Mendoza is known as the wine capital of Latina America, producing the most volume of wine and is a main driver of tourism to the Argentina. Conveniently situated on the eastern side of the Andes, it offers incredible views of the Andes and of Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western and Southern Hemisphere. Coming off a high after ending my Patagonia adventure in Bariloche, I was keen to pack away the hiking boots, kick back and enjoy a few wines in the warmer Mendoza climate with some friends that I had met previously in Bariloche and and in Puerto Natales.
It was only an 13 hour overnight bus ride from Bariloche to Mendoza. By now I was so desensitised to long bus rides, anything around 12 hours felt like the norm and 5-8 hours were short trips. The bus also wasn’t full so I enjoyed an extra room to myself to sloth around in and make myself at home. During the ride, to lessen the boredom the bus attendant would get on the microphone and give what sounded like a bit of a tour guide. I didn’t bother following his speech because to be honest, I was a bit over the Argentinian pronunciation of Spanish and I knew my time was coming to an end so just kept watching episodes of Homeland on the iPad. I even passed on the game of bingo that they have on the bus.
I had planned on staying in Mendoza for about four or five days so I didn’t do too much the morning that I arrived so I just chilled out in the lounge room, chatted to a few travellers and enjoyed some breakfast put on by the hostel. The hostel breakfasts here in the southern parts of South America are amazingly good and a stark contrast to their northern cousins. Eggs, crepes, crust (proper) bread, juice, coffee, cereal. They have it all and it comes with the price of accommodation.
Later that night, I had made arrangements to meet up with Gary and Susanne, an American couple who I had met in Puerto Natales. They were on their own round the world trip and happened to be in town. Being in Mendoza and all, we decided to meet up at the Vines of Mendoza for a wine tasting night. Each week, they have wine makers come in to take novice and expert wine drinkers through their range of wines. This night we had the wine maker from Pulenta Estate take us through four of their wines. I’ve always been a fan of Argentinian wines and after travelling 6 months through Central and South America, it was great to finally get stuck into some proper wine again. Also being able to buy a decent bottle of Malbec for $4, how could you refuse?
The following day I hadn’t made any plans to do anything but Miles, who I had met in Bariloche asked me if I wanted to join him and two other Americans Hayley and Hannah in Thanksgiving celebrations. This would involve cooking a huge feast for thirteen or so others and being the type of person who always loves a cooking challenge, I accepted his offer.
We all split the responsibilities and I was in charge of cooking the chickens and making the gravy. Luckily the hostel had multiple ovens as two were required for the four chooks. Others were in charge of the appetisers, stuffing and even beer pouring responsibilities. The vibe was positive, the music cranking and we all got dressed in our backpackers Sunday best outfits for the afternoon.
It was quite the epic afternoon of feasting and celebrating. It would probably rate as one of the best times that I’ve had with my fellow travellers and they would probably agree as well as we spent it pitching in to help and then sharing with each other what we were thankful for. For me I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the trip so far but it was the first time that I’ve shared it with anybody else.
There were quite a few dusty heads the following day. I think things went slightly pear shaped the previous evening after the free wine hour kicked off around 7pm. Yes the hostel offers free wine. We were in wine country after all. It was now my third day there and I hadn’t done a winery tour, so what better way to recover from a big night of drinking than touring some wineries and drinking more wine to power through our hangovers. There are winery tours but doing a self guided tour is the cheapest way of doing it and you’ll save yourself a bit of coin. Four others from the previous night were about to head off and again, and without a plan I decided to tag along.
After a 45m minute bus ride to the wine making area of Maipú, we stop off into Mr. Hugo’s which was a recommendation from the hostel to hire bikes. Mr Hugo greets us himself and offers us some cool lemonade and we’re taken through a recommendation on where to go, where to eat and then we’re on our way. I won’t bore you with the details but we stop by a couple of wineries and do the usual. Drink wine, check out the cellars and then move on to lunch. The first place we went to was an olive grove and we sampled their olive oils, vinegars as well as their spirits. There was a row of spirits that we were able to sample three. Of course we all go for the Absinth which pretty much tastes like fermented lawn clippings. Pretty nasty stuff.
We only manage to fit in two wineries because to be honest, it becomes a bit repetitive after a while. The two we saw were a nice contrast from each other. The first, being modern with huge steel fermentation tanks and the other one a bit run with down storage areas made from bricks to age the wines in. Also it would have been difficult to peddle any further because the guide map isn’t quite to scale and two blocks on the map is actually a 20 minute ride.
Before I arrived in Mendoza, I had pictured it to be a smaller city surrounded by the mountains and the wineries a short stones throw away. I soon learnt that it was similar in look to many other normal Argentinean cities. However, the difference was that everybody seemed a lot more relaxed around here. There was definitely the absence of the attitude that you would encounter in Buenos Aires. That plus the fact that I had a great time meeting new friends and that I was coming to the end of the South America leg that I wasn’t trying to force myself into having a good time and meeting people. Things was just happening naturally.
I’d definitely recommend a trip to this side of Argentina. The food is diverse, the people are friendly, the hostels are nicer and day to day life is just a lot easier. I stayed a total of four days but could have spent a week there visiting the remaining winery regions if my liver was up for it. In the meantime, it was back to Santiago, Chile for my final stop before flying back to Oz.
Other Useful Information:
Stayed: Hostel Empedrado. About US$14 (official rate) for a shared dorm. Comes with free breakfast spread of crepes, omlette, bread, cereal, juice and coffee. Seriously the best breakfast I’ve had on this trip. The staff are helpful and can organise tours or offer advice on how to get around the city. Every night is wine night at 7-8pm where they offer free wine. It’s not the greatest especially when you can get a decent botle of wine for $2 but a nice guesture. They have empanada making classes as well as Asado nights as well which was one of the better steaks I’ve had on this trip as well i.e it wasn’t overcooked.
Getting there: Busses and planes come and go frequently but it’s about 13 hours overnight from Bariloche and 8 hours from Santiago, Chile. If you arrive by bus then you’ll come into the terminal at the south eastern end of the city. A taxi from the station is about $5
Winery Tours: We did a self guided tour on bicycles from Mr Hugo’s in the heart of Maipú, one of the win regions in Mendoza. Bike hire is about US$8 for the afternoon and comes with a map and discounts to a number of lunch spots.
Food: Check out the Mercado Central (cnr Av. Las Heras and Patricias Mendocinas) for a range of cheap and local fruit and veg as well steaks.