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Travel Adventure - Backpacking Latin America's Gringo Trail Backpacking Latin America starting in Cuba, then travelling from East to the west coast of Mexico before making our through Central and finishing in South America.

Wineries and horse back riding through vinyards in Mendoza

ARGENTINA | Wednesday, 30 September 2015 | Views [410]

We got up the next morning about 6am to get to the bus stop to get a local bus to the bus station. We bought some empanadas for brekky and waited for our semi carma double decker bus to go to Mendoza. It was about a 7-8 hour bus ride and I didn't realise at the time but we were crossing right over the Andes! I've fallen in love with these mountains being in South America and after hiking them and flying over them in Peru we were now driving through them and it was incredible. Witnessing the snow capped mountain range in the distance as we drove closer and closer then finally started driving over them, up the road on one of it's mountains and great views of the other mountains surrounding. When we were right in the thick of it the mountains were covered in snow! There were even two ski fields we passed on the mountains and drove under a chair lift taking skiers and boarders up the top! Our seats were at the very front of the bus so we had a panoramic view of the whole thing and there was even light snowflakes falling on the window in front of us! The Andes are truly majestic and magnificent! 

We crossed the border from Chile back to Argentina in the middle of Los Andes, what a place to have a border crossing in the snow on top of a mountain! When we arrived in Mendoza the lovely couple who's B&B we were staying at were waiting for us with a hand made sign saying Attention: Matt. It was so nice to have someone pick us up rather than figuring out where our hostel. They greeted us with a kiss on the cheek and helped us with our bags before taking us to their hostel, it felt like they were family or friends welcoming us to their home. Their names were Augustino and Maria. He was Argentinian, from Mendoza and she was French and they were a lot younger than I thought they would be. We asked them later and he was 28 and she was 25. We arrived at the house which was just a bit out of Mendoza in an area called Maipu. The house was surrounded by vinyards and wineries and when we got out of the car an amazing view across the road of the Andes from their front gate! We walked in and were so impressed with their house. It was a gorgeous, old house over 100 years old that they had done up to look very rustic/shabby chic. They used recycled materials, restored them, gave them new life and handmade a lot of the furniture and decor. It had so much character and it had so many nice details. They were still adding more and more details, building a bathroom outside etc and hoped to have it all complete by November. There were 4 bedrooms 2 for the two couplesand 2 bedrooms for guests. There was a cottage style kitchen and a large living room and the length of the house backed on to a lovely backyard which had a vegetable garden and chickens. They had more rustic/handmade details out in the garden and were talking about how they want to put a beer garden here as they have a friend who crafts his own beer and want to sell it to travellers. They could also add their boutique beer garden to the DIY bike tour map for travellers to stop by their beer garden. They also had a cute black and white cat with green eyes who was 6 months old and very playful. His named was Messi (after a professional Argentinian soccer player). They did a work away (a volunteer program for travellers) where travellers can stay and I think have breakfast for free etc. if they volunteer with the program, in this case helping build the house. They started working on it in June and took them 3 months to have it ready with two spare bedrooms as accommodation for a B&B. There were two couples who owned it (Augustino, Maria and another couple who is also their friends - Juan from Argentina and Anna from Germany who were in their early 30s and have a cute 1 year old boy named Milo) have done a lot of travelling and invited travellers to help build the home and all have their input for future travellers to stay. A labour of love by travellers for travellers. The house was perfect in an imperfect way and Matt and I were in love with it. The hosts definitely added to it. They were lovely and sweet and made us feel very welcome in their home and were very accommodating. We didn't feel like strangers at all and it was only $50AUS for both of us per night, including a home cooked breakfast each morning and Juan is a chef, so the breakfasts were delicious! It was quite funny and ironic as Matt and I were talking and made a 'wishlist' (as soon as we started writing the song Wishlist by Pearl Jam came on to our iPod - synchronicity!) of what we want for our dream future home. We were both very much on the same page for what we want and when we stepped inside this house their were so many elements, even some of the tiny details, which we had included on our list. It was weird and amazing and like it was meant to be and kind of like we had come full circle with our trip! Maybe it all is written in the stars and we have already been where we are supposed to go, like the beliefs of the Peruvians and the ritual we did on the Inca Trail! Just a matter of time before it eventuates. Maria even said the dream would be to inspire people that they can do something like this too and if one person does then it will be the best thing about this house. 
