After a quick check of all Bridget’s fluids and filling her with fuel we left Mendoza a little after 8:30am. The plan for the day was to travel the 250 miles leaving behind Argentina and entering Chile. In between are the Andes Mountains.
I was still felling fairly high after the previous days paragliding experience so I thought that there might be a risk that whatever today brought would be overshadowed. I need not have worried.
I got my first glimpse of the Andes as I drove south from Mendoza on Route 7. We turned west towards Uspallata and the mountain range stretched out before us. In nature my two great loves are mountains and deserts, so the sight of what was to come really thrilled me. Having already on this journey experienced the foothills of the Himalayas and on previous journeys visited the Alps, the Andes and Rockies are the only two major ranges that I learnt about at school that I hadn’t seen. Now I was only a matter of a few miles away from the Andes and I still have a visit to the Rockies later on my schedule.
Somebody said to me recently mountains are all the same, but like snowdrops, everyone is unique. The highest mountain visible to me was over 6900 metres (20,000 ft). Then the realisation dawned on me ‘Bridget has to drive over this lot’!
She was running really well and now that the engine is run in I increase the revs a little to between 3500 and 4000rpm. All gauges were within their respective limits and the engine sounds good too.
We stopped several times on route to just savour the scenery and take some photos. There was a notable chill in the air however as we crept towards the snowline. Eventually we arrived at the border crossing and whilst waiting in queue I suddenly realised that Bridget was not ticking over very well at all. I quickly switched from being proud at the way she had come all the way up the mountain roads to being very concerned that we may have strained something too much. I decided I would need to lift the bonnet before proceeding further but first I would get through the crossing.
I guess when you cross as many borders as we have on this journey, sooner or later, a customs official is going to decide to really inspect things closely. Initially there were lots of problems over paperwork that I really did not fully understand. The Argentineans cleared everything and sent me on to the Chileans who didn’t understand why their Argentinean colleagues had not done something differently. I was on the verge of telling them to do their paperwork and leave the Argentineans to sort out their own problems but decided not to complicate matters further.
Then a particular customs officer decided he wanted everything removed from the car and thoroughly searched. There’s always one. Anyway one of his colleagues found the postcards of Bridget that I carry and asked if she could possibly have one for her son. I was delighted and told her she was welcome. I was then given my opportunity of revenge when the officious customs man asked if he too could have one. I refused with total delight. Childish, but it felt so good.
After all the packing and un-packing of the car I realised that I was quite breathless and my heart was beating really quite fast. Then it dawned on me, the cause was the thin air at this altitude. I also understood why Bridget’s engine was not ticking over so well, it’s short of oxygen.
Once we left the customs post the road down from the peaks was quite spectacular. Really excellent MG driving conditions, around hairpin after hairpin and no crash barriers to be seen.
Approaching the city of Santiago we found ourselves on the circular highway and there were no signs for the city centre. I was fairly sure we had gone too far and so took a turning towards the city and followed the traffic. Eventually whilst waiting in a queue at traffic lights a police 4×4 appeared in the lane next to me and I wound down my window and asked for directions to the city. If we were close it should be easy to follow his instructions if not he would probably show me the way. He indicated for me to follow him and 10 minutes later we were there. Helpful chaps.
Santiago is a pleasant enough city with the usual shopping and historic land marks, but an aweful pollution problem. Whenever you get a panoramic view of the city you can see a blanket of pollution covering the place. Like Buenos Aires they also enjoy their demonstrations against just about everything. It is very much part of the culture. However I have had enough of big cities so I shall strike out into the country fairly quickly.