As if we didn’t do enough lazing about and drinking local beverages in Santiago, we did plenty more of it in Mendoza. This wasn’t my first time in Mendoza. A good thing, since with all the laziness, we really didn’t get around to seeing all that much of it. We didn’t even make it to a winery for goodness sakes! (No worries though, we did cover the wine touring aspect by a sneaky, convenient method that was much easier than heading out into the wops to the wineries themselves…)
A fabulously decorated wine barrel preparing to serve as a table at a Mendoza street festival
So what DID we actually manage to do in Mendoza?
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, we drank some wine. The area around Mendoza is probably Argentina’s most famous wine-growing region, most especially for its Malbec. And we were lucky enough to be in town in the lead-up to the annual harvest festival. This meant that one of the town’s main streets had been turned into a giant wine tasting bar. Starting at 20:00 (this was Argentina, of course… everything starts late!) you could go and purchase a book of tasting tickets plus a glass for about $5, then wander up and down trying out whatever you liked from the twenty or so wineries that were present.
Yeah, it’s quite blurry, but I think it still gives a pretty good feel for the place. We tried about 10 wines in total, sharing tasting glasses. Mendozas famous malbecs did put on a strong showing, but surprisingly I also really quite liked the sparkling wines (the Argentinians call them “champagnes,” presumably not caring whether doing so annoys the French or not.)
Layout of the tasting bars at the wine tasting fair
This one’s for my mom… I’m trying a sparkling wine from one of her favourite Argentinian labels (whose poster you can see in the background.)
Unlike in Ushuaia, we managed to change money at a good rate with no trouble at all. I just wandered down to where the official exchange offices were, and was approached by the unofficial changers and the owners of the jewelery stores in the nearby shopping arcade. I was slightly wary of these guys, but the first time I changed money I accidentally gave the guy four US$100 bills instead of the three I’d meant to and he spotted my mistake and gave one back. Which was certainly the end of my worries about dealing with that guy (fortunate since I went back to him five times in total, including three on our last day in Mendoza alone as we thought, then re-thought about how many more Argentine pesos we were going to need for our stay in the country.)
We also took plenty of walks around town, both to enjoy the shady streets and pleasant public squares and also more particularly to check out the preparations for the harvest festival. The main event was a huge sound, light and stage show in the main square. We were too late for tickets (and they were pretty pricey anyway) but we did get to see the stage and some of the lights being set up, as well as a few sound tests and rehearsals for the show.
A typical Mendozan street. The trees are both a blessing (because it can be fiercely hot in Mendoza, often >40C) and something of a miracle (because it’s also very, very dry.) They thrive in the city thanks to the system of irrigation channels that run alongside virtually every street. These are usually about 60cm wide and often 1m or more deep, which, of course, means that you have to be very careful while walking in areas where they aren’t covered.
A pleasant public square.
Testing out some of the lights for the harvest festival in the main square
And while Mendoza is most famous for its wine, we also had plenty of good beer there too. A brewpub in town produced a wide array of beers at the moderate price of 30 pesos per imperial pint. But when two of the ones on offer were a barleywine and an imperial stout, and further, when the daily happy hour was on and pints were 2 for 1, they became a spectacular deal. A pint of (good, if not great) imperial stout for $2. Can’t go too wrong with that! (Except of course by trying to squeeze in any more than two in an hour, which I did once and only once.)
Sarah with pints of imperial stout and barleywine at Antares. A pint of barleywine is just ridiculous, even as a concept. This one wasn’t really true to style though. While it was certainly up near barleywine strength (10%abv) it wasn’t nearly as sweet, or as bitter as I usually expect a barleywine to be. Indeed, it was very dangerously drinkable for a beer that strength!
We cooked a lot. At virtually no cost. Mendoza is a popular base for people going hiking, most especially for those climbing Aconcagua. Which meant that all sorts of people finished their hikes/climbs and left all their leftover trail food in the hostel’s “free stuff” bin. So it was usually just a case of popping out to the little shop down the street (convenient because it often seemed to be the only shop open in the whole city!) for some vegetables or cheese or eggs to supplement the pasta, rice, flour, spices, soup mixes, lentils, etc. that we picked up from the free bins.
Indeed I think we only ate two meals in Mendoza that weren’t entirely prepared by us. The first was a wonderful asado (Argentinian barbeque.) As in Ushuaia it featured salad, bread and all the sausage, ribs and two different cuts of steak that you wanted to eat. And plenty of good Mendoza Malbec to wash it all down.
And in fact we still had a fairly significant hand in the other meal not entirely prepared by us. We did most of the labour, but received instruction from (I’m just guessing at her identity) the mother of one of the hostel staff. She very kindly came in one night to instruct us in how to make Argentinian style empanadas. I suspect we could probably even manage to do it again ourselves… 2:1 onins and meat plus cumin, thyme, salt, pepper, a bit of hard boiled egg and an olive for the filling. A simple water, salt, flower and lard/butter/oil dough. Fill, fold over, seal and pinch a smiley face into the top
I think these were Sarah’s empanadas. Pretty good looking, eh?
And of course the final thing we did in Mendoza was to leave. On a bright sunny Sunday afternoon we headed to the bus station. As usual with Argentinian buses, it was a comfortable ride, though I think given our recent experience at least, Turkish buses have taken over from Argentinian ones as the most luxurious and enjoyable (at least in the less expensive “semi-cama” class [which translates to "half-bed", and means you have seats that recline pretty far back.]) Even so, we’d taken a couple of our seasickness pills (I knew there was a reason we grabbed them!) from the Antarctica trip in the early evening and so slept pretty much all the way to our next port of call, San Miguel de Tucuman, some 1000km north of Mendoza.
Probably not of interest to anyone but my family: the apartment building we stayed in when the whole clan spent New Year’s 2007 in Mendoza