Mendoza, Argentina – The Zoo & Wine Touring

5 Feb

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We got off to a slow start with a late breakfast at Monkey Hostel followed by some research for our Australian leg of the trip (which is fast approaching!) and beyond.

Around 2pm Tal and Jonny decided to visit the Municipal Museum of Modern Art while J.J. and I opted for the 40 minute walk to the zoo in the park. The walk was hot in the blazing afternoon sun and the tree-lined gravel path

through the park to the zoo entrance offered minimal shade at that time of day.

We arrived hot and sweaty, just as we have to most destinations in Argentina, though I’m not complaining, the constant heat is a welcome change from the varying mountain climates we’ve experienced in both Peru and Bolivia.

There were no maps of the zoo to be found at the information booth when we arrived so we relied on the big yellow arrows indicating where to walk if you want to do the complete zoo tour. The lack of map made for an interesting day because of my intense, extreme and some would say irrational fear of snakes. I had J.J. walk up ahead of me before arriving at each cage and would ask “What’s in that one? Is there a snake?”. Luckily he’s a good sport and the only price I paid was some mild mocking.

The Mendoza zoo had almost everything: lions, a massive jaguar, lots of pumas, polar bears, zebras…everything but snakes! There was one cage holding about 30 or 40 monkeys and watching them interact was so interesting. It was clear who the older males were as they seemed to be the ones maintaining the peace when 2 of the younger monkeys would fight. They seemed to also be the head of the family as mothers with their young babies stayed close by.

I absolutely love the zoo and have only been once in my adult life. We got lost in the people and animal watching, taking many, many photos along the way and wound up spending nearly 6 hours there without feeling like much time had passed at all, the best kind of day.

We decided against our original plan of taking the city bus back to our hostel and got some gelato on the walk instead. I can say I’ve found the best raspberry gelato I’ve ever had in my life just up from our hosel on Peru Street at a place called Perin.

We made it back to our hostel, exhausted and happy after a great day together and joined Tal and Jonny at the Monkey Bar for a beer or 3 while watching a guy staying at our hostel juggle and do other tricks with balls (insert obvious jokes here) before calling it a night.

Day 4

We had arranged to meet Rachel and Peter, our new friends from New Zealand, at 9:30am to walk to the city bus that would take us to Mr. Hugo’s. What is Mr. Hugo’s? It’s a bike rental company about a 20 minute bus ride away that rents older looking Bixi-type bikes to tourists looking to explore wine country on their own.

We got off the bus just down the street from Mr. Hugo’s and found a number of girls in T-shirts, each representing a different wine-country bike rental place. We’d heard lots about Mr. Hugo’s though and were set on the Mr. Hugo experience.

We walked up the driveway and into what felt like someone’s backyard, only instead of 1 patio table with some chairs there were 3. We paid our 35 pesos each (under $10) for our bikes for the day and sat at one of the patio tables where we were served a plastic glass of Mr. Hugo’s home brew while he brought out our bikes. It was just before 11am.

The girls were given pink or red cruiser bikes with baskets on the front while the boys got red bikes, sans paniers (without baskets). We headed off down the paved road that was strewn with gravel and dust on our way to the Museo del Vino La  Rural. The museum displayed a number of different old wooden wagons and buggies that had been used to transport wine barrels way back when and also had a winery inside where we were invited to taste one of the wines. They didn’t have enough glasses for everyone so it was 3 people for the tasting.

Our next stop was a short ride down the road and was called Entre Olivos and did the 20 peso tasting option. Here they showed us their olive trees and the process used to make olive oil. We were invited to try their different olive oils, balsamic vinegars, marmalades and dolce de leche spreads before choosing 2 of about 10 liqueurs we wanted to try (and by try I mean shoot from a shot glass). I went for Irish Cream which was very similar to Bailey’s (safe, it being only 12pm) and Dolce de Leche which was a lot more alcoholic than I thought it would be, but would be good in coffee.

Next we were on a mission to visit one of the bigger, fancier wineries, Trapicha, that only stays open until 2pm to tourists each day. The tour started with a 5-minute video in Spanish with English subtitles telling about the winery’s history, how it was started in 1912 by an Italian man and was considered one of the most modern wineries of its time.

Our tour guide at Trapicha spoke both English and Spanish which allowed us to take photos while he did the Spanish portion of each part of the tour. We learned that the wine was biodynamic, which takes organic to the next level and allows a natural ecosystem to influence the production of the wine, from livestock to lunar cycles.

We finished the tour in a raised tasting area with a patio overlooking the vineyard where we were able to officially taste 3 of their premium wines, and unofficially taste our tour guide’s boss’ favourite, as well as his boss’ boss’ favourite.

Because Trapicha closed at 2pm, the front gate where we had come in was locked and the attendant was nowhere to be found to open it for us. Jonny and Pete didn’t have much patience and Pete jumped over the gate so that Jonny could hand him their bikes. They did so just as we learned the exit was around the back which is how the rest of us left the vineyard.

