10.11.2011 - 10.11.2011
The main attraction for tourists in Mendoza, an area on the Western border of Argentina sitting just off the Andes Mountains, is the wineries. Whilst it is a lovely little town in it´s own right, it would be a waste to go there and not do the traditional tourist near death experience of a bicycle tour through the unpaved roads of Maipu.
Utilising Tash´s Spanish fluency to the max, we conquered the local bus system and made it to Maipu for about $2 in total. As we alighted from the bus a muchacho was waiting on his bike, his job to convince us to choose his parents´bicycle hire business over the multiple other hire businesses in the area. He quoted us 25 pesos each ($6) so we decided to give him a go. Our hostel had quoted us 95 pesos so we were quite chuffed at our efforts here.
The lovely senor and senora ran us over the map and told us that we should not worry if we have any problems because the police will see us. Apparently they are always driving around checking on hopeless tourists.
The first winery was only a couple of kms away. We sampled some Malbec and took our time browsing over the little museum they had developed out the back, whilst ogling at the biggest wine barrels imaginable.
Next stop was a chocolateria/ liquer producer. We sampled a huge variety of olives, olive oils, tapenades, jams, chocolates and liquers. The amaretto and port warmed me from the inside out, whilst the creamy egg-based concoction that Simone decided to sample was a bit too potent and my head was starting to wooze and it was only our second stop.
We had a few disappointments with wineries that weren´t open or didn´t have tours starting at convenient times, but all were beautiful just to see the buildings and vines. It became apparent that we were infact riding in a fairly unsavoury area, with some streets signposted with huge red signs saying ¨PELIGRO¨(DANGER). How comforting. Next road please!
The last winery we made it to provided tastings of 1 glass for 12 pesos ($3) or 4 glasses for 30 pesos. Tash´s eyes lit up with delight at this deal. I decided to try their most aged cab sauv whilst Simone and Tash had a few different Malbecs and Cab Sauvs to compare. Then we were off to an incredibly late lunch (about 5pm).
We jumped off our bikes at a restaurant that the bike hire couple had recommended. All meals were served with gorgeous mini-cobs of bread and olive oil, and a decent portion of local marinated olives - by far the best we´d had so far. The waiter also poured me another Malbec before I had a chance to protest. Perusing the menu, my eyes stopped at a salad. OMG, they have a salad here!! A real one! (Salad is not a very well understood concept in Argentina and I was having fresh fruit and vegetable withdrawals). Empanadas, salad, olives, wine, all came to a grand total of about $12. This turned out to be one of the best value days I have ever had!
As it was now after 6pm, we headed back to the bike-hire. There were plenty of local men staring, saying hola, some whistling etc, but I wouldn´t say that at any point we felt particularly unsafe. After we´d been riding back for about 5 minutes or so, I noticed 2 police officers on motor bikes riding alongside us. At first I thought they were escorting a large machine that was making it´s way along the road but then one of them pulled up onto the footpath and motioned for us to ride ahead of them. They continued to follow us on the road and then at a large intersection one of them pulled out onto the road with his hand out motioning for the cars to stop (in peak hour) simply so that we could continue riding unpertubed. It was not until that moment that I realised we were being given a police escort and I burst out laughing. I suppose three white females on bright orange bikes might stand out a little? Once we´d made it back to the bike rental house I took a couple of seconds to adjust my backpack whilst Simone and Tash crossed over the main road. As I started to cross, one of the policemen again pulled out onto the road and stopped the cars just to make sure I made it all the way into the driveway before he disappeared into the distance. Hilarious!
The lovely bike-rental owners motioned for us to sit down and fetched us some snacks. They offered us more Malbec and then gave us a slice of their son´s birthday cake. His 13th birthday and he had to spend the day trying to get tourists to enter their shop. I think we may have been their only customers for the day. We tried to leave them a tip but they refused and asked us to comment about their business on the internet instead. Orange Bike Hire - if you are ever in Mendoza don´t forget to go to ORANGE BIKE HIRE!