Argentina: Pedaling to Mendoza’s Famous Vines

Chebaludo the finger puppet.
Chebaludo the finger puppet.

Wine Tasting on Bikes in Mendoza

By Luke Armstrong

Mendoza City and Province

Wide open Mendoza, Argentina. Luke Armstrong photos.
Wide open Mendoza, Argentina. Luke Armstrong photos.

Most people don’t think that The Tour de France, which has been going strong since 1903, could not be drastically improved upon. But imagine if the Tour de France had mandatory wine tastings along the way? Imagine the extra element of tension to the race when riders had downed their second bottle of merlot. In Mendoza, Argentina they have biking figured out: the bike routes are lined with wineries where bike-wine enthusiasts can take dozens of tasting stops along the way. Bikers, winos and alcoholics can all find some common ground here.

Pupetteers
Puppeteers When Finger puppets join the Merry Mendoza Crew

Mendoza, Argentina, is the the capital city of the Mendoza Province. Realizing that it was both a city AND a province would have solved a lot of confusion if I had known this when I was there. I blame the wine. From Santiago, Chile, it is a half-day bus ride through the Andes. Don’t tell the President I told you, but Mendoza is a great weekend getaway if your 90-day Chilean tourist visa is in need of a recharge.

In guidebook talk, the city of Mendoza offers vibrant nightlife, internationally-suited accommodations, museums, cultural and active diversions, and a wide range of restaurants and three national parks just a day away. Delicious steaks and flowing wine at premium prices for the budget traveler makes it a good gastric go. Mendoza’s craft market plaza hosts a wide range of local textiles and must-have trinkets. It also has street vendors selling finger puppets.

Several years ago I traveled to Mendoza with two friends. For the sake of this article, we will refer to these friends as “Overly-self-conscious” and “Drunk-and-invincible.”

Our first night in Mendoza was when “Drunk-and-invincible” and I made the greatest purchase of our young lives: finger puppets. That’s when Si Po and Cheboludo joined our merry crew (you can find both on Facebook). Delighted or annoyed, depending on whom you ask. For the rest of the night scenarios like this played out:

Cheboludo is on “Drunk-and-Invincible’s” finger, feeding steak to street dogs while yelling at them about the goodness of Argentinean steak. “Overly self-conscious” is mumbling something about how we are being stereotypical Gringos. I doubt this. I can’t imagine Gringos behaving like this often…

From the beginning, “Overly-self-conscious” did not like the puppets. If confronted about her uncharitable demeanor, “Overly-self-conscious” would argue that the puppets constant drinking and talking to dogs and store venders in a Sesame-Street-falsetto led to her disdain for them. “Drunk-and-invincible” thought that her adverse reaction pointed to something bad that happened in her childhood involving finger puppets, a cigar cutter and abuse.

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Taking a Wine Tour

Wine Tours in Mendoza Province: Bad Spanish + Light Buzz = Free Wine Tasting = Embarrassed Friend

A lonely horse
A lonely horse
Street dogs in Argentina.
Street dogs in Argentina.

From Mendoza city you can branch out to the vineyard-filled countryside for scenic wine tours. You can rent a car and drive to them or take a bus there and rent bikes.

The Maipu region offers distant vistas of the Andes and plenty of vineyards with historical origins with tour guides waiting to tell you the tale. For a small fee tours in English, French and Spanish explain how wine goes from grapes to the bottle to your blackout.

In some places the price of the tour includes a tasting. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all tours include a tasting. Shaky Spanish and me being several tastings deep, caused quite a confusion at the fifth vineyard we stopped at.

From my side of the bar, everyone was having a jolly time. We had just received a great vineyard tour it was time for the tasting to begin. There were a dozen bottles of wine, and one by one I asked to taste each.

“Overly-self-conscious”, who had anxiously withdrawn from what became my private tasting, later informed me that a tasting was NOT included with the tour and helped me paint a picture of what it looked like to the Argentinean working the other side of the tasting table:

The gringo finishes his tour. He is loud. I wish him to leave. I don’t like his laugh. He is drunk. I don’t like that he often speaks through the finger puppet on his finger. Oh no, he approaches again!

He points to a bottle of wine and demands a taste. It is my duty to protect this wine. I could lose my job. But he does not give up. He keeps pointing and yelling words that he thinks are Spanish. He will not give up. I will give him this one last taste gratis and hope that he will then leave me alone.

Oh no, he is speaking through the finger puppet again! His two friends are ashamed of him. They have withdrawn. He is trying to speak to me in loud Argentinean slang he must have learned in a guidebook from the 80′s. Only my grandma uses words like, Macanudo.

He wants more and more. I have already given him three tastes and he just keeps pointing to more bottles, always demanding, always wanting more. He will never be sated. I will lose my job. I should have listened to my mother and become a veterinarian, with the animals, away from people — peaceful, happy.

When the Bikes Begin Falling Over

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When “Drunk-and-Invincible” became vincible and her bike started to fall over with ever more regularity, it was time to call it a day. Filled with wine and exercise, we boarded a bus to return to Mendoza, but not before “Drunk-and-invincible” covered her face with ice-cream to the dismay of “Overly-Self-Conscious.”

When the dust of the day had settled, steaks that seemed too delicious for the price put a cork on the day. The finger puppets rested, and the rustic, but real experience had won Mendoza three more fans, five counting the finger puppets. Buenos Aires will always attract the Gringos en masse, but for those wanting to go to Argentina´s Old West-feeling Andean valley, with places to bike to and bottles to drink, Mendoza can hook you up.

Two sites to help you rent your bikes and plan your wine tour extravaganza:
www.maipucunadelvino.com
www.delegation.ca/rentalbikes

After finishing degrees in philosophy and English abroad at La Catolica Pontificia University of Valparaiso, Luke Armstrong did what any financially oblivious recent grad would do: took out a large student loan and planned to backpack from Chile to Alaska. He ended up stopping in Guatemala where he spent four years as director of the social services programs of the educational development organization Nuestros Ahijados. He is a contributor to the online travel magazine, The Expeditioner, editor of the art and humor site Rabble Rabble Rouse The World, author of iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About and How We Are Human.

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