Vallecitos is a Pretty Place.

VallecitosSo… this weekend was my “surprise weekend” for Erin.  It’s not really a surprise when you have to say, “Plan on being gone for these next couple days, but I’m not saying where.”  So, there were bits of it that were a surprise, but she pretty much guessed it all.  The surprise was renting a car and going to a mountain refuge for a couple days.

It was wonderful.  I picked up the car around noon and headed back to the apartment to pick up all the stuff that we had ready.  Then, it was off.  IVallecitos picked an alternate route from the standard one towards Chile.  This was a famous backcountry road with a gorgeous view of the Mountain Aconcagua (22, 841ft).  Now, some people seem to think that little 1.2 liter engines, 2 door and low clearance cars aren’t meant for poorly graded gravel roads.  However, we’re in Argentina where anything goes, so off we went.  There were a few moments where large rocks blocked our way, but we managed to drive around them, up the 365 switchbacks to see some incredible views.  Along the way, we passed Villavicencio, an old hotel with gorgeous gardens among the fall leaves.

After we left the gravel road and came out at Uspallata, we headed back along the highway to Jerome Brewery.  When Erin’s dad came in town, he noticed Vallecitosthe label of the microbrewery was a German Shepard, which is the animal that would be on their family shield if they had one.  So, we were on our way to taste the beer and try to pick up some t-shirts or sweaters, or something for the dog lover in us all.  The beer was there, and it was delicious.  They had a beer that was aged 12months in french oak and it was fantastic.  Mmmm.  We had lunch, a couple of vicuna burgers.  Also, yummy.  They had shirts, wait, actually, no they didn’t, they didn’t have anything.  No sweaters, no shirts, nothing.  That was a bit disappointing, to be honest, but it was a fun trip anyway.

From the brewery, the final surprise was still to be revealed to Erin: the San Bernardo Refugio.  This is a small log cabin just outside of the ski village Vallecitos. Vallecitos Hikers use it in the summer for acclimatization, skiers use it in the winter to go skiing, but in the fall, it’s not really used at all.  There were 3 other people at the lodge, that’s it.  So we pretty much had the run of the place.  We were dead tired from the drive in, so we went to bed around 10pm, which earned us ridicule from our new friends.  But, it was good to rest.

The next morning we woke up, had a leisurely breakfast and went out for a hike.  We weren’t planning on anything too strenuous.  For example, one of the other hikers got up at 5am to summit a 5,500m peak. Vallecitos Nope, we passed on that opportunity.  Instead, we walked up the catwalk.  A nicely graded trail with two tracks where we could walk side by side and amicably chat about nothing.  Which we did, stopping to play in the decrepit  and unsafe chairlifts.  When we got to the top of the mountain, we broke for lunch of delicious sausage and cheese.  Then we headed back down to the refugio to relax from the exhausting hike.

Then, theVallecitos last part of the day, was about to start.  I had planned an asado of our very own.  We put on some firewood, got it going, built up the coals, then put on the side of veal, some chorizo and blood sausage.  We spent the night playing guitar with some Canadiens, talking politics and drinking wine out of a damajuana. (A damajuana is a classic argentina 5 liter bottle of wine, of generally low quality.)

This morning, we got up for some breakfast and gave the canadiens a ride to town.  Back in Mendoza, we returned the car, bought some bus tickets to Cafayate, where we’re off to next.  Today, we’re going out with an old friend, Dustin, who we met all the way back in Guatemala.  There aren’t too many of our friends still traveling around the Americas, so it’ll be nice to catch up to see where he’s been.

Living Up the Last Weeks

We’ve been a little busy these last couple weeks.  So busy that this little blog has been completely neglected.  Update time.

Mendoza is funny sometimes.  Example: Todd and I saw an ad in the paper for a polo tournament.  Since, we are now experts on horse sports and have attended one other polo match, we figured it was a must show.  In BA we saw the best of the best of Argentina.  Here in Mendoza, not so much.  We took a taxi out to Guaymallen or what felt like the middle of nowhere.  We arrive at a massive field.  Actually 3 massive polo fields. Polo There are at least 100 horses, lots of men, a couple of cars, and empty bleachers.  Basically, anyone there was family, coaches, or horse trainers, so our presence was very obvious.  As we stood behind the goal post, a tad shocked at the circumstances,  and oblivious that we were technically on the field, we were quickly brought back to reality by the 8 horses and riders barrelling down in our direction.  It was a tad scary.  Don’t worry, we survived but quickly decided to take a seat on the sidelines.   We pulled out our sandwiches and enjoyed the tranquillity of the moment; the wind through the willows, the sun shining above us, and the quiet of being out of the city.  That is minus the sound of pounding horse hooves.   Even though the polo was subpar to say the least, the day was wonderful.  Always nice to leave the city, only to return with a new appreciation.

