Life in the States Seems to be Agreeing with US

I have started to write this blog a couple of times.  The ‘we are home,’ or ‘end of the adventure,’ ‘wisdom from afar,’ blog but it just hasn’t been working.  Too much pressure to be prophetic.  Yet, the blog has been such a part of my life for the last two years.  I am not ready to let it go.  We are now in Idaho.  I started this little bit almost three weeks ago when I was trying to figure it all out.

I am sitting here in my folks kitchen the rain has been coming down for about two days now and I am home.  The dogs are wandering around not quite sure what to do with themselves.  I can actually relate a little.  We left Mendoza almost two weeks ago. This blog is a bit odd to write because it is not only a return to the states but also the end of our two years abroad.  So how do you put all that into words when you can’t even figure out what emotions are playing through your head.  Here is my go at that.

Aerobics in the ParkOur last week in Mendoza was great, minus Todd being under the weather, not full blown sick, but he was not doing well.  He used all his energy to enjoy the last days of our trip.  By keeping ourselves busy the two weeks prior we were actually able to enjoy that time without the anxious excitement and nerves that kept creeping upon each of us.

That’s as far as I got.  I don’t know how to put into words those first couple days of being back in the states.  Odd is the first one.  It’s always the little things you notice; the amount of stuff at the grocery store, the size of the cars, pedestrians having the right of way, green grass, fewer buses, bikers, and walkers.  While other things seem to fall right back into place and feel just right.  For instance, being back at my folks house.  Things are still in the same place and that is comforting. Maura Graduates Although, the knife drawer swapped with the hot pads still throws me off three years later.  So, I guess I am trying to say that Todd and I are good.  We didn’t burst into flames from over stimulation or shock from being stateside.  Basically, we fell into old comforting patterns.

Thursday Night at Cafe al DenteOur time in KC went by so quickly.  I feel like I didn’t even sleep, but it was worth it.  We partied with the clan, Maura graduated from highschool, I jumped out of an airplane with the my momma and sisters, Todd ventured to Vegas and Beloit, we hit Al Dente for the Thursday night tradition, I passed my, motorcycle class, and then we were off. From there we packed up the minivan and headed west.  First stop, Edwards, CO, where Dale and Jeanne  literally just moved into their new house the day we arrived.  It was perfect timing.  We put our hands to work and helped them get things organized.  Even though there was a lot of work, we managed to play.  Teva Game Bouldering MadnessThe highlight being the Teva Games in Vail.  These were outdoor events like kayaking, bouldering, mountain biking, etc.  I have never been to a bouldering competition before.  Even though I am into bouldering I always had the impression that they would be pretty dry and anticlimatic.  Well, I was totally wrong.  After watching the pre-lims and the finals I was hoarse from all the yelling.  Who knew you could almost lose your voice watching people boulder.  It was incredible!

Teva Game After our quick visit with the Mosiers, we headed north to Victor, ID, our summer home.  Derek and Lisa were nice enough to invite these two homeless nomads into their home for the summer.  We gladly obliged this request.  You can’t pass up a summer in the mountains.  We just passed our first week here and if it is a prediction of what the rest of the summer holds, I think we are set for a great time.

Homemade pizza night, live music at the Knotty, an awesome showing by all of us at the Teton Dam 10k, and too many hours of futbol and snacks wrapped up the first week.  And the highlight, morel hunting.  I had always heard of mushroom hunters, read about them, been frightened of the false mushroom that can lead to death. etc.  So when Lisa started talking about the hunt I was a bit skeptical.  Luckily, an ice cream bar later and I was ready to go.  After browsing the internet to figure out exactly what morels looked like, and their evil twins the false morels, we were on our way.Teton Dam 10k

We started out not knowing what to expect.  So, I wondered off the path looking around dead logs, at the base of trees, basically scanning the ground for I wasn’t really sure.  It felt like I hadn’t blinked in ages when Lisa screeched with excitement at our first morel.  Wow, we actually found one.  In total, we found 8 beautifully weird looking morels.  I can now count myself as one of the thousands of people who go out each year to hunt these prized wonders of the culinary world.

Once home, we laid them out on the counter, keenly looking over the brain like bodies.  After we finely examined our bounty it was time to indulge.  We didn’t go wondering about in the woods to give our mushrooms an anatomy test, we went for their scrumptious flavor.  A quick sauté with some butter and salt and pepper and we were licking our lips and patting ourselves on the backs.

