Saturday 29 November 2014

If you are what you eat, I'm a lovely glass of Malbec

First of all, I apologise for the distinct lack of writing recently. The last week has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and I've been struggling to find my muse and motivation to finally put fingers to keys and get this out into the world.

When I last left you, Mendoza, the glorious wine capital of Argentina, was eagerly beckoning me towards it, tempting me with rumours of a land where you ride a bike between vineyards, sampling the best of the wines at each one before slaloming off onto the next. Here was a quiet little city, blessed with mid twenties temperatures, a lack of humidity and a mere 10 days of rain per year ("Hell, that's how much rain we get in 10 days back home" I quipped when I heard this).

But with a transportation system designed by a psychologist who is interested in seeing how angry can a population be before they finally snap and collapse screaming. There can be no other explanation for the current bus system. But, I hear you cry, how bad can it be? You've been on buses driven by maniacs in Nepal, endured the music of the Indian night bus drivers (bongo drums played manically over the top of the worst songs of 1997) and had to live in Bristol for 2 years. Surely nothing can be as bad as Bristol.

Mendoza is currently doing roadworks on 98% of the roads in the center, and so whenever these coincide with a bus stop, they move it. But here's the kicker; they don't tell you where it's been moved to. Half of the signs incorrectly promise that the buses will eventually show up (so I waited for 45 minutes in the wrong spot), the bus drivers just give you a half blank, half annoyed look as they coast past your outstretched hand, as if - heaven forbid - only a lunatic would want to flag down a bus at a bus stop that gives no indication it's been closed. Instead, you have scores of people running down streets after buses that at random moments decide will stop and allow a select few onboard before screeching off again. I left for the vineyards at 10AM, I arrived at 1PM after a 15 minute bus journey.

And don't even talk to me about the Number 1/16 bus. I'm not convinced it actually exists.

But, after all of the hassle required to get there, you are met by a serene paradise in Chacras, a suburb boasting a quiet village feel, small squares, and of course dozens of vineyards stretched over an area a couple of miles squared. I rented a bike from Baccus bikes, and despite my late arrival, they sorted me out with a colour coded map of where to be and when, and wished me a pleasant day.

To be honest, things start to become a little hazy after the second vineyard, Alta Vista, which was by far my favourite after they invited us onto the lawn to wait for the other visitors taking the tour and two glasses of wine were hastily placed in front of us.

I finished the day at a small shop that specialised in producing home made liquors and spreads for breakfast and dessert. After sampling a 'tobacco' liquor, made with a combination of 5 types of tobacco leaf and a multitude of spirits, and a refreshing pink apple liquor, I somewhat unsteadily rode back to the bike shop. A fantastic day, with some amazing lunch too. The sun was shining, the wine was cheap and excellent, and I thoroughly regretted only having a single day for it. 10/10, would definitely come back (and recommend Lao Hostel in Mendoza for having excellent owners, location and atmosphere).

Then it was onto another bus to head to Santiago. I'm shocked to have realised I've spent a month in Argentina. This was certainly not planned, and I've sadly started to cross off countries I wanted to visit later on. The trip will be a little shorter, but I'm not worried: I'll just have to come back to this incredible continent sometime in the future.

The journey from Mendoza to Santiago can only be described as breathtaking. Mountains, valleys and roads that boggle the mind carry you up and across the Andes and through to my next country: Chile.

Thanks for reading!


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