We can’t wait to get on the road and head for the Andes. We made the decision to head for Mendoza (east) and straight to the Andes rather than go directly south through Chile. Many of our international motorcycling friends have recommended taking this route. The ride out of Vina dal Mar and Valparaiso is on a brand new motorway with sensibly posted 120KPH speed zones. A couple of turns to follow but no real dramas – even the GPS seems to be working okay and has this new route on its download.
As we head towards the Andes – the temperature climbs – it hits 34 degrees Celsius as the motorway peters out and we are down to a single lane road.
We know we have to buy ‘Serguros’ – third party personal insurance before we cross into Argentina and we are told it’s not available at the border crossing – if you don’t have it, you must return a long way back into Chile. We stop at the first sign post we see for ‘Serguros’ and Shirley approaches the little hut after crossing a railway line. The Andes make a spectacular back drop – This is still grape growing country and it is surreal to see green vines, huge snow-capped mountains and the temperature hovering at 34 degrees. After the necessary paperwork and a few interpreting problems we are on our way.
As we get closer to the mountains the gradient is just a slow incline until all of a sudden we come across a series of switchback corners that go straight up – it’s just corner after corner and we make good progress overtaking trucks and cars that are struggling with the gradient. This is a harsh country with the road protected in part from avalanche which, no doubt, happen on a regular basis.
There are remnants of an old railway line, bits of road that have been ruined in previous avalanches and broken bridges since replaced and just pushed to one side. The actual border is at the end of a 3 kilometre tunnel – this is at 3,175 metres above sea level. This is nowhere near the highest point in the Andes but, to us, it’s still special. We are above the snow line in a place where there is always snow.
After the necessary delays at the border to clear us and the ‘Baron’ from Chile – The process is repeated to enter us into Argentina. Customs aren’t interested in searching the bike like they do cars – good thing really – I don’t think they’d take too kindly to dirty jocks and socks spread out across their bench. They are used to motorcycle travellers here, that’s for sure.
As we descend into Argentina we are met with a lunar landscape that has huge wash-aways 20, 30 and more metres deep and up to a kilometre wide where the melting snow creates monstrous rivers of fast flowing water that rushes down into the parched valleys below. Right now there’s just a trickle of water but it must be impressive in full flight. It gets hotter and hotter as we finally make Mendoza and a good night’s rest.
Our first ride across the Andes has whetted the appetite for more.