Buenos tardes from the heart and soul of the Mendoza, Argentina – Wine country! We’re continuing to slowly make our way across the country enjoying cafes, wine and seemingly endless amounts of empanadas. In fact, I believe we’ve eaten at least one empanada every day since we arrived. It is with a great reluctance that I have to admit that each individual empanada has been tastier and more satisfying than those found in Empanada Mama– my beloved NYC lunch spot. (Sorry to break the news, former WebMD colleagues.)
Brooke, who most certainly has earned her merit badge in securing wonderful accommodations for us throughout this trip, booked a stay for us at the Tikay Killay Lodge in the Maipu area of Mendoza. When you think about a wine country visit, Maipu may not fit the traditional vision. This area is loaded with beautiful and sensational wineries including a few that date back to the late 19th century, however the region is served by just a single main road. Large trucks stacked with pallets of wine bottles rumble down the road beside modern sedans and beat up 1960s American junkers as they all cruise past a background of expansive vineyards and olive tree groves. Aside from the accommodations, activities and food offered by the wineries and related stores, there is not much else in this quiet part of Argentina. All of that suits me just fine. It’s a nice, easy going, relaxing place with sensational late spring weather. The combination of a dry, arid climate, a dose of steady wind and water supplied by mountain ice melt and delivered in a complex aqueduct system makes for ideal conditions for growing grapes, olives and more. Apparently, everyone here was surprised to discover just how well some grapes perform in this unique climate.
Unique wine country makes for unique hotels. Tikay Killa Lodge is made up of only four rooms plus a central building. Situated about a mile long walk or bike ride from the main road, it’s a fairly isolated location. A nice outdoor area surrounds the buildings and behind the rooms we found a large back yard that doubles as a refuge for busy gophers. During our stay, each room has been booked by like-minded travelers from Australia and Great Brittain who are just as eager as we area to explore the area. The vibe here it makes it easy to make new friends over afternoon conversations in the courtyard or while splitting the deliciousness of the “day’s catch” of bottle purchases from the local vineyards. Elena, the do-it-all innkeeper, has been a wealth of information and does a fantastic job of taking care of everything. From making breakfast to helping book tours and bikes, someone like her is a mandatory asset since it is really easy to get lost and confused in your plans. Plus, the lodge comes complete with the world’s most friendly dog. I’m pretty sure that Suki is the luckiest dog on earth– he has new strangers petting and playing with him daily.
While there is certainly a visible number of visitors in the area – they are easy to spot riding from winery to winery on rented bikes and helmets – it would be a stretch to call Maipu a top tourist destination. This region is among those where we’ve encountered the least amount of English spoken. Lucky for us, we speak just enough Spanish to order cheese at the grocery stores and ask for directions to the next winery. And for every seven wineries you pass, only one has opened their doors to visitors for tastings and tours. That still leaves plenty of wineries to go around with more and more buildings sprouting up to match the Mendoza wine region’s recent boom of international popularity from Malbec and other varietals of wines. Given our propensity to visit capital and metropolitan areas, Maipu is one of the more rural and remote areas we’ve visited on this trip.
As we get closer to reaching the end of our trip, people often ask how we’re feeling about that. For me, that answer is mostly sad. There are a lot of elements about this trip I’m going to miss. But I’m also looking forward to basic tasks becoming a bit easier. Our biggest challenge in Maipu has been trying to find a place- any place! – to eat dinner. It wasn’t until about 8:30 PM last night that it dawned on us that finding food might be a real challenge. Our innkeeper was out and there isn’t exactly delivery around here. After a long walk to the main road and discovering exactly one restaruant in walking distance, we decided to hop on a city bus bound for central Maipu and crossed our fingers for success. Before long, we found ourselves at a nice outdoor cafe on a city square enjoying food. On a trip around the world, simply securing a decent dinner can be the hardest part of the day. However, one thing we can be proud of is that even in our darkest moments, we’ve never had to resort to a KFC, Mickey D’s or Pizza Hut.
After dinner, we took a cab back to the hotel where we found the five other hotel guests sitting outside enjoying a drink and recounting the day. We joined them for what ended up being a long evening of conversation, guitar playing and fun spread out over several, several bottles of wine. We talked about everything from United States politics to everyone’s first and favorite concert. Brooke and I explained how citizenship works for residents of Washington, DC and we had our minds blown a bit when learned that everyone in the world calls the mark that ends a sentence a “full stop” and mocks Americans for referring to it as a period. But mostly we talked a lot about what travelers talk to one other about – traveling and our experiences in various places. After two days of stumbling through broken Spanish, exchanging in dept conversations with a group of Aussies and Brits was a pleasure. It was a great way to spend an evening that went long into the night. Good times, indeed. Some days on this trip can be exhausting, but they almost all usually end quite well. As always, we can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!