Argentina … The Old Mates Tour

Melbourne trams? No, Mendoza trams!

After seeing the many photos we posted on Facebook and our Facebook page,, our friend from Buenos Aires, Diego, noted that our trip through Argentina was like an old mates tour. Well, yes, I suppose it was! Travelling is not only about seeing new places, experiencing different cultures and meeting new friends … it is also about catching up with old ones!

Welcome to Mendoza.

Iguazu Falls was going to be pretty hard to beat, but it was time to move on once again and so we were off to Mendoza, in the centre of the country (to the west and close to the Chilean border). It is smack bang in the middle of the some of the country’s best vineyards and has a lovely, temperate climate, but as neither Alex nor I are really into wine, visiting wineries was not our focus.  We stayed at a lovely little colonial hotel called Hotel Zamora, which I can highly recommend; comfortable, clean and close to the centre. We also met a lovely Chilean family there, (Natalia, Jose and baby Balthasar) who we have since remained in touch with. New friends to catch up with on our next trip to Chile!

Our trip to the Chilean border.


Close to Bridge of the Incas.

The highlight of our trip to Mendoza was our day trip, heading west, through the Andes, to to the border of Chile. Thermals, hats and gloves a must, it was very, very cold, but remarkably spectacular. We took in places like Potrerillos, Uspallata, Penitentes, the Bridge of the Incas and a viewpoint from where we could see the imposing Mount Aconcagua, South America’s highest peak at 6,960 metres. Aconcagua. Breathtakingly beautiful (as well as cold) we had a great day including a shot on a cable car with the glistening snow below.

Another Mendoza highlight was the ‘bus turistico’ Mendoza City Tour which took in several of the main sights and was a lovely way to take in several things quickly. Apart from going past several ‘obligatory’ sights, we also visited Cerro (hill) de la Gloria, where we able to take a short walk to the top of a hill which rewarded us with spectacular views over the city. Central Park was also an expansive place that we took a stroll through … always good to see the locals hanging out on a Sunday. We also took a tram out to Maipu, about 15 kilometres from Mendoza City. Again we strolled around and took in the tranquil countryside. We visited the very interesting Museo Nacional del Vino y la Vendimia (National Museum of Wine).  Set in a colonial home where an Italian immigrant started his own wine company, we received a personalised tour of this immigrant’s life and how he became a wine baron.

Mendoza vineyard.
Pictures tell a thousand words.

I was getting excited, our next destination would be San Juan, just a couple hours north of Mendoza. There we would be catching up with my gorgeous friend Viviana, whom I met in a park (in San Juan) when I was travelling through South America in 1999.  We hit it off all those years ago and remained in contact, but I had not seen her since. We were both very, very excited.  She would be meeting us at the bus station.  Needless to say, it was a very emotional reunion, where we both hugged and cried for several minutes. Fifteen years had passed but the bond we had created all those years ago was as strong as ever.


1999 with Maxi and Vivi.


Sunday asado with the family.

We spent a wonderful week in San Juan. Whilst we most certainly got out and about and did things, our main focus was to spend time with Vivi.  We stayed at a great (clean, inexpensive, friendly staff) place called Hotel Nuevo San Francisco, in a centrally located and safe part of town.  We can highly recommend it. Each morning we would meet Vivi and do things together; we usually ended up at her place, which she shares with her delightful parents Gloria and Jorge. In no time at all, we formed a very strong bond and I knew it was going to be hard to say goodbye. I was overcome with emotion when we found Soy Chu, a fantastic vegetarian restaurant. We had mostly been cooking in as Argentina is (I really do love you Argentina!) the meat, pizza and pasta show … a tough gig for a vegetarian who eats no wheat! I had hit the jackpot … or so I thought … a couple of days in, we were going to Vivi’s house and her mum was cooking up an array of vegetable dishes.  Move over Soy Chu … hello Soy Gloria!  Needless to say that became her nickname.

Pocito Town!

Our trips close to San Juan included ‘Pocito Town’, a place Vivi and I had visited together 15 years ago; the ‘highlight’ being its mini Statue of Liberty in the main square. So many good memories.  We sat in the plaza and sipped on mate as we watched the world go by. Another day we went out to Zonda, a tranquil mountainous area. Weekends in Argentina are all about family.  On the Saturday Vivi’s brother, Enrique, took us out to see the Ullum Dam as well as the Merced Del Estero Bodega, a boutique winery with some truly exceptional wines (coming from a wine dyslexic that’s pretty decent praise). So, we actually ended up seeing a winery in Argentina after all! We bought some wine to give to Vivi’s Dad, Jorge, as well as some for Enrique and the family as Sunday would be family asado (BBQ) day, and needless to say, we were invited.

