March 1, 2008
The trip from Denver to Mendoza takes at least 18 exhausting hours and includes 2 stopovers, various passport stampings, and a trip through customs. The longest flight is the 9 hours from Dallas, TX to Santiago, Chile, which if you’re smart you’ve booked as the overnight part of the flight; and if you’re lucky, isn’t full so you can sprawl out across the 3 middle seats and sleep.
The last leg of the flight is the best: it’s the 35-minute long jump across the Andes Mountain range from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina. After flying for so long, on this flight you hardly get a chance to let the ice in your drink melt before you’re on the ground again.
This part of the trip is where I start to feel as if I’m really in South America-we fly LAN on this leg, and the flight attendants, in their perfect hair and makeup, are all young and glamorous and Chilean. (Which makes me feel just that much more rumpled after traveling for that long, thankyouverymuch) Most of the passengers are South American, too, the class of people who can afford to fly-all very well dressed and well mannered, and the shift is visible. It’s like warping back to the golden age of travel.
Naturally, flying over the Andes can be a little scary-the movie ‘Alive’, based on the true story of a Uruguayan soccer team’s horrific crash and survival, happened here.
Once, I turned to Guillermo while we were flying over the mountains, the peaks below us like a bed of nails, and I said "Honey, if we crash, can I eat you first?" (Anxiety makes me think and say really stupid and inappropriate things. ) And Guillermo, in his cool Argentino way, stared at me with an utterly blank expression on his face, said nothing, and then returned to reading his paper. I guess that’s my answer.
The reward for suffering the interminable trip is seeing the sun rise over the Aconcagua. At 22,000 feet, the Aconcagua is the highest peak in both North and South America. Crossing over the Andes in the just as the rosy fingers of dawn start to creep over the mountains is one of the most stunning and spectacular sights I have ever seen.
This is the first of a weekly photo series I’ll be posting. Argentina has a rich culinary tradition that I love, but I think it’s impossible to really get a feel for the cuisine without knowing the country. Every week I will be showing and telling my way through this rich and varied place that is my heart’s home, with some good stories along the way. I hope you’ll share your impressions and your own stories with me, too!