Category Archives: Wine

Our Last Days in South America- Vina del Mar and Santiago

Standard

The last pisco sours have been had; good-bye South America…

So the bus from San Pedro to Vina del Mar was our longest yet- 23 hours! We got on at San Pedro at 1pm and got off 12.30pm the next day. We went ‘cama’ (wider, more comfy seats) so it wasn’t as brutal as it sounds. Plus I got my second Christmas build up surprise from Hedd- the ‘Love Actually’ film on the iPod. So I got to watch that on the way which made me feel very Christmasy! However I had a nasty surprise when I collected my bag from the storage part of the bus. It was slightly damp and smelt like urine! Absolutely disgusting and definitely an example of the darker underside backpacking. Luckily the backpack cover bag that my backpack was in got the worst of it. Needless to say, the first thing I did when I got to our hostel was to wash the cover bag and empty my backpack and wash down the outside, then bleach dry it in the sun! Yuk yuk yuk! The hostel we stayed in was called ‘Little Castle’ and was in the Cerro Castillo area of the seaside city, up on the headland so we had a good view over the city centre. The hostel reminded me of university hall crossed with a rickety old London flat! Felt really comfortable and the owner Patricio was lovely. So Vina del Mar is where the city folk from Santiago come on holiday. The city wraps itself between 2 headlands and has a lovely beach and promenade. So the first afternoon we were there we of course headed to the beach. We strolled along the promenade lined with little stalls selling bits and bobs and settled ourselves on the very clean sandy beach to watch the waves. Now these waves were huge and broke and swelled really close into shore. Surfers actually stood on the sand and when they wanted to ride the wave, ran into the sea and jumped on their boards on the way; the waves were that close. We watched the sun go down whilst eating delicious ice cream on the sea front terrace of ‘Enjoy del Mar’ restaurant….very nice.

Tuesday was our first and only full day in Vina del Mar and we started off early walking along the main drag called Valpariso Street, to the main place- Plaza Jose Francisco Vergara, which had lots of native plants and trees planted within it. We then headed to Museo de Arqueologia e Historia Francisco Fonck which for 2000 pesos we got to browse exhibitions on Chilean early history and about Easter Island. And it was in English and Spanish so we could read all the information boards and know what we were looking at! The Easter Island exhibition was the best, and it was interesting to read that it is still a mystery how the Rapa Nui people got to the island. There has been no remains found of early man on the island so that means man must have sailed there later on. Chileans dismiss that Rapa Nui people sailed over from Indonesians and instead advocate that it was people from Northern Chile that sailed the un-navigational seas to the Island. However the Indonesians is the most likely! I also didn’t know that the infamous Easter Island stone men- Moari’s- started off really small but grew in size t0 22 meters tall as the Rapa Nui elders tried to hold on to their spiritual traditions in the face of greater dilution with more visitors coming to the island from Europe and the South American continent, carving the Moari’s larger and larger (as you can see in the pic). After the museum we checked out the local market which is in the now dried up river bed which ‘flows’ through the city. We picked up some über inexpensive beach towels in prep for our 10 days on the beach in Fiji…mine is extremely grown up with multiple colourful cartoon zoo animals on it, hmmm! After a siesta, we made vegetable fajitas for dinner and then headed to the beach again for sun set. Our bus to Santiago on Wednesday didn’t go until 1pm, so in the morning we took a last stroll along the promenade going from headland to headland. And on the way we found a free outdoor gym, with a rowing machine! So I got a bit of training in whilst admiring the seaside view…Duncan (my coach in Chester) will be proud!

