Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mendoza / Salta, Argentina

Full of wide, tree-lined streets, plazas large and small and set against the unreal backdrop of the Andes which rise out of the flat Argentinean pampas like a cardboard cut-out, Mendoza is beautiful, warm, sunny, and the perfect place to relax in after the rush and roar of Buenos Aires. It is also one of the main wine-producing areas in Argentina and the city of Mendoza is surrounded by vineyards, as well as fields full of fruit and olive trees. I had the pleasure of visiting an olive-oil factory and two vineyards in Maipu, a village about 20km away from Mendoza, by bus and not bike unfortunately which was my original plan, but the bike tours started at 9am and that's too early even for me to be drinking wine! We visited a small organic bodega and a larger normal bodega although they were both small by wine-making standards producing less than 100,000 bottles per year (the bigger ones can produce over a million).

I also walked up to the top of the Cerro de La Gloria to get a better view of the mountains that I'd glimpsed on my bus ride in:

Other than the wine tour and a hike up the Cerro de la Gloria, I didn't do much in Mendoza other than hang out in the plazas and the park and read a lot, but after my last couple of weeks in BA it was just what I needed. I spent a weekend in Mendoza and then took an overnight bus to Salta, which is in the far north of Argentina and where you start seeing the proximity to the Bolivian border, particularly in terms of the food and also in the elevation, it's over 1,000m up. The weather in Salta was even better than in Mendoza and I spent a lot of time just sitting in the sun at my hostel drinking beer and wine and playing cards. I also wandered around the local market and managed a trip up the cable car to get a view of the city, which was really nice and quite peaceful.

I was planning to spend quite a few days in Salta but Argentina turned out to be more expensive than I expected and I'd been hearing lots of talk about how cheap Bolivia was, so after just three days I decided on the spur of the moment to accompany a girl, Sophie, I met at the hostel on the overnight bus to La Quiaca on the border of Argentina and cross over into Villazon in Bolivia. We've been travelling in Bolivia together since then so it turned out to be a pretty good decision!

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