06.05.2010 - 15.05.2010
It was just after I watched a recorded video of myself drunkenly impersonating a French man with a penis puppet, telling everybody to f*#! off for not accepting me as a normal man, that I started to wonder if maybe I had been going a bit too hard in Mendoza. But what choice is there in a city that is famous for its wineries, friendly, fun locals, and thermal springs? Throw in some cool fun loving travelers and some extremely social hostel staff and every day in Mendoza is basically a party waiting to happen.
Mendoza is a city in Northwest of Argentina. It has about 100,000 residents and has a slow paced, down to earth vibe. It still feels like a city, however, with many parks and plazas, restaurants and cafes, and it's renowned wide streets. It is the biggest wine region in Argentina producing 80% of the country’s wine, but its terrain is dry, flat and somewhat barren. Not far off are the Andes with some of Argentina’s tallest mountains, which you can see hovering on the horizon at all times. I was instantly impressed with the warm, chatty locals who were the friendliest people I have come across in Argentina so far. I was also delighted by the laidback, warm manner of the staff at the Independencia Hostel, and had the impression that it was going to be a good place to stay.
Within minutes of arriving I had befriended a young Aussie bloke, Mitch, who had returned to Mendoza after previously living there for 6 weeks during the summer. I was impressed with his immediate offer to share his nice bottle of Argentinean Malbec with me at 2pm in the afternoon. So after grabbing some groceries and unpacking, I happily joined him. He was well acquainted with the staff at the hostel and before too long we had a nice group of travelers and staff all hanging out in the courtyard, playing guitar and enjoying a few drinks together. The following night proceded in much the same way, but a few of us also headed out for dinner as well. One of the best lomo steaks of my travels and 2 deserts later, we organized to get together the next day to do a bike tour of the wineries, or bodegas as they are called here.
Accompanied by an Aussie and a Kiwi, I was feeling very at home and it was nice to drop some local references and jokes and know that my style of humour would be appreciated. No one apart from me was keen to ride 30kms out to the furthest bodega that was off the map, so we decided to head halfway there to another bodega and then make our way back. At our first winery we tried 5 different wines and had a brief tour of the place. Sipping delicious wines in the leafy courtyard in the sunshine, I had the feeling that today was going to be a good day! Tipsily, we then rode to ‘Familia de Tomaso’, the oldest winery in Mendoza, which was started by an Italian immigrant family in the 1800s. There we got to try another 4 wines and learnt how to detect the differences between young and mature Malbec grapes. We also got to taste their oldest and most refined wine, which was delicious!
Unfortunately, since we had started the day late, we didn’t have time to do another winery so we decided we would head to the local Cervezeria that we had heard was quite good. The rumours proved to be true and we enjoyed some very tasty boutique beers. They do a fantastic dark ale in Argentina that is as light as normal beer, but so full of flavour, and nowhere near as heavy as a stout. We downed two pints then headed back to the bike rental shop. Along the way I realized someone was following me, and after seeing that it was a police man, I thought that I was going to be pulled over for drink riding. But then I realized that he was just the tourist police making sure we got back safely (I love Argentina!). We managed to get out bikes and ourselves back in one piece and were almost showered in Mr Hugo’s terrible homemade wine back at the bike place.
As you can imagine, by the time we got back to the hostel we were a little toasted. One of the best things about hanging out with the Australian and Kiwi backpackers was that there was absolutely no question about whether we were going to keep drinking into the night. That unfailing commitment to the night ahead is something that I just adore.
We played a game of “I have never…” to kick things off, and I learnt that “I have often…”! Then in true Argentinean style we headed out to a nightclub at 2.30am. Our local connections were able to get us a discount on the cover charge, and we wondered into the extremely packed club. Little did we realize that the band that were trying to avoid paying for was still playing and were an awesome group from Columbia. They were pumping out fresh and funky beats that were a mad fusion of African, reggaeton, rock and electronica. It was hot!* After they finished, we danced to the DJ and eventually rolled out at about 5am.
A few cartwheels along the sidewalk later, I was blowing kisses to the traffic and putting my thumb out to grab a ride. One of the cars actually stopped and all 5 of us piled in to grab a free lift back (I love Argentina!). To top things off even more, the following day was also one of the best hangovers I have had on my travels. You know you are in good company when the hangover day is just as fun as your night out. Tossing out any ideas of achieving anything that day early on, we sat around the lounge room watching Tarentino movies, playing cards, and engaging in the ‘hair of the dog’. It was a laugh a minute until my belly was sore, and all in all just pure, good fun!
I wasn’t going to be able to stay in Mendoza for 10 days straight though without a break, so midway through my time there I headed to the mountains to recharge. I stayed in a hostel in the middle of nowhere and was the only guest. It was bliss. I fell asleep in front of the TV, did meditation and yoga the next day, studied Spanish down by the river, went on walks accompanied by the hostel’s five dogs, and did an amazing 3 hour horse ride through the mountains, galloping all the way home for the last 30mins.
I arrived back in Mendoza recharged and ready to go again. I decided early on, that everything worth doing in Mendoza was worth doing twice. So on my second weekend there, I went back to the thermal baths, did another bike tour (the second also ending with stumbling out of a nightclub at dawn), and had another good hangover. On the second bike tour I was also able to persuade my Israeli buddy to do the 30km ride to the furthest bodega with me. Thinking it would take about an hour, we rode for 2 hours straight all the way there, only to find out that the bodega was closed. It was not the happiest of moments! After another hour of riding back to the other wineries, we eventually got to do our first wine tasting, and believe me, it tasted damn good.
Overall I was very satisfied with my time in Mendoza. I had made some good friends, got to drink some delicious wine, learnt a few new card games, and engaged in some serious relaxation. And while I was ready to leave by the time I did, I had the feeling of wanting to return sometime in the future, so I could do it all again, a third time.