Crossing The Andes: From Mendoza To Valparaiso

It’s been a while since the last time I wrote, so this will be a story with two chapters.

I left Mendoza on the 24th of December, hoping that the Christmas celebrations would lower the traffic intensity. People sure like to drive their cars though, and I was not alone on the road. Navigating out of Mendoza, which is quite a big city, was hard because of the usual bad signing. This makes you have to ask the locals though, which often leads to nice conversations and much needed Spanish lessons (or Castellano, as most of the people in Argentina and Chile calls their idiom). Outside of the city the vineyards dominated the landscape, but they soon disappeared when I went up the mountains. The road conditions were good (I took Ruta 7, which is the paved alternative of the two roads leading to Uspallata), but I started cycling very late and didn’t cover much distance the first day. I camped in Potrerillos, but didn’t get that much sleep because of the sound of the Christmas parties going on around me. The celebrations here are very different from what I’m used to in Sweden, here they stay up all night, feasting on “asado” and shooting fireworks.

DSC00379

The next day I went up early, and continued climbing the huge mountains that surrounded me. It was very hot during the day, and I had to stop many times just to cool down. At one of these breaks, two cyclists passed me. They also seemed very tired and after a short chat they went on. I pushed on and passed Uspallata, and ended up sleeping in a cave about 30 km from Uspallata.

DSC00382DSC00383

 

DSC00385

 

DSC00393

The third day I met again the couple that passed me the day before, and we decided to go together up the pass. He was from Uruguay and she from Argentina, and this was their first bicycle trip. They had a an itinerary which was made by a friend who had made the trip many times, but I was skeptical to this way of travelling. You never know where you will arrive at the end of the day when travelling by bicycle. It doesn’t matter how much information you have about the route or the weather conditions, there are so many more factors governing the distance covered a certain day. This fact is one of many that makes cycle touring interesting. They agreed with me, and were already behind schedule when they decided to rest a bit longer than me in Puente del Inca. From this little village, which has a beautiful naturally made bridge over Rio Mendoza supposedly used by the Incas, the gradient got larger and the headwind very strong.

DSC00394

Even though the altitude here isn’t extremely high, it forced me to rest frequently at the last ascent to Punta de Vacas. On the way I passed Parque Nacional Aconcagua, and I think I got a glimpse of the highest mountain in America, but I’m actually not sure (there wasn’t any around to ask).

DSC00396

In the top of the pass there is a tunnel that crosses the border from Argentina to Chile. It’s prohibited to cycle through the tunnel, so I got a lift by a road worker. After the tunnel the descent starts, and after a couple of kilometers on the Chilean side the border control is situated. The most complicated border crossing hopefully in my lifetime, but probably not. A police was fascinated by my bike and my journey, and said to me to skip in the long line of cars before me. Although this violates the most important Swedish norm that exists (except for maybe arriving in time), I did it with great nervousness. When I arrived second in line, the man in the car behind me started honking his horn with great intensity. I explained to him that it wasn’t my idea, but he refused to listen. The people in the line next to mine overheard the argue and said that I could go before them instead. The only problem was that according to the migration officers I was in the wrong place. I went to another house, and after asking around in about 10 different places and after a lot of investigation of my passport and my luggage I was aloud to pass through. This took a couple of hours and I almost missed to see the following route before the sun went down. The downhill is called “Los Caracoles”, which means The snails. This was great fun, and what made it even more fun was that half of the width of the road was under construction. This meant that I could go on this side and pass all the other traffic, which felt so nice considering that I’m usually the least prioritized vehicle on the road.

DSC00406

The next day was a real treat, with downhill the majority of the time, and I was able to cross all of Chile (from east to west) in one day! I arrived to the coast, and stayed the night on the beach in Concón.

DSC00412

 

DSC00419

The day after I arrived in Valparaiso, a city that recently was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It’s a city like no other, with small, simple houses cramped on steep hills. Here I stayed with Romain, a wonderful host that I encountered in for me a new community called “BeWelcome”. It reminds a lot about couchsurfing, but BeWelcome was created as a reaction to the new policy that made Couchsurfing into a for-profit organisation, raising money through venture funding. Because BeWelcome is new it doesn’t have as many users, but the ones that are there answer more frequently to requests and seem to be more active than users on Couchsurfing.

DSC00423

 

DSC00465

 

DSC00486

 

DSC00491

 

DSC00503

My initial plan was to stay in Valparaiso at New Year’s Eve, as many people said this was the place to celebrate. I got an invitation to a party from a couchsurfer in Limache, 40 kms from Valparaiso, and decided to go there instead. The day I left Valparaiso I realized that I made the right choice; it took me almost an hour to buy breakfast in the supermarket because of the amount of people that are there for the celebrations.

I arrived to Limache and was warmly greeted by Diego and his family. We later went to the farm, that belonged to Diego’s grandfather, where they grew fruits. In the garden there were all kinds of fruits; Peaches, oranges, grapefruits, lemons and apples. This was a nice a place to spend the New Year’s Eve, without the hysteria and firework war that’s going on in the city.

To be continued… 🙂

Posted in Stories