Four months of Argentina ends in wine-country
21.06.2014 - 05.07.2014
After working on the ranch for 6 weeks we were pretty ready to head northward to find some warmer weather. But before we did, we just wanted to spend a few days relaxing in the town of El Bolson. We went back to the same hostel as before and it was like we hadn’t left – they were so kind and they even invited us for asado during the Argentina-Iran FIFA game. The asado was the best I have ever had and to top it off Argentina squeaked the win! Vamos Argentina (second place!)!!
We bought bus tickets to take us straight from El Bolson to Mendoza – the wine country capital! We were in pursuit of the best wine Argentina has to offer, which was going to be hard since we were both certain we had already tried the best wine in Buenos Aires (Angelica Zapata). We stayed at a really sweet hostel that arranged all sorts of wine tours in the area. We ended up doing two. The first one was a bike tour that we just did on our own with a few other people in the hostel, which was a little different from what we expected. Before arriving in Mendoza I think the two of us envisioned slightly more romantic tours of the countryside, with rolling hills and vineyards on either side. But when we got our bikes in the place we were told to go and started biking to the first bodega, it was very clear that we were not going to be leaving the city. I guess in Mendoza, since there are so many vineyards (thousands!), most are so small that they have their vineyard still within the city. A lot of them harvest the grapes in the hills/mountains but all of the processing happens within the city.
We biked to two different vineyards, both of which were very good but the first one – Carmelo Patti – was our favorite. Carmelo is an older man who has been making wine his whole life and because his production is so small, he personally checks and cares for each bottle that goes out. We wanted to get one of his Cabernet Sauvignon but he told us that he has a vender in Calgary, so we will look for it when we get home (even though it will be about 10x the cost). We also went to a liquer and dulce production shop. It was my favorite stop of the day. This woman makes her own dulce de leche (basically caramel sauce made with milk and is delish) with coconut, nuts, whisky, chocolate, coffee, you name it. She also makes her own oils and spreads – we bought a couple olive spreads with blue cheese and garlic. We each also got to try a couple house-made liquers. They were all pretty good except those that decided to get tobacco flavoured!
Our second tour was much better and we learned a lot more about the wine-making process and wine tasting. It was also on the edge of the city which was a plus. On the tour we actually only went to two wineries but both had great wine. The first, Vistandes, introduced us to a new wine! The Carménère. Neither of us had ever heard of this wine before. Apparently the Carménère grape originated in France and was exclusive to France but then a plague came over the Carménère plant and it wiped out the entire species. But what people found out years later was that a few plants had been transplanted in Chile. Now Carménère is almost exclusive to Chile, except a few vineyards in Argentina that have it. I couldn’t help myself and I had to buy a bottle. But I didn’t buy a young wine, no, I was stupid and I bought a grand reserve wine which means it can be in the bottle for 15-20 years and the longer it is in the bottle the better it is… so basically I now have a wine baby and she is wrapped in plastic wrap and will remain with me for the remainder of our trip and I will probably regret this many, many times throughout the trip. But one day, years down the road I will have a wicked bottle of wine to celebrate something awesome...
On this tour we also went to an olive oil factory. It was actually so amazing and super informative as neither of us knew anything about the olive oil making process. I won’t bore you with the details of it (but it’s pretty awesome…) but I will tell you one thing that blew my mind. Did you know that green, purple and black olives all come from the same plant, same tree, it’s just different ripeness!!?? Maybe everyone but me knew that but I just couldn’t get past it and it blows my mind still when I think about it. Anywho we got to try all their different olive oils and they were so delicious – our favorite was the unfiltered one, which apparently is super rare and they weren’t sure of any other places that sell their unfiltered product.
Anyways apart from that, we didn’t do a whole lot in Mendoza besides go to the gym and few times and hang out in our hostel. But as I mentioned before our hostel was sweet and every night they had a different activity going on. One night was wine tasting, next night asado, etc. One night we got to learn how to make our own homemade empanadas! This old lady taught us all and then we got to eat the ones we made and they turned out pretty good – we are excited to make them at home!
After a week in Mendoza and four months in Argentina, we decided it was probably time to move on to another country. So we bought tickets to go to Santiago, Chile!
Our time in Chile was extremely brief when compared to the four months that we spent in Argentina but Chile is a lot more expensive and their Spanish is a lot harder to understand, so we ended up only spending a week in the Santiago area.
I think our favorite part of our time in Chile was actually the journey there. We had great seats on the bus so we could see the landscape on all sides. Driving towards the mountains and the Chilean border we could see miles and miles of Argentine wineries and vineyards with the mountains in the background. Entering the Andes is always spectacular and the views we had were increadible. We saw some of the most interesting rock formations and beautiful mountain rivers and lakes with natural rock walls that looked like they were about 15m high. Then all of a sudden there was snow in the mountains and we had arrived at the border.