Morels, beautiful MorelsAnd that was only week one.  Today, back to reality as I continue my job hunt.  Todd is working hard in his new office and we are already planning our first dinner party. Life back in the states seems to be agreeing with us.

Lilting Gazelles and Thundering Hippos

It’s been awhile since we’ve blogged. Clearly. Sorry. And, in addition, I’m not really going to cover the craziness of being back in the states. That topic is one of those that’s going to take a herculean effort I’m not quite up to yet. (Erin, go for it if you’re ready.)

Today, I woke up a little groggy, with some funny things going on in my belly, gurgling and all sorts of remnants from our last Thursday in Kansas City. Last night was a fun crew, mixing all the senators of various sorts. (And, for those of you who slept through your computer history course, I present to you, The Lisa) Pizza, beer, and some goodbyes all made for a great night.

I decided that what I needed to do was take a run. You may remember that we ran a half-marathon in Mendoza a couple months ago. We’ve been running pretty regularly, more or less as we can squeeze it into our schedules, which are surprisingly busy. So this run was nothing special, really. I decided to run a 3 mile loop, started off and immediately cramped up. I felt like there was monkey wrench bouncing around through my intestines. So… I slow down, let my body adjust to the idea of running. I kept talking to it, alternatively giving it words of encouragement, You can do it!, and apologies, I’m so sorry about last night. Eventually, it came around after the first half-mile. I started going at a nice pace, waving to the middle-aged dog walking wives of Brookside. I preened, nearly choking on my own ego as I watched them watching me. The thoughts that go through your head while running can be pretty ridiculous. Running without a shirt on a valid form of community service, really. We just normally don’t admit them out loud, and certainly not in a public forum like the internet. Oh well.

So, I hit the midway point and was pretty pleased with how things were going and, like the horse turning home, decide to kick it up a notch. Or two. Or as many as possible. Now, I’m just flying through the streets, passing 3 deep lines of baby strolling moms. But no longer am I a gazelle, gracefully lilting through an urban savannah. Now I’m more like a thundering hippo running to the muddy river. Get out of my way! If you’ve ever seen a hippo run, it’s pretty funny and I felt pretty ridiculous, panting the entire time. You start to wonder what you’re even doing out there.

Then the eye of the hurricane hit me, calmness all around, and all I could think about was how my nose and mouth were like a gigantic stovepipe going down to my lungs. I couldn’t believe the sheer quantity of air I could move! For those who have never picked up smoking and then quit, you’ll never understand the difference. For my body to be able to pull air like this was incredible. I don’t remember being in high school and having lungs like that because I never knew there was another option. I had the tar in my lungs pointed out to me on x-ray in Paris. I trained for a marathon in college and didn’t quit smoking because I didn’t think it was affecting me that much. The debilitating change had come on so slowly, I truly didn’t recognize it. So, I know what it’s like to run, exercise, hike, do whatever physical activity and have lungs that aren’t what they could be, but recognizing the difference was a different story.

So, in this moment of calm that lasted the last mile, I just ran at full bore and marveled at what my lungs were doing. I wasn’t thinking about how much my legs were screaming or how I might throw up from the sheer physical effort. I was literally imagining the vast quantities of air leaving my lungs and forming little cloud cubes so that I could count how many cubic feet of air I was using. This simple activity of sucking air in and forcing it out became a marvel of it’s own. It was as beautiful as any African sunset, any Guatemalan volcano, any Bolivian jungle or Argentine wine.

That runner’s euphoria they talk about? Yep. That’s it.

Wines We Enjoy…

So…  As has become evident by our blogs, our time and our interests, we enjoy wine.  We’ve been in Argentina about 22 weeks.  We spent 8 days touring vineyards, tasting about 15-20 wines per day on those days.  While we lived here, we tasted probably about 4 new wines a week.  So… that’s a lot.  We’ve estimated that we’ve probably tried at least 70 Malbecs, not even mentioning blends.

Therefore… we thought that people would enjoy knowing what wines we liked.  This isn’t a complete list, just ones that we decided we would search for when we had the money to buy them.  Some are expensive, some cheap, most in the middle somewhere.  The list is in no particular order.

