Friday, February 8, 2013

Floods & Mud: Summer Storms Hit the Andes

In the early 1980s, I hitched a lift on a flatbed truck from the Chilean mining town of Calama to San Pedro de Atacama and, about halfway there, we found ourselves in near whiteout conditions – in the arid Atacama desert, not just rain, but snow. Fortunately, I arrived safely but now, whenever I think of the world’s driest climate, that still comes to mind.
Last April, while spending several days in San Pedro, I did not experience any rainfall, but storms in the Andes caused flash floods that washed away segments of roads in the Quebrada de Quitor, briefly closing access to my accommodations at the Hotel Alto Atacama. Today, though, it’s much worse, as the online Santiago Times reports that heavy rains have left nearly 5,000 people in San Pedro without running water and electricity. Highway damage has also closed the Paso de Jama border crossing (pictured above) to the Argentine provinces of Jujuy and Salta.
Some similar has happened in Argentina, where mudslides caused by heavy rains in the upper drainage of the Río Mendoza (as seen in the video above) have closed the international highway to Chileaccording to the Buenos Aires daily Clarín, the road has been cut in more than 20 places. This is the most important border crossing between the two countries, as international trade relies on the route; its timing is particularly unfortunate for the tourism industry, as cross-border traffic is abundant at this season. Mendoza’s annual wine harvest party, the Fiesta Naiconal de la Vendimia, begins the first week of March.

To make things even tougher for border-crossers, repairs of the international highway on the Chilean side presently require one-way traffic: westbound vehicles from Argentina may travel during daylight hours (8 a.m. to 7 p.m.), while eastbound vehicles from Chile must travel at night (8 p.m. to 7 a.m.). Until the Argentines manage to clear the road on their side, though, this is a moot question, and it remains to be seen how it affects the summer season.
Meanwhile, any Argentines vacationing in Viña del Mar who need to be back to work on Monday will have find an alternate route, and the road over the Agua Negra pass (pictured above), east of La Serena and Vicuña, has also been closed. The next closest crossing is the Paso Vergara (pictured below), east of the city of Curicó, but that involves a detour of more than 200 km south of Santiago and, once across the border, several hundred km more north to Mendoza.
What with all the currency controls, it was already difficult for Argentines to travel outside their own borders, but this is making it difficult for those who could to return. The rest of the summer could be a real challenge.


  1. Hi Wayne, been enjoying your writing for YEARS..keep up the great work. Regrading crossing from Mendoza to Chile at the moment, there is another pass in the south of the province - check it out:

    regards, Sean

  2. Thank you for the compliments, Sean. I did not mention Paso Pehuenche, which appears on the map in the article you linked to, because it's farther south than Paso Vergara, which I did mention. The Paso Vergara crossing is slightly shorter, but involves more unpaved road and connects with the road from Paso Pehuenche, which heads east and then north toward Malargüe and Mendoza. It's probably a tossup which is faster.

  3. There's speculation that the road from Mendoza to Chile may reopen on Monday.

  4. Hi Wayne, Paso Vergara is sketchy for me, I live in Mendoza and the local media would have been all over this one if it is a viable pass. But,'s a "hyper-local" thing that that doesn't want to get too advertised, this pass you mention, for fear of over use and related problems. Anyway, thanks for the info! Cheers, Sean

  5. Sean, I have only been as far as the Chilean border post at Vergara, so I don't know what the road is like on the Argentine. I have been across Paso Pehuenche, but not for several years. I know they were working to improve that road on the Chilean side last year; my Copec guide map for 2011 shows the paved road stopping about 40 km short of Paso Pehuenche, but it may be complete by now.

  6. "Paso Vergara closed"


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