After a very long stint in Buenos Aires (everyone I have ever known has gotten stuck there for weeks and weeks beyond their intended stay – might have something to do with the Argentinian Men, the electric atmosphere of the city, the incredible nightlife and….well, the Argentinian Men…) I decided it was high time that I head south and see what all the fuss was about.
The vast and hostile terrain that makes up Patagonia, the southernmost point in both Argentina and Chile is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights there is on this earth. Snow-capped peaks, vast mountain lakes, glaciers, fjords, not to mention the wildlife – penguins, whales, sea lions,…and did I mention the penguins!? They are so cute – like miniature black and white people with funny stumpy legs!!
In order to get a sense of the scale of the place – it takes 50 hours to get from Buenos Aires to the tip in Ushuaia by bus (luxury bus that is) – Immense!…I cheated, however and flew down to Punta Arenas on the Chilean side (in my defense… it was only just the end of winter, and many said it was the only way of getting there at all! Turns out wasn’t, but this made me feel slightly less guilty at the time).
Punta Arenas was a rather depressing little town – very grey, crumbling and weather beaten…perhaps what you’d expect from such a harsh climate. Puerto Natales (my actual destination) was the same. From a tourism perspective, it is simply a jump off point for Torres del Paine National Park and the ferry ride back up to Puerto Mont through the Chilean Fjords (a stunning trip, so I’m told). I was on my own at this point in my travels, and there was absolutely no one else around –well, apart from 3 incredibly brave German girls – only 13 years old – that were on the adventure trip of a lifetime in their school holiday exchange break. They adopted me as a ‘big sister’, and we decided to go off trekking in the Torres Del Paine national park for a couple of days. It was spectacular – despite our 8 hour trek yielding nothing but fog-ridden views and knee deep snow. Occasionally, I would drop back from the girls and take it all in – space, as far as the eye could see (which was a long way when the fog cleared intermittently!), beauty, nature at its most powerful, and there I was – practically at the end of the world!
I soon left Puerto Natales and made my way back into Argentina, anxious to see the Perito Moreno glacier. The nearest town, El Calafate was far more bustling and welcoming and the hostel (run by friends of friends back in Buenos Aires) was a home from home (the Argentine people are among the kindest I have met in my life – generous, hospitable and above all fun!).
I didn’t have much time to spare, so I organised an ice trekking trip for the very next day – a little expensive but something I had always wanted to do! It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life! There I was, trekking on a real life glacier, crampons and all! My little group followed the guide in single file as he took us on a walk up and around the glacier, explaining as we went about how they worked, the dangers, etc. I have never seen ice so blue, so pure, so white – and looking out from the top of the monstrous slab of ice that was moving, living, breathing: I felt like I was in another world.
I did a bit more trekking in El Chalten National Park and then, deciding to forgo Ushuaia (another 18 hours south-west), headed north to see the whales and the penguins in Peninsula Valdes, Puerto Madryn and the lakes and ski resorts of Bariloche.
I had never before been so close to such incredible animals – my little boat was entirely surrounded by whales as far as the eye could see – almost close enough to touch! When we got back to shore, I wanted to go out again and again! Instead, however, I headed over to a different part of the peninsula to see the penguins, sea lions and elephant seals – fascinating! I just sat and watched for hours until it was time to go home.
My final stop in Patagonia (for now, at least…) was Bariloche in the lake region. Probably the least ‘alternative’ stop of all – it reminded my of a Swiss alpine village with chocolate shops aplenty, beautiful mountain lakes and even a ski resort a short distance from the town. It was, in a word, idyllic; it was extremely hard to tear myself away from the ease and comfort of it all (I even indulged in a little spa activity while I was there!)
Patagonia is a nature lover’s paradise – its raw beauty is undeniable, and this, coupled with the simplicity of life within the boundaries of the region soothes the soul (without wanting to sound too cliché or cheesy). I felt refreshed, alive, and invigorated after my stint there and would recommend it to anyone travelling in the South America region. I myself have vowed to go back one day to the very tip of the world – Ushuaia – to experience the Ferry trip and perhaps even hop on a cruise to Antarctica.
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