Patagonia: Part 2

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is a small town that is essentially the gateway for getting to Torres del Paine.  Everyone I knew that had been to Torres del Paine told me that I really needed to go.  So, I arrived in Puerto Natales after a 5 hour bus ride from El Calafate, not really sure if I’d be able to give Torres del Paine the time that it really deserved.  I booked 3 nights at small hostel, hoping that I could do some type of day trek and see at least some of the greatness that Torres del Paine has to offer….. at least from afar.

I first located the tourism office down near the water and was informed that there were day trips up to Torres del Paine, but that a real excursion through the park would require anywhere from 2 to 7 days of trekking.  I wasn’t equipped for camping, nor did I have reservations for one of the hostels that were already booked.  I easily found a tour company in the center of town that assured me that I’d see the sights that I wanted to see.  I signed up not realizing that instead of a day of hiking, I instead would be driven around in a van with other people, making 14 stops along the way for some light hiking, photo-ops, and an occasional snack.  I’ll admit that initially, I was frustrated and a bit disappointed at myself for the lack of planning on my part and the limited exposure I would have with Torres del Paine.  But dealing with cold weather and extremely strong winds all day long left me exhausted and somewhat happy that everything worked out the way that it did.

It also gave me the time to relax and enjoy myself in the sleepy town of Puerto Natales.  Some of the highlights of my stay in Puerto Natales included having a beer at Baguales, a local brewpub in town.  I also came across a small vegetarian soup and sandwich shop called El Living.  While I’m not a vegetarian by nature, I was happy with the healthy food served and the availability of mate.  And with a small bookcase filled with old magazines (both in English and Spanish), I did not lack for any reading material, which was nice considering I haven’t read much since my Nook got stolen in Buenos Aires.

Punta Arenas

If you’re looking to visit the southern most, accessible city in South America so that you can brag about being at “The End of the World”, then you’d likely visit Ushuaia.  But, if you want to visit the southernmost city in South America of respectable size, then you’d visit Punta Arenas.  I was disappointed that my planning had left me unable to visit Ushuaia, but was still happy to be far enough south to be in the Magallanes region of South America.  I needed to go through Punta Arenas so that I could catch a flight to Santiago, Chile.  Initially, I didn’t have much interest in Punta Arenas and was only planning a night or two.  Instead, I recognized the need for some down time and scheduled 3 nights there.  Punta Arenas turned out to be a much more pleasant experience than I had expected.

I first checked into my hostel, Patagonia House, a house that has been re-configured to be a hostel.  A family lives there while guests from all over the world stay in the other available rooms.  While relaxing in your room upstairs, it’s not uncommon to hear some the kids playing Gears of War or Grand Theft Auto on their video game system right outside your door.  It’s never too loud and the place has a comfy, feeling like staying with your family.  I quickly made friends with two of my room-mates from Portland, Oregon (two of the few travelers I’d come across from the US), Brian and Blake, and decided to head out for some dinner.

The next morning, having nothing on my agenda, I hopped a ferry to Isla Magdelena to see a colony of Penguins.  Upon arrival, you walk off the ferry and are surrounded by a multitude of penguins running around, burrowing in their holes, procreating, or taking a dump right in front of you.  It’s an episode of National Geographic right in your face.  I was having the time of my life.  But the bonus for me was the lighthouse that was located there.  After returning to town, I met up with Brian and Blake to explore the cemetery which very closely resembled the Recoleta Museum found in Buenos Aires (but much smaller).

I spent my last day in Punta Arenas checking out the town and relaxing in coffee shops.  The next day, I’d be off to Santiago, Chile.

Patagonia: Part 1

San Carlos de Bariloche

Originally, when I started thinking about my visit to Patagonia and where I wanted to go, it had never occurred to me to visit San Carlos de Bariloche.  I was in my hostel in Mendoza having breakfast across from Emily, a nice young woman from Ireland, and we were discussing places that she had visited in Chile and Argentina.  “If you’re going to Puerto Natales and visiting Torres del Paine, you could do the “W” trek.  I’ve heard it’s great.”, she said.  “You should visit Bariloche in Argentina.  It’s beautiful.”  So here I was in Bariloche.  The first thing I noticed when I got out of the cab was how incredibly windy it was.  The next thing I noticed was how incredibly beautiful the lake was.  Here I stood at the doorsteps about to enter Patagonia and I couldn’t be happier.

