Puente del Inca

Good guesses! I knew I would probably stump people with this one, but it’s such a cool place I just had to share the shot.

Puente del Inca. Argentina.

The photograph is actually of Puente del Inca (“bridge of the Incas”), a bridge naturally formed, as Ben suggested, above some hot springs, high in the Andes of Argentina. The now rusty-mustard colored building you see, whose color can be attributed to years of sulfur deposits from the hot springs, is the remains of a luxury hotel that was built into this unique location.

Hot Spring. Puente del Inca, Argentina.

Me sampling an old thermal bath. Puente del Inca, Argentina.

Each room had its own thermal bath, for only the most elite travelers to enjoy. A nearby train station was once the last stop in Argentina along the Ferrocarril Transandino (Transandine, or “Trans-Andes,” Railroad), which was originally opened in 1910 (it was the first railroad to connect the Atlantic and Pacific coasts) but has been out of service since 1984.

As you can see, much of the surrounding buildings were destroyed by an avalanche of falling rocks and glacial floods in 1965. But exactly one structure was spared: the church.

Puente del Inca Church, Argentina.

Puente del Inca ruins. Argentina.

In fact, it survived virtually unscathed. Not only were the thermal waters of Puente del Inca believed to have magical healing powers (read about the Inca legend here), but after the avalanche destroyed the entire village, leaving only the church standing (seen in the background of the Mystery Snapshot), people believed this had to be a miracle. Of course, this only encouraged travelers (and now tourists) to trek to this very special place, and the inevitable circus of tour guides and souvenirs stands now surround it.

Alta Montana Circuit, Argentina.

Alta Montana Circuit. Argentina.

Alta Montana Circuit. Argentina.

Puente del Inca is located very near to the border between Argentina and Chile in the Mendoza Province. I took these photographs in January — the dead of summer. During the winter, the bridge is dripping with ice, while hot springs flow deep inside. That interaction between ice and heat is believed to have contributed to the unique formation of the bridge. Nearby Aconcagua is a popular hike for serious climbers, as it is the highest mountain in the Andes (and of the Americas!).

Top of Aconcagua. Argentina.

Argentine side, Alta Montana.

Chilean side, Alta Montana.

If you find yourself in Mendoza, Argentina, take a break from all the malbec wine tasting (ok – only a very brief one!) to get into the nearby Andes, where you can trek the Alta Montaña circuit (at the border of Argentina and Chile, you’ll be at an altitude of 4,000m/13,120ft — so ascend slowly and carefully — most do make the trip in a tour bus),  and walk the Inca Trail, or go horseback riding (“cabalgatas”) with some gauchos, followed by a traditional asado,  in the lower hills. Most hostels have sign up boards to do any and all of these activities, and hotels or tourism companies will definitely hook you up.

Gaucho on horseback, overlooking the city of Mendoza, Argentina.

Random fact: the movie “Seven Years in Tibet” was actually filmed here, a couple thousand feet above Puente del Inca — NOT in Tibet! Pretty cool, eh? Ahh, the random offerings of Argentina just never stop… 🙂

Alta Montana, at 4,000m, w/ friends Kerry and Molly in 2005. It was COLD and WINDY!

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