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Sometimes when travelling you hear about amazing things. It could be a conversation that you overhear, somebody telling you where they’ve just come from or a passionate stranger excitedly telling you “you HAVE to go there”.
Mr Hugo fell in to the latter category and the South American gringo trail was awash with his adoring fans.
From almost the first day that we arrived in Peru, we heard whispers of his name. Those whispers became firm instructions that we MUST go to Mendoza to see him. “He’s a legend”, “unbelievable”, “so generous”, “a lad”, “the man”. It seemed that there weren’t enough words to describe this God like character.
As we got closer to Argentina, the anticipation built. What was he really like? Why is everybody talking about him? Was it really going to be that easy to find this Mr Hugo?
After 6 weeks of travelling, we finally crossed the border, headed through the mountains and down to Mendoza. Wine country. We immediately set about locating the guy that I would presumably pray to for the rest of my days here on earth.
There were a few rivals offering alternatives to the trip organised by Mr Hugo but we knew our man and we weren’t going anywhere without him. The first person we spoke to knew about him. Presumably because he was the King of Argentina, President, Tribal leader or equivalent.
The next morning, at around 11am we set off on the local bus from our hostel. Out through fields, with mountains providing the backdrop for a perfect sunny day out. I’m fairly sure that I felt butterflies as we approached Mr Hugo’s house. We walked through the gate to see bicycle after bicycle lined up. We were about to embark on a tour of the Mendoza wineries on Mr Hugo’s trusty bikes.
Like the Pope addressing the masses, Mr Hugo appeared from his office. This was it. Here he was. With a big smile on his face, he welcomed us in to his front garden and set about giving us his finest bicycles upon which we would tour his hometown. He enthusiastically gave us each a map, circled his personal favourite wineries and pointed us on our way. It had been a brief introduction to Mr Hugo, but we were already starting to like him. Later we would like him even more and realise why he had become a South American legend!
We peddled out, sampling the vino in winery after winery. One place even offered a free absinthe before the clock had struck one o’clock in the afternoon! Luckily the roads around Mr Hugo’s house didn’t have many cars on them as very few backpackers were riding in a straight line or keeping to the side of the road.
We learned about wine production, saw bottle after bottle of vintage Malbec and of course drank a few of the less expensive glasses! But it turns out that this was all a warm up for our return to Mr Hugo’s and we didn’t even know it. As we peddled back through his gate around 5pm, tipsy but feeling good, we thought that our day was coming to an end and that we were about to bid farewell to Mr Hugo.
We were very wrong. “Have a seat” he said, pointing at a couple of tables in his garden. “Which wine was your favourite?” he asked with some preferring reds, others whites and roses. After briefly disappearing he returned clutching three carafes – one of each – and placed them in front of us. “It’s free, thank you for coming to see Mr Hugo” he said before giving us each a glass.
Mr Hugo stayed and chatted to us, disappearing every now and again. When our glasses were nearly drying up he brought another three carafes out, then another three, then another three… Soon enough everybody was well on the way and the main topic of conversation was how cool this guy was! There hadn’t been any exaggeration in what we’d heard about him, this guy was a living legend, and we would continue to spread the word long after we had left Mendoza!
I didn’t get a good picture of Mr Hugo which to me only adds to his mythical status – was he real, or just a figment of my wine-enhanced imagination?!
Have you met Mr Hugo? Maybe you have somebody that you’ve met on your travels that you’ll never forget?