During the night, at 2.15 am to be precise, I was awoken by the loudest noise on the roof above me – Hail and heavy, heavy rain !! Now I know what it must feel like to live in a house with a corrugated iron roof ! This was rain like we have not seen during the rest of the trip, and my first thoughts were to check what was going on outside with our chairs and stuff. Fortunately the back of the car awning was under a very robust and water tight thatched roof, so most things weren’t getting too wet, but I did have to quickly lower one corner of the awning so water would not pool in it and collapse it. Once I had done all I could, it was back to bed, keep an eye on the roof for leaks, and keep my fingers crossed !The rain eventually stopped, and I got back to sleep – It seems once again that my little fly sheet I had made for the roof worked well, and everything inside was perfectly dry ! Outside was a different story – Being a mud ground with no grass, the heavy rain had splattered this up the sides of the tent, and half way up the car as well ! So there was quite a lot of washing down everything to get the mud off before we could pack up and head back on the road to Uspallata. And coming down into Mendoza, the extent of the storm was very apparent, with large amounts of gravel and mud washed down across the road, and even in town there was water everywhere, in some case due to backed up drains disgorging water across the road. This had been one big rain storm !!
The road back to Uspallarta was the same one we had driven the day before, so one would think that it would be a bit of a Ho Hum day. Not so – It is amazing how different a road can be when you drive it in the opposite direction ! Just shows how much you miss when you can’t see backwards on a road. Once we got a cross the flat plains outside Mendoza (where the eagles were still hanging around on the telegraph poles !), coming towards the little town of Potrerillos, the view of the Lake Mendoza was so different from last time. And all the rock formations on the gorge sides were different – Different angle, and a different light since it was a different time of day.
Stunned, we drove back towards Potrerillos – This road was some 10 kms long, it was brand new, and was better than any other road in town, and they had spent a LOT of money on it – What was the deal ? I guess I will just have to go back in 10 years time and find out if they ever moved that mountain and joined the roads up !!
Back in town, and still with some time on our hands as our destination of Uspallarta was not much further down the road, we decided to try to find the ski fields that we had read about and looked for briefly (and without luck) yesterday. There was this 5500 metre high mountain there, so it shouldn’t be THAT hard to find ! After wandering through the dirt roads of town, we eventually found the road to “Las Vegas” – Yup, that’s the name of the village on the way up to the mountain. We also found out why we couldn’t find the “road off to the right” that was indicated on the maps and which led from the main road to the mountain – You actually had to turn LEFT off the main road, wander off down through the village, and then the road went out under the main road, up to the mountains - No sign posts, of course !! So off we went – A great little road winding through some very Scottish Highlands kind of foothills, and with the weather starting to close in around us like the Scotch Mist of the Highlands, it was all very evocative. After maybe 10 kms the tarmac road stopped and we were on a dirt track, but we kept going – This was a great ‘splore !! We passed through little groupings of very ski-lodge looking houses – One couldn’t really even call them hamlets – They were just groups of houses, then nothing for a while, then a few more. Some were new and still being constructed – Obviously taking their opportunity during their summer – Although the weather was bad today, and we never saw a soul working on them. Everything was boarded up tight.
Lots of wild roses and big purple Scottish thistles beside the road on the way down, and lovely views over rushing streams that passed under old stone bridges. I would love to see this place on a sunny day ! As we came back down into the little town of Potrerillos, the rain stopped so we stopped by the river and had a picnic before heading into the village – Where we found a great big camp site with all facilities ! It wasn’t quite the right time of day for us to stop, but good to find a camp site here so that if one did want to spend a few days in the area exploring, there was a base to stay in.
From there we followed the winding and spectacular Rio Mendoza valley back towards Uspallarta. At one stage we spotted a couple of rafts coming down the river filled with people, so turned around and got ahead of them so we could watch them come down some rapids. They were having a great time, and when they saw us taking photos they waved up and hollered ! There was also a lone kayak with them – He was obviously very experienced, doing eskimo rolls etc as he came through the rapids. We presume he was a guide, there in case anyone fell out of one of the rafts, so he could make sure they were OK. Later we passed a big 40 ft refrigerated semi trailer (just the trailer part) tipped over and smashed up beside the road – Obviously a recent accident on this dangerous road. I hope they got all the refrigerated goods out before they spoiled !
On up the valley into Uspallarta, passing old ruined railway bridges beside the road (and continuing to wonder about the story behind this amazing railway line), and though the many tunnels hewn through the rock, and past amazing colour variations in the valley sides along the way. At one point there were 5 separate tunnels visible through a single cliff face ahead of us - The current road tunnel, and then presumably a couple of former (now disused) road tunnels and a couple of old rail tunnels – Amazing sight though. Then before we knew it, we were back in Uspallarta, where we stopped in the Parillada restaurant (where we had enjoyed our BBQ lunch at a couple of days earlier) and had some coffee and cake and had access to wifi so we could check our emails after a couple of days on the road. We also went into this restaurant because they had changed some currency for us previously at a pretty favourable rate (ie a LOT better than the official bank rate !), but this time for some reason which I couldn’t work out, this time they would not change any ! I really do not understand this Argentinian currency situation. The ATM’s won’t work with Visa cards so you can’t get money out of them, and the banks themselves are very unwilling to change dollars, and even if they did you only get 8 to the dollar. So you always look for cambios (change people) everywhere, (but so far haven’t found one !) who will give you up to 12.5 pesos, or alternatively you just keep asking in shops and restaurants who, when you find one, will give you about 11 pesos for the dollar. But it is a daily hassle trying to get local currency here !! Never mind, Chile tomorrow, so we are OK for now.
We set up in the camp site again, and when I went to plug in my computer to charge it, found my adaptor plug still in the campground socket !! I must have left it there yesterday, so lucky to find it was still there !! Had a relaxing afternoon slowly starting to sort out things to take with us back to Aus and get the car packed ready to leave it. A lovely sunny afternoon and light breeze was perfect for us to dry out the pop top and rear awning after the soaking it had all received in Mendoza last night, so that it would not all go mouldy while the car is parked in Santiago for 3 weeks. There was a group of fairly wild looking lads and their girl friends who pulled up beside us in a very rough looking (and sounding) Alfa Romeo, plus a motorbike, and pitched their tents – They eventually came over to ask if they could borrow a hammer from us to put their pegs in, and once they started chatting, they were intrigued by our vehicle and our journey, and spent some time asking us about everything and taking photos of the car ! They had come over from Buenos Aires and were just travelling around for a while.
Eventually got to sleep, although the lads next door had obviously had a few beers in town and were having a bit of a chat and sing song for a while before they eventually shut it down !!
Pics are here !