March 11, 2023

We figured since we'd be out all night for Vendimia Para Todxs, we'd lay low for most of the day.  We figured we'd head out for a nice lunch and then eat leftovers for dinner.  We stopped by one place we had scoped out on Google Maps, but it ended up being closed (even though Google said it would be open).  Our 2nd choice was an Indian place a few blocks away.  The food wasn't bad, but more enjoyable was the fact that we met Stephanie and Gay, who are from San Diego, and have been traveling the world for the last year.  They recently retired, and similar to us, rented out their home and have been total nomads.  It was great to get to know them and trade travel stories; some harrowing and some funny and some sweet.  We'll follow them and see if we ever meet up in the same place again.  They'll be going to the Galapagos right after we leave there.

We headed to the auditorium at around 11pm.  Doors opened at 10, and the crowning of the court was supposed to happen right after midnight, so we thought that would be a good time to arrive.  The first DJ set was by Ianna from Buenos Aires.  She sings and plays instruments over the tracks she spins.  She had a couple of really good vocals and some that were a little off, but it was a nice way to open the show.

After her set, the formal presentation began.  It very much mimicked the set-up of regular Vendimia with a intro with random characters creating a loose story about the future and community and history and all that stuff.  They then went into a dance number, and then the host for VPT came out to present the court and crown the winners.  After each candidate in each category (king, queen, drag queen) was announced, the host gave an endorsement for one of the event's sponsors.  It was very much like Sabado Gigante in that respect.  Some of the sponsors, though, made for interesting announcements, including a pest control service, and McDonalds.  He also made several announcements about the city of Mendoza.  It was really cool to see how the community as a whole supports the VPT event.  The crowd was probably only 50% LGBT, and all the important people of the city were there, including the newly crowned Queen of (regular) Vendimia who had won last Saturday.  I think from watching online, we had thought this would be more like a circuit event, but it was more of a community celebration with a queer twist that everyone seemed to participate in just for fun.  It was kinda cool.

After the crowning of the court, the next DJ set was by DJs AKA Delicia and Sol Gonzalez.  They were playing mostly pop and dance tracks in Spanish, but they were cutting frequently between songs, giving probably no more than 1 minute on any one track.  We don't mind dancing to Latin music, but the constant changing was kind of jarring.  They were supposed to end their set at 3:30, but at 4 they were still playing, so we decided to head back at that point.  

The guy who created Vendimia Para Todxs 27 years ago.

March 10, 2023

Stephen had two days of YMHFA back to back, and we relaxed in the flat, cooking a couple of meals.  Eli also had a lengthy conversation with a guy from Ecuador who is living in the US who he may do some work for as a broker for cacao.  Hopefully we'll be able to see their groves and production facility when we head to Ecuador in a few days.  For dinner tonight, we decided to head back to Calle Aristides.  Since we'd been having a lot of wine, we decided to go for craft beers and tapas at Antares.  The beers were probably the best we've had so far in 8 months of traveling.  We sampled 4 different ones, and each was really spectacular, interesting, and complex.  The food, though, was just okay.  Go for the beers, though, most definitely.

March 6, 2023

Today we opted for something a bit adventurous.... Paragliding (Parapente, in Spanish).  Like skydiving, you go in tandem with a trained flyer.  The air currents by the mountains to the west of the city are perfect for paragliding.  They have a number of outfits in town, but we went with Skytour.  We thought it would be a smooth introduction to possibly doing skydiving in the future.  Joining us where a younger French couple that have been traveling throughout South America for the last 6 months doing volunteer work.  He was a former journalist and she was in law school but dropped out and became a pastry chef.  They're looking to eventually move to Australia and open a pastry shop.

They guides take you about 2, 500 feet up into the foothills looking over the valley, and you launch by running down a sloping hill.  It only takes about 15 feet of walking/runing and you're off and flying.  It totally does feel like "Soarin'" at Disney (but real).  But that also means that Stephen got a little seasick during the ride.  That's why his photos have the same terrorized look in them.  It turns out that one of the pair who were doing this with us also gets easily seasick, and she was too, so Stephen didn't feel so bad.  She did say, though, that she didn't experience that when she went skydiving, so we're thinking that still might be a possibility for Stephen in the future.

