In which we have our first Argentine asado, wrap our tastebuds around some tasty red wine and Marcus gets lost in the desert
16.02.2013 - 19.02.2013 32 °C
We arrived in Mendoza in the early hours of Saturday morning, only planning to stay for a day on Sunday to do some wine tasting before continuing south towards Patagonia. But our plan for a swift exit was foiled because nothing is open on a Sunday, especially wineries. So we extended our stay and booked a bus for Tuesday instead. With quite a bit of extra time, we spent our first day catching up on some sleep! We've been seriously jetlagged since we arrived in South America, and by the time we arrived in Mendoza hadn't had more than a few hours sleep in about five days - and hadn't slept at all for about 24 hours due to our fun night bus from Santiago. So we chilled out in our hostel, popped out for some lunch and generally didn't achieve much!
Mendoza itself is a pretty, sleepy town, full of wide, tree-lined boulevards and pretty plazas (five in total as our taxi driver proudly told us on arrival). It's also right in the middle of the desert, which makes its leafy appearance even more of a surprise. Apparently they have a 500 year old irrigation system that channels glacial melt water from the Andes through the desert and into the city. All along the pavements there are channels bringing the water to different streets. Pretty cool (for an irrigation system I mean).
On our second day, we spent a few hours wandering the streets, although most things were pretty closed. We had a walk around the Parque San Martin which seemed to be what a lot of Mendocinas (people from Mendoza) do on a Sunday too. That evening we booked to do a sunset horse ride, getting out into the desert with some gauchos, followed by a traditional asado (Argentine BBQ). We were picked up (an hour and a half late) by Pedro and Santiago our guides, and driven out to one of their estancias to meet our horses. The first hour and a half was really lovely - riding through the desert in the fading light through the haze of dust kicked up by the horses and with the Andes rising up in the distance. Marcus had a particularly stubborn horse (he was the only person given a stick to hit the horse with!) but other than that we really enjoyed it. They took us up to the top of a lookout to see the lights of Mendoza in the distance.
Unfortunately, because they were so late picking us up we then had to do a lot of riding in the dark which was a pretty surreal experience, especially for us complete novice riders. At one point the guides decided it was too dark to do the full route, so we had to take a shortcut to a different estancia for our asado. And this is where it all started to go wrong. My horse got really spooked by the change and started trying to throw me off - literally my own real life bucking bronco. I'm proud to say I hung on and didn't fall off. Slightly less proud of the girlie screaming I did at the same time. After that we were off. They let us run the horses as we were so late, pretty exhilirating in the dark and trusting the horses knew the way!
I arrived at the estancia and the guys started setting up the asado. Marcus hadn't come back yet, and after a few minutes when they started serving the food and I realised both of the guides were back I started to worry. For the whole ride we were supposed to have one guide at the front and one at the back. So where was Marcus? I told the guides that I had lost my husband and they all laughed. They didn't believe me. In my sternest Spanish, I repeated "Mi marido no esta aqui". After convincing them that he wasn't in the bathroom and I wasn't crazy, they started to look worried. Shouting "Marcus" into the dark to no response, I started to be really worried. One of the estancia owners jumped on a horse and set off back out into the desert and they told me not to worry. Because what was there to worry about? Only that my husband was lost, in the desert, on his own. In the dark.
The guides carried on serving up the asado, everyone sat down to eat, and I sat down to wait. I was really lucky to meet a couple of really lovely girls from Norway, Inga and Astrid, who kept me talking and tried to keep me from worrying. After possibly the longest half an hour I've ever had, the dogs started barking and I went out to find Marcus back with the estancia owner. What a relief (there were tears - even worse than the earlier girlie screaming!)
So what happened? When they changed the route, all the horses turned and followed the guides, but Marcus' horse just refused to move! So he spent half an hour shouting and trying to make the horse move (by hitting, coaxing, getting off and pulling) with no success. Like the good backpacker he is, he had a head torch in his backpack, so he put that on so he'd be visible and waited for someone to come. Apparently he also formed a plan that he would wait until it was light and then head towards Mendoza - as we'd seen the lights earlier he knew the direction - and he'd have to leave the horse where it was. Luckily it didn't come to that, and about an hour after he'd stopped, out of the darkness, he heard someone calling his name. Apparently the guy said he hadn't been stern enough with the horse, but then when he tried to get it moving it wouldn't move either. They finally made it back to the estancia, no harm done, and to much celebration. In ten years, they have never lost anyone before. Let's hope they start counting heads next time.
After all that drama, we hit the red wine a little bit, enjoyed the asado and had a really fun evening singing around the campfire.
A bit more of a desert adventure than we were hoping for!
Having only made it to bed around 2:30am after our campfire fun the night before, we got up early (and sore-headed) for our wine tour. I see the night before as just a bit of early practice. We had planned to do a bike tour, but opted instead for an organised tour which turned out to be a really good decision. For about forty pounds we toured and tasted wine at three bodegas in Maipu and had an incredible lunch. We also had a nice surprise when we got on the bus to find the two Norwegian girls we met last night on the same tour (and also looking as rough as we were!)
Stop numero uno was Navarro Correas, a big industrial winery just outside of Mendoza. They produce millions of litres of wine a year and export a huge amount, so it was interesting to see a large scale wine production process.
Next, in total contrast, we visited a small boutique bodega where they produce all the wine by hand - no machinery allowed. Again, we tried a couple of different wines - a 2004 Malbec (apparently the golden year for wine from Mendoza if you're interested) and a bubbly. Argentina is obviously famous for red wine, but Malbec in particular. But here it was really nice to try a Torrontes, which is a white grape only grown in Argentina.
Our final winery was Cavas de Don Arturo, a medium-sized, organic winery in a really pretty setting. But the highlight of the day was probably the lunch - an incredible spread of tapas style food. Just what we needed to soak up all that wine.
Today was our last day in Mendoza. Again, we've been quite chilled out, had a walk around town and visited the cathedral and the market, before spending the afternoon in a hammock back at the hostel - underneath a grapevine of course. Tonight we're getting the bus to Bariloche which is in the lake district. While Mendoza and Santiago have been great, we're both really keen to get back to some lakes and mountains. And it's only an 18 hour bus ride to get there...