How to Describe My New Found Love
In my mind, I’ve been trying for weeks to put this place into words. Most of all, I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain these feelings that I’m suddenly overwhelmed by. Argentina, my joker, the country I had no plans of going to, and here I am, falling in love with the country, the people, the culture and the customs.
I’ve always imagined myself settling down somewhere with a beautiful beach, palm trees, crystal clear water and 35 degrees but here I am falling in love with the mountains, the autumn sun and all the olive trees and wine fields.
A Love for Mendoza City
So where did this love for Argentina and most of all Mendoza begin?
It might already have started on my second day in Mendoza when I joined a walking tour and got introduced to the beautiful city with all its amazing restaurants, wine bars and trees which at this time of year are covered in orange, yellow and green leaves.
The strange thing is that the city is actually placed in a desert but during hundred of years the Mendozinos have implemented a water system bringing water from the mountains to the city and to all the trees and wine fields. I’m still afraid that one day I’ll find myself ending up in one of these drains which are placed beside the pavement. Yeah, well considering my luck and my many trips to and from the wine bars, it could happen easily.
Food & Wine of Mendoza
In Mendoza, there are enough good restaurants and bars to keep me entertained for years. Sadly, my budget doesn’t allow me to go nuts. But when I do treat myself to something good, it’s worth every penny (or should I say peso). And I already discovered my favorite restaurant and my favorite wine bar. At the restaurant Maria Antonenta in Belgrano street, I get served the most tender steak at small tables set with checkered tablecloth, while I at Chinitas for only 300 pesos get a tapas plate together with a tasting of 4 different wines where each of them make me forget all the worries of the world. And if that wasn’t enough, the food and wine are served by the passionate owner Marina who’s knowledge is amazing. Marina soon becomes a friend and Chinitas becomes one of my most visited places in Mendoza. I come here both on a regular night but also for their cheap wine tasting (50 pesos) where each are dedicated to a certain bodega in the area of Mendoza.
If I’m seriously in the mood for meat (I’m in Argentina after all), I make my way down to the street Las Heras where you can find loads of restaurants serving parilla which is a very typical dish consisting of a big amount of both beef and pork, cut out from all parts of the animal (some of it, I still find too weird to eat, like the kidneys and other guts but the rest is tasty).
A Night on the Tiles
After such a big amount of meat, the best thing you can do is to go dancing. Luckily, Mendoza got some good options for that.
On my first night out, we start our night at Arístides Villanueva which is a street loaded with bars and restaurants. Later, we end up at La Reserva which is a gay club famous for their dragshow, and it’s not before the break of dawn I find my way back to the hostel.
At other times, I’ll join a reggae party at N8 which is a place for live music or I’ll make my way to Maipu and the popular Black Jagger which in the weekends gets completely crowded. A place filled with well-dressed Argentineans ready to shake their hips to the sound of reggaeton and cumbia.
If I’m serious about the dancing, I join a tango lesson with Ana and Luis’ tango school. My luck is that my French colleague Victor is willing to join me. But we’ll probably never become real pro during this lifetime. Tango is difficult! I can still hear Ana’s voice in my mind saying “bloque“, “bloque“! Meaning that, we have to bloque our posture. No movement of the hips, only straight legs and my eyes fixed on Victor’s chest – never look down! You have to feel the movement of your partner. He has to lead you! Poor Victor…
A Love for Wine & Wineries
It could be that my love for Mendoza evolved during my visits to the many bodegas and wine fields in the areas of Maipu, Uco Valley and Lujan de Cuyo. There’s nothing like riding a bike or a motorbike through the wine fields which at this time of year, like the trees, got these beautiful autumn colors. Red, orange and dark green and then with the left over of the grapes who escaped the harvest of the season. It all looks stunning in the autumn sun. And there’s nothing like enjoying a good lunch at a place like the terrace of Mevi Bodega with its gorgeous views of the wine fields and the snow covered mountains in the background.
The truth is that my interest for wines just gets bigger for every bodega I visit. From La Rural, to San Lopez to Caelum, to Familia Zuccuri. I love seeing and hearing about the process and production of the wines at these bodegas. I love hearing about how they proces the grapes, how they keep the wine in huge barrels and how they every week take samples from the barrels to see if the wine is breathing. If not, comes the horror story. Apparently after emptying the barrel, someone has to crawl into it through the smallest door I’ve ever seen and from the inside clean the small openings that ensure the oxidation of the wine. Just hearing the story makes me claustrophobic.