March 4, 2023

And the big night is here... El Acto Central.  But in preparation, they have another parade through town today.  This one is a lot more involved than the one last night, which we didn't know beforehand.  In all it takes about 4.5 hours.  It's kind of like pride in San Francisco, where all the civic groups, unions, political parties, government officials, and businesses have floats.

The parade starts off with the political groups and unions.  There were grape picker unions and the teachers' union and lots of political parties from the left marching together.  Most of the farm workers marching were of indigenous background.  We found out later that they are mostly Bolivian, as (according to the Argentinian we spoke with), most Argentinians won't do the work because they get government assistance.  We're sure the issue is probably more complex than that, but anyway.... We also got a leaflet from the teachers' union that shows relative pay for teachers in Mendoza as compared to other regions of Argentina.  What struck us, though, was that the average salary for a teacher based on the MEP exchange rate was only about $650 per month, even in Buenos Aires.  Stephen can't imagine anyone with a college education that is required to be a teacher would choose to go in that direction, even for the love of the work.  Many groups were also protesting the revocation of law 7722, which prevented the use of the watershed for mining and fracking.  This is probably one topic that the vineyard owners and the workers share in common.  Since the parade passed a block from our flat, we came down and went back up a few times, deciding to eat at a forgettable grilled meat restaurant toward the end of the parade.  The reinas were back again, but no melon throwing this time.

In order to get tickets for the big event, as they were all officially sold out when we arrived (If you ever do decide to come for Vendimia, you can get official tickets on Entradaweb, which seems to be the site that most concerts and events use in Argentina), we found resale tickets that were a part of a package with transportation to the venue and a boxed snack.  It actually was fortuitous that we did this, because the Greek Theater is buried deep inside San Martin Park.  While it was a 45 minute walk from the venue where we saw Ricky Martin back to our flat, it would have been an hour and 20-30 minute walk from the Greek Theater.  The only down side is that we had to leave for the venue super early and ended up waiting about 2 hours before the event actually started.

The main event is something to behold.  The venue holds over 21,000, and there were people perched precariously on the hill above the venue to see the sold-out show (they do 2 repeats on Sunday and Monday, but those, too, were sold out).  There were probably 500 dancers in total, with 7 or 8 different numbers.  There were regional, national, and international television presenters commentating prior to the start of the show.  The show itself is beautiful, serious, campy, and touching, all at the same time.  It's hard to describe it in words, and the static photos don't really do it justice.  We're glad we got to see it, and now we can imagine how Vendimia para Todxs used it as inspiration for their event.  We can't wait to see what they have up their sleaves.

The first evening ends with a count of the votes for queen.  Literally, they announce every single vote and the reina who received that vote waives and blows kisses.  The announcers make a big production of announcing each of the votes in dramatic announcer fashion, and the vote call takes about 45 minutes.  It actually was quite suspenseful (the announcers do their job well).  The winner is determined by audience vote, but not all 21,000 spectators vote.  You have to wait in line to vote, and have to show an ID from the province, so with the wait in line and the general crowd, probably only 300 or so votes were actually cast.  It seems like a really random way of choosing someone, but we think everyone realizes it (including the contestants) and they just go with it.  At the beginning of the vote calling, it looked like the reina from Tupungato would run away with it, but the reina from La Paz came from behind and ended being Reina de Vendimia, 2023.  

March 3, 2023

A few weeks ago, we logged into our virtual annual HOA meeting for our place in Delray, and were sharing about our travels so far and upcoming with our neighbors.  Mark, our neighbor across the way, had a connection to a winery here in Mendoza, so he offered to set up a visit and "behind the scenes" tour for us if we wanted.  We jumped and said, "yes." Today was the day for that.  We visited Achaval Ferrer.

Achaval Ferrer was started almost as a lark by 4 friends from Cordoba, Argentina, back in the late 1990's before Argentinian wine was much of a worldwide thing.  They had a connection to a winemaker in Italy, and so brought him over to help them search for a vineyard to buy.  They found a decrepit vineyard with 100 year old vines, and that's the one that the Italian said they HAD to buy.  Fast forward a bunch of years and the first wines they produced from the vineyard, once they were aged and ready to sell, were highly noted by a French wine magazine writer; the winery took off.  Fast forward again, and now they have their original, single vineyard, wines and have expanded to wines at both the middle market and entry market, while still producing only about 600,000 bottles a year.  The Italian eventually headed back to Italy, leaving the winemaking in the hand of his long-term apprentice, Gustavo, and recently the company became a part of Stoli's brand while maintaining all of their local staff running the organization.  

