Mendoza: Gateway to the Andes and Vendimia 2015

 

 

We left Cordoba to arrive in Mendoza, heart of wine country in South America. I’m told it looks similar to Napa Valley in California.

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This is a view of the town from Cerro de la Gloria.

If you like wine, Mendoza is the place to be, especially during Vendimia, which marks the beginning of their grape harvest. We were able to enjoy a few events while in the city, such as watching a few local celebrities smash grapes and listen to some good, local music.

We don’t drink much, but we did enjoy the city. It’s very pretty and has lots of large, older trees. Besides the monument atop Cerro de la Gloria, there’s San Martin Park, Museo de San Martin, and lots of outdoors activities, such as rafting and camping. The weather wasn’t that great for anything outdoors, and we wanted to save as much money as possible for Patagonia, so we toured the city mostly on foot.

We stayed in town with a great couple we met through Couchsurfing, and we also met up with another Couchsurfing host who showed us around the city. It was great Spanish practice, and it was very nice to have a local’s perspective on the city.

At the far edge of Parque de San Martin is Cerro de la Gloria, so named for the monument at the top. In the words of our hosts, San Martin is like the George Washington of Argentina and Chile. He was also governor of Mendoza before their revolution (from around 1814 to 1816). The climb is not too bad. I did it in sandals and it took around 15 to 20 minutes with a few pauses. There is a road to the top, but it is usually used by taxis and tour buses. The monument to San Martin crossing the Andes with a small army (Chile into Argentina to fight the Spanish) is memorialized here.

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Victory breaks the chains of colonialization as San Martin and his army ride forth. All around the monument are scenes from the revolution, from priests blessing the army to noble women giving away their jewels to fund the war.

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Above, San Martin, and below is me and our local friend/guide!

We also visited the museum of San Martin, which is primarily for locals and cost 15 pesos apiece (about $1.50 USD). Most artifacts were furniture or clothing from the San Martin household or old military uniforms. All signs were in Spanish, and there was no guide pamphlet or piece of information to guide it. I was able to translate a few of the placards and more-or-less understand what I was looking at, but not all the time.

Every city in Argentina has a plaza or street named after Jose de San Martin, and because he was from Mendoza, the city is full of statues and reminders of him. He was born to Spanish parents in Argentina around 1777/8 and as a child moved back to Spain with his family. As a young man he fought for Spanish campaigns in Africa and later fought against Napolean’s armies. He abruptly resigned from the Spanish military around 1812 and moved back to Argentina, though there is no definite reason why. San Martin was a criollo, a person of obvious Spanish heritage that was born in the Americas. It was the second highest class in the caste system of the time. The only people “above” him were peninsulares, or Spaniards (born in Spain) that now permanently lived in the Americas.

Because if his military history and high social status, he had great influence in Argentina and almost immediately joined the group of revolutionists in Buenos Aires. He became allies with other famous generals, such as Belgrano and Alvear. San Martin had a grand plan to train an army in Chile, then move it up into Peru (thereby missing the worst of the Andes), and was granted governorship of Cuyo (the Mendoza region) to make that happen. He drafted men and worked closely with military leaders in Chile, who became Chile’s founding fathers after this war to rid the southern half of South America of the Spanish occupation.

When it was time, in 1816, San Martin (along with Chilean leader Bernardo O’Higgins) lead over 5,000 men across the Andes. While this had been done before, it had never been accomplished with so many fighting men nor the need to be ready for combat immediately afterward (imagine getting over altitude sickness while fighting a battle!). By the end of the crossing, over half of the horses and mules had died, and it had taken roughly a month.

After taking back Chile, San Martin went on to Peru to ready the Navy. Throughout the rest of the wars, he saw his family very little. He had only one child, called Merceditas, that Argentinos identify strongly with. As the daughter of their founding father, and as someone who knew him very little except through letters, it is easy for Argentina to draw comparisons.

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After the war, San Martin left Argentina and lived the rest of his life in France. He didn’t want to take part in the political factions or the civil wars that took place after independence from Spain, although he did keep in touch with old friends. His family remained in France, and after he died his remains were taken to Buenos Aires. It’s sort of a sad ending, but I suppose great leaders that get swept up in the chaos and bloodshed of revolutions do tend to want a quiet, peaceful life away from everything they fought for.

We spent about three days in Mendoza and felt like we saw everything we wanted to (or at least, that we could because of the weather–it rained quite a bit).

 

Other things to do in Mendoza are:

  • tour olive groves
  • vineyard tours and wine tasting
  • climbing Aconcagua (a couple hours away from the city)
  • Casa de San Martin (a small museum in the city)
  • resting or jogging through Parque de San Martin
  • Mendoza’s zoo, located next to Cerro de la Gloria

There may be more things, but this is what jumped out at us while there.

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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