This past weekend I went to Mendoza, Argentina, which may be the greatest city in the world – and I do not say this lightly.
We started out our journey a day late since there was a storm on at the Chile/Argentine border and we were taking a bus. So we left Friday night on the winding road to Argentina, a trip that should take 6 hours but somehow took 15 after dealing with border police and customs. It’s a good thing I’ve always loved long bus rides.
Argentine Flag at the border; Us at the Border
The group was interesting. Three friends from my program and I went with CAUC, the organization at La Catolica (the other university my program is studying at) that organizes trips for foreign exchange students. There were 45 people from different parts of the world, mostly American, some German, two Spaniards. But the strange thing was that they were all practically indistinguishable from each other. All seemed to come from money and have a very “facebook” oriented view of what it mean to travel. They took pictures so they could upload them to their profiles. They went bungee jumping so they could tweet about it. There’s nothing wrong with this per say because everyone was very nice and no one dragged their feet from activity to activity. It was just a very distinct atmosphere from what I’m used to when I travel.
Tree Lined Streets of Mendoza; Gutters
But nothing could have distracted from the city. It’s a small city with tree lined streets and boutique shops. The only chain was a McDonalds, and even it tired to class up its front door. Every street has open gutters made of stone with tiled sidewalks, which coupled with the trees makes the whole city feel quiet. The cars don’t honk, and the streets aren’t covered in people. If you walk for less then two hours in any direction you’ll be in the wilderness. You can walk into a park and hear nothing but the sounds of fountains. No cars. No people. No traffic. Just you and the grass and the path in front of you. The air is clean and cold. This place is gorgeous.
Vineyard From the First Winery; Modern Wine Barrels
The first day there we visited two wineries. The first was a more commercial producer with acres and acres of vineyard. But the second has maintained the modes of production used in the early 1900’s. They showed us how they grind the grapes into pulp using this massive saw, and the large barrels they use for fermentation.
Saw Used to Grind the Grapes; Pulp Filter; Wine Barrels
Our tour of the wineries was followed by a tour of the city. We drove through some of their many parks, saw fountains, and rivers with rowers, and people biking, people walking etc. The parks looked a lot like Griffith with more trees. And unlike Santiago, there seemed to be more runners then pololos. There’s a huge hill with a clear view of the city with the Andes in the background. On top of it, they’ve built a statue with an angel to signify independence and peace. When we arrived the clouds had just set in, giving the angel a dark back drop with a halo of sun beams fighting through the clouds (though the pictures don’t quite look that dark…) It was very dramatic.
With the Angel
After dinner in a restaurant that over looked the lake, we went on a tour of a Chocolate Factory that’s been open for three generations. They put out samples of every type of chocolate they make, and we ate until we felt a bit sick. My favorite flavor was a white chocolate covered honey ball with nut bits on the outside. I could have eaten a thousand of them.
Dinner Over the Lake; Caitlin and the Chocolate Factory
Sunday was our day of adventures. We drove up into the mountains to meet Puenting Mendoza, our guides for bungee jumping and repelling. We started out with the repelling, which is basically rock climbing without the climbing up part. But the height prepared us for Puenting. Puenting (translated literally into “bridging” ) is basically bungee jumping without the bungee rope. They tie you to a bridge and you jump off. You’re weightless for a moment, then the rope tightens and you swing back and forth until you get to the ground.
I was second to go. We climbed up under the bridge attached to a wire cable incase we slipped. They put us in harneses that went around our shoulders and legs so we were tightly strapped to the rope. After rigging the cables so that my jump would go smooth, they told me to step up on to the ledge. It didn’t quite hit me that I was about to jump off a bridge until I was standing on the ledge. I had a moment of panic where I was convinced I wouldn’t do it, then the guy counted to three, I shrugged and left the bridge. There was a short moment of weightlessness where I could not scream or breathe, then the rope tightened and I swung. The rush of adrenaline as the landscape spun around me put a smile on my face that didn’t disappear for a whole hour after the plunge. I think next I have to jump out of a plane 😛
Video of Me jumping off a bridge:
We took a tango class that night, which turns out to be a very complicated dance, but it was very fun to do. We went out for drinks after, and didn’t get back until about four in the morning. Though I only had one drink, I had a hard time getting up for the 9 am bike ride around the city. So I decided that I’d give myself a walking tour instead of going with the group. It turned out to be one of the best things I did in Mendoza. I left my ipod in the room and walked around listening to the sounds of the city. I walked through the park, found an ice cream parlor, walked through a street fair, looked at street art, and read Sherlock Holmes on my Kindle in a park bench in front of the pigeon square. For lunch I stopped in at a little café that had a direct view of the main fountain in the park. I watched the water and enjoyed some Argentine beef (which I now believe everyone must try once before they die). There were a couple of men who had to be well into their 80s sitting at a table next to mine animatedly chatting with each other like a couple of stereotypical Italians on an SNL skit. I laughed as I listened to their conversation, feeling oddly close to Argentina. I think I fell in love with the city on my morning out. You can’t help it. It’s just such a beautiful place.
The Plaza; Lunch