With time winding down here in Mendoza, we are trying to pack it all in.  So after a great day out at the polo field it was time to take a tour of the vineyards via bike.  Bike tours through Maipu is probably the number one backpacker experience when they visit Maipu.   Four months in Mendoza and we still hadn’t had this experience, so we were off.

Bikes and WineWe rented the bikes through Bikes and Wine.  You walk to the bus stop and take a 20 minute bus out to Maipu.  There an employee greets you and takes you to the shop where you pick up a bottle of water, get a quick run down of the map, and of course a bike.  It was pretty simple.  First stop, the museum.  I am a sucker for cheesy museums and this was no exception.  No explanations, little organization, and a lot of old steel machines for plowing, de-stemming, pressing, etc. And of course a glass of wine.  It was going to be a good day.

Now, one minor detail.  Todd may have been the catalyst for this idea, but the reality is he doesn’t like bike riding.  The bikes are too small making his hamstrings hurt, his hands get sore from gripping the handlebars, and then there is the bum pain that slowly creeps up on you.  And it goes on and on.  Bikes and WineSo, as I was tootling under the tree canopy, vines and olive trees lining the road, Todd was struggling.  A quick bike change and things got a little better.  He is a trooper though  and endured the ride with a smile.

We finally made it to Bodega Carinae, the furthest vineyard 11km up the road.  It was better then expected.  A small boutique winery with the Rolland consultant team managing the production of the wine.  We did a side by side tasting of the different levels of Malbec.   Amazing how one grape can take on so many different forms.  We were off from there heading back down the road.  Already 2:30 and one vineyard down.  Where had the time gone?  Next stop, Finca Cerno. Bikes and Wine We arrived and were greeted by the wonderful smell of grilling meat.  Always a good start.  But we couldn’t find anyone to help us.  They only had the grill guy and one wine guy working and the wine guy was preoccupied with a tasting for three business men.  Apparently, the bike tour folks were not as important.  He even asked us to change seats so that we weren’t so close to the business guys.  Not impressed we decided to head to Tempus Alba.

Great decision.  Seeing as the day was freezing and we were completely unprepared for the weather, the warmth of the winery was great.  So great in fact we tasted some wines and dined on some awesome cheese with grilled toast.  I have seen grilled provolone on many menus here, so today was the day to give it a go.  And wow!  Hot, bubbling, melted cheese, with crispy top and bottom.  I love you, Brie, but you have been replaced.  It was incredible.

Bikes and WineWe enjoyed a couple more wines, some terrible absinthe and great conversation back at the bike shop.  They just kept pouring the wine, terrible, terrible wine, but we were cold and caught in the moment so at the time, it was just perfect.  We bussed it back to the city and grabbed some drinks with our new friends.  Good wine and good times!

I don’t recover from drinking the way I used to, so Wednesday morning was a bit rough.  But there was more to be done, like winemaker night with Altamisque.  The wine was good, not great, but the winemaker was not the most entertaining.  Luckily, our new friends Chris and Marydale showed up.  After winemaker night we enjoyed some wine at the Winery.  But more then the wines we enjoyed some great conversation.  When you are travelling, you meet a lot of people. Wine Maker Night Some you will hang around for weeks, yet not feel connected.  While others, like these two, it seems so natural.  And that’s a good feeling.

So, after a busy week we took Thursday and Friday off.  But not the weekend.  Today we are off to somewhere, only Todd knows.  He has planned a surprise weekend get away.  So exciting!  I love surprises.  I do know that we are going to Jerome’s brewery in El Salto, he bought food provisions, a damajuana (think jug o’wine times 3),  we need sleeping bags, it may snow :(, and I think he may be renting a car.  I will let you know on Monday.

