Learning to love solitude

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Abigail Butcher shares a memorable experience from the road

‘You emerge from this marvellous novel as if from a dream, the mind on fire…’ the backcover review by New York Times journalist John Leonard could not have been more apt.

I was sitting outside a cafe sipping an early-evening glass of deep, rich, fruity Malbec.

Sycamore leaves flitted across a wide pavement still warm from the gentle late summer sun. A plate of empanadas sat on the table, each a little warm and flaky pastry parcel of beef, chicken or cheese. And next to them lay a yellowed, second-hand copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I’d bought it from a bookseller under Waterloo Bridge years before, but had never even opened the cover. But now I had time: ill health and bereavement had forced an abrupt, six-month sabbatical from work. Yet through a fog of grief and despair I’d found the courage to book a ticket around the world, beginning in Argentina but with little idea of where to go or what to do.

For no other reason than Malbec being my favourite wine, I grabbed an overnight bus to Mendoza when I landed in Buenos Aires. As I lay in my seat watching a spectacular electrical storm light up the 2am sky over the Pampas, tears rolled down my tired cheeks. In London I’d been too scared to do anything alone – did I now have the courage to travel solo for six months?

Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, on that warm pavement in Mendoza, I was alone and at peace.
By Abigail Butcher

Style from Patagonia: Two lamb stuffed empanadas and a glass of local red wine in a chic retreat in the south of the world.

The take away
Looking back conjures a feeling of utter contentment. I felt awake, alive and empowered for the first time in years. The simple act of ordering those empanadas, drinking a glass of Malbec and reading the most evocative book of my life, changed everything – it gave me the courage to go forward.

The build up
Mendoza is in the heart of Argentina’s wine country and is one of the country’s finest cities. Set 1050km (652 miles) west of Buenos Aires, life here centres on plazas and outdoor cafes, beneath rows of huge sycamore trees.
Close to the border with Chile, Mendoza is in the foothills of the Andes, which supply it with a backdrop of the most spectacular scenery as well as snowmelt that trickles down open acequias (irrigation channels) along the wide, leafy streets.
The irrigation channels also provide life to the vineyards. Some 70 perecent of Argentina’s wine is produced here, and as well as sampling the various grapes (Syrah, Cabernet and Chardonnay in addition to the glorious Malbec) in cafes, bars and restaurants, you can take walking, cycling or hop-on, hop-off bus tours of the many wine producers in the area.

The best way to travel from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, if you have the time, is by using Argentina’s comfortable and affordable bus system – journey times vary between 13 and 18 hours, with tickets starting from AR$950 (omnilineas.com). Numerous daily flights also connect the two cities.

Reproduced with permission from Best Moment of Your Life, © 2018 Lonely Planet

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