The next stop after Santiago was Mendoza, so we took ourselves off to the Bus Terminal after a great week in Chile. Its strange really, we're using Argentina as the conduit for all our visits to Chile. Jumping to Torres del Paine from El Calafate; dipping in and out of Santiago; and later we think we'll head across to San Pedro de Atacama from the Salta province in the North.
The bus ride took us up and over the Andes, with clear blue skies we saw the full scale of the range that stretches across a continent. We also got our first glance of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere.
We didn't know what to expect in Mendoza, so we a bit surprised to find a young and bustling city with nowhere near the level of Spanish colonial architecture that we had come to expect in Latin American cities.
A famous wine region, mostly for its Malbec, so we took bikes out to the Lujan de Cuyo region south of the city. Here we visited two Bodegas. Carmelo Patti runs a small bodega that is the epitome of no-frills. Senor Patti himself still bottles and labels by hand after decades in the winemaking industry. Their wines have a cult following, which could be as much to do with their scarcity as their excellence.
Lagarde was an altogether more polished setup, producing one million litres annually. While this is much lower than the big producers, it elevates them into the next division shall we say. Their tasting was more structured and the surroundings much more what you would expect of a cellar-door. The wines here appealed to us much more and we bought a 100% Champenoise-style Sparkling Pinot Noir. It had a distinctive golden colour and lots of little bubbles. Our wine knowledge basically stretches as far as, "do we like it?" More often than not for me, appreciating your surroundings and the moment you are sharing with those around you is more important than what is in the glass. For this reason it was impossible not to love Mendoza.
Another day was spent visiting the Termas de Cachueta. The hot springs here were first discovered when a trans-Andean railway was built up the valley. A station was built and the springs boomed until a glacial flood all but destroyed the complex.
The new baths are much more of a family affair, with communal asados (barbeques) and loads of different heated pools fed by the natural springs. We had got the public bus for one hour that morning and thought it was strangely busy, before we remembered that it is prime school holiday time. The atmosphere in the baths as a result was chaotic, but we loved every minute. Our white skin helping us start a conversation in every pool.