High Mountains Tour

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April 18th 2013
Published: April 21st 2013
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High Andes Tour

View up the first pass of the pre AndesView up the first pass of the pre AndesView up the first pass of the pre Andes

You can see the road carved into the side of the mountain
For our last full day in Mendoza, we had booked ourselves into a high mountains tour. Speaking with a French guy at the hostel, he mentioned that we should go to the Cristo Redentor de los Andes (Christ the Redeemer of the Andes), a monument placed on the border of Argentina and Chile on the old highway between the two countries at 4000 metres above sea level. The intention of the monument was to signify peace between the two often fueding nations. The only way that we could get to the monument was via a tour, which also took us through other parts of the old highway, and included the Puente del Inca (The Inca's Bridge).

After being picked up at 8am, the first stop was at the entry to the Villavicencio nature reserve. Some 40000 hectares that had been bought by a Frenchman around 15 years ago, as a means of preserving the unique area of the pre Andes from destruction, such as mining. Shortly after entering the reserve we reached the Villavicencio hotel, an old, and now disused place where the elite would stay when travelling through to Chile in the 40's. It was quite grand looking from the outside, but had been stripped inside of all of the furniture and fixtures many years ago. It is now a national cultural monument. Villavicencio is also famous as being the place where 90% of the mineral water in Argentina originates from, as the surrounding mountains contain high deposits of minerals and metals.

Leaving the hotel, the bus was soon climbing up a very narrow gravel/dirt road (the old highway), with switchback after switchback. In very little time the Hotel was small spec and the bus kept on climbing. About 30 minutes after leaving the hotel we reached a lookout at 2200 metres and had superb views back down the mountain and the road that got us there.

From here it was a steady climb to our next vantage point at 3200 metres. The road was still narrow, and weaved its way along the ridge of the mountain. I thought that it was only one way, until we encountered a few cars coming from the opposite direction. There were herds of Guanaco's everywhere, often in the middle of the road. We also startled a fox, who thought that the best way to escape us was to run up the road in the direction that we travelling, until he figured after 500m or so that he would be better off ducking off into the shrubs. He still posed long enough to check us out, and provide a photo opportunity.

At 3200 metres we reached a lookout to the high Andes, with the glacial capped peaks of Mercedario and Aconcagua standing tall above the rest. From here it was possible to start seeing the remarkable colours that the metals and minerals gave to the mountains, with yellows (Sulphur), reds (iron), greens (copper), and blacks (zinc). Often multiple colours would swirl down a mountain like an ice cream.

From the lookout the road made its way down into the valley to the town of Uspallata. After a quick toilet break, we were on the road again along the new/main highway to Chile, following the path of the Rio Mendoza, which many thousands of years ago had carved its way through the valleys between the high Andes which were now towering above us. The river was a mere trickle at this time of year, but the sides of the river where 30 metres high providing an indicator of what did, or could happen if a lot of water came through. I thought that i would never take so so many pictures of rocks, but after each turn in the road we would be greeted with a mountain that did not resemble the previous one in either shape or colour.

After an hour or more, we reached a small little winter ski village where our restaurant for lunch was. Fueled up on steak, beer and flan we were off again to reach the Cristo Redentor. Just before the border with Chile, where the new tunnel that takes you through the Andes, instead of over them, the bus peels of the highway and starts to ascend a mountain more crazy then the one undertaken at the beginning of the day. It was steeper, narrower and more traffic in both directions. Like the one in the morning, there is no such thing as a guard barrier, with nothing to stop an errant driver falling 100's of metres down the side of the mountain. There was a rusty upside down car at the bottom of one of the sides to remind us what could happen. It probably only took 40 minutes to make it to the top, and when we did the whole bus clapped and cheered Bruno our bus driver!

At 4000 metres the wind was howling and it was much colder then the previous peaks we had gone through. Also, as the air is thinner at that height you feel a little bit different due to the pressure. We were both fine, but one lady on the tour did not cope well with it. A brisk 15 minutes of photo's and buying a hot chocolate, it was back into the bus to traverse back down the mountain the way that we had come... I preffered the drive up then down, but Bruno was meticluously safe and there was never any chance of an issue. Meanwhile some other tour minibuses (like ours) overtook us and flew down the mountain. If i was in one of those buses, then there would of been streaks of brown to add to the other colours.

Safely at the bottom, the bus went back the way we had come to take us to Puente Del Inca. A crazy rock formation that was caused by a glacier blocking the river a long time ago. The blockage caused the minerals and rocks to merge and create some fantastic colours as there is a natural spring of sulphuric water passing through the rocks. When the glacier eventually melted it left a natural bridge of sulphuric rock across the river. Over 100 years ago some thermal spa rooms were built to service a nearby hotel. These were in use until one day an avalanche wiped out the hotel. These days the bridge is closed except to some local Andean people who use the sulpher to make goods to sell at the numerous nearby shops.They will get something like a shoe and leave it in the sulphur water for 30 days, after which the shoe/object will have around a 5-10mm crust of yellow sulphur all around it.

From here the bus went back into Uspallata, and then through the pre Andes along a different route then we came in the morning. After 2 hours we came to Potrerillos, the place that we had found by misadventure a few days earlier. And it was lucky we did find it prior, as the sun had now set and it was not possible to see the colours of the dam and surrounding mountains.

Dropped off at our hostel at 8.30 we were impressed with the quality and duration of the tour, but not looking forward to having to cook up some mundane pasta for dinner to use up the last remaining bits of food before we leave the next day. But as we walk into the hostel we are greeted by the owner Vasali who is carrying a 7km tray of various bits of cow, and informs us that he is counting on us to help him and 6 other people in the hostel to eat all of that. Easy! A great Asado (bbq) is had and many local wines and beers drunk. We make friends with a really nice dutch couple (Rerolf and Rens) who are also travelling up to Salta a day after us. So hopefully we will be able to catch up with them there.

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Rio MendozaRio Mendoza
Rio Mendoza

notice the height of river bank /walls
Lunch pitstopLunch pitstop
Lunch pitstop

with an Andes beer truck conveniently parked in front
You put your left in (Chile) & your right foot in (Argentina)You put your left in (Chile) & your right foot in (Argentina)
You put your left in (Chile) & your right foot in (Argentina)

in front of the Cristo Redentor los Andes monument
View at 4000 metresView at 4000 metres
View at 4000 metres

Aconcagua is behind the mountain on the left

used to drink mate (Argentinian yerba infused drink)
Some sulphuric items for saleSome sulphuric items for sale
Some sulphuric items for sale

The local Andean people soak all sorts of things in the sulphur water, leaving a thick crust over the object

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