Our next stop was Mendoza, an Argentinian region famous for combining many of our passions; Good food, amazing scenery.. oh and the little fact that the region produces 75% of Argentina’s wine. Quality Malbec at £1.50 a glass.. bliss. Baring this in mind we decided to book a healthy 4 nights in Mendoza in order to pack in the long list of activities we had in mind.
We arrived early on the 19th following an appalling 19 hour journey from Buenos Aires.
Now, the usual order of proceedings upon getting a night bus is as follows; Food is served around 8pm followed by an in journey film then the lights are dimmed around 11pmish to allow you to get good few hours kip. It’s civilised, it’s enjoyable, and it’s relaxing. This journey couldn’t have been further from this reality. The alarm bells were first sent ringing when it became clear that the in journey film would be projected over the speakers throughout the coach. This would have been tolerable if the coach had not been full of children and the film not been a very graphic thriller set in nazi Germany. The inevitable crying children followed, understandably traumatised from what they were being forced to watch. Great start.
The hours rolled by with more of the same – overpowering sound, restless children and most distressing of all.. no food. We were starving. Our previous shepherds pie had set our sights quite high so it was with a heavy heart that at 11:30, with the lights dimmed, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would be going hungry. We were both pretty tired so managed to nod off quite quickly.. surely the worst was over.
FLASH. All of the lights are back on. We’re disorientated. Confused faces fill the coach. I check my watch, It’s 1am. Then the driver appeared. Have we broken down?! Is the coach being robbed?! Nope. Its worse. It’s our evening meal. At 1am. Not only was the timing incomprehensible with everyone on the coach fast asleep, but the ‘meal’ consisted of some of some of the most disappointing sandwiches I’ve ever seen. Mine looked like it had fallen off the coach, been run over a few times then chiselled off the road before it reached me. Most took one look at the food and tried to go back to sleep however that was now difficult as all the children were awake again and crying. This was followed by stops every 2 hours where more people would join the coach. We arrived at Mendoza the next day, tired, hungry and broken.
We found the hostel pretty quickly and were pleasantly surprised. It was modern, had friendly staff and best of all – it offered some of the best activities we’ve seen throughout our trip. Now the obvious jumped out; white water rafting, Andes trekking etc.. however upon speaking to a guy at reception, he highly recommended the horse riding through the Andes as his personal favourite. Lauren could barely contain her joy upon hearing this. I wasn’t too sure but after a bit of convincing/arm bending we decided to book it for that night (crazy timing but it was either that or Sunday and the weather forecast wasn’t great). We spent the rest of the day food shopping and sleeping in preparation. What followed exceeded both of our expectations (and Lauren’s were VERY high).
It began with a bit of a hiccup with our bus breaking down but it was quickly repaired after the driver called his mate to come and drive into the back of us in his pickup truck. Very technical solution. The journey consisted of around 10 mins by road then about 40 mins along a dirt track that took us to a fully functioning gaucho ranch in the foothills of the Andes. It had a pool, ping pong and one of the best views weve seen so far. Beautiful. Upon arriving, the group was split in 2 with us staying behind with nibbles and free wine to socialise with some hilarious Aussie whilst the others set off on horseback.
After around 2 hours the first group returned and it was finally our turn. We were given our horses: Mine: Argento, a strong, proud and majestic beast. Lauren’s: Sally. The grumpiest horse I’ve ever seen. Tried biting the other horses, their riders and Lauren on countless occasions. Other riders were scared to ride near Lauren.
And with that we set out into the wilderness with the sun setting over the Andes. Again I’m not a good enough writer to describe how good this was so I’ll leave it the pictures to do the talking
We returned to more Malbec on tap and a glorious Argentinian steak BBQ with homemade potato wedges and salad. The free wine quickly took its toll and the night descended into some hilarious banter between the British and Aussie camps. We were supposed to be back at the hostel by 10pm but it was 12:30pm before we were turfed out onto the minibus. The day was only marred by both of us being attacked by a squadron of warrior ants that had nested in our bag while we were horse riding. Upon putting the bag back on they pretty much covered me instantly and their bites are unbelievably painful*. I got zero sympathy from Lauren until she got bitten herself, then there was a full scale panic. Before long we were both frantically beating the bag with anything we could get our hands on to kill the ants. The aussies looked on, clearly questioning whether the brits could hack their drink. We arrived home exhausted, aching, covered in bites and with very sore bottoms (horses love to trot) but with the biggest smiles on our faces. Great day.
