On the top of La Rioja
’s mountain range, a blue pond surrounded by a salty plain doubled the upside-down silhouettes of hundreds of pink flamingoes. These birds, guardians of silence, ignored us as we drove along the trail bordering the pond. Framed by snow-capped mountains and gentle slopes, cold winds continuously sway the scarce vegetation made up by some molles
and dry golden desert needlegrass.
We leisurely walked through an extremely arid environment but very colorful indeed, ready to plunge into an oasis considered as a nature reserve by men.
Laguna Brava is a nature reserve created in 1980 for the preservation of vicuñas
, which were endangered species. This reserve with an area of four thousand and fifty kilometers shelters a series of small ponds temporarily formed by thaw. It is located on the west of the province, four hundred and fifty kilometers away from the capital
of the Province of La Rioja and it includes sections of the Districts of Vinchina and Gral. Lamadrid.
It was named Laguna Brava because this is the largest pond in the reserve with an area of seventeen kilometers of length and four meters of width. Besides the vicuñas
, Laguna Brava is a conservation area for a variety of species of ducks, American golden plovers, black-chested buzzard-eagles, falcons, pumas and red foxes.
We set out in the morning from Vinchina spot. We drove along the only street in this place and, once we crossed the bridge over the Bermejo River, we reached a labyrinth of bends within the ravine known as Quebrada de la Troya
. This is a dirt road accessible by ordinary vehicles. As we drove uphill, the color of the sky and the mountains became more and more vivid.
Due to the height, the sunlight strikes a small portion of the atmosphere and the clear environment may display every brushstroke of this impressive landscape. Behind a bend and on a mountain slope, we discovered the perfect shape of La Pirámide
(The Pyramid): this is a bizarre formation carved by rainwater and wind.
This road leads us up to Alto Jagüel, the last spot before going into the vastness of the mountain range. At this site, the main street –which in summer turns into a real river formed by thaw– is a deep path between two soil ravines, where a village is settled down.
We stopped our vehicle at the municipal building in Alto Jagüel in search of a park ranger, who shared this adventure with us. He is a resident who works as a guide and registers visitors to this reserve.
From such spot, the road goes ahead along the Santo Domingo Ravine through gentle slopes which seem to be upholstered with blue, green, violet, brown and orange velvet. From time to time, the graceful race of guanacos and vicuñas on deserted slopes interrupted the stillness of stones.
An Old Refuge
We stopped the vehicle in the middle of the ravine called Quebrada del Peón
. Once we got off, we felt the rough Andean climate: on a summer day in January, the thermometer indicated eight degrees Celsius.
We walked on the road side until we reached a circular construction with stone walls and mortar (mixture of lime and soil) of five meters of diameter and three and a half of height. Its architectural shape –very similar to an igloo- ends in a dome with a small hole on the top. This was one out of the thirteen refuges built between 1864 and 1873 as shelter for the men who used to drive cattle to Chile through the Atacama and Tarapacá deserts during the war of Chile
against Peru and Bolivia.
We went on uphill until we were at four thousand meters among sand slopes of a varied palette of colors. Along the journey one of the travelers found out a condor’s shadow on the ground, with its three-meter-long wings spread out in the air, motionless. When we looked skywards, we discovered two magnificent birds soaring at low height. Arriving at Laguna Brava
At the end of the ravine, we abandoned the main road and we went deep into the gravel path right on the sand slopes. The park ranger took advantage of this leisure time to tell us that old cattle-drivers and hunters believed Laguna Brava
rejected strangers by means of natural events such as gales, thunderclaps and storms.
Later on, in the midst of a wide valley, we could see the picture of an oval pond with majestic peaks around, such as El Veladero, Bonete Chico and Pissis, the second tallest in America, with six thousand, eight hundred and eighty two meters above sea level.
In the distance, we spotted the debris of an abandoned airplane which had made an emergency landing in the 1950s while carrying thoroughbred horses from Peru to Chile.
We started to walk on the beach up to the lakeshore, on a salty soil. The climate was really rough: a smooth frozen breeze cut the skin on our face and hands. The calmness of the environment was abruptly interrupted by a flock of hundreds of pink flamingoes taking off the ground and altogether starting their flight.
We had come to destroy the absolute quietness in the fields of loneliness, an awesome colorful valley where mountains are tinged with weird blue, orange, green, violet and brown hues. These are the colors of silence.