There is nothing quite like waking up on an airplane, or at least giving up hope of sleep and taking off the eye shade, and begin vigil for the first glimpse of the continent waiting below. You are an explorer about to enter new territory- forget those other people who might have gone before, you are about to plant a flag and declare these lands in the name of Yvette Cendes! (Well in my name if you’re me, and probably yours if you’re you, but you have my blessing if you also want to declare exotic points around the globe for my conquest).
South America is my sixth continent, and the first glimpse did not disappoint. You come in off the ocean flying from North America to Santiago, Chile, and the first indication of an entire continent hiding underneath the clouds were the Andes-
For about a hundred miles these sky islands were the only thing I could see of Chile, though eventually the clouds gave way to reveal green plains in the valleys below. Eventually the plane deftly glided into a particularly large valley, not-so-coincidentally where the Santiago airport was located, where I spent a long layover with the “CHI! CHI! CHI! LE! LE! LE!” chant from the rescue of the miners stuck in my head.
The final flight of our journey was worth the wait though- it was only 35 minutes long, but was the famous hop from Santiago to Mendoza over the stretch of the Andes which contains the tallest mountains in the Western hemisphere. So famous there’s even a Disney cartoon about it! Negotiation with other physicists in my group landed me in a window seat, on the wrong side to see Alconcagua (the highest mountain of the Americas), but I decided I’d negotiate that view on the ride home.
The flight starts off again from the fertile Chilean plains, eventually turning straight for the snow-capped peaks in the distance-
And then you find yourself in the snow-capped peaks themselves, stretching as far as the eye can see. It sounds terrible as a writer, but all I could think of was “wow, these are big!” Pictures are worth a thousand words here…
Some close-ups of the incredible detail even through a dirty plane window- I was particularly impressed with this landslide and how it swept over the only road I saw in the entirety of the mountain range, primarily because I could only imagine the reaction of the road engineer when he realized he had to clear it!
A view of the glaciers- they could pass for a work of modern art-
Finally the mountains began to thin out a bit, well at least enough to leave room for a lake or two-
Then finally the land flattened out and the plane landed in Mendoza. In case you somehow landed here and missed the memo about this being the wine region of Argentina, there are some helpful vineyards right up to the edge of the airport itself-
More on Mendoza later once I actually visit it (I’m now in Malargue, a six hour drive south), but my first reaction about Argentina is it’s very European for the most part. I mean sure a lot of buildings have an “Eastern Europe 15 years ago” aura about them when it comes to maintenance, but the exit sign is staunchly a little green man running for the door and everyone drinks espresso all day so there we are.
Hasta la vista!