Mendoza and I are not compatible. If the Argentinian city was a person, I’d probably have one of these quick, embarrassing chats with him, where I’d resort to overused lines, like “look, it’s not you, it’s me,” “you’re nice, but…” and “we can still be friends, right?”
People come to Mendoza to enjoy fine Argentinian wines, like Malbec—I don’t drink. People come to Mendoza to climb the Aconcagua or at least hike to the base camp of the highest mountain in both the Southern and Western hemispheres—spending weeks sleeping under a tent breathing cold air doesn’t appeal to me, I have no aptitude for altitude. People come to Mendoza because it’s safe, quiet and relaxing—I escaped from Ottawa because I found it too safe, quiet and relaxing.
Other than that, there’s nothing wrong with Mendoza.
Although, I did experience a bit of a culture shock coming from Buenos Aires.
After dropping off my backpack at the hotel and grabbing a paper map—I travel without my smartphone, so no Google Maps for me—I decided to complete the main mission of the day, i.e. buying my bus ticket to Santiago.
But first, I needed coffee. I stopped by the nearest kiosco, these ubiquitous convenience stores you’ll find everywhere in Argentina. I inquired about the price of a cup of Nespresso—40 pesos, cool, cheaper than in Buenos Aires where it was usually between 45 and 65 pesos when the machine worked.
“¿Quiere la tostada con café?”
The what? The kisoco owner pointed to what looked like small round breads in a basket.
She frowned, probably confused by what must have sounded like the most stupid question ever. I mean, I’d probably be taken aback too if someone pointed to a baguette asking if it’s bread.
“It’s not bread,” she replied, stressing on the word “bread” as if I had called Jesus Christ a “dude.”
Shit, maybe this was holy food.
“Is it sweet, savoury?” I prompted.
She let out a slight sigh. Obviously, I didn’t get it. “Yeah, sure, you can call it bread…”
I politely declined—I take sugar with my coffee, not bread. Then I walked to the bus station, bought my ticket to Santiago, and decided to explore the city for a while. It was getting late, I had to buy some food for dinner, anyway.
I don’t eat in restaurants when I travel. I usually shop in supermarkets for yogurt, fruits and drinks and I grab cheap, local food to go from delis, bakeries or markets, then I assemble dinner in my hotel room.
I found a couple of Carrefour supermarkets but no empanadas, savoury pies, sandwiches de miga or other tasty, easy-to-eat foods bakeries usually sell.
Actually, there were no bakeries.
Worse, it was Friday evening and everything was closed. Shit, was I in Brazil where you can’t buy food on weekends?
That’s when I remembered Mendoza was taking the siesta very seriously. I checked my watch. Probably too early, businesses should reopen around 6 p.m. Phew.
At 6:30 p.m., after finding bakers who didn’t look quite awake, I discovered there was much less selection in Mendoza than in Buenos Aires—apparently, here, bakeries only sold bread and cakes. Never mind, I bought some of that tostado bread, pretty much the only bread available. I’m French after all, bread can be a meal and I was still recovering from the stomach bug.
Eventually, once back at the hotel, I opened the bag to make sandwiches. Holy shit, Mendoza liked its bread… toasted. Like… tostado. “Duh!” moment. Also, no way I can make a sandwich with super crumbly, as-hard-as-a-hockey-puck bread.
Maybe that’s why it’s offered with coffee—you gotta dunk it into something.
And that’s how I found myself without food at midnight. “Is there a kiosco still open or… anything with food?” I asked the front-desk employee without much hope. “Sure, all the restaurants on Av. Arístides Villanueva. They close at 5 a.m.”
Totally makes sense.
I got a take-out meal from Napoletano, a fast food dedicated to pasta, and I ate the blandest raviolis and tomato sauce ever but I was too hungry to be picky.
Maybe Mendoza is a wine mecca, but holy shit, bring your own food unless you like thick slices of bread with ham and cheese—toasted, of course—ham-and-cheese pizza, ham-and-cheese sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers.
On Saturday, I had all day to discover a new side of Mendoza, something I had missed, maybe, something unique or enjoyable.
Guess what I found?
Mendoza is built on a grid pattern, so I wasted an hour checking out the main streets. They all look exactly the same, especially when businesses are closed. They were empty too because most people take wine tours during the day.
So I went to the Parque Gral. San Martín. The 18th-century political leader is “simply” known as “El Libertador of Argentina, Chile and Peru”, so I figured a park named after him would be big enough—and by the way, he died in Boulogne-sur-Mer, which is why you’ll find streets named after the French city in Argentina.
I found an activity, a hill to hike, the Cerro de la Gloria topped with a bronze monument of 14 tons, the Monumento al Ejército de Los Andes—national monument of the Army of the Andes—built to pay tribute to those who liberated Argentina, Chile and Peru.
While I was enjoying the view, locals dressed in their Sunday best were having their picture taken by the monument (while eating a ham sandwich, conveniently sold on top of the hill, just in case you missed ham very badly). I guess the monument is printed on the five-peso bill, it’s kind of famous…
And then it started to drizzle and I realized Mendoza really wasn’t my kind of city. It’s okay, though, I found some local details and customs amusing enough to keep me entertained. For instance, it’s very hard to find cans—soft drinks are sold in glass bottles, like in the good old days. The 1 pm to 5 pm siesta thing reminded me of trying to figure out a baby’s sleep schedule. The fact that apparently, in Mendoza, pedestrian have only one right—to get out of the way. The acequias, the open concrete canals where the water from the Andes flows down into the city—they are like mini moats along sidewalks, don’t fall into them!
If you find the set of pictures boring, just remember that… yeah, it’s Mendoza the way I saw it. This was my third visit and I think the only eventful moment we ever experienced here was when Mark bumped his head jumping on the bed and we had to call a doctor at midnight…!