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What am I doing It's all fun and games till Annette faints and Carlyn gets her pants slashed... who am I kidding, it's still fun

Bikes, Wines, and Dozers

ARGENTINA | Wednesday, 24 October 2007 | Views [645]

A wine tour in Mendoza, it congers images of mountains, vineyards... little dusty country roads, maybe a villa or two. 

While there were dusty roads, it was due to the asphalt having been ripped up to be replaced.  Not quite as quaint as I had imagined.  Anna (a new friend from the hostel, both traveling alone we bonded instantly) and I decided to do the bike & wines tour thru the vineyards of Maipu (just outside Mendoza) we were not expecting the bulldozers, 4 lane roads, and massive amounts of construction. You could call it a bit of a shock. 

We had spoken to the receptionist at the hostel (who spoke English... after Bolivia this made me feel spoiled) and she explained to us that we could do a half day, full day, or full day with transportation to the Bikes & Wines office.  Essentially, what this included was bike rental, a map, and a bottle of water.  A full day rental cost $35 pesos (about $10 US) and you could get transportation there and back for another $35 pesos... or you could take the bus for $1.40 each way (and that’s in pesos.) 

Since there were two of us, we chose transportation option number 3: split a cab there and take a bus back. The reason for the cab is, when asked when the bus left for Maipu, the front desk explained that there wasn’t really a specific time per say... you just go to the stop and wait, eventually it comes. 

Having spoken with a few people who had done the tour the day before, we were informed that a cab would cost about $20 pesos.  Still less than $35 pesos... if your cabdriver doesn’t miss the exit drive in two gigantic circles and then get lost and have to ask for directions.  $34 pesos later, I decided this was one of those times I would have liked to have spoken Spanish so that I could have told our driver that I knew he was driving us in circles... stop trying to screw us just cause we’re tourists.  But, being non-Spanish speaking tourists, we were instead screwed by the cab driver and charged an extra $15 pesos for his lack of directional sense. Humph.

Once we arrived we were given some lovely bikes which looked as if they had been built and tuned some time in the late 50s.  Somewhat recently they had been spray painted yellow to partially hide the rust.  The seats didn’t adjust.  

I spent the first mile or so looking like a complete fool with my knees practically hitting my chest.  Finally the two of us used all our strength to twist the seat free so that I might be slightly more comfortable during the next 12km.  Well 15km or so if you count the couple of times we got lost... and that was just one way. 

It turns out the map we were given only included the roads leading to winery’s... no cross streets (oh, and no construction detours, and not really to scale... frankly, I’m not sure if could technically be defined as a map) making it particularly easy to, say… accidentally turn down an unknown street and wander off a few kilometers before realizing you are actually on Route 60 and going the complete wrong direction.

Having previously chatted with other hostel patrons about the tour, we had been informed that our best bet was to go to the last winery first and work our way back.  15K or so, and a few wrong turns later... we were contemplating not going to the last winery at all.  But we stuck it out and kept pedaling, eventually finding the oak lined road surrounded by vineyards and olive groves we initially imagined... Exhausted, we arrived at the first winery only to find that there was a $10 peso tasting fee.

So, it was 11am, we had just biked 15+k, and we had gone to bed at 3am after 4 of us split 3.5 bottles of wine the night before.  Believe it or not, neither of us really wanted any wine.... much less to pay for it. 

So, when a van of Argentinean tourists appeared for a tour (which would be given in Spanish) we explained that we would just hop over to the olive oil manufacturer for a tour and then come back for a tour in English (we of course, had no intention of ever returning)

Off to the olive oil manufacturer.  We had heard raves from hostel members about how extensive and interesting this tour was, how the guide would go in-depth about the intricacies of olive oil, how their pressing technique was so much better and why, how to pick out just the right oil for the correct dish... this was the tour we were excited about, and, for which we were willing to pay the surprise $5 peso fee. 

