2006 Roadtrip Mendoza, Argentina: our 2 weeks there

On Christmas Eve, we had dinner with Susan Davis and Peter Smith, Americans who we had met in Santiago through the American Association of Chile. They had come to Mendoza for a few days of winetasting and relaxing. We went to a fixed price meal with all the wine and champagne you could drink for AP$200/US $65.57 at Mande Fautino, Sarmiento 785, Mendoza Ciudad. No wonder we slept that night in the heat. We had a great time and got snockered.

On Christmas Day we sweated out the wine by bicycling to the big park near Mendoza. Without the chaotic traffic, riding around Mendoza was okay. Mendoza takes its afternoon siesta seriously and everything is closed between 1 and 4:30 p.m. That makes bicycling in the city easier.

The driving in Mendoza is chaotic because there aren’t enough traffic signals, stop signs and/or yield signs. There are intersections with nothing. We think that the drivers, who want to, give way to the car on the right in that situation. It is also noisy because the cars are so old and rattley—rattletrap would be a compliment for these cars. It is stinky because the exhaust from the cars is black. It appears there is no car inspection process in Mendoza. Dimitri says, "welcome to the real South America". Chile is exceptional in many ways—not just with its roads and new cars.

The heat of the day in Mendoza is tempered somewhat by all of the trees that have been planted over the centuries. The tall shade trees are big and effective. The irrigation system that is necessary to sustain them is evident everywhere. You have to be careful that you don’t fall into an irrigation canal along the sidewalks. Sidewalks in Mendoza have other treacherous features: they change levels with no warning and are generally not maintained. They have huge unmarked holes in them. Bicycling on sidewalks in Mendoza is not pleasant like it was in Santiago. So we have been bicycling on the streets. That has its own challenges.


Dimitri is looking across the pampas down into Mendoza on a bike ride


Even so we have had a few nice outings. The view of the eastern Andes is really lovely from out of town. Mendoza is so flat that you have to get out of town, on top of a tall building or on a hill to see the mountains in the distance (not like Santiago where the western Andes are on view from everywhere if the smog clears). Out of Mendoza, the tree plantation gives way to the vast pampas. Only certain areas are irrigated for the vineyards.
We were going to change hotels after the Christmas holiday, but we love the spa and the price of our hotel. We were assured that the air conditioning would be fixed on the 26th and the technician would be summoned for the non-functioning wi-fi. The general manager of the hotel reduced our room rate to AP$210/US $69. When the air conditioning was fixed and our two computers were Internet connected on Tuesday, we were happy campers.
We had several lovely nights sleep and were able to download all of the Christmas e-mail messages we got. Dimitri found a website with all of the Chilean radio stations (http://www.mipagina.cl/) and then click on Radios Online). With broadband Internet we could "stream" the music from our favorite Chilean radio stations—Beethoven and Oasis—into our room in Mendoza. Dimitri made CDs with the music from the stations so we could listen to our favorites stations during our long drives in the remote (radio-less) areas.
In our 11 pieces of luggage we were carrying 2 VCRs. One works in the US and Singapore but that one doesn’t work in Chile. So we bought a second VCR in Chile. Neither worked in Argentina. The differences in systems worldwide is truly annoying. When we buy our next computer we want it to have a TV turner. In all likelihood it will not work worldwide, however, and we’ll need another gizmo as a converter. We like to record programs so that we can watch our favorite shows when it’s convenient for us. Also we like to watch the news while we eat breakfast. And we don’t like to have to schedule our day to coincide with the real time programming. By the way, when we left Montañas Azules, we trashed the VCR that works in the USA and kept only the Chilean one. Sometimes we do reduce the amount we carry in our luggage.
We have loved using the hotel’s spa. We have figured out how to while away the time in the evening before the restaurants open at 9 p.m. Each night that it is open we go to the spa for a steam, sauna and Jacuzzi at 7 p.m. The staff is lovely and the experience each night is a delight.
Speaking of restaurants we have been eating well at a very reasonable price in Mendoza. Although it is generally not as cheap as we had been given to expect, we can eat very well for US $30. We were not overwhelmed by 1884 Francis Mellmann (supposedly the 7th best restaurant in the world according to someone at some time), but we have found restaurants that would be considered very good anywhere in the world. Apparently, US wine drinkers are patronizing the restaurants with enough regularity to sustain them.

La Bourgogne in Luján de Cuyo, at the Vistalba Winery, is certainly world class. We ate there for AP$150/US $49, with wine! (Roque Saenz Pena 3531, Vistalba 5509, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza 261 498-9400, http://www.carlospulentawines.com/) We do not recommend La Barra even though it is "The Author’s Choice" in Lonely Planet. The meat was tough and it was expensive.

One day we drove to Termas de Cacheuta for the day. It is in the foothills of the eastern Andes and easy to get to from the Mendoza side of the new dam. While it is old and the infrastructure should be renovated, the hot baths are well done. We took a walk to the dam and to check out the biking possibilities (not good). We had their buffet lunch, which had all of the Argentine barbecued beef that we had heard about. Then we had a nap and then did the spa circuit. The pools are next to the Mendoza River and have fabulous views of it and the surrounding mountains. The birds are brilliantly colored and made soaking and looking a real pleasure.