Mendoza is a small, friendly city in the foothills of the Andes and in the heart of wine country in Argentina. The mid-summer December weather is just a little bit too hot, which is my favorite kind of weather. Its city-wide irrigation system allows for every single street to be framed with trees, giving the whole city a neighborhoody, residential feel. The fantastic weather and wide sidewalks mean there is al fresco dining everywhere, of which the locals take advantage all day long.
My time in Mendoza didn’t get off to the best start. Groggy from my all-night bus ride from Salta, I grabbed my suitcase from the pile the luggage guy was tossing out from the compartment underneath the bus and thought it seemed rather wet. Okay, don’t freak out, I told myself. It’s just a little bit of water.
After a stress-free local bus ride from the main bus terminal to my hostel, my spirits were up. Successfully navigating a city’s transportation system always puts me in a good mood, especially in a city whose local language is different from my own.
In my hostel room, I opened my suitcase and braced myself for the worst. It was even worse than I could have imagined. The entire contents of my suitcase were soaking wet. Shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, undergarments, shoes, and toiletries literally dripping water.
Slightly traumatized as to where this water came from, I was anxious to wash my clothes immediately. I asked the front desk of the hostel where I could find a laundromat. There was a lavanderia two blocks away. Fantastic.
My relief was short-lived. It was Saturday afternoon, and the laundry place was already closed for the day until Monday. As were all other lavanderias in the near vicinity. It seems Mendoza operates on “Spanish”-time, with businesses taking siestas every afternoon and closing early on Saturday and all day Sunday.
I prepared to wear the same dress I’d been wearing for the last two days for another two days and told myself that there were much, much worse things that can happen on a trip around the world. This was a minor annoyance that was completely fixable, albeit not immediately.
Somewhat mollified by my internal reassurances, I figured this was as good of a time as any to have a McDonald’s dinner of un cuarto de libra con queso, papas fritas, y una Coca Cola (my favorite McDiddy’s order, a Quarter Pounder meal). There are times when I just need greasy fast food to cheer me up.
The next day was a Sunday, and most things in the city were closed, apart from some restaurants. I decided to make this a park and plaza-hopping day.
I kicked off my tour at Plaza Independencia, the main plaza of the city that is flanked on its corners by four others, Plaza San Martín, Plaza España, Plaza Chile, and Plaza Italia. Hopping from plaza to plaza, I enjoyed the slight water breeze drifting off the fountains, tested out a variety of benches, and learned a bit of Mendozian history from the monuments and sculptures in each plaza.
Next I trekked down a quiet road of trees and houses towards the main park of the city, Parque General San Martín. The houses were beautiful, with wrought-iron gates and garden-like front yards. One of the houses was actually a museum, a 19th century Italian-style mansion that was home to two previous Mendoza governors. Unfortunately, its front gate was barred closed with a sign that said “estará cerrada por reparaciones hasta nuevo aviso,” which Google translate tells me means “will be closed for repairs until further notice.” Shoot. That would have been fun to visit. Old mansions turned into museums are always cool.
At the end of the road, I hit the grand park named after Argentina’s historical hero. This is where Mendozians hang out on Sundays. (I guess you go to the park when everything else is closed!) Parque General San Martín is a massive place of grass, trees, flowers, and people that would probably take hours to cover. I was tired, so I decided to leave that for another day.
The next day was a shopping (browsing) day. Up and down the main streets in the center of Mendoza I went, peeking in the windows of small clothing boutiques, riding the escalators of a department store, admiring the array of wine and produce for sale at the old Mercado Central while trying not to breathe in the stench of raw meat, and checking out the prices of technology in the electronics store (it costs about 5800 persos for an iPad 2 3G – that’s over $1300!).
My last day was spent exploring Parque General San Martín. Turns out, it is an absolutely gorgeous park. Its construction dates back to the late 1890s, which explains why it functions as a social center of Mendoza. It covers almost 1000 acres of the city. It has huge grassy areas where kids play fútbal. Its wide dirt paths are filled with runners, even mid-afternoon on a Tuesday. It has an amphitheater, a theater, a stadium, a country club, a tennis club, several museums, and a zoo. Its Club de Regatas flaunts a large pool that overflows with splashing kids and playful parents. (Runners, swimmers, and loungers crowded the park on a weekday at 2pm. Doesn’t anybody have to work?!)
But the best part is its lake, long and thin and blue and peaceful, adjoining a huge garden of flowers, palm trees, and benches shaded by white wooden arbors. I spent hours on a bench overlooking the lake, soaking up the hot, dry sun through the slatted roof of an arbor.
This was a pretty lazy trip to Mendoza. There are many, many things to do in the mountainous and wine-centric region surrounding Mendoza. I didn’t do any of these things.
But it’s okay, because I know I’ll be back.
As for now, I’m heading south to Bariloche.