Land of Milk and Honey

It’s been a little more than a week since my last update and I have spent all those days in and around Mendoza. About one week ago I was joined by my friend Patrick who travelled here via Buenos Aires. After travelling alone for a couple of weeks, it’s great to have a good friend around to share all those memorable experiences with. Also, in the little time Patrick has spent in Argentina he has already produced a couple of good stories (more on that later)…

 Patrick arriving in Mendoza

Patrick (Gustavo) happily arriving in Mendoza

 

Mendoza really comes across as a heavenly place… In fact, this place reminds me of Italy in many ways. The climate is fantastic with blue skies and plenty of sunshine every day, the city itself is relatively small (and almost exclusively low rise) but still big enough to offer plenty of choices, there are trees and parks everywhere to offer an escape from the heat (thanks to a comprehensive irrigation system fed with water from the Andes), on every corner you find little street cafes where locals meet for a cafecito and some chitchat, from noon to 4pm businesses shut down for a siesta (and I guess to recharge their batteries for the late night parties) and finally all those culinary temptations on every corner – pizza, pasta, beef, ice cream, wine, whatever your desires, be guaranteed that there is plenty of it around here!

Calle Sarmiento in Mendoza

Street Cafes in Calle Sarmiento

Needless to say, we chose to stay in Mendoza to take advantage of this. We spent quite a bit of time going around to visit different bodegas (wineries). As a novice in the world of wine, I found these visits extremely helpful to get a better understanding. Argentina currently ranks as world number five in terms of wine production (behind France, Italy, Spain and US but ahead of Australia) and the region of Mendoza accounts for about 90% of the production. Mendoza is best known for the Malbec grape but over the last 10 years or so producers have also started to grow other grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah etc. This may have to do with the increasing foreign influence over the wine territories here. We were told that only 3-4 of the larger wineries are still owned by Argentines whereas the rest has been snapped up by foreigners. A good example of this is the Carinae winery we visited last week (www.carinaevinos.com). It’s a boutique winery that was bought by a French couple in 2003 and with the help of Michel Rolland (I was told he is one of the major wine guru’s) is now producing some fine wines. So while the quality of wines here has been going up thanks to foreign expertise, the prices are still very competitive (at least for the local market). It is possible to buy a good quality wine from one of the top producers for less than USD10 at the supermarket. While this is a little fortune in a backpacker’s budget, we figured if world governments are throwing around with money we could afford to do the same for a week or so….

Bodega Alta Vista

Alta Vista winery with views of the Andes mountains

Sipping Wine at Cavas de Weinert

Sipping wine and having a good time at Cavas de Weinert

Wines of Mendoza

There are many choices to be made in Mendoza…

In my first report about Argentina I mentioned how safe I felt travelling around the country. Well, when we arrived in Mendoza we were warned a couple of times that it was more dangerous here than in the rest of the country because of the many tourists. The friendly hostel owner advised us to leave our valuables in the hostel because it was too dangerous to carry them around town. We followed his advice and did not encounter any problems in the city. Then one night (naturally it was on Friday the 13th!) when we were getting ready for the Aconcagua trekking, Patrick discovered that a small bag with his valuables was missing. We could not believe it since our hostel room was always locked and we could not find any evidence that someone had entered the room forcibly. We searched the room and all his luggage several times but sure enough the valuables would not appear again. So we had to cancel our trekking and instead spend pretty much all of Saturday at the police and making phone calls to block credit cards, talk to the insurance company, organize another passport with the Swiss embassy, get the DMV to issue another driving licence etc. I guess this is all part of the experience but it was just unfortunate that Patrick had been in Argentina for less than one week. Also I could not believe that none of my things were touched (or maybe I just did not notice yet!) even though they were much closer to the door.

On top of all the attractive features I mentioned at the beginning, Mendoza is also a hub for adventure tourism with the Andes mountains less than 2 hours from the city centre. After all the good food and wine, we were quite eager to work off some of the calories and decided to do some trekking around Aconcagua mountain.  Peaking at 6,959 meters above sea level, Aconcagua is the highest mountain in South America and an increasingly popular destination for professional and non-professional climbers. We took a bus from Mendoza to Puente de Inca (at 2800m) and it was amazing to see how the landscape changed during our 4 hour bus ride. When we got off the bus we were surrounded by a number of mountains, all of them between 4000m and 7000m high and many of them more colourful (red, brown, green) than the mountains in Switzerland. After some excitement at the entrance of Aconcagua National Park (the employees thought Patrick looks very similar to Gustavo Cordera, a famous Argentine singer, which prompted me to change his nickname to Gustavo! check out http://www.rock.com.ar/artistas/bersuit-vergarabat) we started our trek towards Confluencia (3400m), the first base camp for Aconcagua climbers and trekkers. During the peak season about 200-300 people are camping here every night but since March is already late season there was no more than a dozen people. After a chilly night in the tent, we spent the second day walking up to Plaza Francia at 4000m from where we had spectacular views of Aconcagua’s South face. It was really amazing to see this humongous, intimidating mountain and we could only imagine how tough it must be to get to the top (and how many chilly nights you have to spend in a tent!). Anyway, we were happy enough to make it to the South face and were running down the trail, eager to make it back to Mendoza for a decent Saint Patrick’s Day (and Aconcagua) celebration.

On the way to the Andes

On the way to the Andes moutains

South Face of Aconcagua

The South face of majestic Aconcagua (6959m)

Guapos at Aconcagua

Happy Trekkers!

Aconcagua Trek

Colourful mountains in the Andes

Tonight, we will be leaving for Salta in the North of Argentina. This is another 19 hour bus ride, but luckily we have  gotten used to the (quite comfortable) buses in Argentina.

Hasta la proxima!

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