Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Leaving BA was now straight forward and we traveled at night again to make the bus ride more bearable. Our destination, Mendoza, is about 1100 KM west from BA and the over-night bus,
this time a real sleeper, where the seats reclined a full 180 degrees (Cama Suite) made the 14 hour trip seem shorter and much more comfortable.
The landscape along the way is nothing to write about. Flat expanses left and right where trees have been planted for centuries to keep the soil in place. Former grass lands are now stabilized by mostly poplar, birch or pine trees. Not that it is woodsy but the endless flat terrain is now broken by those tree plantings. Still the landscape is nothing but a huge flat expanse, the Pampas.
We arrived in Mendoza around 9 AM on Friday morning and without difficulty the taxi took us to our already reserved Hostel Damajuana about ten minutes away. But at check in ….
“We do not have a room!” she said.
I am still sleepy, not comprehending the lady.
We have a reservation! See our slip of paper from the Travel Agent?
“Sorry, we booked the room to someone else; we do not have a room available!”
Well, I woke up quickly, the monotony of the trip, the landscape, the lack of sleep evaporated. What do you mean you gave our room away to someone else? This is not funny! A few phone calls to the owner of the Hostel and checking their computer system revealed that indeed, a new employee of the hostel made a mistake and gave ‘our’ room away. What to do? With some extra phone calls made we were given a room in the Hostel’s sister operation, just two long blocks down the street.
The ‘new’ hostel, Ítaka, is a backpackers place.
Our new room does not have A/C and the day temp is around 32 C (94F). The room is cooled by an old fashioned, very noisy, standing fan. The exposure is west, so the sun beats on the room until it finally sets. No curtains to draw, just some shutters that are hard to operate. The bathroom is a joined affair down the hall. We are above the bar. The place is noisy with the energy of the young people from all over the world coming and going. Yet, what choice do we have? We took the room. The lack of sleep or not wanting to fight for anything else got the better of me. The floors of the place are all tiles, the walls are bare, and so the noise level is amplified. The personnel however treated us nicely and were very apologetic.
We stuffed our bags into the room and took a long walk to explore the town center of Mendoza. With a small city map as our guide, we walked to the main plaza and confirmed what we expected. Nice city! The city Plaza was filled with trees and little kids playing along its walks and blanket merchants, offering trinket jewelry nobody needs or even wants, from their blankets on the sidewalk. A small army of leaf cutting ants was our entertainment for awhile.

We walked for close to 4 hours and were tired so returned to the hostel for a siesta.
There is nothing to report from Mendoza, only that it is a city. Sure it has small drainage ditches, acéquias,
running along the roadsides since pre-Inca times but it is a busy city with buses, cars, bumpy sidewalks and noise and heat during the day. The earthquake in 1861 leveled the historic area; the ‘new’ Mendoza is just a city; planned in a checker board layout, more or less. It is the commercial capital of the region.
As an apology for ‘their’ freely admitted mistake, the Hostel owner gave us free lunches and dinners for the two days we were booked. A nice touch, yet those folks do not understand how ‘older’ people like their peace and quiet. Food is not the leading indicator of a ‘nice’ place. We would have much preferred the original place, especially since our first ‘free’ food event was a BBQ that evening in the court yard of the hostel Damajuana, our original hostel. Argentina eats late. So the BBQ was scheduled to begin at 10 PM and actually started at 10.30 PM or so, we are on Argentina time, remember that. In the court yard of the Hostel Damajuana, next to their small pool, a make-shift setting of assorted chairs and tables was set up. Using some long-staying clients as helpers, the Hostel put on a traditional Parrilla.

