africamuse's travels

THROUGH THE ANDES, TO MENDOZA


Roberto (my partner at that time) and I spent the 1998 Easter weekend (a three day weekend here in Chile) in Mendoza and San Rafael, Argentina. It was....'preciosa'! We had a wonderful, wonderful time, saw some incredible scenery and beautiful plazas, ate lots of Argentinean beef, and had a great weekend.

We drove there and back - a drive right through the Andes mountain range. It is incredible! One can actually see how the mountain has been pushed up over the centuries. We drove up past the Portillo ski resort, which we had visited before, went through customs and entered the tunnel which connects Chile with Argentina. What was so amazing was that the scenery changed very abruptly on entering Argentina. On the Chilean side of the pass, the mountains are dark and craggy - very beautiful. As we drove out of the tunnel into Argentina, we were greeted with an equally beautiful vista of grassy valleys stretching down below us, right in the middle of the Andean range! Unfortunately, we had no battery for our camera until the end of our first day in Mendoza. We took lots of pictures on our way back, this is one of the view that greets you on exiting the tunnel on the Argentinean side:

Emerging on the Argentinian side of the Andes

It is interesting to note how the border between Argentina and Chile is defined. If a drop of water which fell in the mountains were to (potentially) run down towards Chile, that land is Chilean. If it were to run down towards Argentina, that land is Argentinean.

We drove down to Mendoza, which is a beautiful town, filled with plazas and plazoletas, each with its own character.

Plaza España

Plaza España

The beautiful tiled Plaza España - with tiled benches, murals - even small tiles set into the ground at regular intervals. I have never been to Spain, but the plaza reminded me of the tiled buildings in Lisbon, and increased my desire to see Spain soon.

Some of the many dancing fountains in Plaza Independencia, the main plaza in Mendoza.

Fountains in Plaza Independencia

Mendoza also has a huge park - Parque General San Martín - which includes fountains, statues, a lake , riding trails, playgrounds, sportsfields and thousands of trees. We drove around it briefly, but spent most of our time in the park visiting Cerro de la Gloria (the Hill of Glory) and the really good zoological gardens. It was very sad to see the lonely elephant that couldn't reach its tree, but I enjoyed seeing a lynx and jaguars for the first time, and watching Roberto overcome his fear of zebras by hand-feeding a zebra colt ;).

The Banco Hipotecario Nacional, one of the many beautful buildings found throughout Mendoza

Banco Hipotecario Nacional

On the Saturday, Roberto and I drove through the Argentinean Pampa to the small town of San Rafael, and on to the beginning of the Cañon del Atuel. Unfortunately, we were not able to travel as far as we would have liked, as rain had made the road slippery and dangerous. But we drove along the beautiful Rio Atuel as far as the Valle Grande dam. We then drove up onto the dam wall and along the edge of the dam for a while, a giddy, frightening trip for me - well-compensated for by the awe-inspiring beauty of the dam, itself. We left the edge of the dam and travelled further, past interesting rock formations, until we got to the beginning of the canyon, where we had to turn back.

The Pampa

The Argentinean Pampa - flatlands as far as the eye can see.

Roberto and I standing on the dam wall.

Just about any dam wall?

!!!

The incredibly beautiful Valle Gande dam.

Interesting rock formations in the background - a lot higher than they look in this picture.

Rock formations

On the way back, we stopped at what I desperately hoped was a tea room, but actually turned out to be an artesaníal, much to Roberto's amusement. The day before, I had been telling Roberto that I had been spoiled by working in museums. I dislike most curios intensely, because they are usually badly made, shoddy copies of what tourists want to see. And I will probably never be able to buy originals on a museum or teacher´s salary. And even if I could - well, there are plenty of ethical considerations which would prevent me from buying most original pieces. The result of all this was that I had bought nothing with an indigenous Latin American character in the time I have lived here (in fact, ever). So it was wonderful to find this artesaníal. It is run by the artists themselves, and consists of a beautiful garden, with explanations of the values it symbolises; a workshop where one can watch the artists working with natural materials, and where they are happy to explain the processes, tools and materials used; and an exhibition area and salesroom. No tea-room, though, lol. The artefacts were very reasonably priced for their quality and the work that had gone into them, but still pretty expensive. I satisfied myself with two small bowls. This was a chance stop that topped off our day beautifully.

On the Sunday morning, we visited some last sights, had a rather mediocre early lunch (all we could get at that time), and set off back to Santiago. The drive back through the Andes was even more impressive than our drive to Santiago. We made a number of unscheduled stops and detours. We saw the highest mountain outside of the Himalyas, Aconcagua, and drove up to the borderline between Chile and Argentina, at the old border crossing (it's closed now) to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer at 4200 metres above sea level. It was freezing cold, with snow on the ground, and the people who staffed the Chilean store were so happy to see Chileans (well, a Mexican Chilean and a South African who lives in Santiago, lol) that they presented me with a grubby cup of very good Pisco Sour - which went down very well, I can tell you.

Roberto and I effectively blocking out the highest mountain outside of Asia

The statue of Christ the Redeemer

During the night of 5 April, back in Chile, we had another earth tremor (it woke us up at about 3 a.m.) and it was amazing to think that the process of forming the Andes mountain range is actually still happening.


HIGH POINTS:

Great stew in an excellent restaurant (I will have to ask Roberto its name) in Mendoza on the Saturday night.

All the plazas, especially Plaza España.

Valle Grande.

The drives through the Andes.

Candyfloss in Plaza Independencia.

The artesaníal.

Argentinean Quatro - completely different from Chilean Quatro - in Argentina the grapefruit soft drink actually does taste like grapefruit.

The fossils of sea creatures that one can find high in the Andes! This one is found at the Aconcagua viewpoint.

Sea fossils in the Andes

Actually, the whole weekend - it was ... the best word I can think of is 'enchanting' - a wonderful time.


LOW POINTS:

The not-very-good hotel in which we stayed - especially as it was fairly expensive.

A disappointing lunch in San Rafael.

Not being able to take photographs on our first day, as the camera battery was flat.

Our visit to the casino. I have never been inside a real casino - only one-arm bandit places. I was looking forward to a glamorous evening of blackjack and roulette - just like the movies. Unfortunately, our timing was bad - we were at the casino on its last night of existence. A pretty dilapidated place.




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