- Day 27 -
Although tipsily galloping along the beach in Uruguay had been incredible fun, boy did we suffer the next day from sore thighs. Getting back in the saddle and recreating our first Valentine’s day on horseback, two years previous, in London’s Richmond park, may therefore not have been the best idea. The spectacular views Uspallata offered though, paid off, but we felt sorry for the horses heaving our gourmand lumps in the heat.
Wisely choosing the half day ride to save our rumps, Damian, the young gaucho arrived early and we quickly inhaled our dulche de leche breakfast before being led to our steeds. Being proportional to our height, rather than our skill, I was somewhat perturbed mounting a huge stallion which towered over Cass’ pony sized mare. Diego assured us they were well seasoned though and would happily carry us on the trek to the Copper mines. What we hadn’t appreciated was how steep the assent was going to be. Climbing quickly but steadily up the ochre coloured earth out of the lush farm plain, we negotiated standing armies of giant cacti that added to the wild west feel of riding in the dry heat. The horses coped amazingly, with the deep sheep skin saddle absorbing the bumpy terrain. At several points though with the slope near vertical, Cass’ horse resisted and had to be coaxed up with Diego’s clicks, while my own took a breather and I rubbed his sweating muscular neck.
At the summit of the hilly outcrop though we were afforded a panoramic view of the Uspallata plain stretching out to the foot of the Andes. Too cool to harvest grapes for winemaking as in Mendoza, though rarely seeing snow, the farmers specialise in more hardy produce. Filling the land with emerald green in contrast to the harsh copper stained soil, all life is supported by the continuous glacial water flowing down from Aconcagua that we’d seen the previous day. Pausing to explore an abandoned copper mine tunnel, on our emergence in to the unrelenting sun, we bumped into some Argentine girls who we had met over dinner at the hostel and who worked for Green Peace. They had walked the route and looked pretty shattered so we were glad to once again mount up for the descent. Thankfully the return road was a much gentler, though less scenic. I felt sorry for the horses though, who must realise this path is available rather than the other steep climb and curse lazy tourists such as us under their whinnies. Circling round the back of the hostel via a bubbling stream, they lapped up a well earned drink before we jumped down, feeling a little roasted and ready for lunch.
Soaking up the hostel’s isolated charms by sharing a hammock in the garden and reading, we were pestered by the coy playfulness of the youngest labrador, who would implore us to play fetch with a rock. However, it didn’t seem he was too familiar with the rules as although he jabbed us with the rock in his jaws, he only reluctantly let it go and was easily fooled by my dummy empty throws.
Escaping washing dishes and making beds to pay for the hostel when we realised they didn’t accept MasterCard, the friendly assistant dropped us in town instead to use the ATM and pay. This gave us time to enjoy a final Argentine steak and glass of malbec at the El Rancho where we’d visited two days before. Although not the most salubrious of restaurants, with a vicious fly catcher buzzing like an electric chair overhead, the steak was consistently good and drew admiration from the table of sunburnt mountaineers who were just about to settle in to their well earned dinner.
Grabbing a final beer in the Tibet bar to sedate us for the overnight bus to Chile, we then almost missed it! Incredibly we were rescued by an unknown women who appeared in the parking area and ushered us to the front of the station as the bus would do a pit stop for us on the main road. We had thought as in the border crossing from Brazil to Uruguay the passing into Chile would be a formality. We were wrong. The abrupt wake up at 2am, out of my cosseted sleep induced by a full belly of steak, sedated with beer and wine and secured with ear plugs and eye mask, felt particularly unpleasant. Through groggy consciousness, we plodded to the dual passport stamp lines - Argentina Out, Chile In - inexplicably taking far too long at this wretched hour before we had our bags sniffed for fruit and could be on our way. We really hoped Valparaiso in Chile looked better in the morning as our Valentines day cheer had faded in the cold Andean night.
- By Ian