So we made it to Santiago okay after only a 1hr 1/2 bus ride, which made a very welcome change from our 23 hour bus ride only a few days previous! We caught a taxi (5,000 pesos, but could get one for around 3,000 if you walked a bit away from the bus terminal) to our Hostel called Princess Insolenta in the Brazil district of the city. Brazil is a bohemian, studenty area of the city and has lots of colonial type buildings. Quite pretty in fact. Our hostel is super funky and very music centred with travellers strumming their guitars in the shared courtyard…gave the place a really nice atmosphere. We (well me mainly!) had collected a few presents and souvenirs on our 2 months around South America which were making our backpacks bulge, so we headed to the post office to send a few parcels home. The post office was packed! Everyone doing their last-minute Christmas card sending and there was a band outside playing Christmas tunes, which eased the long wait in the que. Luckily we were eventually served by a very efficient yet patient women who kindly guided us through the various custom forms and coped with our sheer lack of Spanish! Fingers crossed the parcels will make their way to their recipients in one piece sometime in 2012! We picked up some ingredients on the 40 minute walk back to our hostel and I rustled us up a good old spag bol for tea, with a glass or 2 of vino blanco to help with the cooking! Yesterday was our only full day in Santiago, but my gosh did we make the most of it! It was an early-ish start to get to the centre of Santiago (30 minute walk) on time for the start of a free walking tour with the ‘Spicy Chile’ company at 10am. The tour started at the Palacio de la Moneda which is Chile’s equivalent to the White House as it is where the President lives/works. We got there in time for the changing of the guards. This is a very elaborate affair which happens every other day. A whole heap of soldiers in their event uniform march across Avenue Libertador towards the Palace and there are soldiers on horseback in front and then a full army brass band behind. When they stopped at the back yard of the Palace (this was all open-no high gates or anything) the band then played Jingle Bells! So so Christmasy, it was lovely! Our tour guide was called Dani, and she was in her final term of studying Acting at uni. She knew her stuff and could answer all our questions. So a bit about Chile’s (scarily) recent history. In the 70’s a well-loved Communist President called Salvador Allende Crossens was overthrown by the leader of the army called General Augusto Pinochet who ran the country as a Dictatorship. For around 18 years the country was under this dictator and during this time human rights were squashed, there were frequent tortures and lots of people ‘disappeared’. The authorities are still finding the mass graves now- not nice. In 1989 the people revolted and the dictator killed himself. The people of Chile are politically passionate as a result and as Dani explained the history to us in front of the army display in the Palace’s back yard 2 local men pointed at the army and shouted at us “killers of the people”. In the 1990’s Thursdays were when the weekly protests took place. This isn’t so much the case now, but when we did see a protest on our walking tour when we stopped for a cuppa. It was a workers protest of factory staff of big multinationals such as Adidas and Loreal, protesting against the low minimum wage (200,000 pesos a month) and the big gap between those on the lowest and those on the highest wages in the company. Fair play I say, I wouldn’t be able to live on £250 a month!

From La Moneda Palace we walked towards Plaza de Armas and popped into the big catholic cathedral there. It was very ornate inside without being Gordy, and they had a fab nativity scene on display too which the photo opposite shows. Then it was onto the Parque Forestal area which is like Santiago’s equivalent of Central Park in New York. Within Parque Forestal we passed the Museo Bellas Artes which is a modern art gallery set up to help up and coming artists. The state do not subsidise art education at all in Chile. Actually the current President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, sounds a bit of an arse as well. Dani told us that he isn’t well liked as he pledged in his election campaign that he would make public education free (even Chilean public primary/secondary schools, locals need to pay to send their children to), but instead he increased the price of schooling, out pricing many local families. He is a billionaire business man and apparently runs the country like an enterprise; i.e. just for profit.  That’s not what Government is all about. Hopefully the Chilean people will have better luck when it comes to Presidents next time round! We then made our way further east to Plaza Italia where there is a high-rise building which looks like an old mobile phone with an antennae and a big battery pack. It used to be the headquarters to Telefonics, the equivalent of BT in the UK…that’s taking corporate branding to the extreme! Then it was onto the bohemian (and posh) neighbourhoods of the city called Lastarria and Bellavista, which had lots of restaurants and cafes which spread out onto the streets- very nice. We passed Pablo Neruda’s house along the way who was a famous poet who lived in Santiago and won a Nobel Prize for literature. He loved the sea and all his homes he built to look like boats- La Chascona (his house in Santiago) is no exception.

