It's Monday night and I've just spent the last three days in Argentina's famous wine region of Mendoza. I had flown back to Santiago from Ecuador and taken the scenic seven hour bus trip across the Andes as soon as I could.
The need to get back to Argentina was basically down to two things: steak and Malbec. For the latter I had chosen a hostel which had free wine from 7-8pm each night. This hostel ended up really shaping my stay as it was a small but social place and I met a great bunch of chilled out people, including one guy who had spent the last 8 months cycling down from Colombia. Legend!
Because I left the Galápagos on Wednesday morning at 7am and didn't arrive to Mendoza until 6pm on the Friday I didn't do much at all that evening. I needed to rest my swollen ankles. Even with my sexy brown compression socks they struggle with travel.
On the Saturday I had the intention of heading to an annual wine festival with a guy from the hostel but after we heard how much it would cost to get there and back, plus the ticket to get in, we decided just to walk to the main plaza and check out the mini market that was set up in a marquee for the weekend. It was free to get in and we got free tastings of olive oil, olives, sun dried tomatoes and of course Malbec. Better for a backpacker on a budget. These tastings inspired us to make a feast for lunch so we headed to the supermarket to stock up on cheeses, olives, sundried tomatoes, bread, greek salad, prosciutto, a couple of bottles of wine and a delicious looking mystery salad from the deli. Since the day was so nice and the hostel had a great outdoor area we took our loot back there and set ourselves up for the afternoon with others who had the same idea.
The mystery salad by the way, after I had thoroughly enjoyed half of if, was a bit baffling. Was it seafood? Some kind of vegetable? It's texture was really confusing and nothing on the label was familiar. A couple of other people tried it and no one could figure it out. Google was consulted. And the result made us a little ill. Cows hooves... Oh the joys of not understanding a language!
After our banquet and a mini siesta it was time for the Asado! An asado is an Argentinian BBQ and since I had been thinking about steak for so long now it was the perfect way to spend Saturday night. Everyone had put their names down for the $10 dinner which included empanadas as entree, four rounds of steak, icecream for dessert and all the wine we could drink. The remainder of the night we didn't move from the hostel and just drank Malbec merrily until the early hours of Sunday.
Sunday was a slow day. One thing you need to adjust to in South America is that nothing is open on Sundays. At first I thought it was annoying. No shops open! How frustrating! Now I really appreciate it for what it is. South American towns and cities are ghost towns on Sundays as everyone is at home with family. This is a really nice custom and one that inspires me. I chose to spend the day wandering around the empty streets and ended up finding a huge park and joining the families chilling out under of the shade. I was here till late afternoon until I started reading my Lonely Planet. In the Mendoza section I read that there are muggings at the park and that you shouldn't go alone and you shouldn't go too late in the day. Whoops. I headed home after that.
No trip to Mendoza is complete without a trip to the wineries. For this reason I had purposely booked a night bus on the Monday so I could spend the day on a bike and wine tour.
Mendoza produces 70% of Argentina's wine, but only uses 4% of Mendoza's land. The region has sun for 300 days of the year and that combined with the location of the Andes, creates a perfect micro climate for wine making. There are two main areas where the wineries are: Máipu and Luján de Cuyo. I had originally wanted to check out both but since I was there on the weekend I only had the Monday to explore so chose the apparently nicer Luján. It was a really lovely area but I think I've been a little spoilt exploring the regions of Margaret River, the Yarra Valley, Central Otago and of course Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, where the wineries are just down the road from our old farm. Still, I will say, the backdrop of the Andes did make it very special and I had a cool day cycling along with a great bunch of people visiting wineries and tasting a lot of wine. Ah, I do love Malbec!