Saturday, March 20, 2010

You want to hear a ridiculous travel story?

I’ll tell you a fucking ridiculous travel story.

It’s no secret that Reece and I love wine. And of all the wines we enjoy, the one we love most is Renacer. It is a wine whose relationship with us began long before we even tasted it, when we spotted it on a menu in a small San Francisco restaurant. Our curiosity was piqued, and the sommelier felt passionately about what we suspected – This was a delicious bottle of wine. Also, sadly, too expensive to justify purchasing. Months later on our anniversary, I surprised Reece with a visit to the same restaurant, a table reserved for us with the coveted bottle prominently displayed. And for xmas, what would I order online but a selection of their wines delivered to our door. (The finest bottle, their reserve blend, was eventually enjoyed months later on the rooftop of an RV during an insane dust storm at Burning Man.)

Anyhow. From the moment we started planning this trip, we knew we had to come to Mendoza and visit Bodega Renacer. We looked longingly at their website and imagined the day we would step foot into the image on the screen. We fantasized about a lazy afternoon spent sipping fine wines on their sunny terrace. We were certain that the winemaker himself would come out to greet us, so flattered by the distance we had traveled that he’d insist on sending us home with a free bottle. Butterflies and rainbows, this is a day we have been looking forward to our entire trip.

We arrived in Mendoza the day before my birthday. I had just two wishes to celebrate my special day: a visit to Renacer, and a fancy three course lunch with wine pairings.

Now let me just tell you a bit about the wine tasting scene in Mendoza. There are two main towns that have a concentration of enough wineries that people are able to partake in self guided tours. For clarity, let’s call one “Easy Town”, and the other “Impossible Town”. In Impossible Town, the bike rentals and the tastings cost twice the price as in Easy Town. In Impossible Town, it is required that you have a precise reservation at each winery you visit, and they take these times VERY seriously. In Impossible Town, the map is not only “not to scale” but apparently upside down and inverted, cause the majority of the vineyards on it are too far away, even if they appear to be on the way to the one your bike rental guy is pushing.

Why, you might ask, would anybody in their right mind visit Impossible Town? Cause that is where Renacer is, of course.

We rose bright and early for our big day. We walked 12 long blocks to the proper stop. We waited a frustrating half hour. We crammed ourselves into the sardine-packed bus. An hour and a half later, the “30 minute trip” had ended, and we walked up the street to pick up our bikes.

Now that you are aware of how Impossible Town works, you can imagine how difficult my request for a Renacer visit PLUS a winery lunch would be. The bike guy made call after call, each new reservation he was able to secure conflicting somehow with something we already had scheduled. In the shuffle, our reservation at Renacer was lost. The poor guy begged and pleaded on our behalf, explained how far we had come and how important this visit was to us, but they would not budge. After two hours of sitting in this guy’s office trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle of appointments, we were ready to throw in the towel. Who knew wine tasting could be so freaking stressful?? Our priority in coming here was of course to visit Renacer, and the best they could do was get us in the following morning. We decided what was left of our day would be best spent in Easy Town enjoying some relaxing, appointment-free wine tasting.

In an attempt to get to my “ridiculous travel story” already (believe it or not, we aren’t there yet), I’ll skip the details and just say we had an awesome day, met lots of people, and took advantage of the “free wine for customers” at Easy Town’s bike rental facility late into the evening. When our 7:00am alarm signaled it was time to begin day two, needless to say we were in no shape to do anything of the sort.

On day three, we rise even earlier, determined to get a jump start on our mission. It’s drizzling a bit but we aren’t concerned, as Mendoza is blessed with 360 days of sunshine per year. Today is the big event, and I plan to dress the part (as best as I can, living out of a backpack). I pull out my dainty white button down shirt (for the first time on this trip). I pair it with shorts and sandals. I do my hair. I even dust off my make-up kit for a little color.

On our walk to the bus stop, it starts raining. Like, really raining. A LOT. As we stand, unsheltered, waiting for the bus, the downpour becomes downright torrential. We discuss what morons we are for not bringing raincoats. We do, however, still have a sarong in our backpack from a previous picnic attempt, which has become a very useful shawl in the whole “dainty white shirt” situation.

During the bus ride, we watch the sky and try to predict how soon the rain will disperse. “I see blue skies in that direction.” “Oh yeah, it’s totally clearing up.” As we get further from the city center, the streets become flooded and the bus slows to a crawl, splashing waves of muddy rainwater as high as the windows. We start to wonder what the hell we are doing out here. We must really love this wine.

At this point, we would have nixed the bike thing altogether and figured out a four-wheeled form of transportation. But we had already canceled on the guy once, we thought he was expecting us again, and after all the work he’d done I felt obligated to fulfill our rental agreement. We arrived just in time, and while something was strangely lost in communication and he was NOT expecting us, he was miraculously able to get us another Renacer reservation. In twenty minutes.

We raced through the paperwork, hopped on our bikes and pedaled away furiously. After all the runaround we’d been through with them and the miraculous last minute accommodation, the last thing we wanted to do was be late. Struggling with my gears and completely out of breath, I pedaled against the rain in hot pursuit of our destination. We laughed at how crazy we were. We yelled at passing cars as they splashed puddles on us. We hoped that they would still let us in soaking wet.

