Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wining and biking in Mendoza Province

Vineyards and the Andes, Mendoza Province
Only three days have gone by since my last blog entry, and I already feel compelled to share more of my experiences down here in Mendoza Province. I am happily sitting at the dinner table of the Silver Cord B&B in a tiny excuse of a town called Las Vegas. The B&B serves dinner since there really aren't many options to choose from in a place that has no paved roads and is just a hop and a skip away from the snow-capped cordillera.
The Ritchey (lower left) is dwarfed by this hyper-real mural/grafitti

The ciclovia is lined with grafitti
The realism and execution of the murals is amazing
So, let's tell the story step-by-step, or mile after mile. On my second day in Mendoza the sun showed its face most of the day, and I decided that a long bike ride might be in order to make sure that the Ritchey was fully functional. After looking at the map I headed out the door direction Maipu, the town of wine-growing repute just south of Mendoza. It was Saturday, and traffic was less chaotic than the day before. Still, I was thrilled to happen across the Ciclovia Godoy Cruz, an old rail track that has been converted, rails-to-trails style, to a multifunction cycle- and jog/walk path. Mendocinos, as the locals are called, were out in full force, exercising or just pushing baby carts along. Few places in the US are going to be that busy with physically active people on a Saturday morning.
Trash collects just outside of the Trapiche winery

Not only does the ciclovia provide a nice break from automobile traffic, but it's also a graffiti artists' heaven. Sure, one sees graffiti all over the world, wherever there is an empty wall or a stalled railroad car. But what I saw here was positively artistic, of a high quality of imagery and execution, and it was a treat to ride by this outdoor museum. I'm surprised not to find mention of it in the tourist guides.
At the end of Saturday's ride I did a lap through the huge Parque San Martin 
Riding through Maipu was interesting but not something to die for. The town itself is not particularly attractive, even though the "downtown" area has some historic buildings. Many of the bodegas were closed, and the one or two that I entered greeted me with their figurative hand wide open for a $15 tasting fee. I started to understand why one-day guided excursions from Mendoza costing $100 include just two tastings. Not being really attracted to anything I decided to spend my money on some lunch pizza and a craft beer in a funky biergarten just down the road from mega-producer Trapiche, and that made for Saturday afternoon happiness.
Antares, a craft brewery that serves drinkable beer in downtown Mendoza
Not a bad dinner after the pizza in the afternoon
On Sunday morning it was time to leave the Hotel America and head for my next domicile, the Acequias B&B in Chacras de Coria, just about 20 kilometers away. Acequias is the local word for the ubiquitous irrigation canals that have created this oasis in the desert, the wine region around Mendoza. The early Indians developed this intricate system, and once the Spaniards arrived it was only expanded. Even outside the hotel there were irrigation gates that divvy up the water.
The Ritchey is ready to roll!
Irrigation canal gates in front of the Acequias B&B
The Acequias is quite centrally located :)
As it turned out, I happened to ride straight by the Acequias B&B on the way to my intermediate destination, the Bonfanti winery. Unfortunately I couldn't drop of my luggage since nobody was tending the place, and so I rode on, getting lost a few times thanks to tiny roads and few signs. But eventually I arrived at the Bodega Bonfanti. Now in fourth-generation (Italian) hands this is a small operation that has a tank capacity of less than 750 hectoliters. That's probably what Trapiche ships every three hours!

Our tour guide, a member of the Bonfanti family
I had called ahead of time to make sure that the winery would be open and had been told that guided tours would only be given in Spanish. When I rolled up a group of 15 or so visitors was just about ready to be guided inside the small production facility, and I barely had enough time to park the bike and join them. The tour, given by the youngest adult of the Bonfanti clan, was interesting and taught me a few new Spanish words. Now I know that roble is oak. Who would have thunk!
On the road to Potrerillos and beyond
After touring the small facility it was time to taste a lovely Chardonnay and two Malbecs, one from 2015 and the other from 2015. We learned how to swirl, sniff, and sip, and there were a few more spanish words that describe certain characteristics. Alas, one can't remember it all. Since the tour and the tasting were free I decided to spend the saved money on a nice bottle that later on I'd kill in the Acequias.