We ended our tour at the bottom of Cerro San Cristobel which is a big hill which has a massive white Virgin Mary statue on top of it, “to protect over the city”. We took the funicular up to the top, (cost 1,800 pesos for a round ticket), to take in the view. The pic opposite is us at the top. As you can see the city is sprawling, only stopping when it hits the mountains to the South West. The virgin mary is beautiful up close, and the adjacent Chapel equally so. Plus Christmas hymns were being played out at the top which continued the Christmas theme of the day! After the funicular ride down the hill again, we had a quick-lunch, and then headed to the Santa Lucia area to visit the big artisan market there. It was also the place of choice to do a Christmas present buying dash for each other! Hedd started one end of the market, and me the other, and we met in the middle once we were done. It was really good fun hunting for pressies, at the same time as making sure we didn’t bump into each other! 30,000 pesos was the budget and I think I did pretty well with Hedd’s gifts…time will tell, hope he likes them when he opens them in 2 days time! After leaving the hostel at 9.20am we finally got back at 5.30pm. Needless to say our feet were aching and we crashed on the sofa with a cold drink! We were home just in time for my scheduled 6pm skype call home to my parents and Nan. It was my first time skyping and although I got the video call to work, I couldn’t get the headset to. So I had a visual but no sound! We ended up speaking on a mobile phone and watching each other on skype! Not quite how skype creators intended, but it was great all the same to see them all and see their lovely decorated Christmas trees. Ahh the wonders of technology…I just need to brush up on my technical ability for next time! For our last evening meal in South America we headed to a local restaurant, called Restaurant 69 on Ricardo Cumming Street, as recommended to us by our hostel owner from Vina del Mar. We had a traditional Chilean dish called Parrillada, which is essentially a simmering pot of different types of meat and sausage, served over a dish of hot coals. We got so much food for the price and as you can see Hedd struggled to finish his half of it! We had our last pisco sour too, to toast the end of the South American leg of our 5 1/2 month adventure.

So today we fly to Auckland, New Zealand. We have just chilled today, strolling around Brazil and sitting in the sun in Brazil square with an ice cream or two. I think we are good to go. We have scrubbed our hiking boots that we will be wearing on the plane. Apparently the immigration officers in New Zealand are really strict about foreign flora/fauna being brought into their country on shoes! Better to be safe than sorry! Just 1 hour until our taxi to Santiago airport arrives…can’t wait! Plus 2 days until Christmas Day, woop! Merry Christmas Eve Eve everyone!

Vina del Mar in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Warm with a lovely sea breeze
  • Food= Empanada’s and Ice cream
  • Drink= A glass of vino or two
  • Best fun had for free= Playing ‘chicken’ with the waves on the seaside (they only got me once!)

 

Santiago in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Scorchio! 30 degrees plus, but the buildings reflect the heat down so it feels like you are walking through a wall of heat
  • Food= Meat in the form of a Parrillada
  • Drink= Anything cold!
  • A ‘must do’ on your first day in the city= Spicy Chile’s free walking tour- you see so much of the city in one day and know all the best places to go back to.

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

So here we are, two months in South America completed. It´s been amazing, we have seen natural wonders, the remnants of ancient civilisations, incredible wildlife and met some wonderful people along the way. We have managed to do almost everything we set out to do (with the exception of the cancelled star tour) and although there is more we could have done here, I feel it´s the right time to move on and I{m looking forward to the next leg of our adventure. I am so pleased that we decided to do this, we have seen and experienced so much already and are not even half way through our trip. So as we sign off from South America and head to Auckland for our Christmas Day at the Airport, let me wish you all a “Nadolig Llawen”, “Feliz Navidad” or a “Merry Christmas”. See you in 2012…

 

Advertisements

Lake Titicaca- Uros, Amantani and Taquile Islands

Standard

A home stay with a Peruvian family…a great thing to experience, if a bit daunting!