*The bites turned into boils the next day
Now after a day like that, most normal people would take a day to chill out by the hostel pool and recover. Not us. We hired bikes. Armed with a tourist map and mild hangovers we set out into the 35 degree Mendoza heat. It’s now that we got our first real feel for the city. It’s setting is unbelievable. It’s surrounded by the Andes mountains, some of which are snow capped. The city itself is also surprisingly green considering the heat. It’s also got some really cool bars and restaurants that we both looked longingly into as we rode past with our empty wallets. We eventually made our way to the city park where we collapsed under a tree and had a picnic and read our books. This day was cut slightly short due to the heat which meant we unfortunately couldn’t make it to the viewing point at the top end of the park. A shame but a good day all the same.
The next day we decided we’d put off the main reason for our trip to Mendoza for long enough. It was time to do some wine taisting. The vineyards are based in a town called Maipu (pronounced my poo) which was a 20 minute tram ride from downtown Mendoza. We arrived and again set out on the hunt for bikes which took slightly longer to find than expected. Upon locating them, we cycled to our first vineyard, @@@@. This is one of the oldest vineyards in Mendoza and was also, back in its prime, one of the biggest, producing 1/3 of the regions wine. We got a personal tour of the, now closed down, vineyard and learnt about the process of wine making. We learnt what factors give wine its flavour, value, and colour and also saw the huge ageing barrels that would hold up to 400,000L of wine at a time. We were also told that skinny people would be used to enter the barrels small entrance and clean the inside. Our tour guide joked on several occasions that I would be perfect for the job. Hilarious. These remarks were some of Lauren’s highlights of the day.
As interesting as all this was, the main event was always going to be the tasting. We were given 4 very generous helping of wines all produced in the winery’s sister vineyard 1 mile down the road. 2 Malbecs (1 young, 1 old, aged in oak), a Chardonnay, and a sweet white. They were all amazing however the old Malbec in oak was both of our favourite and all cost less than £6 per bottle. Apparently the taxes we put on wine in the U.K. mean that it’s almost impossible to find a decent bottle of Malbec (by Argentinian standards) for under £20.
After this we headed to an olive oil plantation where we were given a free tour and tasting of various oils and spreads. It’s worth noting here that typical wine/olive oil tasting involves taking a little nibble/sip then cleansing you pallet and moving on. Not us. This was the best meal we’d had in ages. We drank all the wine and whole plates of bread and olive oil. All delicious.
Unfortunately due to our late start to the day and the fact the vineyards were much further apart than we first thought that was all we had time for and we had to head back. The journey back also took slightly longer as we were carrying some extra weight in the form of 4 glasses of wine and a whole loaf of bread with olive spread.
On Our final day in Mendoza we rewarded ourselves with a much needed day of rest. We spent the day in the hostel playing games and planning the next stages of our trip in Chile before heading out to an Irish bar in the evening where we enjoyed a final few glasses of Argentinian Malbec.
So Mendoza, how to sum up?
There are few places I’ve been to that combine the beauty of nature with the comforts of modern day life as well as Mendoza. It’s the kind of place that would suit backpackers with a budget of £10 as well as it suits Mr and Mrs Darcy with a budget of £1,000. For us, it was a shot of luxury. A brief glimpse at how he other half live. Do we wish we had a bit more money to splash to on a few nice restaurants and a bit more wine tasting.. yes. But that’s not what backpacking is about is it? Do we feel very lucky to have been able to sip the best red wine we’ve ever had with a view of the sun setting over Andes? Yes.
Overall, we’re yet to meet someone who’s regretted coming here… It’s beautiful, it’s got the best wine in the world and there’s bucket loads to keep you busy. Need I say any more. If you’re ever in Argentina, it’s a must.
Next stop… Santiago, Chile (across the Andes)