Two days in Maipú

After having a few tour ending beverages at the local Irish bar with my Amigos the night before, I woke with a reasonably large hangover in Ushuaia ready for similarly sized travel day. I traded in my big yellow truck for a plane en route to the desert city of Mendoza, where my solo travel would begin. In my current state, I was reconsidering my decision to spend a week in the Malbec wine capital of the world, however I was sure that I would be able to find something to do that didn’t involve consuming copious amounts of alcohol.

After leaving the hotel in Ushuaia at 7am with a few Amigos, I arrived alone at my almost deserted hostel with a near empty stomach around 6pm to be greeted by a dreadlocked Mendoza local, Javi who was about to finish his shift to go home and drink some of his much loved maté. He showed me to my room, which had two fans pushing hot, dry air around due to the air conditioning being out of order and I. chose what I thought was the best of the remaining beds for my 5 night stay. I then made my way down stairs to get some directions to the closest, most internationally recognized chain restaraunt to ensure I knew exactly what I was getting in my parched and “hangry” state.

Downstairs I introduced myself to two Finnish girls who had met each other one day previous. After these ladies kindly gave me directions to the Main Street, knowledge they had gained by strolling around all day, and informed me of the travellers most important piece of information, the hostels wifi code, we had a great chat about languages. They both spoke fluent Finnish, Swedish and English and Ella was going to a Spanish speaking University in Buenos Aires which makes her pretty much fluent in Spanish in my book. In the hostel that day they had met a group of Norwegian girls, who they spoke to in Swedish when I wasn’t around as it is a bit of a bridge language for both of them, and they invited me to join all of them in an emapanada making class later in the evening. As it was still quite early and making delicious parcels of pastry is not something I’d done before, I accepted their invitation before making my way to Ronald’s house.

Now, for those of you familiar with the rules of the game that this blog is based around, you will be aware that at this stage I had not quite scored any points with Ella or Mimmi, however, with the arrangement to meet up later, there was potential for a high scoring day. For those of you who have no clue what I am talking about, please read my first post

After making my shameful return from the Golden Arches, I joined Ella and Mimmi in a game of cards whilst they introduced me to 4 young Norwegian ladies, one of which was named Maria. The game was interesting, even though I got it wrong more times than when I was trying to work out the correct use of “license” and “lisence” in Mr Engwerda’s year 7 English class. I should explain that in this class my answer was the mark scheme for rest of the class. If you had the opposite response to me… You got it right. To this day, I still wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference, but I loved Mr Engwerda’s classes. Back in the present, what was more interesting than the card game was that I found some one who is more likely to sing a song based on what you just said than I am! My brother Timo would have had to walk away from the table if he were there as Maria sang Justin Bieber more than I would have liked due to my constant apologies for playing incorrectly.

Later, during empanada making class I found out 3 things:

  1. Mimmi is a vegetarian (2 points scored from her at this stage with the potential for 4);

2. Homemade empanadas are much cheaper and at times much tastier than store bought ones;

3. I cannot fold an empanada to save my life! Respect to those who can make them resemble a stegosaurus, as mine looked more like a turtle that had sadly tried to cross a busy street without the appropriate “Frogger” skills. Side note… if you don’t know what Frogger is do yourself a favour and Google it. After discovering this game if you are anything like me, you will forever rate crossing roads based on levels of Frogger.

After the empanada class it was time to ensure that today was a 4 point day. I found out that Mimmi was a banana girl as even though vegetarian empanadas were good, her dislike for meat and need for variety in her food choices outweighed having to adapt to living with the “kind of disability that lots of people are able to cope with”. 4 points achieved and time for bed after a long day feeling less than 100%!

Unfortunately, the following day i didn’t feel much better. I woke up late having lost the majority of my body’s fluid due to the heat in my 6 bed dorm room. After checking in, the fan that was positioned to move any sort of air in my general direction was removed to be placed in another area in the hostel. Without the ability to turn the heater down, as I could have in Ushuaia, my body decided to sweat so much that I may have drowned in the puddle created if I was a front rower in a collapsed scrum.

