Mendoza! That’s right, the Argentine city is synonymous with high-calibre, new world wine and, as an oenophile, that was reason enough to visit whilst in the country.
I made a reservation on AirBnB then headed to the Buenos Aires bus terminal to board and overnight bus to Mendoza. Not only were the tickets more than 50% cheaper than flights, it was a mere 150 pesos (£7.50) to upgrade from “semi-cama” (semi-bed) to “Ejecutivo con servicio” (executive with service, if you hadn’t guessed).
I had no idea what the difference might be but, having not quite rid myself of the snobbery that four years in Hong Kong is wont to instil, I coughed up the extra pesos to find out.
The difference turned out to be significant: a broader seat with a leg support that must have provided great comfort for people under six feet tall; dinner and breakfast accompanied by red wine (the dinner, not the breakfast); a cheerful and polite member of cabin crew called Gonzalo and a game of bingo to keep us amused.
I was sitting next to Jorge, owner of a Mendozan construction company and – more importantly – winner of the onboard ejecutivo bingo competition. We struck up a conversation and the warning signs were there when he said, “we get energy from mother Earth”. What ensued was a 3-hour discussion about pyschosomatic healing, quantum physics and the soul. And some politics for good measure.
Combining the deep thinking required for these lines of conversation with a need to make my arguments in Spanish had the effect of slow-roasting my brain and, when we bid each other goodnight after agreeing to disagree, I passed out as if I’d taken elephant tranquilizer.
I awoke once for my Gonzalo-served breakfast and then again in Mendoza. Although the wider conurbation is home to almost 1.5m people, the city itself is fairly compact. It forms a grid system with long, tree-lined avenues that my hosts were later, very unhelpfully, to tell me looked stunning in summer.
A taxi-driver, unfamiliar with the city’s street names and lacking a sense of direction, eventually delivered me to the door of my accommodation in the northwest sector of town. I was cheerfully greeted by Alejandro and Mariana – a young couple, both architects – and was shown to my room. I spent the rest of the day wandering the streets, getting a feel for the city and doing laundry (only juicy stories and comedy I this blog, eh?)
The following day was to be the big wine-tasting day. The main area for “bodegas” (wineries) is called Maipú, just to the South of the city. As he was working on a project in the area, Alejandro kindly offered to drop me off. I happily accepted.
We had a wonderful chat en route so, when we arrived at the first bodega, I asked “How important is the work you need to do today….?” I could feel his rubber arm being twisted and a broad smile spread across his face. “Bueno, it can wait!”
We sped home to pick up Mariana, whose work, it turned out, could also wait, and headed to a boutique, organic bodega – La Familia Cecchin. Onwards from there to Agostini, a much larger bodega slightly further afield with 350 hectares of vines. Our guide there, in addition to a degustation of rich, red wines, plied us liberally with sparkling wine. It worked, we bought two cases of red and headed back to tuck into a velvety Malbec.
I should point out that my plans at this stage were to leave Mendoza the next day and venture north. Alejandro and Mariana were having none of it: it was their joint birthday celebration in two days, why didn’t I stay for the party? It turns out my arm was made of similar material to Alejandro’s and was easily twisted. I would stay.
That evening over dinner I was introduced to Mauro, a stout and jovial chap who had also trained as an architect but was now in construction. As my hosts had a birthday to attend the following night, we agreed we would meet up for drinks and some dinner.
At 4am the next evening, Mauro, a second Mauro (also an architect) and I were debating the vagaries of international drinking rules and declaring our undying friendship.
The day of the birthday party arrived and it turned out Alejandro had hired an air hockey table. He also produced a hookah pipe and a chocolate fountain for good measure. 60-70 people arrived and carnage ensued.
I’m now on the bus back to Buenos Aires having made new friends. Maybe not the most entertaining post to read this time but a wonderful experience.