We were warmly met by Patricia, the company's hospitality representative (she's been with the winery for over 20 years).  She started us with a tour of the harvesting and fermenting facilities; they were literally in the middle of the harvest during our visit (it's coming earlier and earlier frequently due to climate change).  She introduced us to Gustavo, the chief winemaker.  As we walked through the winery, they talked about how they are constantly analyzing different sections of the vineyard to see how it affects flavor and aroma, and so all the grape casks are labeled to note which section of the vineyard they come from.

We then had an opportunity to taste almost the full spectrum of their wines.  We don't think we'll every approach wine buying the same way again.  "I like Cabernet" or "I like Pinot Noirs" doesn't mean as much as we began to realize how different a wine can be, even within the same varietal.  As Patricia poured and we moved from entry market to middle market to single vineyard old vines, all Malbec, we could really feel the progression in complexity of flavor and aroma just from the same grape varietal, and why a $120 bottle of wine costs $120. A 100 year old vine doesn't produce the same volume of grapes as a newer vine does (quality continues to improve with the age of the vine).  It takes 3 plants to make a bottle of wine from 100 year old vines.  We tasted all 3 of their single vineyard wines from three different regions and elevations of Mendoza.  Stephen enjoyed Bella Vista most, but Eli preferred Mirador. They've also started doing some expansion as well in the varietals they now produce, including a recent foray into red blends which are available on the market now (and was one of our favorites), and their first white wine of any kind, which is also a blend.  The white blend, which was only produced in a run of about 600 bottles, is not yet available for purchase, but we loved it.  Their red blend they named "Quimera," which is also the name of their brand new restaurant that complements their traditional wine tasting opportunities.

Quimera Bistro opened back in December.  The idea is similar to that of El Enemigo, where we were on Wednesday, where wines are paired with a tasting menu of multiple courses so that you can experience the wine in the context it was made to be enjoyed every day.  The chef at Quimera has taken an elevated rustic approach to the menu, and we felt it particularly complemented the wines of Achaval Ferrer.  Many of the dishes had smoked or pickled components that brought out the complexity in the wine, we thought.  We also liked the presentation, where some of the dishes were plated semi-family style, rather than having a full composed plate presented to each individual.  We hadn't really thought about it before, but it did change our experience of the meal to a feeling of being more shared (even though it was just the two of us, and with tasting menus you all the the same courses anyway).  There was something about passing the plate between us that just made the experience feel more connected.  The setting is also gorgeous, as the restaurant is perched up on a small hill so that you look out over the vines and into the mountains beyond.

We left Quimera after an incredible experience of about 5 hours, and came back to the flat to nap through a little bit of the wine hangover.  We then went to Via Blanca, which is a parade through town of floats carrying the reinas from the departments.  There is a tradition that the reinas throw fruits and gifts from the floats as they drive by, so people bring baskets taped to sticks to catch the fruits.  The parade opened with the current queen's floats, followed by a float with all the old reinas still living, and then the 3rd float was for Vendimia Para Todxs.  As we've gotten closer to the main vendimia and vendimia para todxs next weekend, we've noticed a lot more gays in town, especially from Chile, other parts of Argentina, and Brazil.  Vendimia Para Todxs has gotten to be definitely a well known regional party in South America.  It'll be interesting to see how gay it gets as we get closer to next weekend.  After the VPT float, each department sent their float down the parade route, throwing all sorts of things to the crowd.  The reina from Lavalle was throwing whole melons from her float.  At one point, she had her back turned to the crowd and sent one flying over her head.  It's amazing no one was injured.  We stayed through about half the floats and then headed back to the flat.

Stephen mezmerized by the wine

March 2, 2023

Today is the 5th anniversary of the Calle Aristides festival, which is a more contemporary style street festival during vendimia with a DJ playing electronic music and all the bars and restaurants on Calle Aristides serving food and drinks.  It was really packed the closer you got to the main stage.  There were a few places along the street where they were simulcasting from the main stage.  We were able to get about a block from the main stage and then the crowd got too thick.  We watched, listened, and swayed in place for a bit, but then decided to head back to the flat.

