|Towing Angelo over Aconcagua at the first attempt on the last day of the
year was a bit of a suprise, our primary objective was complete, but
with still a couple of weeks of the expedition to go; what to do?
Angelo's very keen to establish a new height "record" for aerotowing*
but a better place for that might be out on the plain beyond Mendoza.
In the short term though, where to go to celebrate new year 2006?
Puenta del Inca isn't exactly a teeming metropolis but we heard the Army
were going to be having a bit of a party, but probably more fun, we
discovered the guys running the Refugio for climbers in the old railway
station were going to have a bit of a do, so we went off there after
dinner. It was in the old engine shed, compete with steel turntable
which has been half converted into a bar.
They do love their dogs in Argentina, there are lots of them about, but
they mostly do tend to live outside, fine before the advent of the motor
car, I've never seen so many dead dogs as there are on the sides of the
roads around Mendoza.
You do fireworks at new year in Argentina; dangerous fireworks, mostly
it involves just lighting it and throwing it, and then it makes a very
loud bang. If the roads aren't dangerous enough, one dog got very over
excited about all these things being thrown about and chased them.
Fortunately he ended up with no damage, except possibly a bit deaf.
No new permissions could be sought over the new year holiday so we
effectively had a couple ofdays off. Perfect opportunity to pop over
the border into Chile and visit our old friend Henrietta on the beach
two or three hours away.
A mile or so after the tunnel Hugo shouted "Condor" and we stopped on
the side of the road to watch this huge bird, a juvenile yet to attain
its full colouring, soaring the mountainside not 20 or 30 metres away.
I walked to the side of the road and looked over the edge and there were
possibly 15 more adults and juveniles on a carcass 30 metres down the
slope. I yelled to the others "come and look at this" whereupon the
Condors all took off. We were treated to the sight of all of them
soaring up and away, sometimes very close to us. It was very
spectacular, but by frightening them all off I suspect I shan't be
getting any nature filming jobs any time soon.
A mile or two further down the mountain is the actual border post. It's
too cold in the winter to maintain one at the actual border itself.
Chile and Argentina have not always been the best of friends so this is
not a border which one crosses with the ease we are used to in Europe.
It was all a bit confusing but, we were told, you'll need to go to
windows 1,2,3 and 4. First to the Argentinian windows 1 & 2; I handed
over all our passports and car papers, we had very nice one from FIAT,
all properly stamped, saying we could take the car into Paraguay,
Uraquay, Brasil or Chile. It seemed to take a long time. Thank goodness
it is New year's day I was thinking, the queues must be awful on a
regular day. Eventually we were shown round to a side door. Sorry, you
can go into Chile, but not with this car, it's Argentinian registered
and there must be at least one Argentinian in it. The man was most
charming, Nicky even suggested he came with us for a day at the beach,
but unfortunately he couldn't. We tried all the tricks but to no avail,
we weren't going to Chile after all.
Luckily it was only about 15 Km back to our base camp so we hadn't
wasted much time, but not much of a holiday spot. A swimming pool
seemed to be the main priority so we went half way back to Mendoza and
stayed the night in the Gran Hotel de Uspallata, a huge confection in
the Bavarian style, by the look of it last modernized in the mid 1960's.
Its claim to fame is that Brad Pitt stayed there when they were making
the film "7 Years in Tibet" as the local scenery is apparently very
similar to central Tibet, but it's a lot more comfortable. All things
are relative of course, at one point we heard a loud banging and saw
some people trying to lever open the lift door, we used the stairs after
Most fun was a trip rafting the Rio Mendoza. There was an exceptional
snowfall last winter so the level is relatively high for the time of
year but we were taken on a relatively mild section of river and even
Nicky enjoyed it.
Still with wet boots we got back to our base camp and started packing
up. Angelo had located an airfield just the other side of Mendoza which
might be suitable. As nobody really knew where the place was, Angelo
left early and we all met up in Plaza Independencia in Mendoza for a
briefing (and use the free wireless internet you can get there). He
still didn't really know where Aerotec at Rivadavia was, but we set off
in a 7 car convoy to find it.
When we eventually found it an hour or so before dark, the Italians
immediately started setting up camp. Having seen the voracious
mosquitoes at Beto's airfield which is is a similar sort of place, I had
a certain concern for family contentment. Klaus the cameraman is hugely
travelled and said he doesn't mind mind staying in such a place but it
was a bit foolish if there was a nice hotel a few hundred metres up the
road, which there is. We decided to call the Italians "really hard"
and us softies would all go off to a hotel. They only lasted one night
out there, except for poor Ugo who has been left there to guard all our
stuff, he says it's a really nasty place to stay.
In the last couple of days we've got set up, done a few test flights
and are ready to do the altitude flight very early tomorrow morning.
Angelo is hoping for Andean wave to give him a boost, but we only have a
flight area of 3 Km radius, albeit with clearance to 35,000 ft, and I
suspect it is more normal to go looking for wave rather thsn expect it
to come to us, but it will be an interesting experiment anyway.
If we don't do it, then that's it because the film people have 2 days of
filming the new Fiats in Buenos Aires, it's a day and a half to get
there, and they're flying out on the 10th so everybody must leave
tomorrow midday. It's absolutely boiling hot here, it was forecast 40
degrees today and we're expecting a big thunderstorm tonight. It's
going to be real hell getting into my full high altitude kit tomorrow
morning, perhaps a bag of ice down my suit until I take off might do the
Whilst everyone else is wizzing to Buenos Aires, we shall return to
Aeroclub Mendoza and get my trike back in its crate. Nicky and the
children fly back home from Santiago so the current plan is to leave my
van in Mendoza, go to Chile by bus and finally get our couple of days on
the beach before their flight on the 10th. I'll then return to Mendoza,
pick up the van and make my way back to Buenos Aires in time for my
flight out on the 16th, perhaps via Corrientes where there might be a
little more microlight flying to be done....
*In the FAI context no such aerotowing altitude record exists.