Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ola amigos! Vino tinto o blanco por tu???

Hello from the ciudad de vino! We have arrived in Mendoza! The city is beautiful and not just because it (and the region surrounding it) produces over 70% of Argentina´s wine! Founded in 1561, with a population of just over a million people, the folks here (Mendocinos to you and I) definitely enjoy the good life - wide, shady streets, tons of restaurants and bars (being not only a very popular tourist city but also a university city too!), beautiful plazas including the huge Plaza Independencia, Parque San Martin (at 420 hectares one of the biggest city parks in South America, with a zoo, swimming pools, regatta, golf and tennis clubs as well as the Cerro de la Gloria hill, where you can see great city views!) and of course lots and lots of ice cream shops! I am in my element of course being the worlds greatest ice cream lover (my current fave flavours are dulce de leche and coconut - but please,not together!) It´s ridiculous; there are literally about 2-3 heladarias on each street. These people definitely give the folks in Cuenca, Ecuador a run for their money on who loves ice cream more!!!Oh and did i mention that they also really enjoy their siestas here! From 2 - 5pm all you can hear in this city are the soft rumblings of the mendocinos snoring away, as everything closes, and i mean everything!!!

We learned from Dominique´s Spanish teacher that the Parque San Martin was very cleverly designed with the city´s air flow in mind! Now that may not sound that exciting but apparantly as Mendoza is technically in a desert zone, the powers that be decided they wanted to make sure there was as much natural air flowing through the city as possible, so they designed the park and green spaces in such a way that the humidity was lessened and fresh air was indeed distributed through the neighbourhoods in a natural and effective manner! How smart is that! Oh yes, and many of the older, more colonial buildings have been rebuilt because of numerous earthquakes in the city´s past. In light of this, some of the city elders decided that the plazas should intentionally be rebuilt as large, open areas for the people of the city to go to in the event on any future earthquakes....interesting eh!!! OK ok enough with the historical facts i can hear you cry!

So moving quickly along, our hostel here, the Confluencia, is one of the best we have stayed at so far on our travels. More like a hotel than a hostel, (which we love!) and the folks who run it, Pablo, Salvadore and Sylvia are really lovely! We organized our "wine-bike tour" (yes that is correct!) for tomorrow and had dinner at the Green Apple, a fab veggie restaurant with a very strange waiter....think he might have been a clown in a previous life, very strange indeed!

Jan 12th - ok its up and at ´em today! We pick up our bikes and with Dominique at the map helm (i am still horribly directionally impaired unfortunately!), we head out of town on our 40km scenic "viaje" to the wineries and bodegas of Mendoza! Or do we! I think we were a little idealistic about the "scenic" part of the trip! After battling city smog for about 20 mins or so, cycling on a one way street the wrong way (hey, we were following the map!), we arrive on this dirt road which smelled awful (oh yes that would be the dead dog or wolf - this thing was huge!) that we cycled past amid the towering rubbish dump!. Then we wave to the folks at the truck stop, until they drive past us, shooting rocks and pebbles up onto our legs - ouch! Oh yes, very scenic!!!! We eventually arrive at our destination, in the Maipu region of Mendoza, and gaily smile at the guard as we go to enter Casa de la Cavas. "Sorry - not open today, ladies" we hear! What! Not a good start to our imbibing tour! Next stop is "La Rural", a very large and famous winery that also has a museum of 19th century wine making tools.....ok enough of that, where do we go for the tasting! One measly glass is all we get, bummer! Dominique and i are not happy! We head off to lunch rumbling about how we wanted to wobble our way back to Mendoza in a vino-induced dreamy state (to block out the gross surroundings of the trail!) so decided to treat ourselves to a lovely glass of vino blanco with our delicious bread and cheese! Then off to the Chocolate and Liquer Museum - great place run by a woman and her family who have recently turned what was merely a hobby into a very succesful business. Of course we had to help her continue that trend, so bought some fab white chocolate and a Coco-Rum liquer --deeeelicious!

