So we went to Argentina. Notionally to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, but actually to drink lots of wine and to see whether the vineyard in which we made a modest but rash investment two years ago actually existed.
It did. Which was a relief.
It was the first really big trip that the two of us have taken without the children – now all travelling or working or studying – and at the airport we both had the giggly, slightly delirious sensation of playing hooky, or of having forgotten something important.
In fact all we had forgotten was how nice it is to pay two airfares instead of five.
Two jet-lagged days later we found ourselves bunked in much greater style than we’re accustomed to at the Park Hyatt in Mendoza, enjoying welcome drinks with the group we were joining on a wine tour.
Over the next four days we drank wine of a calibre that is the stuff of fantasy when you live in Zambia, and also ate extravagantly well. We were ferried around the country’s top wineries in minibuses into which we decanted – and increasingly squeezed – our overfed bodies, slumping heavily into our seats, catching a siesta on the way to the next meal.
I had never travelled in a group before, and actually I loved it. I loved the way people’s stories and personalities emerged slowly and then in a rush, encouraged by the companionship of shared interests and by the necessity of sitting next to a stranger at lunch and dinner each day.
And if I’m truthful, starting to drink at 11am probably helped too.
People talked about children and grandchildren, about wives who didn’t like to travel and jobs quit in favour of seeing the world. They talked of romantic encounters in Uruguay, of a beloved son’s suicide, of retirement spent practicing medicine as a volunteer in Peru, of aging parents and disappointing sons-in-law. It was fascinating, tragic, hilarious and occasionally a bit dull. Just like real life, actually.
Argentina is staggeringly beautiful. The Andes – wrapped around the Valle d’Uco in a semi-circle of snow-capped magnificence – bring a lump to the throat and cause you to gape silently in the manner of a landed fish as you struggle for words.
It’s also a country laid low by economic incompetence. Everywhere we went people shook their heads in rage and despair at the car crash their once wealthy country has become and all had their hopes pinned on better things after elections scheduled for October.
In our two-week trip there was one day of general strike and no fewer than four public holidays. One of these was Malvinas Day, on which the country remembers the soldiers and sailors it lost in the Falklands War of the early 1980s. We kept a low profile that day, and left the Union Jack T-shirts in the suitcase.
We saw only a tiny bit of the country, but are determined to go back. The group parted in a flurry of embraces and email addresses and promises to reconvene in two years. I hope we do. But next time, in the interests of maximum sartorial choice, we’ll be sure to avoid Malvinas Day.