One more thing… Todd went to buy said provisions last night and returned from the grocery store speaking of a massive run on water.  Ok, weird.  Not just a couple of bottles, he said grocery carts full and grandmas throwing elbows.  As we are looking up the reason on the internet we hear a knock, knock, knock at the door.  It was our landlord.  She came to explain that the city was turning off the water for the night, so she asked us not to take a shower, flush the toilet, basically use the water because it would dry out the tank and cause problems.  The problem, mercury.  Yes, they found mercury in the water here 28 times the normal level.  Good thing we are leaving town for the weekend.  And as we predicted, the water was not turned back on last night, it will be off until tonight but most likely till Sunday.

Fun in Arenales

My goodness! Where have we been? What have we been doing? It seems like it’s been so long since we talked, I know, I know. I’ve been busy, you’ve been busy, just couldn’t quite connect. But it’s good that we are talking again, finally. So, to bring you up to date, I went climbing last Monday and Tuesday. I found a rock climbing guide who was certified and experienced so that he could teach me how to be safe while on the wall. He was recommended by two separate climbing shops here in town, and he’s been up Aconcagua ten times as a guide, which is pretty impressive for someone who’s only 28.

He picked me up at 8am for the 3 hour drive to Arenales. Arenales We went up the very same valley that Erin and her dad went fly fishing in. We arrived at the refugio, which is just a shack, to be honest. We shooed the cows and horses away from the building and threw all our sleeping bags and food in the shelter. Then he started to pull out gear. The amount and weight of it alone was crazy. I was learning how to do traditional climbing, aka “trad”, he brought a whole slew of anchors to put in different situations. I knew the names and uses of most, but it was good to review and go over everything. Especially since everything was in spanish. You couldn’t just say “quickdraw,” “carabiner,” or “cam.” It was “espres,” “moscaton,” and “fier.” Arenales This translation of everything made for some difficultly, but not really. The most difficult part was the actual setting of the anchors. Imagine hanging on a wall with about 30 extra pounds of gear attached to your belt, looking at a crack in the wall and trying to figure out which type of anchor to use, and then decide which size will fit the best. For me, there was a lot of time and energy wasted trying to do this. But rather safe then sorry, which was the reason I was there.

We would then get to the top of the pitch and we would set up a belay station where we would both be at equal height on the wall, hanging from the same anchors. Setting this up safely was another part of the course. Then, we had lunch up on the wall. Kind of hokey, but kind of fun. We spent a lot of time going up, setting up pulley systems to bring up the haul bag, dropping it down, going up, going down, setting anchors, and fun things like that. At the end, we did a 3 pitch route, which was the end goal of the course.

I’ve been climbing in gyms for a long time now, Arenalessince about 2002 or so, when I first started getting into it because of some friends. But my outdoor climbing experience was much smaller.  The fear factor is something that takes a while to get over, and I still haven’t really. Indoor, everything is controlled, there’s very little that can go wrong. ArenalesThe gym is setup to be safe. Outdoor is different because the safety factor falls squarely on your shoulders.  In addition, it’s just a little crazy. For instance, I was on the last pitch of our climb, and I had a hand-foot match (where the foot comes up to be on the same ledge as the hand) but, when I looked down to find the ledge, I saw the ground was 150ft down. It just makes your head swirl a little bit before you get used to it. But then you look at all the safety mechanisms and realize that you really are quite safe, in a strange way.

All in all, I really enjoyed it. I’m definitely ready to start climbing more, so watch out Idaho!

Passing the Days

Good morning world.  My eyes are heavy this morning even though I slept well.  I wasn’t so sure that I would, because it was the first night apart for Todd and I in a VERY long time.  I think maybe since we left the states two years ago.   When we were living in Kansas City I grew accustomed to his heavy travel schedule for work.  I don’t think I ever fully got used to it though.  This night apart was nice but weird and definitely healthy.

Todd wasn’t here last night because he went camping.  Well, more specifically he is taking a two day intense rock climbing course.  I like rock climbing a lot but Todd wants to learn the more intense aspects i.e. multi-pitch, rescues, etc.  He would have slept in a tent on the rock if the instructor would have had one. I am thankful he did not.  So off in the mountains he went yesterday morning.  Hoping it wouldn’t be too fridged, winter is on the prawl down here.  I hope he had a great time.  I will find out late tonight when he returns.

I had a great day by myself; cooking, running, reading, and just doing things that were all about me.  That always makes for a good day.  And it was a beautiful fall day with sunny skies and a crisp breeze that kept moving through the air.  I watched the basketball final by myself in the apartment.  But since I was torn on which team to root for, it almost felt like I had a companion with me rooting for the other team.  What a great game!

