The following post details the Nowhere Men’s journey from March 14 – March 17:
Our first passage into Argentina was a significant milestone. We’d encountered our final country, the last great frontier. We’d heard their Latino neighbors condemn this unique culture throughout our travels as far north as Mexico for being different, or at least thinking it was so. The language, mannerisms and style of its people mixed in an Italian flavoring; there was a sing-songy flow of speech, a loose shake of the hand, thumb pressed against middle and pointer fingers to drive home some desired exaggeration. Everyone greeted one another with a kiss, even the men; heavy fumes of cologne emanated from the rooms of customs guards at the border crossing.
We’d developed a deep curiosity of Argentineans and their inimitable spin on Latin American culture. Haircuts that we considered butcher jobs and a fashion sense that one might find in Williamsburg, there was a ubiquitous style that fascinated. This whole initial impression compelled us completely. We couldn’t wait to dive into this nation that could have fit just as easily somewhere in Europe, perhaps nuzzled between Spain and France rather than as the final frontier of the Americas.
Mendoza was out of the way – way out of the way – but skipping it hadn’t even occurred to us. We were too thirsty for its world famous wine, too carnivorous for the juicy steaks we were promised. We didn’t care if it was an impractical detour.
In the late morning, as we neared Mendoza, the epicenter of Argentine wine country, a small roadside grille with a modest tent cover and a couple of pulled over trucks grabbed our eye. It was a parrilla, the staple of Argentinean cuisine, where drool-inducing slabs of meat are fired up over a giant flaming grille. Having not yet eaten a thing on the day, we gave each other a glance and without further conversation u-turned back to give it a look over.
The couple of men manning the stand were finishing up preparation for a trucker’s steak sandwich when we walked on over, stomachs-a-growlin’. With only a few pesos and a couple of American dollars in hand, we scrounged together the plata needed for three heaping sirloin sandies. Short a couple of pesos, the amiable man behind the prep stand let it slide as he whipped up the meaty beasts we so severely craved.
To call this meal satisfying, succulent, or simply delicious would strip it of its symbolic significant for us. We’d pointed to Argentine meat as something to look forward to for so long, a way to rationalize rice and fried or dried meat dishes that had sufficed to sustain us since we’d left Mexico. This sandwich was a long awaited source of pleasure for which we’d patiently pursued for so very long. Furthermore, it was a rich way to begin this short sojourn into Argentina’s lively wine region.
The next day we toured ourselves around Maipu, a small town just a stone’s throw from Mendoza proper. A true wine tour is something reserved for those who can really afford it, a taste for the elite of which we were certainly not members. But, to celebrate Alex’s big 27th birthday, Mama Portera agreed to sponsor the day’s festivities. We freely carried on beyond our means for a day of frolicking around those fruitful vineyards.
We vaguely learned about the scientific process through which a grape evolves into an alcoholic work of art. We toured through evenly trimmed grape vines, precisely planted and maintained into organized rows. Next we learned of the harvesting, fermenting and bottling processes. Once we finished up that nonsense we arrived at that which mattered most to us – how to properly taste and test a glass of wine like a pro. We learned a few tricks, like swirling the wine around in its glass to get a feel for its consistency and holding it up by its stem, never its body. In the end, we mastered how to pretend like we knew what a good Malbec should taste like.
After our first vineyard, we felt we’d accomplished the task of touring a vineyard, so all that was left was to go from one place to the next tasting each stock, feigning some sense of distinguishing the lot. As the day wore on, our moods bubbled into general elation, as much from the relaxation of our day as from an undeniable level of inebriation.
Partaking in wine tours was what we’d set out to do in Mendoza, so after a night walking in circles around the city, there was nothing left but to return to Chile, pass through Santiago, and set our trajectory south. Grizzlier adventures awaited us.