How to Explore Patagonia as a Softie – Part 1, The South – Chile and Argentina
Before leaving home we had three “pillars” for our round-the-world trip – three things we planned our route and budget around: explore Patagonia, witness the Great Migration in Africa, horse trek in Mongolia. The Patagonia pillar was a bit fuzzy from the beginning, which may have been a mistake. We have clearer goals for the other two pillars, but with Patagonia all we knew was that it’s a Must See destination so we were definitely headed to South America.
As it turns out, we both agree we might have enjoyed Patagonia a lot more if we were big time hikers – which we realize we are not. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy a nice walk in the woods by a mountain stream with a glacier view as much as the next couple, but we also know we’d rather not have to hike three days to get there! Mother Nature is great, for sure, but Patagonia really shines for the Hard Core. I am sure our stay-puffed marshmallow physiques give us away …we’re more “hard cone,” as in ice cream, than we are “hard core.” In fact, as we strolled into towns with our tiny little backpacks, half the size of everyone else’s, we already knew we were hiking in a different league. No camping in the bush, no long treks into the interiors of national parks…no, we definitely learned we’re much happier being day-hikers.
That being said, we decided our Patagonian goals would be to see penguins, mountains and glaciers. Aside from the penguins, we did! On our way we came across incredible scenery, accomplished our longest hikes together ever, and met some really wonderful new friends. Truly, though, our trip to Patagonia made us realize how much we love seeing art galleries, meeting artists, looking at local jewelry, exploring cool architecture and engineering, and enjoying great food, especially dessert. Yep, we’re a bit on the soft side…
With that in mind, allow me to show how a couple of softies experience Patagonia!
Punta Arenas, Chile
We flew from sunny and warm Santiago to freezing wind and rain in Punta Arenas – the southern-most city in Chile. You can definitely feel the Antarctic chill in the air. Even the locals braced themselves against the 70 mph windgusts. The rain came down in sideways sheets. All I could think was, “What have we done“? I had the exact same feeling when I landed on Antactica about 15 years ago. Don’t worry – we perservered!
In Punta Arenas we hoped to catch a glimpse of some penguins before working our way slowly back north. Turns out that the closest colony had already headed north for the winter (remember the seasons are reversed down here, so the snows were on their way when we arrived in March), so we registered for a half-day tour the following day and headed out to explore town – a place where my favorite explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, spent a lot of time and where he and his crew were delivered after their amazing rescue. Pretty awesome thinking, “Shackleton was here…and here…and here, too!”
We really liked this town. Unlike anywhere else on our travel thus far, cars stopped for pedestrians! It sounds simple, but we were stunned and hardly knew what to do. We also found a wonderful cafe with delicious food and actual vegetables, something we hadn’t had in a while. Unfortunately, though, the tour got cancelled due to weather. I doubt the penguins would have minded, but apparently the boat captain did. Aaron seemed okay too.
No penguins, but we did have…
El Calafate, Argentina via Puerto Natales, Chile
Leaving Punta Arenas, we zipped up to Puerto Natales and then it was time to cross into Argentina for the first time as we headed north to El Calafate, the city of glaciers! I think the hard core folks climb glaciers here. Us? Well, we were quick to reserve a one day boat and walking tour of the Perito Moreno glacier. It’s one of the very few glaciers in the world that is still growing. We saw quite a few other glaciers, too – they were all clearly retreating and it’s sad to see.
Tour day was one of those spectacular fall days where the leaves are starting to change, but it’s warm and sunny out. We took a boat to within about 1/4 mile of the glacier and man does it make you feel small! Perito Moreno towers around 20-22 stories above water (50-70 meters, about 240ft!!!) and about that far below. It is nearly 3 miles wide where the boat floats and you can see it all…you swear you could reach out and touch it. It’s BIG! We even saw a giant spire lean out and then calve off right before our very eyes. Had to have been the size of a 5-story building! We just stood with our arms stretched out pointing, jaws to the ground. Okay. THAT was pretty awesome!
Here’s a video of what the glacier looked like while we were on the boat.
El Chalten, Argentina
Aaron tried to distract me on the up-hill part of the trail. I HATE up-hill and he knows it. So he cheerily said, “What’s the longest hike of your life?” I didn’t know, but I was pretty sure it was this hike in the shadow of the Fitz-Roy Massif. Yesterday we had done a 10 mile hike to Camp Poincenot and somehow I now found myself on the 11 mile hike to Laguna Torre! Not sure what we were thinking…
“But you did the 3-Day.” Yes, true. I had walked 60 miles for charity a few years ago, but not on a trail with less than a liter of water to share. I didn’t realize how far we were going or I would have brought more provisions. (Bad hiker! Bad! See? NOT hard core.) We were relieved when we read a sign that said it was safe to drink from the glacial streams. Though I had flash-backs to Alaska, and the word “giardia” crossed my mind, we guzzled down the cold water and kept on hiking.
We sat at this stream and had a delightful “picnic” (um, Pringles and M&M’s) lunch. Here’s a little video so you can enjoy it too.
It turned out to be quite fun and really beautiful – thankfully we had almost unheard-of-in-Patagonia-in-March perfect weather! After over 20 miles in two days, plus a couple more short hikes on two other days, I think day four did me in. All better now…just memories of some really nice hikes in a hiker’s paradise.
We did, in fact, see some truly iconic views and will forever be able to say, “We were there!”
On the non-hiking side, one really fun and arty thing that happend was a little mini “honk-fest” – a marching band \ dance squad practice that seemed to be welcoming us when we arrived from the bus. It was reminiscent of Carnaval. Here’s a video of the brass band welcome.
Next up, heading further north to the Cuevas do los Manos and over to the amazing Marble Caves (Capillas de Marmol)!