A different side to the mountains

Mendoza is a desert city but is very green thanks to the irrigation channels which run alongside the roads (I wondered if the combination of wine capital and deep gutters results in the odd UDI). It was very pleasant with wide shady streets and plazas, but unremarkable, for me at least. Another beautiful setting with vineyards on one side and mountains on the other, but something was missing. Fantastic icecream though (dulce de leche and raspberry would be my picks) and sitting outside having dinner at night reminded me a little of somewhere in the Med, though I couldn’t pin down exactly where it reminded me of.

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Bouncing along ripio roads to Laguna Diamante, 150km or so from Mendoza, we must have seen more than a hundred guanaco, far more curious than llamas and less shy than vicunas. We were lucky that the lake was unusually like a sheet of glass, a piercing blue that reflected the Maipo volcano in a perfect diamond. Maybe it was the fact that I was feeling less than 100%, but it didn’t have the same wow factor for me as the landscape around Jujuy. Logically, I knew that the views are stunning but it didn’t have the same emotional pull.

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We almost didn’t make the trip up to Cristo Redentor, the statue which marks the border between Chile and Argentina (another strong contender for the ugly statue crown). The minibus trip was really cheap and the guide wasn’t eager to take us as we weren’t from South America, but in the end I understood most of what she was saying in Spanish anyway. If we’d had the time we could have done the journey up the pass by public transport but it would have taken 4 hrs just to get to the halfway point and there weren’t a whole lot of places to stay along the way.

In the end it was fun…really touristy but it’s the first time I’ve been in a ski lift since I was a kid visiting the Alps. Puente del Inca, where sulphurous waters twist the rock into strange forms as they slowly swallow up the old spa buildings, left me cold, but stopping to gaze up at Aconcagua, misted in high cloud was something special. The cloud stubbornly refused to shift completely, but we did get a few tantalising glimpses of the highest mountain in the Americas. At 6,962m (nearly 23,000ft) it takes between 12 to 15 days to climb and temperatures can drop to -40C.

The final twisting road hairpined its way up to 4200m and the site of the old border crossing into Chile. The road’s often closed in winter due to the treacherous nature of negotiating it in snow and ice, and a tunnel now takes traffic into Chile. The statue symbolises peace between the two countries after a long running border dispute, but it’s the view which steals the show. My pics really don’t do it justice. The narrow valleys stretching into the distance as the old mountain pass follows them down into Chile are breathtaking, almost as if they are designed to entice you further. All I really wanted to do was run down that road and see what was on the other side…

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