Tag Archives: Mendoza

The Stone Sentinel – Aconcagua

Mendoza is surrounded by mountains, tall and strong and mistakenly I thought that these were the Andes. Technically they are part of the pre cordillera of the Andes and there are two more ranges between Mendoza and the Andes proper. Nonetheless, when we started getting out of the city, it was a perfectly clear morning and we started to see some of the giants that were sitting out there. On average, most of the peaks around Mendoza are above 4000m high, but as you get deeper into the mountains and enter into the Andes then some of the peaks tip 6100m some even 6200m.

Remember – Click on the images below to see them MUCH bigger, they are far more impressive that way….

The Start of the Andes

It is impossible to give you the scale of these monsters, they are so huge and it seems like you can get out of the car and walk a few hundred meters and touch the mountain, until the tour guide tells you that the snow capped peak that we can see (the one you can almost touch) is actually 150km away. That blew me away, 150km away and it looks like it is just over the next hill. As we got deeper and deeper into the mountains, slowly the vegetation starts to disappear and the cruel, hard and yet beautiful high mountain landscape starts to become prevalent. It is dry, rocky and sandy, but has a stark beauty that is captivating, it almost lures you in to see more and we went deeper in.

We stopped off at an old bridge along the way, it was the place where General San Martin fought against the Spanish and crossed over the Andes (no small feat there) and took on the Spanish and won! He is hailed as a national hero across Argentina and there are special memorials to his battles all over.

Area where General San Martin fought

From there we continued in and then we stopped at a ski resort. There is no snow in the lower levels of the Andes right now because it is summer (even though it’s a little chilly up there) but we took the ski lift up to one of the peaks to have a look around. It was amazing and quite incredible to see the height of some of the mountains around us. You soon realize just how small man is in comparison to these incredible mountains and this vast terrain. The size cannot be comprehended unless you are there. I have seen images of the Andes before, but truly, nothing can prepare you for the size that you are seeing. The ski lift ride was really fun, even though Francis had second thought about being suspended on a thin cable and being tugged up the front side of some steep slope. Once we were up there the view was worth the tension.

White Knuckle stuff
View from the top of the Ski Lift
Vertical view of the Ski Resort and the Mountain behind it

Once we came down from the ski slope, we then were off to the big one, Aconcagua or the Stone Sentinel. In Inca language Aconcagua means Stone Sentinel. This is a massive mountain that is 6959m high and stands head and shoulders above the rest of the mountains in the area. It is also the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere (that is in North and South America)

At the place where we are staying, there are two American mountaineers who have just come off an 18 day expedition from climbing Aconcagua. I was chatting to the one guy yesterday and he said that from the summit, on a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean, which is probably 300km away. This is not a small piece of rock, it is utterly majestic and impressive. We saw as we came around a corner and there it stood, massively impressive and fully white and snowy, simply because of its altitude. It is huge and it looks BIG, but not as big as you would think, until we had to be reminded that it is 40km away. If you want to climb Aconcagua you have to go to the Aconcagua National Park (which we stopped in and took the photos from) and from there hike the 40km into the base camp at the base of Aconcagua. There is no road to get you there, so before you even start climbing you have to hike 40km in, with all your kit, food, clothing etc. The area that Aconcagua is in is really pretty. There are some green meadows in the foreground, but apparently as you get closer to the mountain it takes more of a wasteland feel with very little growing there. When we got out of the car to go and get some photos, we were blown around, literally, but the wind. It was really gusting down the valley from Aconcagua and it was pretty cold. At this point, we were at an altitude of 3100m above sea level and we were looking at almost 4km of rock that is the Stone Sentinel, very impressive. To be honest, the photos can never do this kind of landscape justice, the scale is just too big and there is nothing to measure what you are seeing. Even standing 40km away, the sight was breathtaking and rekindled in me a desire to climb these big mountains. This is of course a dream, but one that I hope to fulfill in the next few years, I guess that means that I will one day return to the Stone Sentinel, hopefully to tackle the summit and see the Pacific Ocean in a way I have never seen it before, from 6959m up!

The Stone Sentinel (Snow Capped)
Aconcagua Close up 6959m above sea level

Wine and Olives in Mendoza

On Saturday we went on a half day outing to visit some of the local wine and olive farms in the Mendoza area. Mendoza is famous for its wines, most particularly its Malbec wine. Mendoza has a very interesting geography which enables it to produce some very good wines. Technically the Mendoza region is a desert, approximately 3 – 5% of its land is arable and a lot of this land is used to produce wine or olives. The area only receives about 200mm of rain per year, so it really is dry in that sense. The interesting thing is that, whilst there is little rainfall, there is a fair amount of water because of the run off from the surrounding mountains and some of the water comes in from the Andes which are not far away. The city is surrounded by the gigantic mountains, and their snow capped peaks can be easily seen, even though the actual mountain is 150km away. So we began our tour at a small family run wine farm, the vineyards were about 40 years old and the farm produced red wines and only 1 white wine. We tasted both, the white wine was really very good, slightly dry, but a little sweet and very refreshing. The red wine was good too.

White Wine
American Oak Barrel

We then moved onto an olive farm. This farm produces 1 million litres of Olive Oil per annum and that means that they harvest 8 million kilograms of olives in a year. We were quite taken aback at these stats, the farm certainly didn’t look that big, but that was their production. Most of the process now is automated, but we were shown the old way of pressing olives to extract the oil, quite laborious to say the least. At this farm they produced extra virgin olive oil and we were given some to sample and it was really good.

Laur Olive Oil
Olive Tree

Our next visit was to another wine farm, they had produced and international award winning Malbec wine. This wine was made from a batch of grapes harvested in 1999 and the reserve made only 4200 bottles of which 166 bottles are left at the estate. The price for a bottle of this wine in Argentina would be the equivalent of R 580.00 and in the USA well over R 700.00 or R 800.00, needless to say we never got to have a taste of this. We did sample some of their red wine and Rose wine and both were really good especially the red.

Red Wine at the Granatas Farm
Wine Cellar

Our last stop was at a church in Mendoza called the “Church of the Vine” This church is mostly frequented by local farmers from the area and hence they pray that their harvests will be plentiful and so Mary is depicted on a wagon with the farmers offering her grapes as an offering. The interesting aside here is that in 1861 Mendoza was struck by a huge earthquake and 60% of its inhabitants were killed. Almost the whole city was flattened by this quake, but miraculously (according to locals) the Church remained standing and was unharmed. The Church has become somewhat of an icon in the area and so we stopped to look in.

Church of the Vine Courtyard
Church of the Vine

Moving on to Rosario

We are having a great time at our couchsurfing hosts Alejandro and Marianna. They are really special people and have welcomed us into their lovely apartment in San Telmo as if we were old friends. We chatted with them until late last night and drank some amazing Malbec wine from the Mendoza region. They are really interesting people and we chatted about politics, music, marriage and couchsurfing for ages.

Monday we leave the big city of Buenos Aires and move onto Rosario, a smaller city approx 300kms away from BA. It is an important city historically as it was the first city where the Argentinian flag was raised ever, it is also a city where Che Guevara lived for a time, so we are looking forward to being there. We will be hosted by another couchsurfing host there….so Rosario here we come.

To check out more about Roasrio, click here

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia