Week fifteen: wine and sunshine

Having left tourist-town and rejoined the real, city world, it was time to undertake some ‘real world tasks’. Namely, doing three weeks worth of laundry and getting my legs waxed. Seems mundane, but was in fact rather an unexpected experience!

First off, myself and a group of elderly local women were left waiting on the pavement until the salon owner had finished his siesta and deigned to open. I successfully managed all obligatory small talk with my Argentine beautician and was feeling right at home. That was until she began slathering thick caramel onto my legs and pulling it off with her bare hands! I explained that this is certainly not how we do it in England, only for her to giggle away whilst cleaning my legs with ethanol. My pale ‘English Rose’ appearance came as quite a shock to her, and she almost recoiled when I said I didn’t want my face to be waxed too! A very Mendocina experience, that I shan’t be in a rush to repeat.

My next basic task turned bizarre as I nipped into the post office to send my first (and probably only) postcard. I couldn’t even find the service counters. That was until a synthesised voice emanated from behind a two-way mirror. I felt like I was in a police interrogation room, simply for attempting to fulfil a tourist necessity!

With these tasks out of the way, I was free to enjoy the laid back, picturesque way of life that Mendoza offers. All streets are lined with trees (rich with autumnal tones during my stay) to the point where you feel like you’re walking through a Cezanne masterpiece. Beyond this, you can’t ever go far without reaching another grand, tiled plaza; perfect for a good sit, or a perusal of the artisanal markets therein.

The highlights of these walkways can be found in the enormous Parque General San Martin. From lovers in the rose garden to violent and muddy BMX rallies, this park caters for all. I spent an afternoon reclining on a small island on the lake, watching the world and its kayakers go by. I spent a later afternoon scaling the Cerro Gloria hill to the Liberty statue. I can only assume that this is some sort of pilgrimage location; nothing else could have explained the group of people crawling backwards up the dramatic flight of stairs to the top.

Otherwise, the main activities in Mendoza revolve around the sheer abundance of wine produced and drunk in the region. Options for exploring include minibus tours around a variety of bodegas, or renting bikes and finding your own way between the vines; naturally I did both.

Reuniting with Flora and Haydn, a week after parting ways in Chiloé, we celebrated and caught up over copious wine. Unfortunately, the romantic visions we had of cycling through vineyards were somewhat overzealous, as the first few kilometres of said journey was along a distinctly un-scenic main road! Persevering, the wine tasted all the better at the end. We visited two very quaint, very swanky, private bodegas and were particularly thrilled when the latter gave us a ‘which wine is which’ cheat sheet. Otherwise, my palate could differentiate ‘red’, ‘white’ and ‘smells like bonfire’, but that’s my lot!

My second alcoholic sojourn came a couple of days later. (Between the two came ‘free wine hour’ at my hostel, followed by ‘perpetual happy hour’ on the local bar strip, followed still by ‘stay up all night continuing to drink free wine with the non-English-speaking night staff’! I needed a day to recover!)

This time, on an organised outing, the focus was much more on touring the factories and bodegas, learning the scientific trivia (rather than just using a ‘tasting menu’ as an excuse to order three glasses each!)

We toured a quaint organic bodega, learning about the use of fruit trees instead of pesticides, to distract potential predators. We moved on to an enormous, somewhat soulless, factory, with the capacity for creating 40million litres of wine per annum! The highlight of this tour were certainly the ever growing wooden barrels, which ranged in size from 12,000 to 37,000 litres. Sadly, our tasting session did not correlate to such superhuman sizes.

A quick detour saw a snack stop at an olive oil factory. Not particularly enamoured with the simple process of ‘pick and squish’, I still enjoyed the tasting spread they put on (far more than the olive-based beauty products they were also pushing!)

As the afternoon progressed, fears were mounting that we would hear the same tour over again. However, the final, family run bodega seemed more like a fun project for a grape enthusiast than a serious money-making venture. Thus, our guide exuberantly demonstrated all sorts of brewing processes, armed solely with a single grape as a prop and bundles of enthusiasm.

By the end of it all, I discovered I liked the wines made by sticking wooden poles in the giant wine swimming pools best; a touch of oaky flavour, without leaving an ashen tongue in its wake. Although I’m not sure I can exactly order that in a restaurant!

Other than that, Mendoza saw yet more foodie indulgence: ranging from an evening in a posh restaurant, to an Airbnb dinner party (via a lot of trawling the ridiculously large Carrefour supermarket for bargains!)

As the rains came once again, the hostel filled with trapped, restless travellers; some stuck in the country as the main border crossing to Chile was plagued with snow. When even the hostel’s free wine and breakfast pancakes were wearing thin, I headed northwards. Yet, unwilling to face another twenty hour bus just yet, my journey was to be broken up by a stop off in Valle Fertil- a ghost town thus far. Toto, I don’t think we’re in the popular and plentiful wine country any more!


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