[Mendoza V] December 15, 2011: Crossing the Andes

After a final hostel breakfast, we bid farewell to the sweet hostel dog Kata, and walked to the bus terminal. All three of us were strategically covered in flea and mosquito bites, and my shoulders had gotten very sunburned (which usually doesn’t happen to me), so my giant heavy backpack suddenly seemed like a less amazing idea.

We arrived at the terminal and boarded our bus. Once again, we were on a double-decker, but this time, we had booked the Very Best Seats ever. We had the front seats on the bus’s second level, so we had a normal bus window on our side, and a giant, unobstructed picture window in front of us. The Andes Mountains unfolded before us.

Best seat ever. I loved it so.

Since we were traveling during the day, the bus-people played a movie on a tiny television screen above our heads: The Hangover, dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles. Every so often I glanced up and watched a minute of it (happy to see Zach Galifianakis’s glorious visage), but mostly I listened to music on my iPod and gazed keenly out at the amazing scenery.

The Argentine side of the Andes varied constantly in appearance. There were mountains striped with rainbows of red and orange, and others draped with a mantle of sloping, slate-grey gravel. For much of the trip, we drove parallel to a river; at times, its waters were brown (like on our rafting trip), but at other times, the waters were bright red, flowing through light grey gravel. Striking.

Small red-brown waterfall.

As we climbed higher, we started passing ski chalets, often with brightly colored, snow-proof roofs. I kept grabbing my camera to take a picture through the bus window and then putting it down again, only to pick it up again fifteen seconds later for a different picture. It was perhaps a damn good thing that I was in a bus: if I had been driving, I would have stopped every three inches to take photos, and would never have gotten home to Chile.

Blue-roofed chalets, with that blue sky.

Right above our seat, there was a machine that measured when we went through tunnels with a loud PING sound. It startled me every time, and then made me smile because the noise was identical to that of Monty Python’s machine that goes ping.

Abandoned railway structure.

We arrived at customs, and once again, we sat for two hours in the bus waiting for our turn — although this time with a much nicer view of jagged snow-tipped mountains. This customs-visit was better-organized: when we finally left the bus, they lined us up like schoolchildren and marched us tidily inside. We showed our passports and forms, and I received a few handsome new stamps in my passport.

Having achieved that, we stepped across the way for baggage check. I was very amused by the customs form, which informed me that, among other things, I needed to declare all hooves and paws that I might be carrying. (Chile is much more bureaucratic and strict than Argentina about what you can bring in: R. had bought some honey at the organic winery, but they took it away from her; alas.)

Finally, we were free to return to our amazing seat on the bus, as the bus started inching on its way again. We started to descend the mountains, through a series of incredibly wiggly switchbacks. From our large, elevated picture window view, every right-hand turn made it look like we were about to fall right off the edge. Of course, we didn’t, but it was thrilling to watch.

I don't think a road sign exists that can encapsulate this road.

On the Chilean side, the scenery was somewhat rockier, with an abundance of snow-capped mountains. There were many wildflowers: little white ones, globular yellow ones, and so on; I would have loved to look closer. Instead of the rock rainbows of the Argentine side, there were bizarre, grey-black sloping shapes — different, but just as beautiful. M. said that these mountain passes reminded her a lot of her native Switzerland.

Wildflowers.

As we descended further, the scenery switched to green trees with small standing ponds, and tiny villages. We crossed into the outskirts of Los Andes, the town where we would be staying the night with our friend B. and her mother. We walked to B.’s mum’s house, through a pleasant, slightly suburban neighborhood (lots of familiar horticultural plants).

B. was at work when we arrived, but B.’s mum greeted us warmly, showed us to our room, offered us food and drink, and invited us to shower or rest if we felt like it. She is a wonderful lady, who calls us all mi amor and m’ija (my daughter). She fixed us a dinner of chicken, tomatoes, bread, avocado, and a homemade strawberry postre; her grandson joined us for dinner, and we all chatted merrily.

Another inhabitant of the house is a giant, sweet dog whose favorite pastime is to chew on empty water bottles. He also found momentary delight in one of my socks. I spent the evening doing some jobwork on my computer, so that I could relax a bit. Then, we all piled into bed, looking forward to sleeping in mañana.

Cozy Los Andes bed.

(Oh: there are more photos on Flickr, mostly taken through the bus window.)

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