Excursion from the sea to the Andes
The journey will start at 7.00 pm, getting ready to ride from La Serena passing the frontier to the San Juan Province in Argentina, crossing the Andes in an adventure that will take us the whole day and that will be approximately 600km, in total, where we will ascend up to over 4,770 mts. Above sea level, enjoying a varied landscape and a changing weather.
Leaving La Serena on our way to the Elqui Valley we will take international route 41 where we will be able to observe the fertile green valley that contrasts with the aridity of the hills and as we advance in altitude, the growing of fruits and vegetables up to the vineyards changes , passing by the Puclaro dam , which has a capacity of 200,000 million cubic meters, then we will get to Vicuña, place where the sun accompanies through most of the way.
After crossing Vicuña, the landscape starts to vary, it turns drier and the papaya plantations are replaced by vineyards, the road goes ascending everytime more.
After passing Rivadavia and leaving behind the detour, towards the towns of Paihuano, Montegrande and Pisco Elqui we will get to Chapilca, which means “place where the Chapi is abundant” (Chapi or Chape is a plant which roots are used as a red colorant) this ancient town of no more than 50 lined and impeccable wooden houses, a church and a school, also made of wood. The town is a diaguita community that lives of the grape growing and craft as well dating 200 years old, creating their work. There are about 40 women that still create like the times of old 100% coloring their fabrics with herbs, fruits and vegetables.
We will have the opportunity to observe how the road, bordered by the Elqui river, starts to close in a QUEBRADA that becomes narrower as we go forward on the Andes and as the sun advances the colors of the mountains change .
At 1,220 meters above sea level and over 120 kilometers from La Serena we will get to the town of Huanta, the last populated town of the international route, which seems suspended in time, this town, founded at the beginning of the XX century in order to give shelter to the workers of La Laguna dam , houses made of sun dried clay brick, shelter the people that came looking for opportunities in the copper and gold mining. Nowadays it has an elementary school ( 11 students), a small square with hundred year old trees, patronal houses and the Turbio river that crosses the place on its way to the sea.
Six kilometers further up there can be observed some ruins of the old town of Nueva Elqui, of which there’s practically nothing left. This town was very important in the extraction of gold and copper in the middle of the year 1925 by important foreign mining companies, and thanks to this town and the constant need for water of the flourishing mining industry, La Laguna dam was built, which we will observe later on. Before that, we will have to do a mandatory stop in the Chilean customs, where the civil police will take our personal information and give us authorizations to continue our journey.
200 kilometers from Vicuña and over 3,500 meters above sea level the landscape surprises us with its beauty and its colorful contrast among the colorful hills and a water mirror called “Embalse la Laguna” [La Laguna dam], built by a German company in 1925 and due to a severe economical crisis during the thirties the construction was suspended and taken again a few years later by the Chilean government, this construction became quite a challenge for the workers, because the materials were transported by donkey from Rivadavia, in a journey that took several days. This dam has a capacity of 35 million cubic meters and a length of seven kilometers with a depth of 50 meters. In this place we can observe the diversity of the flowers and animals that are able to adapt to this inhospitable weather in the middle of the immensity of the Andes.
The view of El Tapado Glacier is an imposing view of eternal ice with a surface of 3.6 square kilometers and that it’s being studied for being one of the most important areas as a water reserve that is being under serious threat of the deterioration of its conditions due to the global warming.
We will continue our journey until we reach the highest limit of our adventure, up to 4,780 mts above sea level in the frontier limit with Argentina, ideal place to get some nice pictures to keep as memories of this wonderful experience.
We will go some kilometers further until we get to some other formations as interesting as the previous one that are a few meters above. Los penitentes, kind of sharp ice daggers, in big formations, appear in the middle of the route as if they were frozen forests these white ice spots on the top of the hills and that can be seen from the road until they can be observed later on the side of the road; it is possible to touch the frozen shapes of the “penitentes” even walking among them, it is an indescribable feeling. The return to La Serena is accompanied by a spectacular sunset.
Note: The visit to the dam and the Penitentes will depend on the weather conditions of the place, the state of the road and the authorization of the customs officers.
¿What is the altitude sickness or APUNAMIENTO?
The term “apunamiento” comes from “zona de puna”: elevated plains above 4,000 mts above sea level, vey abundant in our country.
¿Why is it called Aguas Negras?
Because of the vision gotten from the water that flows by the black rocks of the glacier. These black and polished rocks give the crystalline waters of the melting a tricky black color and because of that it gets its name. this glacier is a volcano of 6,000 mts high.