Mendoza. The city where a bottle of incredible Malbec costs $3. The city where it'd be rude not to with every meal. The city where a lot of people (or one at least) get so drunk on their first night they're sick ( proper teenager first night out ever sick) for the next 24 hours. After 7 months of not much booze, my drinking tolerance is diminished to say the least.
But we're in Mendoza so one must push through the pain and work harder so we booked in to Maipu, home of the wineries and bodegas, for 3 days of intense training.
The done thing in Maipu is to hire a bike and cycle from bodega to bodega enjoying the educational wine tours and the sampling sessions. With this in mind we had visions of French-style countryside, lanes with tipsy cyclists ambling from site to site and vineyard picnics. The reality is an incredibly busy road dominated by trucks and buses with intoxicated tourists (as much though diesel fumes as wine) desperately trying to keep balance on a bike with no brakes, gears, and invariably after a few hours of cycling, air in the tyres.
Once off the main road though, the vineyards are lovely and the family run boutique ones especially (some only making 90k bottles a year) give great tours and tasting sessions for a couple of dollars. Day one of touring was quite civilised - we got home around 8.30 after a wobbly ride home in the dark (with a stray dog running alongside us the whole way- chris thought this was funny but I suspected it was mental and probably had rabies) having learned quite a bit, and drank quite a bit more. Day 2 however got a little out of hand.
We started at mid-day with a terrifying cycle to the furthest vineyard, listened to the guide telling us pretty much the same as we'd heard the day before, and went on to the tasting. Learning from the previous day when it became apparent that not many places do food, we took advantage of this bodega having a restaurant so ate lunch. And had a bottle of red with it.
From there it was only a short cycle to 2 more bodegas. One of which had the standard 3 glasses included approach, but the other had a tasting placemat so you could keep track of every wine you'd tried. Clearly this made it a challenge and being competitive types we drank our way through each variety until we'd won. Then, as the sun had come out and it was a nice view, we had a bottle of red.
On route to the next venue Chris got a puncture so we phoned Shouting Mario, the morbidly obese bike-rental man, who bellowed his way to us with a new bike. By the time he reached us though we'd decided we were bored of cycling so he agreed to load all 3 bikes on his car and drive us to another tasting bar instead. As a gesture of good will he then bought us a bottle of red.
Chatting with 3 lovely Americans we'd seen at the first venue (and therefore after a days drinking greeted like old friends) we 'sampled' a further bottle of sparkling red (every bit as awful as you'd imagine), a white (Argentina is not famous for its whites but the torrentino is very impressive) which we disrespectfully treated like a pallet cleanser, and then a further 2 bottles of red. I only know this from photo evidence of our table.
Then Shouting Mario turned up with 2 more bikes for us to get home on, so we finished off our drinks, bought another bottle (?!) and proceeded to cycle home.
Thank god Maipu doesn't have CCTV on the streets. I lasted a good 4 meters before I fell off. I then resorted to scooting as I couldn't do the bit where you take both feet off the ground and start pedalling, but couldn't balance enough for that either so ended up using the bike like a Zimmer frame and pushing it back to Mario's.
It took a long time to get back to our hostel and when we did, we opened a bottle of red. The octogenarian who owns the place must have been thrilled to sit up with us talking (shouting I expect) Spanglish at her until the early hours. Every pensioner's dream.
Remarkably no sickness the next day but it was all I could do to lift my head off the pillow for 3 hours before returning to my pit with the most immense fear. Vowing to stay off the pop for a few days, giving myself the 'moderation in moderation' talk, and packing a fair amount of self- loathing in with our luggage, we left Mendoza and caught the night bus south to Bariloche. Please don't let there be vineyards there too.....
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