Marvellous Mendoza: a whole world beyond wine

On my previous trip to Mendoza, I learnt an awful lot about the wine they produce there. I was learning by submersion; one vat of wine at a time! This time around, I branched out considerably and began to discover so much more about the quirks of local life. Here are just a few teasers from my experience of life as a Mendocino:

  • Food and Siestas rule:

    Outdoor bonfire, or parilla, barbecuing several full lamb carcasses
    All-you-can-eat Street Meat

Eat, sleep, eat, sleep; it’s astounding how quickly the day fills up! When indulging in four meals a day (admittedly we were spoilt by traditional Argentine grandma’s cooking), in this dry heat, it’s virtually impossible to multitask between digestion and staying awake. As such, the whole city comes to a stand still in the mid-afternoon. The siesta lull. There’s no point trying to be a busy “see everything” tourist at times like this; embrace the opportunity for a cultural excuse to take a nap! (Added bonus: after a siesta, people of all ages are able to stay up all night long!)

  • Everything is charmingly diminutive:

You must have been living under a rock if you haven’t heard the worldwide phenomenon that is ‘Despacito’. With all its lyrical ‘poquito, poquito’, it’s easy to think that most Spanish words end in ‘-ito’; well, in Mendoza, they really do! For things to sound sweet, innocent and polite, they must be made small. Please pass a ‘cucharito’ for my ‘cafecito’ (for when a normal sized coffee and spoon would be borderline offensive!).

  • The card games make no sense:

I thought it was a truth universally acknowledged that there were 52 cards in a deck. Apparently not! Spanish cards have numbers one to twelve, across four strange, image-focused suits. And yet, from there, the numbers rarely pertain to their written numerical value. A twelve is not a twelve, and it certainly isn’t considered higher than a ten! The national favourite game, ‘Truco’, involves two games played simultaneously, a bizarre points system and a lot of bluffing, in a language I never fully understand. Suffice to say, I sat that one out…

(However, I recommend venturing into one of the city’s archaic pool halls, where you may just find a group of elderly pals playing cards; and, if you’re lucky, there will be plenty of colourful, expletive language alongside!)

  • Bicycle rental requires more paperwork than a visa!:

The city of Mendoza has a wonderful system of free city bikes. Pick up and drop off points around the city centre allow freedom to explore and adventure. Locals assured us that the rental merely required showing our documentation. However, nothing is ever as simple as it sounds! The requirements list involves: a copy of one’s documentation (Passport or DNI), alongside the real thing; a photocopy proving your address in Mendoza, e.g. from a hostel or hotel (be warned, if you are staying with family or friends, a utility bill must also be accompanied by a copy of the bill payer’s documentation too); completion of a form that reaffirms all of these details; a quick webcam mugshot; and finally you must respond to their text, to prove you have given them the correct details. All of this for a bike with no gears! But the chance for a free bike tour of Mendoza is worth the hassle; it’s just a shame it’s more complicated than entering the country itself!

  • It is the only city I encountered without SUBE:

On a similarly travel-based note: for those familiar with other cities in Argentina, you will be aware of the ubiquitous SUBE card. Cheap, cash-free travel, everywhere. Everywhere but Mendoza that is! Be aware that you’ll need to buy a RedBus card. Boring, I know, but better easier than renting a bicycle!

  • Bars combine late-night music and off-license casualness:

    Logo for 'La Taberna de Moe', a casual bar in Mendoza, Argentina
    Moe’s Tavern meets Mendoza

Coming from English pub-culture, it took me a while to come to terms with the widespread Latino culture of table-service in bars. Yet, in Mendoza I experienced something totally different. In a long, narrow, dark bar, named after none other than The Simpson’s own ‘Moe’, a kiosco provided alcohol sales, and the room provided the rest: tables, stools, and loud music. This was a bar crossed with an off-licence. I was sold. No need to wait for a waitress ever again!

  • Treats can be sought at the Green Market

Mendoza is a city of seemingly infinite sunshine; thus, making the most of the fortunate weather, once a month you can find the ‘Mendoza Green Market’ by the gates of the glorious San Martin park. Despite the oddly anglicised name, this is a celebration of all things local. Food all around, craft beers on tap, and artisanal gifts (both edible and otherwise) abound. Ensuring we stayed long enough to do more than just pilfer the delicious free samples, live music and demonstrations – from yoga to cookery- entertained the masses. Free samples, free love and free dog-spotting.

  • And it’s not just all about Mendoza:

Perhaps owing to the city’s borderland location, Mendoza’s Dorrego neighbourhood annually welcomes an international celebration of combined cultures: Fiesta de Colectividades. I never expected to watch traditional Bolivian Andean dancers, inhabiting the entire colour spectrum with their costumes, whilst sipping a Slovenian beer from one hand and scoffing samosas (or ‘empanadas de India’) from the other – all whilst standing in the middle of the road, on a temporarily pedestrianised boulevard in Argentina! It proved the inclusive, accepting atmosphere of this picturesque city.

So, by all means, drink wine, lots of wine. But, should you get full, take a moment to marvel at Mendoza’s myriad of other offerings.

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