The Nazca tectonic plate slams into and under the South American plate and gives rise to the colossal Andes Mountains. The mountain chain runs from Venezuela through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The spine of these mountains essentially separates Chile and Argentina. Chile is 4300 kilometers long (2,670 miles) but only 121 miles wide where we crossed between Mendoza and Vina del Mar on the Pacific coast. The road winds through spectacular landscapes and past the highest mountain peak in the western hemisphere, Aconcagua at 6,962 meters (22,835 feet) just 2,532 feet higher than Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska.
The road goes through a tunnel that’s close to 2 miles long which was completed in 1980 lowering the highest point on the pass by 1,969 feet, shortening the journey by 6 miles and eliminating 65 switchbacks! The actual border is in the middle of the tunnel. Christo Redentor pass (Christ the Redeemer) has a 4 ton, 7 meter high bronze statue on a 6 meter tall granite pedestal at its old summit which was erected in 1904 after an agreed upon settlement to a border dispute that almost brought the two countries to war. The statue faces down the border line and inscribed at its base (in Spanish of course) it says: “Rather that these mountains crumble to dust as that Chile and Argentina break this peace they have vowed to preserve at the foot of Christ the Redeemer.”
The ski area Portillo is at the outlet of the tunnel on the Chile side as well as the official immigration and customs office for both countries. The grade down the Chile side is much steeper than Argentina and has serpentine switchbacks that boggle the mind.