The best way to make friends is through shared experience. And the best shared experience usually involves alcohol.
It wasn’t easy leaving Buenos Aires. I spent nearly two weeks there, but the original incarnation of this trip called for a month. And I’m not sure that even a month would have been enough time to see and do all the things I wanted to.
The time came to continue on, so I dutifully boarded the bus bound westward and set off on the next leg of my journey.
Yesterday I arrived in Mendoza. It’s a change of a pace after the hustle of big city living. It’s also nice to see the Andes again. Santiago–my first stop–is just on the other side of the big mountains. It looks close on the map, but from the ground, looking up at the snow-capped peaks, Chile seems impossibly far away.
I arrived to empty streets and eerie quiet. I wondered if I’d made a mistake coming here. Was this really the place all the guidebooks recommended?
It turns out that Monday was a major holiday in remembrance of the liberator Jose de San Martin. The locals were all off celebrating in the mountains or something.
Mendoza is set in the foothills of the Andes. It doesn’t look or feel much like a big city. There is a large park featuring a hill with a monument to the Army of the Andes led by San Martin. Plaza Independencia is the central square, with a few smaller squares around it. There are electric buses and old streetcar tracks. Like most everywhere else in South America, there are many trees, but no leaves, though I’m starting to see buds appear.
Wine is the star attraction. The area around Mendoza is Argentina’s most famous wine producing region. My wine tour included an education on this point.
Malbec is a grape from France, so named for apparently leaving a bad taste in the mouth. Somehow, someone got the idea to bring this foul-tasting grape to Argentina and grow it here. A brilliant decision, in hindsight. The soil and climate are perfect for the malbec grape, and that is now the most popular variety of Argentine wine. I might call it the country’s signature drink.
I went on a tour bus that included stops at two vineyards and an olive oil maker (that is also big in this region). I met a Brit on a skiing trip and a Canadian on summer vacation. We connected over our shared knowledge of the English language, commiserated on the peculiarities of South America, and enjoyed some fine wines.
That’s all it takes to make new friends in a strange place.