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Conquering Patagonia

October 1, 2017

Hola amigos!

 

I’m ready to dish all about my time in Patagonia...

 

Patagonia has been at the top of list since I set foot in Chile. It’s a little tricky to plan a trip to Patagonia as it’s a region rather than a city, so I was a little hesitant at first. For those who don’t know much about it, Patagonia is located in the extreme South of both Chile and Argentina. It’s known for it’s untouched natural beauty, cold weather and wildlife. The word Patagonia comes from the Spanish word, “foot”. Early explorers found the natives to be gigantic, almost big-foot like, thus deeming them as “patagons”.

 

My trip:

^^ I do like 'em tall

 

Puerto Natales:

I flew into Punta Arenas, the major airport in Southern Chile and immediately took a 2 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales. From there I stayed in a wonderful hostel for 3 nights. To my surprise, the owner was an ex-pat from Oregon, he was so kind and entertaining. Puerto Natales was basically just the place where I spent the night, because during the day I was off on various tours. The people were so genuine and they had a cat named Clyde.

 ^^Baguales Brewery was created by two Chileans and an American and it's the first micro-brewery in the region. Their pale ale won the bronze in the Copa Cerveza (which I didn't know was a thing...) in 2011 

 

Punta Arenas:

 ^^ According to CNN, The Punta Arenas Cemetery has been voted the third most beautiful cemetery in the world. I thought it was nice, but I wasn't in awe. I mean it's a cemetery... It was very similar to the one in Buenos Aires.

 

Torres del Paine (aka Torres del Nubes) 

*sigh*  I’m still bitter over this… So Torres del Paine is the famous National Park in Patagonia. Just Google pictures and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. People come from all over the world to hike. Most people do that famous “W” trek, which is a 4-day hike through the park. But since I was alone, it was off-season and I’m generally the most uncoordinated hiker you’ll ever meet, I opted out of the W. I took a full-day tour of the park that drove around the perimeter of the park and stopped at all of the various “look-out” points instead. The weather was not very nice so I wasn’t able to see the famous torres or “towers”. I’m still so sad about this. The “torres” are the icon of the Torres del Paine park and arguably Patagonia. So to travel all that way, and not see them, I was near tears. Sure, the torres are just one part of the park but it was a huge disappointment for me.

^^ I only felt cold in Patagonia when the wind was blowing. When it wasn't blowing, it was just chilly. I was prepared to dress like an Eskimo and didn't even use my heavy-duty coat. 

^^ The wind walking to Salto Grande was so intense you had to kneel down. Sometimes they close the path because the wind is so strong that it is unsafe for tourists.  

^^ We stopped at Cueva del Milodón which was so cool. They've found all sorts of cool fossils here from saber-toothed tigers to human remains.

^^ Casacada del Río Paine 

 I saw a huemul, which is an endangered South Andean deer. All of my Chilean friends were shocked when I told them and thought I must have been mistaken; they've never seen one before! I also already knew it was the national animal of Chile thanks to our Open House ;)

^^ Condors are the second national animal of Chile. It's so surreal watching them effortlessly glide through the air. 

^^Guanacos are everywhere in Chile. They're cousins to the llama.

 

Perito Moreno:

The next day, I took at 6 hour bus ride to Calafate, a town a little North of Puerto Natales. Calafate is actually in Argentina, so we needed to cross the border. We were on a strict schedule because the border opens at 8am and closes at 10pm and you cannot cross before or afterwards.

 

When we arrived to Calafate, we were literally only at the glacier for 2 hours before we needed to get back to the border. But for me it was worth it. Perito Moreno was amazing! You cannot grasp how truly massive it is from the pictures. The tour guide told us it’s surface is the size of Buenos Aires. Perito Moreno is part of the third largest glacier field in the world, and is between Argentina and Chile. Many people visit Perito Moreno because it’s very easy to get to. It’s actually extremely close to the Torres del Paine national park, only 60km (38 miles) away but theres only one road to get there which takes you in a big loop, so that’s why it took 6 hours to get there. Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers in the world that is stable. This means that it is growing 1 meter per day but it is also losing 1 meter per day. The majority of the glaciers in the Patagonia ice field are receding. Perito Moreno was the highlight of my trip in Patagonia. I highly recommend it!

