Mendoza, Argentina, 13-16 May 2011

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May 17th 2011
Published: May 17th 2011
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Hi everyone. It was fantastic to catch up my family and Kerrie and Adam by phone and Skype while we were in Mendoza and Tom called his sister Kathy, finding out more details on nephew Dan, and his new wife Vix’s wedding. It was lovely to hear of all the news from home.

This is also the 1st time some of our Ecuador/Peru Travel Group will be receing our Travel Blog. I hope the back edition postings help all your travel diary writing!!! We also hope you are all enjoying yourself still. I know some of you are all ready back to work....raising the funds for the next holiday!!!! Would love to hear from you all.

After a very comfortable over-night bus trip from Salta, we arrived in Mendoza at about 10.30am. Immediately we could see a very sophisticated city with wide streets in a grid plan and a couple of large people-malls with shops and restaurants. We have learned very quickly that Argentineans have a siesta from 1.00pm – 4.30pm each day so most commercial outlets close down during that time (except for some restaurants). They however stay open very late at night.

Mendoza is the capital city of Mendoza Province, in Argentina. It is located in the northern-central part of the province, in a region of foothills and high plains, on the eastern side of the Andes. Mendoza's population was 112,000. The metropolitan population is close to 900,000, making Greater Mendoza the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country.

Two of the main industries of Mendoza area are Olive oil production and wine making, both of which we visited during a 6 hour bus trip. We visited the old established Cecchin Organic Winery and the 10 year old Vistandes Winery as well as the Leur Olive Farm established in 1906. We definitely enjoyed hearing about the production of both and the tastings/sampling. We don’t see any screw top wine bottles in South America.

The region around Greater Mendoza is the largest wine producing area in Latin America. As such, Mendoza is one of nine cities worldwide in the network of Great Capitals of Wine, and the city is an emerging Wine tourism destination and base for exploring the hundreds of wineries in the region.

It is estimated that fewer than 80 Spanish settlers lived in the area before 1600, but later prosperity increased due to the use of indigenous and slave labor, and the Jesuit presence in the region. When nearby rivers were tapped as a source of irrigation in 1788 agricultural production increased. The extra revenues generated from this, and the ensuing additional trade with Buenos Aires, no doubt led to the creation of the state of Cuyo in 1813 with Jose de San Martin as governor. It was from Mendoza that San Martin organized the army with which he won the independence of Chile and Peru.

Mendoza suffered a severe earthquake in 1861 that killed at least 5,000 people. The city was rebuilt, incorporating innovative urban designs that would better tolerate such seismic activity. Mendoza was rebuilt with large squares and wider streets and sidewalks than any other city in Argentina. Avenue Bartolome Mitre (which was close to our hotel), and additional small squares are examples of that design. Tourism, wine production, and more recently the exploitation of hard commodities such as oil and uranium ensure Mendoza's status as a key regional center.

Mendoza has several museums, including the Museo Cornelio Moyano, a natural history museum, and the Museo del Área Fundacional (Historical Regional Foundation Museum) on Pedro del Castillo Square. The Museo Nacional del Vino (National Wine Museum), focuses on the history of winemaking in the area, is 17 km southeast of Mendoza.

The Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia (The National Grape Harvest Festival) occurs in early March each year, so we were a bit late for that. Part of the festivities include a beauty pageant, where 17 beauty queens from each department of Mendoza Province compete, and one winner is selected by a panel of about 50 judges. The queen of Mendoza city's department does not compete and acts as host for the other queens.

The city is centered around Plaza Independencia (Independence Plaza) with Avenida Sarmiento running through its center east-west, on which we had many coffees, wines and just did some people-watching on the east side because it is for pedestrians only. Other major streets, running perpendicular to Sarmiento, include Bartolomé Mitre, San Martín, and 9 de Julio (July 9th), those running parallel include Colon, and Las Heras. We visited the city’s four smaller plazas, San Martín, Chile, Italia, and España, are located 2 blocks off each corner of Independence Plaza.

