Friday, March 20

Day 204-Mendoza

Having arrived safe and sound in Santiago, which it my gateway to North America, I made all the arrangements necessary to ensure a timely departure. This left me with nearly a week to make a couple of interesting sidetrips. My first destination lay one hundred kilometers to the west, along the Pacific coast, the cultural capital of Chile, Valparaiso. This World Heritage listed city was once one of the most important ports on the continent, but having suffered numerous earthquakes, and setback by the opening of the Panama Canal a hundred years ago, it now serves mainly as a naval port, and a quaint tourist destination.

It features a sprawling amalgamation of houses that crawl up the sides of the steep hills that shelter the bay. I was initially quite excited about hiking through these barrios to the many viewpoints amidst the hovels, but after recieving warnings from nearly everyone I met, and given their striking resemblance to favelas of Rio de Janiero, I opted for a short ride up one of the hundred year old escalators, made a quick review of the many outdoor murals on display, and contented myself to spent the afternoon below on the more traveled city streets. The evening passed without incident but for the late night knock on my door by my middle-aged but kind-of-cute hostess, making sure that all was well and did I "need" anything. Facing an early bus departure, I opted for not.

The next day found me dazzled by one of the great bus rides of this entire trip, crossing the High Andes along Route 7. As we left the dry hills surrounding Santiago, making our way up a green valley irrigated by the angry and muddy Rio Blanco, we encountered yet more higher and dryer hills, dressed in tall cactus and thorny palo verde. The river changed suddenly to a milky glacier-fed blue, the slopes became rocky and forbidding, extending thousands of feet into the clear autumn sky. The river diminished to a trickle and we faced the crux of the drive, a series of 30 consecutive hairpin turns, thickly populated by huge buses, freight trucks, and the occasional overheated passenger car. Achieving the pass, we were greeted by an exceptionally long wait at the enclosed fume-filled border station, the stress of which, together with the altitude, and lack of food (generally not allowed at border crossings), left me with a draining headache.

So it was, that when I arrived in Mendoza, I had little energy to fulfill my daily chores, and allowed a travel agent at the bus station to find a room for me. I suppose I will never learn, I was gifted with the most heinously loud room overlooking the traffic choked streets of what otherwise proved to be an enjoyable city. But not until I made tracks first thing this morning and found a more suitable, more tranquil room of my own choosing. And so all is arranged- a mountain tour in the morning, one more long bus ride into Santiago, a couple of days strolling that fine city, and a final taxi ride to the airport. Soon I will be home, and can finally find some peace and quiet!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The evening passed without incident but for the late night knock on my door by my middle-aged but kind-of-cute hostess, making sure that all was well and did I "need" anything."
well, damn me for finally being interested in your travels, but, ah, is that place listed in the guide book?