Patagonia has been on my mind the last couple of days. Perhaps it was sparked by the email I received from a friend requesting travel tips or the article I read about an Indian tribe in Chile, the nomadic Kawesqar, facing extinction.
Images of the vast landscapes from the end of the world keep flashing before me. Below are some of the highlights of my ten-day Patagonia adventure in April 2007, traversing the deep south of Argentina and Chile.
The trip kicked off with a flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, reportedly the world’s southernmost city. The landing at sunset was among the most jaw-dropping of my entire traveling life. Streaks of intensely white light flooded the crimson-red horizon through ominously dark clouds. To the south lay ice-dotted waters stretching all the way to Antarctica.
For two nights, I splurged on a lovely B&B stay at Hosteria Los Canelos, where the friendly owners really took care of me. The first night I arrived, I went to catch a performance at Kuar, a glass-encased bar-restaurant on the shores of the Beagle Channel, a quick taxi ride outside of town.
In Ushuaia, there’s plenty to do and see – boat trips to penguin colonies and nearby estancias (rural farm estates), kayaking adventures, catamaran sails, horseback riding, and more. By the time I arrived, it was the season’s end – the penguins had migrated and the estancias were shut down. I did join a fun 4×4 off-road trip through an agency called Canal Fun & Nature – highly recommended for the adrenaline-raising factor, the landscapes you’d never normally access and the excellent asado (barbecue) lunch on a scenic lake.
From Ushuaia, I took a bus to the town of Punta Arenas in Chile, hoping to absorb the stunning landscapes of Tierra del Fuego en route. Lo and behold, the windows on the grueling ten-hour journey were entirely glazed over and the bus had no heating (it was freezing outside and I was unprepared). So I extend a tip: do travel overland as much as you can in Patagonia – the little that I saw on that ride was awe-inspiring – but make sure you book a seat on a bus with a functional heating system.
I had only one morning in Punta Arenas, an otherwise unexciting little town, Chile’s southernmost. I learned, to my surprise, that it has a sizable Croatian community – I spotted several Croatian flags and signs and even had tea and traditional Croatian cookies at a cafe-bakery. The flavor made me strangely nostalgic for the homeland, there, at the end of the world.
From Punta Arenas, I moved on by bus to a tiny town of Puerto Natales to the north, mostly known as the gateway for Torres del Paine National Park, the crown jewel of Patagonia’s south. Due to my tight schedule, I regrettably had to see the park on a day trip instead of hiking the W circuit, a four- to five-day trek through stunning forests and pampas. Exploring more of Torres del Paine is a major reason that pulls me back to Patagonia. If I could afford it, I’d stay at Explora’s Hotel Salto Chico on the shore of Lake Pehoé.
From Puerto Natales, I took another bus to El Calafate, back in Argentina. I didn’t care much for the town itself but the highlight was a visit to the humongous glacier of Perito Moreno – it’s 30 km long and 4.5 km wide and encompasses 250 km2. As I stood watching giant blocks of ice fall off from the glacier and splash into the water below accompanied by a roar, I was speechless with awe – it was one of the most powerful displays of Mother Nature I had ever seen.
One of the quintessential Patagonia experiences is ice-trekking so I had made arrangements to do one in the mountain village of El Chaltén, the base for legendary Mount Fitz Roy. This imposing peak is one of the ultimate goals of climbing aficionados; every year, several climbers die attempting to reach the summit.
The bus journey from El Calafate to El Chaltén took me through otherworldly landscapes – remote, barren and beautiful. I arrived at night, all geared up to a 12-hour ice trek that was to leave the next morning at 5am. I was nervous and excited, only to wake up at the crack of dawn and find the world outside my windows completely covered by virgin snow.
The expedition was naturally canceled, to my dismay, as it was the only chance I had to do an ice trek in Patagonia before heading back to Buenos Aires. The season had all but ended in El Chaltén, which had pretty much shut down for the winter. Apart from Kalenshen, the lodge where I stayed, the only other spot still open was El Chalten Brewery, a cozy pub-bistro where I spent pretty much the rest of my remaining two snowstorm days in the village. Then a bus back to El Calafate, a plane back to Buenos Aires, and my journey was finit.
The ten-day passage just scraped the surface of immense Patagonian landscapes. My wish list of places I had hoped to visit remains long: Puerto Madryn and Península Valdés on the Atlantic coast, Bariloche and San Martín de los Andes in the Lake District… I leave that for the next trip to where the world ends.