Wines of Argentina and Chile - To Los Andes, 2013 Sunday March 17

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March 17th 2013
Published: July 30th 2014
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Entering the AndesEntering the AndesEntering the Andes

Dry scrub foothills to the craggy mountains
4:25 p.m. We have been sitting on the bus at Chilean immigration control since 3:45. We were warned of a multi-hour wait because of how tightly they check, particularly for absolutely anything resembling a fruit, vegetable or meat product unless it is pickled in a jar or can. Plus, the luggage is x-rayed, including hand luggage. Our group responsibly brought activities for waiting on the bus, so all is calm.

I don’t mind the wait, because we have spent the last seven hours riding through the fabled Andes in perfect, sunny weather!

We left Mendoza City at 9:30 this morning, leaving behind vineyards for dry scrub. As we began climbing into the Andes Plata Range, I was surprised at how friable was the rock – almost un-pressed sedimentary rock. The further we went, the more landslides we saw; every mountain showed evidence of many slides threading and spreading down from worn rounded tops. The Plata Range “moved” to our left and the El Tigre Range “rose” to our right. In the sun the many reddish shades of the Plata Range wove patterns as intricate as a painting. The valley to the pass was wide, not like the winding roads into
El Puente del IncaEl Puente del IncaEl Puente del Inca

An astounding natural wonder, and failed thermal spa
the Rockies. For a time we more or less followed the dry Mendoza River, until we reached an artificial lake formed by the Potrerillos Dam. From there the River was fuller (not big); below the dam almost all water is taken for irrigation.

Fairly soon after we made a big swoop right (to the north east), which brought us into the Border Range (main range) of the Andes. These mountains were sharper and younger.

Our lunch stop was early at a man-made "oasis”, a ski resort and hiking area. Similar to restaurants in the Rockies resort areas, a wide variety of candy and souvenirs were also for sale. The lunch offering was our choice of beef stew or roast chicken, potatoes and salad, selected cafeteria style. The chicken was roasted in one side of a huge wood fireplace on a raised platform. However, my choice was the braised beef to taste a local dish – good but salty.

Our next stop was Punte del Inca. The wondrous, awe-inspiring, multi-coloured phenomenon is the result of a cascade of salty water that has coated all the large rocks around a natural, arched stone bridge. The stone walls of an old spa showed that

The glaciers are the water source for Chile's Central Valley farms, vineyards, towns and cities.
people used to stay almost in the river cavern.

About ten minutes later we stopped for a great view of the magnificent, craggy, glacier-covered Aconcagua Mountain – highest in the Americas. Our viewing spot was where trekkers start their 40 km walk to the base. According to Victor, the walk up is fairly easy, requiring little climbing, but the winds and fickle weather have killed five people this past season (each without a local guide).

As we resumed the trip, the mountains seemed to rise higher and closer. The moment we passed over the height of land (unremarkable), the road descended noticeably. Suddenly, we entered a 3 km tunnel, the middle of which is the border with Chile. We drove for a short way and arrived at the border control, featuring large parking lots - one for buses and one for transport trucks - and a long line of cars on the road.

About 5:20 Victor and Martin escorted us into a large hall to have our passports stamped, exiting Argentina and entering Chile. No waiting here. Now at 5:45 we are waiting in the bus to be invited to be searched and released (bus and passengers). The
Entering ChileEntering ChileEntering Chile

Somewhere in this tunnel is the actual border; border control is a ways on yet.
road closes at 7:00 for the traffic on the Chilean side to reverse direction – from Chile into Argentina, because the road is only a single lane wide while repairs are being made.

At about 6:00 our bus moved into the large hall. We waited a while longer for the previous bus to complete their check and clear the inspection area. Then we took our hand luggage and lined up behind tables. In time a beautiful golden lab sniffer dog did a thorough sniff of our luggage and us. I couldn’t help jerking away when he poked his face at mine! Meanwhile our heavy bags were put through the x-ray. Seemed like a lottery whose bag was set aside for searching – not mine, a relief for no reason. Apparently officers were mainly looking at medications, which several people had, and honey, which we didn’t have because we were warned. Finally at 6:45 we pulled out, only to be stopped again so we could be counted – no stowaways.

Within ten minutes we forgot about the border tension with excitement of the precipitous, 19-hairpin turn, single-lane highway descent from 10,000 metres to 2000 metres! We were wildly switching
Hairpin turns at sunsetHairpin turns at sunsetHairpin turns at sunset

Impossible to photograph. Wildly exciting to try!
seats in the bus trying to capture it in photos. Impossible!

On the Chilean side, the mountains are granite, so here we had windy roads beside deep ravines. Fed by mountain snow, the vegetation is more lush along the road and in towns; however, further up the mountain, we can see that there are sparse, low scrub bushes similar to those in Argentina. Behind layers of mountains in the west, the sun set orange, reflecting warm light off the sheer cliffs in the east, as we gradually descended into the more populated valley below. (At supper we learned that this Aconcagua Valley is the main area for growing fruit and vegetables for export – the reason for the strict controls to keep diseases and insects from ruining crops.)

Near 8:00 we drove in the dark through the small towns of Los Andes and San Esteban to the posh resort, Termas el Corazon. To our exhausted eyes, this was close to heaven!

Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


La Plata rangeLa Plata range
La Plata range

Magnificent early close-up view of the fabled Andes
Potrerillos DamPotrerillos Dam
Potrerillos Dam

Argentina excels in water management for agriculture - especially vines.
Road tunnelRoad tunnel
Road tunnel

Tunnels are somehow quite romantic - although the practicality is undoubted.
Natural wall Natural wall
Natural wall

Nature's wonder - a 300 metre high wall carved by water, wind and rock falls

Bare rocks is the dominant scene as we rise into the mountains.
Mendoza RiverMendoza River
Mendoza River

This is as full as I have seen the River in this autumn season.
Border RangeBorder Range
Border Range

The highest range dominates the La Plata and El Tigre ranges.
Purple mountainPurple mountain
Purple mountain

The rocks and mountains begin to stir the wish to paint landscapes!
El Puente del IncaEl Puente del Inca
El Puente del Inca

The former settlement is dwarfed by the water-formed wonder.
Mountain Road trafficMountain Road traffic
Mountain Road traffic

A busy border crossing ahead!

Gloriously lit mountains tower above the highway as we plunge into Chile.
Hairpin curveHairpin curve
Hairpin curve

Thank goodness for bus drivers!

30th July 2014

Perfect Timing
I have just returned from two very fun-filled and exhausting days in the Jasper area to read your blog about mountains, glaciers, hairpin turns, the sun setting on the mountains….. The timing couldn't have been more perfect - such similar experiences, on two continents half a world away from each other! PS - The new Glacier Skywalk was our original drawing card (although we fit in much, much more!) and it was well worth the visit.
25th August 2014

Perfect Timing
Glad to be connected through travel, better when shared
30th July 2014

The process of photography
Loved your photo-caption comment about the impossibility of trying to capture the hairpin turns in a photograph - and the great fun of trying. I know exactly what you mean - I try to take pictures of birds and usually fail miserably, but the chase is all (well, almost all - on the few occasions when it works, there is much joy and rejoicing).
25th August 2014

The process of photography
Digital photography is so liberating - we can try and try and try, which does lead to some successes. As you say, even the failures are fun because of the pursuit.

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