Published: December 15th 2010December 11th 2010
The hammock-strewn courtyard with a pool in the background at one of our favorites, Hostel Lao in Mendoza.
Having spent most of our time in Argentina and Chile thus far amongst snow-capped peaks, turquoise lakes, lush rolling hills and simply breath-taking landscapes, we decided it was time to redirect our focus from natural beauty to natural goodness... Mendozan vino.
In Bariloche we boarded our first overnight bus of the trip for the 17 hour journey to Argentina's wine country, and were completely spoiled with comfy reclining seats, decent food and wine, and best of all, an enthusiastic bus attendant who started off the trip by entertaining us all with a game of bingo. We arrived early in the a.m. to Mendoza and deliriously found our way to Hostel Lao, which we had booked in advance after our last not-so-bueno experience in Bariloche. Hostel Lao was a colorful, friendly and funky hostel that had two very attentive hosts, Bambini and Artur, the dogs. Bambini resembled Kymani to some extent, although not as personable, and Artur, the german shepard, had this palm leaf that he was completely obsessed with and would constantly make you throw it for him. Having been away from our doggies for nearly a month, we were happy to have two dogs to play with in Mendoza.
Cacheuta Hot Springs
One of the many hot springs we soaked in on our relaxing spa day outside of Mendoza.
We lucked into a pool-side private room that was adorable and extremely clean. The hammock-strewn courtyard with flowers, a pool and a barbeque area was the perfect place to meet fellow backpackers and hang out over some fantastic local wine. Hostel Lao quickly became our favorite hostel in Argentina, but still second to our very favorite hostel thus far, Palafito Hostel in Chiloe.
We didn't do too much our first day in Mendoza, just hung around the hostel, took a much-needed nap and ventured out for some lunch. Having felt extremely deprived of fruits and veggies for long enough, and having consumed more white bread than we would over the course of 10 years in only 4 weeks, we set out to find a good and healthy salad for lunch. We stumbled upon a cute pedestrian walkway lined with outdoor cafes, and after trying to decide which one looked the best, we settled for one cafe that more or less looked the same as every single other cafe. We got really excited to find a Waldorf salad on the menu, and without asking any questions (which we definitely should have), we ordered that and a small pizza to share.
Group Wine Tasting
Tasting some red wine at one of the bodegas with new friends and another tour group... and of course, having a great time!
When the waiter brought our food, at first we thought he had brought the wrong thing, however, much to our dismay, we realized that the chef had prepared the "salad" using a horrible English to Spanish translation - it literally was made of apples, celery and nuts with an enormous bowl of heavy cream (no lettuce)... yuck! Not having found the fruits and veggies (in a healthy manner) we were so desperately hoping to find, we stopped at a fruteria y verdurlaria (fruit and veggie stand) on the way back to the hostel to buy dinner, which we made at Hostel Lao in the communal kitchen. That night, after our salad of only fresh veggies drizzled in lemon juice and a bottle of Mendoza vino, we were satisfied and happy backpackers.
Mendoza is a province as well as a city in Argentina. The province is located in western central Argentina and accounts for 70% of Argentina's wine production. Another prominent industry of the province is olive oil, which we tried during our stay and can attest to the fact that Mendocinos (people from Mendoza) really know what they are doing with their olive oil, and of course their wine
French Oak barrels used to store and age red wine at Bodega Weinert.
as well (that is a given). The city of Mendoza has a population of nearly 1 million, quite a bit larger than either one of us had expected. In 1861, the city suffered a catastrophic earthquake, claiming the lives of about 5,000 people and completely demolishing the city. During the rebuilding phase, city planners designed the streets and sidewalks very wide and the squares much larger to better tolerate future seismic activity, which gives Mendoza a more European feel. The city itself is attractive and fun to walk around, but enough about the city, on to the real reason we came to Mendoza...
With two full days in Mendoza, we chose to do a bike and wine tour one day, and the other, a spa day at "las termas calientes de Cacheuta." Normally we would opt for something a bit more adventurous than a spa day, but after a lot of travel and it being our one year anniversary of our engagement (November 28th), we decided to do something a little more romantic and tranquilo. The hot springs at Cacheuta are located in the foothills, about an hour outside of Mendoza. Unfortunately we chose to visit Cacheuta on a
Ornate and Massive Barrel
This wine barrel was a gift given to the bodega owner. They do use it to age wine, as well as to give the winery some character.
Sunday, along with the rest of Mendoza, but despite the many other people, we had a fantastic and relaxing day. There were about 6 different pools, all of varying temperatures. We spent quite a bit of time soaking and relaxing in the hot pools before we decided to paint each other in mud... that's right, mud baths! It's hard to capture our mud bath experience in words, but just imagine a lot of people (in bathing suits, don't imagine anything too crazy) covering themselves and each other in mud from head to toe, and then sitting around until it dries, looking and feeling like a shriveled up prune - quite the spectacle! While the mud bath seemed quite strange and was something neither one of us had ever done before, it turned out to be a great remedy to make your skin super soft, smooth and clear (if you are a "spa-goer", you might already know this, but we were new to the whole experience). After our interesting yet lovely mud baths, we enjoyed 30-minute massages to unwind a little more before lunch. While the massage was nothing to write home about, the lunch buffet certainly was! First of all,
In our opinion, these bottles of wine are definitely well-aged and ready to be uncorked!
we ate lunch (as did the other day spa clients) in bathrobes, which was very chistoso (funny), but second of all, the lunch buffet was amazing! Fresh fruits and veggies galore for me and various grilled meats for Eli, of course paired with a bottle of Mendoza vino, again we were very happy backpackers! After some more time in the hot springs, another mud bath and an afternoon nap by the pool, we returned to Mendoza feeling very relaxed.
