I decided a long time ago that South America was far too large to see all of in one semester, so during my exchange I have been focused on travelling up, down, and all around Chile. However I have made time for a few excursions outside of the country, the first of which was a weekend trip to Mendoza.
Mendoza is a city in the heart of Argentina´s wine country, and just across the Andes on the other side of the Chilean/Argentinian border. It is famed internationally as one of the great wine regions of the world, and famed locally in Santiago for being a quick and easy trip across the border to renew visas.
(Not mine, of course. I definitely went through a complicated and stressful and expensive visa process before I got here. Please don’t remind me.)
When I travelled to Mendoza in September, it wasn’t actually my own trip. I was invited to join a group of friends who were going for the weekend, and I decided to join in the adventure. Apparently a lot of people thought this sounded like a good idea, and we ended up being 21 people in total.
I think its possible to fly to Mendoza, but the generally accepted way to get there is by bus. Its about 5 hours away driving, through the Andes and across. However, the border crossing adds a significant and unpredictable amount of time to the journey.
Since we were such a big group, it worked out to be easier and more cost efficient to get our own bus to take us there and back. This meant that were free to be as loud as we wanted, wander up and down to switch seats to talk to whoever, and were a lot more comfortable than we would have been in a normal shared coach. The views were beautiful and it was fun just hanging out and catching up with friends.
However, border control was another story. We arrived in the middle of the day, which I guess is the busiest time. We were there for three hours, which weren’t the most thrilling of the trip. There was some food, and bathrooms, and we could get out of the bus and stretch our legs. But also, there were multiple confusing queues and the endless waiting.
Being Australian added an extra level of difficulty to the process, as Argentina requires Australians to pay a $100 reciprocity fee to enter the country. I took a stand and refused to be the only person amongst 21 to pay to enter Argentina, and took advantage of my dual nationality to get away with it. Even post-Brexit, the British passport has its uses.
On Saturday, we went to explore Mendoza´s main event – the wines. We caught a bus to Maipu, about half an hour out of the city, to the area with all the best vineyards. We rented bikes and spent the day cycling around the Argentinian wine region, stopping off at various vineyards to take tours and enjoy the tasting sessions. I’ve gone on a few winery tours now, and to be honest I´ve started tuning out when they do they explain the whole vines and grapes and barrels and manufacturing process. They’re all pretty similar. Lets be honest – I’m there for the wine, and for strolling around the beautiful vineyards.
The first place we went (Domiciano de Barrancas) was a smaller, boutique vineyard, and the view of the vines against the snowy Andes took my breath away. But the second place (Trapiche) was even better, with the tasting taking place on a balcony overlooking the gorgeous gardens, complete with lakes, vineyards, and a little family of geese. We tried an amazing sparkling wine and took as many refills as we could manage, and just lay on the balcony enjoying the sun and the beautiful view.
Although the sparkling was by far my favourite, I´ve been making sure I actually try all of these supposedly very fancy and high quality wines. I normally only drink white, but red is actually the specialty of the region and I have been proud of my attempts to sample all of the reds we have been offered, and pretend to be able to appreciate the high quality of these internationally famed wines.
On our second day in Mendoza, we travelled outside of the city again to the Termas de Cacheuta. These were a network of outdoor heated pools in the amongst the mountains, and we literally just spent the whole day lounging around in the sun and the pools. Each pool was a different temperature or depth or with a different view, so we could just move around in search of what we wanted all day. It was so relaxing and so lovely.
It was on Sunday that I had one of those moments I get periodically when I’m travelling, that moment of “oh, I´m chilling in thermal pools in the mountains of Argentina. That’s pretty surreal, and pretty amazing. My life is pretty surreal, and pretty amazing.”
We travelled back to Santiago overnight, so that people wouldn’t have to miss classes on Monday, and with the added bonus of hitting the border in the middle of the night. We timed it so that we would arrive before the majority of the scheduled inter-city buses, and this time made it through in half an hour. Success.
We arrived home at 3am, and stumbled back to bed, to sleep on a flat vertical surface rather than the uncomfortable seats of the bus. We all love travelling, but the actual physical “travelling” part is always the least enjoyable.
Argentina was beautiful and friendly and their accents are lovely (the ‘sh’ sound they make for ‘ll’ is cute). The country is huge and I only saw a tiny portion, but I will be making my way back soon.
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