Laguna Lejia and other North Chilean Mountain Adventures…

Christine Cauble | April 16th, 2011 - 9:46 pm|

Bit after bit, it increased. Failed to cease. I felt like if I did this drive daily, I could be the winner at a bucking bronco contest because the torrential reign of the bumps were insane. Except instead of riding outside on top of the bull, I was within its belly. Bumbubmbubbmbm, the rapid pattern of bumps continued…

I peer down at the cheesy tourist map in hand; the one with the cartoon mountains, llamas larger than the cartoon mountains and squiggles symbolizing squiggles…I mean, roads. I’m following this? Well, okay, wonderful because according to this, the lake is not far at all. It should be the same distance as the tiny town of Talabre that I passed about 8km back.

After 45 minutes, it becomes:

‘WHAT is going ON?!’ I’ve been en-route to Laguna Lejia for almost a good hour now, navigating through the harshest of roads (I’m riding atop pure rock and huecos like I’m working a route here) in an economy Chevy rental that I feel guilt for as if it’s a live animal I’m torturing (a rapid fire of massive scraping then ensues). There were no topos in the small, tourist town of San Pedro that is built on guide shops. Why would they want to cut into their business by handing out maps and topos to everyone? Forget it. I will find it.

‘Oh. Isn’t Volcan Lascar supposed to be on my left? I feel like I’ve been driving for about twenty minutes with it at my right side. Okay, I’m turning around. I was supposed to follow the llama arrow. I knew it. This is what happens when you give me a choice, I choose Door B and it’s the gag gift.

Turning around and keeping Lascar to my left. I wonder how much this rental car is worth after I return it? And how much will I be required to pay? It’s my little mule….I’m going to call it “Little Mule” from here on out. Thank you Little Mule – you’re doing a spectacular job for not being a high-clearance 4WD.

I just want to get over the crest of this hill to see what’s over it. That’s all. Then I’ll turn back. Okay, I lie. I want to keep going to see what is over the next crest and whether it’s the lake. I don’t think it is though….I’ve seen the photos and remember the positioning of the mountain. It’s incredibly far from here.’

The valley is amazing. As I drive up, I turn around (while driving, of course) and I swear staring back at the volcanic browns enriched my hazel eyes; just witnessing them made them more chocolate. Is it the energy of an active Earth that emulates and speaks to me from its ground, its rock, its whole environment that causes me to feel this giddy and incredulous? There are stones stacked on top of each other; either the start or the end of something. I’m not sure which way this drive is going. But I am continuing on…

Up over the crest now. I feel secure now that Volcan Lascar is on my left like a husband at the alter. Stay there, dude.

I decide to abuse my little mule a bit more while it has the juice and I have enough gas for a round trip so far. Even if I don’t succeed in reaching the laguna, I’ve learned more about the trail to it. Every bend I see makes me curiouser and curioser. I hate that I’m so much like brunette Alice in my own wonderland; I always need to find the answers out.

I am above the valley and just keep straight on rough roads. After another good 25 minutes, I see a car. I slow down as we are pretty tight on the narrow gravel road and see they are two men. I feel like they are guides or just friends but definitely trekkers from their sunglasses.

“Hola…..Laguna Lejia esta cerca? O lejos de aca?” (is Laguna Lejia close or far from here?)
My Spanish must have been shite because the man says, “Where do you want to go?” in a thick, Spanish accent.

“Oh, I’m trying to get to Laguna Lejia…”.

“Would you like me to write your will? It’s about over 50km from here and it’s already late. What’s your hotel so I can inform them that you won’t be back?” he jokes. Not funny.

“Yeah, I figured it was far but I know the trail now and got to see the road…okay, I’m going back now.” I say and wave them off.

The greatest part is….as I’m turning around, the nose of the mule gets dug in deep gravel and it’s dipping forward. I attempt to back up but it digs in gravel. I immediately jump out to wave at the car that is now about 25 meters away…..I’m jumping up and down yelling. I’m very far from the main road. They keep driving and the dust from their tracks partially block any view of what’s behind them. I attempt to see whether I can push it a little from the nose. It is cemented in the gravel. What the hell am I going to do? This is insane. This isn’t a popular tourist destination like Laguna Chaxa or the other region’s lakes.

I get back in and try to move the car. It just won’t back up and keeps stalling out. I sit for a moment and breathe. I have food in the car just in case I need to overnight. It’s okay. I’m sure someone will be out here in a few days at least. I tell myself I’ll be fine regardless because…well, I know I will.

I again, try to maneuver my stubborn, stuck mule to budging out of its caught position. Finally, it inched a different way. I got excited. I turned the wheel but also didn’t want to turn it so much I end up digging myself into a deeper, gravely hole. I carefully manage to pry my wonderful white mule out of the gravel webbing it was captured in. YES. Thank you, thank you. I make the full turn and even see the two guys driving away as a dot on the road way past the valley.

I made it, although with repeated bumps back to civilization.

I DID make it back out again but this time with two friends and a 4WD. :) A fantastic time ensued and here are the photos:









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