Mendoza gets 300 days of sunshine a year and maybe 3 or 4 days of rain. It’s a hot, arid, desert here, perfect for growing grapes and olives, for which Mendoza is famous. But when we stepped off our 7-hour bus from Santiago, we walked into a steambath, hot and muggy – very unusual for Mendoza. Seemingly, we had arrived during that 4-day period of rainy weather.
In fact, that day they were hit by a freak hail storm, with hail the size of lemons. We saw the damage on our guide’s windshield, which sported three larges spider webs, and on the shattered clay tile roofs in a new subdivision. Hail has become a big problem for the wine industry in this area and many now cover their vineyards with expensive netting. Some blame it on global climate change.
It's so hot here that even the parking lots are covered with netting for shade. And drivers lift their windshield wipers off the windshields so that they don't stick.
But downtown Mendoza is a cool oasis in the middle of the desert. Its streets are lined with huge Sycamore and Plane trees that arch over the roadway providing a much needed cooling canopy. A system of canals brings cool snow melt from the mountains, irrigating the trees and acting like a huge natural air conditioner. In other countries these would be foul smelling gutters, but here, in the spring, the water runs clean and fast. People dip in to wash their cars or water their plants.
The meter-deep canals are an extension of the original irrigation channels created by the Incas and expanded by the Spanish. The canals line every street and, at a depth of three feet, they pose a very real hazard to unwary pedestrians, especially in a city where wine consumption is a religion. At street corners, there is a narrow concrete slab bridging the canal, but it’s not always in the same place and the streets are dark because of the overhanging trees. Caution is advisable to late night partiers.
Although there aren’t many major tourist attractions here, the city draws a lot of tourists for wine tours and mountain adventures, horseback riding and hiking.
We toured three wineries, including Lagarde, Trapiche and Trivento, sampled a lot of great wines and even some homemade empanadas at the small family run Lagarde Bodega.
Walking around the city of Mendoza is a real pleasure. Even though it’s very hot here, 35-40 Celsius, you can get around the entire center of town without leaving the cool shade of the broad Plane trees. Sidewalk cafes and restaurants are everywhere and there is even a three-block long pedestrian street that is always crowded with Argentineans enjoying coffee or a meal al fresco at all hours of the day and night.
As for our search for the perfect steak, well after three failed attempts, we finally found it. A thick and juicy steak at an Italian-style restaurant called La Florencia in downtown Mendoza. A fine Malbec wine, a great Argentinean steak and a cool evening under the lush canopy of Mendoza’s tree-lined streets. Could life be any better?