We totally got photobombed.

March 1, 2023

We picked up a rental car and headed out west to the Cacheuta Thermal Baths area.  You can take a bus, but they only leave hourly, and so we thought we would have flexibility to come and go and do other things if we had the car.

There are two ways you can experience the thermal baths.  The first are the public pools, where entry costs about 8 dollars.  It can get crowded here on the weekends, and it was crowded today when we were there, even though it was a Wednesday, as it was Vendimia week and the last week of summer vacation before schools start again.  They have pools of varying warmth.  There were reports that some pools were as hot as 40 degrees C, but that was clearly an exaggeration.  We experienced temperatures closer to 30 C to 35 C (86F to 94F).  The lazy river and the large pool at the bottom were probably only 80 degrees F.  They have tons of picnic tables and free grills to use.  There are also tons of food stalls just outside the gates where you can get sandwiches made or have a sit-down lunch.  Once you've paid your admission, you have in-and-out privileges all day.  They have changing rooms and bathrooms but no lockers, so you have to drag your bag and towel with you wherever you go.

The whole complex is much bigger than the springs where we went in San Pedro de Atacama, but also more crowded.  In the end, though, there were probably about the same number of people overall per square meter.  We stayed for about 2 hours soaking in the various pools.  The views were nice, although similar to the springs in Atacama as well.  We could certainly see, though, spending a while day here if you were doing the grill and picnic thing as a family.

The other option for the baths is to book a day or overnight stay at the Cacheuta Hotel and Spa, which is about 1km before you get to the public baths.  We imagine that it's a bit more quiet and restful than the public baths.  You can do a day pass which includes buffet lunch, or you can book a room where you spend a day at their pools and an overnight at the hotel.  It includes lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning.  A daypass to the spa, including lunch, is about $60 per person.

When we were done at the baths, we drove to Potrerillos Lake, which is just a bit up the road.  As we continued to drive out away from Mendoza, we realized how desert-like the valley naturally is.  Mendoza is so leafy from all the water channels they built as they were expanding the city that run alongside the sidewalks and feed the beautiful large trees in the city.  We snapped a few photos of the lake, commented on how low the lake levels were (later this evening, we would find out that the lake level is much improved, actually), and marveled at the green-blue water color.

From the lake, we headed to Maipu to the Museo Nacional del Vino y la Vendimia.  Maipu is easily accessible from Mendoza by bus (about a 30-45 minute ride with stops which is what we did the night of the aborted Diego Torres concert), but since we had the car, we figured we'd use it to our advantage.  The museum is housed in an old 19th century mansion, that was of a prominent family who basically lead the commercialization of wine in the Mendoza area in the late 1800's.  After about 40 years, though, they retired back to Europe and left the two homes on the property to decay.  Eventually the Argentinian government took them over as state offices, and then in the 1990's handed them over to the city of Maipu.  They have done some restoration, but they are lacking money to do much of anything, so the rooms still have window air conditioners stuck in the walls that were put in when it was used for government offices.  It could really be something special, though, if, as Eli suggested, the local vineyard owners donated some of their profits to the restoration.

We came home to find the power out in our building, and actually in about half of the city of Mendoza overall.  The flat was without water as well, as they must have a pump that relies on electricity.  We tried to nap through the heat, and then luckily the lights came on in just enough time for us to shower and leave for our dinner experience at the vinyard, Casa Vigil- El Enemigo.  This one was again recommended by Lonely Planet.  We weren't quite sure what we were in for, other than a 7 course tasting menu with wine pairings.  It turned out to be a great experience.  Casa Vigil is now one of the larger producers of wine in the area, and they definitely know how to market the experience (although finding the place was not the easiest thing in the world... another Google Map fail plus bad signage).  We started with a tour of the grounds of the restaurant which include vineyards, an herb garden, and mock-ups of important steps in the process of making wines.  Our tour was led by one of the two hosts, a very cute frenchman, originally from Toulouse, who came to Mendoza for love and stayed after the relationship ended.  It was very informative, and Eli appreciated learning more about the winemaking process.  Dinner was overall as good quality as Azafran the night before, and ended up being about the same price.  It also seems to us a better deal that just making an appointment at a vineyard for wine tasting only.