Apparently they can and will go in-depth about all the ins and outs of olive oil, but only in Spanish.  Not quite as impressive or interesting as we hoped.  We did get to taste quite a few oils and olives after our walk thru what we inferred from our limited Spanish, guides broken English, and a badly played game of charades, was some kind of pressing equipment.  Rather hungry at this point, I was quite happy with the tasting.

Skipping the first winery we started our way back, hitting the second winery.  Again, $10 pesos.  This time we decided to do it.  Walking in we were confronted by a woman resting her weight on one hip, partially blocking the passage stating "Chicas... 10 pesos" while holding her hand outstretched and rubbing her fingers together in that “I need money” kind of way.  Very welcoming... 

We were further encouraged when the man pouring our samples kept opening bottles, discreetly sniffing them, looking around obviously thinking "hmmm, could I get away serving this" then wandering to the back room to dispose of the wine gone vinegar.  Four samples later, we were not really that impressed.

In visiting the next 3 wineries we became better and better and finding ways to not pay the $10 peso charge and politely excuse ourselves.  At the $25 pesos winery (a good bottle of wine in Argentina cost about $10 pesos... so $25 is rather much) we decided that it wasn’t a good idea to drink on an empty stomach... it could be dangerous, biking and all, so we were just going to run out and grab something to eat... we’ll be right back, we swear...

Well, we weren’t lying when we said we were going to get something to eat.  There weren’t many places, but the tour company had recommended a delicatessen... we should have known better when they recommended anything.  We also should have known better when we had to be buzzed thru a very fancy gate to get to the place... 

It was not a deli that’s for sure. 

It was a price fixed restaurant.  We had our choice of pasta, a drink, and an ice cream for $35 pesos or… pasta, a drink, and an ice cream for $35 pesos.  There was only one choice... and it was a bit pricey.  But here is the problem.  They have closed the gate behind us, its hard to come up with an excuse to leave, and its 3pm, we haven’t eaten anything since the handful of olives at 11, and there is no where else to go.  It is eat here or do not eat at all.  And not eating is not an option. 

Now the ravioli was very good I’ll give them that, and the bread basket was amazing (3 different kinds of bread, and bread sticks) but the service was neglectful (probably due to the fact that they know they have a captive audience) finally, we were finished... then finally, 20 or 25 minutes later we actually received la cuienta we were able to pay and leave. 

Now there were a few more wineries left, but neither Anna nor I were really in the mood for drinking, and frankly it was beginning to become unbelievably painful to sit on the bikes (these were not the most comfortable of seats... I think I was actually bruised)  We opted to bike to the wineries to see what they looked like, but our real goal was to make it to the chocolate and liquor store before we had to get the bikes back at 5:30. 

The chocolate and liquors were the highlight of the tour.  Not only was it a beautiful little setting with all kinds of interesting jams, specialty liquors, and chocolate, but it was free.  Oh my God... what a concept.  And because it was free, we bought something... sure it was a little something, but they still got our money. 

Last but not least off to the wine museum (usually the first stop on the tour) and I kicked myself that we hadn’t made it the first stop. 

It looked like it would have been really interesting, huge vats, lots of wine machinery, collections of all kinds of neat looking objects... and a free glass of malbec (not that I wanted or could finish it... being exhausted and extremely dehydrated at this point)

There was a tour starting in 5 minutes, but we couldn’t go on it because we were so tired we couldn’t walk straight, and we had to return our bikes.  so we peddled our sorry asses through the construction zone, back to the office and handed over our yellow excuses for bikes to the 70 year old man missing teeth who looked like he might have a mild case of leprosy. 

Where the hell do we catch the bus?

Exhausted, after asking the information office (previously used by our taxi driver that morning) we collapsed in the grass to wait for 171, 172, or 173, pay our $1.40 pesos and head home to the Dama Jauna....  to enjoy a nice bottle of wine. 


The "Bikes & Wines" bike

Tags: Food & eating

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