Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mendoza: Asados, Bicycles, and Bodegas

Onwards to Mendoza, a city in the middle of the Argentinian desert kept green by an extensive irrigation system, which is much too pretty for its own good.  The city center is filled with fountains and plazas and tree-lined boulevards and trendy boutiques.  It's much quieter and more laid-back than Buenos Aires, and that's just fine by me.  Asados every night and a gloriously exciting midnight Christmas dancing across the street amongst fireworks exploding in every which direction like a scene out of Apocalypse Now was beginning to take its toll.  (My roommate at the time, a guy with a blue mohawk who was covered in tattoos and who worked, as one might expect, as a hairdresser and tattoo artist, plus his buddy Beepo - introduced to me as "El Maestro de Asado" and the name was not inaccurate - both got me into Iggy Pop, and I've been listening to his music fanatically ever since.)

As for Mendoza, there were two things I wanted to do here: horseback riding and a bike tour of the bodegas.  The first was as spectacular as they get - a group of us drove out into the desert and sat around a swimming pool until the sun was low enough for us to go out riding.  Then we rode off into the sunset (yes, we totally did!) and turned so we had the Andes mountains on our left.  We saw a wild tarantula crawling along the rocks on the side of the road, and everything was a dusty purplish in the twilight.  We walked along for a while but then the horses, who had a competitive streak, starting racing.

My horse especially seemed to have something of an inferiority complex, because any time someone tried to pass us, he'd just set off at a dead run.  And I have no more of an idea of how to ride a horse than I did in Ecuador, so I just clung on for dear life with my knees, my feet flying out of the stirrups, and mostly thought, "I'm going to die, I'm going to die!" as my horse went flying along the edge of a deep gully filled with pointy rocks and cacti with 7-inch spines.  Afterwards, some of the other foreigners commented on how comfortable I looked riding, and one Brazilian guy, when I told him it was only my second time on a horse, gaped at me and declared, "I thought you were an expert... but you're actually INSANE!!"

Afterwards we had an asado, filled with much wine and grilled steak - one of our guides cut me off a piece of the lomo, the best part of the cow, and it was crispy on the outside and so tender and juicy and savory on the inside that I nearly wept with joy.  I have every intention of turning the asado into a tradition everywhere I go from here on in.

As for the bike tour, it was good fun alright.  A group of us from the hostel biked out to three different bodegas, one an old family-owned bodega that made organic, artisan wine (I bought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for my friend's wedding in February,) and another one a big, mass-producer and exporter.  Interestingly, as someone had told me at the asado from the night before, despite Argentina producing some of the best wines in the world, there really isn't much of a wine culture when it comes to drinking - on nights out, people usually just order beer.

After an excessively weird New Year's Eve of jumping into a swimming pool and dragging people in after me, giving myself a black eye, and sleeping in an abandoned stairwell, (yerba maté and tequila is a disastrous combination...) I took my final bus across the Andes to Santiago, where I had ice creams and juice with my Dutch friend Jonas and his girlfriend Stella, and together we visited the Museum of Human Rights, a memorial of the torturing and disappearances in Chile under the Pinochet regime.  It was a very interesting exhibition, with lots of first-hand accounts of what it was like, as well as newspaper clippings and TV footage.  However, it was all in Spanish, and the wave of information was too much for me to take in at once, so it was a good thing we had Stella to explain things from a local's perspective.

I'm in Valparaiso now for a few days, a city that begs to be explored, so off I go!

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