 Faro San Isidro:

After Puerto Natales, I took a bus back to Punta Arenas. From there I went to see the southernmost lighthouse of the continent. I thought it sounded interesting, and my god-father, who is my favorite person on the planet, loves lighthouses. I wanted to take a picture for him. What I didn’t realize was it was an hour and a half car ride, and then a 4 km (2.5 mile) hike there and then 4km back on a rocky sandy beach. Man, it was exhausting. It wasn’t even a hard hike because it was all flat, but walking in the rocky sand was very difficult for that amount of time. The lighthouse was nice, but nothing amazing. But overall it was a nice day spent outside.

 

Tierra del Fuego:

Orignally, Tierra del Fuego was not in my plan. But in the end, most of trip was not as I had planned… One of the major reasons why I wanted to go to Patagonia was to see the penguins. There is an island called Isla Magdalena where a gigantic (thousands) penguin colony lives. People can visit the island and walk around with the penguins. But of course, the penguins were not on the island right now because they are migrating back. So seeing the penguins was out of the question.

 

I was telling some Australian friends I made how sad I was not to see the penguins and they mentioned that they were talking to a lady who went to Tierra del Fuego and she saw many penguins and even their babies. I decided to look into it and found a tour that would take me. This was another long day as it was about 5 hours one way. It went by faster because we had to take a ferry to get there. Tierra del Fuego is part of the Southern tip of the continent.

^^ Toninas are related to orcas

 

Selk ‘Nam

I enjoyed this tour because the guide explained in detail the history Patagonia from the natives to the early settlers to now. I’m not even going to try to explain how Chile came to be in this blog post. I will say that there were various groups of natives. The Selk ‘Nam people were indigenous to the Tierra del Fuego area. Many people have asked why is it called “Tierra del Fuego” or “land of fire” and I’ve heard many different reasons. My guide, whom I feel is the most knowledgable on the subject, said that when the Spanish explorers were coming to invade the area, the natives lit fires to warn each other. When the Spanish invaders where coming into the bay, they saw small fires everywhere.

The Selk ‘Nam were the indigenous people of Tierra del Fuego and they’re most known for the body painting ritual. Personally, I find the Selk ‘Nam body painting terrifying, and something that could been seen in a horror movie. But in reality, they older men (their life expectancy was only 35) would paint their bodies and wear masks to represent different spirits. They would take the adolescent boys on a multi-day ritual to teach them about life. When the ritual concluded, the boys would emerge as men. It’s nice to know their scary costumes aren’t intended to be terrifying.

 

Penguins:

The penguins were so amazing! Ever since I was 2 years old, I've always loved penguins. I even have a penguin collection at home. The penguins in Tierra del Fuego are actually king penguins, which are the second largest penguin in the world. There were about 30 penguins at the penguin reserve, which don't migrate. They do a good job at the reserve taking care of them. The entrance fee is pretty expensive but it's for a good cause. Legally, the people are not allowed to be closer than 50 meters from the penguins. They have a large wooden wall with cut outs at the top for people to observe the penguins and so the penguins can't see the people. It was so interesting to see the babies because they're almost the size of the adults. Early explorers thought the babies were actually an entirely separate species from the adults. 

 ^^ The penguins weren't exactly close, so you really needed a camera with a good zoom. The following pictures were sent to me by people that were on my tour.

 ^^ This friendly guy helps to protect the penguins from foxes and minks

 

Ghost Town: (warning images are graphic)

On the way back from the penguins we stopped at a ghost-town which used to be a sheep farm. The owners had thousands and thousands of sheep and were so wealthy that they weren't concerned about what would happen to them when they decided to focus on the hotel business instead. So now thousands of sheep carcasses are carelessly thrown about the warehouses. Some are in vacuum-packed bags, others are thrown into a mountain of bodies. It was disgusting, repulsive, careless and devastating. The owners have no interest in making it right and disposing of the bodies.

