Sparky Travels

March 15, 2011

Mendoza

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After the usual 20-something hours on a bus, I arrived in Mendoza in central Argentina early in the morning. I had met Mike (USA) and Meg (Canada) while waiting for the bus and shared a taxi with them to International Hostel, an HI hostel halfway between the bus station and the city centre. We had to wait to check in (our beds were unoccupied but we had to wait till 12pm anyway) so left our bags and walked into town. Mendoza was severely damaged by an earthquake a century ago and has been rebuilt with wide avenues and a number of parks. At Parque San Martin , there was an international beach volleyball competition going on so we sat and watched that for a while before ambling around in the sun.

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In the evening I met Kristy (from Antarctic cruise) and her friend (who’d just returned from Rothera Station, Antarctica) for a few drinks and nibbles before heading back to the hostel to have an early night. Unfortunately the hostel has a large bar and I joined everybody there playing pool and chatting till early in the morning.

Along with the large - understaffed – bar and decent sized common area the hostel also had a pool. Unfortunately, as with everything else in the place, it was grimy, run-down and neglected. It was also very small (think ‘large jacuzzi’) and I never saw a single person using it. The hostel could have been great if a little bit of money was spent but it felt like it was being left to fall apart.

Due to the previous night’s exertions I didn’t achieve as much as expected on the 14th. I did book a bus ticket out of Mendoza for the next day and attended a ‘Pool Party’ in the evening. It was a pool party in name only, since the pool was only marginally larger than the one in our hostel.

I managed to get to bed relatively early so that I would be ready for our Wine-Bike tour the next day. The same couldn’t be said for Mike, Jen (USA) and Charlotte (Dutch) who had to be roused by the still drunk Meg. Meg was having a game go at leading this motley crew towards the starting point for the tour but I doubt they’d have made it without me nudging them in the right direction. After an hour on a public bus to the village of Lujan we found the Wine-Bike company and though we were a bit late he got reservations for us at three wineries. The five of us rode off on our reasonably sound bikes along bike-paths and on dirt roads to the first winery: Achaval Ferrer. This small boutique company make small quantities of high quality wines mainly for the international market. The guide showed us around the ‘factory’ and the process of making wine before the all important tasting session. They gave us tastes of a fair number of wines, with the assuredly expensive Finca Bella Vista Malbec being the best of the bunch.DSC01875DSC01881

With everyone in a merrier frame of mind, we hopped on our bikes and wheeled to our next stop: the large and impressive Norton winery. Instead of an old man on the gate as at Achaval Ferrer, there were security guards who kept us waiting while they walkie-talkie’d for confirmation of our reservation. Our Swiss guide was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic as she led us down to the vinyard and through the various stages of the wine production. It was interesting comparing the scale of production here with that of the previous winery. The number of wines produced and the quantity are staggering. A nice touch they have is that every Thursday, the locals can come to the back door with jugs and fill them with wine (table wine). Apparently whole families from grandparents down to toddlers will arrive each week armed with a jug each.

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We were running out of time and lost Meg and Jen to a puncture but Mike, Charlotte and I raced to get to our last reservation at Bonfanti.This was a very small family owned winery and our guide was one of the brothers who ran it with their father. We were short on time so went straight to the tasting where he told us all about proper tasting techniques (better late than never) and really conveyed his love of wine to us. I’m glad we did the tour at Lujan instead of the popular Maipu area as it felt more special not seeing another bike-tourist and having smaller, personal tours of quality wineries.

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Feeling like wine connoisseurs, we returned our bikes and returned to the hostel. I immediately went to the bus station where I caught the 8pm bus to Salta, along with Dec and Patti, an Irish couple I’d met in the hostel. Apart from the wine tours, Mendoza itself was pretty uninspiring for a tourist but seems like it’d be a nice place to live.

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