March 12th, 2013
One More for the (Dirt) Road
It was great having three days at a nice hotel in a nice place; I think both of us really needed a break. I really liked Villa La Angostura! It really had a great vibe and I would have loved to do some more hiking and biking in the area.
We had some breakfast and some ok coffee and then loaded up Casimiro. You could almost hear him give out a groan at the thought of another long drive. I have started to have some concerns about his ability to transport us all the way back to Buenos Aires as the exhaust problem has not diminished and I fear it may be a bad manifold.
The driveway into the hotel was steep and gravelly. Where we had to park Casimiro required a sharp turn up the hill. Yesterday it took to me three tries to get it up and out. Today, I just couldn’t do it. I had to finally back it down to the bottom of the hill and get a good running start. That did the trick, and we were off.
It was another gorgeous day and we were sorry that we had to leave and that our timing on the weather in El Bolson just wasn’t there for us. Although, it does feel good to be heading back to BA and eventually home as I think both of us are worn out and need to get some loving from the dogs and sleep in our own bed again.
The plan was to do the 5-hour drive to Neuquen, where we had rented a room in a pretty nice looking hotel. It was a very scenic and easy drive for most of it; the road snaked along the banks of a big river that cut through the some very spectacular volcanic formations. One of them was called “dedo de dios” (finger of god). I asked Susanne if she thought it was his middle finger and she laughed out-loud. That made me feel good.
We got to Neuquen, which is a new hub-bub of oil and gas activity, and found the hotel. I did a typical Argentinian move and just double-parked in front while Susanne ran in to get the full 411. Nobody seemed to notice or care about my parking. She came out with the reception lady and they discovered that someone had parked in front of the entrance for the parking. Sheesh.
I really wanted to go to Del Fin Del Mundo winery which was out to the north, so I told Susanne to just check us in and we would head out to some of the wineries. Off we went. Like all things in Patagonia, it turned out to be a lot further than I had bargained for and I should have listened to Susanne and bagged the trip. But I didn’t and off we went the full 50 km.
It was clear we would only have time for one winery, so we bagged Del Fin Del Mundo (which was the very first Patagonian wine we had ever had) and decided to just go to the first one we encountered
It is a sad looking wine region in comparison to every other one I have been to in the world. Mostly it is still an apple- and pear-growing region with fairly limited grape production. It is a dusty, wind-swept area and it is clear that if water is not provided to the soil, it will be barren.
We got to the turnoff for the first winery at 4:20 pm and it said “Saurus 1.8 km”. So it turns out I lied. I had to drag Susanne down yet another dirt road. She wasn’t super-happy about the whole drive out anyway and the sight of the dirt road was an additional downer. Luckily it wasn’t too far or too rough. We came to a big gate with a guard who looked very stern and official. He signed us in and said the last tour was at 5. We drove the remainder of the way in and saw the winery, which was surprisingly huge and modern. All the vineyards had big stands of trees planted around them to protect them from the howling Patagonian winds.
We walked up to building and saw a woman who asked us if we wanted the tour. We said we just wanted to taste the wines. After she deposited a couple of other folks into the winery for the tour, she took us over toward the restaurant, which looked very nice, and took us down to the tasting room.
She didn’t speak any English, so I got to nod my head and smile a lot. Susanne told her I was a gringo and didn’t speak Spanish. She relaxed and chatted at full speed to Susanne. Malbec is the wine of Argentina, or certainly the wine that they are known for. She had us taste a Sauvingnon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and a Malbec. She was clearly very proud of the Pinot. Sadly, it just isn’t up to snuff. Sorry Daniella. The Malbec was quite good and Merlot and Sav Blanc weren’t bad. We bought two bottles and headed back toward Neuquen. One more for the road….dirt that is.
We googled some restaurants and found some recommendation, but they didn’t start dinner until 8:30. Bummer. We had managed to not eat lunch and we were both pretty hungry. We headed over to the “best” hotel in Neuquen which had a wine bar and a nice restaurant hoping that maybe they were used to Americans that ate early. No dice. The hotel looked very dated. The travel book said it was overpriced and over-rated and I can see why. The red velvety fabric on the bar couch said it in spades.
But the bar did serve some tapas. For a wine bar it was pathetic. 4 wines by the glass; that was it. We ordered some meats and cheeses and a glass of Malbec for each of us. The meat/cheese platter was huge, but it wasn’t that good. We decided to order dinner at the bar as the crowd headed into the restaurant was very dressed up and we didn’t really fit in all that well in our Crocs. I had risotto and Susanne had salmon. Both were pretty good, but not anything to write home about.
We headed back to the hotel. They had apples at the front desk; I stole two of them. They looked really good. You can buy them on the roadside; 10 kilos for 10 pesos ($2). Wow
We hit the sack and both of us were a bit dreading the long drive the next day.
Ciao for now.