Tag Archives: Patagonia

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End of The Road : Chilean Patagonia

Crossing to Tierra del Fuego and driving all the way south to Ushuaia just wasn’t realistic in our time frame. So for a long time now, the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile has been our planned end point. We expected that this would the farthest south we would go before turning around. And our plans included a big multi-day hike in the mountains to end the trip on a big adventure.

We had been forced to take a few detours due to horrible road conditions. At one point the wind was so strong and the road was so muddy and slippery that the van was sliding sideways across the road. After a few very long days of driving across endless barren plains the mountains of the Torres del Paine massif loomed large on the horizon. And it is incredibly beautiful.

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This entire area of Patagonia is really rich with animal life. Before reaching the mountains and lakes, the animals were the only things that added a bit of interest to the many boring miles. There are probably a hundred times more sheep and cows than there are people out here. And on top of the livestock there is an abundance of native animals like guanacos (the wild relative of llamas and alpacas) and ñandus (like an emu).

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Unfortunately the weather didn’t improve when we arrived. Actually, it got worse. This was always a risk of travelling here in the off season… but it was even worse than we imagined. It was cold and rainy, and the wind howled relentlessly kicking up huge swirling clouds of water from the lakes. We spent most of our time sitting inside the van where it felt like a turbulent plane ride. All plans of hiking with backpacks and sleeping in a tent were quickly abandoned. But the scenery was still amazing.

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Since we didn’t go trekking, we decided to push on a little further south through the pretty coastal cities of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. We went as far as possible on the roads of mainland South America.

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When we ran out of road, we popped the top and a bottle of wine and settled in for the night. The fact that the trip was almost over and that our lives are about to change drastically was really starting to sink in. This was sort of a special moment for us. We were happy to enjoy it in solitude with the soft lapping of waves and a clear view of the mountains of the Tierra del Fuego islands in the distance.

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We woke to ice covered windows, and hoped that it would be the last time. After enjoying a rich and colourful sunrise with breakfast we hit the road, heading north for the first time in a long time.

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Posted from: Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Desert, Ice and Snow : Patagonia, Argentina

We crossed the border at Chile Chico, and our first stop back in Argentina was a panaderia (bakery). Argentina’s baked goods are phenomenal… we are obsessed and of course always overdo it. Still, it’s a struggle to spend over $5.

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We tried to move as quickly as we could, though the flat and barren scenery. The weather however, kept things interesting. We had snow, rain, hail and shine. The only constant was the howling wind. Mark and Oscar were in a never-ending battle to keep us on the road, and I’m still amazed that we weren’t blown over.

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We were so travel weary at the end of each day that we’d just find a quiet gravel road and pull off to the side to camp. And I mean, just off to the side. One of my favourite things about Patagonia is the isolation. We only saw one other car the entire time we were camping roadside.

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Our spirits soared when we finally caught sight of mountains on the horizon, as they rose up gallantly to puncture the seemingly endless farmland. Mountains and glacial lakes are nature’s perfect match, and they suddenly exploded in abundance as we drove along the road towards Los Glaciares National Park.

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We stared wide-eyed and mouths agape as we approached the awe inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier. The size, colour and beautiful setting alone are enough to impress, but what stuck with me was the immense power it seems to emanate. The sound of the shifting, cracking and breaking ice echoed eerily as we walked around the viewing platform, giving me butterflies.

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We found ourselves a sweet wild campsite just off the main park road to the glacier. Life is pretty cramped these days as we barely pop the top in the relentless Patagonian wind. We have to make an effort to go outside, rugged up against the elements. Turns out ponchos are a bit breezy.

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We pointed the brown bus towards Chile for one last time, but Argentina wasn’t going to let us leave that easily. There was fresh snow on the roads and some very icy sections. At one point we thought we might have to turn around, but as we pushed on the roads gradually improved.

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A feeling of excitement was building gradually between us, we’d be reaching the end of our road somewhere in Chile. But where? We hadn’t quite figured that out yet.

Posted from: Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Into the Backcountry : Mallin Alto, Argentina

Horse riding and skiing in the Patagonian backcountry you say?? …um ok, we’re in.

We set off on our trusty steeds across the ever changing landscapes of Nahuel Huapi National Park. Ambling along a picturesque river and up through snowy forest until we finally reached the rugged mountain range that would be our playground for the next few days.

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I was gobsmacked when we arrived at El Domo, our seriously luxurious backcountry accommodations. The fire was roaring, the mate was ready and Miguel, the chef, was whipping up some lunch. This was to be the “norm” over the next few days. If we weren’t out exploring the mountains, we were warming up by the fire, merrily stuffing our faces with Miguel’s delicious concoctions, washed down with a few bottles of Malbec.

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We knew that mother nature wasn’t going to be on our side. It has been a terrible year for snow and the forecast showed clouds, clouds, with a chance of clouds. At times the visibility was pretty much zilch, but in some ways it added to the adventure. Our guides Kao and Lucio knew the terrain inside and out, and took us exploring on the snow mobiles almost anywhere, and sometimes in a complete whiteout.

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The afternoons were a bit clearer, but also warmer. The snow quickly became wet and sticky. We still managed to get in a few pretty good runs though, and the experience is not something that I will soon forget. No ski lifts, no other people, just us and the mountains.

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The nights were much like the days. Good food, good wine and Mark and I straining to follow conversations in Spanish. We are at the point now, where we basically get the gist of what is being said, but by the time we think of something to say, the conversation has moved on.

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We woke up on the last morning to a light blanket of new snow covering the land. This is something that I will truly miss when we move back to Australia. The peaceful beauty of wandering amongst trees heavily laden with snow, has to be up there as one of my favourite things.

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Luckily, we had time for a few more runs …

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Soon the famous Patagonian wind had moved in and was roaring wildly all around us.  This was finally our queue to leave.

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Thanks again to Manu and everyone at Mallin Alto. It doesn’t get much better than this!

Posted from Puerto Natales, Chile