The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Days 96-98, Madness in Mendoza

The following takes places between Thursday, March 3 and Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mendoza, Argentina. If it is famous for only one thing, then it’s because of the wine. Mendoza sits in the middle of one of the most productive wine regions in Argentina. They account for over 50% of the wines produced in the entire country. Travelers come to this small city for the specific purpose of checking out the wineries and scoring some free and/or cheap wine.

In reality, there’s actually quite a bit more to do in the area besides drinking copious amounts of amazing red and white wine. The hostel I was at made this fact known quite well with a huge wall covered with different activities available every day. However, I also learned one con to doing a trip “on the fly” while in Mendoza which affected my entire visit to the city.

The beginnings of March is also the beginning of the harvest season at the vineyards and wineries around the area. Because of this, Mendoza hosts a huge festival in celebration of the harvest season including a huge parade, competition to name the “Wine Queen” from candidates from each neighbouring city and vineyard, and a huge wine tasting festival on the weekend. Not knowing this, I booked my hostel a day before I arrived. However, not a single hostel had room on Saturday night. Not thinking much of it, I got to the city.

I was in Mendoza for their harvest festival.

As suIMG_2736ch, many activities were cancelled, primarily the bike tour of the wineries as most vineyards were closed to the public to take part in the festival. With this in mind, I spent my first day in Mendoza booking a few activities(white water rafting and a tour of the few vineyards open by bus) and attempting to find a bank machine and a place to change my Chilean Pesos into Argentine Pesos.

Again, lack of planning on my part. Most businesses in Mendoza work on an odd schedule where they shut down between 1pm and 4pm for a siesta. It gets very hot in the city and this time of day is usually the warmest so people try not to work if they have to. So no luck with exchanging my money in Mendoza.

DSC09241The white water rafting trip was amazing. It was my first time doing something like this and even being picked up by the shuttle was enough to get my heart racing. My only worry: falling into the water and panicking. We got to the rafting place(same place for the same task in The Amazing Race 7) and put on the wetsuits, shirts, life vests, and helmets.

The journey down the river lasted an hour and involved going through some Class 1 andDSC09264 2 rapids before hitting the huge holes and Class 3 and 4 rapids. The adrenaline was coursing through my body as I paddled to the instructions of the raft guide. The girl beside me ended up falling out as we hit a huge hole. I was close to falling out after her but the raft swung around, swinging me back to my spot. Close call. The girl was alright too. The safety kayak quickly got to her and at a calm portion of the river she re-joined us, one shoe less but safe and ok.

DSC09303I highly recommend white water rafting for really anyone. It’s a rush, there’s no doubt about that. And, as the girl demonstrated, when you fall out there will be someone there right away to help you. They take no risks.

That evening, myself and a couple people from the rafting trip met to have some supper and watch the festival parade. This is probably the best parade I’ve ever been to. While in Canada a parade means the floats toss out candy and such, here the floats toss out fruit and veggies. Wine grapes, IMG_2770apples, plums, even melons. Thank goodness one of the people at our table was tall and he was able to snag quite a bit of the flying food. Wine grapes are so tasty, and have a much different taste from the green grapes back home. It made for an amazing night.

The wine tour the next day was a fascinating look at how wine is actually made. We ended up visiting only two vineyards as well as a olive orchard. The first vineyard was also the newest one in the area. A very modern operation. We got to see the huge bins used to ferment the crushed grapes as well asIMG_2833 the cellar where they also barrel age some of the wines. Interesting fact: if a wine is aged for two years in an oak barrel, it is aged the same amount of time after it is bottled. Two years oak barrel equals two years bottle. Then you can drink it.

This vineyard also showed us how one can do a proper wine tasting. First by checking the colour of the wine against your skin(looking at the “horseshoe” in white wine, the “lip” in red), seeing how fast the wine tears fall in the glass(slower tears mean fuller wine), then smelling the wine, swirling and smelling. And finally, the taste. I ended up buying a bottle of the white wine we tasted(gold medal winning, and for less than C$8). My hope is to keep it closed until I get to Toronto and open it there when I hang out with my friend Greg. We’ll see how I do on that.

The second vineyard is one of the oldest family run vineyards in the Mendoza area. IMG_2872They still do everything in the traditional way: picking the grapes by hand, planting specific plants and fruit trees to distract the insects and birds, and bottling the wine. The wine here definitely had a different taste to it. Still tasty though!

The olive orchard was fascinating if just with the new information I received about olive oil. Each olive is only about 5% oil, so you need a ton of olives to get a small amount of olives. And there’s a strict time frame to pick the olives as acidity increases the more time it’s on the vine. Extra Virgin Olive oil is thIMG_2877e least acidic of the different kinds of olive oil. At the end of the mini tour, we also got to try different kinds of olive oil on pieces of bread. We got Extra Virgin, Virgin, Regular, Garlic, and Oregano olive oil. As well, as the place also does dried fruit, we got bread with sun dried tomatoes on them. Yum yum yum. Or. . . OmNomNom.

Mendoza was an amazing little place and I only wish I had known about the festival in order to plan accordingly and either come after or book further ahead. Oh well. My little whirlwind tour will have to suffice.

I still got wine though. And wine makes everything better.

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