16th Dec 2015 - 19th Dec 2015 - Patagonia
Buenos Aires, Mendoza
If there is one thing that epitomises Buenos Aires, it is the dark, sultry sounds of Tango. Believed to originate in the city in the 1880’s, you can hear the music, watch a show or see an impromptu lesson on many corners of the city. In the evening, shows are put on in a number of theatres. On our return to Buenos Aires, a number of us took a trip to watch a show complete with excellent three course dinner plus wine. The show charted tango through the decades from the 1950’s to today and was a superb introduction to the style of dance.
This concluded the Patagonia trip, 3 weeks travelling through an area of stunning natural beauty, that most of us could only gaze on in awe. However, my holiday was not over. I had booked two nights in Mendoza, the heart of the wine region, for a spot of wine tasting and it would only be a simple 2 hour flight to get there. Ha! What happened next is definitely a first for me, which is quite impressive after 10+ years of travel.
To make the most of my time, I was booked on the 6.30am flight which meant a 4.30am alarm and a 4.45am transfer to the airport. Checked in, cleared security and at the correct time began boarding the buses that would take us to the plane – so far so good. However, after standing on the bus for 10 minutes a member of ground crew kicked us off and back up to the gate. Announcements were only in Spanish but I managed to pick up that boarding would now be at 7.45am. That’s annoying. At 7.45am, they told us that boarding would be at 8.15am, then they just stopped giving updates. At this point, I was still none the wiser as to what was the problem. One thing Americans get bad rep for is talking SO loudly. However, being able to hear people talking in English at the other side of the gate suddenly had its advantages and I went over to ask them if they had a clue what was going on. They believed there was a strike going on and by this point there was at least one other flight expecting to be boarding from our gate and getting told no. Whilst talking to one of the Americans, David, it transpired that he had been on the bus in front of me, had made it to the plane, the stewards were beckoning them up the stairs but the driver wouldn’t open the doors and then drove them back to the gate. At 9am, there was another (Spanish) announcement that neither David nor myself could figure out but was kindly translated for us by another passenger stating that the Mendoza flight was cancelled and we were to go and speak to check in and get rebooked on a later flight. My first ever cancelled flight – whoop L.
Now, after this announcement the majority of passengers were still standing at the gate, arguing with the ground staff so David and I made a hasty retreat back down to Departures to find any remaining seats. Consequently, we were near the front of the queue for the sales desk, where the lovely English speaking woman told us she couldn’t get us on a flight until the 19th – the day of my return flight to London. Clearly this was no use to me. Her advice was to cancel the LAN Air flights and run down to Aerolineas Argentina and see if they had any seats as the strike was a baggage handler strike and was only affecting LAN. Once again, we were near the front of this queue and got booked on to the 14.40 flight to Mendoza. Problem half solved. Now to figure out where our baggage had gotten to. Back to LAN who had piles and piles of bags by their check in desks. Ours had gone further through the system as they’d been waiting to be put on the plane so the only place to reclaim them was at baggage reclaim. Okay – never walked into baggage claim from this side before! Turns out the security guy on the door didn’t actually care and didn’t even look at the remains of our boarding pass. He let us in and after 5 more minutes locating the correct carousel, we were reunited with our bags. At this stage, it was 10.30am, I’d been up for 6 hours and had another 2 hours before we could check in for the next flight. So, what do you do when you have time to kill in an airport? You drink beer, obviously! A beer and an empanada later, we were feeling rather smug whilst watching the chaos unfold as more flights got cancelled, queues to rebook got longer and tempers got shorter. At 12.30pm, we went to check in (again), this time a little more successfully as we got on the plane and actually took off!! When we finally arrived in Mendoza it was 5pm, so just the 8.5 hours late, said goodbye to David and headed to the hostel. I had planned to spend the first of my two days in Mendoza exploring the city but that was largely out so walked round the main plaza before returning to the hostel who were doing a free wine tasting that evening, a prelude to tomorrow’s big event!!
The next morning I had pre-booked a wine tasting tour along with Colleen, who had been on my Patagonia trip and who, luckily for her, had flown the previous afternoon and had largely avoided the worst of the plane dramas. The tour was to stop at 4 wineries and would include at least 4 tastings at each, snacks and at the final winery a 5 course meal, each course paired with a different wine. Mendoza is Argentina’s premier wine growing region and it’s most famous export is the Malbec although others grapes, both white and red, are also produced. The first winery was Familia Cassone, run by a very eccentric man named Fed and then at the second winery, Pulente Estates, we met his wife! Pulente provided a different cheese for each wine – I think it’s the only time I’ve ever enjoyed blue cheese. Our third winery, Caelum, grow their own pistachios on site and so they accompanied the wines. The final winery Ruca Malen came with an amazing 5 course meal – mozzarella, cauliflower emulsion, cured meats, steak and raspberry ice cream. A few bottles were purchased, both for personal consumption and also for presents. All the wineries are surrounded by snow-capped mountains and all told it was the perfect way to end 3 weeks in South America.
Back in town that evening and Colleen and I had a part farewell, part fingers crossed nothing goes wrong tomorrow drink before calling it a night. It was definitely with trepidation that I arrived at the airport the following morning for my 6.30am flight back to Buenos Aires, knowing that with a connection at 2pm, I couldn’t afford to get delayed. Luckily these flights were all working on time and I got back to BA no problems, in order to change airports and start the long return journey back to London.