They bought huge 5 litre bottles of wine from the winery close by which only costs them approx $5US and offer it free for the guests. We sat in their garden, drinking red wine and talking to Augustino and Maria about their house and our travels (yep they even spoke English, which we were a little worried about they would only be able to speak Spanish. Makes things a lot easier when we can speak the same language and not Spanglish!). They had also travelled for 4 months from Mexico to Argentina about 2 years ago! We met the other couple, Juan and Anna about an hour later when they came home with their baby Milo. 
We decided to go in to the town of Maipu for dinner and Augustino and Maria were heading out so were lovely enough to drop us in there. It was about a 10 minute drive. There was a band and dancers on stage with lots of people around at a night market. We walked through the markets to the restaurant they recommended called Don Tomas. Argentinians don't eat dinner until like 9:30/10pm and when we arrived around 8:30, the waitresses were still setting up! It was a nice restaurant and good waitresses but the pasta I had was very bland and tasted like packet pasta. Matt liked his steak though. We shared a bottle of wine which was equivalent to $7 in a restaurant and as we left, that's when groups of people started walking in. Maria wrote down how to catch the bus back and what to say to the bus driver but we couldn't really work out where the bus stop was so we walked home. It took about an hour and I didn't mind the walk but was just tired so wanted to get to sleep. We had a bit of trouble with the lock and key coming back in to the house. We knocked on the door but no one woke up, we thought we might have to sleep outside for the night haha but we finally got it in the end. 
We woke in the morning to an amazing spread of home cooked brekky Juan and Anna had prepared. There was fresh bread, slices of salami/meats and cheeses, avocado and tomatoes, dulce de leche, honey and jam spreads, scrambled eggs cooked with eggs picked fresh from the chickens that morning. Along with delicious mini pasties/sweets bought from a local bakery down the road and tea and coffee. It was amazing, eating in their little cottage kitchen. It was a Sunday today and we realised that most of the wineries were shut to do a bike tour :( we also wanted to do a horseback ride so Juan called a company and booked us in for the evening at 6pm. They also recommended an organic winery that was open close by we could go for lunch. Done, that was our day planned! We had to go in to Mendoza to change money and book our bus for the way back to Santiago. We wanted to wait until we were in Argentina to book our bus back, instead of buying a return so we could change money again on the black market and buy it for a cheaper price from exchanging the good rate. The bus took about 45 minutes to get to the town of Mendoza and coz it was a Sunday nothing was open. Which I was a little surprised as Mendoza was a lot bigger city than I imagined. I was also a bit worried there would be nobody around exchanging money coz it was a Sunday. It looked grim at the start, thinking we'd have to pay double the price without changing money with the good rate but we found someone in front of the office of where we were purchasing our bus tickets so worked out well. We then waited for our bus to come past to go back to Maipu but it was taking ages for one to come past. I was getting a bit edgy coz I felt we had wasted our morning coming in to town to run errands and I knew how long the bus took to get back. I really wanted to have lunch at the recommended winery and knew they shut early on a Sunday. There wasn't much else close by to just quickly walk to, to grab something to eat either. We ended up getting in a cab back to our B&B which only cost around $10 and was a lot quicker than the bus to get back. It was almost 2pm so Juan called them to see if they could fit us in and they said they would call us back. Dam what if we miss out. When Juan called back they said we could come now and there will be a table for us. Yay! 
