Oh my god! We’re going to turn left in another day! Yes, we finally will be heading….. West!
Malargue was a great little town and our hotel Cisnes was good too as long as you didn’t think about the breakfast. We had secure parking and we spent a few nights there, taking in the town and riding into the mountains two up to look at a big hole.
We had been debating how to fill our time over the next few days. We still had over a week until our flights home and did not want to arrive in Santiago too early and end end up wondering what to do. We considered going south to Bardas Blancas and crossing into Chile but ultimately we continued north so that we could cross the Mendoza pass.
We were both really glad that we did the crossing, everyone says it’s impressive and they are right. However, it was still quite a distance so we needed one more stopover at Uspallata. Approaching the Andes from the Argentine side is often a steady climb where as the Chilean side is often steeper. The road towards Uspallata was simply stunning and we followed roads clinging to the edge of the valleys as the peaks either side of us got higher and higher.
A long abandoned single track railway line can be seen snaking along the valley, still looking mostly intact from a distance, it’s not until the road draws close you can see that it is wrecked or sometimes a bridge it would have crossed will be missing. I kept finding my eye drawn to it.
We camped overnight in Uspallata, we had booked a cabana but on arrival we were turned away. We got the distinct impression it was because we were English although we’ll never know for certain. All through Argentina there are signs saying “los Malvinas sons Argentina” but we never, until that moment felt any animosity towards us.
For me it was fine as I like camping and the local municipal site was two minutes away. Dry, dusty and basic like they all seem to be, it cost us around £2.50 for the night.
The next morning we continued back up the pass. The road stretching further and further into the mountains and for a long time not climbing but following a valley with just monumental scenery.
We started to climb again but it now seemed more like a long hill endlessly going up, the scale of the pass is incredible and bears no comparison to our regular rides around the hills of Wales and England. We scooted past trucks and cars, the trucks, particularly the older ones, were labouring up the hill very slowly.
Towards the pass itself the road steepened and cut through another deep valley and the tunnel came into view, and then that was it we had crossed the invisible border line and we’re on our way down from the crest of 3200 metres.
It felt quite strange to be suddenly dropping down, the first tunnel gave way to bright sunshine and then a second tunnel with open sides that allowed a view onto the Chilean side of the pass. We stopped for a few minutes to explore an old tunnel from the railway and walking just 50m we could feel the altitude in our breathing.
All passes have a border point and so we got delayed for an hour before once again emerging into bright sunshine and almost immediately into the iconic switchbacks that swoop down the steep Chilean side.
Some of the trucks were gingerly making there way down, you can easily appreciate that if one gets out of control it would be deadly, so it was not surprising that speeds of 10kmh was as much as some were doing. It’s not that the road is especially steep but it winds down for a few thousand metres and I guess they need to conserve the brakes to avoid disaster.
What a ride! I wanted to go back up again but all good things come to an end and the road started to flatten out just as we came across a cafe for some lunch.
It was breathtaking.