Biking with wine

We left Uruguay promising to return to it’s chilled out old-school vibe and headed into Argentina with plans to meet up with our friends (and partners on drivetheamericas.com) to get a little conversation and drink a little red wine.  We hightailed it over the bleak pampas, passing flashes of pink flamingos, to the wonderfully sunny and charming Mendoza.

Wine Tour Mendoza

Since we were in wine country we felt that to really experience it we should take advantage of the nearby wineries.  Boarding a bus for about an hour and half took us to Maipu and right to Mr. Hugo’s bike rentals.  We pedaled through the spring day, stopping in at a few wineries to sample the wares.  But I think the highlight of our little afternoon jaunt was the last stop – a small shop, A la Antigua, which had every sort of homemade delicacy imaginable: olives, dulce de leche, chocolates, preserves and liqueurs from Scotch to Absinthe.  Osvaldo, our giggly and rather round host, invited us to try a little of everything all of which were ridiculously good, so good that we all left with backpacks a little heavier than when we came.

Concha y ToroAfter enjoying a week of Mendoza’s sunny days and great wine we decided it was time to head to Chile in search of waves.  But, before we could hit up the surf we felt it was only proper to pay our respects to Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest wine exporter and creator of one of our most favourite joyful finds.  After a night of free camping (people are really too generous) we arrived at the crack of 10am to take a tour and a tasting at the humongous bodega.

Wine SnobsOur tour guide, who had a very odd accent (think William Shatner’s Captain Kirk with a British accent), told us a little about the winery as we wandered around the estate, the Concha y Toro cellar and the infamous El Casillero de Diablo (The Devil’s Cellar).  Señor Concha y Toro found that wines were going missing so he created a bit of a legend that the wines were protected by the devil himself thereby keeping frightened thieves out of his private collection.  The tour includes two tastings of the medium brand wines and your own Concha y Toro wineglass…all in all a pretty good time.
The end

The other day our road trip hit 40,000 kilometers which is the circumference of the earth at the equator. I think when we get to Ushuaia we’ll be nearer to 50,000 and Marlin, our trusty little VW Golf, will earn his final flag driving the Pan American Highway to South America.

final-flag

One thing we noticed right away in Uruguay were people carrying strange leather cups and thermoses: on the beach, walking around the city, the campground, the hot springs, drinking it in their cars… maté was literally everywhere.

Maté actually refers to a small gourd some of which can be elaborately decorated, wrapped in leather, embellished with silver or inset into cows hooves.  The tea is referred to as yerba.  This tea is sipped through a metal tube called a bombilla which acts as both a straw and a sieve, the whole ensemble is completed with a thermos which is usually carried tucked in the crook of the elbow.

Not wanting to miss out on the fun we decided to wander around Montevideo and try to find ourselves a maté and bombilla set that we both liked. Tom picked his up first (only after we saw every mate dealer in the whole old city) and I found mine in a small Saturday market and bought it direct from a man who handmade them…making Tom rather jealous.

There are a million rules about how to prepare and drink maté…but it all depends on who you talk to and since Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay all partake in the yerba ritual you could hear a lot of different stories—but from what we have read and seen Uruguayans are the most serious maté drinkers, consuming twice as much maté per capita than their Argentine amigos

Preparing Maté – Uruguayan style
We had the lovely owners of Punto Berro Hostel in Montevideo give us a lesson on how to prepare and drink maté, this is our summarized version:

How to make mate from Kels M on Vimeo.

Maté Etiquette
Maté is serious business here in Latin America.  It is more than just ‘drinking tea’ it is a centuries old ritual that is deeply ingrained in the culture and if you’re invited to share a maté you really shouldn’t refuse as sharing mate is seen as extending friendship.  Another steadfast and important rule is to leave the bombilla alone, don’t fuss with it or do anything crazy like pull it out or stir it around, once it is set it stays there until the maté ritual is finished.

Mate Flavour
As for the flavour, well I think this maybe  one of those things you learn to like.  It sort of like green tea only a whole lot stronger and at times bitter though every Uruguayan we met was sure that we would learn to love it.  We started out on one which was rather potent and have since backtracked to Abuelita (little grandmother) to slowly work towards proper appreciation.

Green rolling hills and long quiet country roads led us to Panagea Ranch where Juan and Susann welcomed us in to spend four days ‘playing Gaucho’ in rural Uruguay.

The term gaucho can loosely be defined as “cowboy” though it refers more to a nomadic group that lived off the land from the very south in Patagonia, to the west in the Andes and all the way to the southern state of Parana in Brazil. A distinctive part of Uruguayan culture, the gauchos are known as proud, fierce horsemen and remain a symbol against corruption even today.

We spent the next four days riding horses, herding cattle and sheep, assisting (though you might have to check with Juan if we actually did help) the gauchos, feeding the orphaned animals, playing badminton and stuffing ourselves with the most amazing meals – all made on a wood-burning stove by Susann. Gourmet gaucho meals mean real potato salad, the most delicious beef, green salads with organic lettuce from the garden, vegetarian options and other tasty delights.  We had seconds at every meal…good thing gaucho pants are pretty roomy.

The estancia (ranch) is a true getaway.  Secluded in the countryside and limited to 2 hours of electricity per day (7:30 to 9:30pm – by generator) one can find the time to relax, think, read, walk  – encompassed in a comfortable silence where you can hear the beat of a hummingbird’s wings.

Playing Gaucho from Kels M on Vimeo.

BroDrive

We had to postpone the Brazilian brodrive a couple days while the friendly people at American Airlines tracked down Ted’s bag which had been re-routed the wrong way from Dallas. Kelsey’s younger brother didn’t seem too concerned though—he’d just travelled 18 hrs without any travel on: no book, no mp3 device, no toothbrush … the invincible years.

Highway 101 between Rio and São Paulo winds around a mountainous coastline and offers tantalizing glimpses of turquoise blue ocean lagoons and secret beaches lying seductively behind curtains of Atlantic rain forest.  We drove to Itamambuca a small town just north of Ubatuba; honed our pool skills on a very unforgiving table, surfed and drank homemade caipirinhas.

The two T's Chilling

The two T's Chilling

Paraty, further north, is one of those fairytale towns with cobbled streets, white-washed buildings and creeping bougainvillea. We stopped in here for their annual Pinga Festival which is a celebration of artesanal cachaça, the main ingredient in the national drink … some were better than others.

Tasting all the Pinga

Tasting all the Pinga

The south of Brazil has a surprisingly large German population and we decided to brodrive 900 kilometers to Blumenau to see the German founded town and to sample some of their renown beers. We stayed at Hotel Gloria which has been awarded Joydrive’s best free breakfast buffet.

And then on to Florianópolis to hang on the beach for a few days. We saw Ted off with some beer champagne from Blumenau, two 40 ounce bottles of cachaça from Itamambuca and four bottles of hot sauce from Florianópolis.

Beautiful Floripa

Beautiful Floripa

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