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Published: August 3rd 2017
On Monday, we met for breakfast at 7 AM, to be ready for our pick up at 8 AM by Kahuak Tours and our high mountain guide for the day. This guide turned out to be Martin, who had a constant smile on his face, laughed easily, and was joyful of an opportunity to go into his beloved mountains.
Unlike the wine tours, the Aconcagua Experience was not a private tour, but we were lucky that there were only two other people joining us that day, a young Brazilian couple from Sao Paolo. Small world, we all soon found out that we all, us, Martin, and the young couple, had been at Andeluna the day before.
During our drive, Martin spent the time giving us a detailed background of this area of the Cordillera, their formation, age, and everything interesting he could think of. I found myself distracted by the scenery, as we got closer to the mountains. We came across, and followed, the old train tracks that are no longer used on the opposite side of the river. There is a combined Chilean-Argetinian project to restore and reinstate this method of transportation, but due to the
damage caused by the last major earthquake, most of the funds have been dedicated to recovery and this project has been put in the back burner.
Eventually, we arrived at Valle Potrerillos. The name derives from potros, or horses, and it used to be a place to change mounts on the long trip to Mendoza. It is now home to a large dike that has formed a beautiful turquoise colored lake. There is a small town, and also lots of hotels, and resorts in the area. Here we came to stop at a cafe/restaurant sitting on top of a small hill, with a nice terrace overlooking the valley, with a great view of the chain of mountains called the precordillera, and of the lake in the distance. In spite that a large number of snacks had been provided for us by the tour company, we had a nice cortado, and a couple of the sweet glazed croissants that they call Media Lunas, and which I thought were the best I'd ever had.
The valley is traversed by the Mendoza River, fast flowing and muddy, which at one point must have been very large if the huge
canyon walls we passed are any indication. They were so high and smooth, that I was on the verge of asking if they were built, until I saw couple of areas where they had collapsed, and knew that, nope, they had been made over a long time by the erosion of the river.
I found the change of colors in the stone fascinating. The road came next to jagged red stone hills, brittle looking sandy hills with what looked like landfalls of sand, and it was an ever-changing display. The road kept climbing, crossing into valleys like Uspallata, and we crossed many tunnels to get us through the mountainside where the road has been built. More and more we started getting glimpses of the snow capped mountains, as we came closer and closer to our destination.
We saw ruins of old huts built as refuges every few miles, we saw the cemetery of the Andinos, where many of the people who have died attempting to climb Aconcagua Peak are buried, small ancient churches, and many other points of interest. We also saw Condors.
The entrance to the park is hardly impressive. A small stone
building, with a couple of girls issuing the passes into the park. At the time we got there, the bathrooms were not open because they didn't have water. It is brought in by truck, and it had run out. It reminded me of the Argentinian border crossing in Patagonia, where they were often without electricity. Regardless, the park itself and the surrounding mountains are breathtaking.
Our tour included the short walk around the park. A couple of the lagoons, and some other interesting points. We did come across a group that was doing the longer hike that gets much closer to the mountain, but that hike takes several hours. There are also numerous groups that go in for the climb, but they usually go all the way to the base camp by vehicle.
We were very lucky that the weather had cleared out, and we had a perfect day of mild temperatures, blue sky, and calm wind so we were able to enjoy the perfect reflection of the mountain in Laguna Espejo, obviously named because of that optical wonder.
I was impressed by the accumulation of huge stones that had been carried and eventually
dropped along the way by the old glacier ice, and fascinated by the patches of snow still not melted and rather close by. Aconcagua, of course, always dominated the horizon, truly massive.
We were advised not to deviate from the marked paths so as to protect the park, and it is forbidden to take even a single stone out of the park. The path has overviews at particularly interesting spots, or those places that offer particularly good views and photo ops.
Martin believed we had brought the blessing of the mountain with us and had been welcome especially well. This was affirmed, in his opinion, when a condor did a flyby and soared and dipped around us. It was quite a treat.
On the way back, we passed by Laguna Horcones, which is the habitat and nesting ground of a lot of birds. The Brazilians found one sign particularly funny: "No moleste a los Patos" it said. Do not bother the ducks but, for a Brazilian, it just meant not to molest the ducks.
We also got a close up of one rock that still had the marks of marine life etched
on it, from when it was under sea, so many millions ago!
It was a wrench to leave that beautiful scenery. We liked it so much, that Patricia was seriously talking about training hard for a year, and going back to hike the bottom part of the mountain. It takes three days to get to the top.
On the ride back, we were mostly relaxing and enjoying the ride so I could give my full concentration to the views. It was a bit daunting at times, when the jagged rock walls were within arm's reach, and I wondered if any of them ever get loose and come tumbling down.
One memorable stop was at the place called Puente del Inca. The mineral waters have created the most colorful display of greens and yellows, and the whole place was beautiful to look at.
A couple of hours into the ride back, we reached our last stop. Yes, we were being fed again! The place was a small compound overlooking Rio Mendoza, with cabins, a playground, and a rustic restaurant where our table had been set in the veranda, next to the pool area and
with a good view of the river, and the high walls of the river bed across from us.
A large platter of cold cuts and cheeses with nuts and crackers was served, a bottle of Malbec was poured, and then the main course was brought out; two kinds of freshly made Empanadas, ham and cheese, and beef. Both delicious! Just when we thought we'd eaten too much, out came the dessert, layers of fruit and custard. Yum!
It was hard to stay awake after that, but I managed to wake up before we crossed Potrerillos again, and I got to look at the lake from a different direction. It is hard to believe that the muddy waters of Rio Mendoza get here, and get transformed into those beautifully clear and blue waters.
We got back to the hotel, tired but happy, and I took a long bath. We were determined not to give up on dinner again on our last night in town, and kept the reservation at Maria Antonieta. This restaurant was right next to the hotel, so it made it easier. As I think I mentioned at a different time, there were
many Italians who came to Argentina in the early 1900s. This restaurant specializes in Pasta, which they make fresh on the premises. I was curious about trying the one that featured fresh Pesto, and it wasn't until after I ordered it that I started laughing at myself, because it also had shrimp, and it was stilly to order seafood in a landlocked city like Mendoza. However, the shrimp were large and tasty, and the pasta was very good, although I still could not eat it all.
The next morning we were going to be leisured, and take our time to go to breakfast and do some sightseeing in the surrounding area of the City before our afternoon flight back to Santiago, Chile.
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