31 December 2012 – 3 January 2013
Mendoza was cracked up to be a great destination for vino and adventure. Unfortunately, I visited the city of about 850,000 people at very much the wrong time.
I arrived on New Years Eve, and shortly after arriving, met a friend in the big park in the city centre, Plaza Independencia late in the afternoon.
The place was eerily quiet. There number of people hanging around the city centre were very few. It is almost impossible to describe the bizarre sensation of knowing it was NYE, but not having anything to show for it. No shops were open. Not even the McDonald’s that claimed to be open 24 hours. Or the supermarket. The petrol station had an attendant working the pumps, but the store was strangely not open – it was outrageous that even microwave cheeseburgers were not an option.
Eventually after quite some time walking the deserted streets, we found a string of restaurants. However, none of them would sell what I wanted – all limiting their offerings to outrageously priced set menus for the fin del año.
So we started dining at one of the cheaper ones about 9:40pm. Slightly over an hour later, we got our food; quite ludicrous considering they only had two options that night. And then I started to feel sick.
Of all the ways I had envisaged spending New Years Eve, an option that wasn’t on my short-list was diarrhoea, faintness and low blood sugar. No other time on my trip had I wanted a simple cheeseburger, or a chocolate bar, or a soft drink, yet not had anywhere at all to buy it. Luckily, my hostel sold the latter at least, so by 11:45pm, I was curled up in bed trying to sleep away the illness.
Luckily, it’s not like the city had a celebration I was missing.
Where were the townsfolk? I later found out that the mendocino way is to celebrate profusely on Christmas Eve, leaving New Years as the quiet time with family. However, for those still after a fiesta, many people on acreage host their own parties around the pool in the absence of any organised celebrations courtesy of the municipality. A lack of local knowledge killed it for us there.
Due to my unfortunate illness, I decided to re-neg on the rafting trip I had planned for New Years Day. So I may never know what it is like to white water raft down a freezing cold river of melted glacier. Alas, more regrets.
That meant that by the time I was up and feeling better in the afternoon, I had more time to enjoy the city. But it was quite boring. Everything was still closed, save for a couple of kioscos, where I stocked up on enough water and junk food to last any apocalypse, without knowledge of when the hundreds of other stores, supermarkets and restaurants would re-open.
Without any alternatives, like any good bum, I found a good park bench in Plaza Independencia, and read a book for a few hours.
The next day was better, on January 2, the streets were buzzing, shops were reopening and across the CBD, you could feel life returning. But I wasn’t to spend any time here, because I was on the way to Maipú to ride a bike and drink some wine. It was glorious, a beautiful summers day. Temperature in the low 30’s, very low humidity, and the vista of vineyards and distant snow capped mountains. Perfection.
The Mendoza region is famous for it’s Malbec wine, a variety somewhat stolen from the French that the Argentines have gladly declared their unofficial national grape. But regrettably, I did not partake beyond a small sip as I am not entirely partial to vino tinto – that component of the tour was wasted on me. Luckily, I was always offered a vino blanco or cerveza as an alternative.
The tour entailed visiting three vineyards, at one of which we enjoyed a lunch of very filling empanadas and other pastries, as well as a micro-brewery and a chocolate house that also specialised in liqueurs. Of course, samples were had at each.
Mendoza is actually quite a surprising destination. There is quite a lot in the surrounding area, especially for wine lovers and adventure seekers. But circumstances conspired against me, and all in all, in the end it seems I spent three days in Mendoza to go on a bike ride for a few hours, which seems a bit wasteful.