I’ve already written about The Day of Darkness that took me from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina, so I won’t bore you with more moaning on the matter. To recap very, very, briefly: the pass between the two countries was closed for the foreseeable future so I bought a mega-expensive flight ticket, the plane almost crashed, and in the evening my iPhone was stolen just as I was about to relax with a nice piece of meat and a glass of wine. I’ve actually got used to not having my phone by now, though every time I see someone get theirs out (and everyone has one, everywhere), or I see the previously happy ‘free WIFI’ sign in a restaurant or café, my heart breaks a little. Oh, and there’s a worse day coming up, but more on that next week.
The next day was a day of feeling sorry for myself: I booked a massage (you know something is wrong when the masseuse tells you you’re really tense, two months into your sabbatical) and a pedicure (I felt much better once my feet were soft as a baby’s bottom and my toes were pretty in pink), I had a Starbucks coffee and went to see Man of Steel at the cinema (dubbed in Spanish, and I understood it all!), and I ended the night with a barbecue and some lovely red wine at the hostel. We also had some Fernet, a popular drink in Argentina which I would rather avoid in future – it’s herbal, quite medicinal, and served with coke, which I also don’t like. Ah but I’m getting grumpy again.
My third day in Mendoza, I had booked onto a full-day ‘bikes and wine’ tour, and was joined by a lovely couple from New Zealand. We drove to the village of Maipú where we were given our bikes and another very inaccurate map along with a thorough description of each of the places we could choose to visit. We started at the Bodega Viña del Cerno, a boutique winery where we shared a tasting of four red wines: a Merlot, a Syrah, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Malbec. By this time, we were already hungry – the pick-up had been an hour later than scheduled, in the usual style of laid-back South America – and we headed to Mevi, the perfect lunch spot with stunning views across the vineyards and olive orchards towards the two highest mountains in South America. We had the pasta lunch deal with another glass of red wine each. Next, to Bodega Familia di Tommasi, an old winery from 1869, where we had a ‘proper’ tasting with an education on the different aromas. (My perfumer’s nose proved quite successful in identifying the different scents.) We tasted a white Torrentés, a young Malbec, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and finally a sweet wine. We also met what turned out to be a brother and sister from London, who joined us for the rest of the afternoon.
The girls drove the group on to the chocolate tasting next, at Entre Olivos, where in fact we first tasted different olive oils and vinegars, then various flavours of jam, and finally two liqueurs of our choice (in my case, dark chocolate and dulce de leche with banana, YUM; the medical student/doctor siblings from London went for Absinth), with a teeny bit of chocolate. After that, we headed to the Swiss-run Tierra de Lobo, which for some reason we had thought was an organic winery but which turned out instead to have spirits and liqueurs. I went for dulce de leche again, YUM AGAIN, and caramel, EVEN MORE YUM. Our final stop of the day was the beer garden, where we shared a white, a red, and a black beer.
We had been told that the tourist police would be manning the wine tasting route and, as the day progressed, we found that we had a personal escort, an officer on a motorbike who got closer and closer the more we tasted. But we didn’t get drunk at all – we really didn’t have that much, and all the tasting was interspersed with long-distance cycling and a pasta lunch. The plan for the evening was for us all to meet up to go out, but something went wrong in the email exchange so the siblings from London were forever lost to us, and in the end I had a quiet dinner with the Kiwi couple and an early night. (This is where my worst-ever dorm experience comes into the picture.) The next morning, I had an early bus to Córdoba, where the weather promised to be warm and sunny. I was not particularly impressed by my first Argentinian bus experience – it was far more expensive than all my previous journeys, with a much lower standard, while the men who put our bags onto the bus demanded a “collaboration” for their efforts. I’ll admit that my iPhone loss had left me a little wounded, which may have coloured my experiences in the following days. In Córdoba, though, I was welcomed by not one but two lots of bird poo on my head; this did not help me on my road to recovery.