Whites
Caelum Rose
Pulenta Chardonnay
Trumpter Malbec Rose Sparkling
Altavista Atemportal Sparkling
Yacochuya Torrontes
La Garde Viognier
Bressia Canela (Char/Viognier)
Mariflor Sauvignon Blanc
Malbecs
Krontiras Malbec Reserva
Pulenta Malbec
Sin Fin Malbec
Sangre de los Andes Malbec
Punta Final Reserva Malbec
Enamore
Enrique Foster Malbec Reserva
Viña Amalia Malbec
Fin del Mundo Malbec Reserva
Yacochuya Malbec
Monteviejo Lindaflor Malbec
Clos de Chacras Gran Estirpe Malbec
Doña Silviniña Malbec Reserva
Val de Flores Malbec
Blends
Azul Reserva Blend
O.Fournier A Crux
B Crux
Clos de los Siete Clos de los Siete
Bressia Conjuro
Vistalba Corte B
Corte C
Others
Caelum Cab Sauv
DV Catena Syrah – Syrah
Lorca Petit Verdot
Ricominciare Cab Franc/Cab Sauv
Carmelo Patti Cabernet Sauvignon
Benegas Libertad Vineyard Syrah
BL Cab Franc
BL Meritage
Errazuriz Seña

Cafayate in all it’s glory.

Well well well, so we’re back from Cafayate. It was only a mere 22 hour bus ride, but we’re back. It seems fitting that our last big bus ride would be an overly long one. And that it was. We left Mendoza on Tuesday night at 9pm, arriving at Tucuman around 10:30am. Cafayate Luckily, we had planned in advance and purchase a swanky bus ticket so that we would arrive rested and ready to taste some wine. It was nice. Full 180° seats are absolutely the best. In addition, we were served a hot meal and had an open bar. A couple glasses of wine, a full belly, and I was ready to sleep. A 12:00 bus to Cafayate arriving at 5pm meant that it was a mere 20 hours to get there. We checked into our hostel, walked around for a bit, then hit the bed. We had a big day ahead of us.

The next day was pretty simple in theory. Cafayate We would rent bikes, tootle around the vineyards, taste some wines, have a lunch, then come back to the hostel. The morning activity worked out just fine. We picked up a couple of old one-speed bikes and headed out of town to visit Etchart Bodega. The tour was pretty normal, especially given that Etchart is a massive winery, one of the biggest in the region. But it was enjoyable, especially since we were tasting Torrontes. This is emblematic of the region and one of the main reasons we came. Folklore says that it is only grown in the Cafayate area, which adds a little extra something to it.

Following Etchart, we pedeled to Lavaque, Cafayate who told us that their tour guide was on vacation, so we coasted to Hermanos Domingo, which we definitely expected to be a low-quality, high-volume production. It was. But it was more. Their reserve line was actually really good, and we picked up a couple bottles of the Tannat to drink later. You know, because the first thing you want to do after a day of wine tasting is crack another bottle of wine.

We left the winery in plenty of time to make it up to Finca los Nubes, which is owned by Jose Mournier,Cafayate another well-known Argentine winemaker. This is where we were to have lunch. I had some technical difficulties with my bike, which left me cursing and wondering how a one-speed bike could have issues with a chain. So… I had the wonderful opportunity to push it up the hill, all the way into the clouds. But… after rinsing my hands and taking a quick breather, I was ready for a tour and lunch. This was a small winery, which is always a nice change from a big one. Decent wine, and then lunch. What was lunch? Yummy, yummy cheese, candied apples, and a Torrontes was the first course. A perfect parrilla (grill platter) for the second course with the Cabernet-Malbec blend. Finished with coffee and cookies. We talked about how when we lived in France, how we had thought this is what it would be like. We didn’t really find it there, but a simple 20 hour bus ride had gotten us here, so better late than never. The afternoon was classic Argentine: siesta. We slept through the afternoon, woke up for dinner of sausage and cheese, cracked a bottle of the Tannat we had purchased, then went right back to bed for the next day.

Friday was our second day of touring wines, and the last scheduled one. Cafayate We were a little worn out on wine, as you might imagine, but we decided to keep the dubious reservation at Yacachuya, owned by the Etchart family. Rented a couple of bikes, started up the 7km hill to the winery, then POOOFFF!!! My tire was not just flat, it was totally worthless. The bike rental guy had warned us about the spines in the road, and I apparently was destined to find one of them. (Note: if you’re counting, I have had some issue with 4 of the last 4 bikes rented. Luckily, I’m not counting.) So… we get to walk up another hill, this one longer and steeper. Oh, joy. But, it was worth it.