We have crossed from Argentina into Chile once before when we were going to do Torres del Paine in Patagonia and it was a smooth, 15 minute process. This time was a totally different story. We all went inside the emigration/immigration building to get our stamps (this would be our third and likely last time leaving Argentina) and the lines were huge and after a few minutes we realized that none of them had budged. It turns out that we had arrived about half way through the Chile-Brasil FIFA game. So literally everyone who was ‘working’ was watching the screen and not paying attention to the hundreds of people on the other side of the glass. This would have been totally fine except for the fact that none of the TVs on our side were on and there was only one small screen that none of us could see! We only knew if something happened based on the reaction of those working. It took us a little over an hour to get our stamps and then we were told to go back on the bus. We waited there for about 30-45 mins. Meanwhile, the extra time of the game finished and it would go to penalty shots. During this break they rushed us off the bus to go into the customs building with our bags. They didn’t quite get to our group before the penalty shots began so of course everything stopped and everyone huddled around this one screen to watch the game. It was actually really exciting to be there because everyone was so excited and was so loud. When Chile lost, the morale in the whole place just plummeted and I have never seen that many grown men and women look that crushed. They were so upset and distracted that as the bags started going through the scanners, not a single person looked at the scanner screen. Three hours after arriving at the border we were on Chilean soil.
To get out of the mountain range we had to take this crazy road that zig-zaged all the way down a mountain and looked like it would be a seriously sketchy road in the winter. There was even a ski hill that went down the mountain that crossed the road a couple of times.
Our time in Santiago was pretty chill. I was a little sick (a cold) so we spent a couple of the days on the couch with a girl who broke her foot a few days before. It was actually great – we watched a few movies, the show 'House of Cards', and or course FIFA! Our first day there was so gorgeous so we went for a walk around the center. We went to a museum of arts that had a marble exhibit with some of the most amazing pieces we had ever seen! There was also a huge market along one of the parks that we walked through and all in all it was a great day.
Another day we went on a ‘Free Tour’ that they recommend you pay about 5,000CP each which is about $10.. some free tour. But it was pretty great tour and it included a lot of the history of the city. Another day we went to go to the best icecream shop Santiago has to offer. They are apparently in the top 25 in the world – a pretty modest claim so I take it to be the truth. After trying it I think we both agree it’s top drawer. They had so many flavors that we couldn’t choose so the lady let us sample like 10 different sabores. Some of the main ones were: raspberry mint (delish!), honey, lemon basil, dulce de leche, passion fruit, different chocolate ones (banana, chili, orange) and so, so many more that I can’t remember. One day we were walking around and encountered a huge fish market. The whole interior was the fish market and along the edges were tons of tiny little restaurants and food stands - they all competed with each other for customers so at one point we had three different people talking to us about what their restaurant had (they all had the same thing). We also went to this beautiful park on the second highest hill (colina) in the city to soak in a good view of the city. Charles Darwin himself had been to the hill and there was a little plaque about his discoveries in Santiago area.
We took a day trip out of Santiago to a coastal city called Valparaiso with another girl in our hostel. Valparaiso used to be the biggest port in Chile but is now known as the art/cultural hub of the country. They are known for all of their street art, which is not only accepted but encouraged throughout the city. Because it is a world heritage site, the people of the city actually recieve money from the government to keep their houses painted with bright, different colours. No house is the same and you are literally aloud to paint or design anything you want on any of the buildings as long as it isn’t offensive (objective…) and you have the permission of the owner. It is a very interesting and unique city. The only downfall to it being a world heritage site is that if a building is destroyed (fire, age etc.) you have to reconstruct it to be the exact same way as it was before, which can cost a lot of money since a lot of the neighbourhoods have become increasingly popular and thus expensive, leaving some demolished buildings in ruins for years because they can’t afford to rebuild. The tour of the city we went on was great because they took us to little nooks of the city and views of the city that we would have otherwise never have found.
Some of our favorite works in the city:
Santiago is a really cool city and we probably could have spent a lot longer there seeing all of the museums and such but one thing that a little unfortunate is the pollution is pretty bad due to its proximity to the mountain chains. This made viewing the city extremely difficult most days, unless it had rained and precipitated the smog out.
Both Mendoza and Santiago were awesome places to visit and were warmer than Patagonia – but it wasn’t quite warm enough… so we decided to skip up to Ecuador! We are currently in a beautiful city called Cuenca. We are taking Spanish lessons and exploring all that the area has to offer!
For those of you who actually read all of this, thank you! I know it was long and probably had way more detail/information than you would care to read.
We both miss you all very, very much but we are now over half way through our trip (crazy!) so you will see us soon!!
Meredith y Thomas