22.03.2011 - 24.03.2011
View South American odyssey on tlbaker's travel map.
Arriving in Mendoza was a welcome relief after BA. Tree-lined streets, green, relaxing plazas and parks and a slower, lazier feel to the town centre put us in a relaxed mood from the beginning. However the town was a lot bigger than we were expecting, and lacking a real wine-region vibe. Mendoza is Argentina's premier wine region, specializing in Malbec. The region has a very dry climate and water is supplied solely from the melting snow of the Andes, and a comprehensive irrigation network.
Arriving at the hostel we booked we quickly ascertained that it was a s@#thole, and we promptly hightailed it out of there. We then checked into a dorm room in a hostel recommended for its friendliness and infamous pancake breakfasts. Finally we found ourselves in a fun, sociable hostel and kicked off the first night with an assado - the Argentinian BBQ - which involves eating a tonne of meat. So much so that we had to decline 3 offerings of sumptuously cooked pink steak, which was the tastiest we've eaten so far.
The next day we hit some of the bodegas (wineries) in a small town of Maipu, close to Mendoza with many wineries within cycling distance. Taking the advice of fellow travellers, we hired our bikes from the charming Mr Hugo, who sent us on our way with a warm-up glass of wine. Our tour started at a wine museum and then a gourmet goods shop where we tasted many varieties of dulce de leche, chocolate and absinthe (the real deal served with sugar and flame), which meant it took us close to two hours before we tasted our first wine.
Riding the pot-holed, rocky roads, keeping out of the way of huge trucks carrying the grape harvests, and navigating our way around a construction site was not exactly the most idyllic cycling imaginable, however the scenery was lovely and we had no trouble finding ample wine to taste in our remaining four hours.
As well as Malbecs, an attraction of Mendoza is its nearby thermal pools, in the tiny town of Cachueta. An hour and a half bus ride on a bumpy, hot local bus brought us to the thermal springs, and we headed to the hotel resort famous for its day spa and natural hot springs. We arrived knowing it was fully booked due to a pubic holiday, however we decided to try our luck. And for once, luck was on our side! Thanks to some cancellations, we were allowed entry. What followed was six hours of luxury - a steam sauna, a relaxation massage (lucky Ali got hot rocks), a full buffet lunch with no shortage of assado, pool after pool of warm thermal water, and a mud bath from which we had heaps of fun smothering ourselves in glorious mud. All this framed by a spectacular vista of dramatic Andes moutains, a pristine river and rock formations. The indulgence was very welcome and we couldn't have felt more relaxed, as we boarded the rustic local bus back to Mendoza. With a night bus booked to take us to Cordoba, we bid farewell to Mendoza somewhat reluctantly as two days was really a bit of a tease.