I mentioned we booked the rest of our stay ion Argentina with a travel agent for the sake of time and convenience. We were not looking forward to the long bus rides ahead, but the agent assured us the buses were big and comfortable. Turns out he was being modest!
They are called Carma buses. Huge, double decker cruise liners with big seats that recline about 170 degrees -- not kidding! Some of the buses even have leather seats. Top top it all off, they served us a 3 course dinner and breakfast! -- and the food was good! And they showed 3 movies. OK, 2 were in Spanish but had subtitles. It was better than business class in most airplanes! Tell you, if Greyhound were to take some lessons no one would ever fly again! We couldn't wait for our next bus ride!
The 15 hour bus ride flew by. We arrived in Mendoza in the morning, well rested and ready to go. Mendoza is in the Patagonia region of Argentina, ski capital of South America. (I always thought that was a clothing line. Never realized it was an actual place!) Checked into our first hostile in South America (And only the second to date) and were pleasantly surprised by the place. So we had to sleep in bunk beds for 2 nights. Other than that, the place was clean, the staff friendly and it was constantly humming with activity.
The first afternoon there, we went on a wine tour. No, we did not plan on this, the travel agent also booked us on all tours and excursions. This was a bonus trip!
Mendoza is the largest wine producing region in Argentina. It is best known for Malbec. We had never heard of this but its a full bodied red wine. Right up our alley...
Similar to our experience in Chile, we visited a large winery first (Bauldron) and then a boutique winery (Carrine). The reds were exceptional. If you get the chance to try a bottle of Argentinian red (we tried Malbec, Cab Sauv and Syrah), do it. They were fantastic.
After the wineries we visited an olive oil factory. We had just missed the olive pressing season but learned about the process which is quite labor intensive. We then got to taste the oil with some bread and it was fantastic. Too bad they don't export that particular brand...
We were on that tour with an Aussie and 3 Buenos Aireans. One of the girls, Cecelia, spoke English well and when we told her we went to see a River Plate match in B.A. she became a fast friend. We all got along so well that we decided to meet that night for dinner. Cecilia chose the place on recommendation from a friend. It was called Azafran, traditional Argentinian restaurant.
IT was a small place and there were 6 of us, so they sat us in the wine cellar. No, we weren't exiled to the underground, their cellar was a room next to the restaurant. Rather than order wine from a menu, you walk into the glass room and choose a bottle, bring it to your table and then get charged accordingly.
We sat on high chairs around an old grape press that was converted into a table with a lazy Susan. The inside of the press was filled to the top with corks. For the first time we did not bring the camera so you will just have to imagine this one. It was really cool.
We ordered the typical starter to share and a bottle of Cabernet. The starter came out on a wooden cutting board about a meter long and was covered in meats, cheese, olives, etc. Pure heaven. And the wine was amazing as well.
The entrees were equally as yummy. One of the guys had the biggest T-bone I had ever seen! Then again we are in Argentina!
Cecilia spent the evening translating back and forth between us and the 2 who didn't speak English. Fernando, though, was a huge Frank Sinatra fan and was not shy to serenade us. All in all it was a fantastic night and barely put a dent in the wallets. Believe it or not, at 1am we were not even the last to leave!
7:30am start the next morning for our next tour into the mountains. We spent most of the day in a minivan driving to the mountains. But the scenery along the way was stunning. We stopped early on to hire sleds.
After almost 3 hours we arrived at a natural bridge called Inca Bridge, basically a large rock structure connecting 2 pieces of land over a river. That area once housed a major hotel/resort which got destroyed years ago in an avalanche. 8 people died. Miracle that the church just next door was untouched. The old bath house was located just in front of the bridge. Looked to be in good condition from where we were standing, but nonetheless it is inactive.
We then stopped by Aconcagua, allegedly the highest mountain peak in the Southern Hemisphere at 6,959m (21,000ft) It didn't look so intimidating but then again we were viewing it from several miles away. L and I were tempted to abandon the group and have a little climb, but we didn't have the recommended 5 days in our schedule. L was so disappointed!
We had a short stop for lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon at another ski resort. At least this time we didn't't have to watch the skiers the whole time. We all hired tiny sleds and relived childhood teaming down the mountain. Our jeans were soaked after 2 runs each, so we called it quits early and went to the pub for a bit of apres ski. Sledding counts, right? Don't worry, we only had time for one before we had to catch the bus again. We were still jealous of all of the snow boarders, though and vowed we would make it back to the area some day...
We arrived back at the hostile after 7. Decided to immerse ourselves into the culture there, so we took the bottle of wine we bought at the winery down to the tv room. Amazing how easy it is to start chatting to perfect strangers when you're all in the same boat. We met quite a few people before excusing ourselves to go to dinner. Once again, we had a meat feast. I even had the "mini beefstek de Chirizo" and it was grande! But so yummy! And to top it all off, the entire meal plus a bottle of wine was about $15 USD!
Finished dinner around midnight, back to the hostile, we met some more cool people in the tv lounge and stayed up til after 3 am talking.