Cordoba & Mendoza: Wines, Bikes, and Hikes
Days 296-303 (May 20-27, 2017):
After another long drive, we finally arrived in the city of Cordoba, our second Cordoba for the year. We were ready to relax for a little bit, and spent the first two days wandering around the city looking at the main historical sites and trying some more of Argentinian cuisine. We explored the plazas, churches, and neighborhoods of this sleepier city. Katie and Joey found new places to watch tango and Joey taught us a new drinking game. We basically relaxed a bit after our long journey.
Our final day in Cordoba we decided to take a bus out to the town of Tanti and do a hike in Los Gigantes, a mountainous region of the Great Sierras. The area is known for its small, lush valleys surrounded by touring rock walls, and is a popular spot for hiking, climbing, and horseback riding. We met up with a guide we found mentioned through a travel blog and crammed into the back of his car for our trip to the mountains. Once we arrived, we stopped briefly at a small farm hut and enjoyed a breakfast of tea and fresh, hot bread with butter and jam. After we were full we set out into the surrounding areas on foot. We were accompanied the entire hike by one of the farm’s male dogs named Josephine (yes, he was a boy). He was actually a better hiker than us all, always hurrying ahead and then looking back impatiently waiting for us to catch up (although I contest that four legs is a significant advantage in this situation). We spent the next seven hours hiking, trekking up to the ridge-line, following it a while admiring the views, exploring the countless hidden valleys with idyllic streams carving their way through them. It was amazing. We explored a cave, climbing down into a small, tight crevice in the rock face. We crawled through it in the dark, using our cell phones to try and light the way, until we reached the other side of the peak and were greeted by an awesome waterfall. We continued hiking, stopping for lunch by a stream, and later resting on a gigantic boulder, admiring to sweeping views down the grass-covered hills. Our guide pointed out some of the regions unique flora and fauna along the way, although we guessed some of these breaks were done so that he could catch his breath on some of the steeper climbs (he was in good shape for a guy in his 50s but he was no match for us). After 22 km we returned to our small farm hut for some more bread and tea. We played around with the farm residents a bit including an orange kitten named Mario, two small puppies, a horse, and several chickens, before cramming back in the car and returning to town. We made it back to Cordoba, relaxed,m and packed our bags for our trip to Mendoza.
When we arrived in Mendoza, it was late in the evening, so our activities for the day were limited. We checked into the hostel, selected some tours to do in the following days, and decided to participate in an all you can eat barbecue. The food was actually delicious and it was a nice way to get to meet some of the other hostel guests before we called it a night. The next day, we were ready to go and set out early on a winery tour through our hostel. During the tour we visited two different wineries, an olive oil plant, and a small shop that specialized in spreads, dips, and homemade spirits. While we found the olive oil factory interesting and enjoyed doing shots of Absinthe at the spirit shop, we were somewhat disappointed by the tour in general. The wine itself was delicious and worth drinking. However, the wineries only gave us two small tastes apiece. They would not even let us try all the different types of wines they offered for sale, making us less inclined to purchase bottles from them, since we weren’t sure what we would be getting. Also, we felt very pressured to buy things at many of the places, making the tour less fun and somewhat awkward at points. We did try and liven it up a bit by drinking on the bus in between the different stops, but that only gets you so far. All in all, I considered it a bit of a bust.
