Friday, July 1, 2011


Mendoza: It's pretty tits.
I love Mendoza. I had a very good time there. The city feels nice and relaxed. It has big wide streets and many plazas. The story is that it was rebuilt this way after an earthquake in 1861. The locals were afraid another one would come so they made wide streets for the rubble to accrue in and plazas everywhere as meeting points. As luck would have it there has not been another quake but because of the future-proofing efforts that were made the city is particularly beautiful.

One of the main reasons I had such a good time there was because of the place I stayed, Hostel Lao. This place is amazing. Everyone who works there are great sorts. The co-owner Mike not only has an excellent name but backs it up by being fun to yarn to and genuinely interested in the wellbeing of his patrons. I would recommend this place to anyone over those ways.
The gates to the park.

After checking in late in the morning we frittered around for a good while before eventually heading out to the cities park, Parque General San Martin. This place was a little bit on the disappointing side, although there was a little bit of interesting stuff in there. It was good to see some different kinds of trees compared to what we are used to in NZ but there was a pretty serious litter problem. It looked like some riding was on offer in there but none of it much good; we saw some haggard berms and extremely marginal jumps. We walked right through the park, having a look at the big artificial lake and the soccer stadium.
The monument to the Army of the Andes.
The artificial lake.
We made our way to the back of the park to have a look at the zoo and the highest point in town, which was supposed to offer some views of the city. In the end though it was a whole lot further than we thought so we didn’t have time for the zoo. We cruised up to the lookout at the top of the only hill around, Cerro de la Gloria ('Mount' Glory)  via the particularly steep path and I was disgusted to finds myself struggling a bit. Anyway, at the top (at 1000m but probably only 60-80m above town) there was a big statue of something. Obviously I couldn’t read the Spanish so pretty vague on what it’s all about but it’s impressive. The internet tells me it's called the Monument to the Army of the Andes and represents a force, lead by General San Martin, which liberated Argentina and Spain from the Spanish. Anyway, Dolbri was straight up onto the statue despite the signage prohibiting the act, resulting in a good photo and a yelling at.

We cruised back down and were looking at catching a bus home when we saw a bunch of people on mountain bikes congregating. We had no choice but to roll over and have a yarn (although with my knowledge of Spanish I was purely ornamental). Turns out there are some trails in the area but they aren’t safe to ride alone or in small groups as robberies are common and deaths not unheard of. Our new friends offered us a ride which we took (I know, rides with strangers and all that noise, but mountain bikers are a different breed). On the way it came up that I was after 29er tubes and they said they knew a place that might so took us there even though it was well out of their way. They dropped us there and I got some tubes and we bussed home.

A sidenote on Argentina: there is a severe shortage of coinage. It is extremely difficult to get and should be held onto for as long as humanly possible when acquired (I have lied many times to hold onto precious coinage). The relevance of this is that buses only run on coins and we had fuck all between us (we got some from a supermarket). But yeah, that is one of the many joys and challenges of travelling South America.

Back at the hostel we tucked into some free wines. The night was shaping up to be a big one and didn’t hold back. A good crew of people from the hostel came out and on the way I stopped in at another hostel to collect some English friends I had met in Santiago so we had a big mob of Gringos going large. We hit the place that we had got free pizza from the night before and it was pumping with a good mix of locals and Gringos. The bar was two stories and had several rooms with people crammed into all available space. Long story short, a good time was had. On the way home I got separated from everyone but got walked home by a lovely Argentinian chica and her less than impressed boyfriend. She spoke Englais and worked at another bar in town. She was better to me than I deserved and even gave me a couple of free passes to the club she worked at.

The solution to most of life's problems can be found in
these waters.
The next day started atrociously. I was in a bad, bad way and none of the boys were much better. The only solution was to go to the hotpools and it proved to be the best possible idea given the situation. After missing our first bus and lingering an hour or so we were on our way out of town to Cacheuta, about an hour from Mendoza. He place was pretty amazing; a tiny little town up in the hills with an incredible semi-desert surrounding. The pools themselves were awesome, with an inside and outside section which included an infinity pool and a couple of waterslides, one of which was operating (some of it wasn’t going, being off season over here and all).

If you are ever hungover in Mendoza this is the place to be. We absolutely dominated the art of lounging. The sun was out, the landscape beautiful and there were people to yarn to which made the experience as relaxing as possible.  Even the hawks were about and playful. There’s only so long you can lurk in a pool of hot water though and eventually we all reached our limit and went to get the bus home. Again we had missed it resulting in more waiting, this time in the cold in the middle of nowhere. It was grim but we had no choice but to laugh and eat the most atrocious corn-based snacks ever devised. A couple of hours later the bus arrived and we were safely back to Mendoza.

