Tag Archives: Mendoza

Farm Life in San Rafael

We really enjoyed our experience living on a farm for a month, and would recommend WOOFing (Working On Organic Farms) to any travellers interested in doing something a little different! It was a fantastic opportunity to relax and recover some energy after a few months of solid travel, practice Spanish and make new friends. All the people we met and worked with were lovely, and were genuinely interested in learning about us and where we come from.
We had heard that WOOFing is a bit of a gamble, but if the people hosting volunteers are reasonable with the amount of time you are expected to work, and the food that they provide, then it can be a win-win situation. We worked a few hours a day, doing mostly farm maintenance work, picking olives and feeding animals, which was actually really enjoyable. We got to help out with work that they otherwise would not have had time to do, and it was a nice change from working in an office staring at a computer all day! Living on the farm really gave us a taste of what it would be like to own property and animals, and while it all seems very romantic, it is a lot of hard work!

Farm house in San Rafael

San Rafael is beautiful and we probably would have stayed longer if it wasn’t getting so cold. The farmhouse where we were staying was quaint, but lacked modern appliances. For example we had to light a fire outside underneath a hotwater tank in order to heat water for a shower, which was a novel experience. We did however enjoy drinking local wines and sitting by the fire to keep warm!
We also had plenty of animals to keep us company on the farm. There were lots of dogs, chooks, rabbits (who kept having babies) and a swarm of bees who apparently produced a lot of honey for export to Germany! It was nice to be surrounded by animals and nature, and forget about real life for awhile.

Bees

I do love olives, so I was quite interested in seeing the process of production. Turns out it is really easy, it just takes a long time! We picked several buckets of green olives which were then put into salt water that was changed regularly. This process can take several months before the olives are edible. They used a different technique for the black olives, which simply involved putting them into an air tight bag full of rock salt, with no water, and then just leaving them there for about a year. Seems like a lot of effort for something that is so cheap to buy, but they taste amazing!

Picking olives

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.

Bianchi Champagne, Autumn trees in the streets of San Rafael, Folk Dancers

Classic cars

While we were in town, we also had the opportunity to check out the surrounding area. We spent one day at Villa 25 de Mayo, which held a festival on Revolution Day (25th of May). It was a cute town with people dressed up for folk dancing, lots of Agentine music, asados and local foods to try. We also went to Valle Grande and El Nihuil to see the magnificent Atuel Canyon.
Overall, working on a farm in San Rafael was a great experience! We love Argentina and feel very lucky to have been able to spend as much time as we have here!

Not a bad alcohol collection for a couple of backpackers!

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Atuel Canyon

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.

 
 
 
Eventually, we turned off the main road and headed towards the village of El Nihuil. There is not much to this dusty little town, but we did find one restaurant that was open, so we had lunch and then continued on our way. The canyon starts here and provided hours of epic scenery.
There are several huge dams used for hydroelectric power. The last is at Valle Grande, where there are also a lot of activities that you can do (mostly in Summer) such as kayaking, rafting, trout fishing etc. However, there was pretty much no water in the river as it hardly ever rains, and the dam holds the main flow.
The dramatic landscapes and colours in the rock were incredible. Add a dash of Autumn, and it was just beautiful. We had a great day and would highly recommend anyone around the area to check out the Canyon!
 

El Nihuil

Dam wall at Valle Grande

 


Mark’s Mighty Asado

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.

The crucifixion in action.

Once that was ready it was carried outside and planted in a hole 40 cm deep and around 1 metre from the fire.

Carcass Cam.

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.

Racking in more coals. Chicken on the right. The grill is raised on bricks with hot embers underneath.

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.

¡Salud!

 


The Mighty Argentine Asado

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.

Street food on sale in San Telmo, Buenos Aires.

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.

Restaurant grill in La Boca, Buenos Aires.

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).

A parilla underway at our friend Ana's farm in San Rafael.

The results.

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.

Two whole lambs cooked in the traditional Patagonian style.

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…

A gent in traditional 'gaucho' attire cooks a meal on the 25th of May, Revolution Day.

To be continued.

 


A day in the Andes

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

Mendoza is a nice city in the heart of Argentina's wine region, surrounded by snow capped mountains and plenty of vineyards.

While we were in town, we thought it would be fun to go on a horseriding adventure, to experience the sunset over the desert and mountains. The tour also came with an Argentine asado (massive slabs of bbq meat) and all the wine you can drink. We made friends with a couple of Kiwis and some Canadians, and all made the most of it!
The wine of choice is Malbec, a delicious red which only grows in this region. We tasted plenty of wine, both in the city and at the vineyard's cellar door. We spent one afternoon on bikes riding around the tree lined streets of Maipu, although this required a little more effort than we wanted at the time, as we were feeling somewhat sorry for ourselves after all the wine from the previous night!

Di Tomassi vineyard.


Di Tomassi and Bianchi vineyards.

Despite that, we managed a tour of one of the oldest cellars, and found a gourmet liqueur and chocolate place as well. Apparently they make their own absynth there, so Mark tried a shot, then bought a bottle!
We had a great time and we are planning to go back for a few nights in June! Bring on the vino.

 


Autumn in San Rafael

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!

Farm house in San Rafael

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!

Vineyards

Olives

Poplar trees in Autumn

Apricot trees