Friendly, welcoming, warm, beautiful, accommodating, helpful, pleasant, succulent. Does it sound just a bit like I’m newly in love? I’ve arrived in Mendoza, Argentina. And those are the first words that come to mind as I start to describe my impressions. Especially given
the incredible lunch from which I’ve just returned – escaping the heat under an umbrella outside the restaurant, dining on rucola salad topped with a generous portion of grilled chicken and vegetables (including butternut squash, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and carrots), bread and alioli, and a very liberally poured glass of local white wine. Really glad I planned an extra day to recover from the travel!
So what about the friendly, accommodating and helpful part? That is largely thanks to the people here. Despite my pitiable Spanish, every person I’ve come into contact with has been absolutely lovely. Both drivers have done their best – through passable English on their part and heartfelt attempts at Spanish on mine – to provide a running tourism commentary as driving through town. The hotel reception guy was one big smile from start to finish, insisting on carrying my luggage up to my room once the registration was complete. My waitress patiently sat through my Spanish application to ordering and venturing into the realm of small talk, patting me on the shoulder and helping me find the right words. And the guys at the supermercado bent over backwards to help me find things and bag my purchases. I thought nothing could top Malaysia for feeling wonderful as a tourist, but the Mendocinos are certainly edging up towards top of my list.
It is a captivating town. Founded officially by the Spanish in 1561, and inhabited before that by Huarpes, Puelches, and the Incas, it basically is one of three Oases in a desert region. The Huarpes established a system of irrigation that was refined by the Spanish, and throughout the city today remain hundreds of water channels – some the size of minor rivers, some only a few centimeters wide. There is a very large park (Parque General San Martin), which
according to my driver Eduardo comprises 500 hectares of land! It is absolutely beautiful – I spent a couple of hours this morning walking to and through part of it. Eduardo also commented on the many plazas, purporting that Mendoza has over 500 of them. I’m not sure how accurate his count is, but I did walk through quite a number of them – from the very large Plaza Independencia to very small neighborhood squares.
And virtually every street is lined with trees, making it a remarkable green city that stays cool despite the 30 degree afternoon. Mendoza is also a comfortable size with a population of only 120k within the city limits – and over a million in the metro region. It is laid-back, not overly crowded, and people seem to take life as a pleasure unaccompanied by too much stress. Having walked by the university today, I’m considering returning to school – and doing it here.
Time for a brief siesta before going in search of illicit money changers (official rate is 8.6 to the dollar, unofficially you can get as much as 13-14 per dollar – which makes the enormous cost of my climbing permit a bit more reasonable). And tonight a visit to one of the cities most renowned restaurants for world-class steak and wine is on the docket. Recommended by the reception guy and Eduardo (who by the way is a rather corpulent, gregarious man who insisted on handling all my bags and after carefully depositing them at reception, gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek when saying goodbye). As you can see, it’s a tough start to the trip.