Notes from a traveller: part four

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Kaye has itchy feet. Again. Read why – and where they’re taking her – only on Just About Travel

Continued from March 30

After five weeks in Tango Town, I forced myself to move on to Mendoza. Forced is perhaps a slight exaggeration for Mendoza certainly has its own appeal –  good quality, affordable Malbec anyone? –  but my heart belongs to Buenos Aires. What can I say: the Paris of the south has cast a spell on me and subsequently I boarded my bus from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, with a certain amount of sadness in my heart.

My mood probably wasn’t helped by the prospect of what, I suspected, would be a lengthy and tedious overnight journey. Turns out I got it totally and utterly wrong. The bus journey may have been long, but it was anything but boring. Argentines claim that their country invented public bus. The people have a point. There might be a lot wrong with Argentina – read corruption, crime, strike action and hyperinflation – but, from my experiences to date, the public transport (be it local or long distance buses) is outstanding and puts London’s knackered (not to mention extortionately priced) system to shame.

On my maiden Argentinian bus odyssey from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, huge super soft reclining armchairs, wine, food and – my own personal highlight – (Spanish) bingo came as standard. Little wonder then that I arrived in Mendoza – Argentina’s gorgeous wine region – with a big smile on my face. My smile grew wider still upon meeting my Mendoza Airbnb hosts, Paula and Guadalupe: two twenty-something girls who extended a welcome as warm as the scorchio Easter weather.

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En-route to wine country

 

My room was basic but had everything I needed (namely Wifi so as to be able to work and a bed) and let’s be honest: for the bargain price I was paying, I hadn’t exactly been expecting the Ritz. After sharing a Mate (Argentina’s beloved bitter herb drink) with Paula and Guadalupe – good friends despite their very different political points of view (Paula is a passionate Peronist, while Guadalupe can’t stand Queen Cristina, leader of the current Peronist movement) – the girls headed out and I headed to my new room for a power nap. For while the seats on my overnight bus had been luxurious beyond belief, I had been too busy playing bingo to get much shut eye…

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In Mendoza, it’s always wine o clock…

I drifted off… straight into my very own nightmare whereby I became convinced that a cornucopia of cats were trying to get in my room. “So what?” you might say, but reader… I suffer from a colossal cat phobia. So much so that I would rather be locked in a room full of snakes – I kid you not – than shut up with a feline ‘friend’. Go ahead: it’s easy to mock me but we all have our personal  phobias and foibles. Some people are scared of spiders, others dread the dentist or fear flying (an anathema, obvs, to me) but my big bug bear is cats. So you can imagine my panic when I woke from my sleep coma to realise that this wasn’t just a bad dream: cats really were trying to claw their way into my room. Eeek.

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Gingerly I prized the door open to be faced with two of the fattest, self satisfied cats you have ever seen. Shaking, I slammed the door shut as the sound – scratch, scratch, scratch – got louder. I then did what anyone in my position would do: I barricaded the door with my backpack, climbed out the bedroom window (thankfully I had a ground floor room) and hot footed it into town where I contemplated what to do about my accommodation hell over a few glasses of Malbec (if in doubt drink, right?).

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Salud!

Buoyed by copious quantities of Malbec, I shot the girls an email explaining my predicament: if I had known there were cats on the premises, I would never have booked and perhaps I should seek alternative accommodation…? To their credit, they replied instantly and we came to a compromise: they would keep the cats locked away (just call me Cruella de Vil) whenever I was at the apartment.

Cat-astrophe (sorry!) averted, it was time for me to become better acquainted with Argentina’s signature grape, which is used to make lush, dark red wines, over at The Vines – a seriously stylish tasting room that wouldn’t be out of place in the likes of London and New York.

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The Vines of Mendoza Tasting Room

Here I learned that Malbec has become the darling of wine critics and drinkers worldwide not only because of the stunning quality of the wines, but because of their affordable prices. Yet while Argentina’s Malbecs attract most of the attention, Mendoza also produces some wonderful white wines from the Torrontes grape whose styles run the gamut from bone dry to candy sweet.

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Wine country

You can discover more about Argentina’s great grapes on a wine tour. Even if you aren’t an oenophile, this is a Mendoza must do. It would be a crime to come to wine country – there’s around 700 active wineries set against a ‘Instagrammable’  background of snow capped Andes Mountains – and not visit at least one vineyard. Our group visited four wineries where, following a brief tour we’d sit to drink from around five glasses! Needless to say that by the end of the day, our consortium had become more than a tad tipsy….

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A typical tasting room

But there’s more to Mendoza than Malbec. The city itself is surprisingly seductive being compact and chock full of alfresco cafes, picturesque plazas and a plethora of verdant parks. Indeed given how much of the city is given over to green space, it would be easy – if it weren’t for the acequias (aka wide irrigation channels on both sides of every street) – to forget that Mendoza is a desert.

It would also have been easy to have extended my stay in Argentina’s northern region but, with work deadlines looming and Malbec all too readily available, I decided it was time to check out Chile – long  considered one of South America’s most conservative countries and thereby a more conducive working environment, right?

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Park life

 

And so it was that I found myself bidding goodbye to my Airbnb hosts – who with the help of a few bottles of Malbec over the Easter weekend, had become firm friends – and strapping on my backpack once again.

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Downtown Mendoza

Speaking of which some of you have emailed to ask how I am getting on living out of a backpack? Allow me to enlighten you: I love it and find it incredibly liberating. Back home friends and family used to berate me, on a seemingly daily basis, for my minimalism. “You don’t/won’t have any memories” was the common complaint directed at me – usually by my Dad – as I tripped to the charity shop with boxes of surplus books and clothes.

Yet my South American adventure has reinforced that, for me at least, a flat full of objects doesn’t bring happiness. Once upon a time I  may have aspired to own a two bedroom property plus a car, like many of my north west London contemporaries, but now I know for sure that more stuff simply equals more stress. Material things don’t matter or make me half as happy as experiences. As for the  ‘memories’: all I need to do is close my eyes and there they are – the asados, milongas and more – alive in my mind and heart.

Talk soon!

Kaye

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To read part one of Kaye’s ‘Notes from a traveller’ series, please click here

To read part two click here and here

To read part three, click here

To find out how Kaye’s getting on in South America, don’t forget to log onto Just About Travel in a fortnight (27 April)

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