But it was my birthday, so rather than wallow in self pity I decided to get out and amongst it to see what the day could bring. As soon as I went down stairs for one of the many amazing free omelettes that I would devour in the coming days, I was greeted by the Finnish girls who wished me “¡Feliz cumpleaños!” They also suggested I join them on a tour of the local wine region later that day and as my plans at that point consisted of drinking a large quantity of fluid to rehydrate after last nights restless sleep, I decided that wine might as well be one of those fluids.

So we sat around swinging in hammocks, shooing mosquitos and replying to messages until 1pm when the bus was supposed to pick us up… Then we waited some more until the guide arrived at 10 minutes before 2pm with no record of the girls booking and two seats remaining. After 10 minutes of rapid Spanish and no idea of what was going on, I finally got a word in to offer to go the next day as I was the last to book. After accepting this logical idea we all turned to go our separate ways before the guide, Franco, a Mendoza local who was going to paint his house that day before he got a call to work, asked me timidly,

“Do you want to ride up front with me?”

So off we went! Me up front with the driver David, who spoke less English than I speak Spanish, Franco, the guide who had never realized the hilarity of the name of the wine region we were about to drive through, and a transit van full of tourists from Argentina, England Finland, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, Sweden and the US, all looking forward to the sights and flavours that were sure to be found in Maipú.

Finally, I had found the place that many streets in Argentina are named after and which Tom, Vinny and I had made countless childish jokes about. Sadly, no other passengers shared the same enthusiasm for making fun of listening to guides telling us the history of Maipú, or eating bread dipped in olive oil which had been grown and produced in Maipú, or even drinking every last millilitre of wine that was served in Maipú. Regardless of this minor complaint, a great day was still had by all, however at the risk of sounding like a guide book, I have the following thoughts. If you are going to take a trip to Maipú, are physically able, have the ability to ride a bike and are lucky enough to have a group you can enjoy yourself with, do yourself a favour and do a self guided bike tour through Maipú. This recommendation comes as a result of the following story.

A few nights after arriving in Mendoza, I was tapping away on my phone enjoying the sounds of Javi playing his guitar and recovering from a night out with the Norwegians when Florant and Tom, whom I had seen around the hostel sat near me while Tom tried to learn Javi’s song. Flo and I got to chatting and they invited me to join them for some ice cream before a walk to Plaza Indepencia to check out the markets. During this time I would discover that they had met in Australia whilst working in Penrith and, after spending the next couple of days with them, I found that they have a very similar dynamic to my partner in crime in London and myself. At times it was like looking through a portal at two, less attractive (but that’s to be expected), French and Swedish versions of Hazza and myself. We decided that the next day we would jump on a local bus with a Uruguaian amigo they had met at the hostel, rent bikes and see as much of Maipú as we could.

So the next morning, the United Nations of Tom (Sweden), Florant (France), Bruno (Uruguay) and I (Australia) set off on “Tour de Maipú”. As a result of his natural linguistic abilities and our enthusiasm for learning the local language, Bruno was dubbed “professor de Español” as we decided to spend as much of the day speaking Spanish as we could. As a result, I can’t tell you much about the tour of the first winery we went to, called “Di Tommaso”, other than it was quite traditional and it is where we found our favourite Malbec for the day. However, I feel like choosing your favourite Malbec must be like choosing your favourite child as we drank sooooooo much good wine on this day. Each tasting we did gave us double the wine I had sampled whilst in the transit van, and we never paid more than 50 Argentinian pesos for a degustation.

