If I had to guess, I’d say that Patagonia translates to “Land of mighty gusts of wind and many couples”. The wind is unbelievable. It comes in huge bursts and is easily strong enough to lift you off your feet, knock you over, and have its way with you. There also seem to be an extraordinary amount of couples here. Perhaps if you can weather the wind together, you can weather anything?
Arriving in Patagonia, I instantly felt close to home and it felt really good to be immersed in nature after a few weeks in the metropolitan extravaganza that is Buenos Aires. I also had a bit of fear show up for me as well…would it be too familiar? I have never taken the mountains for granted living in Colorado the last 8 years, but I also was arriving with high expectations. This is Patagonia, nature’s own version of paradise…surely there would be a curtain of pixie dust and a version of the gates of heaven at the entrance, with perhaps a butterfly to greet me and be my guide.
First of all, “the entrance”?? That’s hilarious once you realize how vast it is. The landscape is so expansive and seems to never end. It’s just flat, flat, flat nothingness and then boom, mountains. What really has courted my heart here though are the glaciers and lakes and rivers, also so vast and just so very blue and majestic. There’s nothing “familiar” apart from me falling madly in love with it all.
I started in Argentina, in a town called Calafate. From here I visited the Perito Mereno glacier…again just massive in size and grandeur. It’s constantly changing, which you experience as the sounds of a thunderstorm…rolling thunder and then perhaps a crash of ice as it hits the water. Luckily this is not a glacier in danger, we were told. However, it did make me feel quite emotional about the state of our planet as we watched the ice fall before our eyes at a rate much faster than paint drying. This becomes the main act of the show. After getting caught up in the frenzy of picture-taking with the other tourists, I took a few breaths and spent the afternoon in awe, trying to focus on just the glacier itself blowing my mind…ice falling or not.
From there, I headed to the trekking Mecca of El Chaltén. Break out your favorite piece of Patagucci clothing for this one and look at the logo. I would guess the mountains on it are modeled after the very popular Fitz Roy and its neighbors, the mountains I hiked there for a few days. (although do not quote me on that!) I covered 52 miles of trail in 3 days. Do you think I was excited to be there?? Again it was really just the majesty of these mountain lakes and the glaciers themselves, blanketed over the peaks and filling the valleys that took my breath away.
The namesake is as expensive as the clothing though, so I decided to head to Chilean Patagonia to do some multi-day trekking and perhaps save some funds as well. I met my friend Marchelle there who I had previously met in Buenos Aires; she is from South Africa and also traveling solo. We share so many synchronicities in our stories and also a great ability to laugh at ourselves and each other, which made for quite an 8 day, ~110km trek.
The name of the national park we were in is Torres del Paine. It’s almost like you arrive in Patagonia and are required to make a decision…will you do the “W” or the “O” trail? Everyone you meet is talking about this, like it’s a rite of passage of sorts. Since we had the time and courage, we decided on the longer “O”, also called the circuit. You can rent everything you need in a nearby town, before hopping the bus to the trail head. The back side of the “O” is much quieter and less crowded, creating an instant international family per se, as you hop from camp to trail to camp with your new friends. After going up and over the pass, you join the “W” crowd, which is a bit more of a party, but also has rival trails to challenge you and views to make it more than worth it.
There is way too much to capture here, but there were several highlights that made this an unforgettable trip. The first day found us meeting a fun, young German and two Israeli girls and we all basked in the sun, taking a nap in a huge field of daisies and it was pure bliss. We were gifted food and wine several times including a hot, from the oven rosemary bread and even homemade pizza from a camp stove. May not sound like a big deal, but when every meal is rice or oatmeal for 8 days, this was like heaven in edible form. Our lightest day was 6 miles, and our most challenging day was 15 miles. We were being rained on, beat up by winds, and our feet were throbbing…and then there it was…the campground on a gorgeous turquoise lake, with a full rainbow to welcome us. Our trademark moves were pep talks and a song and dance by morning, and yoga by night. We also greatly impressed people with our decision to forego the purchase of hiking boots (whaaaat????), but not our purchase of 8 boxes of wine. We met an adorable 10 year old girl who spoke 5 languages fluently, befriended a Dane who is spending 4 years cycling the world, laughed at (I mean with 🙂 ) two Brits who perhaps confused recommended water intake with wine intake, and enjoyed the company of several others from Canada, Japan, Germany, Argentina, Chile, etc etc.
Our Japanese friend who we leap-frogged with on a daily basis on the trail spoke only a small amount of English. At times, we’d be sitting there enjoying a simple nuts and fruit lunch, and Marchelle would sigh and say, “ahhh, good times.” A helpful Naoki would confuse the sentiment, look at his watch, and report, “It’s 11:31.”
Ah, good times! It’s 5:09 local time.