A trip over the Andes
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I had major back surgery in June 2012, to remove pieces of a spinal disc which had ruptured, sending pieces of itself into places they definitely should not have been and which caused me unspeakable agony. After the operation I spent a long time lying down, then gradually relearned how to walk with a left foot paralysed by nerve damage. For weeks, my world was my flat and its immediate surroundings, and the hospital.
But slowly I recovered. The foot began to regain some limited mobility and my horizons expanded again. When my friends Amy and Martha mentioned that they were thinking about heading over the Andes to Mendoza for a weekend, I didn't need much persuading to join them for the journey.
I was a bit worried about what an 8 hour bus journey might do to my fragile back but all was fine. It was a great journey up into the mountains to the Paso Los Libertadores and then down the other side into Mendoza. And I liked the city a lot. It was way warmer than it had been in Santiago, and there were plenty of restaurants and bars to hang around in. We explored in an extremely laid back way, with frequent stops at cafes to drink coffee in the warm sunshine.
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Eventually we decided to go and see something outside Mendoza. We randomly ended up going to Villavicencio. The trip took us up what was the main road between Chile and Argentina until the 1970s, and I felt carsick just thinking about how horrible the journey must have been. Now the road was pretty much empty, and we trundled up into the mountains to the Hotel Villavicencio.
People used to break their journey across the cordillera here, but the hotel closed in 1978 when the new road was opened. It was being restored with a view to opening again as some kind of luxury resort, but all was still quiet when we were there. We headed on up to some viewpoints more than 2000m above sea level and looked out over the road winding crazily up into the hills.
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The journey back to Santiago started badly. It seemed that the heating was on on the bus, and it was a warm day anyway, so before long everyone on the top deck was slumping and sweating and beginning to suffer from heatstroke. But no-one seemed to complain, so we poor foreigners were not sure whether this was normal or not. As the other passengers slipped into comas, Amy finally decided to go and ask the driver about air conditioning. Seconds later an icy gale tore through the upper deck, waking everyone from their near death experience.
With breathable air now flowing we could appreciate the scenery. It had been dark when we were coming down from the pass into Argentina and we'd missed all of this.
We crossed the snow line and then went through the border formalities again. If you're a tourist in Chile, they give you a bit of paper when you enter the country, and take it off you again when you leave. But if you're a resident, they give you a bit of paper when you leave the country and expect it back again when you return. I hadn't really understood this when we'd crossed into Argentina, and I'd thrown away the bit of paper they'd given me because I didn't know what it was for. Luckily no-one really cares too much about this bit of paper, and after a few minutes of confusion they gave me another bit to fill in, and we all made it back into Chile.