A hop, skip and a jump from San Juan is Mendoza, wine central in Argentina. We arrived quite late in the day and (after an aborted hitchhiking attempt) were very dusty and tired, so the first night was spent in a hostel and was only notable as there was a BATH!
Once we left there a little bit cleaner, we headed to veteran couchsurfer Eliana’s swanky flat. This was a little piece of luxury for the week. Eliana and her little girl are lovely and kind enough to share their beautiful, large flat with us. Not only is the company and flat incredible, but it is under 5 mins from the main square in Mendoza. And her daughter likes Glee! Every night we ate together, taking it in turns to cook. Valentina, another couchsurfer from Columbia, was also staying so we had someone to play with during the day. And they bought me gluten free goodies!! It really was good here.
Mendoza itself is pretty cool. There is a central square with a pretty fountain, and then four smaller squares built around it, each with their own personality. Our favourite was plaza españa, as there were beautiful tiles benches for me to nap on. There are also a shed load of ice cream places, the best of which gave my tub of banana split and ferrero rocher ice cream a melted chocolate bath, which nearly made up for not being able to eat a cone.
So we wandered around the city a bit, bought our self some new Spanish novels to read and wondered if pizza in a cone would be any good. Probably not.
We had two really great day trips from Mendoza, one for white water rafting, the other to Maipu, to do a tour on bikes of the vineyards of the area. (Actually we went to Maipu twice, the first time we just got hopelessly lost and walked around in the sun).
So rafting first. As it is winter here most of the snow has not melted in the mountains which means the water level is lower and the ride is a lot less challenging and dangerous. After bobbing along for a while in our 6 man raft I found myself thinking how I wished it could be a bit more exciting; shortly after this I fell in. And yes, it was cold, and no, noone else fell in. But not scary, just a shot of adrenaline, an embarrassing number people hauling me in like a whale and the onwards. I really really enjoyed rafting and egg and I want to try again later when the water is higher. It was also pretty cheap, £20 each for an hour of rafting, all your gear hire and transfer to and from the city.
The Maipu biking day (take two) was also a great day. Egg, Valentina and I got the bus to Maipu earlyish, and rented from Bikes and Wines at about midday. The map of the area details 12 places you can visit, in a 12 km roundtrip. Some are wineries, others make liqueurs, chocolates, olive oil etc. If you go to the tourist info hut you can get a map with even more places to visit but you will really struggle to get them in.
When we started we knew we wouldn’t do all twelve, and aimed to at least visit a couple of wineries, a chocolate place and just take our time and have fun.
The first place we visited was nine kilometres away, and a beautiful family vineyard with a self guided tour and a terrace restaurant. As this was our first stop we wanted to start the day properly, and ordered a full tasting, including the fancy expensive wine. We can conclude that no one liked the Merlot and I adored the Cabernet sauvignon, and egg liked the Syrah.
A bit more tipsy we rode on to the next, and did another tasting. This time there was a real homey feel to the vineyard and the owner talked us through each wine. Again, really, really nice wine.
Our third and final wine stop was for lunch at a pristine boutique vineyard restaurant. Unfortunately the lady sever was a right grumpy pants, but the food was nice. Definitely feeling a bit worse for wear now I steered clear of the wine this time, except for a teeny taste. At this point Valentina’s bike got a flat, so we lounged in the sun waiting for a replacement.
As we cycled the 10 or so kilometres back, already 15 minutes late returning our bikes, I couldn’t resist a short detour to a chocolate maker’s. We caught them just before closing and sampled the jams, olive spreads, chocolates and liqueurs. The chocolate was so so so good and the man was so friendly that I was extra happy as we returned the bikes.
The bikes by the way were terrible. Considering you cover some distance they are uncomfortable, don’t have gears, have bad steering, have poor brakes etc. There are a few companies operating but from what I gather they are much the same, I would use a different company next time just because everyone else had a basket and I dearly wanted one too.
So that was pretty much Mendoza. We liked it. I’d go back. Egg probably not but only because he likes moving forward.
Next up was meant to be a couple of nights in Santiago, but the Mendoza to Santiago border crossing (los liberatdores) was closed due to snow and we were stuck. When we finally managed the crossing we were a day late to our next workaway place in San Fernando, Chile so exploring has been postponed until later.
But the crossing itself is breathtaking. 6000m up through the Andes it is one of the most enjoyable bus rides in South America (apparently, I haven’t done them all). Except for the five hour wait at the border which made it an eleven, not six hour journey!