Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Cordoba to Mendoza
It was another long night bus from Cordoba to Mendoza 12 hours (360 pesos / $25ea); however the surprise here was the bus actually left and arrived on schedule.
From the bus terminal we decided to find tourist information as we didn’t have a hostel booked. However we ran into some Austrian girls (trying to get across the border to Santiago) who recommended Punto Urbano hostel. We paid 80 pesos ($6) each in a 4 bed dorm. We were very happy we took their advice as it was one of the best hostels we stayed in the whole trip. The hostel was large and had a great communal kitchen, but what made this hostel stick out from all the others we have stayed in were the activities and the breakfast.
Every day they offered free wine happy hour at 7pm consisting of the local Malbec wine in a massive 5 litre bottle. They didn’t take it away and just left it on the table every night, so what started as free drinks would continue on until late into the night. Little did they know it’s a bad idea leaving a 5 litre bottle in front of many Australian and New Zealander backpackers. The free drinks every night was also a great way to socialize and meet other backpackers so we felt like a mini family every night getting together to talk about the adventures we’d had during the day.
Other free activities included a mate (pronounced: ma – tay) making class. Mate is the local tea which the locals drink out of their own unique cup with a sippy straw (usually wood or metal). The idea is you can share your tea with your friends and family or even strangers on the street. It’s hugely popular throughout Argentina. We never really got into it and couldn’t work out what the excitement was about as it really is just another type of tea.
The activity we enjoyed the most was the empanada making class. This was fantastic as not only did we get to make our own empanadas with a chef but we got to eat them as well. Yes, this was all for free! There is some pre-made pastry that most locals buy so we kind of cheated but still they tasted fantastic. Putting the little bumps however in the pastry was a difficult task even though the chef made it look so easy.
Finally, we’ve saved the best for last, the breakfast. Every morning we would wake up to fresh pastries, bread, cereal, juice, coffee, tea and oranges as a buffet. On top of this you could order omelets and crepes filled with dulce de leche (caramel). This is the best breakfast we have had the entire trip and again its free at the hostel. They even had a washing machine you could use so we took advantage of this and finally gave our clothes a good wash.
Around the corner from the hostel was an awesome market and meat shop, where we bought a 1kg steak for $3 and put it on the hostel BBQ. Yes we both had the meat sweats but it was absolutely delicious.
Mendoza wine tour – Maipu region
We knew we couldn’t be in Mendoza and not do a wine tour. Mendoza is well known globally for its Malbec type of wine. The region has on average more than 300 sunny days a year and only around 300mm of rain which makes it an amazing area for wineries. Toby was still not allowed to much with his sprained ankle so we chose to do a tour by bus. Rodora found a good deal for 450 pesos which included two tours; high mountain tour and wine tasting. We unfortunately had been spoilt by Cafayate and were expecting streets filled with vineyards. The area of Maipu was quite urban with it being the manufacturing and distribution area rather than the actual vineyards.
The first winery we went to was called Domiciano which was a small boutique winery. It had a small display of vines to show tourists how the process all worked. We were told that most of the vineyards were located upwards of 20km away from town. The best thing about this tour was that we were the only two English speaking tourists and therefore we received our own personal guide. The tour was amazing and was probably one of the most detailed and informed wine tours we have ever done. We were taken to the wine storage area, followed by the laboratory and then the bottling area.
Then it was time for the tastings. From the minute we walked in we could tell this was an upmarket winery and would be way above our budget. The wine was delicious in particular the sparkling wine which we hadn’t had in a while. The prices were about 5 times higher than any of the vineyards we went to in Cafayate.
The second winery was called Lopez and this was a mass production place. There were gigantic casks to store the wine where the volume was measured in hectolitres (10,000 litres). One of the biggest was 316 hectalitres (316,000 litres). We were lucky again to have a private tour just the two of us as the only English speaking customers on the tour.
It was interesting comparing the two types of wineries as both had different ways of doing things.
The final stop on the tour was to an Olive oil factory called Pasrai. Here we would see the machinery used for pressing the olives and getting the final product. We would also again get to sample their product with some tasty bread.
Stuck in Argentina with the border to Chile closed
On our final day we had reserved a bus to leave at 9.30am in the morning going directly to Valparaiso in Chile. However, when we got to the bus station we were told they needed to wait to see if the conditions were ok before we left. We waited about 45 minutes to hear that the bus wasn’t leaving due to the snow and we had to change our tickets to tomorrow. This wasn’t a surprise for us. There were many people in our hostel who failed to get across the border in the previous week due to closures. The story they’d been telling been was it was snowing on the border. The real story appears as though the people working on the border were striking and therefore not letting people go across.
We went straight back to our hostel but unfortunately it was booked out due to some kind of student conference that weekend so we went to their sister hostel 2 blocks away called Hostel Empedrado.
After quickly dropping our stuff off at the hostel we went to the town of Lujan which is another wine region near Mendoza. Here we were limited to the two wineries that were within walking distance as we couldn’t bike ride.
The first winery we visited was called Clos de Chacras and it was absolutely beautiful. As tastings were expensive we decided to share a glass a wine and just admire the view of the lake and the vineyards.
The second winery was highly recommended by some other people at our hostel and was a small organic winery called Pulmary. We were given a tour of the cellars and actually got to try some of the wine that they stored in one of the cellars.
This again is a town that we didn’t get to see the vineyards. We were told by other backpackers the scenery out of town with the snowy mountains in the background was beautiful, but you needed to be on a bike to do it.
High mountain tour and Chile border crossing
On our third day in Mendoza we went on the high mountain tour which according to the Lonely Planet is the most popular tour in Mendoza. If you are going to travel to Chile from Mendoza then don’t bother doing this tour. You take the exact same road the tour bus takes so you will see the same scenery. The bus only stopped a few times and when it did it was just on the side of the road. The main highlight being the Inca bridge which you would almost certainly miss if you didn’t know it was there.
The scenery you will see from Mendoza to Chile is really quite breath taking and probably the most scenic border crossing we have done apart from San Pedro de Atacama in the North of Chile going to Salta in Argentina.
One of the highlights Toby was hoping for was a view of Mt Aconcagua, the highest point in the Americas at 6,960m. Sadly it was clouded out with the climbing season typically only open between December and March and taking a trek to the top can take upwards of 2 weeks depending on the weather.
We did eventually make it into Chile after waiting around 3.5 hours on the border.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/
*Note that all our Argentinian values are converted at the Dolar Blue rate of around 14 pesos is equal to US$1. The official rate is much closer to 8 pesos is equal to US$1 at the time of writing (Sept 2014)