It was about a 20 minute walk to get to Cechina, 10 minutes to the property, then 10 minutes through the vinyards to get to this gorgeous winery or in Spanish bodega. There was a quaint restaurant with a couple of outdoor tables and a bigger building where they would make all the wines. It was surrounded with rustic/countryside/winery decor of wine barrels etc. there was a large table, maybe an Argentinian family sitting inside and since it was a nice sunny afternoon we decided to sit outside. The waitress didn't speak any English but said she would be back in a moment. It was taking a while for us to be served. There was only one waitress so it must ah e been busy for her but we weren't even given a menu and another table of 4 came in straight after us and were being served before us. Finally she came and we it was surprising we actually knew a little more Spanish (not much) than she knew English. We then understood that there were no menus and she explained the dishes to us. I think it was a sharing type thing but because I'm vegetarian I ordered a pasta and Matt a steak again. Coz we bought food and its a winery we were given free Malbec (a popular red Argentinian wine from Mendoza) with lunch! I usually drink white because I like it better and the couple of times I've had it (even just after one glass) I've felt like crap the next day. Since being with Matt, I've tasted his reds when he's ordered them and have liked the taste of some of them so thought I'd give the Malbec a go and see how I feel. I had it yesterday and I felt fine today. Plus they drink it a lot cooler here than we do back in Oz which is a lot nicer I think. I think I've finally converted to red! The chef came out and asked in Spanish if I wanted something in my dish. I didn't know what he was asking so he bought out a bunch of basil and asked again. That's service from the chef! 'Si' I replied. When our dishes came out Matts chunk of steak was huge and he said it tasted amazing. My pasta was also delicious (A LOT better than last nights). I didn't know what pasta I was getting but it was a cheese tortellini with mushroom, basil, creme sauce and parmasen cheese on top. It was so fresh and yum. It was such a lovely relaxing afternoon in Argentina's most well known wine country sitting in the sun, drinking wine and eating a delicious meal in a gorgeous winery. A car came and a couple of men bought in acoustic guitars and bongo drums and met with the family inside. They all sat around the table playing music and singing together. It was magic! What a beautiful thing to be surrounded by. 
We then walked back through the vinyards to our B&B. Juan offered to drive us to the ranch for our horseback ride which was so nice. You definitely don't get that type of service at a hostel. But was good because not everything was walking distance here. We arrived at the small ranch with about 10 horses in the stables and a couple of horse saddled up, ready for our ride. We were greeted by Cesar the owner of the ranch and who would also be our guide. We waited for another family of 4 before we hopped on our horses to start our ride. My horses name was Noches (night) and was good riding because he wanted to be at the front but I don't think liked the other horses coz he kept biting them. Matts ones name was Indio and was lazy and slow haha. Matt was always lagging at the back and his horse kept stopping to eat the plants along the track. For the first hour we walked through the vinyards in our horses which was beautiful. We had a little go at trotting too but I don't think my stirrup was adjusted right and my foot kept coming out. The family then went back to the ranch with Cesar's nephew while Matt and I continued on for another hour with Cesar and had a private tour. We continued along through the vinyards to a view point. We came up to an incredible view of the Andes mountains and the sun setting behind them. Wow! Cesar told us that he enjoys photography and took a couple of pics of us. We then continued on and he told us that there was going to be a red moon tonight. I assumed he meant a red moon was going to rise like the one we saw sailing the San Blas. I saw the moon through the trees and although it wasn't red it was full and bright and low as it was beginning to rise. Cesar said if we hurried along we would see the moon. We started to trot and even crossed a river to get a good glance at the beautiful bright round moon and Cesar got an amazing shot of us on his camera! Wow what an incredible way to end the day and way of finishing our trip. Horseback in the middle of Argentinian vinyards with the sun setting behind the Andes on our right and the full moon rising on our left. Amazing! We rode back to the ranch and as it was getting dark it was starting to get a bit cold. It seems to be hot during the day here and freezing at night. Cesar's nephew had a BBQ fire going and was cooking up an Argentinian BBQ for us. There was a selection of meats for Matt including chorizo, ribs and blood sausage. He was cooking me eggplants, sweet potato and capsicum filled with egg, herbs and cheese. He also made a potato salad and garden salad. He poured us some red wine from his friends vinyard and I got warm near the fire as they finished cooking the BBQ. The nephew went home and we sat with Cesar in his home having an Argentinian BBQ with wine and talking about horses and told him about Phar Lap and googled pics and facts about how big and fast he was. Cesar was quite interested. Argentinians are so hospitable! And have the right idea about good food and wine! Juan picked us up about 9:30 and took us back to the house. 
We were getting ready for bed and Juan came in and said something about the eclipse. We didn't really know what he was talking about but went out to the garden to see the start of a lunar eclipse taking place! Wow! I'd never seen one before and it was a perfectly clear night. I thought they were really quick but it was moving very slowly. Juan, Anna and I were trying to take photos of it, but not very successful without a tripod etc. All 6 of us sat there and watched it as the shadow of the Earth slowly moved over the moon and once it was fully covered turned this deep dark red with a glowing circle around it. It was such an amazing sight! Now I know what Cesar was talking about with the red moon! A total lunar eclipse! Can we get any luckier!?Mendoza definitely put on a show for us! I was freezing and even though it was late, needed a shower to warm up, then to bed to get a good nights sleep.
