Thursday, October 22, 2009
(old) Don’t drink and bike.
Back in the years I now lovingly call my misspent youth, I used to ride my bike everywhere. To university (when I went), to the club (when I left), around Ottawa, around Toronto. And after dark that often involved riding my bike (with helmet) down side streets with more than a couple of drinks in me. My clubbing days are way behind (by choice) me and so are my cycling days (by bike thievery). But today was a chance to relive those halcyon days of drinking and biking and see if they were just as rose coloured as I remembered. Adrian and I had signed up to do the bikesnwines™ tour of the Mendoza wineries.
Over our free breakfast of corn flakes, medialunas, coffee and juice, I checked my email and saw that Jillian and Dan had replied but the best I could do was suggest a random winery and random time to meet up. Then I sent my sister a happy birthday email. Then it was off to raise a glass or two in her honour at those wineries. We were picked up and dropped off in Maipu at the bikesnwines office where there was a large group already waiting. We were given maps of the area and a briefing about some of the highlights including where we might get some food on the way. Then it was time to grab a bike. They were all yellow but not equal, except for all being equally in bad shape. But eventually Adrian and I both found bikes we could peddle and headed out down the road. Initially there were bike paths at the side of the road but once we left the town the road became smaller and the bike paths disappeared. Neither of our bikes was a particularly easy ride so rather than heading out to the furthest winery we had picked out we ended up at the closest one.
The closest winery also ended up being one of the original ones. La Rural was also a museum. Amongst the industrial and modern vats and distilling equipment were the original wine making instruments, old photos and documents from the winery’s centuries old history. My favourite room had to be the one full of giant oak vats full of aging wine. We took it all in (probably because we weren’t in a hurry to get back on the awful bikes) and then wandered over to the tasting area. For free we were given three half glasses of wine including a malbec. Now, I’m not a wine connoisseur but I’ll do my best. Malbec is an Argentinean varietal so I wanted to like it but can’t say I enjoyed it. It had an almost bitter taste to it. However, the others okay. I blamed this on the sample being free. After all we couldn’t expect them to give away the good stuff. With our free wine sampled we headed back to the bikes and peddled off stopping to watch a tanker pull in and up a one-wheel ramp so that the last bit of grape juice dribbled out of the tank.
We continued down the road. The cycling didn’t get easier but the view was pretty spectacular. Miles of vineyards in front and the snow-capped Andes in the back. After our first tasting I was already feeling my fake Asian flush* coming on (*after a drink, I have a minor allergic reaction to alcohol, however I am not Asian, hence my term fake Asian flush) and it was also midday so we decided to stop in at the Almacen del Sur deli that was mentioned during this morning’s briefing. We turned down a side road and soon reached the “deli”. It looked more like a french country estate and the on site gourmet deli full of organic spreads and tapanades. Delicious but wasn’t going to tide us over. Luckily they also had a café in their garden so we sat down, looked at the menu and immediately began drooling. There was a biker’s quick lunch but it was the tasting menu that we lingered on. $30 each for a huge spread of countless goodies and a bottle of wine. We hemmed and hawed about the splurge before common sense kicked in – we’d never get an opportunity to eat so well for so little, at least not on this trip. We ordered the tasting menu and undid our pants’ buttons in preparation (metaphorically speaking of course)
The food was delicious. The server kept bringing it out, explaining each dish as best she could in English. The first course was a selection of breads and spreads. Tapanade, arugula and pine nut, roasted eggplant, some soft cheese and a vegetable mix. Delish. Then there was the green salad, followed by 7 more dishes cheese and fish stuffed peppers, chicken wings, sauteed shrimp skewers, pork ribs, filo stuffed with lamb, and a potato cake. We were soon stuffed and good thing because we needed something to soak up the alcohol as we washed it all down with a bottle of chardonnay, passing on the malbec this time. But we weren’t finished. Dessert was apple crumble with custard and a coffee. All the food was grown on site and fresh and we enjoyed ever cent we spent. In fact we had so much food in us, the idea of getting back on the bikes wasn’t very alluring.