At our table we had a couple from Argentina, he was from Tierra del Fuego, she from Mendoza. A single Chinese man from Hong Kong but living in California, two women from Holland, a single woman from Oregon and a hitchhiker from Australia rounded out our group. The languages flowed back and forth, English being the most prevalent at the table but Spanish was tried and used, too.
The menu was meat.
Every kind known to Argentineans was on the grill and was served, one piece at the time. Even the infamous blood sausage was on the menu. The side dish was a ‘handmade’ salad. I said handmade because we saw the lady make the salad in a big tub, using her hands deftly to mix the ingredients. The drink was a local wine in a plastic pitcher. No label just a red local wine. The food was good, but it was not the food that made the evening memorable, it was the international atmosphere that we liked.
Carol and I were the oldest people at this affair by far. In fact the age difference was driven home to me after the BBQ when we left the backyard. We stepped out of the sheltered environs of the Hostel Damajuana just after midnight, tired and wanting to sleep, but the street had converted itself into a party street. I could not believe how many people were about, eating, drinking, talking and looking for a mate, etc. non-stop. For block after block, the street was full of young people having a good time.
As far as I could see in each direction, it was ‘party time’. Everywhere, music was playing from CD’s. It was almost a shock to see the happy mood and the joie de vivre all around us this late at night. Wow, where did all those people come from in just the 2 or so hours we were attending our BBQ? It was a giant party, all the restaurants, fairly empty on our way in at around 10PM were doing a humming business now at midnight. Money and drinks flowed continuously. Carol and I walked home surrounded just by young people. We did not see anybody over the age of ?40?
Mendoza is for the young, Mendoza is a party town; especially on a Friday night in the summer.
Even the advertised activities are for the young. I cannot see myself rappelling down cliffs or mountain climbing any longer. Adventure tours are offered in the mountains, daylong horseback rides stretching into weeks, if you want to do that, can be had.
Anyone want to raft on white water? Go Sky Diving?
I learned many years ago that my butt cannot take a day long ride in the saddle. I learned also that mountain climbing is very difficult; I got stuck on a wall once as a youngster trying to climb some rocks. I learned that white water rafting or kayaking is hard work. I do know my limits now.
We had booked a wine tour for Saturday afternoon and drifted along in the morning biding our time. I felt no interest in visiting more of the busy streets, just to look into shop windows. The weather, closer to 100 F, with no wind, did not help me to feel exuberant about daring to walk again. We zoned out in the backyard, listening to progressive music of 2012, with its repeating phrasing only a 20 year old can love.
I read a book on my kindle surrounded by young adults doing their mating dance in or near the small water hole they call a pool.
Some guys were cooking up a storm for lunch. I can see that to sunbathe is still in. Tattoos of any kind adorn the skin of the young adults. Smoking is still a big thing with the young in Argentina. I watched, read, and hugged the shade to stay cool.
Our tour began with the news that nobody spoke English. Great! Yes, of course we booked the wine tour in English but something along the way went wrong. So, perched among the folks in the bus, Carol and I listened to a descriptive tour, given by a jovial man with a beard, all in good Argentinean Spanish. I understood 20% of it, if that. Ok, at each actual visit to the wineries we had a guide that spoke Spanish-English but I felt we got a token tour in English even though we paid full price.
The first winery we visited, Baudron, was an antique affair,
set up to show us what it was like in 1930 or so, this part of the Winery no longer operates today. Today this place is visited by tour buses, one after the other and we were given some wines to taste that were supposedly rated as good, if not rated as outstanding. I am no connoisseur, I pretended to know what I am doing but to my taste buds the wines were not to my liking.
I never-the-less bought a 25 Peso bottle for later use that was a bit sweeter. We had this bottle with dinner at the Hostel that night and it was better than I anticipated.
The second stop on the tour was at an olive processing plant. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, pressed on location was their specialty. It was an education since I had never before seen how olive oil was made. Our guide was thorough, explaining in English the selection of perfect actual olives as the main factor for getting good olive oil.

After crushing the fruit, after stacking the pulp into presses with metal filters in between each layer, and using a hydraulic press, the fluids were pressed out of the pulp and then pumped into successive holding tanks.
I think there were a total of ten tanks in line. Since oil rises above the sediment, it swims on top of tank one and is then lifted off to be pumped into tank two, then from two to three, from three to four etc. after which, at the final tank teh, only pure oil remains, which is then bottled and sold as ‘Extra Virgin Olive Oil’.

I liked this tour, it added something new to my knowledge base, and I just wished it had been in better English. The girl tried but her accent was heavy and made it difficult to understand.
The last winery visit for the tour was Pasrai, an organic wine maker.
All the grapes were home grown and no sugars or yeasts were added. While most of their wine was aged in bottles, they did have a cave with oak barrels. We again had a tasting, and this time I passed on the wine altogether. Carol learned that the oak aged Malbec wine was much smoother than the bottle aged wine and she particularly enjoyed the Malbec which had been aged nine months.
My favorite wine is a Riesling, a white wine. I like Mosel’s Spätlese, a sweet wine. I like true Ports from Portugal as red wines. Call me eccentric, I like what I like. All the wines I tasted on this wine tour were vinegary tasting to my taste buds, bitter even. I passed, thank you.
Ok, Mendoza is a wine city. I am sure Argentina makes great wines. I just should not have taken any regular, tourist tour. I know too little about wines to be a good judge of wines. All around Mendoza are wineries, lots and lots of them.
Mendoza is for young people, for 20-somethings, for young and fit folks. I felt out of place in Mendoza. I have seen it, but I am moving on to Bariloche next. I am going South, again by bus, again at night.
See you in San Carlos de Bariloche!

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