You miss a couple flights and suddenly your family doesn’t want to fly with you. So instead, we drove from Mendoza to Valparaiso. 9 hours along the Pan American highway. Luckily it is one of the most beautiful stretches of road I have ever encountered.
The road follows a route that has been used for centuries first by the Incas; then the Spanish conquistadors and then the Transandine railway. There are still reminders of these earlier travelers. We drove by several old station towns, now largely deserted with only one or two families still living in them. Collapsed huts seen from the road were supposedly where the Spanish overnighted. Though I doubt it… some were in pretty good shape!
We actually got out of the car at Puente del Inca. I was expecting Incan ruins. Should have read the guidebook. It is actually a stunning geological formation in one of the most renowned hot springs. The ‘bridge’ is actually rock that has been worn away by the river. The spring waters are loaded with sodium chloride, arsenic, calcium and sulfer and reputed to have healing powers.
Legend tells of an Incan noble who brought his paralyzed son here. His warriors formed a human chain over the river; the man carried his son across to the springs where he was quickly cured. As he turned back to thank the warriors he found they had been petrified by the minerals in the water forming the bridge tourists have been visiting ever since.
In 1925 a magnificent hotel was built. It was the height of luxury; each room contained a private spa. The who’s who of the day flocked to indulge in its lavishness and enjoy the cure. But nothing lasts forever; the hotel was destroyed in a 1965 landslide. Now a ruin, all that survived was the small chapel. People can no longer test the powers of the water, too dangerous. The whole area is fenced off and you can but admire it from afar.