Creepy Hostel Owner and Vineyards, the Wine Capital of Argentina

Mendoza Travel Blog

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Saturday 27 December 2008

After an 8 hour bus ride, we arrived in Mendoza early in the morning. I was excited to finally hit cooler weather, although it was still quite warm, just not sticky hot. We weren’t sure where to stay for the night, so began our ritual of setting our packs down and trying to figure out our next plan of action. Instead of using my notes and Nick’s guidebook, we decided to try a hostel advertised by one of the guys walking around the bus station. It worked fine in Iguazu, and this guy spoke English. Our main concern was getting a place to store our bags while we climbed Aconcagua. Another draw was getting a “free shuttle” (aka taxi ride) to the hostel.


So when we arrived at the hostel, the owner and a traveler were seated down for breakfast. He told Nick and I he had to check to see if he had beds still available and offered us breakfast – I was glad for the breakfast, but was a bit wary that this was his way of drawing us in. We waited for awhile, until he said there was one bed available, and that in the evening, he’d pull out a cot in the middle of the room, provide a mattress and sheets and we’d be good to go. Ummm, discount???? No. Nick and I looked at each other.  Now we’re a taxi ride away from the bus station and they don’t have the number of beds we need? I was not in the mood to go find another place. We only planned on one night. So we stayed.


So we paid and waited until a bed was prepared. The place was nice enough despite its shortage of beds. Breakfast was better than your average hostel. It was more like a family home turned into a hostel.  There was a TV, a small pool that looked like it never was used, internet, and plenty of travelers. Our bunk room had 12 beds. There were a few other bunk rooms. Each with a bathroom and another computer for internet access.


Soon after I was shown my room, I was told by a Columbian girl that there was a camera in the shower. What?!? Yeah, apparently she had just arrived and some guys who had been here longer just gave her the news. I had been planning on taking a shower since I just spent the last couple of days in a bus.  Monica took one in her swimsuit, while I reflected on what to do.


The owner made sure to jump in the bathroom right before Monica went to shower. Oh, that didn’t look suspicious at all. I told Nick, and he loudly questioned right in front of the owner, “Why is there a camera in the shower?” Apparently, earlier some girls had found out and decided to get their money back and leave. What a sick, sick man. And this is a family business! He has two sons, one of which is like 10 years old! I was disgusted, but wanted to actually see Mendoza while we were here for one day, and not run around finding another hostel. So again, I decided to stay.  (Later that night there was a cord hanging down from the plants above the shower. The pervert detached the camera before I had a chance to get at it.)


Monica and her brother planned on biking on the winery tour after their showers. Since Nick was interested in that, we decided to go with them. I’m not that into wine, but hell, we were in Mendoza, the Argentinean wine capital, so it was a must see.  Monica and her brother were very friendly and it helped having native Spanish speakers with us. We navigated to the bus stop, then rode the far distance to Mr. Hugo’s bicycle rental. There, the Columbian siblings decided the bike rental was too expensive (it was overpriced, yet Mr. Hugo is the only rental place in town), so they opted to walk instead. Since it was already 2pm, we only had a few hours to see the extensive route before the wineries closed at 6pm, so Nick and I stuck with bikes.


Our first stop was the chocolate factory. We placed our bikes along the racks with all the others and asked for a tour. The guide spoke very little English – just enough to get by. The tour was pretty miserable. We went into a room and were shown the kitchen behind a glass window. Then the guide basically just named off all the different products they sold – liqueurs, jams, and spreads.


The tasting, on the other hand, was very thorough. We were first given a small bowl of different varieties of chocolate – nothing sensational, but chocolate is chocolate. Then we were able to choose one liqueur. I had the mint chocolate liqueur, which wasn’t incredible either, but was worth the taste.  Nick ordered absinthe, due to his fascination with drinks that have a method behind their madness. He was a bit displeased when they didn’t light the drink on fire. Thus, I learned the difference between fake absinthe and real absinthe. Next, we were given a sampling of the jams and spreads. The server had an abundance of tasting spoons and it seemed for once we could taste as many things as we pleased. My favorite was the jam made with chardonnay.


As we went to the store area to make our purchases, we inquired about other products that weren’t included in the sampling. As we spoke in broken Spanish, trying to figure out differences from one product to another, they offered for us to taste them. So for the longest time we continued taste testing and swapping Spanish/English phrases.


Next stop was an actual winery. Being a city girl, I kept misinterpreting the distances on our map. As we poked around unsure of where we were in relation to the winery, a tourist policeman, came by on his motorcycle and led us most of the way. Nick was pretty pissed because for this leg I swapped my crappy bike for his good one. But I switched them back with a couple km left to go, and again, we lost our way to the winery. Again, getting lost was my fault, since we passed the sign saying “Don’t go this way,” which completely baffled me. Who would write a sign like that??? Why not, “turn here”  I was not alone in this mistake, since three Canadians also overshot the place. So we ended up taste testng some wine with them.


