It is really something to be in the middle of the Andes Mountains wandering around by ourselves! We packed up our car, thanked our host and drove off into the gorgeous landscape. He gave us directions on which way to get back to Mendoza…we were taking the scenic route which was serene but also a bit uneasy. The raods were not paved and we were driving a crappy rental-if we pop a tire, will anyone ever find us?
Mountains were in every direction and then we were in a tiny car amongst the gravel between them, we had no idea whether or not we were going in the right direction. There were random old wooden posts in the ground once in a while with the name of a city and an arrow but these weren’t exactly clear highway signs by any stretch of the imagination. Up and down and around we went, getting out of the car to take pictures and gaze out into the wilderness. We did come across some random llamas who were grazing on the dry grasses and stood perfectly still for their picture to be taken. And at one point a peculiar fog came rolling in getting thicker and thicker which made for surreal scenery. We were literally standing in the clouds in the middle of the Andes by ourselves-priceless.
We did see one other car drive up to a looking point we were close to, so we had him take our picture…the immediate mountains were brown and dry but way in the distance was the snowy peak of what was probably Mt Aconcagua.
As we continued driving over the rocky roads we realized we were at least going down the mountain range which was the direction we needed to be going in…although there were no other cars behind us, we did see a couple going the opposite way so were thinking we must be headed towards whichever town they were coming from.
After a few hours, we made our way back to reality…where there were paved streets and many people…we were in the city of Mendoza. Prior to the Andes, we had stayed and driven around the countryside/vines of Mendoza but now we will be staying in the actual city for a few nights.
After some circling around, we finally found our small hotel amongst the one way streets and got ourselves checked in. It was nice to have a real bathroom with enough running water to enjoy a long shower and an actual mini fridge to keep things cool instead of a stream of water. We walked across the street since it was dinner time to find some food and noticed many stores were closed. We found an Italian place which had a fire burning oven so ordered a pizza and salad to go.
We window shopped a bit while our food was cooking and then made our way back to the hotel where we settled into our comfies with dinner and a movie.
After a quick breakfast of homemade bread/jam, we spoke with the owner about where to go and how to get there etc. He said there were some nice hiking trails in the area but that we needed to get going because it gets hot during the day and dark early.
We packed a quick day pack and were on our way driving through what felt like a picture on route 7, the highway between Argentina and Chile. This was one of the routes used by General San Martin to drive the Spanish Empire out of Chile. The landscape was arid and mountainous with almost no people in sight. We saw a sign marking a trail so pulled off onto the windy gravel road and parked the car. We made our way down the trail and walked right into an old bridge made of rocks. We had fun climbing it and posing for the camera until a couple other people came over to the bridge and pointed out that it was a monument in honor of the army of the Andes and General Jose de San Martin. The bridge wasn’t actually used when the troops were walking through the mountains (which took them approx. 25 days) but was built as a monument in their honor…we really were not supposed to be climbing it-oops!
After our modeling shoot in the middle of the mountains we continued on our way until we reached the Aconcagua Park which consisted of 175,444 acres and of course the main attraction, Aconcagua Mountain reaching 13,123 ft high…the tallest mountain in the Americas.
We parked and walked inside the visitor center to listen to some information about the park and get a map showing a nice walking trail with view points including a glacier. We had dressed for hot weather but it was chilly and windy so we grabbed our jackets and walked onto the trail. It was nice and peaceful and we casually meandered along the path eating an apple, breathing in fresh air and admiring the backdrops of snow-capped mountains, green grass and a small lake. The walk took us close to an hour and then we decided it was time to find some dinner and get back to our little dome in the middle of no where.
On the way back, there was a group of vendors selling trinkets on the side of the road so we stopped briefly to take a look but didn’t see anything of interest. For dinner, we sat at one of the few restaurants and ordered grilled chicken which was served on our own hot grill. We ate and relaxed from our day of sight-seeing before arriving back at our place for the evening.
Aconcagua National Park…and Picheuta River Bridge
Today we are driving a couple of hours outside of Mendoza deep into the Andes Mountains to an area called Uspallata Valley. We had found a place on airbnb.com which looked really cool…they were white dome/tent-like things in the middle of no-where, surrounded by mountains and specifically mentioned star-gazing. It was only about $90-100 per night and we thought it would be fun to explore/hike through the mountains.
On our way out-of-town, we stopped at a little deli to get picnic stuff for the road…we weren’t sure if there would be places for food once we were out in the wilderness! The people in the deli of course did not speak English but we managed to get our orders in…we got various sliced meats, cheeses, bread, water and chips.
The drive was beautiful…very curvy through the mountains which were both green but also arid. We also drove by a crystal blue lake, it was nice to get some fresh air and get away from the difficult job of wine tasting for a couple of days.
After a few hours, we saw a small town with a few restaurants and decided to stop for some food before checking into our place. It was a parradilla (or open fire) which was a common type of restaurant known for its grilled meats. We sat out on the porch for an hour or so in the small mountain town eating our meat and salad. Back in the car, the navigator said we were pretty close to our “dome”. As we drove down an open road, and knew we were within a mile of our place…we saw a couple of white domes sitting literally in the middle of nothing…no civilization, no neighbors, no nothing except mountains and rocky ground. The wind was really whipping around since the domes were located on a very flat area. We pulled into the dirt driveway which was labeled 3 frutas and were greeted by the owner. He and his family stayed in the large white dome and right next door was a smaller one, which was our new home for the next 2 nights. Thankfully there was a toilet, shower and bed. It reminded us of an igloo minus the cold. He explained there was no refrigerator but showed us a reservoir near the driveway which was basically a cold water stream underground. He had tied a long rope to a bucket which he then slowly put down into the water to keep whatever was in the bucket cold, we of course placed a bottle of wine in it.
He also told us there was a pool down the path…we walked down rocky/grassy path to find the world’s smallest pool…it could not even be called a kiddie pool and it was ice-cold-no thanks.
Being out there was such a drastic change from being in civilization where you could drive a couple of minutes down the road and be shopping or eating etc. It forced us to slow down and appreciate the scenery. The owner explained there were some hiking trails nearby but that it would need to be tomorrow b/c soon it would be dark. He asked us what time to have breakfast ready which would be homemade bread and juice. He also took out his big expensive telescope and placed it outside our dome so we could look at the stars later in the evening.
We relaxed in our dome, ate our picnic stuff for dinner and then when it was dark, sat outside in simple chairs looking up at the gorgeous open sky full of twinkling stars. The telescope was heavy-duty and it was the first time we saw the planet of Saturn and its rings/moons as well as the craters of the moon. It was quite an experience to look at a planet or star…then stop looking for a minute or two to find when we went back to look at that same planet, it wasn’t there. And that was because we needed to move the telescope over a bit…the earth was turning and therefore we had to change our viewpoint. It was so interesting to see with our own eyes the impact of how fast the earth was spinning.
After entertaining ourselves outside in the cold…we moved into the dome to get to bed early. We want to be up early and get a head-start on hiking before it gets too hot.