Sunday, February 26, 2006

Not The Brightest...

Mendoza is really close to the Andes Mountains. It's the main reason it's great wine country; the mountains keep it dry, but provide enough ice melt for the irrigation. So I thought to myself, I really should head out to the mountains.

I went to the mountain, Aconcagua.

Aconcagua is the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas. At 6,962 meters, it's pretty damn tall. Everest, in comparison is 8,850 meters. The tallest in the States is Mt. McKinely (Denali) in Alaska at 6,194.

The bus ride out there was three hours, the first of many reasons this turned out to be a less than bright idea. I was dropped of at Puente de Incas, which had this strange natural bridge over the river (used, obviously by the Inca). From there, one has to hike or hitch 2km to get to the park entrance.

The entrance is not at all obvious. There was a little road sign, similar to those you'd find in the states, saying something to the effect of "Mt. Aconcagua Viewing Area." This is a national park. You'd think there'd be some sort of sign to indicate such.

I started my hike at 2,700 meters. The air was already pretty thin, so I spent most of my day with a pretty severe headache. I hiked up to the first base camp, at 3,300 meters[1]. There, climbers spend four or five days to acclimatize to the altitude. Oddly enough, I spent my hour up there acclimatizing to the French couple that I met there. Mostly it was advice about why it's not an issue to be single, that there is plenty of time, and how there is probably "the woman of my life" in any one country that I could go to (all about timing). Strange the sorts of conversations one finds themselves sucked into.

I was getting pretty light-headed so I made my way back down the mountain. Aconcagua is still part of the desert, so it's dry and dusty, with almost no vegetation. The winds were whipping across at about 30 miles an hour. So the decent, while quick, was absolutely painful. I could hardly keep my eyes open from all the dust. I can see now why most climbers use enclosed sunglasses.

I had a couple hours to kill before the bus picked up at nine. I was exhausted from the altitude, the hike, the lack of water - it was recommended that you take two liters of water with you, I only took one. I closed out the one little shop while waiting for the bus, just guzzling water.

Now, it had become pretty cold. I was waiting outside for the bus, figuring that it would be along at any moment. At this point, all I wanted was some sleep (I had had a short night the night before) and a warm place out of the wind. The bus was late. Very late. I had begun to curse the whole idea all together. The only consolation was that the stars up there were amazing. The most absolutely brilliant night sky I have seen in a long time. I was suprised to see Orion, in all his glory, in the Southern Sky. Fantasic sky watching down here.

I promptly passed out on the bus. I only woke a few times during the trip. A bus stop here, a side of the road there was all I saw on the way back from the mountains. About forty-five minutes out of Mendoza I awoke to heavy breaking, a thud and a crunch sound. It was two in the morning, and we had just hit a horse.

That's right, a horse. A nice looking horse. A lovely color of brown, if the headlights were at all telling. The kind of horse that an adolescent girl would name Chocolate, or Brownie, or Betty Crocker. Poor horse.

Finally rolling into Mendoza at about three, I couldn't get a cab to save my life. I had slept enough on the bus that I felt up to walking back to the hostel. It was probably due to the return to higher oxegen levels. Damn, it felt good to breath again.

All in all, an interesting day.

[1] Lots of meter, references, I know. I'm just trying to educate y'all.

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