Our third day in Mendoza was all about the Andes (well, there was still some more wine too). We headed out early, a bit after 8AM to make the long drive to the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world that stretches out about 7,000 km (4.3k miles) extending north to south from Venezuela to Argentina and Chile. Some of the highest parts of the mountain range have a number of cities built on them, such as La Paz, Quito, and Bogotá, but this day we got to experience and see its highest peak, Mount Aconcagua.
We had an absolute gem of a morning with gorgeous blue skies. The drive itself was beautiful, and Rita and I were lucky to have Pamela from Trout and Wine as our guide and a fun-tastic Australian couple to share the day with.
Rita had her first cup of mate on the way, which she loved so much that later back in town she bought a full mate set and after we returned to Buenos Aires having mate every afternoon became a ritual for her. By the time she left Argentina she was quite good at making delicious mate… but that’s another story altogether. Back to the Andes.. and the gorgeous scenery. We stopped at a dam along the way- the climate in Mendoza is almost desert-like (annual rainfall of ~200ml) and an extensive irrigation is necessary to sustain the olive and grape production in the area.
After passing through the last town on the Argentine side of the Andes (Uspallata), our next stop was the famous Puente del Inca or the Inca’s Bridge. Scientists believe that the river below used to be a big chunk of ice, and the petrified dust and rocks on top of it remained as this natural arch when all the ice and snow melted. The unusual yellow and green color comes from the sulfurous water from the thermal hot springs- you can see the remnants of a hot springs spa from the turn of the 20th century.
There used to be a train that crossed the Andes to Chile (Transandine Railway went through a tunnel under the Andes – how cool!), and just a few feet away from Puente del Inca still stands the last train station on the Argentine side.
Pamela told us that only the very serious mountaineers attempt the climb here and it usually takes over two weeks to make it to the summit, if they make it there at all. She said while the climb itself is not considered difficult the altitude poses a great challenge, and it’s necessary to go up & down, and up & down (i.e. you would go from base camp 1 to base camp 2, come back down to base camp 1 then again to base camp 2; next you go to base camp 3 and back down to base camp 2, etc. to adjust to the altitude slowly). We did a quick 1 hour loop trail in the park and I have to say, it was enough to give me a full on altitude induced headache for the rest of the day. The view was so totally worth it though.
Before heading back to Mendoza we had a great lunch (trout with capers and roasted vegetables- so rare to find fish on the menu anywhere in Argentina… it was a wonderful treat) and happily watched more colorful mountains surround us as the sky started to fill with feathery clouds.
When I was planning this trip I thought about taking a bus from Mendoza across the Andes to Santiago, Chile. It’s probably not possible to make the journey in the winter months but certainly in mid/late April or May, the weather is fantastic (and not very crowded this time of the year) and it would make a fantastic border crossing. A day or two in Santiago (more wine country fun), a day trip to Valparaiso, and fly back to Buenos Aires from Santiago– sounds just about perfect!
Just one more day left in Mendoza on this trip though- next day, Valle de Uco.