After the camera-death incident, Salta did nothing to improve my mood. After warm, sunny San Pedro, I arrived in Salat to find it in the grip of the coldest spring they’d had for 60 years, with even daytime temperatures barely rising above five degrees (oh, and it was cloudy and raining too). The local camera shop told me that repairing my camera was out of their league and I’d need a proper Canon repair centre (which in my case meant waiting til Santiago). So I was well miffed, and feeling a bit sulky, all plams to visit the stunning nearby canyons went out of the window, and instead I booked myself onto a night bus to Mendoza for the following day.
I thought treating myself to the rather deluxe full cama service (near fully-recling seat, free steak, wine & champagne included) would be a good idea, and so it seemed at first, as I had my best ever night’s sleep on a night bus. So good in fact, that I was still fast asleep when we arrived in Mendoza, and leapt off the bus in a hurry while still half asleep – managing to leave behind my only jacket (which had been draped over my legs) in the process. So in the space of just three days, I’d managed to break my most valuable item, and lose the third most expensive. Financial worries aside, that also meant I’d managed to lose both my wind & rain protection and my main warm layer (my fleece) in the space of just two weeks. Considering I never, ever lose things back home, I was beginning to worry what was happening to my mind.
Still, despite my foul mood on arrival, Mendoza refused to let me sulk any more. The good stuff began with me finding myself in one of the nicest hostels I’ve been to in six months (the Hostel Lao – pretty perfect in every way). That was soon followed by the best steak of my entire life at a restaurant recommended to me by the hostel. And then, best of all, was the cycle tour of the local wineries.
This was yet another attraction that I’d heard about many a time from other travellers, and boy was it fun. Starting off in the hostel at 9am, we were dropped off by the tour company in the nearby wine village of Chacras, given bikes, a map, and a timetable – and then we were left on our own.
So we spent the day navigating our way from winery to winery, tasting a fine selection of wines along the way, in most cases for just a couple of dollars, and in some cases, for no charge at all. I really can’t think of a much more civilised way to spend a day then to be gently cycling around (all on the flat, thank god) a pretty little village with a stunning view of the Andes in the background, tasting some of the finest wines in South America along the way.
We managed to make it through five wineries (and god knows how many glasses) over the course of the day, and by the end of it we’d had just enough to make us ever-so-slightly wobbly but nowhere near as drunk as I’d feared (I’d heard stories of other cycle tourists having to be given a police escort back). All the wines were pretty damn good, but if I had to pick some out I’d definitely go for the wines of Lagarde, which were some of the nicest reds I’ve ever had (although we were tasting some of the pricier ones, thanks to us arriving at the same time as a much bigger group of rich Americans). The Weinert & Altavista ones were pretty impressive too, and the tours themselves in both places were the best we had. I shall be looking out for all of the above when I get home.
As if the day couldn’t have got any better, we arrived back at the hostel in time for the hostel barbecue – and yet more delicious steak. Thank you Mendoza, you really know how to cheer a boy up!