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.

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What’s this?! An actual blog post? I know, I know, it’s been awhile. Very sorry for the long absence but I promise I will be updating this week with stories of my latest adventures. Pinky swear.

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September 11th was the date for this year’s Festival of the Moon(La Festival de la Luna), one of the oldest and most important holidays in Chinese culture.  For the first time, Buenos Aires’ Chinatown hosted an outdoor festival to honor the holiday. Conveniently, Barrio Chino is a mere three blocks from my house so I decided to check it out with a few girlfriends of mine.

According to the flier I received, the holiday occurs every year on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month when, according to legend, the moon is the most full and bright of the whole year.

Paper lanterns hang above the street during the Festival de la Luna in Buenos Aires' Chinatown.

And, according to legend, Chang Er flew to the moon where she now lives and you may see her dancing up there during the Moon Festival. The festival is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture.  Families often reunite to watch the full moon and celebrate together.

Martial Arts show during the Moon Festival. They were pretty impressive.

Buenos Aires’ Chinatown is quite small, as I mentioned in a previous post, but there was a crowd of people stuffed into  four blocks. Some friends and I browsed the market stands, listened to a singer, watched a Martial Arts show and enjoyed some “Asian Cuisine” at a restaurant. Hey, it can’t be entirely authentic, we are in Argentina after all.

Members of the Chinatown Association carried the dragon through the streets.

We enjoyed watching the dragon meander through the streets.

Altogether it was a nice, relaxing day and a good way to enjoy some of the early spring weather we were having. It was also pretty exciting to experience some Chinese culture while living in South America.

My first experience with Melon Popcicles. So yummy!

Hi everyone, I’m sorry about the brief delay in posts. Would you believe they make us give presentations and take midterms during study abroad?! How rude! Anyway, I’ve been trying to get caught up with school work and thus am a little behind in posting. So expect a couple this week to make up for the absence.

Two weeks ago, I went with my program to Iguazú Falls for the weekend. At 5:30 am, after being woken by my roommate, Stephanie, since I slept through my alarm, the two of us took a cab to the domestic airport in Buenos Aires, Jorge Newberry.  There, we met the other six students from our program and our site director, Gaby.

The whole ASA gang. I'm the short girl in the middle.

We then took a two-hour, uneventful flight from Buenos Aires to the airport in Iguazú. Did you know? Airlines in Argentina serve meals even for short domestic flights, score!

We were met at the airport by our guide, Bea. She gave us a brief overview of our schedule, gave us some tips for exploring the town and explained that the name “Iguazú” comes from the Guarani words for “big water”.

We arrived at our hotel, the beautiful Jardin de Iguazú, and I immediately grabbed my book (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, loved it!) and went to relax by the pool.  When we left Buenos Aires, the weather was in the upper-50’s, lower-60’s (Fahrenheit), so the 90-degree weather in Iguazú felt like summer break!

The pool at our hotel. I spent a lot of time relaxing here during the weekend.

After a morning of relaxing and exploring the little town of Iguazú, we were picked up by our zip-lining and rappelling guide. Driving by the rickety zip-line platforms in the jungle did nothing to calm my nerves, but I was determined not to miss out on the fun. After getting geared up, we climbed the wooden staircase (the scariest part) to the take-off point. After waiting in line, I clipped in and was on my way.

Zip-lining through the trees. Too fast even for the camera! Thanks to my friend David for the photo.

Upon seeing the first platform, I started slowing down too early and got stuck out on the line. Luckily, one of the guides quickly clipped on, used his arms to “zip” towards me, interlocked my ankles in his feet and pulled me the rest of the way to the platform.  Clearly I’m not the only person that’s done that!

We zipped between 4 different platforms and honestly I was more afraid climbing on the rickety wooden platforms than actually being on the line. It was pretty incredible to be floating above the trees like that. Once I relaxed, I really enjoyed the view from up there.  Definitely an experience I want to repeat!

One of the platforms we zip-lined to.

After zip-lining, we went to another part of the forest to go rappelling. Maybe I was feeling invincible after conquering the zip-line, but I was not afraid at all for the rappelling. Big mistake. The rappelling wasn’t particularly adventurous or scary (I mean, come on, I’ve been skydiving for goodness sake!) but I wasn’t prepared for the drop my stomach took when I first went down the cliff. Was pretty fun though!

Attempting to rappel down a cliff near Iguazú Falls. Scarier than I expected!

Saturday we spent the day hiking through the Iguazú Falls National Park (a UNESCO world heritage site), waved at Brasil from across the river, and enjoyed the many views of the falls. Unfortunately, a recent flood had torn down the pedestrian bridge to the largest waterfall, La Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), but we were still able to view it from afar. Personally,  I was more impressed by the line of 8-10 large waterfalls in a row (there are a total of 275 drops in the park).

Getting sprayed by the Falls.

Being at the falls, I was reminded of something a friend of mine told me before I came to Argentina, “Iguazú Falls makes Niagara look like a faucet!”. I have to agree.

A Coati in Iguazú Falls National Park. This little guy tried to unzip my purse and steal my apple!

I just got back from my third photography class here in Buenos Aires. It can be a bit overwhelming at times. Unlike the university classes I’m taking for credit, I’m the only native English-speaker and the class is not designed around my needs. In addition to a lot of fast Spanish, the discussions often involve technical photography terms which sound nothing like their English counterparts that I am so familiar with. But, I’m not complaining.  The class is fantastic practice for my Spanish (although I don’t think I’ll ever be able to roll those damn R’s) and everyone in the class, professor included, is incredibly patient and helpful with me. I even had a brief conversation about my 24-mm lens today with another student!