Then it was on to lunch. The vineyard we opted to eat at, Di Tommaso, was quite a bit further down the road than we expected (note: wine tour map is not to scale) but we knew we had 20% off if we ate there. We finally arrived, out of breath and sweaty, only to find out the 20% off was only good on one meal each day (pasta stuffed with cottage cheese and in a blue cheese sauce – not appealing to the girl who doesn’t like cheese). 3/6 got the special while Jonny ordered a sandwhich, J.J. had the lasagna and I had a vegetarian quiche. 5/6 had wine with lunch, the red wine portion infinitely larger than the white wine portion, while I stuck to water.

After lunch we moved into a barn-like building for the Di Tommaso tasting. It was here that things got a little bit tipsy. It was only the 6 of us and one Israeli girl, who Jonny introduced himself to as one of her people. He then stated that Israel was the land of milk and honey and this is where Pete interjected, saying that New Zealand is definitely the land of milk. More ridiculousness ensued – the poor Israeli girl and the poor Di Tommaso employee, who was new and didn’t understand our jokes.

After buying some bottles of water we hit the road again to make it to our 5th winery of the day, Vina el Cerno. Here we decided to try a single glass of wine as opposed to doing a 4-wine tasting. Good thing because we saw at the table next to us that 4-wine tasting meant 4 full glasses of wine at Vina el Cerno. I tried the sparkling chardonnay and thought it was really good, mind you we were 5 wineries deep at this point.

All of the wineries close at 6pm so we booked it to the 6th and final one for the day, Mevi. This was a modern looking building, white interior, clean lines and modern white couches outside on the balcony overlooking the Mevi vineyard. We decided to stay inside in the AC because 6pm in Mendoza feels like the 12pm heat on a summer’s day in Ontario.

We tasted 3 young wines at Mevi of about 6 or so choices. Each of us was given a placemat with the names of the wines on it and we were asked to place our glass over the type of wines we wanted to try.

So far our tastings had been mostly red wines so I opted for the Chardonnay, Torrentes (which I loved) and the rose. Red wine had not been helping our biking speed and we were about 10km away from returning our bikes to Mr. Hugo’s.

We took our time at the last tasting, enjoying the wine, the company and the venue, before the Mevi employee asked us on behalf of the police officers outside to begin our ride back to Mr. Hugo’s as they would be escorting us.

At first we thought we must look really out of it to warrant a police escort however we learned that it was more of a precaution to make sure we made it back safely. We had heard of tourists having their camera cases slashed off of them while riding and other such incidents.

At one point on the ride home, Rachel’s chain came off her bike and the policeman on a motorcycle stopped to help her, followed by a police car that also stopped to help. Genuinely nice officers and great promotion of safe tourism!

All 6 of us arrived safely back to Mr. Hugo’s and resumed our spots from the beginning of the day at the table on the patio. Once again, Mr. Hugo arrived at our table with nearly overflowing plastic glasses of home brew wine that he emptied into a glass jug from large blue plastic bins using what looked like a garden hose.

We left Mr. Hugo’s and walked to the bus stop just down the road and begin trying to pool together our change for the bus. Mr. Hugo must have seen us tipsily trying to figure out $1.80 x 6 fares and came over. Once the bus arrived, Mr. Hugo pushed his way ahead of us onto the bus and paid for all of us to ride the bus home. So unnecessary, so kind. I think I speak for all of us when I recommend Mr. Hugo’s as the place to rent your wine-touring bikes – it is an experience!

Pete and Rachel were staying in a different hostel than the 4 of us so when it came time to split off, around 9pm, we made plans to meet them back in the main square, after a siesta, at 11:30pm to go for dinner. We’re getting into the Argentinian way of life! (Hey, if 4 year-olds can eat dinner and be out until 2:30am no problem, we should be able to!)

We walked down to the main restaurant and bar strip on Villanueva and landed on Break for dinner, a restaurant that is part of one of the hostels we had considered staying at. We split 3 fajita plates amongst the 6 of us and shared a plate of nachos, as well as ordered a round of beers.

Once we finished our meal and paid la quenta (the bill), we went in search of a different patio where we could grab a night cap. We chose Exxtreme (not a strip club despite the 2 x’s in the name) where a number of the tables had bazooka’s which are clear plastic tubes about 2.5’ – 3’ high full of beer or a mixed drink.

As we waited for our server to come take our order it slowly came to light that none of us were in the mood to keep the party going – a day of bike riding and wine-tasting in the Mendoza heat had taken its toll, despite our siesta.

We opted instead to cap off the evening with some gelato and decided the frambuesa (raspberry) from Perin was worth the wait and the walk despite there being a gelato shop next door to Exxtreme. (Note: the gelato shop next to Exxtreme also sold a variety of flavoured Bacardi rums, next to which was a very, very small baby in a bucket seat – behind the bar.)

We ate our gelato, said goodnight to Pete and Rachel and headed up to our room for bed.

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