When we woke Matt had a blocked nose and wasn't feeling very well. No good for the last day of our trip (well last proper day before two days of travel). Augustino and Maria had another amazing spread ready for us for breakfast. This time with fresh boiled eggs and a freshly squeezed orange juice (good for matts cold). It was another nice sunny day and since today the wineries were open we decided to do a DIY bike tour of all the surrounding wineries. Anna gave us a map and pointed out where to go. She showed us a good loop to do which led us back home, the streets we also all very flat. We got on our bikes and rode to the first one. It looked cute but it didn't look open, even though it was 10:30 and most of them opened at 10am. There was a man putting stuff in the back of his truck so asked arbiato? (Not sure how to spell) he spoke to us in Spanish. He said tardes so we assumed he meant come back this afternoon? Anyway we decided to go to the next one and maybe come back later. I hoped there would be some English speaking people at the next wineries to give the tours :-/ We continued on to a very nice looking winery called Florio. There was a Spanish looking Canadian girl who greeted us. She was very lovely and could speak English. Yes :) She gave us a tour of the vineyard, the winery where all the wine is made and then finally the tastings. We weren't really sure how it would work but it was awesome you just go in and they give you a private tour and tastings and in this case you just paid 50 pesos each ($5 each!). I'd never been to a winery before so it was quite interesting. Unfortunately coz it's the wrong season the vines aren't in bloom or green so all the vineyards look kind of brown and dead and isn't really like the rolling green hills of what I imagine the Hunter Valley etc in Australia look like. She took us through the winery and explained it was founded by an Italian man over 100 years ago. It is a boutique winery, nothing is mass produced and all the bottles and labels etc are manually assembled. She showed us where the red grapes are made in to red wine on one side and the White grapes into white wine on the other. Then the where they are left to ferment and finally bottled. We then sat down for the tastings. This winery produces wines that are a bit outside of the box and she explained a story and details about the wines for each one. All the wines she poured were served cold. We tried a champagne which was quite light on the bubbles which was good, not too fizzy. A carbonated red wine which had bubbles and was very unique. I had never heard of that before. We tried a liquorice wine, a moscato and a rose. They were all really nice, I liked them all! We were contemplating buying a couple of these bottles as they were a bit different t but because it was our first stop, decided to wait. Feeling a little tipsy we got back on our bike to the next winery. We took a detour/took the wrong turn and went down a dirt path past acres of vineyards and green weeping willow type trees hanging over the road once we got back on track. The next winery was a lovely family owned one since the 1860s by an Italian family who passed on the secrets through generations. It was a bit smaller than the last but definitely had an intimate family vibe to it. They also had restaurant you could have lunch at. We did another tour here with a young guy showing us around. This time we walked through their vineyard and he showed us how they grow the grapes etc. We then walked through the winery which was so old and vintage, it was really cool! The wine pools were made from brick, the bottom where they ferment the wine and the top where they store the bottles. We then walked through one underground and were explained how they are stored in barrels and kept cool in natural temperatures. We then walked back upstairs for our tastings. We tried a Malbec, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay. They had very woody, chocolatey and earthy flavours. I didn't like these ones as much as the previous winery (maybe coz they were reds) but Matt preferred these ones. We continued on to our next stop called Mevi which apparently had an amazing view. We rode through the vineyard and parked our bike and walked up the stairs to the winery. We walked out on to their balcony and the map was right it had an amazing view overlooking their olive tree vineyard and the snow capped Andes in the background. The owners spoke Spanish and did not do tours but thought this balcony would be the perfect spot to have lunch. We ordered a wine tasting each and a cheese platter. They laid down a paper place mat with circles for the wine glasses to go and descriptions of each wine in Spanish and English underneath. A good way to do the tastings for us since they didn't speak English. I selected two whites and a rose and Matt selected 3 reds. We both really enjoyed all our wines and especially with a cheese platter relaxing in the sun on the balcony with the spectacular view of the vineyards and The Andes. We bought a couple of bottles to take home with us from this winery. The lady boxed them up and we put them on the back of my bike which had one of those flat guards and Matt and I swapped bikes. It was afternoon and headed to a beer garden for our next stop. This ride was a little longer and we detoured a little here aswell. The beer garden was really cute with a restaurant and rustic outdoor tables and chairs with coloured bunting, wine barrels, succulents and plants in coloured pots etc. Matt ordered a beer (I haven't converted to beer yet!) and I ordered a wine. They gave a bowl of free popcorn and we ordered a couple of empanadas each. The pastries were really delicious. I had a caprese one and an onion one and Matt had a chicken and meat one. We sat on small lounges outside and relaxed, giving cheers to our last day of our trip and what an amazing way to spend it. 
