Friday, December 24, 2010

Chistmas Eve under a (slightly cooler but still) blazing hot sun...

Hello people (et bonjour aux lecteurs francophones)!

Happy Christmas to those continental types who celebrate today (while us Brits are still working hard!!!). I'm not sure I'll be able to write much today, as the Chinese feast will require some preparation (and some eating too)! So I'll just give you a quick couple of entries from my time in Mendoza, just to give you something to read on those cold winter evenings in Europe (or those long afternoon siestas in Argentina), or just when you're really bored if you live anywhere else.

So, once again (for the third day on the trot), here goes:

Wednesday 15th December 2010

Today was a rather quiet day, after the fun times of the day before. I have to admit I was feeling a bit rough! Still, I managed the 10am deadline for breakfast (just!) and was grateful for the intake of sugar that came from my daily dose of dulce de leche (and the caffeine from the 3 cups of  not-too-bad coffee). I then proceeded to spend the rest of the morning sitting in the hostel kitchen talking to my lovely fellow guests, drinking mate and slowly feeling normal once again! ;-)

Lunch was left-over Spanish Omelette and salad (a godsend, as I didn't really feel like trudging to the supermarket in the heat of the day) and in the afternoon I went to the park with various others (Australian, Swedish, Irish, Canadian, American - have I missed anyone?) to play Mah Jong. It was fun (sitting under some trees in a relatively refreshing breeze [low 30s, perhaps]), but the rules are a bit complicated, so I'm not sure I took everything in during my first sitting. Still, at least if I play again I'll have some idea of who it works!

I spent the evening chatting with the 3 Swedes, which was delightful. Oh yes, and the American girls in the hostel were just loving my cute English accent! ;-) Which is funny, as I've always hated my voice, but there you go, I was happy to go along with it (and probably even played up to it... just a little bit!). I was teaching the Swedes the names of kitchen utensils (once a teacher...), and the Americans were laughing at my quaint pronunciation (and some of the words, which clearly don't existing the US).

I have to say that Hostel Lagares is the best hostel so far. And at 30 pesos a night (including a [good] free breakfast and a free cycle tour of the wineries if you stay for 3 nights), I'm not sure how they can manage to make a profit. Their margins must be miniscule! But thanks to them (and my fellow guests) I had a wonderful time in Mendoza... and it was about to get better...

Thursday 16th December 2010

...because today was the cycle tour of the wineries. Our bikes were courtesy of Mr. Hugo in Maipu (not your poo, or his poo, or her poo, or its poo, or our poo or their poo...) and we got the bus there, arriving at about 11am (a civilised time to start, don't you think?). There were 8 of us in total (US, Ireland, Denmark and The UK all represented) and we made a good group (some great senses of humour always helps). Which is just as well, because the bodegas themselves were a little bit disappointing. Maybe we chose the wrong ones, but they all seemed a bit commercial (even the so-called Boutique Wineries) and sales-pitchy too (especially compared to Australia and New Zealand). You have to pay to visit all of them (3 to 4 pounds) and they don't give you all that much to taste either (boo!). And what was most disappointing for me was that there was no choice regarding which wines you taste. Given that I'm not a huge fan of Malbec, I would have preferred the chance to vary the mix of grapes a bit... I got a bit Malbeced out by the end of day! Anyway, we visited 3 in total, and had lunch in one of them (which was really nice [and with a very large glass of wine included :-)], but not all that cheap). Still it was a thoroughly enjoyable day and Mr. Hugo was a star. Upon returning the bikes, he plied us with free water (much needed!) and wine (plonk... but when it's free, who cares). Oh yes, and we also spent an hour or so in the Maipu Beer Garden prior to that, sampling some slightly-odd artisanal ale and playing cards (it was boiling hot, so it was nice to sit in the shade for a bit).

We decided to continue the tastings in the evening (we had procured a few nice bottles of different varieties en route). It was nice to cook (home-made burgers and various different salads) and wine-taste together. In total I think I tasted Malbec (naturally), Cabernet Sauvignon (of course), Temperanillo (slightly more leftfield - my choice), Pinot Noir (even more leftfield here - obviously my choice), Torrentes, Chardonnay... of which an oak-aged Cab Sauv was probably the best, although I'm a total sucker for Pinot Noir, so that was good too. Generally speaking a big thumbs up for Argentinian wine!

Friday 17th December 2010

The last full day in Mendoza and I wake up in agony, with a bad back (it had sort of been playing up sporadically since San Rafael, but today it had hit with a vengence). Typical! I was walking around like an old man (which was doubly ironic, as a) I had mentioned to one of the Swedes about how comfortable the bed was and b) the Irish girls had taken to calling me Grandad [as I was the oldest member of the group]!). Well, you've got to laugh...

So, as a result it was a rather relaxing day. E-mail, cards with the Irish girls (thanks for the Ibuprofen, by the way, that really did the trick, it must be said), a spot of light shopping (also with the girls - one of them needed a new memory card), a couple of gentle walks around town taking in the sights for the last time (and including the purchase of my onward bus ticket). The only problem was that with the uneven paving (which abounds here), I kept jarring my back and looking like someone who was having a small fit every few metres! ;-)

It was also a day of goodbyes, as a lot of people were leaving the hostel. But as you say goodbye to some, others arrive. Just not that many arriving in this case. The hostel had gone from being overbooked to being half-empty, but there was still good company to be had. The lovely Danish couple were still there, and Sally, a psychologist from London arrived at the hostel, and it was interesting to get a spot of psycho-analysis over a glass or two of wine! In fact, it was a lovely evening, the four of us chatting and eating and supping! I was going to be sorry to say goodbye to this hostel...

Well, that's all for now, folks. I need to have a shower before dinner. I said it was cooler today, but now I'm not so sure. I'm a typing this a bit too far away from the air-conditioning unit and therefore the sweat is dripping off me (nice!).

So, it just remains to reiterate the seasons greetings and send you a big virtual hug from La Rioja. Eat, drink and get merry (that's exactly what I intend to do!).

James xx

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