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Mendoza: Wine Country

Semana Santa in Buenos Aires is the equivalent of Spring Break in the States.  Being that the people here don’t exactly practice their proclaimed religion, the holy week is spent traveling and taking a break from the city.  You might be asking yourself how the millions of people leave the city?  Well… some have cars, a few fly, and EVERYONE ELSE leaves through Retiro Bus Station.  Now, Retiro is a really interesting place.  It’s an enormous station surrounded by a nice mix of third-world-looking slums on one side and large commercial buildings across the street.  About a month ago, the group of girls who ran the crime scene at this bus station was apparently arrested, but it’s not somewhere that anyone would want to be stuck in alone and confused.  Anyway, we made our way through the station that felt more like a can of restless sardines than anything else, waited an extra hour with bags across our shoulders for our bus that was about an hour late.  Finally, we were able to escape the absolute chaos of the terminal, and we were on our way to Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina, famed for its vineyards that produce Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, among many other varieties of wine.

I would describe the climate of Mendoza as a strange mix between New Mexico, Arizona, Southern California, and none of the above.  The actual city, population ~110,000, sits at the base of the Andes Mountains and is much closer to Santiago de Chile than it is to Buenos Aires (5 hours compared to 14).  Anyway, we made it to our hostel and spent the first day in the huge park to the north of the city, where we relaxed, drank, and two of my friends played soccer with a group of Argentine kids.  That night we went out to dinner and then went to the only boliche that we could find in the city… it was a fun night.  So the next day after we forced ourselves out of bed, we headed for the bus that would take us to Mr. Hugo’s, the infamous place to rent bikes to ride around the wineries of Maipu.  Now, if what you have in mind right now is a stroll on a bike through the green vineyard-filled valleys of Argentina, that’s what I was thinking too—but I was wrong.  Instead, we biked through an apparently abandoned industrial area where construction had been terminated without completion.  Spotted in between the dusty roads and tall Dr. Seuss trees are the wineries.  The vines are able to grow in the climate because of the irrigation system, through which the Andes melt water is brought down to flood the vineyards every so often.  We went on a tour of one winery and listened to a talk at another… a few friends bought some bottles, and then we pedaled back to Mr. Hugo’s, had some free wine, and went home after an exhausting day.  It wasn’t quite what I had expected, but it was nice to be able to see some wineries in Argentina.

The next day we signed up to go on a rafting trip.  We had no idea about any of the details, just that we were going on a full-day trip down some river with rapids.  We booked our excursion through our hostel and we were picked up in the morning and driven into the mountains.  The company that we went with was very small (we were the only people going rafting through it that day), but the people seemed nice.  So we got into our wetsuits and headed to the Mendoza River for the fun.  The river was a color I had never seen before, almost turquoise, from the melted snow from the tops of the Andes, and it was about 8°C (that’s about 47°F).  The five of us and our guide put in, and were on our way down the river.  Since it was April, the water was lower than it’s peak in the summer months of January/February, so the rapids were only Class 2 and 3, which I was completely fine with.  I wasn’t too keen on being thrown over into the frigid water, as I was already nearing hypothermia from being splashed by the boats from another company and by the water from the rapids that got us all completely wet.  The trip was 2 or 3 hours, and was really a great experience.  I can now say that I’ve been rafting through the Andes, and it was accompanied by truly breath-taking views of the mountains.  The sight at the end of the trip was one of the greatest I had ever seen… the hazy mountains were completely surrounding us as the crystal clear water of the river rushed by us.  It’s a site that I will never forget, which is good because none of us had our cameras with us, and mine had broken the day before.

After another great night of going out (the best Mexican food that I have had to this point in Argentina followed by some fun bars), we had arrived to our last day in the West.  We ended up spending it just chillin around the city, taking it easy.  It was really a relaxing time in Mendoza… we had lots of fun, had some great experiences, and got to take in some of the city.  Definitely a fun trip!  Although somehow I ended up buying no wine to bring home… My host mom wasn’t too enthused by the fact that I didn’t bring her back any, so I got a nice 16-peso Mendoza label from the store across from my apartment.  Looks like I’ll be doing something similar for my parents at home, I’ll just have to make it a point to pop open a new bottle to test out every week from now till the end… I’m not complaining.



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