panoramic view: click to enlarge
In mid-March, I had the true pleasure of greeting a travel group of 20 passengers eager to discover the wonders of Argentina. This specific trip, sponsored by The Wine Sellar & Brasserie of San Diego, and organized by Imagine Argentina and Grapevine Tours, proved to be a spectacular journey highlighting the elite vineyards of Mendoza, the dazzling tango of Buenos Aires, and the crashing cascades of Iguazú. After eight months of careful planning, we at last found ourselves together here in Argentina...and this was our excursion to Cerro Aconcagua - the tallest mountain peak in the Western Hemisphere:
The morning began with a peaceful visit to Bodega Ruca Malen, a modern establishment nestled below the majestic Andean peaks of Luján de Cuyo, dedicated to superior wine-making since 1998 and recognized for the following labels: Yauquén, Ruca Malén, and Kinién. Following a casual walk among the vines, under a brilliant blue sky, the group proceeded with a personal wine tasting session inside as conducted by residential expert, Carolina Macaya. Following a unique combination of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blends, we continued towards the Chilean border.
Past the abandoned tracks and train stations of the former Trans-Andean Railroad, and the raging waters of Rio Mendoza, we found ourselves winding through the vibrant and diverse formations of local Andean valleys. Wildlife was rare, though we did manage to spot one roaming guanaco in-between the stone tunnels of the railway. Upon arrival to Aconcagua National Park, a pleasant hike just a few meters up the trail led us to Laguna de Horcones, where we settled on the grassy slopes and enjoyed a delightful afternoon picnic...each couple sharing a basket filled with salads, bruschetta, and bottles of wine. In the distance, Aconcagua pierced the horizon, towering at a height of 22,840 feet above sea level.
As we returned towards the residential zone of Vistalba, we stretched our legs at the local craft market near Puente del Inca. This natural bridge, formed centuries ago through the intense interaction between hot springs and ice, was once the site of a popular thermal resort and train station. In addition to the healing powers supposedly provided by the sulfurous waters of Rio Vacas, the river offers unique souvenirs for tourists, ranging from crusted wine bottles to "golden" tennis shoes left in the water for a period of weeks. Charles Darwin was quite impressed with the phenomenon during his personal expedition to Mendoza years ago.