Mendoza to Santiago – Wine, steak, pumas, headwinds and mountain passes.

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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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,

Stuart

 

 

32 thoughts on “Mendoza to Santiago – Wine, steak, pumas, headwinds and mountain passes.

  1. Laying in bed reading your post & its bloody freezing in Farnborough.
    As Charles would say,well jell.
    I too can skate,I’d join you on my wheels,but it’s the knees you know.

    Everything looks so clean,apart from the crazy roads . So many vin yards and wine tasting I know someone will be watching down on you smiling.
    Keep going loving the Pics.
    Black and white pic won this posts pics.
    Missing you and take care.
    Be safe.

    Karen and Charles xx

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    1. Hi Karen. Surely with your new knee you could whizz up those hills? 😉 Yes, I thought a lot about Scott during this leg. Reckon he’d have liked Mendoza a lot. The black and white pic was just as I set out one morning; it was a lovely way to start the day. Hope you and Charles are managing to stay warm – have heard how cold it is from others too. Brrr… Lots of love to you both, Stuart x

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  2. In the drabness of January in Europe Mendoza sounds like the ultimate paradise. Have just read that ”Aconcagua” is the biggest shit-house in the world, with special disinfection by the authorities….ha-ha-bloody ha-ha Following your every step….with ultimate envy George

    >

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    1. Hi George. Yes, along with all peaks over 7000m they have that problem! Interestingly, for Everest the Chinese have just begun a new initiative to try to get it cleaner. I’m now in Patagonia – it’s as stunning as expected. Sending lots of warm thoughts to Berlin, Stuart

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  3. Sounds idyllic – and a long way from the current craziness back home. So doubly envious. Raise a glass or two on all our behalves.

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  4. Stuart

    I hope you packed a few bottles of red in your bags for the journey ahead

    As ever great post and photographs.

    Keep up the good work

    As ever stay safe

    Lots of love

    Lorraine and Emma
    Xx

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    1. Hi you two. As much as I’d love to, wine in the panners would be too much to struggle up the hills with. Although must confess, haven’t yet tried putting it into a water bottle or two. Hmm, you might be onto something there 😉 Sending you both big hugs, Stuart x

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  5. Wonderful, another enjoyable read. What’s more, sounds like you found the magic in Mendoza. Stuart, the mountain photos are beautiful!
    Lots of love, Marina xx

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    1. Hi Marina. I did indeed find the magic in Mendoza – it was an incredible time. Pleased to say that the countryside is getting even more spectacular as I head further South – more in future posts! Lots of love, Stuart x

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    1. Cheers Mike. There’s certainly something about mountains and vineyards that makes for a killer combination on a photo! Talking of photos, have you seen there’s a Don McCullin retrospective opening at Tate? Should be a good one, if you happen to have a membership 😉 Warmest, Stuart

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  6. Moin Stuart, wieder mal wunderbare Bilder und Geschichten von der Südhalbkugel. Ich war aber ein bisschen froh darüber, für Argentinischen Wein nur über die Modersohnbrücke zu fahren, die lediglich 9 Meter über normal null liegt… Grüße von uns beiden und weiterhin alles Gute!

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    1. Hi Rainer. Danke dir, und nachträglich frohes Neues! Tja, da werden wir mal die ein oder andere Flasche ausprobieren müssen, wenn ich zurück bin! Herzliche Grüße, mittlerweile aus Patagonien, Stuart

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    1. Thanks Roger. It is indeed absolutely lovely there. And I’m now in Patagonia, which is truly remarkable as far as nature is concerned. Thankfully I haven’t yet encountered the fearsome headwinds that will be coming my way! All the best, Stuart

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  7. Schön zu hören, dass Du neue Ideen für zukünftige Reisen sammelst 😉 Tolle Bilder und happy Fernweh hier wie immer, danke fürs Bloggen! xxx H&M

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    1. Hi Marina! Ja, ich denke es gibt noch viele Ecken die ich noch besuchen muss – mit oder ohne Farrad. Aber auf der anderen Seite, ich freue mich auch auf die Heimfahrt und die kommenden Treffen mit Freunden die ich lange nicht mehr gesehen habe – Ihr seid natürlich auf der Liste! Liebe Grüße von hier, X

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    1. Hi Liz. Yep, it’s certainly an adventure. Always knew it was going to be glorious, but didn’t realise just how much I was going to enjoy it. I’ve certainly come across a few crazy drivers, but thankfully no white van men yet – that’ll no doubt come soon enough when I get to Europe. The driving here is crazy, but there appears to be an almost complete absence of road rage. Long may it stay that way. Hope all good with you. XXX

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