I am in the most romantic place in the world. ALONE Vines thick with fat purple grapes hang above my head. The lavender sky stretching out over the province of Mendoza already shows off a perfect crescent moon and Venus shining bright. In my hand is a glass of Malbec, garnet red, with aromas of leather and blackberries. Below the stone steps where I’m perched, a violinist plays Argentine love songs. Beside me? No one. Except the British couple holding hands, the newlyweds from California and various other hotel guests sipping wine and canoodling.
Nestled in the foothills of the Andes, Mendoza is in the heart of Argentine wine country, and famous for its Malbecs. It is also the starting point for those crazy enough to climb Mount Aconcagua, at 23,000 feet the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere. My husband, Lorne, is one of those crazy people. He arrived here three weeks ago with a pickax and piles of microfiber clothing to add Aconcagua to his growing list of climbs: Rainier, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus. I left our Rhode Island home this morning, having packed sunscreen, cute summer dresses and a pair of flip-flops. The plan was for him to complete his climb, then rendezvous with me here at the Cavas Wine Lodge, after which we would visit vineyards and then continue on to Buenos Aires for a few days of city life.
I know he made it down the mountain; he called me two days ago, giddy and exhausted. But since arriving at the lodge, I’ve sat on the gorgeous rooftop terrace and gazed at the distant snowcapped Andes and the sweeping vista of vineyards by myself. I’ve nibbled the salmon mousse the hotel staff is passing around and sipped a few glasses of wine, all alone in my new strapless purple dress, my husband nowhere in sight. When the violin music ends, I make my way solo to our table for two. Midway through my appetizer of empanadas and still more Malbec, I look beyond the flickering candles, and there he is: bearded and beautiful, my mountain man, my husband, my beloved.
THE first time I met Lorne 17 years ago, as we shared life stories late into the night, he regaled me with tales of trekking in Nepal and climbing mountains all over the U.S. “I would never do that,” I told him. And I meant it. A fear of heights combined with a lack of interest made me certain that mountain climbing was not for me. Rather than being turned off, Lorne loved that I knew my own mind. Besides, we shared enough interests to keep this difference from getting in the way—until five years ago, when Lorne decided to climb more serious mountains around the world and I suddenly found myself left behind for four weeks every year.
When he scheduled his trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, I imagined the two of us on a safari, but the idea held no appeal for him. Two years later, Lorne headed for Russia’s Mount Elbrus, and my visions of roaming the Hermitage Museum and sipping vodka at the ballet proved uninspiring to him as well. But Mount Aconcagua, rising above all those vineyards in Mendoza, seemed like the perfect place for a couple who, while passionate for each other, were passionate for different leisure pursuits, and Lorne happily agreed.
The Cavas Wine Lodge has 14 casitas scattered around its vineyards. Each “little house” has a small private pool and a rooftop terrace with a fireplace and cushions for stargazing and lovemaking. After our steak dinner, Lorne and I run beneath those grape-laden vines, pausing only for kisses. Argentine summers are hot, but the light rain that falls on us that night brings cool temperatures. I listen as Lorne describes traversing a river, getting altitude sickness, hiking 18 miles before renting a car to meet me here. I can’t help but think of my own leisurely, albeit solo, evening with both relief and pleasure. Sure, I married a guy who likes to climb mountains, but after 17 years together, I’m even more convinced that I belong on terra firma. As Lorne sinks into the king-size bed, he sighs. “From sleeping on rocks to sleeping on this,” he says. I snuggle close, but my own Grizzly Adams is already snoring.