February 28, 2023

Tonight we had a wonderful meal at Azafran, which was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide.  They do either a 3 course, 4 course, or 7 course tasting menu.  We opted to do the 3 course but one of us got appetizer and the other got dessert.  The plates were reasonable enough sized that you could do 4 courses each and not be overstuffed.  The couple at the table next to us, who we chatted with for a bit, got the 7 course tasting menu and ended up taking 2 of the courses home for lunch the next day.  It turns out they are from West Palm Beach, sold their home, and are moving to Madeira, Portugal.  Their new place isn't ready yet, so they're traveling around South America for a while.

But back to dinner, Eli's main, the trout over black risotto was the standout of the meal.  Stephen really like it as well.  Another great dish was the chevre macaron as the amouse bouche.  We have not traditionally been fans of the macaron (check out our France page), but this we absolutely loved; it was a great combination of savory and sweet.  They also had an raw oyster as one of our appetizers which had a soy and ginger minionette that was also amazing.  Stephen had the tenderloin as his main; it comes with a plum reduction which was not too sweet.  It also came with a tomato and fruit salad (yes, we know tomatoes are fruits), that had the most flavorful tomatoes we've had since France.  Dessert was a chocolate dulce de leche torte.  We did a wine pairing with the meal and the total for dinner was around $100.  It was more expensive than we were planning, but well worth it.

After dinner, we walked down Calle Arisitdes, which is a more local hang out street, with lots of upscale pizza and burger joints and bars.  We'll come back on Friday as they are doing a block party here with music stages and other sorts of things.  On our way back to the flat, we stopped in at Plaza Italia, as there was some Vendimia event there,  They had a stage and lots of food truck vendors.  There were tons of people sitting on the lawn in the park and just hanging out.  It was crowded, but not so much that you didn't have free space to move around freely.  We totally would have done this for the night had we not already had an incredible meal.

February 26, 2023

We putzed around most of the day, as we knew we were going to have a busy night.  We wanted to see the Bendicion de los Frutos, or the "blessing of the fruits," which is the formal opening of vendimia, and then we had the Ricky Martin concert.  The two both had starting times of 9pm, and so we figured we'd stop for about an hour at the bendicion and then head over to the concert; it was only about a 20 minute walk between the two.  We thought Ricky would be starting about then.  In the US, concerts never start anywhere near the call time, and we're here in Argentina where they eat super late, and it's Latin America where "hora latina" and "ahorita" are a thing.  We thought we'd even be early showing up at a little past 10.  

The Bendicion event is quite a spectacle.  Eli thought it reminded him of the Christmas Pageant at First Baptist in Fort Lauderdale (they have a floating ice rink as part of the presentation).  The Bendicion had lots of dancers, a 200 person chorus, large orchestra, a narration set to music and dance of the history of the province and the role of wine, and it is formally the introduction of the candidates for Ms. Vendimia.  Each department of the province gets a nominee, and supporters from all over come, cheer, and wave signs for their nominee.  The static pictures don't do it justice, so you'll have to check out some of the video we recorded and posted to our Instagram reels.

About 15 minutes into the presentation, we heard some cheering going on nearby, and Eli asked if there was a soccer game or something going on.  We were totally oblivious to what the cheering was about (but we totally should have known).  We were enjoying the spectacle of the bendicion presentation.  At around 10pm we headed over to the stadium. 

As we got closer to the stadium, we could hear music, but we weren't worried, as we thought it was probably just the opening act.  As we got closer, Stephen realized that it was actually Ricky Martin singing and it dawned on us that that's the cheering we had heard back at 9:15.  Who knew that THIS would the be the one thing in Latin America that would actually start close to on time.  At this point we had missed the first hour of his concert.  We rushed in, got an escort to our seats (as we had VIP tickets), and were at least able to catch his last 5 songs (including the encores).  He is a consummate performer, and looked like he was relaxed and totally enjoying himself on the stage.  The crowd was super respectful and supportive and loving too.  And to think that 13 years ago all that was in question when he came out.  

