78 Trucks and 28 Curves

[The lower 16 curves of the Caracoles on the Chilean side of the Libertadores Pass; the landscape offers a spectacular combination of militarized territories, commercial industry, recreational programming, and rugged geology]


The Libertadores Pass between Santiago, Chile and Mendoza, Argentina is so named because it follows the route that criollo General San Martin followed from Mendoza over in to Chile with his army as heand Simon Bolivar teamed up to bamboozle the Spanish and finish the American Revolution begun half a century earlier by the North Americans and the Haitians. As the main overland connection between Chile and the rest of MERCOSUR it remains one of the highest and most important through the Andes Mountains, albeit primarily for commercial reasons now as the raw materials flowing out of the Andes and between Buenos Aires and Santiago are sent along this route.


In the winter time these facts- altitude and the desires of industrial commerce- are brought together at the miltarized border along with the recreational program of a rather surpising ski resort at this pass in a sort of rugged, aggressive dance with each simultaneously advancing and retreating, twirling about and creating an altogether spectacular landscape. A few days ago we had the opportunity to traverse this winter landscape from the safety of a double decker bus.

While driving from the border control facility- a rather elaborate operation where all passengers leave their vehicles, present documents, have their bags scanned and searched, and give their reason for entry- down to the caracoles I counted 78 tractor trailers stopped and waiting their chance to pass through customs. The number of trucks daily moving through here must be several thousands. All along the route were the ruins of an old train line which must have helped with this cargo load in the past. The rail gage looked extremely small however, so I would guess that it fell in to disuse with the rise of shipping containers in international commerce.

[In the center background is the Libertadores Pass under which passes the international tunnel between Chile and Argentina; in thet middle ground some of the trucks cueing up to go through customs and border control can be seen; just visible in the foreground are the pitiful-looking stanchions and cables of an air tram which is bringing skiers up the foreground slope between curves 2 and 3, from left to right]

Whereas on the Argentine side the ascent to Libertadores Pass is a long climb through a series of rugged valleys the Chilean side immediately drops nearly one thousand meters through the spectacular Caracoles road, a section of road immediately after the border crossing containing 28 hairpin curves which drop something like 1,500 feet over the course of half a mile as the crow flies. From the road itself it is only possible to see either the top or bottom half at once. Nonetheless, the effect is devastating. The forms are similar to the infamously beautiful roads in the Alps or Tuscan hills where Ferraris race along at the hands of a handsome desperado, only here the road is scaled to the altitude of the Andes Mountains and the turning radius of a tractor trailer. That a ski resort is nestled in to the upper curves alongide the truck idle lane, with a view of the border control and snow-covered peaks above and the hairpin turns below only makes the descent more bewildering.

In situations like this we always wonder, “what might landscape architecture learn from and potentially bring to this situation?” The potent combination of commercial logistics, acts of territorialization in a frontier landscape, recreational program, and geological forces are each extreme cases of issues that are fundamental to American landscape practices. What are the specific conceptual tools that we have already developed, and what might be futher pursued in the interest of dealing with and making landscapes of this kind?

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