So to get from Cusco to Puno we took a tourist bus, called the Inka Express, which made 4 stops along the way at tourist hot spots and included lunch. It took 3 hours longer than going direct but if you’ve got time to spare, the stops do break the journey up nicely. So first stop was in Andahuaylillas to visit the colonial church called San Pedro. It didn’t look much from the outside but inside all the ceilings and walls were painted in motifs and a lot of gold leaf over the wall behind the altar. It was being restored at the time so it was quite fascinating watching the restorers do their work on the mouldings and paintings. Then it was back on the bus to the next stop- and old Inca settlement called Raqchi, which means Ceramic in English. It was actually a really impressive set of ruins especially the principle temple (see pic), which was 3 stories high, with foundations in stone and then the 2 stories above built with clay and Andean grass. All of it original apart from the ceramic roof tiles they put on top. It was a shock to Inca buildings/walls so tall, but it made walking around the ruins like navigating a maze which was quite fun! After lunch the next stop was at the highest point between Cusco and Puno at 4338 meters high which is known as the line separating Cusco province and Puno province and called ‘Abra la Raya’. The last stop was at a town called Pukaro named after the pre-inka indians who lived there, 400 years before christ. They were famous for ceramics and worshiped not just the condor, puma and snake like the inca’s, but also water creatures such as the frog as they also recognised the importance of water to life. They also believed in human sacrifice and built pyramids to practice it which we also saw the ruins of along our journey.

Puno is not the prettiest city to look at. A lot of the houses remain unfinished with steel cabling poking up from the flat concrete roofs. Apparently this is intentional as it means the inhabitants and the house builders avoid paying tax on the property as technically the building is incomplete. Quite a saving I imagine but does make the area look a bit shabby! Adrian and Sarah from our Inca Trek group were on the same tour as us around Lake Titicaca so we got the same taxi, stayed at the same hotel and had a fun meal out that night at a place called Positive Rock and Reggae Bar…those 2 genres of music go surprisingly well together! The next day we got picked up and taken to Puno’s port. We picked up some wine on the way along with some fruit as a gift to our host families for that night in Amantani. On the island they find it really hard to grow fruit and the parents prefer it better than sweets for the children, so we got them some oranges and apples. Our guide for the 2 days was called ‘Bruno from Puno’ (a nick name he gave himself!) and was a little bit crazy, but it made for a lively trip. So a bit about Lake Titicaca…it is the largest, highest, navigable lake in the world and spans across Peru (60%) and Bolivia (40%). It is purely fed from the snow melt from the Andes and rain, and feds into one other lake over in Bolivia. So a pretty self-contained ecosystem. So back to the tour…the boat was small and went quite slowly, but after 25 minutes we got to our first Island community, the Uros Islands. The Uros Islands are floating islands made of reeds, each small island is home to one family (grand parents, sisters, brothers, children). The ones we visited were purely set up for tourists, out of choice the families set up home in this part of Uros to make their living. The tourist area of Uros is split up into North and South areas, and the tourist boats visit each area alternate days. The Uros island community as a whole get the money from the tour boats of which some is held centrally as a contingency fund in case of a disaster and the rest split equally amongst the families. The reed island we visited was called Santa Maria and as our boat pulled into the island all the ladies came running to the side singing to welcome us. The women all has their hair in two plaits with massive colourful woolen ball ball’s weaved into the ends of the plaits. It looked fun but quite heavy! We sat around a reed bench and the men of the island explained how the floating reed island’s of Uros are built (see pic above) . So the water around Uros is 11 meters deep and 5 meters down floats the mud and roots of the reed beds. The families harvest these in small cubes and then tie them all together to make a larger floating platform. Fresh reeds are then layered on top of the buoyant mud and root platform to make the island that we were then standing on. They then build their houses on top of this platform out of reeds and anchor the island down with ropes attached to rocks/stakes. It was really quite fascinating. And all the families were so happy, it rubbed off on you. The families also eat the reeds. We got to try some too. You take off the top, peel the outer layers and then bite a bit off. It tasted like cucumber! A couple from the island then took us into their reed home and put traditional clothes on us, and showed us all the crafts they made. We felt really pressured to buy something, but not in an aggressive way. Either way we bought a few things from them, knowing that at least that money will go straight to that couple and child and not via the Uros community leaders! We then got to ride on a big boat made of reeds to the next island Tupirmarka (see pic above). I’m first to admit that the Uros islands are completely touristy but they are really enjoyable to visit and the families who live on them are incredibly lovely and welcoming. I would definitely recommend a visit to them.