The next day we went on a bike and wine tour in Luján de Cuyo, a department of the Mendozan province, located just outside of Mendoza. Most people choose to do bike and wine tours in Maipú, another department of Mendoza, which is larger and not quite as safe. Luján de Cuyo is the more tranquilo area to bike and wine, or so they say. The two of us and seven other backpackers staying at our hostel set out to ride bikes and taste wine for the day. We were sold on the "tour" thinking that it would be organized and that the streets would be calm, hah! When we arrived, the lady that rented us the bikes did not
Barrels of Malbec, the most famous and popular wine varietal in Mendoza.
speak any English, which is fine as I prefer to speak Spanish anyways, but it was interesting since no one else in our group of nine could speak or understand what she was saying. I quickly became the tour leader and translator for the day. It was also interesting that the "tour" was not planned out at all and that we had to choose which bodegas (wineries) to visit - not an easy task trying to translate and coordinate for a group of Americans, English, Indian, Swedish and Australians that just met. After a bit of a frustrating morning, we set out with our nondescript map to visit five different wineries on our bikes. Our first stop was a humble and small bodega run by a really nice and proud older man (I can't remember the name). His winery is based out of a single warehouse where he and one other person do everything by hand! He makes about 50,000 bottles of wine a year, and believe it or not, hand labels, corks and packs each bottle - very impressive and very much a lost art in the wine world of today. The next bodega was nothing too exciting, but
Alta Vista Vistas
Buenas vistas from Alta Vista bodega, complete with guinea pigs running around the lawn!
like the one before, the tasting was gratis (free), which is always popular among a group of budget backpackers. We had lunch at the third vineyard, Bodega Weinert (amazing pizza) and enjoyed a fantastic tour through the massive oak barrels of wine that are stored and aged underground. The next vineyard was our favorite, Alta Vista - gorgeous gardens, great views and the best wine of the day! We purchased a nice bottle of Malbec to enjoy later in our trip from Alta Vista and enjoyed the very generous or "nice" pours at the tasting. We missed our last tasting as the schedule the lady somewhat arranged was just not feasible, which was probably the better and safer option anyways. After a day of bikes and wine, our group headed back to Hostel Lao for a cookout that an English couple had prepared for everyone, complete with more Mendoza wine of course!
While the bike and wine tour was fun, we found it interesting and unfortunate that the Luján de Cuyo area was surprisingly dirty and littered with endless garbage, much like other parts of South America. The bodegas themselves were very nice and pristine, but once you step
Alta Vista Steel Barrels
Alta Vista uses steel barrels to store their white wine, which does not need to go through the aging process that red wine does.
foot outside of the gate, there is garbage everywhere! It's really quite sad and a huge problem that we see on a day-to-day basis. We find it interesting that the various bodegas do not form a of coalition of sorts to help clean up their surrounding land, which would in turn help to bring in more tourist dollars. Also, the roads were quite busy and the drivers in South America are insane! It would be nice if they could make the roads more biker-friendly since bike and wine tours are such a popular adventure. Anyways, enough about garbage and traffic, it's not fun to look at, experience or read about...
From Mendoza we caught another 18 hour overnight bus to Salta in northwest Argentina. This time, the bus was nowhere near as nice and really not that comfortable, but we made it after what seemed like forever. Our hostel in Salta was not impressive, really not worth even spending time blogging about, but the city itself was great. The two highlights of our quick stop in Salta were the "mummy museum" and a much-anticipated dinner at a local parilla (infamous in Argentina, it's a place where they grill local
Alta Vista Tasting
Enjoying the best tasting of the day with our new friends Sarah and PJ.
meat). The Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana was morbidly interesting, and we did in fact see a mummy on display - cool and freaky at the same time. As part of the ancient Inca culture and tradition, the "best" and brightest Inca children were sacrificed on top of volcanic mountains to hopefully scare the evil deities away in an effort to prevent future volcanic eruptions that could potentially wipe out entire villages. The museum houses three child mummies that were between the ages of 6 and 15, with only one being on display at a time. While we think of this sacrificial act as extremely disturbing, sad and foreign to the culture we know, it was still interesting at the same time to learn about this ancient Inca tradition. The other and less disturbing highlight of Salta was our dinner at the local parilla, Viejo Jack. I had promised Eli we would go to a parilla in Argentina, and on our last night in the country, we finally went, and even I will say that it was great! The filet was good (something I don't usually say) and the grilled veggies were fantastic as well. After a quick stop
Botellas de Vino
Can you believe we drank all of these bottles of wine?!? Haha;)...
in Salta for only about 24 hours, we caught the next bus to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Bye bye Argentina, "don't cry for me Argentina!"
Eli will write about our wonderful and long stay in San Pedro de Atacama (4 nights, our longest so far), but let me preface his blog with the incredible bus ride we had from Salta to San Pedro. We started at around 3,000 feet in Salta, and at one point during our journey, found ourselves at over 15,000 feet in elevation! The remote but surprisingly well-paved road to San Pedro wound up, across and down massive and high Andean mountains, through ancient ruins and forgotten towns that somehow still exist today, beside high altitude salt flats with flamingos and into the Atacama desert in Chile, the most arid desert in the world. San Pedro de Atacama is a town located in the desert, and Eli will pick up with that blog next time. Until then, we hope everyone is gearing up for what will be one very Merry Christmas!
e squared everywhere (written by Erin)
There are more photos below