Mendoza on our minds

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Mendoza on our minds
May 15, 1997

We'd been looking toward Mendoza for more than a month
Mendoza has been our motivation. For over a month it has been the magic kingdom of our minds. We've talked of Mendoza so often it has grown to be not just a city, but a destination for all that is lacking in our lives. It is exodus from the pampa and the encroaching winter; home of heavenly wines and enchanting tree-filled parks, sidewalk coffee cafes, and streets lined with shops. Mendoza would provide succor for our ailing bikes and salvation for our ragged souls.

Arriving, I am wondering about the sanity of coming here in the first place. We wobble shell-shocked along the highway's fringe. More traffic passes per minute than has passed us in the previous four months. This is interstate action eight lanes thick, overpasses, off-ramps, and all. Interstate! Only lunatics bike on interstates. For once the stunned looks from passing traffic come as no surprise.

We felt Mendoza would provide salvation for our ragged souls
I look again at the sketch in my map case. Destination: Casa Ferro. Andres drew our map over a week ago, imploring us to visit when we reached town. At the time Mendoza was still too far off to seem real and we were more preoccupied with finding a campsite for the night. Now I wish I had paid more attention. This is the Acceso Sur, but there is no sign of our exit. Forget asking directions. The cars don't seem about to slow down. We draw nearer the city center and decide to bail before we are trapped in the funnel leading inexorably into the concrete labyrinth.

Our guess is a good one and we have found our exit, but there is no tangible connection between here and the street address scrawled on our paper. Thankfully we attract two young cycle guides who lead us through the maze of backstreets and eventually to Andres's door. What an ordeal. The shock of metropolitan traffic has taken its toll and we want nothing more than to call it a day. Of course, no one is home. We leave word with neighbors and set off reluctantly with our guides to find a campsite. The only place around is reserved for members and we are too tired to argue. Looks like the YPF again — our gas-station home away from home.

We were all settled in
before Andres showed up
We pitch our tent on a wedge of grass alongside the garbage in back. The station is a riot of activity as long-haul truckers rumble in. We dig out the earplugs; it's going to be a long night. The brightly lit cafe offers a retreat. We just want to relax a little bit, savor the brightly lit interior, eat an empanada or two. And this is Mendoza, Argentina's wine capital, so we buy a box to drown our disappointment.

We aren't inside long when an attendant comes to find us. "There's a couple outside looking for you by your tent." Curious, we head outside. It's Andres and Teresa, his wife. They've found us. Amazingly, they are even more excited than we are. "Vamos!" Andres screams. Let's go. "A mi casa!" Teresa is hugging us like long-lost relatives. "Vamos! Vamos!" Andres is tugging my arm. Let's go. "Wait," we protest. "We have to pay for our food. We have to pack our tent. We have to load the bikes." Andres brushes it all aside with a wave of his hand. Nancy stands bewildered in the swirl of excitement. Teresa grabs her and they head back inside where Teresa tells everyone in sight of our journey and their search for us. Outside, Andres is throwing our bikes in the back of his pickup screaming "Vamos!" while I scramble to put everything into panniers and stuff sacks. A crowd of truckers has gathered to watch the circus.

Eventually, we get everything together and arrive back at Andres's. He's non-stop taking us on a tour of the house, showing us his wines and canned fruits, the patio he's constructed, the garden. Teresa has roused the neighbors and they come over for a look. We're caught up in a swirl of excitement and wonder. It becomes a long night as the wine and stories flow. Andres and Teresa insist we stay until the coming weekend when all the family can come and eat an asado. Their amazing hospitality has our heads reeling. Our welcome has exceeded our wildest dreams. Finally we call it a night, with Andres reminding us we have all the coming week to share stories. Besides, our faces can't take any more smiling.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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