Calling the Acequias a B&B is stretching it a bit. Yes, there are beds (I ended up in one of eight bunks in a room that was for me alone, though), and yes, breakfast eventually materialized yesterday morning, but overall it was more of a backpacker's hostel than a quaint home-away-from-home. I didn't complain about the "shared" bathroom (really not much sharing but rather a climbing down th stairs and crossing the backyard to the outhouse) because Jonathan, the host, had accommodated my request to postpone my arrival by a day because of the huelga on Thursday. Overall, it was fairly clean, totally unluxurious, and definitely a throw-back to my youth.
One of the few places where a side road enter the main highway
It's a long, empty road ...
After one night I left the Acequias yesterday morning, heading southwest through Lujan del Cuyo toward the Andes. It didn't take very long before I caught the first glimpses of the cordillera in the far distance. Riding along vineyards, on bumpy roads lined by poplars and platane trees, the snow-covered Andes in the back and the yards' leaves turning reddish-brown--this was exactly what I had pictured when I had first thought about this trip. Iconic is probably the word to use here.

Lake Potretillos--or at least that's where it's located
After the first ten or so flat miles devoid of almost all traffic I finally reached the road, RN-7, that leads to Portrerillos, Uspallata, and finally Chile. It's a fairly wide, well-paved road that occasionally (in the climbing sections) branches out into four lanes, and the traffic is manageable, with lots of trucks taking goods to Chile. False flats and a steady, slight headwind started to reduce my speed, from 15 to 14 to 13 to 12 mph, and then the real climbing started. For the day, I climbed a bit more than 4,800 feet in 47 miles, which may not seem like much. But it was. Maybe I'm just getting really old, but it was a tough day; heck my average speed was less than 8 mph, quite likely a result of my having to walk several really steep unpaved pitches shortly before arriving at my destination for the next two nights.
Heading up into the valley toward Las Vegas, still 15 clicks away
Serpentine after serpentine, the views become more spectacular
But when facing such amazing scenery, plus tremendous sunshine and perfect temperatures in the low 70s, who cares? I know I was gong to make it, and I just took my sweet time. The gearing on the bike handled pretty much all ascents without a problem. My bailout gear is a 34/32, almost a 1:1 transmission, but I had to use it a few times, especially after turning off the main route and branching off into the valley that would eventually take me to Las Vegas.
The Rio Blanco comes straight from the mountains
The final 10 miles were a steady climb, until I topped out at about 6,400 feet and the asphalted road turned into dirt. After another 200 feet or so of elevation gain (involving more walking than riding) I had arrived at the Silver Cord B&B.
The Silver Cord B&B in Las Vegas, Mendoza Province
The term B&B harbors quaint and romantic notions for most people; at least it does so for me. And the Silver Cord (=silver-colored cordillera, get it?) doesn't disappointed. I was greeted by Sonia, the Argentine wife of Aussie co-host Adrian, with a pitcher of iced water and then coffee and home-mae pastries. My room is immaculate, the living area for the guests could come out of any interior designer magazine, and Sonia and Adrian are the perfect hosts. There are four other guests, an Aussie boy/girlfriend combo and an Argentine couple, and together we had a yummy home-coked meal. Since there are few (OK, essentially none) options to dine in Las Vegas the B&B also offers an optional dinner. And Adrian has a few decent bottle of wine for sale!
Gorgeous little Las Vegas
Today, after a scrumptious breakfast, I went for a three-hour hike in the vicinity. The vistas are simply breathtaking, and I am sure the photos speak for themselves. I am reminded of the Big Bend area and the Chihuahuan desert, but it is greener here. The soil is similarly rocky, and the plants are definitely desert plants. and of course, the Northern Mexico does not have snow-capped peaks!

Now it is late afternoon and the sun has vanished behind incoming clouds. The temperature dropped by an easy 10 F degrees almost instantly--well, we are at about 6,600 feet and winter is coming! Tomorrow I have a daunting 40 miles of dirt road ahead of me, and I hope that both the bike and I will be up for it. It's a lonely road, without settlements or services, and according to Adrian only occasional traffic. But If I want to make it to Tupangato by tomorrow night where my next hotel is set up, I'll have to go this way. Let's hope that no adventures await, that the sun comes back out, and the sharp rocks hide themselves.
The "boulevard" in Las Vegas
One of two main streets
PS: Adrian was just informed that his dad, almost 80, had a stroke this afternoon and he will have to leave for Mendoza. The weather has turned menacing, and if there is rain tonight or tomorrow I'm pretty much hosed. Stay tuned to how the trip continues.


No comments:

Post a Comment