We went to get back on our bikes and I realised the bike had a very flat tire. We tried to pump it using the pump they gave us but couldn't figure out how to use it. Very annoying as we were probably a two hour walk back home. Maybe not a great way to finish our day.... but what were we to do? We started walking back home. We hadn't gotten too far when a policeman on a motorbike pulled over on the side of the road. Great, now to end the day really well, we were going to be booked by a cop. Although I don't know what he could book us for, we were t doing anything wrong. He asked where we were from and where we were staying. He pointed at the bike Matt was wheeling and said popped? Yes the tyre had popped. We pulled out our map and showed him where we were trying to get back to. He said wait a moment and we will take you home! ... Really!? Matt and I were astonished! Wow, that would never happen in Australia! The local cops would have booked us for not wearing a helmet or something silly. He called someone on his phone and soon a police ute pulled up for us to put our bikes in the back. They were so nice and casual about it. Not like the police in Sydney where they are serious and looking for what you've done wrong not actually looking out for you. We hopped in the back seat with our box of wine and were so relieved and thankful we got a lift home. It would have been a very long walk otherwise! When we reached the house Anna was making bunting in the backyard and the boys were building benches and seats for the backyard too. We told them about our great day and how the bike tyre popped and the police picked us up and dropped us home. Anna said coz we are tourists and know we are drinking on the wine tours they look out for us and have a duty of care. It was about 7pm so we showered and relaxed for the evening. Matt still wasn't feeling the best and neither of us could be bothered to go get dinner even though I was slightly hungry, I knew there would be a big breakfast for us in the morning! We both fell asleep.
In the morning it was cloudy. Luckily we had two beautiful sunny days for our stay. The weather has been pretty much perfect for our whole trip! Florianopolis was the only place we were rained out and even through Central America when it was supposed to be their wet season and we would be rained on all the way, we had pretty much sunshine the whole time! Another delicious spread was waiting for us in the kitchen for breakfast. Juan even made us homemade waffles this morning and ran down the shop to buy a new tub of dulce de leche for us, as the other one had run out. My gosh this was service and they completely took care of us. After we had breakfast and chatted for a bit, until about 10am we went and packed our bags and tried to wrap the bottles of wine and fit them in to our already full bags. Somehow we did. When there is a will, there is a way! Especially when it comes to wine haha. We would have love to have brought more home but only allowed 3 bottles each back in to Australia and can't take any on carry on. At 12pm Augustino drove us back to the bus terminal. Anna and Juan weren't there but gave Maria a hug and kiss goodbye and said thank you. We gave them a tip as it wouldn't have been worth exchanging it back (a pretty big tip from backpackers and they were quite surprised) and to show our appreciation for our stay. They were so lovely and accommodating  and had worked so hard to get the house up and running and put their heart and soul in to this gorgeous house. It was beyond what we expected and it definitely made our stay in not only Mendoza but added to the perfect ending of our whole 4 month journey! They are lovely, courageous young people who follow their heart and take pride in hard work, being creative and the simple things with giving back to people and the environment. They are humble, giving people and nothing was too much to ask of them. They were just like normal everyday people but were very inspiring to me and I wish them all the best with their new venture and I'm sure it will continue to flourish for lots of people to enjoy and they get a whole lot of satisfaction from it for themselves. I would love to revisit them and their B&B in a couple of years time to see how much it's grown. 
We bought some snacks and drove back through the Andes and crossed the border back into Chile to Santiago. We caught the subway to our hostel (not without the last bit of tension between Matt and I trying to figure out the directions - they really need to be more specific considering no one would have been to these cities before and wouldn't have a clue where anything is) Anyway, it was night time and we walked down a street which was very lively with lots of bars, nightclubs and restaurants on it. It seemed like a pretty cool area. We got to our hostel which was also really cool, shame we were only staying one night. There was a pizza joint/restaurant which backed on to our hostel and since it was 9pm decided for convenience reason to eat there. The waitress was lovely and it was an easy/nice dinner for the last night of our trip, sharing pizza and a glass of wine! I am now in bed writing this and will be boarding a plane tomorrow back to Sydney! 
 

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