It was then back on our tour boat for a 3 hour sailing to our second island called Amantani. That was a long 3 hours! But again when we came into port ladies from the island were there in their traditional outfits to great us. We then got paired with our host families by the leader of the community. Sarah, Adrian, Hedd and I all stayed with the same family, headed up by mum, Rebecca, with 2 children called Loope (7) and Diago (15). It felt really awkward to begin with and we all didn’t speak Spanish so it was hard to communicate. But over lunch we got the jist of what Rebecca was telling us. The island doesn’t have electricity and the community are self-sufficient vegetarians. They keep sheep for wool and chickens for eggs and grow all their vegetables in a little plot outside their home. The toilet was an outside toilet, which we had to flush with a bucket of water each time so no proper drainage either. Rebecca had some lighting in her home from solar panels on the roof, and although had a gas canister, cooked most of her food on a wood fueled stove. We soon found that playing ball games with the two children didn’t require much language skills and proceeded to play volleyball and hand ball all afternoon with Loope and Diago, after helping Rebecca wash up of course! Early evening Loope led us up to the main square to meet up with the others to walk up to the Temple of Pachamama on the hill above the town (4150 meters above sea level), to watch sun set. It wasn’t the greatest as it was cloudy, but we watched all the same and then headed back down to catch the last half of a local 5 aside game, much to Hedd and Adrian’s delight! Then it was back with Loope to the house for dinner. We cracked open the wine and after glass 2 Rebecca, our host ‘mum’, was hiccupping around the kitchen! I think we got our host mum drunk! Very funny. She then dressed us up in traditional Amantani dress (see pic above) and then led us to the local ‘disco-tech’ (aka the school hall) for an evening of peruvian dancing and live band. Loope was allowed to come too and she was so excited! She had Sarah and I up and dancing every song. The pic opposite was pretty much us dancing on our own to the band. But Loope loved it so Sarah and I had to oblige. We left pretty early at 9.30pm, picking up the dad of our host family on the way. He was very intoxicated and proceeded to introduce his family to us 3 times on the walk home. Come the fourth time, he got a stern telling off by Rebecca! We can’t be sure exactly what she said but i imagine it went along the lines “shut up you silly man, they already know our names!” We got into bed just in time as then the island had a massive storm which sounded so loud on the tin roof above us.

The next morning, Rebecca made us pancakes for breakfast and then led us back to the port to our boat. After a quick cheerio and thank you’s we were on our way again on the tour boat to the adjacent island called Taquile. It didn’t look far away but still took us 1 1/2 hours to get across to the island. From the port we walked across the island for an hour to get to the main square. The islanders are infamous for their knitting skills. Both men and women knit and then they sell their products in a cooperative at a fixed price and then the profits are divided up amongst the contributing families. The men also all wear hats which mean different things. If they have a black bowler type hat on, then they work for the municiple government. If they wear a stripey beanie, with ears and a pom pom, then they are married. The same hat but white, then the man is single. So its like Taquile equilvalent of the wedding band! After lunch of steamed trout (very nice!), we were back on the boat for the 3 hour journey back to Puno. Sarah, Adrian, Hedd and I sat on the roof the whole way home which was a nicer way to travel than sitting inside, although we did catch the sun quite a bit-oops! After a shower and chill, we had a last evening out with Adrian and Sarah in Puno, before they went onto Cocacambana, and us to Ariquipa the next day. As it turned out, this ended up as a rather late one which involved a lot of 2 for 16 sole cocktails at the local club/bar! It was a great night, but the next morning our bodies did not thank us for it! Sarah and Adrian had to get a 7am bus the next morning. I have no idea how they did that….Hedd and I were still struggling with our bus journey at 3pm in the afternoon! We both felt pretty awful on the 7 hour journey. However I was soon distracted by an hour of snow on the highlands between Puno and Ariquipa, at which point Hedd gave me my first Christmas build up surprise of ‘Now that’s what I call Christmas’ compilation album on his iPod! It was such a surreal experience listening to my Christmas song favourites, in South America, with snow falling outside! But I absolutely loved it! 13 days to go….

