aka – Visiting Argentina’s wine region with kids plus babysitter!
We arrive in Mendoza, Argentina at 5am. Our bus is about 6 hours late! With super sleepy kids and feeling exhausted too we gather our bags and our wits and wonder if you can get any cash or a cab at this time. A money changer offers me 6 pesos to the dollar to change a $20 bill – I know the exchange rate is 5 so I’m baffled but accept and am cautious to check all the notes I get. We soon discover there is another exchange rate – it’s called the ‘dollar blue’ aka the black market rate! There is a daily published ‘dollar blue rate’ on the internet – it’s about 7:1 at this point and climbing – more on this and how much of a difference it makes to us later! Argentina’s economy is in crisis (perhaps as a distraction President Christina Kirchner is making a lot of noise about the Falklands aka The Malvinas) again and so we’re cautious about the reception we’ll get here!
We find a friendly cabbie who is happy to shoehorn the six of us plus luggage into his taxi! (interesting feat) and take us to our pleasant Aparthotel Tunkelen. Determined to get some value from our paid night of accommodation not to mention being bushed, we drive the now wide-awake kids into bed and sleep till 11am,. Of course we miss breakfast but the rooftop pool is wonderful when we finally wake up.
Mendoza is a huge grid of wide, dull streets with not much of a centre but it redeems itself with some lovely restaurants and by sitting in the middle of the wine regions so makes a good base to explore and get to know more about Argentinian wines.
We have a day or two exploring, enjoying the pool, dining in a couple of lovely restaurants. In particular, one called Azafran where we have a fab lunch and start to discover the wonderful wines of the region with a house Torrontes. Out of this world! We visit a lovely mini aquarium, the girls join an open air art class in a park and Martin and I visit the most boringly named ‘Functional Area Museo’ ?! It shows a little about Mendoza before and after the earthquake of 1861 when the city was decimated and rebuilt with a different centre and those wide boring streets – apparently so the rubble would have somewhere to fall of it happened again!
Martin and I get a two night pass from our resident babysitter! The first we take a great wine tasting session with Mendoza Wine Connection meeting some interesting folk from New Zealand, USA and Australia and then dine together.
We’re really enjoying some new discoveries. Malbec is the wonderful red from the region, especially good served a little warm and Torrontes is the irresistable white!
Nursing a rather delegate head, I organise a minivan next day and we all head off to a couple of vineyards in Lujan de Cuyo. Its tricky visiting a wine region with kids. First you don’t especially want to drive or spend ages on the road to get there! Second you want a bit more on the agenda than simply looking at grapes and sniffing Malbec. Third, you hope to avoid the expense of the tours that get great reviews but cost $250 per person! So we decide on two vineyards that I figured out are on several of the top tours but arrange a minivan for the day to take us there independently, and combine it with a trip to a thermal springs water park.
The first Bodega Renecer is a boutique vineyard where we get a great tour of the vineyard…
and a really informative tasting and chance to blend our own…
it costs around $7 per adult, kids free with a fantastic guide from the vinyard. The kids help and get right into it!
The second vinyard I choose for lunch and only a brief tour. Bodega Malipal lives up to the rave reviews for a super lunch with glorious views out across the vines to the majestic mountains.
After the wineries we stop at the wonderful Termas Parque Del Agua Cacheuta which is a thermal springs waterpark! What a treat. It’s superb and a lovely complement for a family day out – not to be confused with the spa next door that costs a huge amount more but might well be a treat without kids! The Water park has multiple pools, all of differing temperatures, a couple of slides and a stunning setting in a gorge with lovely views. Just what we need after a huge lunch and few glasses of Mendoza’s best!
You’d think we’d be happy to head home and crash out but Martin and I want to experience some more of Mendoza! So, for our second ‘night out’ we I head to another highly rated restaurant – Florentino – where, after enjoying some excellent dishes, disaster strikes… A dodgy, hooded chap pays a visit to the restaurant, comes up behind me and steals my iPhone from the table, right out of my hand with clever distraction tactics shoving leaflets down and mumbling in my ear! I realise he has the phone as the waiter ushers him out of the door and I yell!
High drama ensues as Martin leaps to his feet and gives chase and I have a few minutes with my heart in my mouth, panicking I might lose more than a phone. Thankfully he returns unscathed having given up as two of them disappear up a dark alley!
The Police are called, the restaurant kindly give us free wine and don’t charge for our meal! The guests at the other tables are locals including a friendly giude who we’d met in the day at Malipal. They are devastated! In part wanting to reassure us that all Argentinians are not like this, in part because they’re grateful it wasn’t one of their phones, which we all out on their table!
We are straight away on the phone home to make sure my phone is cancelled and then are whisked off to the police station with a ride from the friendly tourist policewoman in her little Ford Ka. We make it home and feel more than ready to fly out of Mendoza the next day! It was a lousy way to end an otherwise perfect day! Should have quit while we were ahead!
So please learn from my mistake – always always put your phone in your pocket . We are told that this kind of crime in Mendoza happens almost daily, so if you are visiting, take extra special care, wherever you are.
We tell Oma and the kids about my misfortune in the morning and Lara instantly says I may have her iPhone (iPod) – bless her. We are now sharing it as it gives me almost all the same as the iPhone did!
We take a flight to Iguazu Falls, stopping in Salta en route – the town we’d originally planned to go to direct from San Pedro way up in the north of Chile. We get to enjoy some spectacular scenery as we cross northern Argentina, but its dark as we get to the Falls – gutted to miss seeing them from the air!
Iguazu is the Argentine town at the border with Brazil and Peru, destination for the famous Iguazu Falls (up there with other ‘must visits’ on our family gap year itinerary) and also our final destination with Oma. More in our next blogs about the Falls, returning to Brazil and popping to Paraguay!