I had long been looking forward to Mendoza. I’d heard great things about the food there, and then of course there’s the wine……
In the event it was even better than expected. Not only did the food and wine live up to (or indeed exceed) expectations, the countryside, the scenery, and the warmth of the people meant this was a fantastic place to spend a couple of weeks. I spent some time cycling around the area, some time just chilling around Mendoza enjoying the fruits of the vineyards, and some time with a hire car to travel further afield.
Vineyards litter the surrounding area – they’re literally one after the other in some parts. And generally you can just rock up and do a tasting. Whilst they charge for this, it’s very reasonable. Malbec is generally (but not always) the star of the show, as the grape thrives in the region.
Accommodation was excellent throughout. I stayed in everything from a simple cabin in the mountains, to a family-run B&B, to a swish boutique hotel in the middle of a vineyard – they were all excellent. Interestingly, as opposed to other parts of South America I’ve visited so far, I saw people chatting with tourists in excellent English (including for tastings).
Mendoza itself is an incredibly green city. Despite being in a semi-desert area, the irrigation system devised by the Incas is still used to provide water in abundance. As a result, almost every street is tree-lined, to provide cover from the intense sun in the summer. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a greener city. They use these principles in the vineyards too, to provide and divert water where it is required in what would naturally be an arid desert landscape.
As for the food, it was delicious. I didn’t have a dud meal, and was able to eat myself silly, knowing that I was exercising it all off anyhow!
If anyone who’s been reading the blog has been thinking of visiting South America for the first time, then Mendoza would probably be my top tip – regardless of whether you speak Spanish or not. If you’re a vegetarian however, it might be more of a problem!
But all good things come to an end, and eventually it was time to leave to head towards Santiago. I decided to take a route through a national Park. Having already driven through it with the car, I knew that camping was prohibited, due to there being pumas. Funnily enough, when I researched how many humans had been killed by pumas, it turns out there are no records of them attacking tents, but there are several cases of pumas killing cyclists. It is believed they mistake them for prey. This was one time where the sheer size (and brightness) of the bike might be an advantage!
I was rewarded for my efforts by another glorious day, although the climb was pretty brutal.
The rest of the way to to the border was an unrelenting slow climb, where I faced strong headwinds. Unfortunately this accentuated the turbulence caused by lorries passing too closely, so there were a few times where I found myself gripping the handlebars tighter than normal. It was a great feeling to ride past Aconcagua though, the highest summit outside of the Himalayas.
My plans to cross to Chile using the El Rentador pass were spoiled by the fact that it was still closed due to there being ice at the top. Whilst I was sad not to be able to take the challenge (it’s one of cycling’s renowned mountain passes) it did save me what would have been a lot of sweat and pain. Instead I had to take the 3km long tunnel. They are well used to cyclists, and there was a friendly driver ready to take me through with a pick-up.
Not long after I’d come out the other side, I met another traveler, who was making his way in the other direction. Now whilst I’m all for adventurous travel, this left even me stunned. Those who know of my more colourful adventures in the past may well now be muttering ‘well at least this bloke had his clothes on’!
He was travelling from Santiago to Mendoza with roller blades. Absoulutely nuts (even by my standards), and I can’t imagine how he coped with the hills, including this insane series of 29 switchbacks, which thankfully I had to cycle down and not up.
The rest of the journey to Santiago was a mix of mountains, more wine regions, and a few big climbs, including on my birthday. In fact within an hour of setting out on my 50th I came across the first sign I’ve seen so explicitly warning of ‘Gradente Fuerte’ (steep gradient). As you can see, I was pleased as punch to get to the top without too much difficulty. Honest…
I stopped off one day at a vineyard, ‘Flaherty Wines’. Not only did I have a delicious lunch, I was joined by the winemaker. Ed is a Californian who relocated to Chile many years ago. It was fascinating to chat with him about the industry. His staff were probably more generous with their top-ups than normal, and 5 ½ hours after arriving I found myself in a very happy state as I set off for the remaining 16kms that day!
Despite this, I reached Santiago in one piece, to a warm welcome from my friends John and Gertje, and their lovely family.
I had a short time relaxing before heading into downtown Santiago and then Valparaiso for a few days, but more of that in the next post.
Warmest wishes to everyone,