Two glasses of wine, a bag of Walkers crisps and a new friend, Marisa, later, I have an invitation to stay with her in her apartment for the rest of the week.
Here’s how it went down. She worked at the Vines and after work she came to enjoy a glass of wine. Realizing how odd it was for someone to be sitting next to all of their belongings (read: backpacker gear) and sipping a lovely glass of wine, she decided to start a conversation.
We clicked immediately.
She decided that I was ‘normal’ because I knew someone who knew someone who introduced us to Emily. I decided she was normal because we went through two glasses of wine together without missing a beat.
She realized my conundrum and invited me to stay in her two bedroom apartment for the rest of the week. Her reasoning – she had an extra bed and I didn’t even have one. We left the bar, went back to her apartment to drop my stuff and headed out for the night and laughed about how our friends back in the States would find this extremely unsafe and weird.
After several glasses of Argentina’s finest at the Vines, Marissa and I decided we probably needed some sustenance as we walked to her apartment.
Once the taxi dropped us off in Mendoza, I headed back to the hostel, grabbed my bags from the locker in the basement, said goodbye to the front desk and raced to the Vines.
When I arrived, with my bags in tow, Emily saw me and her jaw dropped.
‘Didn’t you get my email?’
‘No. I was out all day. Everything ok?’
‘The trip was cancelled. Investors are here and they are going tonight.’
What’s a girl (who has all of her belongings in tow) to do but drop her bags and have a glass of wine? Or two.
Was pretty and uneventful. I was a little nervous about being late because the taxi driver was more social on the ride home and was sharing stories, and pulling over for photo opps.
We all fell asleep – no surprise, after being in the warm sun and thermal pools all day.
En route to Termas Cachuetas, the surrounding area looked like we could have been driving around Arizona.
It was slightly ironic to see a water park smack in the middle of the desert. There was a fancy spa attached (probably for tourists) and the water park seemed like it was the local thing to do.
Unfortunately, my camera was locked in a locker for the day so no waterpark photos.
Just know that we had a great day.
The next morning I woke up and, since I was invited to sleep at the villas that night, I got ready to check out. I locked my bags in the lockers in the basement, had some breakfast at the hostel and headed to the park where we agreed to meet.
Arrived at our meeting place a little early so sat on a park bench waiting.
And waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
Realizing it had been a while, and without means to contact my travel companions for the day, I decided to leave. I only had until 6 so I would have time to get back to the hostel to collect my bags and make it to the Vines for the van’s 7p departure.
As I walked away from our meeting place, I didn’t get very far until I heard my name being called from across the park.
We hoofed it to the Mendoza bus terminal to catch a bus to the Termas Cacheutas. The three of us spent far too much time in the Mendoza bus terminal, which isn’t even that big. After visiting what seemed like every single (open) bus operator we learned that the buses to our destination only left every three hours. Oops.
Quickly we found the taxi line, and spoke with a driver who confirmed that he would take us. With the proposed pricing, it would cost us each about $25 for a roundtrip, plus a driver tip. We all agreed and got into the taxi.
If this sounds like the longest day ever, it really was. As it neared 5pm, I made my way towards The Vines and I arrived at the tasting room just shy of 5p. I met Emily, the head of marketing, and she joined me for a tasting flight. The wines were amazing.
Emily invited me to visit the Uco Valley property the following evening for an overnight stay on the finca (land belonging to the winery). I was also invited to a weekly tasting event at the Hyatt on Thursday night. I already had plans on Thursday during the day with my new airport friends, Rafael and Gustavo. Being that it was only Monday, I figured a week in one place couldn’t hurt. Especially when that place was Mendoza.
After the private tasting, I joined the other guests at the bar and got to chatting to two other American backpackers. We started to talk about things to do outside of the city. I had recalled that earlier, in my hostel, I had seen a brochure for a water park at my hostel, and I brought it up to them as a suggestion for something different. After a few more glasses, we headed out to dinner.
Plans continued to evolve over dinner and as we said good night, the three of us agreed to meet in the morning at a statue in the park to head out for a day trip to the water park situated in the Andes.
When I returned to the hostel, I emailed with my new airport friends and we decided on Thursday for our wine tasting day together!
Thanks to a former colleague, I had plans at 5p to meet up with the marketing head at Vines of Mendoza to learn about project work. The Vines is a popular tasting room in the city of Mendoza but also has land for sale in the Uco Valley for people to purchase their own private villa and land for those wishing to own a piece of a finca (land belonging to the winery).
Between late morning and 5p, I had a few hours to myself and I was eager to explore. There were loads of tourist shops and many places offering wine tours. One of the popular tours was biking to the vineyards for wine tastings.
My new friends, Rafael and Gustavo, from the Cordoba airport had warned me against it since the bikes weren’t in the greatest condition and the vineyards were a pretty far ride. Without their warning, I was also hesitant to do the ride through the vineyards. I really enjoy wine tasting and vineyard hopping; however, the bikes, the distance and the blazing heat I felt on my first day did not make for a very enticing combination.