When the puddles on the street got too large, I opted to ride on the dirt path to the right of the road. Having attended USCB, I know that riding your bike through a muddy puddle equals a brown stripe up your back. And I certainly did not want to soil my outfit. At one point I became surrounded by thick pools of mud, and had to make my way back onto the pavement. I got off my bike and surveyed my surroundings. Between myself the street was a rushing river of rainwater, about three feet across. I chose a spot that appeared most narrow, and attempted to secure my footing for a jump. As soon as I placed my foot in front of me I felt it begin to sink, and my first thought was “Oh shit, my shoes are going to get completely soaked!” Before I could finish forming that thought, the feeling of earth disappeared from under me and I was chest deep in a trench of muddy gutter water. Shocked and horrified, I began screaming for Reece as I sank further into the swamp.

By the time he saved me from certain death by poo water, my bike had sunk completely. He grabbed it by the back tire and yanked it out to safety, covered in mud and roots and god-knows-what. By this point I am a crying, filthy and shaking mess. Completely drenched. Shorts coated in mud. Leaves stuck to my legs. And three cars pulled over alongside the road to see if I was okay.

Out of one car emerged a little old Argentinian woman, rattling off in frantic Spanish about me getting sick in the cold rain. She tore off her oversized wool cardigan and insisted that I take it. My attempts to politely decline were met with grandmotherly hugs and kisses and an absolute unwillingness to take no for an answer. I accepted gratefully.

Reece, doing his best to conceal his laughter, acknowledges that it’s about time to give up and go home. Hell no! We didn’t come this far to turn around. Truthfully, I wanted to get to a bathroom to wash off ASAP, and the thought of sitting in a crowded bus for an hour before doing so totally freaked me out. So, back on the bike I go.

We arrive at Renacer, a disheveled and exhausted mess. Sophisticated couples are getting out of chauffeured town cars in their Sunday best. We tell one of the guides briefly what happened, and he shows me to the restroom. Each step leaves a muddy imprint on their white marble floors. I lock the door behind me, and practically take a bath in the bidet. I wash my clothes in the sink, and then spend twenty minutes trying to clean up the mud splattered all over their pristine bathroom. I can hear Reece outside of the door making nervous small talk with the guide. I am more thankful than ever for the sarong, as there is no putting my soaked shorts back on. And what will I wear on underneath? Clearly, Reece’s boxer briefs. Now that is a true gentleman.

I emerge from the bathroom and join the tour just as they sit down to begin the winemaking demonstration and tasting. There I was, after a year of anticipation, in the exclusive tasting room of Bodega Renacer. Wearing a giant old lady sweater, a Brazilian flag sarong, and my boyfriend’s underwear. Folks, I have taken classy to a whole new level.

So, you may be wondering how the wine was. In a word, disappointing. The few varietals they poured were ones we had tried before. The premier bottle that we came for was completely sold out until next season. And the hostess had no interest in how far we’d come or what we had been through to get there, as it was an unwelcome distracted from her own story about her winemaking boyfriend. We left with a Renacer bag that held not a free bottle of fantastic Malbec, but rather my mud-caked shoes (that were so kindly taken from me before I ventured any further into the establishment).

Oh, you thought the story ended here? One would think so. But no, there’s more.

The appointment woman comes in at the end of our tasting, and lets us know there is somebody outside waiting for us. Turns out our bike rental guy had come to escort us to our next appointment, worried we may not find our way in the rain. We tell him the story, and on the ride into town even attempt to show him where it happened. Reece points excitedly towards the steadily growing rapids... "Hugo, that's where it happened, right there...!!" Without hesitation, Hugo rides his bike right for it, and face first directly into it. Apparently he thought Reece was saying, "Let's go this way!!" I was convinced he did it on purpose, to be funny and make me feel better. But as the poor kid salvaged his own bike from the canal, it was clear the nose dive was an unexpected for him as it was for us.

Ah, traveling. Stories like this... that's why we do it.


  1. HOLY!!! that was the funniest thing I have ever read!! reece is such a gentleman and you are definitely a trooper!!

  2. HAHaHHAAAHHahahaahah!!! HAAaaaahahahahahha!!! hahhahahahahheeeehheeehhahahahahaheehahahhahah HA!

    Pure and perfect AWESOMENESS!

  3. i love it! absolutely unpredictable - you kept me on the edge of my seat, laughing and crying the whole story. awesome is right!

  4. Shannon Ho'NealMarch 22, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    The image of you sinking in the poopy water gutter is so hilarious. Glad you made it out ok. You'll have to keep that sweater forever as a memento from this crazy experience.

  5. HA. you made me laugh out loud. like 10 times. glad you're ok, and have such an awesome grandma sweater to remember it all by! jess

  6. Hilarious! So glad you are both OK and thanks so much for sharing. I bet with a cute belt that sweater with the boxers could be quite the outfit!

    Much love,

  7. I'm 5 years late to this story - but I was laughing out loud the whole way through!

    1. Thanks!! Five years later, and it's still one of my favorite travel stories :-)