After seeing 3 consecutive pretty Argentinian cities, starting to get a bit sameish and in need of some countryside. Got to the bus station and Joel, Chris and Paul went 1 way for bus tickets to Santiago, whilst I went another for Uspallata. Didn´t see them again and hadn´t exchanged details.
2 hour drive to Uspallata steadily got more hilly as we approached the Chile border but not living up to the high billing in the Rough guide that had made it a high priority. Got to Uspallata with the intention of seeing two landmarks - Puenta del Inca and Cerro Aconcagua but quickly found out it was a further 70km towards the Chile border. A little put out, I soon established that a connecting bus left 2 hours later and that Uspallata was actually the closest place in Argentina to get a connecting bus to Santiago for my next destination.
Had time for breakfast and to find a hostal for the night which were all worryingly expensive. However after having a little wander outside of the centre, found a Hospedaje (house where the owners hire out spare beds) and agreed a price at one third the hostals were charging.
Caught bus to Puenta del Inca and no sooner out of Uspallata, than the scenery became phenomenal (probably taking over Latacunga - Zumbahua, Ecuador) as the best bus scenery on the trip so far with an avenue of giant polychrome mountains towering over the road. Had a chat with a German woman sat behind me (Tina) and established that we both wanted to see the same things so teamed up for the day.
Puenta del Inca is a natural stone bridge formed through continuous ware of water rapids.
Pretty impressive with great colours and nice backdrop but slightly disappointed that couldn´t walk across it anymore as advertised in the Rough Guide. To get to see Cerro Aconcagua, we needed to walk a further 3 hour round trip. However with a full half day to kill and great weather, we weren´t going to pass the chance to get a closer look at the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres (6962m). Given the choice of road or offroad, there wasn´t really a doubt in taking the stony path through the hills and round the valley towards Aconcagua. Scenery awesome without even seeing the great mountain with the blue skies topping off a lovely ramble through the foothills. Got our 1st views of Aconcagua after 45 minutes (unsurprisingly shrouded in cloud) and continued up the valley into the main National Park.
Park itself very informative and educational with its own multiple ecosystems of lakes and hills with numerous wildlife, but with the focus on the lookouts of the surrounding mountains. Waited at the main lookout hoping for the clouds to lift which fantastically obliged giving a full view of the summit. Decided to start on the path for the 9 day ascent of the mountain. However any chance of improving our views quickly disappeared as the clouds descended as quickly as they parted. Still had a lovely walk as far as a rickety wooden bridge crossing some serious rapids, watching gaucho horseman leading their pack horses across with the mountain backdrop. Passed a few wind burned climbers returning from their ascent before having to return to Puenta del Inca. Saved ourselves an hour walk by hitch hiking a lift. Back at Uspallata, said bye to Tina and treated myself to a can of beer to take back to the hostal contented with not taking the easy of option of joining the lads and going straight to Santiago and doing something a little different. A real bonus day.