It wasn’t the greatest idea to read a book about a woman who’d traveled to Tibet and suffered altitude sickness just days before today’s outing. We were about to ascend 4200 meters above sea level to the site of Cristo Redentor, where Argentine and Chilean soil meet.
We took a private bus so we could see several sites in a day, and it paid off. Over four hours we watched the mountains grow from already impressive to astronomically astounding, changing colour from rust to charcoal and everything in-between. We took the smooth concrete road beneath our bottoms for granted, until we took a turn onto the bumpy old route 7. Once upon a time, not even long ago, it had been the only passage from Argentina to Chile through the Andes mountains. It ran alongside the now also defunct Transandine railway, both tracks dwarfed by their surroundings and prone to landslides, flooding, and avalanches in winter. After a repeated battering, eventually both became casualties of the elements, and a more modern road was built alongside, but teetering on cliff sides the narrow passes, bridges and tunnels are still visible today.
We stopped at an old bridge & battle site called Puente Colonial de Picheuta which is miraculously still standing, and continued our ascent to Christo Redentor- our second Christ the Redeemer ‘viewing’ in South America. We were blessed with crystal clear blue skies and were lucky to see the snow capped peak of Aconagua, the highest peak in the western hemisphere! It is 7000 meters above sea level, and takes two weeks and £5000 to climb it (including all your food, a bargain we were informed!)
The climb up to Cristo was not one for the faint hearted. I’m not sure anybody was at all reassured that Christ was looking down on us (he was actually checking out the awesome views over Chile instead). Our ears popped during the rapid ascent, our tyres rolling just centimetres from the edge of the track which gave way to a sheer drop & a red dusty death.
All was forgotten however when we peaked the mountain at Cristo’s feet. The initial shock of the cold temperature and high speed winds wore off as we soaked in the view. It was almost impossible to comprehend the scale of our surroundings. Aconcagua and it’s glaciers loomed above us glistening in the sunshine, and mountains stretched into the horizon on all sides. Jaws dropped, skin numb and ear drums assaulted by howling winds, we bundled back into the minibus thirty minutes later and descended the mountain. Surprisingly the incline on the descent was a lot more stomach churning than the climb had been!
Soon we arrived at Punta del Inca. Deceptively named, this is not a bridge built by the Incas, but was first used by them. It is thought to have naturally formed in layers during the ice age, the natural hot spring beneath it forming a passage underneath turning it into a bridge. On arrival we meandered through market stalls, vendors selling their wares and usual trinkets. We were however mystified by an array of trainers and bottles that looked like they’d been involved in a chicken escalope recipe. Several strides closer, and we saw the whole area looked like it had been dipped in glue and then coated with sand. Every surface was coated in these rust coloured deposits, which we learned actually form naturally from sulphides, calcium and other minerals in the hot spring water. So rich are they, that once upon a time a hotel and spa was built here for its’ guests to take advantage of. Sadly, as with numerous destinations in this area, these were flattened by an avalanche, though miraculously the small church sitting adjacent to the hotel remained untouched. Cristo must have been looking in this direction on that day.