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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

The Significant Andes along Route 7 - Day 462

As we were flying across the significant Andes the other day, I was thinking that it was a shame we hadn’t seen more of this mountainous spine. When our host, Diana, invited us on a trip there, we jumped at the chance.

We had considered getting a bus from Santiago, but when we weighed up the time and cost, flying seemed the best option. So, when Diana, our host, said that she was going to pick up her son from the Mountains and would we like to join her, we jumped at the chance. People usually pay good money to make this trip. Her middle son, Diego is a mountain guide and has been away, climbing in the #Andes since mid-November.

We travelled along Route 7, part of the Pan-American Highways and within the hour we had reached #EmbalsePotrerillos reservoir. The enormous dam was completed in 2003 and Diana informed us that a village used to be in the vicinity of this manmade lake and people were all moved so that the area could be flooded. This 12km long Reservoir now provides flood control, irrigation water for the vineyards and hydroelectricity, as well as leisure and sports activities. In fact, Diego’s girlfriend Celina is competing in the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in Windsurfing and often practises at this reservoir.

The scenery started to become more dramatic with the Mendoza River running parallel to us as well as the old #TransandineRailway that ran for 248 km from Mendoza to Santa Rosa de Los Andes in Chile. When Diana was a young child, her parents took her on the train here, but she was too young to remember it. The ride must have been incredible, chugging along through the Uspallata Pass with these incredible views.

The colours in the rocks were jaw-droppingly amazing. It was as if a giant had painted thick lines of red, yellow, green and brown along the mountain edge. Diana pointed out a distinct yellow rock formation. As we got closer to it, we could see that this yellow shape was like a gigantic Puma. It really stood out. I wish I knew more about geology and what causes this colour. Sulphur? Calcite? Sandstone? Any idea? Strangely I couldn’t find anything on Google about it.

We stopped off for lunch, steak for Tim and Diana while I had a spinach and cheese pie, and chatted. Diana’s English is far better than our Spanish. I spoke a bit of French as well, as Diana lived there for 9 years before having her three sons. We managed to converse easily enough and talk about life, home and children.

On with the journey, the mountains got taller, and we could see the peak of snow-capped #MountAconcagua, South America’s tallest peak just under 7,000m above sea level. I must admit that I was like one of those nodding dogs and kept dropping off to sleep. I had a restless night, I think it was the wine, and was dreaming in Spanish but didn’t understand a word of it!

We, at last, came to the small hut and two storage containers where Diego climbs from. He was still out on a trek and would be back in a couple of hours. I did wonder what we would do at that time. Were we going trekking?

We stopped off at a parking place with a sign saying “Puente del Inca”. A couple of cafes, the usual stray dogs and stalls selling local crafts; knitted hats, ornaments and various objects covered in a weird yellow coating. I could see that there used to be a railway station here and can imagine that this was the last stop before reaching Chile. We were only about 14km away from the border.

We strolled down a slope and OMG, we were not expecting the sight before us. It was a bridge over the river made from a mass of orange and yellow geological formations, similar texture to a stalactite, and this strange coating covered the side of the bank.

Legend has it that an Inca chief brought his son here who was affected by paralysis to see if the hot springs could cure him. The torrential river blocked his crossing, and so his warriors formed a human bridge so that he and his son could get across. As they reached the other side, they looked back to see that the men had been petrified, turned into this strange mass of rock, forming the #PuentedelInca (meaning “The Inca Bridge”).

The real explanation is that this arch was formed at the end of the ice age when the retreating glaciers left eroded debris. The water from the hot spring here is so rich in minerals that it petrifies objects, so gradually formed the bridge. And those objects we saw at the stalls have also been petrified and encrusted in the dense minerals. Crikey, I wouldn’t like to dip my big toe in the thermal waters here. I’d never get my shoe back on!

There did use to be a large thermal spa resort here in the early 20th century which was said to cure various illnesses, but the building deteriorated (I’m not surprised) and then an avalanche in 1965 finished it off. (We had passed another spa earlier on at Cacheuta).

Photos were taken and a lot of gawping at this incredible place. On the other side of the bank was a solitary stone built church. With the train station and former hotel here, I can imagine that it used to be a thriving holiday resort in the past. Mind you there are a few ski lodges here, so the place may look completely different in the Winter time.

Back in the car, we carried on west. Is Diana going to drop us off into Chile?! No, just up the road was a big sign for #ParqueProvincialAconcagua, the gateway for the mountain I mentioned earlier. We could see a trail leading that way. “Are we climbing the mountain?” I jested. “Well, you can, I’ll wait in the car for you” Diana replied. She, like me, is not for these adventurous activities.

In the car park, there was a fabulously painted campervan. Tim and I had been talking earlier about one day touring around Europe in an RV, but the usual white ones are so boring. This one looks right up my street, perhaps a bit too hippyish for Tim.

We returned to pick up Diago, and he was there sitting waiting for us. It was lovely to see him and his Mum hugging and jumping up and down with excitement of seeing one another after 3 months, and he greeted us warmly. Diago takes up to 4 people trekking in these enormous mountains for up to 20 days at a time. I don't think I'd last one day!

We picked up the rest of his stuff, with bags loaded between Tim and I and set off on the long journey back here. I was concerned for Diana, that’s a lot of driving to do in one day, but she seemed happy enough and awake, unlike the two of us in the back.

During our trip, we occasionally saw a small shrine, usually made of wood with big piles of large plastic water bottles surrounding it. We noticed a few of these in Bariloche as well. I asked Diego if he knew what they were. They seemed to always be near water. He replied “#DifuntaCorrea”.

The story goes that a young lady, Deolinda Correa heard that her conscript husband was unwell while fighting in the 1840s civil war. She and her baby son when off to find him, but sadly she died from heat stroke, exhaustion and hunger. Gauchos discovered her body sometime later, and the baby was still alive, suckling on her breast. Word got around about this miracle, and she has since become an unofficial saint in Argentina, with her sacred mission to protect travellers. People leave plastic bottles of water to give thanks to her, hoping that their wishes will be granted.

On our return, between naps, Tim and I were both still in awe at the beauty of the Andes, the different coloured rocks, the various textures and shapes. There is something about being surrounded by these majestic mountains that have been here far, far longer than mankind. It reminds me of how insignificant we really are. We are both so grateful that Diana kindly invited us along. Staying at people’s homes really does have its benefits.

#Andes #Route7 #Argentina #EmbalsePotrerillos #TransandineRailway #MountAconcagua #PuentedelInca #ParqueProvincialAconcagua #DifuntaCorrea #AmazingMountains #PlasticBottleShrine #YellowPumaRock #HippyCampervan

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