Lake Titicaca in a snapshot:

    • Weather= Warm during the day but stormy in the evenings and at night
    • Food= Vegetarian!- rice, mixed vegetables, vegetable soup etc…
    • Drink= Cocktails, lots of cocktails (bleurgh!)
    • The cutest child we’ve come across so far= Loope from the host family
    • Lesson Learnt= No alcohol the night before a bus journey!

Hedd´s Words of Wisdom:

No words of wisdom today, only a few key lessons learnt from our time by the lake:

  • Drinking at altitude is dangerous;
  • Two cocktails for 14 soles may sounds like a good idea, but  at 3800m its a recipe for disaster;
  • Hangovers on peruvian buses are not pleasant;

 I should have probably known that already…

Travelling North- Bariloche and Mendoza

Standard

Mountains, lakes and wineries…not a bad combination!

So there were two choices 1: to cross into Chile from Esquel and then travel north through Chile or 2: to stay in Argentina and travel north through the lake district and onwards. We chose option 2 for a multitude of reasons but main ones being the road networks are better in Argentina, Chile is the 2nd most expensive country in S. America after Mexico so best not to arrive too early, and, perhaps most influential, we would pass through Mendoza which has great wineries and opportunities for numerous tastings!

So just 5 hours on the bus and we arrived in Bariloche on Monday at lunch time. For bus entertainment, it was a film with Ashton Kutcher in it this time called ‘Killers’- a mix between Mr and Mrs Smith and Hot Fuzz! It passed the time none the less! The bus terminal in Bariloche is right on the edge of town, around 15 minute bus journey from the centre. So if you know when you are gonna leave and to where, it’s a good idea to buy your onward bus ticket whilst your there. To get into central Bariloche it’s really simple, bus numbers 10, 20, 21 or 22 all go into Centro Civico and cost 6 pesos.

Well what to say about Bariloche. It´s known as the capital of the Argentinean Lake District as it’s the biggest city in the area and is situated right on the banks of a MASSIVE lake called Lago Nahuel Huapi. You can see the Andes surrounding the lake and there is a really chilled out feel to the place. We stayed at a hostel called Achalay, just 2 blocks from Centro Civico. We were really impressed with it, and the owners Pabilo and Flora couldn’t do enough for you (including supplying homemade empanadas and pizza when we arrived-yum!).  The city has had a bit of a rough time recently and only just recovering from being covered in ash after Volcano Puyehue blew over in Chile in June. By the sounds Chile got off scot-free and the pacific wind blew all the ash clouds over into Argentina oops! After Bariloche got covered in thick ash, it rained for 5 days solid and turned all the ash in the street, roofs, drains, pipes into concrete. One of the roofs at our hostel collapsed with the weight! But the city looks great now and they only very occasionally just a light shower of ash when the wind is blowing right. Mother nature eh!

On Tuesday we walked up Cerro Otto and had an amazing view 1405 meter up of the lake and mountains. It’s the shortest walk you can do from Bariloche (2 hours there, 1 1/2 hours back). Hedd’s leg wasn’t great from the sciatica so we took it easy, but all these small treks are good prep for our 4 day Inca trek in Peru at the beginning of December. The views on the way up were brilliant. Lago Nahuel Huapi is so so big and has little islands within it. The pic above was taken from the panaramic point at the top- gorgeous! There was a refuge at the top too called Refuge Berghof which sold drinks and snacks and we chilled there, having lunch, reading our books and taking in the view. The refuge had loads of old expedition memorabilia inside- photos, journals and walking equipment. Looking at the maps I think there are a series of old refuges across this part of the Andes, together called ‘Club Andes’. The area is renowned for its climbing and you can walk or climb to all of them. The most famous being Refuge Frey- but that was a 6 hour hard trek up hill so we decided to give that a miss this time!