Sunday at Enrique’s house was a full on family affair.  The table was full of both food and people. Once again Gloria made sure that there were loads of veggie dishes. Lucky me! Apparently quite a few were new creations, just for me. Why thank you Gloria!

Thank you for the miracle received.

Our last day in San Juan was spent visiting ‘La Difunta Correa’ (the deceased Correa). Enrique’s father-in-law had kindly offered to take us.  Surely we could not leave Argentina without visiting a ‘saint’ whom people from all over Argentina as well as neighbouring countries come to see? Correa is a semi-pagan mythical figure.  Apparently, she died around 1840 during the Argentine civil wars. In an attempt to reach her sick husband she undertook a long and arduous walk … she died along the way but was found several days later with her child still feeding on her breast. And so a legend was born! Although not acknowledged by the Catholic Church the Difunta Correa is an unofficial popular saint. Her devout followers believe her to perform miracles. The shrine dedicated to her is phenomenal; from the tens of thousands of thank you notes for having saved lives and cured illnesses to the numerous number plates of new cars and models of new houses that were able to be bought. We even saw people ‘walking’ up the stairway to her shrine backwards and on their elbows! Some people choose to do this as a sign of respect for the ‘miracle’ granted them. Nothing like a good urban myth!

Goodbye Gloria, I will miss you!

And so our time in San Juan had come to an end. Our last night was a touching and emotional affair. We hugged, we cried, we laughed, and we vowed to remain in touch.  Some people come into your life for a short time and some are just meant to always be in it.  Vivi is meant to be in mine! As I hugged Gloria goodbye I gave her one of my favourite silver rings.  She didn’t want to accept it, but I insisted. Yes, it was one of my favourite rings, but it’s only a ‘thing’ and I wanted to give it to her. We focus so much on the material, but it’s really not what matters.  I knew how much it would mean to Gloria, yet for me it had simply been something that I had bought.  Things come and go; good people don’t! As we walked home to our hotel Vivi stood by her door and waved until we could no longer see each other. My heart slumped.  I always find such moments really heart-wrenching!


Destiny is destiny.

Dedication: My beautiful friend Viviana, it was our destiny to meet again, and I know that it is our destiny to now meet again in Australia. Thank you for the love and friendship that you have shown me over the years.  Fifteen years passed but I always held you close to my heart.  You are a true friend; you are my sister.  Gloria and Jorge – thanks for embracing Alex and I like your own family. We love you all very much!

Dedicación: Mi linda amiga Viviana, era nuestro destino de vernos otra vez, y se que es nuestro destino vernos otra vez en Australia. Quince anos pasaron pero siempre te he tenido cerca de mi corazon. Eres una amiga verdadera; eres mi hermana. Gloria y Jorge – gracias por tratar a Alex y a mi como su propria familia.  Les amamos muchísimo!

Next: The Old Mates Tour Part 2. First the Fertile Valley west of San Juan (The Valley of the Moon and Talampaya National Park) and then catching up with more old friends.

” Creatures like the sheep, that are used to travelling, know about moving on”Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

National Museum of wine, Maipu.


The many faces of dulce de leche (caramelised condensed milk).


Cerro Gloria, Mendoza.


Contemplatively enjoying ice-cream in Maipu.


With our new Chilean friends.


Enjoying some good meat and wine in Mendoza.


Don’t close the tap or the water will freeze!


Chairlift near Chilean border.


This cake is called ‘Bomba’; merengue, chocolate, dulce de leche. OMG!


Say no to child labour!


The mate after the Sunday asado.


Vivi’s dad Jorge.


About to eat meat …


Wine tasting, Bodega Merced Estero, near San Juan.


Ullum Dam, near San Juan.


Day trip out to Zonda, near San Juan.


The cult of the Difunta Correa.


Thank you Difunta Correa for the miracles granted.
The many notes and photos thanking the Difunta Correa for the miracles granted them.


Gotta fit in as many hugs as I can.


With my San Juan family.


Clowns in 1999, still clowns now!


Around Zonda, near San Juan.




Painted bus on our day trip to Chilean border.


Coffee anyone?  Mendoza.
The beautiful mountains that border Chile.


Our day trip to the Chilean border, view after spectacular view.


Bridge of the Incas.


Close enough to Mendoza but freezing!
Chips … Argentine style!


In the far distance, Mt Acongagua, highest in South America.


Near Bridge of the Incas.


A rarity; a condor close up.


Day trip through the Andes.


Spectacular views.


Sunday asado with Vivi’s family, San Juan.

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Alex & Ombi

Alex & Ombi

Ombretta (Ombi) Zanetti is a co-founder of She has been travelling the world since 1989 and since 1999 with her partner, Alex, who hails from Ecuador. They both like to venture to the lesser known places. Ombi shares her passion for different cultures through her travel stories and Alex through his lens. Come take a detour or two with them!

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