Malbec and Mountains – Part 1

Driving into Mendoza early in the morning I made out the snow-capped mountains in the distance, the sunrise reflecting pink on their white tips. Finally we made it to Mendoza! Although the ride here wasn’t smooth.

Rosario to Mendoza is a 12-hour overnight bus ride. We wanted to make sure that we got in some rest along the way, so we booked our tickets with the most prestigious bus company in Argentina, CATA International. So luxurious was it, that our huge leather reclining seats came complete with pillows and blankets. An hour into the trip, we were served dinner, accompanied with wine and champagne. This was first class!

While we were sleeping on our very glamorous bus ride from Rosario to Mendoza we were woken up by the bus engine turning over (chuga, chuga). I was thinking, “Please restart, please.” After about 15 minutes of trying to restart the bus, the driver came to regrettably tell us that we had to change buses. There was an electrical fault in the bus, so we couldn’t continue, nor could we take our bags that were stuck in the compartment below. CATA-strophe. So at five in the morning we all took our sleepy heads and changed to a passing bus, without all the luxuries.

When we finally made it into Mendoza we managed to find ourselves a nice little hostel called Savigliano. Sitting in the kitchen on the top floor we have a good view of what we came here for – the mountains.

 

The Mendoza province in Argentina is on the eastern side of the beautiful Andes, separated from Chile only by these huge jagged mountains, blanketed by snow.

We’re in Mendoza city, the capital of the province, to experience the best this region has to offer – its mountains and its Malbec – before heading just south of the city to start work in an organic farm.

The city itself is not amazing. There are no grand attractions and the best thing about it is probably the road out. Nonetheless, since we’re here we explored the city, gearing ourselves up for adventures further afield.

It’s cold here, it’s the middle of winter in the Andes. After two days of wandering the city’s main drag, San Martín, searching for warmer clothes (to no avail), we decided that we must get out of the main city streets and visit the much talked about park General San Martín, named after the General José de San Martín who led the Argentinean War of Independence in the early 1800’s.

 

The park is immense. Its 393 hectares span from the west of the city to Cerro de la Gloría, the hill that sits perched upon Mendoza most famous for its monument to the Army of the Andes. From the gate it’s either a 6 km walk to the Cerro, or a short bus ride from the city centre.

The Argentinean Government decided to construct the park after an earthquake in 1861 left the city devastated by floods, causing several public health epidemics such as measles, diphtheria and cholera. The park, designed by French-Argentinean architect Carlos Thays, caused controversy between the government and its opposition that argued that the epidemics would be better addressed by constructing better sewers and irrigation ditches.

Meandering Mountains

The next day we booked a tour to the Altas Montañas, or the high country, with a local tour agency called Geovix.

Starting bright and early at 7.30am, our tour minibus took us out of the city and towards the snowy Andes. As we drove into the high country, the wide highway gave way to vast plains littered with vines and the occasional animal, with the vast mountain ranged glowing white in the distance.

Our first stop was Potrerillos, a large 12km long dam that sits on the Mendoza River, for a quick photo, then onto Uspallata, a quaint mountain village at the base of the Andes. The road out of Uspallata is the crossroads between Mendoza and Santiago, Chile.

 

Driving through the ranges, the bus was filled with the occasional “ooh”, and “ahh”, as passengers were astounded by the natural wonders of this part of the world. Passing the Punta de Vacas, we spotted the Tupungato mountain rising 6,800 metres above sea level.

 

From there we continued to Los Penintentes, a ski resort at the foot of Aconcagua, very close to the border between Argentina and Chile. Los Penitentes is named after the form the icy mountaintops take, which apparently vaguely resemble penitents praying on their knees.

 

Although the mercury had dipped dramatically from the city down below, there was still a lack of snow at this resort that had closed about 80 percent of its 25 ski runs for the day.

 

We found ourselves a rock or two free from passing skiers and lunched in the middle of the vast ranges, just outside of the ski village. We barely had time to take a brief walk around the village before the bus departed for the Provincial Park of Aconcagua.

 

Aconcagua is South America’s tallest mountain peak. At 6, 962 metres above sea level, this tiny mountain dwarfs Australia’s tallest peak Mount Kosciusko by a measly 4, 734 metres.

 

The last stop on the itinerary for the day was Puente del Inca, the curious natural stone bridge and thermal waters below, which the Incas believed held healing properties for anyone that crossed the bridge to bathe in the waters below.

 

Charles Darwin passed through here, and in his “Voyage of the Beagle” he harshly describes the bridge as “by no means worthy of the great monarchs whose name it bears.” Though its calcification properties and massive white stalactites have intrigued visitors for centuries.

 

The dusty, arid grounds leading up to the bridge are inundated with market stalls of local artisans selling traditional symmetrical patterned items, from clothing, to pottery. The café in front is also a good place to top up your maté thermos.

Back in Mendoza city we had an early night, to prepare ourselves for our bicycle tour around Malbec country the next day.

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  • Natasha Malinda from Melbourne, Australia
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