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Mendoza: Argentina´s Second City....Or, Buenos Aires Lite

This week I'm in Mendoza, which is about a 14 hour bus ride west of Buenos Aires, or 1050 km. It's a great small city, population 100,000, and probably the second most visited place in Argentina after Buenos Aires. It's mostly known for being in the middle of wine country, but it's a great city in it's own right; clean, flat, manageable, and with a thriving night life.

The 14 hour busride sounds torturous, yes, but it's not as bad as it seems. The busses here, at least the company I took, give you a couple sandwiches and cookies when you board in BA. Not to mention a coffee machine that dispenses good coffee, and water, throughout the trip, for free. And they have these things that fold under your legs so you can stretch out. Not at all like the Greyhound-death I've experienced on many a trip from New York City to Pittsburgh. No, here they do it right. I was actually able to fall asleep for about six hours of the journey.

The trip took me across the belly of Argentina; a long, flat (and I mean FLAT) expanse of land covered with scrub brush. I saw a few small towns, and some cows, but not much else. And the highway was two lanes, one in each direction. Furthermore, our bus driver fancied himself some kind of professional stunt man, because he insisted on passing, especially when there was another vehicle coming in the other lane. I´ve got to hand it to the man: he did things with a four-ton bus most people couldn't do in a Ferrari. The busses here have two levels, and I was on the top, in the front, so I had a bird's eye view of this perpetual excitement.

About an hour after the sun came up, we hit a town called San Martin (damn near everything here is called San Martin, after the famous General who is like their George Washington), and I could see a huge cloud bluff in the distance. A few dozen kilometers later, I realized that cloud bluff was the foothills of the Andes mountain range. As I looked closer, I could see snow-capped peaks off in the distance. Let me tell you, seeing the Andes for the first time at 7:00am will put a lump in your throat...

A few stops aside, we got safely to Mendoza, and it's been a great experience since. I haven't even been here 36 hours but I've seen two wineries, an olive oil factory, a private distillery, and much of Mendoza's night life...well, mostly the inside of the casino at the local Hyatt.

This place is a great counterpoint to the insane bustle of Buenos Aires. The streets are wide and lined with trees; outdoor cafes abound; the breeze is cool and the sun is warm. It's autumn here, so the rustling of leaves is everywhere. I've walked around much of the city's downtown area. It's full of shops and seems like a very cosmopolitan city.

A few locals I've talked to have said, however, that they feel the city's cosmopolitan bent is bleaching out the local color. For example, Mendocinos have started saying "wine" at some restaurants and vineyards, instead of vino. Seems like a trivial thing, but some feel it is representative of a larger shift away from the culture that has made this place unique. "Here, you do not find the real Argentina," said one shop owner I talked to today. One local custom that has survived, however, is the somewhat inconvenient closing of most stores from noon to 5:00pm, kind of like siesta time. But even that, they say, is disappearing.

More and more international brands are taking up space where local stores used to be. The town's money is poured into the touristic, downtown area, while the immediate outskirts languish in poverty. As with most places here, there are two classes; the extremely wealthy, and the extremely poor. But this is not a concept that's particular to Mendoza, by any means.

The locals have also lamented to me the way the weather has changed over the past five years. For example, right now it is clear, hot, and breezey. From what I understand, April is not usually like this in Mendoza, or it wasn't until about five years ago. It used to be much cooler, they said. Now it stays hot all through the autumn until all of a sudden, in two weeks, it turns into winter.

But, not to leave you on a bad note, my time so far in Mendoza has been great. The weather has been perfect, and the people friendly. If you make it to Argentina, you can't skip this place. Although the shop owner said you can't find the real Argentina here, you can find real good Malbec for real cheap, and it is an utterly relaxed and scenic city.


G F Street said…
Now these are the areas you should be in..when i saw the pics of BA i though it was a bit drab and too metro for your trip...but this place is what i imagine for a trip to Argentina. But if you think about it it is the same everywhere..the outskirts and countrysides are the most tranquil and beautiful, while the city life has much more action. Maybe the blend of the two is where its at, i mean after all once you've been in the forest for a while you start to crave the city all over again. Lovely my just glad you weren't a part of that small summary on a news website on the bottom of the screen ("twenty die as bus in argentina hurls off of cliff")While the american reader shrugs it off and searches for some blurb about who won the devil rays vs. blue jays score..."poor savages" he is heard to mutter over his coffe and eggs over easy.
AuntD1 said…
Love your description of a counrty so foreign to me. Now that you're there I won't need Wikapedia. It makes me want to visit.
Is it difficult to get a work permit??

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