Ride to La Mina
On my previous ride to Termas Del Plomo I came across a fork in the road. A hand-painted sign stated that "La Mina" was to the left, and "Las Termas", to the right. Just as I was pondering what route to take, a pick-up came down the road. I waved for it to stop, and asked the guys in it how long it would take me to get to both destinations. "Oh, 'bout half an hour for the termas". And the mine? "Oh, prolly 'bout half an hour too". I thanked them, and they carried on.
Since there wasn't much sunlight left, I decided to head on to the Termas, and you already know what an amazing visual spectacle that turned out to be.
I set out on this ride with the firm intent of going as far as I could, and perhaps a bit beyond; it was the Mina or bust, and I'd surely have to travel deep into the Andes to get to it.
The route was familiar by now, and the only think I was disappointed about was a mostly grey sky. Every now and then the sun broke through meekly.
Every excursion to the Cajón del Maipo gives me a bit more confidence with dirt riding. In a way, I feel like I'm discovering unique handling qualities of my motorbike. I say unique because the vast majority of riders that have XR250Rs and do dirt riding use knobbly tyres, and I use more street-oriented ones. Obviously this isn't ground-breaking, but I certainly feel like I have no point of reference with respect to what I can and can't do with this setup. Progress is slow, as I'm feeling about in the dark, not wanting to take it too far and end up taking a fall.
The Embalse El Yeso looked quite a bit duller than last time. A grey sky can really kill a scene.
The biggest difference with the past ride was the snow. That was certainly noticeable. Mountainsides that previously were dusty and brightly coloured were now covered in snow.
I reached the fork in the road, and started off with great expectations toward the mine. The narrow road did a U turn, so now I was looking down on the valley, towards where I came from. I hand't gone 50 m after the turn, when I came up to a truckload of dirt placed squarely in the middle of the road, blocking it. It seems the mine had been closed-off for the winter. I got off the bike, pushed some of the larger stones aside, compacted the earth a bit with my foot, and went over it. I carried on, imagining the valleys and gulleys that surely awaited further up in the Andes.
The road started to switchback. I had a pretty good view of the valley, and far away, some glaciers.
Now there were some patches of snow up ahead, which I avoided, but as I carried on, it eventually became impossible to avoid them. The snow was about 10 to 15 cm deep, and underneath it was mud, and sometimes stones. I stuck my feet out, and advanced slowly. Everything went fine, and I soon realised that snow would not be a problem on this ride.
Up and up I went, but instead of taking me to another valley, the mine turned out to be a series of small flat areas dug out of the side of the mountain, overlooking the valley. I have no idea what mineral was being extracted there. The piled up rocks were grey-white and had sedimentary-ish stripes through them. The wind was amazing, in fact the snow was already nearly completely covered in pebbles, sand and grit in some areas.
The view towards the valley, from up top. In the ristance, the river.
And this is the view looking West, or at least where I came from. Below are some other parts of the mine.
I looked for shelter from the howling wind and took out my ham sandwich. It's hard to communicate the feeling of alone-ness you feel up there. The cold, the wind, and some slices in the mountainside as the only evidence of human existence, and it all conspires to make you feel quite insignificant.
I finished my lunch and came down. I had originally intended to go back towards Santiago, but a road caught my attention. I remembered that someone once told me that they had taken this side road, and so I set off to have a look. Here, another view of Embalse El Yeso.
The turnoff from the main road was beside this strange giant mound of rocks and dirt.
The next pic is looking back down on the valley where I was before. As a matter of fact, one should tecnically be able to see the main road, but it is not visible. On the other hand, there's something quite unexpected in this photo: a path, probably just for humans and pack animals, snaking up the side of a mountain, visible only thanks to the accumulated snow.
The path I was following seemed to go up a side valley. A peak rose in the distance, and I couldn't help but wonder if it was the trail's destination.
On I went, and things got more complicated. Large loose rocks and snow; everything seemed to suggest that turning back was a wise choice, but I carried on, despite mashing my soft delicate body parts against the seat after riding over a particularly large rock or two.
Finally, I had to turn back. A snow drift had come down the side of the mountain, and was packed extremely hard and deep. A narrow path, hard compacted and frozen snow, dual sport tyres and no riding buddies really did not spell out safety.
This is the view just before I turned back.
Back to the Embalse, and I wonder if that's the same jeep that's in the picture from last time?
A ray or two of sunlight poking through the clouds, but that's about it.
The ride back to Santiago was slow and boring, but at least now I know what La Mina is like. It's a pity that I'll have to wait for things to thaw out before finding out what's at the end of that path.