Not a bad setting to enjoy some
warm water.
One of the boys, Townie, was all set to head off to Cordoba but ended up staying after flipping a coin. The hostel looked set to go off but this never really eventuated. Instead good wine, average beer and excellent conversation with some Irish lads and some Englanders went down before a earlyish night.
The worst corn snacks known to man

The next morning when I got up I said goodbye to Dobri, the last of the trailbuilding crew left with me. It was pretty weird to see him go; I had been with these boys constantly for over three months and now they were all elsewhere. It’s a hard feeling to describe, not quite loneliness or anything but not entirely pleasant either.

My stallion. Charger.
If you go to Mendoza you shouldn’t leave without going on a wine tour. This place makes some exceptional red wines and has made a name for itself particularly for the Malbec variety. About half the hostel was going on a bike tour of the local vineyards so I tagged along. Along with my Irish and English friends there were also a bunch of Americans in the mix. It was a recipe for good times. Our steeds for the day were less than brilliant: apart from being a few sizes to small my bici also changed gears randomly and battled at braking. The first winery was a couple of km away and housed in an impressive building. The tour was interesting as we learnt about the process of making wine and the intricacies involved. It seems like timing and temperature are a big deal when it comes to winemaking.

All of the tours involved some free wine samples and that was what we were all about. At the first one we also mowed an excellent lunch of gourmet pizza at the attached restaurant. The second winery was a bit more modern than the first. The tour basically covered the same stuff as the first: machinery to separate grapes from stems, one to crush grapes and potentially remove skins and seeds depending on the grape type, big concrete fermentation tanks and oak barrels for aging the wine. Then it’s into the bottle using a machine before a label is slapped on.

Pretty tidy building.

Straight from the wall to my mouth.

After necking as much vino as we could get away with it was on to the third winery which was an absolute mission to find. Eventually we got there and they got straight to the point with some samples. A tour followed, although the place was easily the most run down of the wineries visited and the guide spoke Spanish so my comprehension was zero. The last winery was an organic one and the highlight of the tour. We got to sample wines straight out of the fermentation tanks and directly from the barrel which was choice, it was interesting to taste the different stages and the finished product. The owner was also a pretty talented artist and had some very interesting pieces on the walls. When the tour came to an end it was kind of late so the owner invited us to stay for a while and help drink the opened bottles. We also got into a small barrel of what I thought was wine but which I was later informed was port (I was somewhat marinated at the time). This was good stuff, sweet with a kick. All too soon the bike rental place arrived looking for us so we returned the bikes and went back to the hostel.

Stupidly good sandwich.
When we got back Townie was about to leave so I said goodbye to him after meeting some new friends he had made during the day at the hostel. They adopted me for the night and we went to cook up what proved to be a truly epic sandwich. In Argentina they have this stuff called Chimichirri sauce which is unbelievably delicious. We combined said sauce with fresh baguette bread, thin cuts of steak, flavoursome Chorizo sausage and some lettuce and tomato to make possibly the greatest sandwich ever.  We also proceeded to get mowed. It was shaping up to be a big one but just before we went out the night lost some momentum. Still, three of us were game so after a bit of a mess-around trying to work out where to go we ended up at the place I had gotten free passes to.

Inside the bar was pretty spacious and had a two-level stage which was currently being filled by a local Reggae-ish band that I thought were pretty good. My saviour from two nights past was there working and hooked me up free drinks too which was pleasant bonus. We swayed to the music for a while then headed back to the hostel soon after the gig ended where a couple of us ended up falling asleep on the couch.

One of the excellent hostel staff woke me early in the morning and I grabbed a couple hours bunk time before heading back to the couch for some A-grade self-pity time. I was planning on getting a reasonably early bus to Buenos Aires but was too sackish. Late in the afternoon the junior rugby world cup final came on so I hung around to cheer on the junior All Blacks. Of course, we beat English but it was an interesting game and tight at the finish.

I had no more excuses so headed to the bus station, bici in tow. One of the reasons I had put off leaving so long was a worry about getting the Niner onto the bus. In the end it turned out to be simple, mostly because I had my new English friends with me and they provided service as translation and temporary money-lenders. I said goodbye to them and then after an hours wait and a bribe to the bus packer (damn bike) I was on the way to BA.

Mendoza was an awesome time and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone in the area. There’s a whole lot there I’d love to do if I had the time and if I have any spare time at the end it’s likely I’ll be back. Mike the hostel co-owner had told me that he’d ended up there for six odd years now and I could easily see how you could get sidetracked there for that long, between the good wine, relaxed atmosphere and shockingly beautiful women.

Mendoza from the lookout.
More photos here.

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