Tag Archives: Wine

Argentina (steak) Round-up & Budget

Five days in Argentina is nowhere near enough. But it certainly was wnough to stuff myself with steak, drown myself in red wine, and clog my arteries with dulce de leche.

For if my little jaunt through Argentina on my way from Bolivia to Santiago was about one thing, it was food and drink. Boy do the Argentinians know to how to live. I managed to eat steak in some form or another every day I was there – and they were some of the finest steaks of my entire life. On the first night in Salta, I went out with Jade & D’Arcy, who I´d met on the Salar de Uyuni trip, and we treated ourselves to a Parillada, the classic Argentinian mixed grill, which consisted of two different cuts of steak, two types of chorizo, chicken, pork, kidneys, black pudding and some other unidentifiable (but still delicious) offal. The next day’s lunch saw the best steak sandwich of my life, and the following night’s bus a more than passable steak dinner (which was far better than any airline meat I’ve ever had). My first night in Mendoza I had the best steak of my life – a chateaubriand that was practically the size of my head, perfectly tender, perfectly cooked, nice and brown on the outside and perfectly pink and just bloody enough on the inside. And all for less than $10. My final night, in the marvellous hostel Lao, we had the best hostel dinner I´ve had, with the whole hostel sat round a huge table working our way through a fantastic barbecue and (unusually enough for Argentina) an equally terific salad…

…which gets me onto something I wondered the whole time I was there. How on erath are all Argentinians not fat, or dead of heart disease by the age of thirty? When you order a steak in a restaurant there, that´s what you get. A steak. On its own. Side orders are available, but most people seem to content themselves with chips at best. And then polish it all off with lots of red wine, and probably some dulce de leche (the classically Argentinian gooey caramel) for dessert. Lovely for a few days, but I’m sure if I had the diet I did for much more than five days I´d be dead pretty damn soon. Maybe vegetables are a dirty little secret that people only consume in the privacy of their own home? Answers on a postcard please (or the comments box if you can’t be bothered).

The wines were all pretty fantastic too. I’m not a huge wine drinker back home, but being in the home of Argentina’s finest reds, I couldn’t not try them – and they were all great. I think I must have somehow picked up a certain European snobbery about the Malbec grape (the most common in Argentina) because I’ve never really drunk much before, but I’m a convert now. Sorry to any family reading this – I had planned to ship a case home for you all for Christmas, until I saw it came to $150 just for the shipping. Ouch.

Those five days were wonderful (other than a few struggles to understand the Argentinian accent) and the country is now even more firmly on my list of places to visit after this trip – I have heard so many good things about Buenos Aires while travelling, and Patagonia is up the top of my future hiking plans.

In terms of costs, two things conspired to wreck my daily budget – all that good steak and fine wine meant my food & drink spend was near the highest so far, and that 19 hour luxury bus trip (in all fairness, it was my longest bus ride to date, so I figured it was worth treating myself) meant transport costs were easily my highest yet – nearly double the next highest country.
Transport: $20.40
Accommodation: $7.50
Activities: $3.75
Misc: $0.75
Steak & Wine: $21.10
Total: $53.50

A briefer than usual round-ip of the other numbers:
Buses: 2
Car s: 1
Bikes: 1
Taxi: 4
Postcards: 2
Cash withdrawals: 3
Wineries: 5
Cows eaten: several

..and finally the people I wined & dined with. This is the first country since Mexico where the natives have made up the largest group of people I met, and also the first since Mexico where Brits or Americans weren’t number one, thanks to the large and very friendly Irish contingent I met in Mendoza.
Argentinians: 7
Irish: 4
Dutch: 2
UK: 2
US: 1

Next, and final stop in Latin America, a return to Chile.

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Wobbly Wine-tasting in Mendoza

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.

San Francisco de Salta, by mtchm @ Flickr

San Francisco de Salta, by mtchm @ Flickr

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.

Mendoz vineyards & the Andes by Ecofotos - Adilson Moralez @ Flickr

Mendoz vineyards & the Andes by Ecofotos - Adilson Moralez @ Flickr

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!

Seeing as I had no camera for my Argentinian trip, you can see more of other people’s photos of these two beautiful cities at Flickr – click here for Salta & here for Mendoza.