Last crossing of the Andes…last stop Chile

I had to leave Mendoza earlier than planned because of the concert. I procrastinated most of the morning, as it was freezing cold and very grey outside. I was thinking of heading to some nearby hot springs for the night, but that plan was abandoned when I found out that the road wouldn’t connect to the one leading to Uspallata and I would have to come back to the main road first. In the end I took a bus to Uspallata avoiding the crazy Friday afternoon traffic and the cold. The skies were already looking a bit friendlier closer to the Chilean border and even a bit of sun would break through, but an icy wind made me happily enjoy the landscape from inside the bus. Uspallata is a small mountain town with a couple of ski shops. I rugged up warm the next morning ready to attempt the pass crossing. But I only got a few km down the road before I found out that it was closed because of snow and ice. Looking up to the snowy cloud covered mountains I didn’t have to think twice and went back to the hostel. I spent the day relaxing in Uspallata, biked to the mountain of seven colors 10km up a dirt road north, got my revision mirror fixed for the second time and ate lots of alfajores (chocolate covered biscuits with filled with dulce de leche).

I got ready for my second attempt the next morning and even though the road was still closed they let me through to get some headway. The calm lasted about half hour as than they let all the trucks through which must have been sitting there for a couple of days. I made my way up a beautiful valley and it was a surprisingly gentle climb. In the early afternoon the very annoying cold southerly headwind made progress very slow and frustrating and I stopped in the tiny – closed down for the season – ski resort of Los Penitentes. One Refugio was still operating and I left my last pesos their counting that I would make it over the pass the next day. I later found the ‘real’ Refugio hidden away but also still open and I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out there drinking tea and chatting. The next morning I was on my way just after it got daylight, as I was afraid of the cold headwind. Temperatures were down to -10 and it was cold. I passed the ‘Banos de los Incas’, not open any longer to the public for bathing, because of its fragile nature. Damn…could have done with a hot soak by than! The river flowing below was adorned with icicles, right next to were the hot water was coming out! The minerals in the hot water had formed a natural bridge over the river over thousands of years and it’s quite the site.  I carried on, got some nice views of Aconcagua and than about 10am the wind decided to start early that day…argh! Progress got hard and it was freezing cold. It was the coldest I have been on the whole trip and finally the possum fur gloves came out and a couple of other items which I haven’t had used yet on the trip. I got a lift through the tunnel and popped out the other side in Chile…just like that. Immigration was a bit more involved here, than I was off….straight through a still operating ski field. There was lots more snow on the Chilean side than in Argentina. Another storm was looming and it started snowing on the way down. It was a long cold but fun downhill to the town of Los Andes. I heard later that the pass had closed again a couple of hours after I had crossed. Timing seemed to be all in this last few days of the trip. I found out than that In Chile, because of the National day celebrations, there would be three days of holidays. This left me one day to get to Santiago and organize a box for the bike. I left early on a bus, found a very nice hostel, Casa Bella, and than got on a mission across town to get a box. I even got two and strapped them on the back of my bike, which made the way back quite tricky in the traffic. I spend the Chilean National day cleaning and packing up the bike. The next couple of days I spent in Valparaiso, yet another UNESCO protected heritage town. It’s a port town and famous for its colorful houses up the hills (cerros) rising straight from the sea. I stayed in the new art hostel called ‘Hostal Po‘, where every room is painted by a different artist. Small cable operated cars facilitate the climb. Lots of gratifies adorne the already colorful buildings and the whole place has a very arty feel to it with lots of nice little creative shops and café/bars. Valpraiso was also one of the three places where Pablo Neruda had a house, which now is open to visitors. He’s Chile’s most famous writer/poet and did win the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1971. Back in Santiago I had the weekend left to roam the streets, linger in the bookshops, visit the art museums and lounge around in the cafes.

It’s been an amazing trip, a dream fulfilled and I have seen so much. But now I’m very much looking forward to home, to digest it all and relive the experiences through my art. It’s been a fiesta for all senses and somehow that will reflect in the paintings to come:)

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