Monday, 24 August 2009

Veni, vidi, bebi

Well, I got back from Mendoza on Friday night, and I must say I had a pretty rad time. The sights were great, the people were great, the steaks were great, and most importantly, the wine was great.

Mendoza is Argentina’s wine capital, and is located almost 2 hours to the west of Buenos Aires by aeroplane. From the city you can see the Andes to one side, and the desert to the other. With my sister having returned to the UK a week ago last Wednesday, it was my mum and I who woke up in the early hours of Monday morning to make the 6am flight from the capital to Mendoza. We arrived at 8 only to find out that we couldn’t check into the hotel until 12. We had no choice but to head out into the streets in search of breakfast, despite the fact that we were absolutely shattered.

The actual city of Mendoza (as opposed to the province) is rather small in size, with a population of only around 250,000 people. However, I discovered when we did the “city tour” that it is actually a lot bigger than I expected – spread out over many low rise blocks interspersed with leafy plazas every so often.

On the second day we had decided to head into the Andes on a tour to visit Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western and Southern Hemispheres. We had to set out at 7am and all looked OK for half an hour until it started to rain. The irony here was that everyone we had so far met in Mendoza had told us adamantly that “It never rains in Mendoza”. As we made our way up the mountain the rain turned to snow, and after a while more, we discovered that the route had been closed due to the blizzard (which it had now most definitely become). Bugger. Despite this, our tour guide decided to take us as far as we could legally go, so we did get some way into the mountains but nowhere near as far as some people on the coach would have liked (the guy next to me blamed the fact we couldn’t get any further on the guide, rather than on the obvious snow and fact that the police had told us we were not permitted to go any further). Oh well.

The following day we decided to play it safe and opted for the winery tour – a brilliant choice, despite the fact that the weather had returned to a bright, sunny and warm state. Thanks to the tour, I can now say that I know a lot about the processes of making wine, and the techniques needed to drink it. Hells. Most of you who know me well will no doubt know that Argentinian wine is amazing, this is the primary reason people come to Mendoza. There are hundreds of “bodegas” (wineries) producing thousands of varieties of wines. The tour we had gone on took us to visit 2 different bodegas, a large industrialised one, and a more traditional family-run one. I should also mention here that we visited an olive oil producing “oilery” (is that a word?), as it turns out wine is not the only thing they make in Mendoza. Each tour ended with the “sampling of the produce”, and it seems the olive oil company was well aware that we were on a wine tour, because the samples they provided us with were of sun-dried tomatoes, aubergines, and various other goods that had been preserved in their olive oil, rather than the olive oil itself. These proved to complement the wine perfectly, and I “pigged-out” to the max. We arrived back at the hotel around 9pm, and quickly rushed out for dinner. Now I had been told that the steak in Mendoza was particularly good, and had therefore been eating it pretty much every day so far, washing it down with a good bottle of wine (which I sampled, savoured, and did all that fancy crap that I had learnt with). However, while all the steaks had been juicy, tender and on the whole, pretty damn good, the one I that day was… perfection. It was so tender I ended up cutting it with my fork, and the flavour was amazing. It would have turned even Taylor into a steak fiend, without a doubt.

In our final two days, we spent a bit more time getting to know the actual city of Mendoza, visiting the museums and walking through the plazas, and we also visited the “nearby” (200 miles away) city of San Rafael to see its surrounding lakes and mountains. In the evening we returned to scene of steak perfection in order to sample it again, but alas, while it was still bloody good, it was not quite what I had eaten the previous night. We caught an 8pm flight back, arriving in Buenos Aires shattered, but very satisfied with our trip.
No doubt many of you are beginning to miss my charming character and dashing good looks, but fear not, as we will be returning to the UK on the 27th. However, you’ll have to get in quick to see me as I’ve got my flights already booked for the second leg of my travels and I leave for Japan on the 5th of September. Apparently term doesn’t start until around the 20th, and I’m not even allowed into the halls until the 9th, but I’ve decided to go a bit earlier to familiarise myself a bit and obviously to see Naoko…

So there you have it. No doubt next time you hear from me, be it in person or online, I’ll no longer be in Argentina. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of Big Ones to come.

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