Wineries, Mountains, and Rafting, Oh my!

2 Sep

Mendoza. Home of the country’s best wineries and located smack dab in the middle of the Andes, just a short drive from the highest summit in the country, and I believe the continent. However, none of this even gives you a hint of how absolutely amazing it is.

DSCI0016.jpg Mendoza picture by baileebrownLast weekend was my friend’s 20th birthday, and to celebrate four of us took a four day trip to Mendoza. Clearly the best decision of our lives. After arriving Friday night and eating dinner, we went to the tourist agency and planned out the rest of our trip. Wine and bike tour of the bodegas (wineries) on Saturday, trekking and horseback riding in the Andes, along with an asado and guitar playing that night on Sunday, and white water rafting Monday afternoon, before we caught our flight back to Bs. As. at 8:00pm.

Saturday was quite a trip. Between wind advisories that nearly blew us off of our bikes to exploding tires that DID knock Adam off of his, we had quite a day. However, even with these minor setbacks, it was totally something worth doing. For just 60 pesos ($15) we were able to rent bikes and bike to four bodegas (of which we made it to three because of Adam’s flat tire), complete with tour and wine tasting. The first was a small bodega that only made church wines and this one super sweet desert wine. It was good, but super small. Second was Norton, the biggest one in the area that we went to (Luján). It’s owned by Swarovski, the crystal guy. It was massive and the tour took probably an hour at that one. Beautiful views! There, we got a free glass of champagne, as well as tried wine straight from the fermentation tank, then straight from the barrel that they put it in after it’s been in the tank for a few months (it stays in the barrels for a year, and we had some that had been there for four months now), and then a 2007 bottle, which was clearly the best of the three. After Norton, we had another small one that we never made it to, and then Bonfontti, a very small family owned bodega which had the first rosado (rosé) wine that I’d come across all day! (Super exciting for me since it’s my favourite.) After trying two different malbecs of theirs (most famous red wine from Argentina) I bought two bottles of the rosado, which only cost 18 pesos each! That’s $5 apiece! Awesome day with lots of sun (it was 75 degrees and sunny all day, and it’s winter here!).

Sunday, however, topped anything that Saturday could have even tried to offer. We were picked up from our hostel at 9:30am and driven out into the Andes. Oh my gosh, most beautiful drive of my life. They stopped for a short detour to the bluest lake that I have ever seen in my life. Apparently it’s so deep that it somehow allows for all of the dirt and dust and whatnot that may be in it naturally to sink to the bottle of it, leaving the top to be clear and gorgeous. I really do not have anything in the world to compare it to, because it was THE bluest that I have ever seen water outside of pictures. After that awesome detour, we were dropped off with our dashing tour guide, Diego. Forgive me if I ever go off topic and just talk about how awesome Diego is, but I think I might be in love. Did I mention he’s a legit gaucho? He was drinking mate in the car on the way there! (Gauchos are Argentina’s version of cowboys and mate is their super strong tea-like drink that is the national drink and super bitter. However, gauchos totally drink it all the time and are BA and stuff.)

So, then Diego took us up into the mountains. At first, it was just a lot of small rocks that sunk a lot, and it was difficult to move through them because they felt like sand. And I thought that was hard, ha! He took us to this place called la Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), which was a little enclosed place between all of these rocks that had water naturally coming out from a small hole in one of them, making it kinda look like a throat, I suppose. It was pretty cool, and he told us how that water is cleaner than the bottled water that we drink back in the city (which is, conveniently, from Mendoza), so clearly being the cool tourist Americans that we were, totally rubbed our hands against this mountain and licked our fingers. Turns out he was right, even with touching the mountain it tasted better than the bottled water!

After that, we took us on the part that was going to be “más duro” (harder). Yeah, that was definitely not a good enough warning for what we were about to get into. I should probably take a moment now to mention that I went to Mendoza with my only tennis shoes being Pumas. This is because, one, we didn’t have plans for the weekend before we packed and, two, I stupidly forgot my other tennis shoes back home. Needless to say, Pumas are not the best shoes for trekking up the freaking Andes.

