Published: February 4th 2006January 5th 2006
hey chaps i have finally gotten around to starting a new blog entry i have just looked at the date of the last entry and realised it is a month since i have added anything.
I spent a few days in mendoza recovering from the ordeals of climbing aconcagua. Mendoza being the main wine producing area of argentina had some very pleasant diversions. It also has the best restaurant, a tenador libre which is eat as much as you like including parrilla effectively a huge BBQ with salads and other side dishes. After my fourth plate heaped with meat i had got to know the guy who cooked the meat so he would just ask which bits of meat and how rare i wanted them. Then i went for dessert and just tried one of everything, well i had lost weight on aconcagua and needed to put some back on. The place was fantastic and the whole thing was less than 2 pounds.
While i was there i got some recommendations from the waiters of which wineries to visit. Most people go on a tour and only get to sample a couple of wines from the big wineries which aren't all that good. I decided this wouldn't do justice to the wines of the region so decided to hire a bike so that i could cycle between the various wineries and hence sample more of the regions produce for a fuller understanding (purely for research purposes you understand). They are fantastic and the wines especially from the smaller wineries are phenominal. My favourite was the Thomassu family bodega where i was shown around by Mrs Thomassu. She clearly loved what she did and told me all about the irrigation system they use, Mendoza is in the rain shadow of the andes and would be too dry for growing grapes, however the inca's dug an irrigation system bringing water from the mountains, before the spanish came that is still the main part of the irrigation system today. Small irrigation canals cover the land with various gates that divert the flow it's really cool. Mrs Thomassu also loves drinking her wines and so my tasting covered about 8 or 9 different wines. She did offer me a spitoon but i felt that would be something of a waste. I would have loved to have brought some of that wine back they were excellent, but i had to settle just for a couple of bottles. Then a little more wobbly i set off for another winery, the last of the day. This was run by a french couple so after the tour i tasted a few wines and they also for a few pesos offered cheese and meats. So i stayed for a couple more glasses and had some cheese and jamon with it. I was sat outside by their tables chatting with the owners and a couple from switzerland, and one brazillian. It was great so relaxed and friendly it was a shame i had to leave but unfortunately the wine region is 20Km from the city and i had to get my bike back by 8 o'clock. Due mostly to a serious wobble in my cycling and a stopover at a supermarket to get some steak to have with the wine i had bought, which should have been a 5 minute stop but buying anything from an argentinean meat counter takes forever. Basically there is always a queue and each person in it will order several things. The butcher will cut everything then and there so it takes forever. Still it is nice to have proper meat rather than pre-packaged stuff you get in most english supermarkets. Anyway the upshot was that i didn't get back in time so had to keep the bike for a second day, what a shame i had to go back and try a few more wineries the next day. One of them had a museum of how wine was made in the region through history. One exhibit was an entire ox skin on a wooden frame that was used for crushing the grapes, the crushers would use there feet and when the juice needed to be extracted it ran down through the tail!!!
Back at the hostel i ran into a guy i had met on aconcagua. We had chatted a bit but he hadn't been able to reach the top due to the boots he had hired falling apart. He had just met up with his girlfriend and happened to be in my hostel. Talking to him that night i found they had both run a pub near where i lived in wimbledon, the Horse and Groom. That is literally less than a mile from where i live and my friends fiance worked there and had been employed by this guy. Talk about a small world. He was hillarious though, he used to be a roady for Saxon and so we chatted about various gigs we had been to and mountains we had climbed and other sports we liked, he had some amazing stories, Top bloke!!
Finally feeling refreshed from a bit of R&R (although i'm not sure my liver agreed it probably thought the couple of weeks not drinking while climbing the mountain was preferable) i decided to move on. I was keen to get to patagonia while the best of the weather was still around. Although i still haven't learnt much spanish and need to stop somewhere to improve, perhaps bolivia!! Buses from Mendoza are quite busy at this time of year and so i couldn't get a bus straight to el chalten my intended destination, Instead i decided to stop off at the peninsula Valdes a wildlife sanctuary halfway down argentina en route. Puerta madryn which is the main city in the area is quite pleasant although it was pouring with rain when i arrived and all of the hostels were full, so i had to walk 4Km to the only campsite the other end of town. By the time i arrived the rain had stopped and everything seemed rosy again. The only real attraction is to take a tour to visit the wildlife. Due to a convergence of the cold arctic waters with the warmer water coming down from Brazil there is a huge upwelling of nutrient rich deep water. This leads to huge amounts of plankton and krill in the water which in turn leads to the whole marine food chain being very rich. Therefore there are a huge number of seals ,sea lions and penguins that breed in the area. It is also where the southern right whale comes to give birth to it's young. It is also the only place in the world where orca's hunt sea lions by intentionally beaching themselves and grabbing the sea lion pups from the beach. All in all it sounded like a great place to visit. Unfortunately for me my timing wasn't great. The southern right wales had all just left on their annual migration, although i wasn't too bothered as i have seen many of them from hermanus in south africa. The penguins were also the same sort i had seen in south africa. The elephant seal males were out at sea replenishing the reserves they had used in the mating season. Therefore there were only elephant seal pups which aren't that big and don't have the whole nose thing going on. A small elephant seal without the big nose looks incredibly like all other seals so weren't terribly exciting. The Sea lions were in the middle of mating season so the males were all competing for the best bit of beach and the most females which was quite cool, they are incredibly noisy but sea lion fights are handbag at 10 paces jobs. One tries to bite the other, the other one tries to bite back and then they lie down again, presumably knackered after all of the exertions. Unfortunately i didn't get to see any killer whales which was a real shame as that was what i wanted to see the most. Apparently killer whales are territorial so only these whales do the beaching thing. We went to the site where the older whales teach the younger ones how to do it, which is really cool and saw some videos of killer whales surfing in on a wave at high tide, tossing a sea lion pup into the air and then getting back into the water. Now that i would have loved to have seen!! Apparently the trick is passed thropugh the generations and only 10 adult individuals pass it down. Orcas live a long time in the wild 90 years, but if only a few die trghen the whole thing will end. The guide we had for the outing was great, she was a marine biologist and told us loads of really interesting stuff, although i understood her better when she talked in spanish than i did when she talked in english.
Close to puerto Madryn are the old welsh villages where the original welsh settlers still maintain the old customs. I weas looking forward to being able to order something in welsh and take revenge on everyone that looked down on me for not speaking spanish, in all fairness my welsh only extends to counting to ten and a few choice phrases that are unlikely to help, although i'm sure a diolch y fawr would have impressed the locals. Unfortunately due to bus schedules i had to forgo the pleasures of coffee and welsh cakes but maybe next time.
Oh well next i made it to deepest patagonia but that will have to be the subject of the next blog entry