We arrived, both without shirts on, sweating, panting, dirt on our hands and dust in our hair. Cafayate We quickly headed to the bathrooms to make ourselves more presentable, or at least as much as possible. We exit to bathrooms, still shaking water off our hands, to meet Cecilia, the daughter in law of Arnauldo Etchart, founder of Etchart winery which we visited the day before. She was quite nice and a definite talker, so we did a quick tour of the small-production vineyard and bodega before heading past the “No Admittance” sign, going towards their house. She’s talking about her kids, the difficulty of the reservation, the fact that her english is terrible, everything. Erin and I are looking at each other with disbelieving eyes that say, “We’re going in there?”

We walk into Cafayate a small, but nice room with a plate of cheese and crackers setup. Cecilia talks for awhile about the essence of wine, how it’s about the moment, and I’m sitting there wondering about etiquette. Okay, so there’s a delectable cheese plate in front of starving me, a glass of torrontes wine I want to chug like Franzia, but I’m in an old hunting lodge-esque room, there’s a lady in huge chunky jewelery who hasn’t touched the food yet. What do you do? I went for the cheese as delicately as possible and sipped the wine as quietly as possible. But as soon as she left, we started taking dorky pictures of us pretending to be high class. Of course, we got caught by Mrs. Arnauldo Etchart, wife of the founder. What bad luck! Oh well. I don’t think we were fooling anyone.

The owner’s wife sat down and talked to us for awhile about Cafayate and the Torrontes grape, why they did the winery, etc. It was all pretty interesting and in the middle of it, she would quickly scold us for not eating more cheese. I thought I was being dainty, but honestly, how can you eat a lot of cheese daintily? So I abandoned the cotillion-style and went for the (still dainty) shovel-method, which, I think, the grandma really appreciated. Then, the man himself shuffled in. He was doing normal things, like bringing in the paper and mail, talking to his wife about something or another, just generally being a bit crotchedy. We shook his hand, sat down to eat some more cheese, and just listened.

Don Arnauldo Etchart was (and is) a dominant figure in Argentine wine, primarily because he was one of the main reasons the french winemakers came to Argentina, starting with Michel Rolland. Arnauldo Etchart called Michel Rolland down to Cafayate in 1985 or so, which is really early in the fine-wine world of Argentina. So… we were definitely a little star-struck.

After the cheese plate scene, we moved into Cafayatethe formal dining room, complete with a glass hunting case of stuffed poultry to look over the proceedings. We definitely felt awkward, but I’m pretty sure this just added to excitement. We had an incredible lunch, in a beautiful setting with great wine. And afterward, Cecilia even put our bikes in the back of the truck and took us back to town. It was way beyond anything we could have expected.

Once back in town, we settled down for a bit,Cafayate then headed back out to visit a couple more wineries, namely Nanni. We were expecting to go in for a tasting, so when someone handed us a glass, we thanked them and drank it. But, crazy this, they were all french and quebecqois. So, we popped back into our French mode. But, kind of like forgetting to clutch when you shift, it didn’t work so well. French/Spanish/English words came out in orders that made no sense. Thankfully, they spoke english and we embarassingly reverted to our tongue.

The two quebecqois were about our age and quickly invited us to an asado they were making back at their campsite. We said absolutely, let’s meet in the square. Erin and I were wined out by this time, but it wasn’t long until we bumped into them again. Cafayate We changed plans to go out for pizza. After all, it’s so much more simple to order a pizza than to go to the campsite, carry wood, make a fire, grill the meat, and all the other things that go into it. A long night at the pizza place left us with a wine-barrel mouth the next morning.

BUT… it was our last day on our last trip in our last month and we were troopers. Cafayate So we bought a big bag of Lays potato chips and headed out after a huge pot of coffee. Nothing too notable with the exception of the tiny Bodega Salvador Figueroa. Nothing to bring it back to the essentials. It was a warehouse with a bunch of plastic tanks. Stainless steel? Nope. Mechanical presses? Nope. They even bottled by hand, which is just crazy. 6,000 bottles total production means it’s a small family production. Fun stuff.

After that it was quiet time. We had some lunch, watched an old car rally take over the town square, and waited for the bus to leave. We left at 6pm, and arrived at 4:30pm the next day. 22 hours goes by incredibly slow when there’s nothing to do. It was broken up by a drug raid where they found quite a bit of coca leaves, which really is pretty harmless stuff since they just make mate out of it. But, it did provide an half hour of entertainment in the middle of the Argentine desert on our last bus ride. Oh, nostalgia.