So, we embarked upon the scariest part of my life up to that point. On the way to la Garganta del Diablo, there was a path. Where we went next? No path. Only cactus. Lots of it. Which Diego then told us was either not very sharp, or poisonous and would make us swell and get a fever, depending on which we touched. Of course the bad one was the one we came across the most after that (He also pointed out which plant would make the best tea for a sore throat, since Zoe and Gwen were a little sick, and then gave them the leaves for it. How cool is that?). So, with cactus and slippery rocks and no traction shoes, we climbed us this super steep, super scary cliff to see one of the most beautiful views ever. Seriously, you could see three different heights of the mountains, and that apparently wasn’t the highest that they went. It was amazing. And I made it there alive thanks to Diego holding my hand the whole way up (Can you say awesome? I got to hold his hand the whole time!).

However, once you go up, you then have to go down. So, I yet again embarked upon the scariest few minutes of my life up to that point. And again, clearly, I made it out alive, thanks to Diego and, probably, God. It was crazy and amazing and totally a moment I will never forget, as I’m pretty sure the adrenaline that was flowing through my body STILL hasn’t left.

Then, after a lunch break that included amazing empanadas from a tiny hole in the wall place that was in the middle of the Andes, and some amazing tomato salsa that Diego made himself, we were joined by two Swedish girls, Sara and Ellen, and went horseback riding up the other side of the mountains!

This was probably even more exciting for me than the trekking. I’ve only been on a horse one other time in my life, and I was six and it was around the street at my friends house. Totally not the same as scaling the side of a mountain that was so steep Diego said we wouldn’t be able to go up it if we weren’t on horses. Wow.

And this is where I finally came across the scariest part of my life up to NOW. After going up a steep area and it evening out and having an amazing view, we had to go down an even STEEPER cliff. Oh. My. Gosh. When going down, you have to lean back on your horse. All good, makes sense, then you don’t fall off of it. Well, I was literally laying down on my saddle, and I was holding the front, like you are supposed to, AND the back, because my saddle decided that it would be a good idea on the hardest part of our trip to start to slide a little from side to side. I seriously almost fell forward and toppled off of my horse into cactus twice. And then, just as I was almost on flat ground, safe and sound, my horse decided to stop abruptly, have the horse behind us run into us, and then stand still as it pooped. No, it couldn’t walk like the rest of them, it couldn’t wait until we were not threatening my life, it had to stop on one of the most difficult parts of our descent. Lovely. Thanks, Sosten. (That’s his name.) Once we finally did make it to the bottom of that particular cliff, my friend Gwen and I both had to get off of our horses so that they could fix our saddles. No wonder we were the two laying down and freaking out, apparently our saddles were barely on the horses. Oops!

After that amazing adventure, we got back to the little one room house thing that we started out in and Diego and two other guide made the most amazing asado of my life, and then he pulled out the guitar and sang Argentine folk music to us. Fue el amor. Ellen also played us some songs, which she wrote herself, and two of them were in Swedish. They were beautiful. How do some people get all the talent? Regardless, it was an amazing end to what was probably the best day of my life.

However, that was not the end of my trip. The next morning we were picked up once more and taken out to the river to go white water rafting! It was my first time ever, we got stuck on two rocks, I got about six face fulls of water while everyone got none, and Adam hardly got wet, while I got something that the word ‘wet’ doesn’t do justice. We also met this adorable couple from San Francisco that were on their honeymoon. How awesome is it to go rafting (and zip lining, which they did and we didn’t have any more money for) on your honeymoon? They even bought us drinks while we were waiting for the van to take us all back to the city!

By the time I got on the plane back home, I had pretty much decided that I HAVE to return to Mendoza at some time in my life. The bodegas are in season in the summer, and the rafting is harder in the summer, and I still have higher mountains to trek and sky diving and paragliding and rock climbing to do! It was yet another weekend of firsts for me, and I could not have asked for a better first trip away from the city.

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