Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A really short stay in Mendoza

Outside Mendoza, Argentina, money seems to be flowing in to build new wineries and vineyards

At a rate of 3 Argentine Pesos to the dollar, it's a lot easier to deal with prices here than in Chile, where the rate is over 500 Chilean Pesos per dollar. Too many zeroes there just confuses matters!


What is it about starting before the traffic light changes to green? Throughout Latin America, there is this phenomena that you must anticipate the green light, and be already on the move when it appears.

For someone from the States (especially on a motorcycle), this is hazardous. Drivers don't wait for me to move, but just start rolling past, any way they can.


Given the hotel situation in Mendoza (and not interested in even inquiring about another day in the barracks), I prepared to return to Santiago. Mendoza was only intended to be a side trip.


Before leaving on this journey, I purchased the R1200GS "Shop Manual" on CD. Subsequently, when it came time to refer to the manual, all I found on the CD were technical specifications: no parts lists, no inspection and service procedures. A few days ago, I finally took up the matter with Issa at BMW of San Francisco. After checking item numbers and descriptions, he reported back that I should have the correct CD, the same one they use in their shop.

Last night, I tried "one last time" to find the information on the disc. Though I had looked at it perhaps a half-dozen times before, this time when launching the CD, a different menu appeared. Everything was there! I think maybe I'm losing my mind. Anyway, I looked over the 60,000 Km service checklist, and saw that one of the items on the list was alternator belt replacement. (I didn't even know the bike had an alternator belt!)

I suspect that Williamson Balfour did not perform this procedure. No mention was made, and I didn't see a replacement belt on the invoice. So, I found the BMW dealer in Mendoza, and purchased a belt, figuring it would be cheaper here. I will then have Williamson Balfour install it at no charge.


Driving west toward Chile on Ruta 7, I was again passing many wineries. "You can't leave Mendoza without stopping to visit at least ONE winery!"

The architecture of "Bodega Septima" caught my attention as I passed. I turned around and decided this would be the one. At the gate, the guard told me they were not open (11:45 a.m.) "Can I just go in and take some pictures?" He made a phone call, then said after 12:00 I could go in. It seemed very strange. In the mean time, he gave me a winery brochure.

I was surpised to learn the facility is owned by "Codorniu" of Spain, the company behind "Artesa", one of my favorite Napa Valley wineries. After noon, he waved me in and I followed the long dirt drive through the vineyards and up to the imposing stone façade.

Interesting stonework at Codorniu's "Septima" winery, just outside Mendoza

Through a massive wooden door, I entered the reception area, which from the use of dark wood paneling felt quite heavy and somber. There was no one to be found here. I walked around the building to the crush pad, and still found no sign of activity. I then climbed a staircase to the roof, where expansive open decks provide a vineyard panorama with the Andes as backdrop.

"Septima's" vineyards

Behind a locked door, I could hear voices. The place wasn't dead after all! Returned to my bike and was preparing to leave, when I saw some people coming down from the upper deck with wine purchases in hand. They confirmed the retail shop was up there. (The was no signage to direct the visitor.)

I went back up and knocked on the door. It was unlocked and I was permitted inside a large tasting hall, floor to ceiling windows on the west side of the room, facing the Andes. But there wasn't a welcoming feel here. I bought a bottle of Reserve Caberent (about $15) as a souvenir of Mendoza, but had little interest in lingering.

My sense was that this structure with its grand façade, was an enormous investment, that may not be realizing the hoped-for returns. There were already signs of fading glory, and maintenance lapsing.

The Malbec grapes are just reaching veraison, when they change color from green to purple. Nets protect the clusters from birds.

A beautiful day for a drive: blue skies and warm. The winds appeared to reverse from yesterday, and were now out of the west.

Entered the mountains with a bit of trepidation. Max and Klaus warned of some deep ruts in the west-bound lane's asphalt. Klaus said that, had he not been paying attention, he could have scraped his cylinder heads! So, I was on guard for miles. I did find some ruts, but nothing so serious.

Despite my intentions to get an early start and reach Aconcagua before the afternoon clouds rolled in, I reached the mirador at about the same time as yesterday. And again the mountain was hidden from view. Well, another "Denali" experience!

In Argentina, just east of the Chilean border, the Mendoza River flows cocoa brown. The enormous boulders flow in a different way, from distant peaks.

On to the border crossing. Long lines of vehicles at the Chilean port of entry. It seems the SAG inspectors were checking every vehicle today. And the inspectors would not move on to the next vehicle until everything was packed up again in the one they just finished. So it was a VERY long procedure. But it did afford ample opportunity to meet your fellow travelers!

(I got bored.) For over two hours, I sat in this line, waiting to cross from Argentina into Chile. Every vehicle was being inspected. (Satellite dishes point north down here!)

The lines slowly moved past small booths. At each, another step in the process was checked off. Officers walked up and down the rows, handing out necessary forms. After an hour and a half, I reached the final inspection station. The SAG inspector asked for a document which no one else had mentioned was required. The woman directed me to pull out of the line, park the motorcycle and go into an office complex for the necessary documentation. I was incredulous. All this time spent in lines and NOW they tell me!

Inside the building, where bus passengers went through the entry process, there were more lines. But an aduana officer hustled me through, furnishing the needed paper.

Returned to the SAG officer waving my document. "Okay, I'm ready!" But she looked at it and said it wasn't signed by the officer in booth two (or maybe it was three)! "Go back!"

"I walked the hundred yards or so back to the booth. "Why hadn't this idiot asked me for the document when I checked in at his booth an hour ago???" (One could easily go "postal" at these crossings!) He was surprised to see me come back, and asked what was the problem. ("Idiot!")

After two hours, the bike was inspected. They only asked me to open a couple panniers. At the exit gate, I turned in the checklist and, finally, accelerated for the open road, slowly releasing all the pent-up frustration.


Returned to the "Park Inn Hotel" in Santiago. Dinner tonight at "Botto": a "Chivito" sandwich and Kunstmann Pale Ale (from Valdivia, in Region X)

(Chile has 12 regions, like our States, starting with Region 1, around Arica in the north, to Region 12, encompassing Tierra del Fuego and the southern islands.)

Outside the restaurant window, teens pass. Far too many smoking cigarettes! The future toll will be heavy.


Tim Spires said...

This is an incredible shot!

timtraveler said...

Thanks, Tim!

Behind this peak is Aconcagua, at 6,962 meters (22,841 feet), it's "the World's highest mountain outside the Himalayas."

Unfortunately, during the afternoon, its head is in the clouds.