’d be all day otherwise and we had so many places to see). We tasted the Museo Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, it wasn’t bad and it was free.
Next stop the chocolate and liqueur place. Again a tour but this just really consisted of what flavours they made and what others products they did. There was a huge choice, where you got one liqueur free and some free chocolate. I got the “dulche de leche” one. This is like a toffee/caramel flavour. Everything here has a “dulche de leche” flavour. They spread it on toast, have various desserts and it is moorish (will need to find some when I get back). Jane bought some chilli sauce and the girls bought a bottle of the liqueur they’d tried and we were on our way again.
After quite a long ride and a lot of men and young boys shouting out “hola chicas” (to which we politely shouted back “hola chicos”) we were at stop number 3 – lunch (I think my favourite Spanish word is “chica”). This was in a beautiful private house with huge grounds and we sat outside on the terrace. We were joined by a Swiss brother and sister who were finding the day hard going already as they’d been out until 5 am. We shared a bottle and watched some Americans nearly fall off their bikes on their way out. (I guess they are not used to the high percentage of alcohol). We left the Swiss there, as the sister needed a quick snooze and headed to our next stop.
Next stop was Bodega Tempus. We opted for the tasting rather than the tour. From now on we have to pay to taste but that´s okay. This looked like a highly modern boutique place. We were given a map and had a great view of the vineyards and went in to the processing plant to watch them hand stamping the labels on the bottles. We had opted for their whole range including a new Rose and 6 reds. Here´s a photo above with Jane and I and our special selection. This place certainly gives you your moneys worth. I think I liked the Rose the best with the most expensive Pleno next. Funnily enough none of the places we went to seemed to export much to the UK. Something to do with the distributors. Well we had a gorgeous verandah patio all to ourselves and I could have stayed there to finish the lot but had I done so I don’t think I’d have been able to get back on my bike so we had to leave.
We again bumped in to the Americans at the next stop. They really were having trouble cycling. We chose 4 wines to drink between us and opted for a bit of white as well as red. Red does seem more common here. Here´s a picture of us all above. Drinking our wine equipped with our safety crash helmets. Just a precaution in case we fell off our stools. I’m sure falling off stools in Maipu could be very messy !!
Next stop Bodega Di Tomasso. This place was very small and it looked like it was family run. They still had the huge old brick vats on display that the wine used to be kept in. The Americans were still here and were slurring away, that was the last time we saw them. Most of the vineyards we went to seemed to have been abandoned by their original owners and then relaunched again, at least they have mostly kept the same names.
Next stop was an olive and vinegar place. This one seemed much further away than the others. We were seriously running out of time. I was starting to feel a little saddle sore and was thinking about turning back. Suddenly we saw it. Jane bought some oil and vinegar and I sampled a few olives. One stop left. Thank goodness it was only across the road. A young French lady did the tasting. They had some delicious wines or was it that I’d had too many at this point. No I felt okay. We were all sitting there dreading having to cycle all of the way back, when the women said why don’t you just leave your bikes here loads of people do. She called the company who weren’t very happy and our taxi didn’t want to come and get us so we booked another one which between us was really cheap. As we had to wait for the taxi it made sense to order a glass and relax as the temperature cooled a little from the near 40 degree heat it had been all day. The taxi picked us up and we got dropped off at the bus station to book our next ticket.
We popped in later to see the girls who we’d recommended to go to Mi Terra and then headed to the main restaurant and bar street for a Middle Eastern dinner al fresco. (Jane’s food weakness).
The next day we had arranged the 5 star version of wine tasting. When we’d booked it the owner commented that he’d never had to pick anyone up from our hostel before. Yes, normally his tourists are from the Hyatt. We were picked up at 9. There were only 5 of us on this tour and our guide was incredibly knowledgable and spoke excellent English. Today´s journey was to the valley of Lujon de Cuyo. This valley is set nearer the mountains so you get great views of the peaks at over 6000m.
First stop was Bodega Tapiz. Jane and I were entertained by the vineyard contact whilst the other 3 were taken on a tour of the vineyards by horse and carriage. Then it was our turn. We were given a tour of the various rows of grapes. I’m pleased to say I can now tell the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Chardonnay and Syrah grape. Actually it was really interesting the Syrah grape cluster is very long and thin whilst the Chardonnay grapes are really packed together. Argentina is also the only country still to have a Torrentes grape as this died out in Europe, so that´s a new white wine I´ve tried. The bodega was huge and for the first time we got to try the wine directly out of the vat. The Sauvignon Blanc was really cloudy and this is because to clarify it egg white is added to the vat towards the end of the fermentation process (well, you learn something new every day). They also showed us an example of the cork tree, I’d never seen one of those before either.
Time to go to Bodega no. 2. I was a little concerned as the ducks were trying to rape each other at the entrance but vet Jane assured me this was natural !! At this Bodega we had to compare Malbecs. Malbec is the wine that Argentina is traditionally known for. We were given some crackers to help take the different tastes away. Then we got to drink both the original versions and blended versions of the vintages.
Time for lunch. Thank god, I need to slow down. We had a 5 course meal to get through but the first couple of courses were more like hors d’oeuvres. Our third course was better but we were served a new wine with each course. I guess the answer was to stop drinking it but after the amount I’d paid for the day that wasn’t likely. Oh wonderful, here comes my steak, that will help. It did. Follwed by yes my adorable “dulche de leche” dessert. We sat there for ages and learnt about our fellow tourists.
Time for our last vineyard. Everything was red. This had been brought by some younger entrepreneurial brothers, we called him “wine man” as this was his super human talent (oh no, maybe one is not as sober as one thought !!). He complained about the drop in Merlot sales after the film “Sideways” (must see that when I get back), although apparently they are on the up again now. He said real men drink Cabernet Sauvignon and nothing else. I think he put the machismo in South America.
Well that´s the end of the tour, it really was educational and the quality of our tastings were exceptional. I know Jane enjoyed it as much as I did. I got back and had a little snooze before our bus ride. It´s time to head to what is known as Argentina’s cultural capital Cordoba.
Plane = 16, Bus = 67, Train = 2, Boat =14, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 8, Books Read = 13 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner)
Take care all