Unique to Mendoza are the exposed stone ditches, essentially small canals, which run alongside many of the roads supplying water to the thousands of trees that provide welcome shade. Although it is situated in an extremely dry desert region, Mendoza has an extensive artificial irrigation system, which allows for greenery throughout the city as well as the growth of the grapes used to make its famous wines. Most streets have irrigation channels on either side, with bridges for pedestrian and vehicular traffic. These are periodically flooded with water diverted from the river. The trees and the wide avenues give the city a beautiful ambience, a change from much of the bare feel of many Argentine cities.

The Parque General San Martín (General San Martin Park) was designed by Carlos Thays. Its grounds include a zoo, football stadiums, and the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. A view of the city is available from the top of Cerro de la Cloria (Mt. Glory) where we took a bus trip (photos tell the story).
Plaza Independencia is the central main square of the city and it was the best starting point we used to explore downtown Mendoza. It boasts some nice buildings around, restaurants and even some street shows and stalls. The Mendoza Museum of Modern Art is located under the plaza where we always saw the locals playing a casual game of soccer. the locals playing a casual game of soccer. We also visited the Plaza at night, where we saw some nicely illuminated buildings and a beautiful big coat of arms of the city that is made of lights. The Hyatt is also on this Plaza which we visited one night at about 11.00pm. We sat down and had canapés, Champaign and hot chocolate and watched the live entertainment. The Hyatt also has a large Casino.

We saw Plaza España on one of our many city walks which is possibly the most beautiful square in the city, this square is an artistic expression of the special relationship that this city (and all others in Hispanic America) has with Spain. It is decorated in a splendid way with typical Andalusian and Spanish motifs all around the place. The central wall depicts some images and texts of the Spanish colonization and it is crowned by a gorgeous statue.

Central Park, El Parral & Vendimiadores (10 blocks north of Plaza Independencia), is where we visited a building which was staging a Tango class, tango demonstrations and had a 7-piece band playing for the dancers. The singers were also fantastic. This was a modern city park, contrasting with the tradition of the better-known Parque San Martin. The park has some nice water fountains and a grassy hill – we saw amateur Mendocinans who had set up their easels and were paint away. edit

Mendoza's climate is arid; however, with extensive irrigation the surrounding landscape sustains cultivation with Mediterranean characteristics. Most rain in Mendoza falls in the summer months (November-March). Average temperatures for January (summer) are 32 °C during daytime, and 18.4 °C at night. July the average temperatures are 14 °C and 2 °C, day and night respectively. We experienced clear Autumn days at about 20°C during the days and needing a light jumper at night. Very pleasant. Despite the intensity of agriculture, made possible due to irrigation from major rivers, Mendoza's annual rainfall is only 223.2 mm.

Other that the Wine Tour and the bus trip to Villavicencio Valley (photos will tell the story) we spent time around the city. Friday and Saturday night, Mendoza was a ‘happening’ place. On Sunday it was like a ghost town from 11.00am and right through the night.
We learned that Argentina has only been under a democratic Government since 1985 after a dictatorship then military régime. They are progressing reasonably well, however very few people pay their taxes which is holding the country back economically, particularly from an infastructure development perspective.

Despite this, we were able to find a magnificent restaurant which was close to silver service and a large, spacious dining area with wonderful waiters which we tipped well. There were 7 of us dining. Our stakes were scrumptious. Tom had his with pepper sauce and I had cheese sauce. I also had an interesting salad; lettuce, carrot, apple, pineapple and orange. We started the meal with bread rolls and balsamic vinegar and very virgin olive oil – all from was the red wine. It was a wonderful last meal in Mendoza.

We were back at the Hotel by 10.00am and Tom called his sister Kathy. We were all packed ready for a 6.45am start in the morning to catch the bus to Santiago, Chile.

Additional photos below
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