Chris' 1994  R100GS/PDChris' new bike, a 1996 F650 ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650
Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

May 12, 2002...

Credit to Brava

-- Story by Erin --


Friday, May 10th: From Talampaya, our plan was to get as close to Laguna Brava as possible and find a town to spend the night.  The next day we would make the trek to one of the highest salt lakes in the world at over 4,200 meters.   The road is a one-way trip to nowhere really, just the salt lake and a desolate border crossing into Chile, which nearly no one uses.  At 75 kilometers from the lake the closest village was Jague (pronounced Hog-way in English).  But staying there was not an option as it's so small there is no hotel/hostel and the altitude makes it very cold and windy at night.  Camping would be tedious.  The next closest village is Vinchina, which is where we stayed in the only hotel in town.  The town can best be described as one very long main street.  There are no side streets and the town seems to go on forever.

The next morning we rose early.  We knew it would be a fairly arduous trip up to the lake and we could see that the wind was already starting to pick up.  The hotel let us store our panniers and luggage with them so that we could keep the bikes light.  It's a good thing we did!  Straight away when we left Vinchina we had a major river crossing.  For the next 38 kilometers to Jague, the road was a mixture of powdery slippery sand, small river crossings, and hard packed earth and rocks, on a winding road through a deep canyon. That alone took us more than an hour to ride.  As we drove down the main street (same as Vinchina) we noticed that there were curious high (maybe 4 meters) natural earthen walls (one can see tree roots sticking out of them) on either side of the street.  On top of these are plateaus on which the buildings, trees, etc. stand.  We later found out that the locals found this a useful way to avoid getting flooded.  It almost never rains there but when it does it rains heavily for several hours.  The main street then becomes a gushing 3-meter high river, which channels the water out of town.

In Jague there is a ranger station where you register your intentions and pay a small fee to enter the nature reserve.  The friendly ranger recognized us from a recent TV interview we had done in La Rioja and knew from the news report that we were due to arrive on that day.  Laguna Brava is so remote that they don't see many visitors.  In fact, that day it was only us and a Canadian woman with an Argentine couple.

Thankfully there is a paved road for 35 kilometers on the other side of Jague leading to the lake.  We have no idea why they decided to pave this particular stretch, but it was a nice respite from the pounding road leading to Jague!  After that we encountered another 40+ kilometers of jarring, steep and winding road to the top.  The views just got better and better as we climbed in altitude.  We reached an altitude of 4,395 meters/14,416 feet where the air was thin but the wind incredible.  The colors of the mountains changed from bright red to white to black to green depending on their geological makeup.  Dense green desert bushes gave way to yellow tussock grass, then to barren rocky mountain plateau surrounding the white salt of the lake.  Along the way we passed small stone refuges in a shape similar to an igloo.  These were used in the early part of the 19th-century by drivers of oxen on their way to Chile.  The only animals we saw were several herds of vicuņas (same family as the guanaco and llama).  Pumas are supposedly abundant here, however it is rare to ever see one.

The wind was so strong on the plateau that it was difficult to carry a conversation with one another and to dismount the bikes.  We passed the other travellers in a Nissan 4x4 that we heard were up there and they happily snapped a picture of us.  The lake is in a crater, recently discovered to have been created by a meteorite 4 kilometers in diameter.  Surrounding the lake are 5 of some of the highest volcanoes in the world (Veladero, Reclus, Los Gemelos, Bonete, and Pissis being the highest in the world at 6,882 meters).  It was a very strange feeling being there, like you are the only human on earth.  So little life exists in that environment.

We didn't stay too long as the wind and cold made it uncomfortable to ride or stand still.  We gobbled a small package of cookies, which served as our lunch and headed back down.  When we arrived back to Vinchina it was already past 5pm in the evening.  It was a long, challenging and rewarding day.   I would definitely say that Laguna Brava makes the list (along with the Falls of Iguazu and the Perito Moreno Glacier) of the top sites to see (if you can get there!) in South America.



Main Street / River flood-way in pueblo of Jague

Heading up into the mountains

Crossing the 4,000 meter (13,120 ft) mark, and climbing....

This is 13,487 feet


Nearing the highest lattitude so far -- 14,347 feet

Windy as could be -- 5 meters short of the 4,400 mark


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