And in credit card news, it appears that when the charges move from pending, they are applying the MEP rate that we were expecting, so that's good news.  Stephen is going to try and reverse the second Western Union transfer since we weren't able to pick up the money anyway.  

February 25, 2023

Stephen woke up early, and decided that we should do another money transfer so that we would have enough cash and not have to charge anything until we know what's going on with the credit card rate.  Fewer of the Western Union locations are open on Saturdays, and none on Sundays.  He went to the first one closest to the flat, waited in line, and then when he got to the front, they told him they didn't have enough cash to fulfil the transfer.  He went to another one nearby, same thing.  And another.  And another, And another.  In all 6 different Western Unions.  H saw a number of other foreigners at multiple spots trying to do the same thing.  We'll have to survive on the cash we have until Monday when hopefully they will have more cash to fulfil the wire transfer.

Since we wanted to go to the free Diego Torres concert that evening in Maipu, we had to figure out the best way of getting there.  We knew that we could take the tram there, but the tram stopped running at 9pm on Saturdays, so Stephen stopped by the Tourist Information Center to see what other options there might be (and how to get back from Maipu late at Night).  They said that there is a bus that goes from Mendoza to Maipu and stops right by the park where the concert is, so that would be our best option.  The tram stops about a 20 minute walk from the park.  They said that to get back we could use Uber or Cabify (an Uber-like app) to get back.

We relaxed most of the afternoon, we got our plane tickets to Istanbul for after our Gorilla trek, and also bought round trip tickets from Europe back to the US and then back to Europe again for the next leg of our adventure in the fall.  It's significantly cheaper to buy business class round trips from Europe to the US than it is in the reverse, for some reason.

Eli made pizza for dinner using the ingredients we picked up in the Central Market, and then we headed to pick up the bus.  The gates opened at 7, so we figured if we got there between 8:30 and 9, we wouldn't have to wait more than an hour or so for Diego Torres to play, and we figured they'd have some opening acts.  We ended up arriving about 8:30 and by the time we got settled it was 9pm.  When we arrived, there wasn't any music playing, but they had a comedian performing.  He wasn't very funny, and we thought his jokes were inappropriate given that there were children in the audience.  Then there was another comedian (also not very funny), but we did learn the Argentinian word for "fart" as a result of having listened to him.

It started to drizzle a bit, and then the thunder and lightning started, and then it started to rain more heavily.  We figured we'd stay, since there was no way that we weren't going to get wet, even if we tried to leave.  They eventually turned everything off and covered the stage, and we took refuge under a small tent with some other people (who broke out into chanting and singing a Diego Torres song at one point, we think) for the worst of it.  Finally the rain broke, and people started to move about.  We stayed for a while longer, hopeful that they would continue the concert, but then decided that we were suffering from the sunk cost fallacy in sticking it out.  We were hoping to have a nice relaxing evening lying out on the grass and listing to some music we hadn't heard before, but that wasn't going to happen given the weather.  Even if they did continue the concert, it wasn't going to be that kind of evening, so we decided to head closer to town center from the park and then try to order an Uber back to Mendoza. 

There are a few Ubers in the area, but not many, so we had to wait awhile, and we had a nice conversation with the Uber driver about the economics of Argentina and how the middle class has been hollowed out in the last 10 years.   The upper class has enough money to own their own cars, and the lower middle class and lower class can't really afford Uber (there is really no more middle class).  He was a driver for one of the local bus companies, but had to get creative when his work hours were cut in half during the pandemic.  He was able to buy an additional car, and now rents that out to someone else who drives for Uber in addition to his own Uber driving to make some additional money.  

February 24, 2023

Our arrival in Mendoza was uneventful.  The actual flying time is about 40 minutes, so we didn't even get drinks on the flight.  Our AirBnB is in the center of town.  Our first impressions of Mendoza are that it is a very leafy city.  Almost all of the streets have a nice cover of large shade trees and there are tons of block sized parks or squares throughout the area we're staying in.  We're in a more mixed area of town with residential and commercial buildings.  The residential area of the town proper is more to the west nearer General San Martin Park.

