My second week living in Mendoza was a jam-packed week of doing as the locals do.
It started with a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive to the nearby ritzy suburb, Chacras de Coria, a little town of upscale restaurants and wineries, where we slurped on huge cones of ice cream in the lazy heat of the heladería’s outdoor patio. Argentinians eat helado like Italians eat gelato. At any given time of day, a heladería will be filled with people.
Frequent eating of ice cream was necessary because Mendoza was having an unusual spell of days and days on end of heat nearing 40 grados. (That’s about 104 degrees Fahrenheit!) “¡Qué calor!” was a phrase I quickly learned, which basically means, man is it hot. Lucky for me, I am a huge fan of this kind of weather (and of ice cream).
The week of school went by with a lot of confusing conversation, tons of new vocabulary, and the introduction of verbs. I can finally speak full sentences in the present tense!
Every so often, I’ll understand a question or a complete sentence without realizing it. And then it’ll hit me, wait a second, I just understood that! It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it is a taste of how satisfying it will be to actually be able to communicate easily in Spanish.
I watched a TV special on C5N with Nora one night about “El Cerebro” (the brain) and how emotions are tied to memory. It was really fun to be able to understand the gist of what was being said, although I had to concentrate really hard.
Some classmates and I spent an afternoon at a cooking class learning how to make the popular Argentinian party dish, empanadas. We sauteed beef with onions and put the mixture on top of an empanada pastry dough, topping the mixture with a slice of hardboiled egg before folding the pastry over and hand-scalloping the edges. After twenty minutes in the oven at high heat, our delicious snack of sizzling empanadas was ready to be devoured.
With my newly learned skill, I helped Nora make maize and queso empanadas one night. She showed me how her mother taught her to perfectly scallop the edges. My edges weren’t perfect, but they weren’t bad!
After the end of classes on Friday, I joined Stef from Switzerland, Marilyn and Doug “Pato” from Alaska, and Marilyn and Pato’s homestay host Beti on a trip to Cacheuta, natural hot springs in the foothills of the Andes overlooking the Mendoza River and a popular weekend destination for Mendocinos.
I had never been to a hot spring before, so I was really excited to visit Cacheuta. Natural pools of hot water in the middle of the mountains sounded so exotic. I imagined steam frothing up from a pool carved in smooth rocks encircled by hunter green forest and towering mountain.
My hot spring fantasy was wildly exaggerated. The mountain and river setting around the hot springs is beautiful, but the hot springs themselves were very disappointing. The “hot springs” are about a dozen concrete pools set on a hill on the bank of the river, each overflowing with people. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought the pools were regular old manmade pools. There is really nothing natural or exotic-looking about them. It felt like we were at a waterpark.
We lounged in the bathwater warm but not jacuzzi hot water (apparently the water is much cooler in the summer for some reason) until a rainstorm interrupted our fun.
Shivering and wet, I followed the group back to the car and we headed to the exclusive and tranquil Cacheuta Spa for a peek at a more luxurious and relaxing atmosphere. It was definitely more posh, but it still didn’t fulfill my imagined vision of a natural, steaming hot spring.
On the way home, we stopped for an impromptu dinner at the home of one of Beti’s sisters. It was a lively and vivacious atmosphere full of loud rapid conversation, laughter, and energy, exactly how I envision latino extended family get-togethers. We gobbled down empanadas and sipped on wine before heading home, where I immediately crashed in order to get a good-night’s sleep for the next day’s activity.
Mendoza is in the center of Argentina’s wine country and tourists and locals alike head to the hundreds of bodegas in the nearby countryside to taste the famous wine. On Saturday morning, Beti, Marilyn, Pato, and I piled into Beti’s old Honda, and Beti proceeded to drive us Argentinian-style (ahem, without regard to traffic rules, passing cars and speeding through intersections at breakneck speed) through the city and south to Tunuyán, home of wine and spectacular snow-blanketed Andes views.
Either due to Beti’s driving or my terrible flat-tire luck, we were slightly delayed with a completely deflated tire just outside of the city. Pato saved the day with his tire-changing skills, and we continued on our way to a swanky-ish restaurant whose specialty was trout. I washed a ridiculously fresh trucha ceviche down with some refreshing Torrontés.
At this point, my wine appetite was whetted. Fortunately, we were close to the fancy Salentein bodega. A modern winery with a vineyard view of the Andes, Salentein is several buildings of geometric marble, specially imported European fermentation vessels, an art gallery, and a contemporary church. And acres of meticulously spaced rows of grapevines.
After a degustación of some expensive reds, we ended the day in Manzano Histórico, a little historical area near Tunuyán with a hilltop monument honoring General San Martín in front of the pointed green hills of the Andes foothills.
I was sad to say goodbye to Marilyn and Pato that evening. They were finished with their Spanish classes and were heading to Chile. The sort of people that are sincerely interested in learning about the lives of other people and genuinely enjoy getting to know other people, they make friends wherever they go and have amazing and entertaining stories about the people they’ve met and the things they’ve done around the world. They feel that it’s never too late to experience something new, learn something new, or see something new. They are truly inspirational in the way they approach life and are the sort of people that leave an impression long after goodbyes are said.
When I left for my trip last July, I had the idea that this would be my last big hurrah, the last chance I would have to see the world before I have “real” responsibilities that tie me down. (Apparently I thought that as soon as I entered my 30s, I would have to commit to a stable life and settle down for good.)
Because of Marilyn and Doug’s youthful approach to life, I discovered that life does not end at 30. I have the entire rest of my life to see the world, learn new things, experience new things. Now that I have chosen to rid myself of a job that stifled my opportunities to experience life, I’ve found that I have a whole lot of life left to live.