We got to know the town of San Rafael quite well, and spent many afternoons in a local café called Nina’s using their free internet and trying everything on the menu. It is actually quite a nice town, which seems to be the next big thing after Mendoza. It offers a similar experience, without being too touristy or crowded. There is a feel of stepping back in time as the pace slows down, and the cars all look they are stuck in the 70s (some for the good, while others are literally taped together and should not be on the road!). The vineyards are equally old and beautiful, the wine is amazing, the local organic produce is delicious, the streets are lined with old trees that look particulalry stunning in Autumn, and the town is slowly being renovated to become more modern and tourist-friendly.
Tag Archives: Mendoza
While we were in San Rafael we wanted to see the Atuel Canyon, which we had heard was amazing. We spent one day at Valle Grande, which was easy enough to get to by catching a bus from town to the dam wall. However, we didn't realise that none of the activities would be running, it was too far to walk to the top of the dam, and that the bus only had one return time – 7pm, when it was dark and cold, and all the cafés were shut!
After our first failed attempt, we decided to hire a car for the day so that we could have the freedom to explore in our own time. This proved to be the best option! We took a wrong turn coming out of San Rafael, and ended up driving a different route to El Nihuil, which turned out to be a spectacular drive across desert plains with mountain peaks in the far distance.
Today is Sunday and our last day in San Rafael with our extended WOOFing family. To celebrate, we hosted a fiesta yesterday, which featured over ten litres of wine, one chicken, one goat and a lot of sunshine.
After learning about the Patagonian style of cooking lamb I (Mark) set myself the goal of learning how to cook one while we were living in San Rafael. The farewell fiesta was the perfect excuse! As we have mentioned, chivo (goat) is the popular meat in Mendoza. So, since I couldn't buy lamb, this was the best choice.
We went on a bit of search in the city to find a butcher (carniceria) that could sell us a whole goat. As it turns out this was harder than we thought. The goats are bred in Malargüe, which is two hours drive away, so not everyone stocks it. But we did find two cheerful geezers who were only too happy to sell me 9.7 kgs of frozen chivo.
The process for cooking a goat in the Patagonian style takes about 7 hours, depending on the climate, the size of the carcass and the amount of wood you have. I started at 8 am in the morning. Managed to get the fire going before preparing the framework that would hold up the carcass.
Once that was ready it was carried outside and planted in a hole 40 cm deep and around 1 metre from the fire.
The idea is that you drag hot coals close to the meat to slow cook it. If the day is cold or there's wind etc you can control the heat by adding more coals or shifting the fire closer.
Every couple of hours the whole carcass is basted with saltwater, about a litre in total. It is also important to rotate it on its axis to prevent the meat from getting too hot (remember that the idea is to slow cook it!) and ensure the meat is cooked evenly.
After five hours we added a chicken to the parilla. We bought a whole chicken, which was butterflied and seasoned with paprika, chilli, salt and pepper a day in advance. You can also add vegetables and/or sausages, but we cooked our vegies seperately.
At 2:30 the meat was good to go! Took great joy in carving the meat straight off the frame. Good fun.
The meal was a huge success, everyone was happy, plenty of food and wine to go round and some beautiful sunshine to keep us warm.
We love a good barbeque. We've hosted many a cook up that have left people asleep on our couches and floors with full stomachs. When we were planning our trip many friends mentioned that Argentina was famous for barbeques, so we were determined to try and learn their secrets.
The Argentine's call their BBQs 'asados', but you will also hear 'parilla', which refers to cooking on a grill. They cook their food over hot coals or embers, which are topped up from a nearby fire. The BBQs are typically cooked in the open, although you may also see pizza ovens used as well.
They also have slightly different cuts of meat to what we are used to in NZ and Australia, plus there's the blood sausage (morcilla) and the chorizo. All this this is drizzled in generous amounts of chimichurri, the national sauce (its awesome).
If that gets the taste buds going, the Patagonian style of barbequing lamb, beef and goat takes things to a whole new level. As per the pic below, the animal is butterflied on a vertical rack and slow cooked over a fire. The meat is basted in salt or salt water and rotated to make sure it is cooked on both sides. Mark reckons it is the best meat he has ever tasted (its emotional).
The meat on offer does change based on where you are. As a friend told us, you can get cow (vaca) everywhere, but down south lamb (cordero) is very popular. Goat (chivo) replaces lamb in the Mendoza region and suckling pig (cerdo) can be found in some parts.
The parilla is a feature of everyday life in Argentina. The grill is included on family trips and the smell of food cooking wafts across many a park. We love it and have been lucky to have local friends show us how it is done…
To be continued.
While in Mendoza, we took the opportunity to go on a day trip to the Andes to see Aconcagua, the highest mountain in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres. The drive there was simply stunning, with amazing geological formations that changed colour as we climbed higher into the mountains.
We stopped at the entrance to the national park where we were able to go for a walk to a lookout to see Aconcagua. Fortunately for us, there was a light dusting of autumn snow, which was the first for the season. The mountains were even more picturesque than usual, although the tip of Aconcagua was covered in cloud.
We had a huge buffet lunch at the last little town before the Chilean border. Afterwards, the sun came out over the mountains and we wandered around taking in the scenery.
On the way home, we stopped off at Puente del Inca (Inca Bridge), which is a natural formation and actually has nothing to do with the Incas. There are thermal springs which calcify around the rock to form the bridge. The ruins of a hotel from the 1960s remain, but the rest of the area is pretty desolate and is really just an excuse to sell tacky Inca souvenirs to bus loads of tourists passing from Aconcagua to Mendoza.
The drive home provided more amazing scenery to finish off a fantastic day in the Andes.
Mendoza is a nice city in the heart of Argentina's wine region, surrounded by snow capped mountains and plenty of vineyards.
When we first arrived in Argentina we decided to apply to work on an organic farm through the WOOF website, which is a network to connect volunteers with organic farms throughout the world. After contacting over twenty different farms, we got one response from a farming collective in San Rafael in the province of Mendoza. After travelling for the last three months, we are happy to sit still for a few weeks, practice our Spanish, and get to know the locals. Travelling can be exhausting, so it will be a welcome change from constantly moving from one place to another. The idea is that we do a few hours of work on the farm each day, in exchange for accommodation and food. Seems like a good deal!
Mendoza is the Argentinean wine region, which hosts many world class vineyards, as well as orchards full of olives, apricots, peaches and plums, to name a few. San Rafael produces mostly white wines, and has the perfect climate for fruit trees. We are not sure exactly what we will be doing yet but we will be working on a few different farms helping out where needed before winter. The whole region is beautiful and the colours of autumn add a touch of charm to make it particularly stunning right now!