Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Los Andes

On Easter Sunday I took the bus from Uspallata up into the high Andes peaks, towards the border with Chile. It was another of those chrystal clear days, with warm sunshine and a cool breeze.

I wanted to get up close to Aconcagua, and I did.

I was really lucky as half an hour after reaching the national park, her summit was occluded by cloud. The Andes, being a mixture of folded rock plus volcanoes, are wonderfully coloured. There are greens, reds, yellows and a palette of all colours in between. They are quite stunning.

I walked around underneath Aconcagua for a couple of hours passing various lakes and look outs. I then walked five miles down to Puente Del Inca, which is one of Argentina's most striking natural wonders. This is a stone bridge over the river covered in sulphuric minerals, deposited by the hot springs there. The ruins of an old spa sit just below the rock bridge. Here I had my late lunch before getting the bus back down to my hostal just outside Uspallata.

It being Easter weekend the hostel and campsite was full of Argentinian families enjoying the mountain locations. They all had their Asado's (BBQ's), and the kids and dogs were running around having great fun. I got talking to two women, Andrea & Mariela, from Mendoza, who wanted to talk to me to improve their English (it is quite rare here to find English speakers, meaning I MUST get to grips with my CastellaƱo!). We chatted about everything, but by 2am we turned to what it was like living under a dictatorship. They both remembered these bad times, and told me how on the day that the British troops entered Stanley in the Falkland Islands, Galtieri was on the TV saying the Argentines had won a great victory, but having heard the truth on Chilean radio, knew this just to be another lie. They told me of the fear they felt to say something against the regime, and how the police and military would enter peoples homes to question and search. This period of dictatorship is still a bruise on argentinian society. The torture that went on, the babies taken from mothers as punishment for wrongdoing, are all still major issues, and still not fully resolved.

It does appear that most Argentines regard the Falklands invasion as a huge mistake, although they do regard Britains sovereignty as occupation. The invasion though lead to the collaspe of the military dictatorship and the reemergence of democracy.

The Argentian people are just so friendly. I am enjoying this country!

I also met a Belgian family who were 9 months into their round the world trip. Their kids were great. Aged 8 and 11, they amazed me with their English, and told me of all the animals they had seen in Africa, Asia, Antarica and here in South America. Have a look at their website at www.familyaroundtheworld.be.

The mum was of Polish extraction and explained to me as the 8 year old squirted me with water that it was an old Polish tradition on Easter Monday to creep up to people and splash water all over them. I got her back.

The hostal was great fun. Lots of late nights and laughs. Even met a British woman who was living in Santiago and studied at the LSE.

On the Monday I left Uspallata, taking the bus first to Mendoza, then on north to San Juan, for a overnighter before heading further north towards two more national parks I want to explore.

The food here is meat meat meat. I pity any vegetarians! The beef is absolutely lovely, certainly the best I have ever experience. The wine too is tip top quality and so cheap. Even in a restaurant a bottle is less than 2 UKP!