As excited as we were to visit Santiago, after a few days we became just as excited to move on and get to the largest wine producing area in Latin America – Mendoza! After an exhausting 23 hour bus ride into Santiago only three days earlier, we were relieved to hear that our journey to Mendoza would only take 7 hours. What we couldn’t have possibly foreseen was a bus ride on one of the – wait no – THE craziest road we have ever been on.
The bus left on time from the terminal, and we were off. We were told it would take roughly 2-2 1/2 hours to reach the border of Chile and Argentina and then an hour tops to get through customs. The first 30 minutes of the ride was smooth sailing as we started off on a four-lane highway and eventually made our way onto Route 60. However, within several minutes of being on Route 60, I knew that we were in for a ride. As the bus started climbing, rounding turns and making its ascent, we found ourselves looking over a cliff on the right hand side with an estimated 400 foot drop… did we mention there were no guardrails?
Some of the bus riders took advantage of the sights and ran side-to-side snapping pictures of the treacherous cliffs. Jordan was fast asleep and I was wide awake feeling my pulse go up by the second. There was a small sense of relief when we reached an area where there was no longer a drop-off. I muttered a quiet prayer under my breath and was thankful to get through those 15 minutes of terror.
Within a matter of moments all feelings of comfort quickly disappeared as our bus turned and began the climb up the infamous Paso Internacional Los Libertadores. These 24 passes are carved into the beautiful Andes and reach over 10,000 ft.
As we write this, my heart is still racing as that day remains as vivid as ever. The hairpin turns will forever be embedded in my mind. As for Jordan, well she snoozed through the whole thing. Typical.
When you are at the bottom of the pass and look up you think, “This can’t be serious, can it?” “How is there no other way?” There isn’t. This is the main road from Chile to Argentina, and it’s insane.
For starters, the actual pass seems as if it can BARELY hold two vehicles. And this route isn’t just popular for travelers who take massive, double-decker busses, it’s also how truckers get between the two countries. Oh, and did I mentioned we had just passed a flipped car twenty minutes earlier? Since we were taking on switchbacks to get to the top, there were two directions in which we would travel. The first was south and then north. When we were headed southbound, our massive bus would hug the edge of the pass. Yipee! To make things a little scarier, since not all of the big rigs could move at the speed of everyone else, they would pull over so that we could pass them on their inside. Are you KIDDING me?
When we were moving north, life didn’t feel like it was teetering on the edge of an Andean cliff until the bus would make a wide turn in order to make the next switchback. To better illustrate this, imagine your bus driver casually driving straight towards the edge of a 7,000 ft. cliff so that it feels like he is basically looking over the side. Just before you think you are about to somersault, he whips his steering wheel clockwise faster than my beating heart to head onto the next incline. Eventually, my stomach got tired of flipping and I began to sweat instead. By the time we reached the top, I was drenched and Jordan was slowly starting to wake up.
We reached the border not long after and didn’t think much of the long line of busses we were sitting behind. Not only had we failed to consider that it was a Saturday in the summer, but we also weren’t made aware of the fact that security was super high that day (due to a reason that we were better off not knowing) until much later. We waited and waited and waited for almost four hours.
There were a few problems with this. First of all, we were staying at an Airbnb residence where our host was expecting us to arrive around 7pm. Second, we would now be arriving at night into a city with very little knowledge of well, anything (seems like this started to be our norm). Third, there were a few people on our bus who were connecting with another bus in Mendoza that they would almost certainly miss (this didn’t immediately pose a threat to us, but it wound up affecting quite a lot of people on our bus).
Since we paid for our reciprocity fee before we left the States (a nice $160), we simply showed the receipt to customs in return for another stamp in the passport. The actual customs and immigrations part itself was fairly painless. After lots of wandering around the middle-of-nowhere border crossing facilities and eating questionable lomo sandwiches, we finally got back on the road en route to our final destination.
The next 40 minutes consisted of us barreling down a cool, canyon road. It was a really beautiful drive through the Andes, aside from the concerning speed that our bus was now going. We soon came to realize that reason number 3 above was why our driving was flying – he didn’t want people to miss their connections. Now that Jordan was awake she had to experience what I had felt hours earlier. At one point we struck up a conversation with some other travelers and everyone agreed that we were traveling much faster than we should be. We all felt unsafe especially when the driver would swing around turns causing bags, purses and backpacks to fall from the storage above our heads and slide across the floor. Jordan again closed her eyes but this time she did so in order to erase the image of us catapulting off the cliff from her mind.
In the fleeting moments that it was possible to not think about our current predicament, the views of the Andes at dusk were alluring. The rocky walls looked to be chiseled away by centuries of wind and rain and a small river wove its way through the crags. We made our way onto some flat ground just as darkness overtook the desert and enjoyed catching some of The Hobbit that was playing in Spanish on the 10 inch screen in front of us.
The bus pulled into the terminal around 10:30 p.m – 3 1/2 hours later than planned. We grabbed our goods from the belly of the bus and headed towards the taxis. As we were walking a look of terror washed over Jordan’s face – she had forgotten to write down our address. She only had the walking directions that our host provided, and after a few people on our bus said the area around the bus terminal isn’t safe after dark, walking was no longer a good option. It was now getting late, and we were looking rather lost in an almost deserted bus terminal. She ran up to a cop to ask for help and he completely blew her off. Barely even said a word. We both had a premonition that our long day was far from over.
We threw all of our bags down near the taxi’s, and I watched over our belongings as Jordan went off for help. She was in panic mode, and we were both really wondering what we were going to do. We needed an internet connection but we had absolutely no clue of where we were or where anything was. Should we just aimlessly walk down the dimly lit road in front of the station until we ran into a store? As all of these thoughts were being tossed around, I noticed a shady character on his phone staring me and all of our bags down. Certainly not the type of fella you’d ask for help. The man continued to move closer and I did the same – inching closer to this stranger and keeping his eyes on him the whole way. This lasted for about 15 minutes until the man finally backed off left. It was one of the few hair-raising moments that we had on our entire trip.
Meanwhile, Jordan had finally found a lovely lady who said she understood some English and could maybe help us out. She started to let Jordan log into her email from her phone to retrieve the Airbnb confirmation, but the woman’s phone died before it was able to load. Eventually, she served as our translator and grabbed a couple of guys to explain the situation. The two locals offered to let us use their phone to find the address. It was very outdated and the internet was so slow that it was having trouble loading pages. After what seemed to be an eternity, Jordan finally had the address. The local guys were friendly enough to waive us down a cab. They told him where to take us, and our faith in humanity was again restored. However, just before I got in the cab, one of the locals held his fingers like a peace sign, pointed to his eyes and whispered “ojos, ojos.” We knew coming into Argentina that cabs were sketchy but hearing a local tell us to keep our eyes out was a bit intimidating.
We clutched onto our bags for the entire ride and continued to do so as we got out of the cab. It was now 11:30pm. We quickly paid and rushed to the doorstep of our residence and were instantly given a warm greeting by our host, Francisco. He ordered us pizza (note: Margarita is very different than the States, and almost anything will come topped with ham) and beer and for the first time that day, we were able to relax. Our easy 7 hour journey turned into a very stressful and hectic 11 hour debacle.. but we have to say, even with all of the craziness, Mendoza was absolutely worth it.
Tune in to our #TravelbackThursday post next week to hear about our week in the wine country!