A little more detail…

Todd covered the basics and a tad beyond, but last trip means last comments and as usual I am not at a loss for words.  Wine, isn’t that one of the major reasons we decided Mendoza should be home base.  So a trip to the second largest wine region in the country seemed appropriate.  I am glad we both failed to remember exactly how far north Cafayate really is because I am not sure we would have maintained proper motivation for that type of journey.  Luckily, ignorance is bliss.

The fancy bus was awesome.  After a year and a half on all ranges of buses we splurged for the fancy premium bus we had only heard rumors of. Cafayate It was awesome!  Full  on with a steward who kindly kept my plastic glass of wine filled and delivered warm food for my belly. 180 degree fold down chairs are amazing.  I actually slept well.  The same cannot be said for the 180 difference in the bus we took on the return trip and my sleep quality, but that trip just brought us back to reality.

To Cafayate.  I was in charge of planning the trip and I had some focus issues.  Mainly, I didn’t want to plan the trip or use my power of concentration to navigate spanish websites or make phone calls in a foreign tongue.  I am apparently suffering from language laziness in these last few weeks.  But I did manage to make two lunch reservations that both turned out to be highlights of the trip.  So, two thumbs up for the little planning I eeked out.

First off, Todd and biking don’t mix.  He eluded to this but really, it is hysterical.  I love tootling around on bikes especially if the promise of wine lays at the end of the road.  My bikes make it up the road and back down but Todd’s get flat tires, busted chains, sad, sore thighs because Cafayatehe is too tall and everyone here is not, meaning short bikes, and on and on.  But four out of four bikes busted, that is just comical.  As Todd pouted up the hills to the vineyards I believe the phrase, “biking is my kryptonite!” vehemiently left his lips.  Need I say more?

Lunch at Finca Las Nubes was wonderful.  Sitting on the terrace looking out over the vineyards as the cactus laced hills created the perfect shade from the hot sun we enjoyed some wining and dining. Cafayate The wine wasn’t that great, but the food was.  Different types of cow cheese, goat cheese, homemade bread followed by grilled veggies and beautiful meat.  Finished with a grape tort (somethings aren’t meant to include grapes) and espresso.  You really can feel like royalty in this country.  Always nice to be in a place where the dollar stretches, if even just a little.  After lunch we played in the vineyard.  It was spectacular!

Day two, already a bit wined out, but we decided to keep our reservation at San Pedro de Yacochuya.  I had no idea what to expect. My conversation with Cecilia over the phone was rough; kids in the background, broken spanish, but we managed the reservation.  It reminded me of calling the old lady in Pauillac for a place to stay.  A total accomplishment but I needed a glass of wine after both conversations.  Anyway, so glad we didn’t cancel. As we walked our bikes up the road it was beautiful.  The left side of the vines were wonderful shades of fall, the right hadn’t decided to change yet, and the contrast was striking.

Cecilia greeted us with open arms.  Actually, she made me feel fantastic.  Compliments for everything.  It was great!  We walked into the house and it was incredible. Cafayate The walls covered in old paintings, a huge fireplace staked to the brim with logs, and smoke stains eeking up chimney, rustic furniture, and big windows with barn doors.  It was a combination of Argentine decorating and a warm country cabin exuding wealth.

Señora Etchart was excellent.  She sat down very matter of factly and said she was going to tell us about Torrontes. Cafayate And that is what she did.  Her nature was warm yet you could tell she was in charge.  Meeting Sr. Etchart, even if it was a brief Argentine greeting, was fantastic. He is Argentine wine that we know now as a legend.  Not the world of bulk wine that they produced pre-90’s.  Yacuchuya is not at all like Bodega Etchart.  It is small and very well produced from 97 year old vines.  The man knows what he is doing and I saw him deliver the mail. So glad we didn’t cancel this reservation.

The rest of the lunch was wonderful.  Todd and I, one 12 person table, and a lot more paintings, oh, don’t forget all the taxidermy.  We obviously weren’t their normal clientel, but we played the roles well.  Kind of like a certain lunch at Moet & Chandon in Napoleon’s dining room.  Surroundings can just make you feel special.  And Yacochuya nailed everything.

Our last trip left me nostalgic.  But then I remember this is just one adventure, there will be so many more down the road.  That’s a good thought.

Biopic review of travels across the globe