If you thought we’d be tired of mountains by now, you’re wrong! Our next stop was the village of Barreal in the beautiful Calingasta valley to the east of the Andes. It was an accidental find due to the airport at Mendoza, in the main Argentinian wine growing area and close to the high Andes, being closed for replacement of the runway. Instead we flew to San Juan and, next morning, took the El Triunfo bus which, five hours later, delivered us right to the gate of Posada San Eduardo, our base for the next 5 days.
The posada is the family home of Ricardo Zunino, a former Formula 1 racing driver. It’s a traditional style colonial house arranged around an internal courtyard. The rooms are simple but large, cool and airy, ours had an old fashioned fireplace and high wooden ceiling.
A few other travellers passed though during our stay but we were the only ones using public transport!
The mountain views are stunning here – Barreal is a base for high level treks in the Andes – we had great views of Cerro Mercedario, at 6770m, as well as a glimpse of Aconcagua, at 6959m, the highest peak in the world outside the Himalayas. It’s an area of high, dry desert in which Barreal forms a lush green oasis.
With a population of around 5000 Barreal is also home to around 2,500 horses, thirteen belonging to Ricardo.These beautiful Arab horses are particularly suited to endurance racing, the activity Ricardo took up on his retirement from motor racing and which is continued today by his daughter.
Although we are novices we were fortunate to be able to ride out one morning into the Escondido, the brown hilly area behind the hotel.
Outside the town we visited the seemingly endless plain on which ‘wind cars’ are raced in summer when the wind direction is consistent.
At the Leoncito National Park we were solemnly handed a leaflet telling us what to do if we met a Puma! No such luck but we did see a small herd of guanacos – unlike their close relative, the Peruvian llama, they remain undomesticated.
The skies are amazingly clear in Barreal and so there are observatories in the National Park. However as we had chosen to visit at full moon stargazing was not on our schedule.
The staff at the posada, a mix of French, Argentinian and Colombian looked after us remarkably well and provided a different vegetarian meal for me on each of the five evenings.
Even so, we had to move on, leaving behind both the posada and the wonderful Andes. Helpful El Triunfo picked us up right outside at the start of our journey on to Córdoba.