• Solène Abauzit Rodrigues

Rule 1.1 – Never drive the same road twice

As Brett couldn’t wait to check out the meat in Argentina, famous for its asado (Argentinian barbecue), we crossed the Andes through the Paso Los Libertadores to go to Mendoza. I felt quite happy about Brett’s hunger as it had been one the best drive we’ve ever done – we have to say that it is not a habit to drive up at 3200 meters above sea level.

While we were getting closer to the snowy mountain tops of the Andes on a snaky road, we stopped for a refreshing breath at the laguna del Inca Portillo, an amazing greenish blue lagoon located at 2850 meters above sea level.

Laguna del Inca Portillo

Once seen, we wanted to get back into the car as it was an 7 icy windy degrees (this is a different unit of measurement than the Celsius degrees - it felt like minus 10 for me)! We slowly got higher in altitude and we kept driving through a series of open tunnels.

We reached a toll which looked more like a truck stop with one restaurant and a few houses than a custom border. Indeed, we were in Argentina but this wasn’t the customs so we kept going. We got out from one of the several tunnel and we found a completely different landscape; it was dry, red, rocky and beautiful!

Argentinian side of the Andes

It was starting to get late in the Aconcagua Valley, we finally reached the Argentinian customs, very easy to go through. They only forbid to enter their country with fruits. Lucky for the dozen of motor cyclers also waiting, as they all enjoyed a mandarin each. As we were still looking for a car insurance to drive in South America, I have asked one of the friendly staff at the custom where to get one? He said that “the easiest way is to go back to the small village that you drove past and get one over there”. So that’s what we did, we drove back to Las Cuevas and we finally realized that the one restaurant was selling car insurance. Not exactly the one we wanted (we were after a MERCOSUR one which covers through 5 countries in South America) but they were selling an Argentinian one; better than not having one!

Eventually, we reached the first Argentinian town called Uspallata. We drove about 30km out of town and set up camp. It was overcast and cold so we lit a fire then went to bed. When we woke up the day after, we opened the window and we were absolutely stunned by the Andes range standing in front of us. We couldn’t get enough of this view, so we decided to stay for breakfast

After packing up we headed back to the highway and saw something strange in the distance. As they came closer, we realized it was the military. And, quite a few of them. They were walking, walking to where? Absolutely no idea, they just came from nowhere told us to take our car off of the rock it was parked on and left the same way. It was such a weird thing to see on our way to Mendoza…

Mendoza, such a vibrant & cool city, we spent a long weekend eating & drinking. We didn’t do much more than that!

Argentinian parrillada

It was time to continue our initial route. As part of the rule 1.1 – never drive the same road twice - we needed to find another route to go back to Chile. Not that easy when there is a few 7000 meters high mountains in the way!

The best way to find an alternative route was to ask locals and what is the best place to find locals? Hot springs, of course! They told us that we couldn’t go through the Andes on another road than the one taken but they also mentioned that with our car, we could go everywhere! Challenge accepted!

The first day started off pretty good, or so we thought. We found a dry river bed heading in the right direction and just where the river turned there was coincidentally a bush track which continued in the right direction. It was all starting to seem pretty easy, but then as is usually the case the road turned which we followed in the hope it would still lead us to where we were going. But then the road got thinner, and thinner until we had no choice but to turn around. Along the way, we have tried a couple of others tracks but the result made us to turn around again and do the long drive back ALONG THE SAME ROAD!!

Obviously, the second day couldn't be worse than the first one. Indeed, it wasn't and it actually was funnier! For half a day, we swapped the LANDcruiser for a RAILcruiser...

As we realized that using railways is not the most efficient way to progress, we have decided to stay on proper roads. Are you guessing what was the result?

Right, it is not working either! What else do we need to do??? Going across a lake! Stop kidding...

You can’t say that we haven’t tried but every alternative road took us back to the highway.

Technically, it was a massive fail but a hell of a lot of fun!

The drive back on the highway was as stunning as it was on the way in – even better – Brett with his hawk eye spotted a tiny dirt track making its way up the side of the mountain. We decided to investigate. We left the highway at 3100m and started to climb. We climbed for about an hour, winding our way around mountains, over streams until the road became so steep that 4WD low with both diffs locked in still wouldn’t get it up. Defeated we carefully turned the car around and was confronted with the most amazing landscape. Our reward for being adventurous.

We checked the altimeter and realized we’d climbed to 4200m. We started the slow drive back down and took a bit of a detour and ended up at the top of a closed ski station (the season being finished as summer is coming). We also drank fresh water from the melting snow as we made our way back to the highway.

Finally just before the border back to Chile we saw the Aconcagua mountain, the highest mount in both the Southern and Western Hemispheres. We had an amazing first adventure in the Andes and can’t wait for more.

The final road down was a spectacular staircase that is even more incredible when you have the drone.

Sometimes, driving could be boring. Well, it was not the case through the Andes!

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