Park San Martín
Coming home from the wineries with the bag filled with wine, the best thing you can do, is to have a picnic in the park San Martín which is a park I get to love. It’s only placed a couple of blocks from the hostel and it’s huge. It got a big lake, loads of palm trees and a viewpoint called Cerro Gloria which makes for a perfect trekking tour. This park is like my little oasis.
Olives, Olive Oil & Olive Trees
If I had enough of the wine (even though I don’t think I’ll ever get to that point), there’s always the option of visiting one of the olive oil factories in the area of Maipu. Together with my Hungarian friend, I do a tour on a motorbike to a factory called LAUR. And even though, I’m not a big fan of olives, this turns out to be a really interesting visit.
After learning about the process of making olive oil and vinegar, we get a tasting of 6 different olive oils, 3 balsamico and a plate filled with olives, tapenade, sun dried tomatoes and bread. The truth is that I actually never really liked olives and I’ve been practicing for years trying to get use to the taste so it is kind of ironic that I end up at a tasting at an olive factory. The good thing is that this is the day where I for the first time enjoy the taste of it which must be a sign that I’m getting older and my taste is developing. Big applause to that!
Hiking & Riding in the Mountains of Mendoza
Maybe I feel in love with Argentina during a horseback riding tour at the foothills of the Andean mountains. Or it could be that my Argentinean crush happened during my hikes in and around the beautiful mountains surrounding Mendoza. There’s the beautiful and more less easy half day hike to Cerro Arco which is a smaller mountain that you climb. The views from the top are stunning. From here, you really get a feel for the area and city of Mendoza.
Then there’s the area of Cachueta near Lujan de Cuyo. Trekking in this area will reward you with amazing views of the Andes mountains and the border to Chile. After the trek, there’s nothing like letting your body soak in the warm waters of Las Termas de Cacheuta which are hot springs placed in a valley with beautiful mountain views.
The good thing is that you can do most of these hikes on your own. You don’t need a guide. The sad thing is that there are plenty of other hikes that can be done in the area but because we are getting closer to winter time, most of the treks are closed due to snow. My dream was to do the base camp trek to Aconcagua which with its 6.961 meters is the highest mountain in the Western and Southern hemisphere of the world. But I guess, I’ll have to wait.
A Guy, a Date and Spanish Love Songs
At a reggae party, I get to meet Luis from Mendoza who I end up spending a lot of time with the next couple of months (yeah, I know, there’s a guy too which doesn’t make it easier not liking Mendoza).
On our first date, he takes me to Villavicencio which is a big mansion placed in the mountains. Here they produce the mineral water that I see every where in Mendoza. Our trip to Villavicencio, is followed by red wine and an Argentinean asado made by Luis in the middle of the nature (a big amount of the most tender meat). To my big enjoyment, Luis takes out his guitar and more or less sings me Spanish love songs the rest of the day. The Latin American guys really know how to woe a girl, that is for sure. Other times, Luis will take me trekking, invite me for a picnic in the park or at the beautiful lake Potrerillos or maybe take me for a night out with music with his band.
A Culture for Sharing
One thing I surely get to love, is the Argentineans’ way of sharing everything. There’s such a social culture in this country and it goes straight to my heart. I love the social aspect of drinking mate which is a form of tea. Consuming mate is something that you rarely do alone, instead it is done with friends or family where the cup will pass from person to person.
Another big social ritual, is the Argentinean asado (barbecue) where a fire is lit in the garden or in the middle of the nature and a big amount of tender meat is placed upon it. The asado is accompanied by a good red wine and maybe some bread or salad. If you ever go to a mountain or anywhere with a view, you will see the smoke coming from various asados in the horizon which will give you a feel of how important these asados are to the Argentineans.
But it’s not just the mate and the asados that the Argentineans love to share. More or less everything is shared. What is mine is yours, most be the best way of describing the mentality of the country.
Somehow, it feels as though I fit in. I feel it when I’m hiking in the beautiful mountains surrounding Mendoza, when I’m sharing a mate or an asado with friends and colleagues and when I’m gathered around the dinner table at my hostel with all the people. I can’t help thinking, is this the place for me to settle down? Or will my restless soul get the better of me in the end? I guess time will tell…