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Thursday, 31 August 2006

Descending the Andes? Don't Look! - Page 2

Written by Rick Robiar
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Six months ago my girlfriend and I went to South America. Her convincing me to go was quite a feat considering my fear of flying was no match for a trip that involved eleven plane rides. But after successive journeys from Boston, New York, Miami, and Buenos Aires, my screaming mechanism malfunctioned and for the first time in my life I was speechless. For her, this made for quite a relaxing trip to our first destination: Mendoza, Argentina.  A small city close to the Chilean border, Mendoza’s outskirts consist mainly of wine country, boasting some of the best Malbec grapes in the region.



At this point we both noticed a churning sound coming from the back of the bus.  The steeper the incline, the louder the clanging.  Suddenly the cabin was filled with black smoke.  We inched over to the side of the road and the driver opened the door.  Everyone scampered out into the mountain air while the ticket collector threw our luggage into the street, as if this was a usual occurence.  Several announcements were made in Spanish, and we pieced together that the engine had fried and eventually a replacement bus would be sent from Mendoza.  At least we broke down right beside the tallest mountain in South America: Cerro Aconcagua.


As we made ourselves comfortable on the side of the road, we waved to the many passing buses which honked while their passengers stared blankly at us.  I then had a flashback to the bus terminal in Mendoza.  We were searching frantically for tickets to Valparaiso, running back and forth to all the numerous ticket agencies --- they were all sold out, except one.  The very last agency we asked had several tickets for sale.  Now all 40 of us sitting, standing, and laying on the side of the road to nowhere understood why those were the only tickets available.


After 3 long hours our replacement bus came, and we claimed our seats at the front of the bus.  A friendly middle aged man sat next to us, as did a 12 year old boy who had previously been traveling with his family at the back of the bus, but came up for the views. The two of them became fast friends and talked for the next 5 hours.


Eventually we came to the border crossing where we had to depart the bus with all our carry-on luggage and stand in 3 different lines to get our paper work stamped.  Menacing-looking police walked around toting guns and wearing sunglasses.  Their swaggering machismo reminded me of Chile’s darker days when Pinochet’s death squads roamed with impunity.  Some of them were accompanied by muzzled, drug-sniffing German shepherds as they mulled their way through the crowds of people en route to the luggage inspection area.


We had to wait again as our belongings were removed from the bus for inspection, and several men hand-searched almost every piece of luggage. They found some trail mix in one of our bags and conferred amongst themselves as to whether or not we should be allowed to keep it. Finally they gave it back. This whole ordeal lasted more than two hours.


Finally we started rolling again and at long last the bus started to descend.  The guy sitting next to us was smiling in excitement, pointing out the window, wanting my video camera to follow his finger.  We all stared in amazement at the immense drop off --our bus was four thousand feet above the base of the valley. It was thrilling and spectacular. Unfortunately, from my high vantage point, I could also see how the front wheels were creasing the edge of the road. In fact, as time went on, I became more and more obsessed with watching just how close we all were to experiencing how gravity affects a four ton bus without a parachute.


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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