Cabernet on the Vine
So, as of last writing, there we were in Mendoza, Argentina. Mendoza turned out to be quite a nice town, a tourist destination, and a city proud of its trees and numerous plazas. The town of Maipu that some may have heard of (or read on a wine bottle) is a sorta kinda suburb of Mendoza, made famous by the many vineyards there. We opted for a bicycle tour of the wine road, and traded our BMWs for beat up little yellow bikes – maybe not such a good deal. But if you’re touring vineyards, a safer alternative, since the end of each tour is always the tasting!
So off we went on wobbly wheels, and our first stop was a museum/active vintner not far from the start. We had a nice tour and got the skinny on how they do their magic, with the added plus that it is the harvest here, and the wine making gear is running full steam.
Highlight of the day was lunch at a restaurant in the midst of thousands of acres of vineyards, and it was one of the memorable meals of the trip. Lunch (an inadequate word for the meal we shared) included a touch of education in that we learned of the Torrontes grape, an Argentine favorite, that produces a delightful white wine, not too sweet, with nice pear and citrus smells. Yummy.
Mendoza was also where we hardened the decision not to attempt Patagonia on this trip. It’s just a bit late in the season and would be cool-to-cold, and time is growing short. Now THAT’S a phrase we hated to see enter our conversation, but it’s true. We’re starting to see the end over the horizon, and have to either face it or toss all thoughts of responsibility and become permanent vagabonds.
We determined that where we really needed to go was Iguazu Falls. Many had told us that it was an absolute must, and it involved rolling north to warmer temps, so that is exactly what we determined to do. It would be a hike, but with a world-class prize at the end.
Miles of Miles (BIG Country!)
Leaving Mendoza heading east was like crossing rural Indiana…repeatedly. When the vineyards ran out, the scenery turned to enormous farms and ranches that stretched on for miles and miles and miles. By day’s end, we had reached San Luis, where we spent the night and planned our next day’s run to Cordoba.
The ride from San Luis to Cordoba was a sweet one that might have been even sweeter if it was just a little earlier in the year, and warmer. After passing through rolling hills and many small towns, it was up and over the Cordillera, topping out at over 7,000 feet. The thermometer on my bike dove down to 39 degrees F, and stayed there for miles. It was beautiful, curvy, rocky and fascinating…but cold! A complication hit when Heather’s bike developed an intermittent quirk – her motor would stall at the same moment her tachometer would indicate (falsely) that it was over-revving. Weird and totally inconvenient.
We nursed it on in to Cordoba, checked into a hotel, found parking and dinner and called it a day. The next morning, we met the nice folks at BMW Cordoba, and at first, of course, the problem wouldn’t reoccur. But a persistent mechanic went over the bike and found the problem – and a very simple one it was. Prolonged vibration had loosened the connection to her battery, and merely tightening it back cured the ill. Her bike was simply shutting itself off for brief moments, like a flickering light. After a thorough going over, her bike was pronounced healed and we were on our way. These guys are terrific, and if anybody reads this who is passing through Cordoba, be sure and drop by.
Sunrise, Rio Parana, Corrientes
From Cordoba, the next stop was in Parana, on the east bank of the river of the same name. We passed through more hundreds of miles of lush farmland along the way, with lots of fat cattle. Parana was where we would break north and head back into humid, more tropical country. We followed the Parana to Corrientes and spent the night in one of the worst hotels of the trip. Too bad, really, as Corrientes, a port city on the river, looked to be an interesting town. But the Falls was our destination and we wouldn’t be slowed…
Off and at it in the morning, we had about 390 miles to make Puerto Iguazu. This was/is a really nice ride, and I’m glad we made it in the fall of the year – the road passed through increasingly rolling hills and thick, increasingly tropical forest as we headed up into the strange little geographical oddity that is the “Missiones” region of Argentina. Take a look at a map – it is a thin strip of land extending up between Brazil and Paraguay, and looks like a mapmaker’s mistake.
We rolled into Puerto Iguazu right on schedule, and found our current digs – a great little hotel called the “Jardin de Iguazu”. It is only 4 months old and extremely well maintained, which means all the towels are new, the rooms are perfect – everything is tip-top! And the staff are equally fresh and friendly. We would absolutely recommend this one to anyone headed this way. After a great dinner, we hit the sack with plans to go and see the falls in the morning.
And see the falls we did! When we recount the many memorable places and things we have seen on this trip, this is definitely one of the most remarkable, and should mark a place on everyone’s “things to see before I croak” list. Legend has it that Eleanor Roosevelt, when shown the falls here, said that Niagara was a “dripping faucet” after Iguazu. It is absolutely tremendous and we now understand fully why people come here from all over the world. Well worth the days spent riding to get here. No question.
We started our tour by taking the bus to the park, which is a few miles outside the town. It filled a good, full day to walk the many catwalks and bridges they’ve installed to get folks up close and personal with the many different falls that comprise Iguazu, for Iguazu isn’t really just one fall, but a wall of waterfalls that stretches across several miles. Without question, the most exhilarating part was the boat-ride that takes you right up into the crashing waters. It’s a full soaking event, and worth the considerable hike down to the river where the boats launch. We both commented how much James and Becky would love it.
The park is home to LOTS of critters, including literally millions of butterflies, some the size of small birds. We saw dozens of Coatis – the South and Central American cousin to the raccoon, tame as cats. Lots of signs warn the visitors not to feed the Coatis – but the Coatis seem to have quite another view. One particularly bold youngster started nosing through a ladies purse that had been enticing him with potato chips, to the crowd’s delight, when he suddenly grabbed her bag of potato chips and bolted. I guess he didn’t read the signs that say human food is bad for him, and nobody was ready to try and get that bag back…
Day two in Iguazu was a bit of a hoot – but not the hoot we planned. We started the day with a quick trip to Brazil, and yes, we can technically say we made it into Brazil…but when we got to the customs booth, the polite lady wanted to know where our visas were. Visas?? Nobody said we needed visas…so our cab driver took us back across the river to the Brazilian consulate where we learned, from a cranky little man who spoke very little but pointed at signs with great enthusiasm, that a visa cost 546 pesos (the same $135 we charge Brazilians for visas), and that they were only available in the morning…as in TOMORROW morning. We had a good laugh and decided Brazil wasn’t in the cards.
Instead, we remained in Argentina and visited a large refuge that takes in mammals and birds that are wounded or can’t be kept by others. They rehabilitate all they can, release those that are able to return to the jungle, and keep those they can’t. It was a very nice guided tour, and a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.
Our second debacle was an intended river cruise, which our hotel recommended. The Rio Iguazu and Rio Parana join at the edge of this town, just past the falls. We went to the dock and found that…the boat was down for repairs and the cruise would have to wait until tomorrow…when there’s rain in the forecast. But it was a beautiful view down at the dock, looking across to Brazil across one river and Paraguay across the other.
So there’s the update for now – we’ll stay here another day, and then break for Buenos Aires, to meet up with friends and start to conjure a way to get ourselves, our bikes and our gear back to the US. I write that with somewhat mixed feelings, I’ll admit. It will be absolutely terrific to see the folks that are coming down to BA, and BA should be amazing. However, contemplating the end of this remarkable journey is not such a happy thought. Perhaps, like the teaser ending on any good adventure film, the next post should be the prelude to the sequel…after all, there’s still Patagonia to explore…and more of Costa Rica…
Yea…Southern Chile…Patagonia…hmmm…Costa Rica…hmmm…so many places…
Saludos to all, we are still well and still happy, and hope you are as well!