After getting settled in the flat, we had a few organizational tasks to take care of.  The first was to pick up some money we had wired ourselves at a Western Union.  We did this, rather than taking out cash from an ATM, because Argentina has all different kinds of exchange rates, and it affects how cheap or expensive our trip will be.  The official bank rate, set by the government, is at 186 pesos to the dollar.  This is what we would get if we took money out of the ATM.  There is the "blue rate," or "taza azul," which is the informal exchange rate you'd get at illegal trading houses and hawkers on the street.  This is currently at 387 pesos to the dollar.  You can get almost that same rate, though, via wiring money to yourself via Western Union (we got 363 pesos to the dollar).  The first time you do it there are no fees, but any additional transfers incur a 10% fee.  Even still, it brings your effective rate to about 330 pesos to the dollar, and you don't have to deal with sketchy money changers.  Last time we were in Argentina 7 years ago, our AirBnB host was willing to change cash with us at the blue rate, so that's what we did (the Western Union option wasn't available then).  If you're coming right from the US, that may be an option for you as well, we just didn't want to carry all that US cash through Chile for 6 weeks.

As of December 15th of last year, though, we are supposed to be getting the "MEP" rate on credit card charges while in Argentina, which is about 323 pesos to the dollar.  Not quite the blue rate, but not bad either.  This will all become important in just a moment.  The government will also allow you do set up a temporary local bank account and transfer money in at the MEP rate, but that seemed awfully cumbersome to us.

The transfer, which we did using the Western Union app on our phones, was available in minutes, and so we headed to a Western Union by our flat to pick up our cash.  The line was long but we got the cash (lots of bills because the largest bill they have is the equivalent of about 3 dollars at the rate WU gave us).  From there, we headed to see if we could pick up last minute tickets to the Vendimia big event next weekend.

We're here for the next two weeks for Vendimia, the Mendoza wine harvest festival, and Vendimia para Todxs, the LGBTQ festival that follows it.  The weeks are filled with cultural and popular events to take part in.  The traditional Vendimia festival ends on next Saturday with a spectacular Evento Central that can be best described as Sabado Gigante with a gaucho twist, where Ms. Vendimia is crowned.  We headed to one of the sites where we thought we could pick up tickets, but alas there were none left.  Luckily, Eli found a reseller online who was doing a "package" for the event that included "dinner and bus," and it wouldn't be too expensive based on the exchange rate we thought we'd be getting on our credit card.  We went and booked the online package while we were standing on the plaza and then headed to eat lunch.

At lunch, we did a little scouting online to see what other kinds of events were going on this week and saw that there was a free Diego Torres concert in Maipu tomorrow evening and then Ricky Martin was performing here in Mendoza on Sunday.  Stephen found VIP tickets for Ricky Martin at what would have been the equivalent of about $90 with the MEP rate, so we went ahead and charged them.  We also charged our lunch.

We came back to the flat and Eli had to get set up to tutor (he's doing it twice a week), and Stephen was going to check out gyms for while we're here.  Before he did that, though, he decided to log in to the credit card account to see how the charges had come through.  When he did this, he saw that the charges were still pending, but it was showing the bank rate and not the MEP rate we were supposed to be getting.  Everything we had just charged had suddenly become about 60 percent more expensive.  UGH!  He immediately got on the phone with Chase, and they kept saying that it was a Visa issue, and Visa kept saying that it was a Chase issue.  In total, Stephen got transferred 7 times back and forth without a successful resolution.  If the charges don't change when they move from pending to completed, we'll have to try and dispute the charges, but we don't think we'll have much luck with that, as it's really not the merchant's fault.  You can check the rate your should be getting according to Visa by using this official Visa exchange rate calculator,   Here is the policy according to Visa for charges in Argentina.  Meanwhile, we're going to use the cash we got until we can figure out what's going on with the cards.

We headed out to get meat, cheese, and fruits at the Mercado Central , and then headed to dinner at Anna Bistro,  a cute place with tons of beautiful outdoor seating in the back patio.  Eli had the Boston roast, and Stephen had the lamb shank.  Eli's dish was the better of the two, with more complex flavors.  Stephen's was good, but he thought the reduction was too sweet for his taste.  We used our cash to pay.  At that exchange rate, dinner was a total of $42.

That's quite a tricked out Yerba Mate kit to be carrying around all the time

We'll have to visit this place sometime