Dec 15-23: First week at Puenta del Inca
Tue Dec 15
At 11 a.m. left for Puenta del Inca, a monotonous journey to Mendoza, 24 hrs off, through flat wide rolling pampa - broken occasionally by an Estancia surrounded with giant weeping willows & poplars - sometimes a hundred miles between them. Dust & heat were chief features of the day; but towards sunset we passed though some swamps covered with wild duck & flamingoes - the latter looking like a pink cloud on the water.
Wed Dec 16
Arrived at Mendoza, which is a large town surrounded by flowering vineyards. It is there they make the wine of the country, a very fair claret.
We changed to the narrow gauge & from there to Inca is one grand mass of mountain scenery. The Pass is narrow, and follows the river the whole way. As the train only goes every other day it causes quite a sensation among the very few natives - they seem to be all Indians - some very fine looking lovely children but very dirty - the precipices and gorges - sharp serrated edges against the deep blue sky - magnificent colouring, reds yellows, blues and greens, forming a picture, or series of pictures, which will be a possession for the rest of my days. It gradually got cooler & cooler & we mounted until it was icy cold up here, 9000 feet above the sea. It is the grandest spot & most beautiful, being entirely surrounded with high snow capped mountains, varying from 10,000 to 12,000 feet. This is the spot Fitzgerald started from when he made the ascent of the 2nd highest mt. in the world, Aconcagua, 22,000 odd feet & where Dr Cotton first started this hotel. Fitzgerald had his tent put up close to, as his low camp. They have his ice axe, wh. is now shown to a favoured few.
Thu Dec 17
Got up to find a perfectly blue cloudless sky. We had a bath
in the natural mineral waters for which the place is or will be famous.
The baths are in caves in the rock, which are built up to be made private
There are 4, of different degrees of heat - Neptune 28° Venus 37°
Champagne 38°, Mercurio 37.5° The water contains the following chemicals:-
oxide of calcio
oxide of Magnesium
oxide of herro y aluminium
oxide soda of potasium
Permanganate for oxidising the organic matter to a litre of the water - these chemicals differ in quantities in the different baths. In some the sulphuric acid gas being very powerful, in others the carbonic acid gas - this is all open to comment.
After tea we went for a ride. The horses were fresh from the grass &, after a short distance, we started up a steep bank at a gallop & so was ignominiously thrown; but mercifully not hurt. I was thankful to escape with a few bruises. I remounted & they all came back with me (Mr Fowler and his son the only other Eng: here). After this they continued their ride and I had a bath & so escaped a good deal of stiffness. After dinner we joined the other ladies, all Chileans, Argentines, Spanish, Italians & Germans. We managed a little French conversation & May and Frieda played. They also danced; they could not explain to foreigners that they were not dancing - they are so quick to take offence & I know what he would have said - to bed at 11.
Fri Dec 18
A bright morning - all had a bath before breakfast, wh. we had on the Piazza with the sun baking our backs. After this we walked with the Fowlers to where we had a view of Aconcagua - it is about 2½ miles from here.
The mountains rise all round on every side, the valley being only about 1 m. across. No two are alike, most of them covered with snow to within 1000 feet from the valley. We also saw the Cumbru pass where they go over into Chile - this being the natural boundary between the two countries.
The Cumbre peak is about 18,000 feet, so they mount 3,000 from this. After breakfast, at 12 a.m. we all started on mules for a tea picnic, but, a thunderstorm coming on , we had to come back. It rained or sleeted the rest of the day and was bitterly cold. The train from Mendoza brought several Eng:, most of whom left next morning for Chile.
Had another bath - carbonic acid gas very strong - gave one a feeling of great oppression which passed off on coming out.
Sat Dec 19
Had a perfectly delightful trip, in spite of my bruises.
We had our picnic, which had been put off the day before. Taking tea we went on mules part of the way up the Aconcagua valley, winding along up and down hill, sometimes by the side of the river, rushing at about 40 or 50 ft below. We saw a most peculiar plant, looking something like a flat cauliflower - also a white everlasting flower with a strong sweet scent - glorious views of the Cumbre Tolosa & of the majestic Aconcagua the whole way. Whichever way you turned, a splendid panorama of richly coloured peaks & precipices stretched away before you. Had tea in a deep ravine or nulla and took some photos. Came back to see the lovely ethereal sunset lights on the same mountains we had passed in midday light, all completely changed and more glorious than ever - & thought of that change we shall all experience in the twinkling of an eye.
Sun Dec 20
May & Frieda went for a long days picnic ride - I did not feel happy in going, so made an excuse of my bruises, which really are very sore. After lunch, Mrs Cotton, the wife of Dr Cotton, the former proprietor, & I went out to meet them. We walked down to where the valley of Los Penitentes opens & were confronted by the rivers. After some debating, we decided to go away back to the railway bridge, wh. has just open girders and was somewhat giddy work - however, we crossed, and retraced our steps the right side of the valley. We then climbed up to the gorge and sat awhile. I walked on to where I had a grand view of the mountain. It is a big solid block of granite, having pillars all round something like organ pipes, with a long slope from the base to about ½ way up, on which are some very strange rocks, grouped just like people kneeling, hence its name "Penitentes". I notice the same queer formation on many of the mountains. On the one overlooking this hotel is a big block of deep red sandstone, having a smaller block for the head: it stands like a sentinel & is called the Inca - it is said to be keeping watch over the natural bridge some 500 or 600 ft below.
We walked a long way, from 2.30 to 7.30, but failed to find the others who returned about 8 p.m. Came to bed immediately after dinner very tired and after a most unsatisfactory Sunday - no Church and very little reading, but having very much enjoyed our walk and talk. Found the S.+. looking in at my window at night. The stars are all very large & bright here & a greater number than I have ever seen - I suppose because we are so high in the world.
Mon Dec 21
Mr & Mrs Tom Fowler left. We took our tea out & sketched.
Tue Dec 22
Walked, painted - or tried to - the natural bridge. Went up the mountain at the side of hotel.
Wed Dec 23
Walked, sketched, had our tea outside. A pleasant quiet day.