Written by Neon
Sole and Susana drove us from Mendoza to Tupungato, and we said a teary farewell in the village square, snapping one more photo of all four of us before Fidgit and I made our way down the street. As we left, we realized it was quite late in the day and the sun was beginning to set. Knowing we wouldn’t make it out of town enough to find a decent place to set up our tent, we walked into a nearby hotel and got a cheap room for the night, breakfast included. Fidgit met a woman as we were checking in who was very interested in our project and asked us to come onto her radio show the next morning to talk about Her Odyssey. We went to bed with butterflies in our stomachs that night.
The next morning, we checked out of the hotel, had some breakfast and were taken to the local radio station, where Fidgit did most of the talking – the norm for us, since her Spanish is far better than my own. We left town late in the morning, grateful for kind and supportive people and really happy to be walking again. The day was warm with a lot of humidity and clouds looming in the distance. As we walked, our legs stretched and my mind wandered. Road walking is a different being to me than trail walking (or, sometimes, bush-whacking). When road walking, you can see very well where you are going and all you have to watch out for is vehicles and bicycles. It can be mundane, though it can also allow you to process through thoughts and ideas more thoroughly. I enjoy being able to space out and not have to worry about mis-stepping or getting lost.
As the day wore on, the clouds began looming closer and closer, until we were being rained on. Lightly at first, then as we neared a small building, the downpour began. We knocked on the doors of the building, which turned out to be a small clinic, though at first no one answered. The downpour became a deluge, so we knocked harder and tried the door knobs to see if any were unlocked. Finally, an older gentleman came to one of the doors and guided us into the waiting room of the clinic, where we stood dripping water for a few minutes until the gentleman and his wife invited us back to their living quarters. It turns out we had woken them up from their siesta and surprised them. Fidgit and I apologized, though they said ‘no problem,’ and we talked and drank mate the rest of the evening as the storm raged outside. Cristina and Antonio ended up offering us a bed for the night and building up a fire so we could dry out our soaked clothing.
In the morning, the rain had dissipated, so we packed up, said our goodbyes, and walked on, with the added weight of a few gifts from the couple. We didn’t feel weighed down, as the overcast sky and cooler breeze made for excellent walking weather. Before we knew it, we were 10 km from Portrerillos at 5 p.m. We talked over whether we should camp outside of town, or push in and meet up with a connection we had there. We both decided we wanted to push in. Our feet nearly revolted, but we made it into town just after dark and met Alejandra and her husband at their house.
They warmly greeted us and showed us a room that we could stay in, then left us to shower before dinner. We all had dinner together and talked about many things. I enjoy being in the presence of like-minded, adventurous people, and over the next day we had many thoughtful discussions. Fidgit and I learned that the couple (Alejandra and Koky) had begun their business almost by accident, fixing worn out PFDs, and now they make many of the PFDs sold in Argentina. We would have liked to stay longer, but we had made plans to meet out friend Pablo (from Mendoza) near Uspallata, 40+ kilometers down the road.
We walked out of Portrerillos late in the morning to walk along the abandoned Ferrocarril Transandino next to Rio Mendoza. The railroad tracks took us along the valley floor and after a scary bridge crossing, stepping from railroad tie to railroad tie with air between, we set up camp for the evening.
The wind died down and we slept well. The next day, we walked mostly along the road to get into Uspallata, and it was beautiful scenery but boring walking. We left Uspallata after resupplying and made our way out to an Artist’s residence outside of town where we planned to meet Pablo and his family. We arrived before they did and talked with the artist for a while, and when Pablo and his family arrived, we toured the grounds to see all of the works that had been constructed. The artist and his daughters put time and energy into each one, and it showed; all the pieces were beautiful in their own way.
We left the Art Garden, as they called it, late in the day and walked for another 10km or so to the first INCAN RUINS we’ve come across! According to most people we’ve talked to, as well as the history we’ve learned, the Incas built their road as far south as Uspallata. So we are officially in Inca territory. The ancient Inca roads stretch from Argentina to Ecuador and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. We hope to be following them closely at least up to Cusco, Peru. We camped near the ruins of a Tambillo/Tambo, or an area the Incas built to store things for future use. I would liken it to a kiva in the American Southwest, though much larger.
The next morning, we made our way north along the road. I was bracing myself for our first long dry stretch – 100 km. As we walked, we saw a truck stopped in the distance. It idled for a bit and then drove on. As we approached where the truck had been stopped, we came upon a large shrine with many full water bottles stacked around it. These shrines are for a folklore saint named Difunta Correa – look her up. We were able to use some of this water to get us through the next day of roadwalking. The next morning we came upon another Difunta Correa shrine near Parque Nacional Leoncito and were able to get water for the next day of walking until we arrived at a Gendarmeria station, and the men there gave us water. We were then able to make it into the town of Barreal. It is amazing what things show up at just the right time on our trip.