Such childhood reminiscences are indelibly etched somewhere in the deeper recesses of my memory. I always conjured up images of mysterious countries in far-flung corners of the world, all exotic and unusual… but always beautiful.
Turns out those images were pretty accurate. For four decades later I found myself in Patagonia on a hiking trip, and if I was only allowed one word to describe the place, it would not be difficult choosing it: beautiful.
We wound up there after having a few free days left over after our visit to Brasília. And since that visit was a culmination of non-stop mental effort and oratory exertion, the timing was just right for some serious back-to-nature getting-away-from-it-all with lashings of fresh mountain air.
Of course, the whole of Patagonia can’t be checked out in just a few days as it covers such a massive territory. Still, we did manage to experience one of the most precious jewels in the Patagonian crown – the Torres del Paine National Park.
In four days we went clockwise round all the main mountains of the national park. That works out at around 120 kilometers with rucksacks on our backs. Looks like a personal record for me – more than a hundred kilometers in under five days over rugged terrain with lots of up and down (including an 800-meter climb at one point – phew that was a toughie).
All around, as you’ll gather from the pics – there’s nothing but endless natural beauty in Torres del Paine; that is, if it’s a clear day and not the usual Patagonian overcast skies and a hard rain falling therefrom (more on a spontaneous Dylan theme – below). But if you get lucky with the sun, then it’s total rapture and OMG there. Blue glaciers, turquoise lakes, mountain streams and monumental sheer cliffs. Waterfalls too…
The scenery is so ludicrously lovely that it sometimes hinders movement along the route: you’re walking merrily along, then all of a sudden you freeze, look around, the jaw drops, and the camera gets unconsciously lifted up towards the eye – or one starts roaming off the beaten track to lie down in the rough untrodden grass to get a better, steadier shot. All of which adds a lot of minutes onto one’s daily trekking time!
Alas, one day we weren’t able to take in the full, impressively massive extent of some of the mountain views, as the whole mountain range was up to its waist in gray mist and a persistent drizzle made things still more miserable. Ah well, such is the way of the natural world. And looking on the bright side (pun not intended), it’s always better when on travels to fascinating parts of the world to leave them with something remaining unseen – then there’s a good reason to return another day…
What else? Ah yes, the wind. It sometimes gets so strong it blows you off balance – if you’re one to keep your weight down (turns out there’s at least one advantage to maintaining a sturdy girth:). The wind is so ferocious and constant that trees are often bent over right from the roots!
En route from Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine we passed through the Chilean city of Puerto Natales. Its claim to fame, besides being next to the national park, is that it was there in nearby caves where the fossilized skeletons of pre-historic ground sloths were discovered. There’s even a monument of one in the city. Looks to me more like some kind of bear.
I must write a few words about the accommodation on offer in these parts…
Most of the hotels hostels-cum-camping sites where you can spend the night are perfectly civilized – with toilets, showers, wash basins (even with hot water), and a store filled with sugary snacks, soda, cerveza, and even red wine in cardboard boxes! But that’s as far as it goes luxury-wise. “Places not equipped with civilization”, as O.R. put it.
Now and again though you come upon perfectly civilized hostels! So it’s a good idea to take your passport and credit cards with you on a trek – so you can check in to one such lap of relative luxury, throw off the rucksack, take a bath, visit the spa, and have a proper dinner with bottled wine!
Well, I think that’s about the long and short of it folks. All the photos are here.
Ah – no, wait. I nearly forgot the shameless plug! Olga Rumyantseva – she’s the best guide there is when it comes to mountains and volcanoes in distant lands. There aren’t many folks know as much as she does about volcanoes. So for the more adventurous among you, I totally recommend getting in touch with her!
Bye for now!…