I wanted to cross the Andes Mountains by coach. I felt that having flown over them on several occasions, and having seen them in different seasonal states, it was time to get a view of these majestic mountains from the ground. I knew it was risky at this time of the year the route can become frozen and impassable. But here we are in July 2012 and the temperatures this year have kept the “bioceanic corridor” clear, the route which runs from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. The journey takes about 7 to 8 hours from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina.
Mendoza was founded in 1561 and is famous for its mineral resources and quality wine. It has perfect weather conditions for growing wine grapes, with an average yearly temperature of 23° Celsius. I shall touch quickly on the earthquake of 1861 that destroyed the town and took the lives of 4300 of the 12000 inhabitants of the town. But my story is of the mountains themselves and the lasting memory they will have on me.
The ascent from the Chilean side takes you through small hamlets that have a variety of styles and quality of buildings. In one town they have rope bridges crossing the river that link the road to the homes. Suddenly something catches my eye: a one gauge railway track that looks like it once carried rocks and ore out of the mountains, which at one time was the quickest route across the mountains that separate the two countries. It must have been a nightmare transporting goods in years gone by, against the weather conditions and rock falls as the track runs close to the rock face. This must have been amazing feat to have laid and maintained this vital pass.
The mountains themselves are amazing. The scenery changes constantly with farms of fruit trees and vineyards in abundance. As we start to climb the mountains the rocks seem to become a green-brown colour mix, but as we head higher streaks of ice and frozen snow lay on the rocks. As we get nearer to the border, the scenery is totally white, except for the road, a black tar meandering upwards like a snake. On the Argentinean side, I pass some ski chalets in a town next to the slopes that are filled with skiers. Once again I am alongside the river and the railway track.
The descent on this side of the mountains is not as steep as on the Chilean side, slowly leaving the snow behind, wide open plains appears before me. Plains so vast that are home to nothing but the wilderness, the winds blow across these open terrain. I realise I am approaching Mendoza when I see the first vineyards along the road, stretch for as far as the eye can see.
The journey is nearing its end seeing these amazing mountains and all they hold at such close quarters, not only leaves the eyes full and soar, but the mind wanting answers to questions that I never knew existed. Having crossed this huge mountain makes this an experience to remember and an achievement.
WRITTEN BY GARY PICKETT