Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Purple Haze

This weekend Natalie and I went to Mendoza, otherwise known as wine country. We rode a bus for 13 hours overnight and arrived in San Rafael, the capital, around 9:00 AM. It was Saturday and San Rafael was just beginning to wake up, although it would remain in a sleepy state for most of the weekend. Nat and I spent the first day there exploring every nook and cranny, which meant wandering into chocolate shops (yes, plural), craft stores, and a cute little restaurant. Siesta still exists in this small town, so when the stores closed for about three hours in the afternoon, we wandered over to a park and sprawled out on the dry grass to look at the clouds. There is something magical about the light here. If Egypt’s sunlight is harsh, unyielding, 180 proof, then Argentina’s light is like clarified butter; soft, with all impurities removed. I could gaze at the sky for hours, which this day reminded me of an inverted river delta: not only was I upside down, but instead of a blue river on a sandy delta, concentrated milk white clouds floated over a blue shore, rippling and gathering before they quickly disintegrated. If I had been close to an earth-bound body of water, I feared both expanses might melt together, sealing me into a sandwich of great blue yonder. I wanted to hold onto the light sky, the darkening pine trees, and the golden grass, but soon it grew chilly and we had to leave for the indoors.

We had heard that the circus was in town that night, so after dinner Nat and I headed over and met up with two Australians and an American we had met at the hostel. The circus here was not at all like it would be in the US. It was more like a night club combined with a circus. There was a fog machine and a DJ mixing techno music up on the stage while flashing lights turned everything purple and green. Occasionally performers would come out and do very cool, acrobatic things, but mostly it seemed like people were there for the dance club atmosphere. We were tired and decided we’d seen enough around 12:30, so we headed back.

Sunday was our day to explore the countryside surrounding San Rafael. We hired two lively guides to take us on a mini road trip around the town. They hadn’t been to bed the night before (which made us feel incredibly lame), but they were still full of interesting information and eager to share. They took us to see rivers, canyons, a giant dam and the lake behind it, and a fruit farm. It was a beautiful and relaxing day. We cooked dinner for ourselves in the hostel that night, and then settled in to watch Batman Begins. Around 2:00 in the morning, two drunk Argentineans wandered in and tried to convince us to “share” the couch with them. They were very tired, you see, and just wanted to use our laps as pillows. Unfortunately they were not quite good looking enough for us to oblige, but we had fun talking with them for awhile and watching the rest of the movie before heading off to bed.

Monday was vineyard day, so of course I was very excited. We road the bus a couple miles out of town to a vineyard which was famous for champagne. Unfortunately, once we finally arrived we were told that the vineyard was closed for inventory. The lovely looking tea shop next door was also closed. Well crap. We were out in the middle of the country and didn’t know when or if the bus would be by again. We considered our options: Waiting, “borrowing” a tractor and driving it back ourselves, walking all the way back, or…hitchhiking. We were in the country and there were two of us, so I walked up to the road and stuck out my thumb. Soon a lovely farmer stopped, and we climbed into the back of his truck. We wizzed down the road, wind whipping our hair into birds nests while we grinned like idiots with the thrill of victory. We made our way to two vineyards after that. I had toured a vineyard once before but hadn’t really been listening. The two tour guides we had were very nice and knowledgeable, taking us up and down flights of stairs, into dark and earthy-smelling storage rooms and around goliath vats of ageing wine. The best part of course, was tasting.

After the last vineyard, Natalie and I slowly lugged our newly purchased bottles and ourselves back into town. We grabbed our bags and walked the few blocks to the bus station. The station looked like it had when we’d left it: people tangled up in comings and goings, an omnipresent smell of gasoline hanging in the air, giant half-occupied parking spaces striping the concrete. The only thing different this time was that Mendoza was saluting us farewell with a spectacular sunset. We boarded the bus against a background of technicolor layer cake. It looked as though Barbie Dreamhouse had fought an epic battle with a container of apricot sherbet, and the victor was yet to be determined. Pink and orange floated between layers of puffy frosting and pale blue. I ached a little as I boarded the bus, sad to be leaving such a place of peace and beauty, but happy to head back after the long weekend.