- Lonely times
- The Hostel Estacion Gang in Mendoza
- A short history of Argentine wine
- Drink and drive! Bodega hopping in Maipu
- Cooking Nonna´s pasta for 15 people
- Crossing the Andes- the most scenic bus ride of my life
- Hello Santiago – a very warm welcome
I am in Santiago de Chile now, about 1000 km west from where I wrote last to you from la Cumbricita in the Sierras de Cordoba. The past days have been among the best I had in a long time.
So when I wrote last I was in La Cumbrecita, the crazy Bavarian mountain town close to Cordoba. To be honest I had quite a bad day, as I felt very lonely travelling by myself and literally being by myself 24/7. Whenever I met people I did not really dare to talk to them with my shit Spanish and when they spoke to me the conversation would never go past the few basics I felt confident to say. Moreover, I have never really travelled alone and I am just used to having people around, speaking all day about everything, and now I felt silenced and isolated and thought that this would have persisted until I would have reached Santiago – but no! Then came the Hostel Estancion in Mendoza!
The Hostel Estacion Gang in Medoza
I took a night bus from Cordoba, classic top notch semi-sleeper bus, arrived very early in freezing Mendoza and made my way to the only hostel that I have booked online so far. I chose it not because it necessarily had the best reviews, but it simply was the cheapest hostel in town. Once there, after a nice nap, some Spanish speaking people started playing Uno and asked me if I wanted to join, and this Uno game changed my travelling style completely!
Because we were basically stuck at this table for hours, we went past the basic conversation and I soon realized that I am actually able to speak much more Spanish than I thought! The group was awesome, as we had some Argentines, Brazilians (who spoke Brazilian, very slowly) and two Mexicans. They all did not really speak English, or better it was just more appropriate to speak Castellano, and so I ended up talking for hours. Later a Russian, a German and an Austrian joined us and I kind of acted as the translator, being the only one who could speak both English and Spanish.
It was amazing, as we spent all night cooking, eating, drinking wine and THE Argentine drink Fernet-Cola (ironically it is from Milan, and nobody in Italy drinks it, but in Argentina it is the national drink when you want to party). Moreover, we decided to spend all of the next day together doing a wine tour which is was planning on doing alone!
A short history of Argentine wine
So Mendoza. A name that rings a bell in any wine lover´s ear! In Buenos Aires Juan´s family made me try amazing Argentine wine already and the only reason I came all the 1800km to Mendoza was to see how they produce it. Mendoza itself it a typical, Argentine city with nice trees along the roads, beautiful plazas and lots of good food!
But back to the wine! Basically when the Spanish came, and along with them the Jesuits, they already started producing a local version of wine in the 16-18th century, however, it was a very rough, edgy product which was only meant for domestic use and even then it sounds more than questionable. Then in the 19th century the Italians and Spanish immigrants came and, as you can imagine, could not drink that piss that the Jesuits had been cultivating. As a result, they brought their own grapes and started growing them.
The climatic conditions that I found here in Mendoza are completely different from Europe though. During the night it is absolutely freezing, during the day it gets very warm. Moreover, they cultivate it on a sand, desert soil, which increased my curiosity even further.
What the Italians did was to start irrigating land that would otherwise have been too arid. What they obtained where soils full of minerals and where irrigation could be controlled completely at all times, as it never rained and thereby avoiding bad harvests caused by sudden heavy rain. The cold nights ensure that the grapes keep a lot of acidity while the warm days make them grow as if they were in the Mediterranean.
So this was a short history, but what does it actually taste like and did it satisfy my very high expectations?
Drink and drive! Botega hopping in Maipu
There are endless wine producers, so-called bodegas, around Mendoza. The Hostel Estacion wine Gang decided to head to Maipù, around 45 minutes south of Mendoza. They have an awesome way of exploring the area, which would not really be approved in Europe: drink and drive! You can rent scooter or bikes (we went for bikes) all over the place, they give you a map and then you can just ride on your bike from one bodega to the next.
I took a tandem because Katja, our Russian challenge-participant said she had not been driving since she was 7 and we thought the tandem would be the better option considering that a lot of wine was waiting for us.
First, we headed to the wine museum, where they basically accumulated all sorts of items used for the cultivation of wine. Additionally, they had a bit of history on the area and the grapes. After a very important sandwich stopover we made our way to the first bodega, Tempus Alba. It was founded by Italians in the 1940s and today has a production of around 250 000 litres per year. I found it quite interesting that they do not use any stabilizers for the wine, which is common use in Europe and is simply required to ensure the perfect fermentation of the wine.
