It didn’t take us long to fall in love with Mendoza. The city was buzzing and the fashionably dressed and super friendly locals greeted us with big smiles and warm handshakes. The wide, leafy streets, plazas and outdoor cafes quickly won us over. Nestled at the foot of the Andes, Mendoza is renowned for its high altitude Malbecs and we were determined to sample a few. Combined with amazing fresh food (with a distinct Italian influence), we were in gastronomic heaven…although we did manage to avoid the absolute onslaught of meat! Even the coffee was good (which we are quickly learning is not that common in these parts). We decided to hang around Mendoza an extra day to explore the city and the outlying vineyards.
The city and surrounding region is green and lush – helped along by the irrigation system that was originally designed by the Huarpes and Puelches tribes in the 1500s and later developed by the Spanish. We saw plenty of trenches and old fashioned water wheels still being used by the vignerons. Apparently the trenches, or acequias, are also used to water the approximately 100,000 trees that line every street in Mendoza. It really is quite beautiful.
We spent time riding through the vineyards and stumbled upon a local wine and food festival at a small “Wine Mall” which was basically a series of cafes and restaurants set around a gorgeously manicured garden. The music and dancing was in full swing as we settled into an amazing lunch with a bottle of local Malbec (of course). The chef was noticeably disappointed when we chose two vegetarian dishes after showing us his “mixed grill” with great pride which featured all sorts of cuts of meat, blood sausage and offal. Enough to make your stomach turn, but obviously a favourite among the locals. The waiter rattled off his favourite types of meat which was essentially a list of every kind of farm animal imaginable. “oh, and raaaabits..” he enthused .. “sooo gooood. But all fish taste the same” he declared disdainfully.
We watched in awe as a ‘local’ couple took to the dance floor (aka the lawn) and danced the most beautiful tango. We struck up a conversation with them and learned that Alberto and Natalia were originally from Mendoza, but had been living in Melbourne for over 20 years! Too funny. We drank a glass of wine together and then pretended to drink a glass of the local bootleg wine that a gorgeous local gentleman proudly presented us (think cask wine has a head on with cheap balsamic vinegar). Richard managed to quietly tip the contents quietly into a pot plant (after watching a few of the locals do the same) thus preventing what would no doubt have been a super hangover!
The festival continued with a stand-up comedian and while we couldn’t understand a word of wat he was saying, he had us in absolute stitches with his antics, various voices and facial expressions. Comedy and laughter is not defined by language and is such a great unifier. We were officially welcomed by the MC of the festival as visitors from Australia and given a round of applause as the audience was informed of our ride from Argentina to Alaska. People think we are completely nuts…and perhaps we are.
But hopefully in a good way.