Whereas Trevelin and Gaiman had a heavy Welsh influence. Bariloche had a Swiss feel. There is a Swiss colony 30 mins East of the city on Lago P. Merono Este and you can see the influence quite heavily in the town of Bariloche- there are lots of restaurants selling Fondue and loads of chocolate shops with St Bernard dogs in the window! The scenery is quite Swiss looking so I can see why some of the Swiss immigrated over here back in the day. On Wednesday, our last day in Bariloche, we took a stroll around the town again and visited the Cathedral called San Carlos de Bariloche. Built in 1946, it had some impressive stone arches inside and great stained glass. Well worth a visit. After a bit more lazing about and a healthy lunch of ice cream (!) we boarded our next bus north- the 15.30 departure overnight bus to Mendoza.

So after 17 1/2 hours on the bus with no sound for the first 8 hours (its amazing how much you can get into films with no sound and just spanish subtitles!), we were quite relived to arrive at Mendoza bus terminal on Thursday morning. Although the last hour of the bus journey we were travelling through all the vine yards with the snowy Andes in the background which was quite spectacular. So Mendoza is a city- the biggest place we´ve visited since Buenos Aires- and like Bariloche, if you know when and where you are heading next, its worth getting your onward bus ticket whilst you’re at the terminal so you don´t have to trek back there during your stay (30 min walk from the central plaza). We got a taxi from the terminal to our hostel (17 pesos) but there are frequent buses too. We stayed at Hostel Empedrado who´s tag line is ´hostel and wine´and they didn´t let us down! You got a big free glass of red wine every night and the first night we were there they ran a free wine tasting which 1 red, 1 white and 1 dessert wine which went down very nicely. The receptionist Ana is fantastic, knows everything and speaks perfect english. The bathrooms are a bit tired and water temperature is temperamental but the positives about the place outweighed those negatives.

Thursday during the day we just explored the city and went to a little wine tasting at a vinerie (wine shop) called Sastre Burgos. Its 2 blocks up from the main plaza on Avenida Mitre. It cost 20 pesos and we tried around 10 different wines. Really good value for money, although it was a lot more red wine drinking than I´m used to! I got a bit home sick that afternoon as shops in Argentina are just starting to put out their Christmas displays in the windows and it got me to thinking about the lead up to Christmas which I absolutely love! But it’s not everyday that you´re travelling around the world so I have kept reminding myself of that. But at home you better be dusting off that tinsel for me and drinking my share of Mulled Wine! GB is a Christmas fairy short this year!

Yesterday we had the most fantastic day biking around the Maipu wine region and stopping off in the numerous wineries for tours and tastings. The weather was stunning and after 45 minutes on the local bus (line 10, number 173; cost 1.80 pesos), we arrived at Mr Hugo´s bike hire on Urquiza street in Maipu. This wife and husband run bike hire is great fun. They don´t speak a word of english but kept calling us chico´s (kids) and giving us cups of red wine! We eventually got 2 bikes  (30 pesos each for the day) and a map of the area and headed off, rather gingerly, to our first winery. Our first stop was Trapiche winery. It’s a big one but one with history and exports quite a lot to North America and all the countries in South America. We got there just in time for an english speaking tour with 2 other couples from Minnesota. Our guide was really knowledgeable but with a good sense of humour too and we got shown all the various stages of wine making, the grounds and then the tasting at the end. It cost 30 pesos and we got to taste 4 different high-class reds. We soon realised that the whole day will just be red wine and for non red wine drinkers this was quite daunting but we soon got over that and got stuck into the red. The Maipu region is renowned for their red wine called Malbec- a very powerful, smokey red- and we tried many Malbec´s throughout the day. The story goes that the Malbec grape originally came from France and the French called it ´Bad Mouth´as they thought it wasn´t very nice. An agricultural disease then spread across France, almost wiping out the Malbec grape. But some vines were exported to Argentina where the climate was perceived to be more favourable and so the grape wouldn´t be lost. And the Argentinians have loved it ever since. It goes very well with red meat, which Argentinians also eat a lot of, so I can see why they love it so much.