Instead I wandered. And wandered some more. I continued to explore Mendoza. Until I arrived, I didn’t realize Mendoza was an actual city. There were no vineyards where I was. Slightly disappointed but I knew I would get out to the vineyards on Thursday at the very least.
I stopped for lunch at an outdoor café in the center of town near the Havanna I had settled into earlier in the day. My table was adjacent to an elderly British couple traveling on, what they called, a grandparent gap year. They were finishing up their lunch but stayed at their table eager to chat with me. They embraced South American time and ordered another glass of wine, telling me that they would keep me company until my meal arrived. We had a lively conversation over my first glass, and their last, and I really enjoyed, and appreciated, their company.
My map reading skills failed me in Mendoza. I was chasing my tail using the map and got turned around so many times that I ditched the map (okay so I didn’t ditch it, I still needed it) but I just let myself decide where to wander and so I covered a fair bit of ground. Let it be known that Mendoza is supposedly an easy city to navigate.
I headed over to the closest place (#3) and learned they had no availability for the week. When I left there, it was starting to get pretty hot out and it wasn’t very comfortable being sandwiched between my backpack and day pack with the sun beating down. I was anxious to lighten my load and explore Mendoza.
I just needed a place to call home for the night first.
I walked a little ways to the next closest (#1) and as I approached the desk, I quickly learned there were no rooms there either. Since I only had one place left on my list, I asked to use their phone and called #2.
Using the now well-worn map, and dripping with sweat, I made my way to what felt like the other side of town, checked in and took one of the three unclaimed beds, which put me in a top bunk (my preferred location) in a room for four. It took a second for me to realize I hadn’t been in a hostel in a few days since I had upgraded myself (voluntarily and then by chance) to hotels the past two nights.
There was a French language guidebook on the windowsill, very heavily, um, scented, hiking boots under one of the beds and a worn backpack leaning against the wall. I deduced that my roommate was from France and he/she had been traveling a while.
I would learn later that she was from France and had been traveling nearly a year. Just call me Sherlock Holmes.
I dropped my backpack, took my day pack and my sense of adventure and left to explore Mendoza.
My taxi driver was probably so confused. Here, he’s making a pick up from the airport and the direction he gets is ‘the center of town.’
He was obviously concerned for my lack of plans because he literally dropped me off in front of a free-standing visitors booth just a block away from the main pedestrian street in Mendoza. He waved his hands encouraging me to visit the booth.
I thanked him and got out of the taxi. He waited until I got myself situated – my big backpack on my back and my daypack firmly secured on my front. I asked the visitors booth for a map. I took it and then headed towards the pedestrian only street (Avenida Sarmiento) where there were tons of cafes. I decided to park myself at Havanna, South America’s omnipresent coffee shop (think Starbucks), hooked my backpack under the leg of my chair, ordered myself a submarino and got to work to find myself a place to stay.
Let’s talk about this submarino for a second. It is hot (steamed?) milk served in a tall glass with a chocolate bar served on the side. You put the bar in, mix it and drink it. Heavenly.
Can you believe it? Not one photo — because I drank it before I could photograph it! Photo courtesy of NC.
While I waited for my submarino, I pulled up the top Mendoza hostels on TripAdvisor and wrote down their addresses and phone numbers. I didn’t see the hostel from the Lonely Planet I had booked from the airport for the night before so I let it go.
Learning from my earlier experience in Colonia, Uruguay, I did not put all of my eggs in one basket and instead made a shortlist of three hostels (TripAdvisor #1, #1 and #3). I marked each hostel on the map, mapped out my walk in case I needed to hit all three due to the lack of availability, shut my computer and took in the morning café life in Mendoza.
Monday morning the wake up call went off – and I got out of bed with the first one. I showered, got ready and headed down to the lobby where we had all agreed to meet for breakfast. I was the first one to arrive at breakfast at our agreed upon time and so sat down with a cup of tea while I waited for my dining companions/stranded travelers/friends.
After a breakfast from the buffet, the ten of us checked out, got back into the taxis that we had taken just a few hours before and headed back to the Cordoba airport for take two.
We left on time but the flight was very bumpy and when we landed I was so thankful to be on the ground.
During the time we were delayed, my new friends Rafael and Gustavo invited to show me around their town, Maipu, which is one of the towns in the countryside around the city of Mendoza, later in the week. I agreed and we exchanged emails to confirm Thursday. They would pick me up in Mendoza and then it was up to them to make a plan.
The flight was very bumpy and I was so thankful to be on the ground. We said good bye and agreed to confirm my trip to Maipu on Wednesday.
I got into a cab and headed to Mendoza. The taxi driver, of course, asked for an address, and since I didn’t know where I was going, I asked him to drop me off in the center of town.