Malbec in Mendoza.

Being treated to a spa in a 5* hotel was exactly what we needed to prepare us for a 24 hour overnight coach journey to eastern Argentina. Especially when said coach breaks down for 7 hours…

I was woken up at 6am by the most violent storm I have ever witnessed. According to Amy who had been awake since 4am, we had been driving towards the storm for a while and must have been getting pretty close to the centre. Sat in a petrol station since 4.30am, we made the assumption that the storm was just too intense for us to continue. In fact, we had broken down and had to wait until 11.30am to get on a replacement.
Whilst waiting we met 2 Argentinians who let us try their maté tea. It’s pretty much a sacred drink in Argentina, and especially Uruguay where it’s quite normal to walk around the entire day clutching a little leather wrapped tea cup and a flask of hot water under your arm. As we had read in the Lonely Planet, it is very much an acquired taste. Like a really intense (and I think probably high in caffeine) green tea, I actually quite enjoyed it. If you think the British like their tea then think again.

On the replacement bus I had to move seats 3 times due to a leakage in the ceiling that seemed to follow me. Just my luck. We finally arrived in Mendoza at 6.30pm, 6.5 hours after scheduled and 31 hours after we left Montevideo. Zzzzzzz.

Lucky for us, we made it to our hostel in time for the 2 hours of free wine! When checking in we noticed a poster on the hostel wall for a Boca vs River football game (Argentinas biggest rivals) in the city. We had wanted to attend the same match in Buenos Aires, but with tickets costing £130, we didn’t even consider it. This hostel was selling tickets for £75 – also way out of our budget range, and knowingly with a huge mark up on the cost price. With it being the night before the game, and all tickets sold out, we ummed and ahhed. Fully loaded pizza seemed immediately necessary, so we headed to a local pizzeria recommended by our hostel. Determined that we wouldn’t pass up the chance to see this hugely sought after game, Amy had the initiative of asking the waiter where we might be able to source tickets. Despite deciding that buying from touts or similar was probably a bit stupid, the adrenaline got us excited and we discretely haggled tickets down from 900 to 750 pesos – exactly half the price of the hostel – desperately hoping we weren’t being mugged off. Thankfully the tickets were legit and in fact we had a great location and actual seats in the stadium – something those that bought via the hostel didn’t have!

After a few days of poor sleep and a belly full of carbs, we slept until noon the next day. We spent the afternoon wandering around the local town and market and preparing ourselves for the evening. After our trip to Boca in Buenos Aires, Amy decided she was Boca “through and through” and begun the search for a t-shirt to wear that evening. Aware of the dangers of such a game and being three very foreign looking girls, we grabbed a ride to the stadium with the hostel tour company. We were taken by surprise when the minibus stopped at a hostel and picked up the 3 Irish guys – as drunk as ever – that we had met in Buenos Aires!

I’ve never been a fan of ‘the beautiful game’ as such, but we couldn’t come all the way to South America and not see a match. And it was worth it; the atmosphere was ELECTRIC! Clearly separated pre-match, we found ourselves amongst only River fans. With no alcohol allowed in the stadium, we bought some beers and knocked them back like 15 year olds, intermittently burping. It also didn’t take too long for Amy to change allegiance and be thankful she hadn’t bought a Boca t-shirt, especially when we found out our seats were also on the River side!

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Eagerly waiting for the game to start, we watched the sun go down with the Andes as the backdrop. The fans were incredible, and we enjoyed joining in the chants and dancing even if we had no clue what they were saying. Despite there being a high number of young children about, there were constant screams of ‘puta’ which I’m pretty sure means ‘whore’ (Just goes to show the value of a GCSE Spanish exchange, eh?). The players were unsurprisingly pathetic and the game ended 1-0 to River on a penalty. The whole event made me really miss watching rugby and increased my excitement for the upcoming 6 nations. Fingers crossed I can find somewhere showing the games; go England!

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One thing our sleepy brains hadn’t considered is that South America shuts down at the weekends, especially on a Sunday. Luckily a couple of wineries were still open, so despite the rainy weather, we headed to the bus stop to get a bus out of the city. They have a Oyster card style system in Mendoza, and you need to top up in newsagents or mini-markets. Of course none of which were open. After about 30 mins of walking around we decided to play the dumb tourist card and hopped on a bus, pressing our penniless card to the reader and taking our seats as the machine made an error noise. The bus drivers really don’t seem to care though; we did exactly the same thing on the way back.

Aware most places would be closed, we went to the first bike hire place we came across called Orange Bikes and hired 3 fetching bikes from a very rotund man called Marco. With a map of the 2 wineries open, we set off on our bikes – mine with only 1 vaguely working brake, but a very cute little basket.

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As someone with a nervous disposition, initially I was so busy trying to keep up or worried about falling over, that I didn’t really allow myself to enjoy it. Time to ease into it and wine helped with that. We had to wait until 2pm for a first tour so we spent an hour cycling about and came across a beer garden. By this point the rain had cleared (not what the forecast had said) and the sun started to well and truly beat down on us. Rain coats? Check. Sun cream and sunglasses? Nope. No doubt you can see where this is going….

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Our first tour was at a winery called Trapiche, where we were taken around a museum with an explanation of the process, where the wine was being made and finally the wine tasting. It cost the equivalent of £5, lasted an hour, and was really good fun. We met an English girl and a Croatian boy and sat out on the grass drinking some bubbles. By now, the sun really did have it hat on and had come out to play.

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A little bit tipsy and not yet done with the day we agreed to cycle to the only other open winery, which happened to be about an hour cycle away. I was torn the whole way between loving the scenery and the gorgeousness of cycling in the sun, and being in dehydration and overheating work-out hell. By the time we reached the Carinae winery we were pink in the face, and very game for another wine tasting. This time we did a tasting of 5 different Malbecs and also tried some of their beautiful olive oil. The cycle back at 6pm was far, far more enjoyable!

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TRAVEL TIP: avoid ‘El Rapido’ bus company at all costs! This is why…

  1. They aren’t any cheaper and you don’t get any food like most long distance Argentinian buses.
  2. Our bus was 7 hours late and they weren’t apologetic at all. The Argentinian man we met complained with us and they were super unhelpful, basically saying the process is too long winded/fruitless, especially for tourists.
  3. They charge 20 pesos (£1) to print off your ticket (a small receipt) even though it’s their fault you received the confirmation email but not an email with the ticket…
  4. ‘Andrea’ in the Mendoza ticket office is a bitch.
  5. Other El Rapido ticket offices agreed with point number 4 but said she was too high up and unpleasant/intimidating to challenge – not particularly professional nor helpful.
  6. When getting off, Andrea’s bag had been unzipped and her things strewn across the luggage compartment. They threw a few bits her direction, not allowing her to look herself, and drove off refusing to help her collect or look for the rest.

Luckily, the drive from Mendoza to Santiago was absolutely spectacular. With long windy roads straight through the Andes, it’s definitely a journey to be taken in the daylight. The epic landscapes aren’t something easily photographed on an iPhone through a moving bus window, so I’ll let your imagination or google images do the rest.

 

Scaletrix through the Andes!

 

Love, Lottie xx

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