I learned that I much prefer the younger, fruitier wines. This is a plus for me, since they are cheaper. They don’t have to age, and therefore, don’t take as long to make. We didn’t go on a tour at the winery since we were running short on time, but we were given a short speech on the different types of wines offered and tried a couple before moving on.


Our next stop was the olive oil factory.  Although this was the furthest down the route, we found it quite easily. At this point, I paid attention to the tourist signs that said “Don’t go this way.”  So a few turns later and a pleasant bike down  a beautiful tree arched road and we arrived with an hour to spare. This tour was the best one yet.  At first we were told that we’d have to take a Spanish-speaking tour since no one else was seeking an English speaking tour.  Then, luckily, 3 more English speakers showed up from a tour bus.


First, we stood under and olive tree and given an explanation of olives and their growing process.  All parts of the olive are used. The pits are used to feed the fire, the water is drained from the olive and used to water the fields. Then, we were shown the “olive oil museum,” which used to be where the olive oil was made back in the day, but was phased out. In the adjoining two rooms, we were shown the present day machinery and given a thorough explanation of the process of olive oil making. Finally, we walked back into the shop to taste some olive oil with sun-dried tomatoes. Yummy.


By the time Nick and I were finished, I believe it was 6pm, the time all the wineries and factories close. However, there was a winery across that street and we thought, may as well give it a try.  As we walked in, a bell rung, and I thought it was the closing time bell. Then, a young lady came out and asked if we wanted a tour. Yes, definitely, we piped.


The guide spoke amazingly good English. We were to have the best tour of the day. She explained to us the history behind this French winery and its “retired” owners. Then, we were shown the machinery used to create the wine, and of course given an explanation of the process. At a small little table sat a selection of the wines produced at the winery. The Frenchmen have a fascination with astrology, so the bottles are labeled with constellations as well as the sections in the vineyard having different astrological names. Then, our guide asked if we wanted to see the cellar area where all the barrels are stored. Here, we learned an amazing bit of info on how the French oak barrels were shipped at a high expense (about 900 Euros each) from overseas, were used a few times, then re-sold at a very low rate (a few dollars). More wine would have to be added to the barrels on a weekly basis, since the oak would soak up the wine.  The older wines would sit in the barrels for up to 8 months. The youngest barrels don’t even sit in the barrels.


Inside the shop we were given a tasting of the different types of wines. Nick asked his plethora of questions and we kept complimenting our guide on her amazing English-speaking skills. Although I’m more of a fan of red wines, my favorite was the only white wine produced by the winery.


It was past 7pm when we left, and Nick and I were probably the only tourists still rolling around on Mr. Hugo’s bikes. Then who comes up behind us --- it’s the tourist policeman from before.  Our leisurely and enjoyable bike ride had come to an end at his arrival. He insisted on escorting us since “It’s dangerous biking on the road with the trucks passing by.” That’s how much I understood from his long drawn out Spanish explanation. With a female police officer in tote, he slowed his pace to ours and continued the escort service. At first it was funny, then annoying. Nick slowed his pace down even more, attempting to get them to leave, but I knew this wouldn’t work. I pined for a sidewalk to ride on, and finally, there was a gravel walkway that we could manage to bike on. It was more unconvenient to ride on, but got the officers off our backs. Dozens of bikers were on the road each day. Why were we the ones getting escorted????


We ditched our bikes at Mr. Hugo’s and rode a bus back to the city. Then we booked bus tickets for the morning and walked back to the hostel.   There, we snatched some free dinner, but found out some bad news. For some reason, I had thought that we’d get our trekking permits at Puente del Inca. (Only available during the low season.) We were told by two hopeful Aconcagua summiters and the hostel owner, that the permit office wouldn’t be open the next day (Sunday).

Crap! I did not want eat a day after already being behind schedule. And we had just booked our bus tickets! I looked over my notes, and they verified that we did have to get our permits in Mendoza.  I had been feeling sick and tired and didn’t want to deal with the situation, so I left the problem solving to Nick.


I fell asleep in our one bed and sometime later Nick woke me up and said the office was open at 9, and we could get our permits then. Our bus left at 10, so I didn’t think this was enough time to get the permits and make our bus, and on top of that we didn’t have any food rations for our hike,  so in my half-conscious state, I still thought our plan was to eat the day….At 5am, Nick came back from a night on the town with the Columbian siblings and jumped into the bed with me (the owner had never set up Nick’s cot). Excitedly, he told me he had destructed the cables to the bathroom camera. “Thank you,” I mumbled, and crushed myself against the wall.

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photo by: montecarlostar