Thursday, April 2, 2009

Days of Wine and Graffiti

Mendoza is the wine center of Argentina, located at the foot of the Andes mountains, with a sunny, crisp climate not unlike Northern California. Valparaiso is the colorful French settlement in Chile that boasts a dense array of street art and old funiculars, ascenosores (elevators) that get people up the hills to their brightly painted houses.

Mendoza is the cleanest city in Argentina and there are aqueducts that line its city streets. Mindy, my sister, used to work in wine and is passionate about paint, so we took the double decker bus to wine country and then to the Chilean port city swathed in color.

From Mendoza, we caught a shuttle to neighboring town of Maipu. We rented bikes from Bikes and Wine and set off to see some wineries. The first one was the Rutini museum, with historic methods of juice extraction and a poor excuse for a tasting. But it's Rutini, one of the best labels, so we tried something and jumped back on the bikes. It was noon and we had a lot of wineries to get to.

You might think biking and imbibing don't really mix and, you'd be absolutely correct. Thing is, this is Argentina where, 1) people don't drink much and 2) capitalism isn't around. Nothing functions to make money, it's all about having a nice day and taking your time. Our bike trip? We drank very little wine, road very far on gravel with large trucks speeding by, and most of the wineries happened to be closed. Because it was Saturday and why have a winery open to the public that day?

Next day we went to the park to get some sun. We hung out at a big swimming pool there and ate at a strange, country club restaurant with a cold cut buffet full of German dishes. The park was nice but Mendoza was really boring. We were excited to cross the Andes.

Driving in South America is what you think it would be like. That's why the curtains are kept closed on buses, and why a lot of trips are done at night. That way the passengers can't see how scary the roads are. We didn't see enough of the landscape, but we did stop at the border, high in the mountains, to wait in line and show our passports where it was freezing in the middle of summer.

We got to Valparaiso and it was everything we'd hoped.

Winding, cobblestone streets, brightly-painted houses piled up on hilltops, murals and mosaics around every corner.

The port was an impressive example of history and function combined.
Chile was very different from Argentina. The warm, talkative people of the port city where I live were in contrast with the polite, Chileans who keep to themselves.
6 hours from Mendoza was a very different world. It was haunting and plaintive and it was beautiful.

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