Rocking in Mendoza & Puente del Inca's rocks

Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
Trip End Jun 01, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostel Suites Mendoza

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rocking in Mendoza.....

Mendoza and the busy Hostel Suites on Av Patricias Mendocinas was a real shock after the wilds and space of Patagonia and the warmth of the people there, but after a few days we were able to see beyond the hustle and grime and we tuned in to what after all was a relaxed, attractive city. We wandered the leafy streets enjoying the warmer temperature, gentle breezes and dappled autumn light, looking at the architecture, the mouth-watering parrilliadas, the shoe shops full of black and tan leather boots, the chic winery outlets and souvenir shops full of the yerba mate drinking vessels, ponchos and wine, and we did what every visitor to Mendoza does - over-indulge on steak and wine! We stretched the budget and ate out a few times, particularly enjoying the food, wine and conviviality of La Florencia on Av Sarmiento. We wandered around Mendoza’s public squares - Plaza Espana, Plaza San Martin and Plaza Independencia and hiked one hot day around Parque Generales San Martin to the north of the city, not anticipating it to be quite so large. What we thought were paths on the map were busy roads! 

A highlight of our five-day stay was going to see The Cult, one of Phil’s long-term favourite bands, at Estadio El Santo, a discotheque on the outskirts of Mendoza, in the desert. It was a very bizarre venue for a rock band but they performed well considering the strange layout and tacky disco decor and we had a great night, made, more than anything, by the exuberant Argentine crowd and the group of Santiago guys we shared transport with, leapt about at the front and swapped stories with.

And Puente del Inca's rocks......

On the bus to Puente del Inca it was a treat to have the top front seats giving us an elevated view across interesting and varied landscapes from the flat plains of Mendoza’s vineyards backed by distant snowy mountains to the deep valley of Rio del Las Cuevas and its red and orange dust, rocks and crags. It was a relaxed drive, picking up and dropping off locals all along the way, including soldiers from the various camps, and pausing for refreshments in attractive Uspallata and the ski village of Punta de Vacas.

Puente del Inca is a tiny ramshackle village in the high Andes, 2,700 metres above sea level on Ruta 7 in the stunning valley of Rio del Las Cuevas. It experiences tourism extremes with only a handful of overnight visitors during the winter, swelling to over 5,000 visitors, many camping, during the peak summer trekking/climbing season. The afternoon we arrived a mean wind was wiping up the dust from the large unpaved area in front of the café shacks. The sky was a vivid blue and through the chill wind we could feel the strength of the ultra-violet rays. Freight lorries thundered down Ruta 7 having crossed the high Andean pass from Chile and now enjoying the down-hill. A few tourists were clambering out of their cars and stretching their legs and dogs ambled around, including a huge, dribbling Saint Bernard belonging to Café Aconcagua. On one side of the village was a mountain division army camp, on the other the cafes, a closed restaurant, the large stone hosteria, and beyond the derelict railway line a refugio (being refurbished), a museum housed in a large pink train shed and the reason d’etre for Puente del Inca; the puente. A thermal spring rich in mineral deposits has helped to create an extraordinary bridge over the Rio de Las Cuevas, encrusting the river banks, streaking them a conspicuous orange, white and green, and slowly assimilating the ruins of an old brick spa. In front of this natural marvel was a small market with tanned, weathered stall-holders and stalls of alpaca jumpers, ponchos, lumps of glittering rock and a multitude of trinkets, including every-day objects that had been given an orange sulphur-coating (resembling the honeycomb centre of a Cadbury’s Crunchie Bar!).

Staying in the Hosteria Puente del Inca was a surreal experience. It was run by three guys who never appeared at the same time, which was slightly spooky, not a word of English between them, and it was completely quiet (except for an abrupt burst of karaoke one night), dark and chilly - at this altitude once the sun set the temperature plummeted. However, our room was comfy, we were warm enough, just, and it made a good base from which to wander the area and hike to see Aconcagua. At 6,962 metres Aconcagua, the Roof of the Andes, is the highest mountain in western hemisphere, and although regarded as a straight-forward ‘trekking peak’ eight trekkers died this year, some apparently blown off the mountain in their tent! The Parque Provincial Aconcagua was officially closed for the season, although there were still wardens around monitoring the main ‘mini-trekking’ route. It was Sunday and the road was quiet as we walked up to Laguna Los Horcones, past the park huts, the main view-point, the bridge over the Rio Horcones and onwards to the camp at Confluencia, taking around 4 hours for the ascent. With the gentlest of breezes it was hot walking and we stopped often to apply more sun-block.

Visibly the highest peak around Aconcagua stood at the head of the valley for most of the walk and either side and behind us were rugged, craggy mountains, steep slopes of bare rock and sandy soils of different hues and exposed rock strata telling the story of dramatic upheavals of the land over millions of years.  The camp ground was devoid of any campers, guides or mules but sadly it was strewn with tattered plastic bags and behind the hut a box of shrivelled and sprouting fruit and vegetables had been scattered by the birds and foxes. Overlooking the river we ate our lunch, listened to the silence, watched a grey fox sniffing around the prickly shrubs nearby, and took in the mountains and desert. Our descent, back the way we’d come, took a little over 2˝ hours. A little footsore (our walking boots have taken such a pounding on this trip!), thirsty and coated in desert dust we collapsed into our seats in Café Aconcagua and, true to form, we tucked into a hot chocolate and alfajor (a soft biscuit with a dulce de leche centre).

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