We rolled in to Mendoza like we had almost every other big city on the trip, in need of a few auto parts and maintenance; in particular a new car battery. The past couple weeks of traveling with Home on the Highway, who was also (and still is) in dire need of a new car battery had been an amusing parade of trading jumps. It was only by pure luck that not both of our batteries died in the middle of the desert.
Rolling in to Mendoza on a Thursday right before a big holiday weekend was not the best plan. We spent two nights at a campground outside of town, just enough time to find out everything was closing until the following Tuesday.
In the past when I had heard tales of Mendoza, it was of massive snow covered mountains and ripe green vineyards as far as the eye can see, and while both of these features do exist in the outskirts, the city itself is set where the long expanse of desert to the northeast rolls in to the foothills of the mountains; a locale that seems to suck in all the desert heat, mix it with some mountain moisture and sit there with it like a simmering pot. It was hot!
With nothing getting done until Wednesday and to escape the heat we rallied the troops; and in troops I mean the makings of our self proclaimed “Team America”, including Jed and I, Home on the Highway and Capitol Southbound, new friends whom we picked up in the Mendoza campground; and headed southwest in to the nearby mountains.
In the canyon of Arenalles we found the cooler weather we were looking for. In fact it was freezing and raining, but you can’t always win, and we came to find out that though the nights were cold, the days were a perfect 70 F. We also found some of the great rock climbing we had been looking for. We spent the first day playing around on the fun sport routes and providing some rides on top rope.
The second day Jed and I climbed a really great 6 pitch route to the top of the wall that provided a little bit of everything; splitter cracks, scary run-out traverses, chimneys, crimpy face moves. It was a good feeling to get off the ground again.
During the cold evenings we would gather around a campfire and gorge ourselves on crackers and cheese and Capitol Southbound’s perfected bruchetta while we waited for our grilled veggies and steaks to be ready. We had gone a little overboard with roasting veggies one night, when some Argentineans stopped by and were perplexed that we would take up all our grill space with such things as vegetables. James, who had been trying almost nightly for weeks now to learn the art of the Argentinean grilled steak, was shamed.
After two great days of feeling good being back in the mountains, we decided to dedicate our Tuesday afternoon to one of the recommended wineries close by. So we put on our finest attire, tried to present ourselves as if we had showered sometime in the last week and headed down to the valley.
The Salentein winery was beautiful and we had a great tour by a 22 year old American tour guide, who told us he had moved to Argentina on his own 8 years ago. Yes, that would be 14 years old! He was an interesting guy to say the least and we quickly made friends with him. Henceforth, the free wine kept coming. Suddenly, or a couple hours later, we were told the winery was closing. Our new friend\guide was leaving, possibly in a bit of trouble, and we needed to leave as well. Solely to make amends we decided a few bottles of wine, or 13, should be purchased.
Now the dilemma of all being a little intoxicated and still needing to find a place to stay for night was coming in to light. Luckily while the women sat at the bar solving all life’s important problems like needing more skirts with pockets, the men had been outside making friends with a local who happened to own a pear farm nearby. He extended the offer for us to come and camp there for the night. There’s rumor the exchange of an excited cheek-to-cheek man kiss and that was it. The offer was accepted.
“We’ll follow you”, we tell our new Fidel Castro look-a-like friend, Negro. Excited we all pile in to our cars. “Ok, we are ready”
“Oh, wait. Home on the Highway needs a jump”
“Ok, now we are ready”
We drive down the road where Negro quickly runs in to a little tienda for couple items. In and out.
“Just a little bit further”, says Negro.
“Ok, let’s go”
“Um, wait we need a jump now”
Finally we arrive. If Negro and his girlfriend are already regretting asking us over they are doing a great job of hiding it. A few more bottles of wine are opened and a parilla (grill) is lit up. The majority of the rest of the night is spent drinking wine and eating expertly cooked steaks. The other portion of the night was spent trying to sleep through the chorus of howling hunting dogs we parked next to. Apparently, they usually get picked up to go hunting in a truck that looks like ours, and so in excited anticipation of a hunt that would never happen they barked and howled the night away.
The next couple days consisted of navigating the maze of streets that make up Mendoza in search of a new front axle seal, car battery and a passenger side window.
As we spent the days, we grew to enjoy the shaded lively streets of the inner city and the numerous green parks scattered throughout, but once fixed up (all except the window, to which we officially gave up and fastened in the sheet of plastic to the mechanical controls) we could only hear the call of the south offering tall pine forests and crystal clear lakes.