Top of the (Americas) World…

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For pictures from our trip to the Chilean border, click here. Howdy folks, your humble narrator Steve reporting in yet again from Mendoza. We´re just wrapping up our 3 day, 2 night stay here, and I thought I´d pop in and catch you up on the last couple days. In a little under 2 hours we´re all meeting up again, to head to the bus station and pile on to the overnight bus back to BsAs. It´s about a 13 hour ride, so we´ll be arriving at 8am. It´ll be our last day and night in Argentina, and I´m already getting sad to think about leaving all this greatness behind. However, my waistline will surely thank me, and I´m almost sure the rest of my trip-mates could use a break from my non-stop self 😉 (right, Sandy?). It´s been a great couple of days, even though we opted to skip out on the wine tours in this, the greatest Argentinian wine city. That´s not to say I haven´t embibed in a few bottles of white and red on the way. Mmm mmm, one of my favourite Bodegas has been Chandon, not sure if we can get it or not. I´m heading out to do a little shopping soon, but not till I tell you about (another) great bus trip we took yesterday. Read on.

Mendoza has been a great city as far as options for excursions. The hardest part has been getting all the information we need on a timely basis, then making the big decisions. Well, yesterday, we, along with the entire group, decided on a bus excursion to the high Andes. You see, Mendoza is located in a valley, but right on the edge of the sub-Andes and into the high Andes. In fact, the mountain Aconcagua (6962m) is only about 240km away from here. This peak, in case you didn´t realize it, is the highest in the Americas, Africa, and Europe! Yup, that high. Thousands have summitted her, since there is an ‘easy’ route on one face, and a very difficult route on another face. However, each year, several perish while trying to summit. The vistas of this peak were what got us interested, and was part of the trip. Of course, we only got as close as 40km away, but it was enough to be inspired. I think I may need to take up mountain climbing some day…

Although the whole day was spent on a bus again, it was, as per usual, a breath-taking array of arrid desert country, green areas, as well as pre-Andes and high Andes. We went right up to the Chilean border, which is actually a 3.2km tunnel through the mountains. We got to see an Aussie play in snow for the first time, and had a high-altitude international snowball fighting incident. Isn´t this how all vacations should be? I´ll definitely miss everyone on this trip. It´s great to make new friends and share such amazing experiences.

The road also led us to a few other impressive sights. We got to the Puerte del Inca, which was a famous stone setting where there was once a spa with hot sulphur water. This area was devestated by avalanches in the past, causing great damage in the process. The pictures will show you some amazing mineral deposits, and an even more impressive rock structure built on the site. We also visited a cemetary for all the fallen climbers of Aconcaua. This was a slightly sombre moment, but also a great reminder of the tragedies and triumphs of the human spirit and experience. I looked for any Canadians, and planned to leave a small maple leaf pin to remember them, but didn´t find any on my quick search.

The vistas were amazing as usual, and we also learned more about how the government has created a lot of problems for itself in its´ ongoing privitization, mineral exploration / exploitation, and the way that much of the land is owned by a powerful few, including a past president who snapped up most of the land around a dam area which is Mendoza´s water source. In the entire year, Mendoza only gets something like 3 to 5 inches of rain, so they built a dam completed a mere 5 years ago, to capture all the water they need. The land around will eventually become a resort area and playground for the rich, and is owned by one person!

Higher up in the Andes, by the Chilean border, we were told how they can have up to 20 feet of snow at any one time. The road is a vital transport link between the pacific and atlantic oceans, and they try to keep it open year round. This is very difficult and costly in the winter. We heard tales of how thousands of trucks would be lined up for 15+ days waiting for a chance to cross the tunnel. Last year, several truckers froze to death waiting. You see, the tunnel has giant doors, and only opens a few hours per day due to the weather sometimes. They just can´t keep it clear of snow. I saw some pictures where the snow was carved into a 20 foot canyon-like wall, one lane wide, just for the trucks to get through. Insane!! There was also a rail line, but it has fallen into disrepair, and therefore no longer runs. The road has many tunnels, and for the rail line, there are also many covered sections to protect from land and rock slides. Well, a lot of those have been destroyed. Before the line opens again, I hear it will cost around $300,000,000 to get it back into shape. What a shame, it would be an amazing rail line. We actually haven´t seen a single train here!

Well, that about does it for the bus trip. We had a good lunch, and did the same road in reverse to return. It´s amazing how going the other direction made it seem like a whole new trip!

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