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Three countries down, three to go November 10, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Argentina Posts, Mendoza and Wine Country.
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It was a relief reaching the city of Mendoza, (our first stop in Argentina) and realizing we could grow some roots here. Mendoza is right smack dab in the middle of wine country, and the jumping-off point for some of the best vineyards in the entire country. We settled in quickly, delighted to find that the weather was perfect and nearly every street lined with trees.

            The streets of central Mendoza are crowded with vendors hawking bootleg DVDs, socks, sunglasses, fresh fruit…anything imaginable. The streets are equally crowded with business men, shoppers, junior high school kids and retail workers on their lunch breaks. There are 8 different plazas strewn throughout downtown. The wide avenues are lined with huge gutters that could easily be mistaken for tiny canals.

            Our first day here, we inexplicably walked about 12 miles. It still baffles the mind, but somehow we ended up at the edge of town at the Mendoza Zoo. Admission was 10 pesos each (roughly $2.60), the deal of the century for what was quite possibly the best zoo either of us has ever been to. Suffice it to say that the Mendoza zoo is very interactive. VERY interactive. The first thing we saw after entering the park was a band of capuchin monkeys squabbling and rustling about in the trees overhead. The trees were not in an enclosure or part of some smaller exhibit, the monkeys were just out in the open, acting like hams for the camera, doing what monkeys do. We weren’t sure whether this was just business as usual or we were in the midst of a jailbreak.

            We soon discovered that this zoo was atypical in more ways than one, but foremost it was all about viewer-pleasure. No carefully reconstructed natural habitats, no sanctuary or safeguards between beast and man. Just up close and personal, with animals often within an arm’s reach at any given time. Case in point: Steve spent about 20 minutes holding hands with a black chimp, gladly giving him a good back scratch to reward him for being so trust-worthy. Steve also (quickly and against my advice) scratched a puma behind the ear and pressed his face within inches of the tiger cage to get a closer look as it devoured a hunk of meat. I, on the other hand just got a little armadillo snot on my sunglasses when I tried to get the little guy to pose for a photo.

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            We spent the rest of our time in Mendoza doing more normal activities, like wine tasting with our own police-escort, river rafting in frigid waters, and drinking Fernet and cokes with newlyweds from Texas and an expat named Chuck. We also did a few good old American things. We watched the Yankees defeat the Phillies in a 6-game World Series, got our first glimpse of the Lakers with the new addition of Ron Artest and ate a package of oreo cookies (filled with dulce de leche instead of white icing).

            One of the best things we did was the simplest. After one week in a hostel near city center, we decided to relocate to an immaculate log cabin ten minutes outside of town. Cabañas Pacari is surprisingly rural: dirt roads, mom and pop markets only selling fresh bread and paltry produce, and other campgrounds are the only remnants of civilization to be found. With a swimming pool, overly-gracious hosts and our own two-storey abode complete with kitchen and DirecTV for only $40 US, we fell in love immediately. We ended up staying another full week, busing into the downtown area whenever we needed provisions or an ATM.

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            Now, we’re on to Cordoba, a university town once touted as the Cultural Capital of the Americas. We’ll just see about that…

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