Mendoza was a nice enough city but I admit we never got along for the simple reason that I kept getting lost in it. This is rather embarrassing for me to admit because after so many strange cities I never get lost- least of all in something as benign as a city with a grid layout- because I have orienteered enough in strange cities that my sense of cardinal directions is really hard to mess up. In Mendoza, however, there were no obvious landmarks visible from everywhere in the city (you can’t see the mountains in town) except, this being the middle of the desert, the sun. And when you set out in the middle of the day instinctively supposing the sun is in the south without stopping to consider the fact that you’re in the southern hemisphere, well, you typically don’t end up where you wanted in the first place.
So sorry, Mendoza. I’m sure you’re a lot nicer than I’ll give you credit for, it’s just you were dealing with an over-confident astronomer who didn’t stop to think about how terribly far from home she really was.
Anyway, when not wandering around in circles or on a daytrip to the wineries or the Andes (more later!) here’s what I saw in Mendoza during my few days there-
For starters, while Bariloche was certainly nice to visit I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in “real” Argentina again in Mendoza- the city’s a little shabbier but people are out on the streets living their lives, filling cafes and stores unless it’s time for the all-important siesta. Like the shoe-shiners everywhere: what impressed me most wasn’t so much that there were so many of them but rather the fact that they got so much business!
Mendozans are also proud to tell you about how many parks they have- I confess I didn’t get to the major one on the other side of the city from where I was staying but they did have some green squares liberally sprinkled through the place. On the weekend these squares were seemingly overtaken by junk dealers (who I’m sure are offended that I didn’t call them antiques) which were kind of interesting in a “look but not buy because I’d have to take it home” sort of way. Don’t get me wrong as I did do some great shopping in Mendoza, it’s just I won’t say more because most of it was for a certain major holiday approaching!
Another important activity in Mendoza, the sampling of the ubiquitous cafe con leche– essentially similar to what we call a latte in the USA, but rather impossible to pass up when hundreds of people are out and about enjoying one everywhere you look!
I also have to say that the Spanish/Italian influence means that Argentina has perhaps the best cafe culture I’ve come across, and I say that without having visited Buenos Aires. Countless cafes all around you with waitstaff who don’t try to actively shove you out (if anything they’re too hard to find when you want to pay the check!) and for cheap! As someone who gets her best work done in coffee shops, let me just say that if I ever became a writer there would be a sore temptation to spend a few months in Argentina doing it.
Anyway, exploration done it’s time to head back to the hostel in a rather roundabout way due to my now-sub-par navigational skills to the best part of my experience in Mendoza, Hostel Lao…
Now I have stayed in many a hostel in my life- it can’t be much shy of 100 different ones, and they were certainly spread over six continents- but Hostel Lao might be the best out of all the ones I’ve ever stayed in. First and most important they had free wine in the evenings- an exciting prospect to be sure- but in addition to that they had an amazing backyard oasis filled with a pool and hammocks and just about anything you’d want for some R&R just before flying back to wintertime in North America (Mendoza will regularly hit the upper 80s temperature-wise this time of year, so the pool was certainly enjoyed).
The loveliest members of the hostel team though were easily the hostel dogs, Astor and Bambina, who were experts at training new guests into playing with them. Astor is above in the middle of a game of “leaf,” aka an elaborate version of fetch, which was prerequisite payment for quality time in the hammock (if you didn’t play he would start pushing the hammock with his paw, then eventually jump in, and that’s not exactly what you want from an over-friendly German shepherd). Bambina on the other hand would go around the rooms at check-out time to see whether anyone was still sleeping in the bunks, nuzzling those on the bottom ones and whining at those in the top ones he couldn’t reach. He certainly earned his keep!
Also, the last great thing the free wine certainly didn’t hurt was I met a lot of lovely people to hang out with in Mendoza, which at the end of the day is really what makes and breaks a hostel. Here we are on my last night in Mendoza, where we went out to a fancy steakhouse so I could have a proper sendoff to reality-
My farewell steak with mushroom sauce, done rare because after experimentation requesting “rare” in Argentina will result in something resembling medium in the rest of the world. Perhaps one of the best steaks of my life, certainly so big you could never finish it, complete with shared avacado and apple salads and several bottles of wine for the table, and generous tip, came out to 100 pesos which is ~US$25. And this was one of the best steakhouses in Mendoza! How could you not love this country?
And with that, I’ll leave you with that lovely dinner to rustle up some of my own…