17th March 2009
Perhaps I am getting a little softer in my old age, but I could get used to this kind of tourism. Having left the group to fly home from Buenos Aires – with, it has to be said, a hangover strong enough to kill a small child (we didn’t get to our beds until five in the morning) – I flew up to Mendoza to check things out. Although in this part of the world we mainly specialise in Patagonia, we have been getting more clients asking about extensions to this famous wine region so I thought I should do the honourable thing and find out what it’s like for myself. And now I understand why. Nestled in the lee of the mighty Andes, capped with their eternal snows, Mendoza is a quiet, tree-lined, low-lying city of about 600,000 inhabitants and wine production has been its claim to fame for more than a 100 years. Of course it is not Mendoza city where I would advise people to stay, but in any one of the wonderful estancias, posada’s and bodegas nearby. I stayed in the quiet little town of Chacras de Coria, 11ks from the city, at a very cool winery called Club Tapiz. Most of the accommodation is linked to a winery, some which produce over a million bottles a year, other ‘boutique wineries’ that make less than 5000. Each evening at eight wine tasting takes place, followed by a delicious dinner, often of local steak or lamb. Driven by a fun, young American couple and some equally agreeable Irish honeymooners, the hotel guests – of which there were only about 10 – we were soon all chatting together, and any hope I might have had of a quiet, sober evening, quickly disappeared. The Americans are just so good at that. If we’d all been Brits, we would like as not have spent a couple of minutes mumbling a few pleasantries to each before going our separate ways. Not so here, Lisa and Jay – as were their names - got stuck straight in, drawing us out of our shells and within minutes we were all jabbering away merrily and inviting each other to dine together. The next day things became a little more adventurous when I travelled with my guides Carlos and his wife Maria to trek on Aconcaua, which the former has climbed an astonishing 33 times, and the latter a just as remarkable 14. Of course unlike my erstwhile colleague Richard Dunwoody who climbed the peak earlier this year we didn’t get to the top today; at 6962m Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Americas and requires a good deal of preparation. But it was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky and we trekked high up towards the towering peak and enjoyed the views. This is a part of the world which is nearly always dry, with clear skies and at this time of year, hot days. Indeed it is this combined with the Andes snow melt and the fine, sandy soil that make it so ideal for wine production. Crossing what is now called Brad Pitt Bridge – Seven Years in Tibet was filmed here – we watched a brace of condors ride the thermals and had a good picnic lunch before heading back to Club Tapiz. My new friends had been mountain biking, horse riding, rafting and wine tasting and by all accounts had enjoyed themselves no end and another large meal ensued. But of course this is still work (albeit a rather easy part of my work) and today a load of site inspections (industry speak for checking out hotels, wineries, activity equipment etc) followed and now it’s is back to BA and from there to London. So where next? Back to the rough and tumble of true adventure, where I fear a glass of sauvignon blanc and a filet mignon will be as distant a dream as walking on the moon. After 6 weeks in the office I think I’m off to Tajikistan and Afghanistan. To tell the truth I can’t wait. All these fine hotels, wonderful food and drink is great, no doubt about it and as an extension to Patagonia I am sure it would be very worthwhile, but give me high adventure any time. That’s what makes me tick.