We then cycled 10 k south to a winery called Familia Di Tommas which was a complete contrast to Trapiche as it was small, family run and more artisan. It had a really homely feel and we got 20% off with our Mr Hugo bikes so only 16 pesos for this tour and tasting. This time we tried 3 reds and 1 dessert wine. The dessert wine was extremely sweet but a nice change after the reds! We had our picnic lunch within the vines and bought a bottle of white to take back with us. Next stop was Mevi winery which was different again as it is only 9 years old. We tried the young wines option which included a chardonnay (25 pesos) and relaxed on their sun terrace overlooking the vine yards and the Andes in the background. We were quite ´squiffy´by this point but surprisingly the cycling got easier the more you drank (!) which is a good thing as we then had the 10k cycle back to the start of the wineries to visit a chocolatiers, liquor and olive oil making place. I must have devoured half a basket of bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar before the guide could finish telling us about the produce! Plus the chocolate…it really hit the spot after a day on the wine! The liquors though, jee whizz, they were strong! I had an irish cream one which I couldn´t finish and then a pineapple one which wasn´t too bad.

The day ended back at Mr Hugo´s bike hire, with another complementary cup of wine! I can´t stress enough what a ´ledge´ (´legend´) Mr Hugo was. All the travellers who had hired his bikes that day head back to his place at 6pm when the wineries shut and then he holds a bit of a party with more wine and music. It was really good fun, and we met even more people from Minnesota! Then it was the number 173 bus back to Mendoza, 15 min walk to the hostel, more free wine, food and then major crash into bed! Great day!

So today is Saturday and we have to say bye to Mendoza. We headed to the cities big park called Parque Gral. San Martin and walked around the lake there. They have a water sports club on the lake and I saw a man single sculling in the lake- the first rowing I´ve seen this trip. He was in a really wide and old wooden single with wooden oars….maybe our kit at Royal Chester (my rowing club in the UK) isn´t so bad! We´re not only saying bye to Mendoza but also Argentina, our first country of 13 on this 5 1/2 month trip. Argentina is really a beautiful country and has treated us well.  But onwards we go into Chile on a 12  hour night bus to a seaside town called La Serena. Fingers crossed the border crossing won´t be too awkward!

Bariloche in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot, 24 degrees and clear blue sky’s
  • Food= Ice cream! A must is to go to Rapa Nui for ice cream, they sell it by weight and have amazing flavours (16 pesos for 1/4 kilo- enough for 2!)
  • Drink= Cocktails (happy hours 19.00-21.00 for those on a budget)
  • Watch out for= Stray dogs (they are harmless but like to sit really close to you!)

Mendoza in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot 24- 29 degrees but with a massive thunder-storm on Friday night
  • Food= Sweet things- jam pastries and dulce leche with everything (dulce leche has the consistency of chocolate spread but tastes what I imagine curly whirly chocolate bars would taste melted down!)
  • Drink= Malbec Vino Tinto ( Malbec red wine) of course!
  • An idiosyncrasy= The local buses don´t take  notes, only coins (very inconvenient), try to get a bus card which you can load with money at the bus station when you arrive. You can also top these up at most kiosks around the city too. This idiosyncrasy is common throughout Argentina, we managed to swap our bus card for Gaiman for one for Mendoza with a South African couple travelling South whilst in Bariloche. Worth an ask!

 Hedd’s Words of Wisdom:

Not exactly words of wisdom this time, but more of a reflection on wine. For those of you who know me well, there are two alcoholic drinks that I never drink – Beer and Red Wine…well after the last two days, i might have to amend that list. I still won´t be ordering a pint in the pub, but I might enjoy a glass of red wine with a meal from now one. This might come as a shock to my Dad in particular since I´ve always described his red wines as ´tasting like vinegar´but maybe that´s just his taste in wine. I thoroughly enjoyed the wine tours and enjoyed quite a few red wines…my favourite being a 50/50 blend of Malbec and Merlot, which we got at the Trapiche vineyard. Helen says I have expensive tastes as that one cost 240 pesos per bottle, the most expensive one we tried, but who cares, it was the nicest.