The journey from Córdoba to Mendoza is about eleven hours by road. Instead of an overnight option, we decided to take a daytime bus and enjoy the scenery along the way.
All I can report is, Very Flat. While not technically part of the Argentine Pampas, the country between the two cities nevertheless has only occasional ripples and looks quite fertile. It breaks up a little as you get towards Mendoza, being on the edge of the Andean foothills and it’s much drier, being in the rain shadow of the mountains. So we spent most of the day looking out on a sunny, green landscape, stretching off into the distance in all directions.
The intercity buses stop at many of the smaller towns along the way and some of them looked really basic. In one of these spots, watching a teenager say an emotional goodbye to his girlfriend, I found myself wondering at how his life experience differs from mine. What kind of community has he grown up with? How does his outlook on the world compare? What is his perception of the pros and cons of his hometown?
I then spent a while considering how little effort we have made to get to know the locals on our journey. It’s supposed to be one of the great benefits of travelling, but we have been quite insular so far. We prefer AirBnB apartments over hostels. Hostels tend to be more of an international melting-pot but in apartments, apart from brief meets with the host, we don’t have a lot to do with anyone other than ourselves. We should probably change that.
Arriving in Mendoza, we found it to be a very pleasant town. The first thing I noticed was that every street seems to be lined with trees, which give a pleasant shade wherever you go. The second thing I noticed was the incredibly deep open gutters on the roadside. This is the urban extension of the huge irrigation system that was put in place by early settlers to make the land farmable. It is still used today to water the vineyards but, in the city, it is now more about channelling rainwater off the streets – and watering the trees.
Once again, we had picked an apartment near to the centre of town, although this time that was less of a boon. The ancient glazing did nothing to block the noise of the traffic from the Avenida España below, or, on our first night, from the rock band playing a gig in the nearby Plaza Independencia. Apart from that, though, Independencia was a great spot; the central square of the city, a total of four city blocks, given over to public space, hosting markets, greenery, fountains and a museum. Very lovely.
As we had nearly two weeks in the city, we booked on several organised tours and rented a car to get us up to Talampaya, one of the places on my “Must Do” list. The first was a tour of a couple of bodegas (wineries) and an olive oil producer.
Having first worked in tourism and later done lots of independent travel, I wonder why I still do tours of distilleries/breweries/wineries as they all follow pretty much the same pattern: You get shown the raw materials, you get shown the process, including traditional brewing paraphernalia and/or anonymous modern stainless steel replacements, you get to see the warehouse where the final product is matured, you get to taste a selection of the products, before concluding in the factory shop, where you can pay over-the-odds for the things you’ve just tried, or buy from a range of branded souvenirs.
Asking myself that question, (why I still do the tours) I realise I don’t have a satisfactory answer. I’m not any kind of a connoisseur, so the opportunity to taste new brands does not help me. I already know how they are made, apart from whatever minor regional twist a particular location has. I’m not in the market for souvenirs. Which I guess leaves me with a kind of “following the herd” answer. I do it because it’s there to be done.
Between travelling all this way while hardly meeting any locals, and endlessly repeating a tour that I’ve already done, I think I need to review what I am wanting to get out of this trip!
Anyway, apart from the internal analysis it generated, the tour was a pleasant diversion. For once, we’d picked a lovely, sunny day. The first bodega felt like a smart country villa, the second had huge casks in extensive cellars which felt like another world. The tour of the olive oil factory did educate me somewhat; I never realised there was such a variety of balsamic vinegar – and some of it is really tasty!
Our next outing was a road-trip up to Talampaya. But that is worthy of a post all of its own… watch this space!