From an early age I have curiously wanted to see different places on our planet. I read books about far away countries and dreamt about visiting them when I grew older.
I have travelled solo to many destinations, following my dreams to tour the world. Ten years ago, I remember having so much fun the last time I took a small group tour of Spain. Looking to try a small group adventure again, I checked out Intrepid Travel’s tours to Argentina and Chile.
Why did I select this type of tour? Partly to connect with like-minded travellers, but also to connect with locals whose country we have the privilege of visiting.
An Evening To Remember on the tour
After a six-hour bus ride starting in Santiago and a border crossing from Chile to Argentina with breathtaking views of the snow-covered Andes, we found ourselves in Mendoza. On the outskirts, the city is surrounded by rows and rows of lush and green vineyards. I feel happy to know that I’m in the heart of wine country, but also a bit sad since we won’t see much. As it is New Year’s Eve, the city is very quiet and preparing for evening celebrations.
It is hard to believe that this was once all a desert. It’s hot once we leave the bus and head over to the hotel. Mendoza is very picturesque town with its streets lined with canopies of trees. It’s quite pretty.
Since everything is shut down our tour leader, Juan Sanchez, has made arrangements with his family to host our group for a true Argentinian-style New Year’s Eve party! I can feel the buzz of excitement from the group, as we are going to visit an Argentinean family at home and eat authentic food.
We arrive at the home of Juan’s sister, Gaby Bianco, and husband Pablo Bianco, armed with bottles of wine from Concha Y Toro in hand. Upon entering the house, we are all given the traditional welcome kiss on both cheeks.
The house is small but very comfortable with all the modern amenities. The back garden is set up for the evening’s festivities. A gorgeous swimming pool, a tent canopy and buffet table all laid out for our arrival.
The matriarch of the family, Juan’s mother Rosita Sanchez, is a gracious lady in her 60’s. She has spent the day making her special vegetarian and meat empanadas. Between mouthfuls of Gaby’s delicious salads, salsas, mini-sandwiches, chicken and empanadas, we thank her profusely for going to so much trouble. Looking around I couldn’t help but draw parallels to movies like Eat Drink Man Woman and Big Night.
The Sanchez family can trace their roots back to Spain and Germany. The adorable Tommy, the youngest, entertains us with toys and antics. Gaby’s beautiful daughter Belu, a college student studying engineering, discusses her life in Mendoza and desire to work in Germany after graduation. Her English is far superior than our non-existent Spanish skills.
At midnight, we head outside to light fireworks and drink champagne, toasting the New Year. We enjoy a surreal moment when a clown arrives out of nowhere, of all things selling balloons! A bit creepy and exciting at the same time, one couldn’t help but draw parallels with Stephen King novels.
Reflecting on the evening during the ride back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but feel that we have experienced a magical moment on this tour. Not only experiencing Argentinean hospitality at its best, but also getting an inside view of life in Argentina.
* Photos in Mendoza c/o Parm Parmar, Flickr