Little by little west of the endless dotted plains from sophisticated wineries and their vineyards, the province of Mendoza rises to the skyscraper domain of the Andes.
The tiny Ford Ka was the most unsuitable car to drive us through such raw and imposing lands. It was also listed as cheaper. The financial factor spoke louder again. We overloaded it with the worn-out backpacks we walked with and left the homonymous capital of the province behind.
Hill after hill, the engine of the Ka roars furiously, in progress on Ruta Nacional 7 (RN7), the Argentine road that crosses the Andes towards the Chile.
The Mendoza River accompanies us from the flattest lands to the Cordillera del Limite. it snakes through a panoply of dramatic expressions of nature.
And it crosses some of the most picturesque places in that unobstructed Argentina.
The Impressive Andean Vastness of Uspallata
The first to catch our attention is Uspallata, a town that, in the mid-fifteenth century, was located in the vicinity of the Truck of the Inca used by the Incas to cross the Andes.
The village appears on a vast plateau, generally arid, but which is home to an oasis of huge groves that benefit from timid water currents. In this refreshing setting we find the whitewashed vaults of the Bovedas, XNUMXth century adobe kilns in which Hispanic settlers smelt minerals extracted from the region, including gold stolen from the Incas and other indigenous peoples.
We don't see a soul around. The place remains in the hands of goats and cows that devour the grass by the nearest stream. Okay, we won't be late.
We to discover by a road secondary waste, with worn asphalt. Several kilometers later, we stop at a core of rounded rocks on which a plaque identifies the petroglyphs on the Tunduqueral Hill.
With patience, we identified the anthropomorphic figures: a face with large eyes, small men with simple lines, strange creatures with three fingers and another man, a lizard.
These are just examples of multiple illustrations believed to have been left by prehistoric inhabitants of the region who outlined their early shamanic beliefs.
We climb a geological ridge detached from the scene.
From the top, we confirm that there was no end to that painted desert and we appreciate the multicolored profile of Western spaghetti South American. We also detected the local hill of Siete Colores, rainbow-inspired elevations that abound in the country of the pampas.
In its dusty foothills, we absorb the explanations of a geologist professor who forms a group of interested teenagers.
Picheuta Bridge and River: an Emblematic Scenery of South America
A few minutes later, we come across the miniature stone bridge that crosses the Picheuta River, with the nearby Torreão da Sentinela and the remains of the fort with the same name as the river.
Nearby, the army led by General San Martin triumphed in 1770 in the first of several liberating battles for Argentina against the forces of the Spanish crown. There, the independence of Argentina began to materialize and, at the same time, the new history of South America was forged.
San Martin, that one, became a national hero, a kind of Simon Bolivar of the southern cone. Today, statues and streets in her honor abound all over the country.
Polvaredas and the distant Cerro Tupungato
We traveled at an altitude of 2050 meters when we entered Polvaredas, one of several railway stations that the construction of the paved road that linked Mendoza to Santiago de Chile has turned into a ghost.
On the outskirts of Punta de Vacas, we glimpse the distant Cerro Tupungato, a volcano with an altitude of 6.500 meters.
The Andean panoramas are overwhelming. There are other wide valleys with beds that the flows of the spring melt dug deep, even if, at that time, exaggerated for the diminished rivers that ran through them.
All around, like gigantic forces of oppression, others of the majestic mountains of South America impose themselves, which geology has endowed with an impressive palette of hues, from worn grays or blacks to bright reds and ochers.
The Puente de Inca that Charles Darwin deigned to visit
We are at 2580 meters above sea level when, beyond the path's edge, we identify the Puente del Inca, a natural yellowish rock formation carved by the passage of water from the Vacas River under ferruginous sediments.
In 1835, too Charles Darwin there let himself be intrigued. As was his habit, he sketched drawings of the bridge and the large stalactites.
He could not, however, pamper the body saturated with his endless land explorations in the now renowned thermal waters. The infrastructure of spoiled spa that currently serve the place only emerged in the early twentieth century.
We continue to subject the Ford Ka's frail urban engine to its long-standing torture. After a new Herculean mechanical effort, we reached the entrance to the roof of the Americas.
Mount Aconcagua. The Majestic Setting of the Roof of the Americas
We parked. We follow the trail that leads to the hill that gives it its name.
We pass the Horcones Lagoon until, at the top of a hill, a sign suggests a privileged viewpoint and identifies the distant view we had from there: Cerro Aconcagua, 6992 meters.
The trail that continues in its direction seduces us. But we are still far from the end of the Argentinean section of the RN7 and we were traveling with our limited time.
In any case, even though experts consider Aconcagua to be the highest non-technical mountain in the world (since its summit is conquerable without any kind of climbing equipment) we never challenged it lightly.
Astonishing archaeological discoveries from 1985 seem to support the mountain's relative accessibility. That year, the Andinista Club of Mendoza found an Inca mummy on the southwest slope, at 5300 m.
It was thus proven that even the highest mountains of the Andes were used for pre-Columbian funerary rites.
Shared by Argentina and the Chile, Mount Aconcagua stands out from the neighboring mountains for its wide summit. Usually, a thick blanket of eternal snow covers it, which attracts climbers, or hikers – as the Argentines insist on calling it – from all over the world.
Despite the attention paid to it and the record-breaking altitude of the South American continent, the Western Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere, thanks largely to the dimensional supremacy of the Himalayas, Aconcagua is not even among the 400 highest mountains in the world.
The Winter and Final Season of Las Cuevas
Reformed, we end the contemplation and return to the guideline of the course. Instead of Aconcagua, we continued to climb the Andes still and always along the RN7.
On the verge of Chile, we reach the valley of the Las Cuevas river and the deserted village of the same name. The little snow we found decorates the dark brown of the slopes with random patterns of white that look past their expiration dates.
As then the constructions of modern Nordic architecture seemed to be out of date, more suited to the winter in the area, at the time of intense snowfalls and thousands of skiers and snowboarders from Argentina, Chile and from further afield who flock there to have fun and perfect their acrobatics.
Las Cuevas confirmed the last mark of Argentine civilization before customs.
Soon, we would start descending the western slope of the Andes and deeper into Chilean territory.