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Andes crossing in the Mercedes R-Class: through Argentina and Chile

Dave Schahl
Andes crossing in the Mercedes R-Class
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H It really doesn't get any better than that . The Chilean Gonzalo Bravo only had to turn back at the Ojos del Salado at 6,688 meters in his Suzuki Samurai, which was well equipped with giant tires and a compressor engine. The capable motorsport amateur with his special vehicle was only 300 meters short of the summit of the second highest mountain on the American continent on April 21, 2007 - there, where the Incas made ritual sacrifices to the gods half a millennium ago.

South America in the Mercedes R 350 4matic

With the approximately standard Mercedes R-Class 350 4matic is not that high in the Andes out. But the Paso de San Francisco, which connects Argentina and Chile, still trumps with the height of 4,765 meters above sea level. It is almost as high as Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain.

The Paso de San Francisco is the roof of the Dakar rally. Since 2009, the desert classic no longer rages through Africa, but tours through the most spectacular areas of South America. The silver-colored R-Class, which the auto motor und sport reporter crew always reliably served at the Dakar rally for a good two weeks, stands in a rugged, grandiose mountain landscape. The almost seven-thousand-meter Pissis towers up on the right, while the mighty Nevado Ojos del Salado greets with his cap made of snow and ice on the left.

A strong wind blows from the west on the pass. Although the sun gives its best and burns down mercilessly from the deep blue, almost cloudless sky, the digital thermometer in the Mercedes R-Class shows just seven degrees. A welcome refreshment as the last evening was hot. Not in terms of evening entertainment, however.

Adventurer natures are exactly right in the Argentine Fiambalá

In this regard, there are dead pants in the Argentine Fiambalá, where temperatures of 40 degrees and more are considered normal in summer. A small market square, a modest restaurant and a few even more modest guest houses - that’s it by and large. Nevertheless, a visit to the secluded Fiambalá is worthwhile, at least for the more adventurous.All-wheel drive freaks can let off steam in the sand and dry river beds. In dunes, for which the famous African Ténéré desert should not be ashamed, but within reach of civilization and the mobile phone networks, which has the inestimable advantage that in an emergency you don't have to drink the cooling water, but can simply use your mobile phone.

For alpinists, or rather one should say for Andinists who want to conquer the Ojos del Salado, Fiambalá is the last base. However, there are still 200 kilometers to drive before starting the trek. Bizarre reddish rock formations pass by, and now and then a few llamas, the Andean chamois, greet you in the distance. Only the Condor cannot be seen today. You go up on a fabulous, gently sloping asphalt road. The supply situation is poor: There is nothing to buy on the wayside: no provisions, not even souvenirs and certainly not gasoline.
At 6,891 meters, the Ojos del Salado is the second highest mountain on the American continent, just behind the legendary Aconcagua, which is around 1,000 kilometers south, near Chile's capital Santiago. Just like the Aconcagua, the “Ojos” is considered an easy summit by mountaineers.

In 2009 four mountaineers died on the Aconcagua

Although the slopes of these mountain giants rise rather gently and no exposed climbing sections spice up the route, it is dangerous to get into to dare such heights. If acclimatized insufficiently, there is a risk of pulmonary or brain edema. This can be nasty, and under certain circumstances even fatal. Last year, 3,844 climbers tried to climb the Aconcagua, 240 of them had to be rescued by the mountain rescue service. Four could only be recovered dead.

Recently, the newspaper said that German sports scientists, under the leadership of a certain Frank Hülsenmann, are planning this spring to storm the summit of the 'Ojos' by mountain bike. We don't meet our compatriots at the nearby Laguna Verde with its hot springs and its incredibly turquoise-colored water, where dozens of mountaineers get used to the thin air; In return, however, we meet two other Germans who are panting towards the top of the pass with heavily packed bikes - despite a ten percent incline and nasty headwind sitting in the saddle and not pushing. Encouraging calls are not returned by the brave pedals. Why? Perhaps this would rob them of the last bit of energy.
The asphalt ends at the border with Chile. Now there are 300 kilometers of unmade road, with potholes the size of a dog house and proper plumes of dust. In the R-Class, the journey is one of the highest mountain passes in the worldComfortable pleasure, thanks to comfort that is gentle on the spine.

The mountain air makes the performance of the Mercedes-V6 shrink

The V6 has plenty to do at an altitude of 4,000 meters. Because of the thin, oxygen-poor air, the 272 hp of the 3.5-liter naturally aspirated engine shrink to what feels like 150 horsepower. But that's still enough to explore a few of the gravel roads that branch off to the left and right of the main slope. Thanks to the resilient Dunlop Grandtrek AT2 you don't have to fear a flat tire.

Despondent natures stay on the Pista Principal anyway. It goes downhill to Copiapó. The neat Chilean town with 100,000 inhabitants is considered the gateway to the Atacama Desert. Copiapó warms the heart of the traveler with grand avenues, nice hotels and a pretty main square, the Plaza Prat with its 84 pepper trees that were planted 120 years ago. An outpatient car attendant lovingly takes care of the thorough cleaning of the battered R-Class. Price for hand washing: the equivalent of three euros, including tourist and luxury car driver surcharge.

No travel guide neglects to mention the Atacama as the driest To boast desert of the earth. When it does rain, namely when “El Niño” rages, the natural phenomenon that turns the weather rules upside down every six or seven years, this is the initial spark for an incomparable spectacle: for a few days the desert is transformed into a sea of ​​flowers.

Normally the Atacama Desert is an almost biomass-free zone. But the flora there is inversely proportional to the mineral resources. Above all, the abundant copper and saltpeter, the basic material for the production of artificial fertilizers (and in earlier times also of explosives), gave the region a certain prosperity. From an economic point of view, Chile is South America's model boy.

Pleasant climate in the desert - 17 degrees cold Pacific

Antofagasta and Iquique, the large coastal cities in the north of the country, which is more than 4,000 kilometers long but often only 100 kilometers wide, decorate themselves with it Skylines and shopping centers that would do credit to many American cities. The climate on the coast is pleasant. In the mornings, the fog is often thick and you should always have a sweater within reach, but in the afternoon you can usually see the sun. If you don't mind the steady, stiff breeze blowing inland, you will definitely not regret a few days camping on the barren but wildly romantic coast.

Bathing in the Pacific is not for everyone. Because the Humboldt Current provides a constant supply of cold Antarctic meltwater. Only seals, penguins, probably also residents of the British Isles, feel really comfortable at 17 degrees, but especially the majestic whales that regularly pass by in the months of January to April


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