Anyways, besides Todd camping and me enjoying me we also managed to have a great Easter.   Surprisingly, Good Friday is the major holiday here.  There was a 30,000 person 7 church march, the hotels were at full capacity, and the city was closed.  We decided to go to mass on Easter Sunday so our groggy bodies rose Sunday morning after a fun night of basketball hooliganism and went to church.  We arrived at 11am thinking we were late but the church was practically empty.  Apparently, Argentines don’t even get to mass on time.  Eventually the church filled up and we were on our way.  Three interesting points here: 1. Easter is supposed to be a joyess event of life.  The priest made sure we were all aware of this and announced it in the most ho-um monotone voice ever.  It was depressing and the rest of the mass followed in monotone pursuit.  2. No music.  Just one older ladies cracky voice leading the singing which ended up sounding more like chanting.  Not joyess.  3. Confession was being held in the vesibules by two priests.  One cloaked in his vestments, the other simply wearing jeans and his purple stole.  People participated in mass while waiting in line.  Oh yeah, there is a 4th…no order to communion.  People just piled out of pews or came from where they were standing and assembled lines, no order.  Even with the quirks, it was a nice morning.  Something familiar even if it was actually a bit foreign.

A Day at the TracksAfter our non joyess celebration we went out for coffee.  While sipping our coffee and reading the paper Todd came across the horse racing brackets.  And we were in luck, because it was data for the Easter day race.  There you go, we had something to do for the day.  So, we finished up our jo, wondered home, and then walked over to the Hipodrome.  I apparently know nothing about any sport that involves horses.  Yes, the horses ran around the track, but the half moon or circles on yellow signs that accompanied the winners board, no idea.  And the betting auctions, again clueless.  Besides watching the races, we wondered around, checking out the horses, watching them strut their stuff before the race and of course people watching.  Lots of good people watching!  We had a great time, even if our horses never won.A Day at the Tracks

So, that is that.  A holiday past, a night spent alone, and less then a month left in Argentina.  Crazy!

Random Unconnected Morning Thoughts Pre-coffee

Yesterday walking home from the grocery store, not the close one, the super big Carrefour that is also super far away.  Anyway, walking and talking and lugging our goods home when we see little red droplets on the sidewalk.  Splattered in a curvy manner creating a little trail for us to follow.  Todd with his infinite wisdom said he thought someone was bleeding.  While, I chose to think that someone’s box o’wine had sprung a leak.  Didn’t take long before we realized Todd was the winner.  All of a sudden we see this older lady, pushing the call buttons to get into an apartment, apparently hers, as blood pores from her leg.  It was like when your lawn hose gets a leak and shoots water in one straight shot with high pressure.  Now, add that the spurts were in time with her heart beat and you get super gross.   So much blood.  We offered up some of the tp we just bought, but all in all she didn’t really even seem bothered.  Finally, a lady came out, prepped with massive pieces of gauze.  This must not have been the first time.  Anyway, it was weird and uber icky to say the least.

Also, last night after an amazing 50% of wine happy hour at the Vines we saw a huge group of people on a 7 church tour.  Some holding candles, some participating in a walking confession with the priest, while others just enjoyed the moment.   It was solemn.  A lot of the participants were younger kids, which I found to be surprising.  I may not be an active participant in the Catholic Church right now, but it was refreshing to see such a powerful showing from a community.  An unabashed sense of belief.  It made me smile.

As for wine, our friend Julia or should I say wine insight insider, steered us toward two wines that were not on the list, but recently opened.  I enjoyed a the wonderful Gran Estirpe Malbec 2004 from Chacras de Coria.  It was simply a beautiful expression of a Malbec; sweet black fruit start, well balanced, good tannin structure with a long spicy finish.  And at $75p or $24US it was rightfully delicious.  Todd enjoyed a brilliant Bordeaux blend from Bressia.  The Conjuro 2006, 50%Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot.  My mouth almost didn’t realize what a true expression of a Bordeaux blend tasted like, but now I remember.  Yum! It will open up in a couple of years but the silk texture was just right for this moment.  It was delightful.

Other quick unrelated notes: I am going to miss the crustless white bread.  Pair that with a slice of cheese, butter, then bread, ham, more butter and another piece of bread.  A quick delicious empty carb meal.

But for now, we are prepping for the Final Four games.  Snack list ready for prep, beer purchased, internet activated.  Good day Saturday!

Biopic review of travels across the globe