Slightly disappointed from the following day, I was nervous about the horseback riding tour we were to do that evening. We woke up late and spent most of the day hanging out with hostel guests, taking a short walk through town and chowing down on Subway. As the evening rolled around, we got dressed and ready to go to the ranch. Once there, we were each assigned a horse and saddled up for the ride. It ended up being a ton of fun. It was not just one of those nose to tail walks through the brush, but you were responsible for your own horse. That meant that if it got behind, you were able to catch up to the group in any way you saw fit, including the gallop. I had a blast putting my horse through his paces as the light faded over the Andes. Everyone else also enjoyed their rides, although Adam’s horse was a bit of a slow poke that was content to just amble along with her pal in the very back of the group. It was Joey’s first time on a horse, and although he took convincing to go and was admittedly a bit sore afterwards, he appeared to have had a mildly enjoyable time (which is about all you will get out of him). After we returned to the ranch, we dismounted and spent some time hanging out with our horses – petting them, giving them carrots, posing for pictures. We then moved over to the big open oven where dinner was starting to be cooked and stood around downing red wine and socializing with our tour mates. One dinnertime arrived, I was super excited. We feasted on salad, bread, potatoes, and plate after plate of grilled beef and sausages. It truly made us thankful we were in a beef-centric nation. When we got back to the hostel, we cleaned them out of wine, and continued the party until late in the night.
The next day, Adam and I were pretty hungover and not feeling up for much. So, we opted to stay in at the hostel for the day while Katie, Justin, and Joey went for a walk. We had all been entertaining the idea of doing a hike in the Andes that day, however, a huge snowstorm rolled through the mountains, even shutting down the road between Mendoza and Santiago we would be taking in a few days. So, plans were foiled and they were forced to rethink their route. They decided instead for a hike up the Cerro de la Gloria, or Hill of Glory. It is a small mount located in the city at the General San Martin Park and features a huge memorial monument to the Army of the Andes at the top. The pictures they brought back with them showed stunning views of Mendoza and the surrounding mountains. They really enjoyed the short hike and recommended it to anyone visiting the city.
Our last full day in town we decided that we, of course, needed to try more wine. So we set off to do just that. Although this time, instead of a guided bus tour with a group, we opted for a self-guided bike tour with just the five of us. We took a bus to Maipu, just outside the Mendoza city limits. There we found several small shops renting bicycles for 100 pesos for the day. We picked place right by the gas station that provided us maps and an all you could drink happy hour when you returned the bikes. Happy with our selection, we started our tour, opting to peddle to the winery farthest away first. We had done our research on many of the wineries in the area, and were only going to hit up the ones with free or cheap ($5 or under) tastings. The first winery, Bodega Tempus Alba, offered a self-guided tour around the vineyards, which we took at a strolling pace, completely alone on the estate. We then entered the tasting room and decided it was more economical to just split a bottle of wine while Justin dined on lasagna. We enjoyed the view from the outdoor patio while sipping on vintage. We finally left and peddled all of two minutes down the street to the next winery. There we enjoyed a couple more bottles of wine and made friend with the wineries pet horse. We continued on, now heading back in the direction we came from, stopping at other wineries along the way. At the one we chose for lunch, there was a massive family party going on. We appeared to be the only ones not involved, but quickly joined in on the revelry, with a few more bottles of wine and some homemade pasta. We were searching for one more winery before we were to head back. However, while we could find the vineyards, we were unable to find the entrance. Along the way we rolled past a craft brewery place, and decided that it would do for now. They had a nice beer garden we could relax and soak up the sun in before we peddled back to the bike shop.
The bike shop is where it got kind of messy. When we are given just an hour to drink as much wine as we want for free, we are the types to really go for it, especially when we are already feeling pretty good. And that’s what we did. We made friends with the bartender there, and convinced him to play a couple rounds of “Cheers to the Governor” with us. For those who don’t know this is a drinking game Joey taught us (he is so good at that) where you count to 21, but slowly replace the numbers with words, phrases, or actions the players must remember when counting. Memory not being a drunk persons strong point, the game had hilarious results. We got other bikers to join in too, until we had a massive crowd playing. We were three sheets to the win when we got on the bus and headed back for the hostel. For the most part we went to bed early that night, lacking the stamina of our younger counterparts – although I believe Joey stayed up and downed a couple of beers when we got back. We left Mendoza down one day-pack (which I will take the blame for leaving on the bus), but with an appreciation for Argentinian wine and a bit of a hangover.