Tours and Activities:
Adventure Travel at Mount ÁsperoMarcelo SolaMarcelo Sola
A circuit that combines 4 x 4 and hiking along Merlo mountain range, leads us among beautiful falls and cascades to unveil the remains of a people frozen in time.
The sun rises slowly and the dew still rests on the pasture.
An off-road vehicle leads us up along a steep paved slope to the Filo Serrano of Villa de Merlo, 2,100 mosl. The road becomes a rubble road and it is necessary to activate the double traction to pass over the rocks scattered all around the top of the mountain range. It is worrisome to wonder if such masses in the middle of nowhere emerged from the land or fell from the sky, but before such reflection, a magnificent panoramic view of the Conlara Valley, which surrounds the San Luis pearl, smartly catches our attention.
This valley is 120 km long and is crossed by the homonymous river which, singularly, runs from South to North, unlike what we are used to. We are in the heart of the Comechingones Mountain Range, on the border with the province of Córdoba, and from there we can make out the first foothills of the central mountain range of San Luis and the quiet majesty of Villa de Merlo.
We head for Mount Áspero, where we will hike along eleven kilometers, but with low difficulty. After twenty kilometers along Route 5, we must abandon the vehicle at a mountain post, and start walking to a site that promises to amaze us.
The excursion guide takes care of everything. He takes water for us to drink, cookies, pies and hot water to drink some well-deserved mate at the first stop. This, added to the most characteristic good temper of the people from Merlo, a result of the particular microclimate of the area, which, as its air is crowded with negative ionization, it generates a joyful mood and a strength of spirit higher than usual. Though in fact, Federico is from Merlo by adoption, as his particular accent betrays his Córdoba origins.
At Full Nature
The first date is with the Salto del Tigre (Tiger Fall). It is an exceptional 25-meter-high cascade, surrounded by a 40 meters diameter pool, which is 10 meters deep. But we must walk for quite a while before we can find it.
During the trip, we make out the tabaquillos forest –a bush originary from Peru, which takes the shape of a tree because of the characteristics of this area– mixed with ferns. Among the ravines, you can see the paths used by the locals to go in search for their sheep after pasture. Feldspars, white quartz, and mica are all around.
We soon reached the Salto del Tigre and everything was translated into beholding. The inexplicable cascade left us speechless for a few seconds, the "fresh" sound of the water bumping into the rock made us feel relaxed and invited us to make a picnic by the pool.
Various birds –among them, bar-winged cinclodes, black-chested buzzard-eagles and black vultures– reveal our presence.
The photographic cameras tried to freeze the beautiful postcard, but deep inside we knew that the picture would never compare to being right there, even though we felt comforted to know that at least it would be in our memory.
Hiking to that spot was not very difficult. We had a rest for a few minutes and after the warm mates and some facturas which had been baked a few hours before, we resolved to continue to the second stop: a “ghost town” in the middle of the mountain range.
The “Ghost Town”
Even though we did not set aside the fantasy of coming across some spectral or gloomy figure, the “Cordobés” –as we called our guide– told us that in fact it was a mining town from the early XX century, which reached a high peak during the time of the Second World War and which at present is being reconditioned as a mountain shelter, offering the possibility of camping, spending the day or staying at the lodge.
Beyond the discouraging explanation that there were “no ghosts”, we dared to continue walking, though the charm had, to a certain extent, dissapeared.
From the path, we could see the neighboring province. We watched the whole Calamuchita Valley, the Mount Pelado, Río Tercero and Los Molinos reservoirs, apart from the incredible height of Mount Champaquí, with its 2,790 meters.
When we reached the highest point of Mount Áspero, we started to descend along the slope up to the valley wehre the abandoned mining town was located. Maybe the feeling generated by the popular denomination “ghost town” made us notice the zigzagging road used by ancient miners, and we seemed to see their lost souls going about.
Underneath, the isolated town invited us to pay a visit and discover many of its hidden secrets. As we got closer, we made out the checkpoint post and the cable-car towers.
This town from 1930 was very organized. Entire families would bake the bread, cook in communitary dining halls, assist the nursery and the laundry area. We went about various corners of the site, we visited the engine rooms, the bachelors barracks, the bakery, the kitchen, the lab, the barber shop and the logistics area, until a delicious smell of bolognese sauce led us to the shelter's dining hall.
To everybody's surprise, Juan –the caretaker of that place– was waiting for us with a dish of deliciuos homemade noodles and an equally tasty sauce. There were all kinds of drinks, from mineral water and sodas to red wine. “Homemade pasta is accompanied with a good glass of red wine, and if it is Burgundy or cabernet sauvignon much better!!” sustained Juan. All of us seconded the motion, while the unmistakable sound of the corkscrewer betrayed the uncorked bottles.
During lunch, the “Cordobés” told us that the mineral exploited in the mine was the “tungsten” which, melted with steel, made the latter harder. At the end of the Second World War, this kind of smelting was no longer used, and this led to the bankruptcy of the British company that had mounted the structure and the consequent abandonment of the facilities.
After the very deliciuos lunch –you can have as many helpings as you wish, though I recommend that you keep space for the pancakes with dulce de leche that Juan makes with deep devotion–, and the amusing chat while we were still sitting on the table by the warmth of the logs burning in the fireplace, we paid our check –which did not exceed ten pesos per person– and started our way back.
Very quietly we encountered the rhythm of walking once again. The last lights of the day were starting to go off in the San Luis horizon. The turns were becoming shorter and shorter and almost without noticingit, we got to the truck.
We went down the slope that led us to that isolated site. The ions of Merlo still had effect and we remembered the anecdotic moments and the jokes we played on one another along the day. A cascade and an abandoned town keep quiet until the following day.