Monday, January 23, 2006

Dozing in Mendoza

Oh don´t you love those little headlines... no, oh well. Mik (Koala), Dave (Dangerous Dingo), Chris (Arnie to most) and myself rocked up and over the Andes and onto the verdant wine growing plains of Mendoza. I realise now that on arrival we were all a bit spent after being on the road almost constantly since La Paz. It was time to take it easy and that we did.

We spent a whole week lazing about the Hostel Andino - sleeping, catching rays by the pool, playing table tennis, sitting under the trees, or preparing for the long hot evenings with a few bottles of Heineken or red wine. Just what I needed!

Initially the environment did not settle well with me. The existence of a few pretty girls by a pool and a lot of testosterone pumped guys trying it on with them can cause an environment not too dissimilar to school. Now this may sound strange coming from me having spend my school days in a largely single sex environment, but the reality of little cleaks uncomfortable with new people is the same. In fact for the Claire´s, Erica´s, Mike´s and Rachel´s of the world who did the GDL with me, the feeling of the two sided room was remarkably similar.

As the days went by the place became more and more comfortable and less and less cleaky until by the end we had to force ourselves to leave. Such people as the Irish boys, Helen and Adam, and the clan of Matt, Joe et al. at the end made the stay very enjoyable indeed. I also think it takes time to wind down to the speed of such a relaxed environment and believe me, by the end I was severely chilled out even for me - quite a scary prospect. An opportunity, as I increasingly like to say, to let the mind breath and ponder the issues and imponderables life faces us with.

We did actually leave the hostel roughly once a day to do something and some of these things are worthy of note. Firstly River Surfing. For many the idea of going down white water rapids not on a raft but on a body-board may sound crazy and somewhat stupid - and it is. The fact that we did it having not slept the night before did not help either. The 15 minutes we were on the river (within an 8 hour excursion grrr) were exciting. The guide was useless, which meant we were individually hurtling down a river urged on by the melting snows of the season trying to guess where on earth to go. Quite a buzz. Suddenly you see a big rock straight ahead and you kick for all your worth to get the hell out of the way but the water is pushing you towards it..ahh.. etc..etc. In the end only Dave got a bit crashed up, but he is used to a good whitey after three seasons on the snow.

I understand that elsewhere this activity can be a lot more thrilling and I shall seek out such places.

Along with 20 odd other backpackers (disaster) we undertook a full day wine tour. This involved some pretty average explanation from a large winery, a charming one from a French couple setting up a small vineyard and a bit more about harder stuff. What the day was all about was the meal that followed. A wonderful platter of Argentinian food that beat us all. How ever much of the lovely stuff we ate more more was brought out. At least equally importantly the serving of wine was just as generous. Being British and all, I and others did our very best to test whether the "all you can drink" red wine tag was accurate - it was!! Better still the wine was more than reasonable and as you can imagine a very messy afternoon and night ensued.. say no more say no more.

Apart from this a few afternoons were spent wandering around the delightful streets of Mendoza. Despite being nowhere near the sea I thought it had a very Mediterranean feel. The atmosphere was relaxed, the sun hot and dry and the people smiley. Long grown trees shade the streets and numerous cafe´s serving cold beer, steak and good wine sprawl onto the pavements and beyond. Add to this delightful plazas and beautiful people and you have a place to return to.

A final happening more than worthy of mention is the departure of Arnie. On and off but mostly on, we have travelled with the big German since early December and it has been a pleasure. We have been white-water rafting, completed the Inca Trail, fished for Piranhas in the Pampas, climbed ridges in the Amazon Silva, partied in La Paz, Santiago, San Pedro and many other places and in all in all had a bloody great time. The four of us went out for a delightful meal accompanied by a few good bottles of Mendoza wine to celebrate his departure onwards to Mexico within the week.

Luckily the boy is moving to Notting Hill so I am certain I will see more of him on my return to Blighty if I ever get a free moment from the grindstone.

And that was Mendoza - onwards to Patagonia to be active, or so we planned!!
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