It was now past 2 (the random time I had suggested to Jillian and Danny that we meet at the random winery). But a glance at the map and it was obvious we were nowhere near the meeting spot. But since it was more than likely possible that they didn’t get the message I didn’t feel too bad about not being there. Instead we headed to the Tempus Alba winery. Only our second winery on our winery tour. As old and traditional as our first stop had been, this place was modern and shiny. Inside our first sight was a bottle of wine draped in the Canadian maple leaf. It had won some major prize at some Canadian wine show. We took it as a good sign and walked through. There was a self-guided walking tour explaining the fermentation process which led us from the vineyards to the restaurant and tasting area. We quickly turned over the food menu and reached for the wine tasting one. We chose to split the three wines for $7 menu. We skipped the Malbec and picked a Tempranillo (another local special), a Syrah and a fancy blend (photo above). The glasses were larger and so were the tastes. It was a good thing we were sharing. Especially when we left and were immediately followed by a motorcycle cop. I waited for the siren to go off and hoped we weren’t as drunk as we felt. I tried my hardest to keep the bike going straight and a decent speed. But sweat trickled down my back in nervous expectation. Back in Canada we’d definitely be arrested for drunk biking (actually, I don’t know if it’s an arrest or a ticket but I do know it’s illegal) but here in Argentina we were followed all the way to the next winery which just happened to be Trapiche, the one I had randomly suggested meeting the others at. Now safely off the bikes, I turned to take a look at the cop. He was now following another group of drunk cyclists in a slow-motion imitation of a cop chase. It was then that I noticed the “Turista” emblazoned on the side of his bike and the flashing light. His job wasn’t to arrest drunk bikers but to protect them from the other vehicles.
Having lost the fuzz on our trail we were finally able to relax. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) we weren’t able to relax with another glass or two of wine. The guide told us we had just missed the 4pm tour and the next didn’t begin until 5pm. Trapiche was Argentina’s largest winery. It looked like a big corporate monstrosity and evidently ran their even the tourist part of their business like a corporation. So we decided to bail and head to the liqueur and chocolate place marked on the map. We’d probably had enough wine by this point any way but you can never have too much chocolate. We had to wait here for a tour too. And after the rest of the day it was a bit more cottage industry than elegant winery. The chocolates were tasty and the liqueurs weren’t bad however we didn’t really need the hot dogs they served to go with it. It was now time to get back to the winesnbikes office. We were definitely a little tipsy because it was suddenly easy to peddle. But that didn’t stop us from having a few après drinks drinks back at the office. We didn’t need them but we started chatting with some of the other recently returned folks and suddenly found ourselves imbibing. After Adrian order and drank another large Quilmes, I cut him off and dragged him to the bus stop. He was definitely now drunk and was completely useless when the bus arrived and I needed to get bus fare from him. He handed me his wallet and went to sit down in one of the few available seats at the back. But there was a problem. I couldn’t pay my fare to the driver, only a machine. And the machine only took coins in a country where no uses or ever has coins. I asked around the bus and met nothing but blank stares. I turned back to the front and was greeted by Dan and Jillian, they were on their way back to town as well. I told them my predicament and they tried to help by breaking my bill into some smaller ones. But I still had no coins. No wonder drinking and biking is acceptable in these parts – it’s virtually impossible to pay for a bus fare. Luckily a stranger on the bus, stepped forward and swiped his pass card for us and I gave him the bills. Thank you, stranger.
With Adrian half passed out in the back of the bus, I stopped to chat to Dan and Jillian who were accompanied by their couchsurfing host Jessica. Somehow we ended up talking about Canadian politics which the two Americans knew more about than me thanks to some Canadian civil servant couchsurfing host they’d had in Mexico. I was put to shame – I only hope that Jessica wasn’t bored by all the North American political babble. But it helped to pass the time until we got back to Mendoza. It was dark when we all got off the bus. Adrian immediately ran across the busy street to pee in front of the rush hour crowd. He may have had no shame but I did especially when Jessica jokingly mentioned that these things don’t happen in Argentina. I tried to excuse his behaviour by saying that they were quite normal in Bolivia where we had just been for the last month. I quickly said my goodbyes to the gang and dragged drunk boy away from further embarrassment. Unfortunately, I dragged him three blocks before realizing we were walking in the opposite direction from our hostel. Ok so perhaps I was a little tipsy too. But the detour back to the hostel did take us past a little completo (hot dog) stand so I could get some more food into Adrian.
We stumbled back into the hostel and while Adrian immediately passed out, I began searching for our Santiago friends, Ivan and Catalina’s contact info. We were headed there next and it would be great to meet up with them for their offer of a city tour. I turned all our bags upside down but couldn’t find it. Just as we’d made contact with Dan and Jillian I’d lost contact with two others. Oh well. If you’re reading this Ivan and Catalina sorry for not ever emailing you but now you know why.