Mendoza, at the bottom of the Andes. Another major city in Argentina we had never visited properly; we only stopped briefly (briefly as in “for a cigarette break”) in 2002, on our way from Santiago to Buenos Aires.
The airport tarmac offered the first stunning view on the mountain range. I loved it. I grew up by the sea, mountainous landscapes are exotic to me. But despite the snowy peaks in the distance, it was brutally hot, like in Córdoba. However, we soon discovered that Mendoza had long and large avenues bordered by rows of large trees that provided shade. For once, we were not baking under the sun.
Our hotel room was small, but clean and functional. Of course, it turned into a crime scene two days later but at first glance, we were relieved. No cockroaches, no stained carpet. Mendoza should be easier than Córdoba. After all, this is a touristic place with people from all over the world coming to enjoy the wine and mountain climbing—and hopefully not both at the same time.
Like I often say, each city has its own little quirks. Compared to most Argentinian cities I’ve visited, Mendoza had almost zero bakeries and empanadas were not a popular food. I did find delicacies at the Mercado Central, but that was it. However, there were restaurants and normal-size supermarkets (supermarkets in Córdoba were barely bigger than your average convenience store). I sighed. Okay, I’ll skip the medialunas for a couple of days.
The second quirk we discovered was a bit more surprising: the city basically shut down completely between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Absolutely every business closes but the main big supermarket, a few convenience stores and fast foods. At 5 p.m., the city wakes up again for a few hours and closes for the night around 10 p.m. I understand the logic of resting during the hottest hours of the day but this is one long siesta!
The days were long and hot for us. Sunset is only around 9 p.m. and there wasn’t much to do in the afternoon during the long break since the city was deserted. On the second day, we decided to escape to the Palmares shopping mall in Godoy Cruz, a close suburb, just to enjoy the air-con and stroll around for a few hours. Unfortunately, as we discovered when we arrived, it was… an “open-air mall”, so no air-con but expensive stores (the exact same one as downtown) around a pedestrian square. Ah. The things you learn. The mall was also strangely empty for a Saturday afternoon and we wondered where everybody was. I guess tourists take tours to the nearby vineyards and locals stay home or are at work (but how do the shifts work for those who work at places that close for most of the afternoon?).
Argentina can be puzzling for foreigners. The country seems to be a case of “if it’s broken, let’s not fix it”. The coin issue, for instance. There are not enough coins in circulation apparently and businesses beg you for a one-peso coin when needed. If you don’t have it, the cashier will disappear for five minutes, get a manager and come back with the precious coin, sighting. I find it hilarious because this is the kind of scene you would see in Canada or in France if you were trying to pay with a large bill, where checks would be made to made sure it’s not counterfeit. If there is no coin to be found, you will be offered a piece of candy. Mark is now addicted to candies.
And then, there is the inflation issue. The currency was devalued again last December as the new president Macri let the peso crash. As a result, prices increased quite a bit and even as a foreigner, I found some stuff were overpriced. ATMs are often empty and the cambio guys, the black market currency exchange, are back in the street. Many businesses don’t accept credit cards or give discount if you pay cash. Who will ever fix the country’s economy? Can it be fixed? Yeah, I know, easier said then done.
After the air-open mall, aka just another shopping district, we decided to walk back to the centre, an adventurous challenge considering the distance and the fact that dark thunderstorm clouds were looming over the mountains. It turned out to be a relaxing walk though, as we followed a bike path and discovered dozens of murals along the way, and it didn’t rain.
The last stop was at the barber’s shop, where Mark got a haircut. It’s just too hot for thick messy hair.
With Mendoza, we got a taste of the Andean culture, far from Brazil’s beaches and Buenos Aires’ cosmopolitan feel.
Time to see the other side… across the Andes.