The flight to Mendoza was about an hour and a half in duration, with a level of service that puts to shame anything I’ve experienced on the similar Newark to Detroit flights, even in first class. The “international” airport of Mendoza truly was the smallest I’ve ever been, with only one or two jetways, two baggage claim carousels, and just a holding room once you clear security only designed for one flight’s passengers at a time.
Upon landing, I was greeted with a large crowd, cameras in hand, hovering right outside the baggage claim area. Bringing to mind my similar experience in Costa Rica, where my jacket went missing right at the start of a later damp trip, I was momentarily filled with trepidation. The source of their excitement became clear when the approximately 15 children, all in matching gear, descended the steps from the arrivals area and a throaty cheer arose from the crowd. Some local team, of an unkown sport, had returned to their adoring home town.
I made sure to be the last to leave baggage claim, letting the fans have their heroes.
A $5 taxi ride had me in the city proper, right outside my hotel, in about twenty minutes. A fair place, clean and functional, with a staff friendly and skilled in the ways of English. I dropped off my things and went exploring, finding out where to book some of the tours I was interested in taking during my two full days there. I found the place, booked a tour for the following afternoon of two wineries, and had a delicious dinner of lamb (not beef, amazingly enough), served by a friendly staff, at Bistro M in the Park Hyatt hotel.
The tour of the two wineries Wednesday was a contrast in styles, with the first making wine in a more traditional, hand-crafted, manual style, while the second used the more common large production methods. Still, the differences I saw in their process were mostly cosmetic, with both performing the first fermentation in stainless steel or, more interesting to me, concrete tanks, with the longer barrel aging in oak. Most of the real differences were in production size, with the first being a much smaller producer, and in the bottling and labeling process, where the second used the more modern, technological process. While both wines were fair to good, the second produced wines in the more known international style, heavily fruit-forward affairs that compare with the Californian and Australian wines so many of us are familiar with.
Dinner, again delicious, was this time at Azafran. Language appeared to be more of a barrier here, with the wait staff trying hard. The steak was only of so-so quality here, compared with several of the other restaurants at which I’d eaten recently. Not that it was bad, and without any context it would be judged favorably enough.
The final day in Mendoza I went to 1884, the oldest operating winery in Mendoza, for lunch and a tour. With regards to wine tourism, it struck me as very similar to the Mondavi model, at least when the Mondavis still owned their winery. The meal was pumpkin ravioli, with an incredible chocolate dessert. The tour was perfunctory, but our guide was very friendly. Attending the tour was Lee, a British “gent” a few years older than I, who had crossed over from Chile. We chatted with our guide for awhile during the tasting period, trading stories and experiences on places and travel and politics. Lee and I shared a cab back to the Placa Indepencia, as a convenient central point, and later met up for dinner.
One of the peculiarities I, with my American upbringing, must highlight again is that everyone is up until what we consider the later hours of the night. While I saw this every night, at Azafran I was the first diner at the restaurant around 8:30 pm, and when I left after 11 pm the restaurant had been filled. I was consistently reminded of how wonderful this country was, with its late night atmosphere that is often lacking in the USA. A conversation I had with Guido, on duty at the hotel in Buenos Aires around 2:30 one morning, demonstrates. He laid out for me his previous day before coming to work, as he and some friends celebrated his girlfriend’s birthday.
8 PM – Dinner at girlfriend’s parents’ house
11 PM – Head out for drinks with friends
1 AM – Go to dance club
6 AM – Breakfast at McDonald’s
7 AM – Share “matti” (insert explanation here) with friends
9:30 AM – Sleep until evening
When I explained that in the USA, in most places, bars close by 2 AM, he was honestly surprised. His question, “What would you do after that? I would be bored.”