This past week, our assignment was to take photos to illustrate the different rules of composition. A pretty typical assignment but it was a fun way to challenge myself. It forced me to look for out of the ordinary situations. These are a few of my favorites – apparently I was particularly drawn to unique lighting this week. Enjoy!

Silhouette of tree branches in a park in Buenos Aires.

Palacio Hirsch in Belgrano "R", Buenos Aires.

A candle glows in the "Rotunda" Cathedral in Belgrano, Buenos Aires.

A drawing of John Lennon in Barrancas Park, Belgrano, Buenos Aires.

A view of the obelisk down a street in El Centro of Buenos Aires.

This past Friday, my host University put on an International Night. It was a chance for all the international students to mix and mingle and for the local students to meet some foreigners. Students from each country decorated tables with information showing the history and culture of their homelands. Each country also brought in traditional food and, of course, booze from their regions.

The party started off with a group of us from my tango class performing a choreographed tango show. I can’t say we were very impressive, but it sure was a lot of fun!

My tango partner, Eugenio, and I.

For me, the winning tables were the United States, Germany ,China and Mexico.  The USA table featured liters of Budweiser (I never realized how awful that beer was until after drinking really good beer in Argentina for two months), Cheeze-Its (yes!) and Oreos with peanut butter (double yes!).

The USA table after some major damage to the Cheeze-Its.

The German table featured men dressed in lederhosen, liters of Warsteiner and Becks, pretzels and radishes (I still don’t understand the latter).

The German table.

The Chinese table had a variety of homemade traditional Chinese dishes – which were all delicious. They were so popular that they ran out of plates and chopsticks so I ate my food out of a cup with a knife – college ingenuity at its finest.

My favorite table was the Mexican table. They showed everyone how to do tequila shots “like real Mexicans,” according to my tango partner Eugenio, who is a “real Mexican”. These consisted of a tequila shot with a drop of hot sauce, followed by a chaser of chili powder. Don’t knock it ‘till you try it, I was pleasantly surprised. Most importantly, the Mexican table had homemade quesadillas and chips with homemade guacamole, beans and hot sauces. And it was actually spicy! (It’s impossible to get spicy food in Buenos Aires)

The Mexican table.

I loved having the opportunity to hang out with my classmates in a more informal setting. I was also amazing to see so many different cultures in one place – we have so much more in common than we have differences and I loved being in an environment where we were able to appreciate and learn about those differences rather than criticize them. Maybe the way to solve the world’s problems is to get everyone in the same room with some good food, good drinks and lots of dancing. Well, it’s worth a shot!

Thanks to my friend David for letting me use some of his photos for this post! Check out his blog here.

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Hanging With the Gauchos

August 29, 2011

This post originally appeared on August 22 on the University of South Carolina’s study abroad blog.

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Saturday we had our first excursion with ASA, the program I’m in Argentina with. The eight of us met our site director, Gaby, at a café in the center of the city and hopped in a van to drive out to the Santa Susana Estancia, about an hour’s drive outside Buenos Aires.  Irish immigrants built the estancia, an Argentine cowboy, or gaucho, ranch, in the 18th century. The beautiful, expansive property consists of the original main house, which is now a museum, the horse barn and the entertainment barn, as well as a lot of open land.

The old estancia house.

The restored kitchen inside the estancia.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with wine, juice and fresh, homemade empanadas. We meandered around the grounds and explored the museum, which has been well preserved. The house even has its own chapel, complete with a confessional.  After the museum, we walked to the horse barn for our horse ride.  They were the tamest I’ve ever encountered and we went on a much too short ride around the grounds.

A photograph of First Comunions hanging in the estancia chapel.

Kenzie lets her horse have a quick snack before heading out for our ride.

After pretending to be cowboys, a few of us braved the very large, incredibly rickety horse-drawn cart for another ride around the grounds.  That cart ride gave me an adrenaline rush greater than most roller coasters, simply because I was sure the wheels would fall off at any moment!

Around one, the dinner bell rang and all the guests rushed inside for traditional Argentine asado.  We chowed down on bread with chimichurri, traditional sausage and blood sausage and a variety of delicious salads while waiting for the gauchos to bring around the different meats that had been on the grill all day.  We had tender pieces of pork, chicken, and of course, steak.  We finished the meal with some pastelitos con dulce de membrillo, a type of pastry dough filled with jam made from quince and then fried and drizzled with honey.  So yummy!

A variety of sausage and meat on the grill for lunch.

The delicious pastelitos con dulce de membrillo we had for dessert.

During dessert, we watched a couple of dancers do a tango show and then they demonstrated traditional folk dancing and music.  At the end of the show,  many of the audience members, including yours truly of course, joined in for some high spirited dancing.

It was a very fun day and both my roommate and I were exhausted when we finally got home later that evening. I had been looking forward to this excursion most of all and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

After dinner, we watched the gauchos play a variety of games with horses that I can't even begin to explain. But, they were fun to watch!

Recently I started taking an advanced photography night class at the Universidad de Belgrano, the university I’m studying at in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  My class consists of four older Argentine women, two Argentine students and three foreign exchange students (1 Colombian, 1 Canadian and 1 American – me). Mainly I’m taking the class as a way to practice my Spanish and meet some non-Americans, but it’s also a fun way to keep my photography fresh and hopefully learn something along the way.

This past week in class, we were give 30 minutes to explore the 19 floors of the University building we were in. We had to take 10-20 photos that showed different perspectives and we weren’t allowed to delete anything. It was a fun exercise and forced me to be more deliberate with each photograph that I took. Here are a few of my favorites from around the building.