 

Although I’m always traveling alone, I have to admit that I was particularly nervous for this trip. I put it off because I simply didn’t know how to do it. The hardest part is trying to get from point A to B. You can’t plan it ahead of time because the bus information is lacking online, the websites don’t work and the buses don’t run every day. So how can you plan your trip? In short, you can’t. I had a rough idea in my mind on where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see. But I had to adjust my sails many many times this trip. I met so many interesting and kind people along the way, and they gave me suggestions and recommendations. The hardest part was just letting go of control.

 

My favorite part of Patagonia was the raw natural beauty. The turquoise color of the water and the glowing blue of the glaciers don't look natural, but they are. Against the cloudy skies and brown terrain, the colors pop even more, proving just how amazing Mother Nature can be.

 

Laughable Moments:

  • On the flight there, I was seated next to a mom and her baby. Her mother was on the other side of the aisle, her sister behind her, the father was seated behind us with two more kids. The baby was screaming the entire flight, continually kicking me. The other kid was climbing over the seat on top of me, and kicking me. In all of the times I have been on a plane, I have never asked to change my seat. After an hour of having a strangers baby literally sitting on my lap, and 2 other kids moving back and fourth between us I asked to move.

  • On the way back from Calafate, I realized I lost that important piece of paper that Chilean Police give you to come back into the country. I literally searched the entire bus and my backpack 7 times. I was so distraught and worried they wouldn’t let me back into the country. I didn’t know what to do. I was so anxious for hours. Then someone sitting next to me told me that I should relax, I don’t even need the paper because I have a Chilean ID card. I completely forgot about this. I was worried sick for no reason.

  • I was on a tour and started talking to this young girl and older guy, I assumed they were father and daughter. Then at one point I looked over and saw her stroking his neck. I quickly realize that was not her father……

  • There is tension between Chileans and Argentineans which to me is pretty comical. In the South, I noticed it especially. Our tour guides would make snide comments or low blows. Our Argentinean guide would imitate how Chileans talk and the Chilean guide would joke about how unintelligent Argentinean drivers are. I love Argentina and the people there; I think they’re so nice. But sometimes when I tell this to my Chilean friends, I can hear the disproval in their voices.

  • They said that the indigenous people of Patagonia were 7-feet tall. So then why is everyone so short here?! Must be the water

  • The drive back from the lighthouse is through beautiful farmlands with a lot of horses, sheep and cattle. Our driver was looking at a cow on the other side of the road and didn't notice the baby was frantically trying to get back to his mom. He almost unknowingly hit the baby cow but on impulse I screamed out loud so he slammed on the breaks. 

    ^^ "They were tall, good-looking, strong and vigorous"

 ^^I befriended a chihuahua named Rocco in the airport

 ^^ One thing you probably didn't know about penguins is that they're constantly scratching themselves. They never stopped! It was hard to get a good pic.

 ^^All of the trees in the Punta Arenas Cemetery were phallic-shaped...

 

In Puerto Natales, I befriended these two dogs. I always stop to pet the dogs, so sometimes they follow me for a few blocks afterwards. These two pups followed me for an hour and a half! It was like we were going for a walk together. They were so sweet! Eventually I stopped and bought them hot dogs. We walked to the bus station where I bought my ticket for the next day, I said my goodbyes because I was sure they’d wander away. When I exited the station, they were there waiting for me. My heart nearly broke. If I were back in Santiago, I swear I would have brought them home. Especially Natalie (after Puerto Natales) the white one, she stayed right by my side everywhere we went. When I finally got into my hostel after about 2 hours of walking, they sat outside my hostel for a long time.

 

Advice for anyone interested in traveling to Patagonia:

  • Do it. 100% But be smart about it.

  • You need to create a rough plan in your head and be willing to stray from it. You should research about what you want to do before. It's not really a place you just show up and wing it.

  • The #1 thing is to be flexible because there are so many forces you cannot control like the weather, the tourist season and the bus schedules.

  • Consider the costs, Patagonia is not cheap. Consider the transportation fees, national park fees which are very expensive for tourists and tour fees in addition to the other travel costs. 

  • Renting a car is a good option if you're traveling with others.

  • Bring trekking shoes, even if you're not doing the W.

  • Bring layers and warm clothes.

  • Bring a camera with zoom for the penguins ;) and a GoPro

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