Malbec and Mate in Mendoza

November 7, 2011

A month ago, two of my friends and I made a pretty impromptu decision to spend a weekend in Mendoza. I knew I wanted to see the famous wine country before I returned to the U.S. and since we had only a few free weekends remaining we decided to go for it.

A week after buying our bus tickets, Phoebe, Kehala and I were on an overnight bus (18 hours) to Mendoza city. Luckily we got the three front seats on the upper deck, giving us an entire front window to look out.

My travel buddies, Kehala and Phoebe, checking our map during the bus ride from Buenos Aires.

After surviving the questionable dinner we were served, we arrived in Mendoza around 11 am on a Friday. We found our hostel (Hostel Estacion Mendoza) and immediately started exploring the town. The city is pretty small (population about 111,000) so it was a nice change from Buenos Aires.

We visited the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno (Municipal Museum of Modern Art) which is located under the fountain in Plaza Independencia. It was pretty cool to walk under the fountain and into an art museum. The entrance fee was cheap (about $5 USD) but the museum was underwhelming. They had an interesting photography exhibit on Brazilian Laborers in the 1940s but after visiting art museums in Buenos Aires, this one couldn’t stack up.

Old barrels in the Museo del Vino.

But, let’s be honest, we weren’t in Mendoza for the art. So, Saturday morning, we packed some snacks and made our way to Mr. Hugo’s Bike Tours on Rioja Street, which is accessible via Buses 171, 172 and 173. “Mr. Hugo” was a jovial older man that eagerly greeted us with plastic cups of cheap wine. We waited our turn and met with one of the employees who gave us a map and suggestions of his favorite stops. We paid AR$30 for each bike for the day, stashed our complementary bottles of water and hit the road.

The map did a good job of leading us to the vineyards (although it was decidedly not to scale) and we enjoyed the freedom of having our own timetable. Our first stop was the Museo del Vino, an old, still functioning winery turned museum. We explored the rooms of old wine-making equipment, were perplexed by the Hall of Weapons and tasted the Museum’s Malbec, which was quite delicious and rivaled many of the bottles I’ve had in Buenos Aires (although I’m no oenologist).

Phoebe and I enjoying a wine tasting at the Museo del Vino.

We then made our way to a Liquor, Olive Oil and Chocolate Factory where we tasted a number of yummy jams, olive oils, olives, chocolates and liquors. The olives in Mendoza were absolutely delectable. My host mom could spend hours talking about the divinity of Mendoza olives, so trust me, they’re yummy. We had a quick picnic lunch in the factory’s lawn and moved on.

Biking the wine trail.

We arrived at Trapiche Vineyards, the largest producer of wine in Argentina, only to discover there was no more space on the tours. Unfazed, we rode to the Beer Garden on our map. The “garden” turned out to be a family’s backyard with picnic tables and couches scattered about. We handed the mother our coupons for a free snack with a pint of beer (blonde ale, red ale or dark lager) and watched as the father stuffed homemade empanadas. After sitting down on a couch, the couple’s adorable 8-year-old daughter brought out our chips and beer (apparently liquor laws aren’t as strict here). The beer was a great way to relax after biking all morning. (Taking a break from tasting wine by having a beer, it’s a rough life, I know.) If you use Mr. Huge, be sure to stop at the Beer Garden, it was a great place to rest and meet other bikers from the trail.

The three of us enjoying some relaxation time at the beer garden.

Try not to get too jealous.

We then began a longer trek to Mevi Vineyards. On the way I realized I had a flat tire, which forced us to stop at a gas station and call Mr. Hugo. We waited about 20 minutes for a man to drive me out a new bike and then hit the road again. We finally made it to Mevi, our last stop of the day due to the flat-tire-delay. This chic, modern vineyard was well worth the wait. The white, clean-lined building was a beautiful contrast to the fields of grapes. The three of us enjoyed relaxing in the sun on the back porch before trying seven of the vineyard’s wines. The Malbec was my favorite (duh!) but I also enjoyed the Syrah.  We did one tasting of “young” wines, wines that had been fermenting for less than a year. It was interesting to taste the young wine and compare it to the same wine that had fermenting for a more standard time (1-2 years), which is what made up our second tasting.

The infamous tire.

Relaxing on the balcony at Mevi vineyards.

A tasting of "young" wines.

A tasting of reserves.

After we got back to Mr. Hugo’s, we sat on the porch and rehashed our day with other bikers.  We met a couple of Portuguese girls and three Danish guys that we ended up having dinner with back in the city.  One of my favorite parts of traveling is meeting other people from such a variety of backgrounds.

The next morning, we went rafting with a company our hostel suggested. Since it was early in the season, the rapids were still quite small (about level 2) but it was fun for a first-timer like me!

