Hey all, back again with another blog post after an awesome weekend outside of Buenos Aires in Mendoza, Argentina. The city of Mendoza, located at the foothills of the Andes Mountains and within the province also called Mendoza, is widely known for its wineries, adventure sports, popular hiking locations, and great weather. Although it is situated next to the mountains, the city itself does not get very cold throughout the year. The days range between 60 to 90 degrees (depending upon the season) and the nights from 30 to 55 degrees. It can snow there, but the city typically only sees about 10 days of rain A YEAR.
We left Buenos Aires on Wednesday (8/13) en route to Mendoza. After managing to finagle the Omnibus Terminal in downtown Buenos Aires, we were good to go. My friends split up between two different buses, and mine was the first to leave at 7:30pm. While on the bus, we were treated with great service and even played Bingo with the other passengers (and they were very serious about this game). The prize was a bottle of wine from the bus company and those Argentines wanted it much more than we did. Either way, it was still entertaining. Our first meal on the bus was nothing short off depressing. Aside from a side of steamed vegetables, the rest of the meal was terrible. Luckily we brought our own snacks in case that were to happen.
One interesting thing on the ride there was the sky and stars at night. While away from the city, we were basically driving in pitch darkness and that allowed us to see the clearest sky that I have ever seen. It was impossible to take a picture but definitely worth mentioning. After 15 long hours to Mendoza, we arrived there on Thursday (8/14) at about 10am. We made it to our hostel, called Mendoza Backpackers. They have a chain of hostels throughout Argentina and are fairly reputable. For those who do not know, a hostel is a type of living arrangement frequented by poor, nomadic college students and travelers that look to live cheaply and simply while away from home. The accommodations were nothing close to 3-Stars, but we made the best of it. Hostels have more than one group of people per room so there is a chance that you could be sharing a room with total foreigners and strangers. It is all a part of the experience. My friends and I shared our room with a Swiss girl and another American that was from Chile. The hostel provides complimentary continental breakfast every day, as well.
On Thursday we explored Mendoza and took rented free bikes to get around. We went to Plaza de San Martin, a Central Park-esque type of place with a small zoo, lake, gardens, sculptures, and a nice view of the Andes. It was a cool thing to see and we stayed there for most of the day. We also stopped at a Chocolatier Shoppe on one of the main avenues and it was totally worth it. Later that night, another hostel was offering all you can eat pizza for a flat rate of $100 ARG Pesos (about $10 USD). We opted to do that for dinner and we met plenty of other foreigners at the dinner and the bar attached to that hostel, including some British guys, Frenchmen, Germans, and Brazilians. My nickname for the night was Harry, after one of the British guys agreed that I had a slight resemblance to their Prince Harry in the Royal Family (win!).
On Friday (8/15), we were up and out of our hostel by 7:15am because we booked a tour of the Andes Mountains. The strange thing was that even by 7:45am, the sun was not up yet in Mendoza. Argentina does not have Daylight Savings Time and all of the country is on the same time. Therefore, the western parts of the country see more confusing times of daylight. Aside from that, the tour started up as planned and we stopped at a lot of interesting places along the way including a natural reserve along a famous river, a small town called Uspallata, Seven Minerals Mountain, the second highest peak in South America, Puente del Inca (which I will get to), the Chilean border, the highest mountain above sea level in the Americas called Aconcagua Peak, and the last town before leaving Argentina called Las Cuevas.
Puente del Inca is a national landmark and well-preserved area within the Andes in Argentina. Its history dates back to well before the early 1800s when Incan settlers traveled south from Peru and lived in the region. They were interested in the mineral-rich area and built a church near the hot springs for travelers that visited the area. In Puente del Inca, there is a natural arch that formed over time above a portion of the nearby Vacas River. The area was famous enough for Charles Darwin to visit during his trek to study Geology from Chile to Mendoza in 1835. In 1917, an English company built a hotel in the same area for travelers of the area. Ultimately in 1965, a landslide demolished a portion of the hotel and no one was willing to invest to rebuild it. The Incan families that previously lived there moved away from that exact location. The structures of the church and part of the hotel are still standing, as well as the hotel's ruins as well. In addition, the different colors along the natural bridge and the base of the riverbank are three different minerals.
Along with seeing the Chilean border and the highest point in the Americas (which is 6,962 meters above sea level), the best part of the day was taking a ski lift to the top of one of the major points along the way. At the top, you have an amazing view of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Even at the top, the temperature was only 40 degrees, with basically 50 mph winds. It was one of the best things that I have had the chance to do since being in South America and definitely Top 5 throughout my life thus far.
On Saturday (8/16), we did a wine tour that included 2 wineries and an olive oil factory. Granted that it currently is not the season for grape harvests, the orchards were relatively bare for that reason. Either way, we still learned about the process to make wine, its aging periods, and sampled several wines of the region at both places. The olive oil factory was interesting also, especially since I did not know that you could make a olive oil in conjunction with many other fruits and vegetables like tomato, lemon, and spinach. Of course the tasting for that was worth it, as well. Later on that night, we went to an awesome brewery for dinner and drinks, which led to another night on the town in Mendoza. Mendoza can be a really fun city, it just depends on where you go and when.
On Sunday (8/17), my friends and I realized that we did not want to do another guided tour just to save money and try something different. We split up into groups, as some people went hiking, some decided to stay at the hostel for the day, and myself and a few others went to explore the city even further. We went to the main restaurant and shopping area just to look around, and then walked up one street and got an unforgettable view of the city landscape and mountains in the backdrop. Finally we had lunch at a famous parrilla (steakhouse) and restaurant around that area and that's where I had the best steak of my life. With a plain sirloin cooked "en mediano" (medium) I was in heaven and set for the entire rest of the day, including the 15 hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires. The place was called Estancia La Florencia and it would make a trip back there entirely worth it.
One thing to mention about Mendoza that differs greatly from Buenos Aires is the use of their siesta time. Between the hours of 2pm to 5pm, basically all of the businesses in the area would be closed for the workers and owners to sleep or relax. Buenos Aires very rarely does this, so it made it very difficult to do much during those times while exploring the city. From a tourist perspective, it sucked to have to finagle that obstacle, but from a worker's perspective, how can I convince the rest of the US to adopt this? Who doesn't love a great nap in the middle of the day?
In all, my trip to Mendoza was definitely worth it. I had some great experiences that I would not be able to have anywhere else. I was kind of bummed that we did not get to do any action sports because they were either closed, too expensive, or only operate during the summer months of South America. Regardless, Mendoza was a great chance to escape the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires while still in a relatively lively area with plenty of other things to do and see.
Until next time, be good everyone