Saturday morning I woke up early, overly enthusiastic and bursting with energy despite my lack of coffee intake. Why? Because, dear reader, Saturday morning I embarked on a trip to Mendoza, Argentina, to spend a long weekend there with four of my friends (Amelia, Emma, Khanh, and Helen).
The cool thing about this trip is that even though I am currently studying abroad in Chile, I was able to take a vacation to Argentina. That is right, a VACATION. I was so giddy about this fact, that I proceeded to exclaim it with gusto at every given opportunity to my traveling companions with an enthusiasm equal to that of Jessica from her popular youtube video, which if you haven’t seen, you much watch immediately (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3rK0kZFkg). Thus, “Guys! We are on vacation!” became my first daily affirmation of the trip.
To get to Mendoza we took a bus, which must traverse the Andes in order to cross the border between the two countries. The bus ride was about six hours, plus an extra hour or two to make it through customs, which is on top of a mountain. We couldn’t have asked for better weather that day; the views were spectacular.
We arrived in Mendoza late in the afternoon and headed straight to our hostel, a cute little place called Hostel Lao that was just minutes from the bus station. As soon as we got there we knew we had chosen the right place to stay. Not only was it an adorable, cozy, converted house, but also right away Mike, who owns the hostel with his wife Celeste, made us feel absolutely at home. He checked us in and gave us the low down on a bunch of great restaurants and shops in the area, marking everything down on our map. When he finally handed the map back to us he said, “Wow, it looks like a crazy person drew this map,” as it was so covered with notes and arrows. But it certainly paid off, as we heeded his advice and headed straight out to get ice cream at an “heladería” just blocks from the hostel.
At this point, I must mention something rather important. One of the main goals we had for coming to Mendoza was to eat. A lot. We had heard over and over again that if we went to Mendoza we had to take advantage of the meat (read: steak), ice cream, pasta, chocolate, and wine. Since a vast majority of what we wanted to eat was somehow related to products derived from cows, we developed our second Daily Affirmation for Mendoza: “I…like…my…whole…COW!” (which, if you have watched the aforementioned video, will actually make sense.) I digress.
So our first excursion in Mendoza was to eat ice cream, which was an excellent call. I got dulce de leche (which is much less sweet than the manjar equivalent in Chile, I am happy to report) with brownie and coconut. The coconut tasted so fresh, like real coconut, and had shaved coconut in it. Nom. While we were there, we ran into a few students that we had met in the hostel that are currently studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, and like us, were spending the weekend on vacation. After finishing our treats, we all headed to Plaza Independencia, a main plaza in the city that is typically bustling with artisan fairs, but that night also boasted a painting exposition. We meandered around the artisan stands, and I ended up chatting with a lady that was selling really cool paintings on recycled paper. I bought a small one about the size of a postcard, after she had explained to me the designs origins in pre-colonial Argentina. As we were chatting I mentioned to her that I was studying abroad in Valparaíso for the semester. She excitedly told me that next month she would actually be selling similar work in Valparaíso, but with designs based on Chile rather than Argentina. I gave her my email so that she could let me know when exactly she would be coming, and needless to say, I will definitely be making another purchase!
We headed back to the hostel at around 8:30 pm for wine, which the hostel provides for free every night, and relaxed a little bit before going to a steak restaurant that Mike described as having “the best steak in the world” for dinner. Argentinians don’t usually eat dinner until 10:00 or 11:00 pm, so we headed over at ten and soon discovered that Mike had not lied – our dinner was phenomenal. I had a pepper-encrusted filet mignon, and potatoes that were cooked in a cream sauce. We left the restaurant very full, and very content, and went to bed exhausted after our long day of traveling (and food).
We slept in the next morning and enjoyed the hostel’s breakfast spread before heading out. It was the South American equivalent of Labor Day, so even more was closed that would be on a typical Sunday, but we still had a good time exploring.
We started getting hungry around noon, and were lucky enough to find an open “paradilla” which can’t really be classified as a true restaurant, because upon entering all we found were two men, a counter, and a grill. Between the five of us we split and entire grilled chicken, twelve mini beef empanadas, and about a kilo of french fries. All for about $3.75USD. We took our piping hot lunch to a nearby park and ate it and watched ducks swim around in a lake.
As if our giant lunch wasn’t enough, we decided that we could definitely go for a sweet finish to the meal. We made our way to a little European-esque cafe and ate chocolate bonbons.
After our dessert we decided to head back to the hostel with the intention of just spending a few minutes for a bathroom break, but this led to that and Emma, Amelia, and Khanh ended up taking a little nap and Helen studied for a test she had coming up that week. I ended up playing bananagrams (kind of like speed Scrabble) with some American students I had met at breakfast that had just finished a semester in Buenos Aires. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to not play any Spanish words during this game (one of the rules is no foreign languages) when you have been thinking in Spanglish for the past 2 and a half months!
Early that evening we all headed back out again to Plaza Independencia. Although a good number of the little stands were closed for the holiday, a bunch we also open. As I have mentioned, Argentina boasts a great quality of edible cow products. It is also known for its inedible cow products, namely leather. All of us girls got beautiful hand-tooled leather belts from an artisan vendor, and I also got a hand-tooled leather bag. We also went to another nearby plaza that had a bunch of really detailed tiling.
That evening we searched (in vain) for more ice cream (all the shops were closed) and relaxed by the fireplace in the hostel. Very cozy.
We woke up on the early side on Monday morning, ready for our day of wine! Mendoza is famed for its vineyards, many of which offer tours and tastings to tourists! We ate breakfast at the hostel (after which I snapped some photographs of our digs) and got our morning ice cream fix before heading out, of course.
We took a bus out to Maipu, the wine region, and rented bicycles to aid in our wine tour. The first place we stopped had a museum attached, which was pretty interesting. The craziest thing for me was how big the barrels that hold the wine are! We also got a free wine tasting, which made it all the better.
The next place we biked to had no wine, but we got a hefty tasting of bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, olives, olive spreads, marmalade, dulce de leche spreads, and chocolate. There was also a shot of liquor included in each tasting – I chose a chocolate-hazelnut liquor that was so thick it was almost like slightly-liquidy Nutella, but burned your throat a bit on the way down.
We stopped at a couple other places: one was very small and reminded me more of a small farm or orchard than a vineyard. One place we just bought chocolate covered peanuts and then left. It ended up being way more biking than wining, but it was extremely fun. When we returned our bikes, the company gave us each a free (and sizeable!) glass of wine, which we enjoyed as the sun set before busing back to the hostel.
That night at the hostel, Celeste’s mom made dinner for all of the guests at the hostel. There was a lot of pasta with marinara sauce, a lot of meat, a lot of wine, and a lot of laughs and good conversation. The perfect way to end a perfect trip.
We left the following morning and got back into Viña in the late afternoon. I was sad that my vacation was over, but happy that it had happened.