Patagonia is an area in the southern part of both Argentina and Chile.  It’s where the hot and humid area of Argentina and Chile stops and it opens up into great big lakes, with great plains decorated with huge mountain ranges and glaciers.  Bariloche is a fun tourist town.  It has trendy streets filled with chocolate shops and small bistros selling artisanal beers or souvenirs.  Cafes that sell mate and wine are just up the street from the lake.  And of course you have the beautiful boardwalk area with health-nuts running along the lake.

I’ve come to regret it, but I only gave Bariloche one full day.  I could have easily relaxed here for a week or at least enjoyed three to five days sipping tea and reading books.  I got up early the only day I spent there and walked along the boardwalk until I spotted a chocolate shop and decided I needed a snack.  Afterwards, I bought my bus ticket to travel out to Puerto Pañuelo so that I could hike Cerro Llao Llao (pronounced ‘shao shao’).  The hike produced some incredibly beautiful pictures of Nahuel Huapi Lake.  I finished the night having a nice dinner and going to bed early.  The next morning I’d catch a flight to El Calafate.

El Calafate

While flying to El Calafate, I made the acquaintance of Tiffany, the woman sitting next to me on the plane.  After landing, I asked if she wanted to get out ahead of me and exit the plane.  She preferred to stay in her seat.  I said goodbye and offered that maybe we’d pass each other while in El Calafate.  But you say things like that so many times, rarely believing them. You understand that as a traveler you pass through so many lives and for the few times you actually cross paths again, there are a million more where the opportunity never manifests itself again.  Little did I know at the time how important meeting her would really be.

I located my hotel and then walked the mile and a half stretch into town to locate the Tourism Office.  I inquired about going to Perito Moreno, the giant glacier.  They provided a map, and informed me that it was an hour and a half bus ride to the site.  I located the bus station and bought my ticket for the next day.  The Perito Merito glacier is a massive ice shelf floating on an azure blue lake.  Perito Moreno glacier has been tamed with walkways that provide multiple balconies for viewing the glacier as well as protecting the landscape from the large numbers of people that come to visit this site every year.  A cafeteria is also on hand to feed the throngs of people that become hungry watching and photographing this incredible monument.  The weather was bright and sunny.  You can only walk for so long before stopping and staring at the glacier, hoping to hear the soft crack that precedes a big chunk of glacier that falls to the water below, leaving an azure blue imprint among the dirty remnants of the glacier where the chunk used to be.  It’s peaceful and captivating.

Back in El Calafate, I needed something to warm me back up.  Stopping in a bar near the artisinal market, I inquired to the bartender if they served any mate to which he replied “yes”.  Within moments of ordering my mate and sitting down at the bar, a woman’s voice called my name.  I turned to see Tiffany, whom I met on the airplane earlier, propped up on crutches and smiling at me.  When I asked her to join me for some mate, she readily agreed and sat down to provide me company for the night.  2 cups of mate turned into 2 beers, when she finally opened up about her story.  Tiffany uses crutches because she suffered a spinal cord injury after falling from a balcony in Dubai years back.  Despite doctors telling her that she’d never walk again, she set out to prove them wrong.  And she did.  She’s still paralyzed from the knees down, but can still walk with the help of two crutches.  Her next challenge….. to prove to herself and the world that she can travel for the next 13 months all over the world.  You can read her story and adventures at her blog, A Tale of Two Legs.

Serendipity is a very real thing.  I’ve known people in my life that seem like they’re plugged into this universe.  They ask for what they want and then they receive.  Through perseverance and a positive outlook, they overcome all obstacles and achieve the most incredible feats.  I too am plugged into the universe, but still feel awkward and doubtful at times.  But when I’m feeling unsure and doubtful of my life and purpose, someone like Tiffany shows up to remind me that almost anything is possible.  I have doubts and questions about my travels thus far.  Tiffany shows up and dispels my doubts and answers my questions.  I start to feel stronger and thank the universe for putting her in my path.

The next day, I have a lazy day and sleep in.  Later, Tiffany and I meet up for dinner and afterwards hug and say our goodbye’s.  She’s off to the glacier, and I need to make my way to Chile.  I’m starting to feel energized again.  My next stop is Puerto Natales where I’ll hopefully get a glimpse of Torres del Paine.