Vintage Cape Horn 2013

An epic 6,000 kilometre adventure drive from Buenos Aires to Cape Horn through Argentina and Chile.

Day 5 - Mendoza to Santiago

Peak Performance

It's sometimes difficult to find a reason to leave a good hotel but today we all had good excuse to be up and out and onto the road again. Today we were crossing the Andes, leaving Argentina before dropping into Chile. 

We had been promised some beautiful scenery, an epic drive and a swift border crossing. In the event we got it all. After 10km we saw our first snowy peak, we knew that somewhere up there was Aconcagua, the biggest peak in the Andes, and while we wouldn’t get to see that particular gigantic ‘lump’ today, there were plenty of others to hold our awestruck attention such as the Col Blanco sitting a mere 5490m and which could be seen from most of the road to the border.

Once out of the Mendoza conurbation we took a westerly (right) turn up the RN7 valley road alongside the ‘boiling' brown and bubbling Rio Mendoza. Looking more like a like a river of hot chocolate than water it led us towards Uspallata and the first Passage Control. This area was once served by the now disused Transandine Railway which passed through on its way from Mendoza to Los Andes in Chile. The line opened in 1910 and closed in 1984 and as we wound our way upwards we followed much of its rusted and twisted route. There are moves to rebuild the line and given the amount of trucks we saw today that can’t be a bad thing.

Through countless tunnels cut into the red rock, up and up we drove, trucks and buses, roadworks and checkpoints inevitably slowed things down but the scenery was exquisite and eventually we crossed the border at the Paso Sistema Cristo Redentor. Surrounded by an endless deep blue sky, countless jagged peaks and snow domed mountains we breathed in lungfulls of dry, crisp and rarified air.

The frontier / tunnel is at a height of 3200 metres above sea level and at such an altitude the parking area was more of a holding stack but our agents at the border - the air traffic control if you will - were well in charge and after some inevitable and predictable form filling and checks to see that we weren't carrying fruit or plants we all passed through very smoothly to begin the plunge down the other side.

If it was the engine that was boiling on the way up now it was the turn of the brakes to feel the heat. Sadly though our downwards trajectory wasn’t quite as simple as we would have hoped, major engineering and road works meant that we were jammed up in contraflow traffic with lorries and buses almost all of the way down to the second Passage Control of the day in Rio Blanco where Nescafe coffee and sweet biscuits were taken on board.

Santiago was in sight, spirits were high and the Rally rolled on.

Shortly after this however, at 252km, disaster struck for David and Sadie Williams the leaders of the Vintageant category. We found them sat in a lopsided fashion by the side of the road missing one rear wheel, bearing shattered, half shaft separated. True to the sprit of Endurance rallying though they weren't alone for long as Alain Grisay, Charles Stuart Menteth and David Cooley pulled alongside to lend a hand.

A truck was summoned, the car was loaded and tonight we hear that they’re in a workshop with the right size bearing and fully expect to be back on the road tomorrow.

To keep the Rally on its toes today and to apply just a little pressure there was a 9km medal section just off the main drag into Santiago with time controls set at either end. It was a simple up and down affair. Long looping bends, hairpins and a steep gradient one way were followed by long looping bends hairpins and a steep gradient... This seemingly simple formula caused sweat to form on brows, forearms to tense and knuckles to whiten. Hauling those cars up hill and down dale like this apparently takes quite some effort and was just the sort of sting in the tail that gives the crews something to talk about in the bar over the cheesy nibbles and Chilean Pisco Sours (Chilean pisco, pica lime, no bitters or egg white).

There was a bit of a change in the leaderboard after the Williams’ misfortune. Chuck and Pam Lyford move into top spot of the Vintageants a mere one second ahead of Olaf and Monica Pothoven, while in the Classics category Alastair Caldwell and Laurel Smith maintain their slender lead of eight seconds from Paul and Sandra Merryweather.

Finally we must not finish without mentioning that it's Martin Hunt's birthday today. Feliz cumpleanos!

Fred Fangio


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