Monday, August 04, 2008

Hanging by a thread...

I went on a weekend trip to Maipo Valley, also called Valle del Maipo, a lush region located in the South of Santiago. It is a long stretch of small villages along the Maipo River, that originates from the Maipo volcano and flows through the numerous mountains of the Andes. The valley is famous for its numerous vineyards, including the Maipo section of the famous Concho y Toro Winery.

We were planning this trip for at least a week. A classmate from GSB is with me in Santiago, working with a different entrepreneur. Her friend flew in from Canada for a week and that was our the motivation for the trip. What a great trip it turned out to be. The original plan was for the friend to reach Santiago at 7:30, we start from Santiago at 10, reach our destination (more on that later) and do all the stuff we could potentially do - horse back riding on the natural forests, bathe in hot-springs, visit a few vineyards, cook Asado on that altitude, etc. What eventually did happen is worth a huge novel.

To begin with, the flight of our friend got delayed and he missed his connecting flight in Atlanta. So it turned out that he was to come on Sunday instead of Saturday. On Friday, we went out dining with out friends in Santiago. After a heavy dinner, we decided to attend a show done by a Bon Jovi cover band. The show turned out to be awesome and we sang along with the cover band dudes till 3AM. When we hit the sack, we had time for 5 hrs of sleep before the weekend adventure.

All of us woke up at 10! Frantic preparation and multiple phone calls later, we find ourselves at the car rental place, Alamo, at 11AM. They took literally 2 hours (I'm not exaggerating) to give us a car. This, after reserving a car the previous day. So we started towards Maipo at 1PM, hoping to reach there at 2:30PM - the trip usually takes a little more than 1 hr. After maneuvering through Santiago's mid-Saturday traffic, we reach the base of the Andes and drive up to San José de Maipo, a small town on the way to Cajón del Maipo, our eventual destination. The time was already 2:15PM. We call the contact person at our hotel, and this is how the discussion went:

Us: Hey, we are the people who made reservations for the night. We're at San José de Maipo.
He: Oh great! It snowed last night. You cant drive the last 500 m. Hope you have an SUV.
Us: What! We have a mid-size-sedan. We'll come over in some time.
He: Uh, what? Sedan??? Good luck!

Really - we "felt" him grinning!!!

From San José de Maipo, we had to travel in 10 kms of tarmac and 19 kms of dirt track to reach Cajón del Maipo! The dirt track is basically a narrow strip on the mountains, where there was snow and water everywhere coz of the overnight rain. We set on our journey, and wriggled through really rough 15 kms of, when the car in front of us stopped. The driver walked towards us and, to our utter shock, declared "You have a flat tire"!!! We replaced our care tire at an altitude of 1800m, in between two huge mountains, with snow all around us. In spite of our situation, we were still overawed by the view around us. It was quite breathtaking!

We eventually fixed the tire and managed to go to T-500m of our night stay - Lo Valdes Mountain Refugio! We struggled for another 30 minutes to find a way/place to park our car. Shovelling 2ms of snow with bare hands at an altitude of 2000m to create parking space for our car definitely goes down at my most memorable experience ever. The tire-change experience comes a close second! After we parked our cars, we set on foot to the Refugio, only to find really bad pathways, with puddles of ice-cold water. We almost gave up after 200m - when the owner of the Refugio met us with his vehicle as he was going out. He gave us a ride up, during which i managed to freeze both my hands pretty badly - that really hurt. Eventually - we got to the place at 6PM and set our beds for the night. And guess what, there was snow everywhere and walking around was supposedly life threatening. We were told that we cant do anything that we planned to do. We had traveled 100kms, scaled 2000m and went through all of that suffering for literally nothing :)

The view in front of us made up for all our miseries. It was unbelievable and the best thing I've ever seen in all my life. We were really overjoyed and buoyed up by the experience of just being in such a picturesque place. The Refugio was on a small cliff, with huge mountains (some scaling above 6000m) all around us. One word - Awesome!!! But the sun sank behind the mountains pretty soon. So we finished dinner, hung around a bit and slept at 11 - when the place shuts down its generator and goes completely dark. Our mobiles had no coverage. The only connection we had to the world was a telephone line. Lying on my bed, tired from the day's activities, I felt like i was in a different world altogether and it was quite refreshingly liberating to shun all the modern bondage and be there as just a human being - me for myself!

True to our tiredness, we woke up at 8AM. We had instructed our now forgotten friend to take a taxi to San José de Maipo, but he was supposed to be there at 10:30AM. There was no snow during the night - so the snow from the previous night had frozen into ice. Driving was gonna be hell. We had to leave as soon as possible. The view outside, with the morning sun, was spellbinding. I'm running out of words to describe it. We could have stayed there for a week. We enjoyed the morning view in all its glory, finished our breakfast and left the place in a hurry. The owner of the Refugio gave us a ride to our car and all of us felt that he was holding back a huge laughter after he saw our car. He had this smug look at screamed "No kidding"! Oh well!!!

Our tires were in pretty shape and none of us were confident about crossing the dirt track without busting a tire. All sorts of contingency plans were being discussed and we were checking our tires every tenth minute. After another painstakingly agonizing two hours on the roads, with some really adept car maneuvering by our friend (I'm really impressed. she did a really great job) we reached San José de Maipo and met our friend who had been waiting there for two hours.

We just had to do something than just driving around. So we drove back a few kilometers and found a spot where they had horse back riding along the shores of the Maipo river. We finished formalities and then the guy at the place mounted us on the horses. To our total shock, we then realized, he let us handle the horses. HE DID NOT COME WITH US!!! In hindsight, it was fun to learn to communicate with and handle the horse - but the first 10 mins were scary as hell. The horses were hungry and they would stop at every sign of food - and just wont listen to us. My best moment was when my horse finally gave up and started galloping full speed at random - only for this owner guy to chase us me in another horse and bring my horse under control!!! In all possibility, i could have gone pale white through my brown skin!!!

So we at least did horse back riding. We were hungry after the trip and returned to have lunch at San José de Maipo. We merrily ordered Asado and waited for the food - for two hours. And the food was crap. It was just that kind of a weekend. We also managed to repair the tire at San José de Maipo. Once we finished lunch, it was late in the day and to started our descent to Santiago for some much needed rest. We made it to Santiago at 6:30PM and dropped the car at the renting place, to bring an eventful trip to a tame closure.

Really - that was one hell of a weekend!!! Even though nothing went as planned, we had a lot of fun. I guess it is boring if things go by plan ;)

Some shots from Valle de Maipo

And finally, the crazy tourist :)


Johny CAGE said...

I was about to ask for the pics.
& there you are Mr. Certified Pagal ;)

madhu said...

Hey too much!

andy said...

Lovely pics. Wish I could be there instead of stuck behing a desk in Mumbai.

I read your blogs as my son is trying to joing Chicago GSB. He reached till the interview stage- third round in April this year. He is trying for 2009 fall admission now.

Best wishes