For a couple of euros they cracked open a few bottles and on their beautiful terrace, overlooking the Andes, we tasted their red wines. I had a Tempranillo and two different Malbecs, the most famous Argentine grape. As said above, they are all originally from Europe, but you do not really get European ones and I found their taste unique. They were both strong and fruity red wines with a very varied and intense bouquet. I usually do not like fruity red wines and opt for the hearty, heavy wine. But the Malbec, especially the superior one which is made with only the best grapes of each year, convinced me 100%.
When I looked at the prices, however, I was shocked: the cheapest bottle was around 12 Euros and then up to 25 Euros, which is a ridiculous price, even for a good wine. Then I asked how much they export, and they told me that 95% of their production goes straight to mostly Europe and the US. I imagine that once they reach those markets, they will cost you double, so around 20-25 Euros for the cheapest Malbec, which can just not compete with the price/value ratio of French and Italian wine.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it and it was a great experience how such a different climate and soil influences the production and taste of wine.
Cooking Nonna´s pasta for 15 people
We went to another bodega and then we had to tackle the 10km ride back on the main road…. Aiaiai… The moment we left the bodega a police officer on a motorbike saw us and he accompanied us all the way, not to check whether we were drunk but just to make sure that we would arrive safely. So nice. Whenever there was a crossing he would go ahead and ensure that nobody is coming, then,once the people at the front were through he would go to the back and look after them too. Just so nice.
By this time everyone had kind of got to know the others and this usually means that people realize how much I love food. So when it came to what we should eat I suggested that I could cook my Nonna´s ragu (a special Bolognese) and show them that despite all the praise there is still a big and clearly tastable gap between Argentine and Italian pasta.
With a lot of help from the others we cooked ragu for 15 people and had an amazing last meal altogether, followed by hours of talking and laughing. The Mexicans were just awesome and southern Mexico is now on the list of places I want to visit! Moreover, their Spanish is the clearest I have heard so far and I found it perfect to practice and learn some very funny Mexican slang words. The two German/Austrian girls were also very interesting, as they have been travelling for 6 months around the world and have a very similar way of approaching travelling (if anyone is interested, they also have a travel blog, more personal than mine and in German (www.globegirls.de).
Crossing the Andes – the most scenic bus ride of my life
It was a long night with a lot of wine, and after only 2.5 hours I had to get out of bed, into the freezing cold outside, and walk to the bus station in the dark for my 8am departure (yes, it´s winter, so the sun rises around 8.45). Got there, took my seat, felt asleep, woke up and just couldn’t believe what I was seeing: desert, then an arid mountain range, behind that the Andes covered in snow and above the most turquoise sky I can imagine. It was absolutely incredible.
I remember how, ever since I was a child, I would look at the map of South-America and see this mountain range, the second highest of the planet, which vertically cuts through all of the continent. I have always been fascinated by the Andes and read about the historic ascents of some peaks in Patagonia, but I never believed that it would look this incredible.
The road then climbed up to Passo del Inca, the most accessible border between Argentina and Chile. It is at around 3000m of altitude and has completely unpredictable weather. It can be perfect on both sides of the border, still, within two hours they might close it because of a blizzard. I was lucky, it was opened and from there I got a glimpse on the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas, the Aconcagua (6959m). I just loved it! In the bus (the cheapest one I found btw.) they served me breakfast, coffee all the time, snacks. I had my window seat and just gazed at the ever changing landscapes: desert, red mountains, yellow mountains, black mountains and finally the mighty peaks of the Aconcagua.
Border crossing can be awful here, as it can get very crowded due to the few days it is opened and the Mexicans told me they had to wait 5 hours in the cold in 3000m… So I was a bit worried and was wearing 5 layers of clothes. But then, 15 minutes, zack, stamp, zack, done – back in the bus, nice coffee for everyone, a few galletas (cookies) and off we went for the second part of our spectacular cross-Andes journey. Incredible.
Hello Santiago – a very warm welcome
Now I am in Santiago and I absolutely love it! I am visiting my other dear friend, also called Juan (who came to Buenos Aires when I was there and was with us on the Estancia in the Argentine Pampas). The two Juans and I played in the same football team when they did their exchange semester at UCL 1.5 years ago. Their hospitality has left me speechless and here in Santiago from the moment I got out of the bus Juan has arranged everything in order that I can just lean back and enjoy this place to its fullest! And there is a lot to enjoy! But I am saving Santiago for the next News in a couple of days. Just to give you a teaser: 6 million people metropolis with 5000m high mountains right next to it.
Now I will head out into the garden and have some fun with Juan´s two completely hyperactive dogs who go absolutely mental as soon as anyone steps outside of this house.
Hasta luego viejos