Then back on the wine trail! Landed at La Familia de Tommasso, the oldest and one of the smaller, boutique wineries in the Maipu valley. Those of you in Boston may recognize the name as the family do export alot of their wine to the States including Massachusetts, so check out the vino tinto Melbac, its the grape of the region and their particular Melbac wines are delicious! Vincente, our guide, and one of the Tommasso family, was really interesting and we had a great time here, not just because we got to taste six (yes six!) different kinds of vino tinto and blanco vinos!! Thorougly enjoyed hearing and watching Vincente showing us the different hues and colours of the wines, the aromatic smells of each and how they are created...seriously very interesting stuff and the wine was fantastic! By now, the legs were getting a wee bitty wobbly, so it was time to head home! Luckily enough there was a short cut which we were told was apparantly "muy pelligroso" aka "dangerous", `cos of all the traffic, but we took our chances, and it wasn´t bad at all so we were home quick smart with no more dead dogs on the route, thank goodness!

Pottered around the next day, enjoying the beautiful weather and the city scenery. I feel i could definitely live here for a few months, take some Spanish classes, and just hang out, but no rest for the wicked! Dominique is going to stay an extra week here and do some Spanish, but I`m headed off to Puerto Iquazu to check out the waterfalls there... more on that later!

Head out for dinner the next night to meet up with Dominique´s Spanish teacher, Moru (lovely girl) and some of the other students, Dave and Brett from Tasmania. Great guys and we all hit it off so decided to meet up on Saturday night for a few wee drinkies and a bit of the óle Tazzie Two Step (that would be Tasmanian for those not in the know!). Apparantly the boys are very familiar with this particular dance style and boasted they have a number of highly coveted awards in their homeland, so we were very excited, and curious, to see them in action! Plus - have you ever heard of Australian boys who actually dance!!!

Saturday comes and we duly meet up with the boys (come on now, dont you think they look like great dancers!) and some more new found friends - Mark and Chris from London (ok, its Essex but Mark likes to say 20 miles outside London which we, of course, slagged him off about!). Also, Eleanor and Chris, another English couple who have been traveling around South America for 9 months to date ....and David and Juliette, a couple we originally met in Quito, who strangely enough we keep bumping into in almost every city we have visited so far! After some drinks, we headed out for dinner to this incredible, all you can eat buffet place! The boys knew it like the back of their hands.....having been there almost every night since they arrived! Food was great but we had to move on to the bar and dance scene.. and as we sat drinking cervezas (or in my case a strawberry daquiri!) at 3am, it hit me that this was just a tad surreal, with literally hundreds of folks sitting in bars all around us, waiting patiently like ourselves, for the clubs to get busy .....Ended up at this one club with the worst music; strobe lights that would make anyone feel like they were going to have a fit or get an awful migraine headache; and about 5 million people squished inside so the temperature was about 120 degrees! It was brilliant! We had such a laugh and i ended up dancing with the Tassie Two Steppers and the others till 8am when we were all asked very politely to leave, as the club was officially closing then! A lovely girl - who i´m embarressed to say i didnt quite catch her name! - invited us all back to her house for more drinkies and a BBQ??? Yes, at 8 in the morning! So of course, we head off! Hung out and chatted for a wee while, then the "lovely girl" and her friend dropped me off at my hostel around 10ish, just in time for me to pack up as we had to check out at 11am! What a wierd and wonderful evening!!!

Leaving Mendoza (and all the lovely wine!!) on Sunday evening for my trip to Puerto Iguazu! A mere 30+ hour journey -10 hours to Cordoba by bus, then a day in that city waiting for my next collectivo, (which will take approx. 21 hours - ahhhhh!) to Puerto Iguazu to visit one of the natural wonders of the world, the amazing Iguazu waterfalls that apparantly Eleanor Roosevelt said when she saw them "Oh dear, Niagara would cry if she saw these falls" as they are meant to be incredibly impressive! I´ll let you know what i think when i see them, as having seen Niagara i can compare!

Sad to leave Mendoza- and would definitely recommend it to everyone!


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