Later on, we spent some time exploring the city and while playing cards back at our hostel, a college student that works there invited us to go hang out at the park with some of his friends.  He told us they would be playing music, drinking mate and just hanging out.  We were excited to hang out with some locals and eagerly followed. When we got to the park, we were greeted by a large group of Argentine hippies.  One of the highlights of my trip was the hour or so we spent listening to music, drinking mate and watching people dance. They were some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met and I was sad to have to head back to Buenos Aires so soon after meeting them.

Enjoying the drum circle.

Sipping some mate and listening to the music.

Overall it was a great trip and I would highly recommend visiting wine country if you’re ever in Argentina. It’s a wonderful contrast to the bustling city life I’ve been immersed in these past 5 months.

Some of you may have wondered what happened to me after my Argentina Adventures. Well, I cried a few days over Malbec and Tango withdrawal, then I spent a couple of months of quality time with my family in Ohio (which was pretty great). And this past December, I packed my things and moved to Charleston, South Carolina to start my life in the “real world”.

For the past couple of years, I’ve worked as an intern with Microburst Learning, an e-learning company based in South Carolina, and after my graduation in December, I started with them as a full-time employee. My job duties have increased in both quantity and responsibility level and I’ve spent the past five months adjusting to those changes.

So far, I love living in Charleston (who wouldn’t?!) and I have really enjoyed the new challenges my new role has offered me. When I’m not traveling to film, I work from home – which is pretty freakin’ awesome, but it also means that I don’t spend a lot of time with my fellow employees. A few months ago, I decided I wanted to organize an event that the whole Microburst team could do together. Which brings me to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

One-half of Team Microburst Learning (we split into two groups for the walk) with our fabulous sand castle.

My mom is a nurse and has worked with Cystic Fibrosis patients throughout her career. We also have a family history of the disease so my brothers and I grew up with a broad understanding of CF. And, I remember going to functions and camps run by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as a child. So, when I was looking for a group to volunteer with when I moved to Charleston, the CF Foundation came to mind.

Every year CFF does a walk called Great Strides to raise money for CF research. Luckily, I convinced my coworkers to start a corporate team with me and we just participated in the walk a week ago. So far, our team has raised $1000! And, just as importantly, we had an awesome time at the walk!

Enjoying some downtown with the daughters of two of my co-workers.

We opted to participate in the “Challenge” Course which involved ten challenges such as sand darts, charades and sand castle building. All the activities were really fun and I’m proud to say that our team WON the Challenge Course!

Team Microburst Learning working tirelessly on our sand castle. Doing this challenge with so many creative people was a lot of fun!

The husbands of two of my co-workers enthusiastically accept our Challenge Course award.

We topped off the day with some good ol’ Southern BBQ and ice cream. Yum, yum!

Moving forward, I plan to continue working with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (we’re in the middle of planning a bike race!). Have you been to any fun charity events lately?

My First Peña

August 24, 2011

This post originally appeared on July 10 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

—–

Last night I had an entirely South American experience. My host mom’s brother, Sergio, invited my roommate, Stephanie, and I to a “recital” and dinner at his house. Sergio is a musician and music teacher so we knew the music would be wonderful. In South America, this type of gathering is called a Peña. I looked up the word online and found it described as “a grass-roots community meeting place where popular folklore and other artistic expressions accompanied by food and drink are showcased”. In other words, it was awesome.

At the Peña with Steph, Alex and Campbell (I'm the one on the far left)

We arrived to Sergio’s house, a beautiful home tucked away behind a garden (with a Lemon Tree!) in Belgrano, paid the 25 pesos (about $6) for the show and sat down at our table. Sergio’s living room, was filled with tables covered with colorful tablecloths and a cacophony of various chairs for guests to sit on. Sergio was surprised that we were “so punctual!” when in fact we were a few minutes late. But, in Argentina, if you aren’t 30 minutes late, you’re early.

My host brother, Nico, was the waiter for the night and he brought us locro, empanadas, bread, and, of course, Malbec. Locro is a hearty Argentine stew made with corn, white beans, beef, chorizo and veggies and it was as amazing as Carmen said it would be.

Some of the wonderful music. Sergio is the man playing guitar on the far left.

After chowing down for a while, we sat back and listened to about 3 hours of folk music. Since it was Argentina’s Independence Day, all the music was Argentine, although Sergio said they often play Peruvian, Bolivian and other South American styles of music. We also heard a little rock and roll style music. My favorite part of the night is that it was such a communal atmosphere; most people in the room seemed to know each other, so there were jokes being yelled about the room and we were encouraged to join in for many of the songs.

Apparently, we Americans managed to not embarrass Sergio too much because he invited us back for next month’s Peña. I can guarantee you that I’ll be there.

Argentine Locro (courtesy of Wikipedia)