Mendoza, Argentina

Independent – Contents Page

Ben Connor visits Mendoza and finds beauty in all the right places.

The guy in the other raft had a look of intense anguish on is face. He was lying flat on his back with his foot through a grip in the side of the raft while his right hand grasped his left shoulder. By the looks of things that shoulder was dislocated. Not that the river cared. Our raft and his plummeted into level three rapids, water splashing all over us as we obediently followed the rowing commands of our guide and commander. A big smile crept over my face. I was enjoying myself too much to be empathetic and… well, one of our rowing-party looked distinctly like Robert De Niro. This was cinematic! A man on a flying fox flew over-head, whooping and hollering like a five year old and landing on an incline on the other side of the river. A couple in wetsuits sped by on boards (white water boards I guess you would call them?).

Then the water calmed.

We were instructed to row to the right bank of the river. A long tunnel through a massive rock appeared. We paddled through and soon emerging, were greeted by more rapids!

We came to rest on a sandy bank at the rafting company’s base situated at the mouth of a large lake. We climbed on to the shore, showered and were soon relaxing in the marque/restaurant area where we were to wait for more rafters to arrive before departing.

While waiting a large group of attractive young women arrived in a large van and set up their tents on the banks of the lake. We purchased some beer and I talked to De Niro about his movie career – of which he had no recollection. 15 minutes later the women arrived at the marque wearing bikinis and walked single file, beauty pageant style, through the marque smiling and waving at us all. The experience was rather surreal. I can only assume they were participating in some kind of Miss Argentina excursion.

Such is the nature of a visit to Mendoza. A beautiful region, it is also populated by some very beautiful people. Indeed, while staying in the city of Mendoza, I began to consider the possibility that at some point in its history it’s people had been subjected to a large-scale eugenics experiment. Everywhere I turned, in the wide streets and manicured parks and squares, I saw perfectly proportioned bodies and faces.

There are many trees in the cities centre providing ample shade from the heat (which was in the mid 30’s) and water canals run along many of the roads seemingly cooling the air with the constant flow of water.

But it is the cities outskirts that are its real attraction. The white water rafting should definitely not be missed but Mendoza is also a large wine-producing province (it is said to the 5th largest in the world) and wine tours are a big thing here. There are many regions you can visit but the Maipu region, a 15 kilometre bus ride away, seemed the most convenient so, the next day, my partner and I paid a visit.

We were dropped off at an information booth, from which we acquired a map of the area and it’s wineries and walked twenty meters to a shop where we rented our bikes. The first winery we visited, Bodega La Rural, was amazing. At least one hundred and fifty years old the property, with vineyards disappearing in to the distance in every direction, was littered with ancient tools, from 1920’s ford trucks to specific ancient wine making gadgetry. We were guided around, in a big tour, by yet another beautiful person – a young blond woman with large dark glasses, a plunging neck line and a clipped efficient way of speaking Spanish that I found very hard to understand. The wine testing took place in a large warehouse in the shadow of massive wooden barrels and was served at a sleek bar with delectable cheese platters.

It was here that I tasted Malbec and… well I’ve been buying it ever since.

The road to Bodega La Rural is beneath the cool arched canopy of the trees that line its edges like colonnades. Fresh water flows down roadside canals, birds twitter in the trees and as you float along on your bicycle the experience is all a little bit heavenly. On this road we spotted a two-storey wooden cabin advertising itself as being available to rent. We spoke with the proprietor and looked inside to find a wood cabin fantasy. Upon enquiring we discovered it to be US$50 a day – standard for a crappy dive in America but way above our budget for this the Argentinian leg of our journey.

We visited many other wineries, a place that specialised in chocolates and liqueurs (all of which we tasted for free) and most impressive of all, a delicatessen called Almacen Del Sur. Almacen Del Sur specialises in gourmet cuisine (rose petal chutney and the like – in fact, every other exotic concoction you can think of), all the ingredients of which are derived from its farm. A sprawling, luxurious, mansion, which has been maintained in its original 19th Century state and is available for business functions, is situated in the properties centre. It has a restaurant with (very expensive) food that will make you consider all other food you’ve tasted slapdash and only a short distance away is the factory where you can watch all the basic ingredients, recently acquired from the surrounding farmlands, being caringly prepared in some of the most supremely sterile kitchens I have ever seen (the zoo like quality of watching the workers in these lab like conditions through a specially designed display window was a little eerie, if the truth be told).

For more information on Almacen Del Sur visit: http://www.almacendelsur.com/

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