early this afternoon, two friends (mark dowds and bobby john) and i set out for a little shopping in town. all the stores were closed. after a leisurely lunch at a sidewalk cafe, we stopped in a visitor center and asked about the most tourist-y thing we could think of: visiting a mendoza winery (mendoza is the primary wine region of argentina, and has amazing wines that are crazy-cheap here — the best, in my opinion, is a blend called malbec, which is complex and rich, like a syrah, merlot or cab, but substantially smoother). we got directions on how to get to a winery about a half-hour away, taking a bus, and renting bikes, which we thought sounded fun (though extremely tourist-y).
we walked a couple blocks and waited to try to catch the correct bus, which we finally did. we told the bus driver (by pointing at a map) where we wanted to get off; but we were completely unsure whether or not he understood us. the drive took a good half-hour, and we started to think we may have missed the stop. i was studying the map, but couldn’t figure anything out. eventually, we realized where we were, right before the driver stopped and motioned that we were at our stop.
we got off the bus at a spot where there was another information booth where people would speak english, as well as a bike rental run by the info booth. both were closed. the hours on their door said they should be open, but they weren’t. and we were in the middle of nowhere. as we stood there wondering what to do, an old lady walked up to us and asked (somehow, she didn’t speak english) if we were looking for bikes. she pulled out an english-language flyer for a rental place “300 meters down the road”. 3/4 of a mile later, we found the place: a house, with a heavy iron gate and barking dogs. but a guy came, and gouged us a ridiculous price for three bikes. he told us the winery was 6 kilometers away. off we went.
it was fun for about 100 feet.
the winds had picked up this afternoon (people later told me umbrellas at cafes had been blowing off) and was directly in our faces. my back tire was low on air, and i felt like i was constantly biking up a steep hill, even though the ground was flat. add to that: i’m completely out of shape. within minutes, my heart was pounding and my legs were burning. about a kilometer into the trip, i had to stop for a break. i did this three more times (the fourth time was about 20 feet after the third time). my legs hurt terribly, and my heart was pounding so hard, i seriously wondered if i would have a heart attack (now, almost six hours later, my chest still hurts). we looked at the map, and realized we were only about halfway there. i told the guys i would never make it. and i didn’t have any great interest in dying (or at least having a heart attack) on a small side road outside of mendoza. understand: no one was around except for a few kids who were laughing at us.
we turned back, which was substantially easier, with the wind at our backs. when we returned to the house where we’d rented the bikes, no one was home. we finally figured out how to jimmy the gate open, but had a massive moment of panic when the killer dogs charged us in the interior drive. we dropped the bikes and ran, closing the gate behind us.
then we walked: maybe a half mile. a bus pulled up and we climbed on. but it only went just past where we’d turned around on our bikes before it turned down a different road, which forced us off the bus. we walked a bit, then sat by the side of the road (my heart was still racing, and my legs would barely hold me up) for about 20 minutes, before another bus came by on the correct road. we got on again, and got off at the intersection where we thought the winery was going to be (the bus was turning the wrong direction again anyhow, so we had to get off). we started walking alongside the road, in the direction of the winery. it was windy and hot, and we were thirsty and miserable — and starting to feel completely lost.
after walking for a mile or so, we realized something was seriously wrong, and we must be heading the wrong direction. so we turned around and walked back to the intersection. at the intersection, we saw a sign for the winery that said it was 2 kilometers in a different direction than we had been heading. i was close to tears. my feet now hurt (i was not wearing shoes for walking), and everything else still hurt. but we had no options. so we headed off down another road — this one very small and tree-lined. if i hadn’t been so fried, i would have thought it was beautiful. we were obviously SO far from tourists and english speakers. there were a few tiny shacks, amongst fields of grape vines.
at 5:30, we approached a small “store” (the winery closed at 6). the store had a couple funky tables out front, and one of them had three dudes drinking beer and laughing. we tried to ask about the winery, but there was no communication. we were lost. we decided to end our trip here, and wondered if we would ever be able to get a taxi or a ride of any kind. but we knew the store had beer. so we decided it would have to be our winery. we tried to buy two large bottles of quilmes bock (a dark local beer), a small coke and a small water, and the store guy told us it was 78 pesos (about $26). we tried to disagree, but he seemed to not understand. and we just didn’t care. we said to each other, “if this guy’s trying to take us, let’s just let him have the money, because this has to be our winery tour.” i handed him a 100-peso note, and he mumbled something that seemed to indicate he couldn’t make change. so i dug around in my wallet and found a 50, a 20 and a 10. he reached over and took only the 10, and then gave us change. it was then we realized the purchase was only 7.8 pesos (about $2.60)! now the pain disappeared, and we sat at the other table, laughing at our day. really laughing. we could barely stop laughing. the local guys thought we were nuts, and started laughing with us. then, one of them suddenly figured out what we’d been asking, and said the winery was only one kilometer away, about a 10 – 15 minute walk.
the guy communicating with us (who had 3 teeth) had a tiny barely-working motorcycle (more like moped), and we considered pooling our money to see if we could buy it from him! mark dowds asked (through mime) if the guy would give mark a ride to the winery. they tried to respond, and we didn’t understand; but eventually we understood that they were saying they couldn’t give me and mark a ride because we were too fat. all six of us laughed until we almost peed. i was about ready to just lay down in the dirt, laugh a bit more, and die (or hope someone or something would rescue me). but the guy decided to take mark and his bike (which looked absolutely hilarious — think the two dumb & dumber guys on the mini-bike), while bobby and i walked. we arrived at the winery at 6, thinking it might be closed.
instead, we got a wonderful and inspiring tour from the owner, a frenchman who’d moved here a few years ago with his wife to start a boutique winery. the tour was amazing, and the wine was great. and we were all so inspired by his courageous and fun entrepreneureal story. eventually, he called a taxi for us to get back to mendoza. it was the most enjoyable taxi ride of my life — only because i was so happy to be sitting on a padded seat, not walking, not biking.
i went straight to the convention center at 8:15 to catch the closing general session, which had started at 8.
only: it didn’t start at 8. it started at 6:30, and had ended at 8. i didn’t realize this until i had been there for 10 minutes.
i’m sure mark and bobby and i will talk about this day for years to come. and i’m sure my legs and feet will really hurt tomorrow morning.