The Tempranillo was the pick of the bunch at our second stop Tempus Alba, and while Flo and I played checkers using corks from wine bottles, Tom noticed a bloke that was famous in Sweden. To us, he looked like a standard older guy with. his wife and young, hipster son, enjoying a tour of Maipú. It made me wonder how many people you walk past or even chat to whilst travelling, or even in your everyday life, that could have an amazing story to tell and it further validated my reasons for this game. However, rather than risk Tom’s opportunity to get a photo with the great man himself, I did not even contemplate trying to score points with this gentleman. Understandably, Tom was a bit nervous as he approached to ask for a photo, but apparenty the man in question accepted the offer with open arms saying something along the lines of “Hell yeah! Get in here!” I think that made Tom’s day.

At this point in tour de Maipú, the bikes were a little less stable than they were in the beginning, so we decided to skip the next tasting and go straight to lunch at Mevi. Here we shared a bottle of wine and got another for free with our vouchers from Maipú bikes, all for less than AU$15 a head.

The scorching sun had been blazing down on us all day and in case you weren’t aware, alcohol is a diuretic so we decided to find somewhere to rehydrate… With a craft beer!

After taking a wrong turn and being chased for 50 metres by a dog that was taking his guarding duties seriously, we found “la cervezeria” where we sat down next to an English couple Loren and Paul, who were visiting from Sydney. From Bolton and Leeds originally, our new found amigos were enjoying a pint of the local pale ale after a hectic day of wine tasting and punctured tyres that spray green liquid all over white dresses. How the topic was raised is a mystery to me, but after telling them the story of Sarah’s tattoo that I mentioned in a previous post, apparently we knew each other well enough for Loren to show us a tattoo that she is in the process of getting removed. It is on the same body part that Sarah tried to show my fellow amigos and I a few weeks before and is the name of her ex-best friend. Loren’s dislike for this person grows with every appointment due to the pain she is undergoing whilst removing the ink. With 6 laser treatments complete she still has a couple to go, but dreads each one. Now that we knew each other so intimately, we organized to meet up for dinner. However, as I found out later when I was able to access wifi, apparently there is another Andrew Currie who works for the Department of Education and went to the same university on Facebook. Maybe I’ll bump into them in Melbourne, as they are planning on moving to their favourite city in Australia when they get back. Stranger things have happened as it seems the more you travel the smaller this world becomes.

Our time with our bikes was coming to an end as we left the cervezeria with renewed vigor and made our way to our last stop of the day “la botella”, which we attended for two reasons:

1. It was close to our bike hire place so we could be sure we would drop them back in time;

2. We would recieve a free bottle of Malbec with each tasting.

By the time we reached la botella, aptly named after a massive bottle of wine which stands proudly out the front, our Español was perfectly understandable to all of us, perhaps not Bruno, and we readied ourselves for one last tasting which turned out to be the largest. Five wines, from different wineries, all less than 10 km from the doorstep and all drinkable with a nice, juicy, Argentinian steak that we were all craving.

So, in summary a day riding in Maipú cost me 380 Argentinian pesos, which is 5 pesos or 50 Australian cents less than I spent on the transit van tour after buying a cheap bottle of wine at a winery we visited. During the tour de Maipú I:

  • hired a bike for from 11am to 6:30pm;
  • did one tour of a winery, which in my opinion is sufficient;
  • had three wine degustations, one with five wines to taste and the others with three. All gave us much more wine than on the organized transit van tour which all had three tastings;
  • had lunch overlooking a vinyard with the Andes in the distance, where we recieved two bottles of wine between the four of us, whereas the transit van tour took us to an olive oil factory where we had very tasty finger food, but this left me wanting more;
  • had a pint of craft beer;
  • got a free bottle of wine from la botella;
  • had loads more fun and got to know three legends much easier than I did on the organized tour.

So, for what it is worth, my travellers tip when visiting Maipú is to go with a bunch of mates or a group of like minded people you just met. Ask the local bus driver to drop you near a bike hire place and spend the day cycling, eating, drinking and chatting rubbish in Maipú. If you do it right, you will be smelly and in dire need of a shower afterwards but it will be worth it because… It’s the shit!

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