Finally, we are here, in Patagonia, top of my list for this trip from the beginning.
Even the flight down to Ushuaia was spectacular.
I’d checked in online 2 minutes into the 48 hours check-in window to ensure a window seat up front for Lauren and was so glad I did. She may be less glad as she kept getting told to stay still so I could crane round her at the amazing mountains and fjords below and get some pictures.
The plane stopped en route in El Calafate, a small Patagonian city and as we came into land we could see an enormous turquoise lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I haven’t put a filter on these photos, the lake really was that colour. A milky greeny-blue. Stunning. Something to do with the minerals in the water.
After taking on some passengers in El Calafate (and luckily getting rid of the passenger next to me who had insisted on listening to heavy metal, loudly, through her headphones the whole way down) we took off again for a short hop over to Tierra del Fuego, a large island shared between Chile and Argentina where our Patagonia adventure would start. The views of Tierra del Fuego were amazing – and endless – it’s a whole lot of mountains, fjords, snow, lakes, glaciers and not much else. My heart was in my mouth as I realized I have somehow committed us to finding our way through this wilderness over the next month.
After collecting our bags in the small arrivals hall and being taken to our hotel by the cheerful taxi driver Roberto (who in the ten-minute drive filled us in on everything we should do while in the area, all of which coincidentally would require hiring a taxi for the day…) we checked in and immediately set out to find food. We’d had breakfast at 8am, our plane had departed at 11am, and we arrived around 5pm (which even by the late-eating Argentinians standards, was most definitely after lunch) and had been provided on the plane with a glass of orange juice and a pack of cereal which proudly proclaimed it contained less than 100 calories. Great if you are on a diet, not so great if that’s your only sustenance for the day. This is no budget airline, I paid over 400 USD for our tickets so I’d have thought it included lunch!
The lomitos (steak sandwiches loaded with an insane amount of extras such as onions, peppers, fried eggs, cheese, bacon, lettuce, ham, tomato…. You name it, you can get it on a lomito) at the place next door soon restored us, and we set to planning the following day’s adventure – a trip to the Tierra del Fuego National Park.
The next morning we got the bus to the National Park, loaded up with suncream and sunglasses, woolly hats and gloves, extra layers and waterproofs. Oh and of course trail food. You can’t go hiking without trail food. Unfortunately, no Kendal mint cake or angel cake here, so we had to make do with raisins, nuts and crackers.
Most of the visitors to the national park go on guided tours that drive from one viewpoint to another and barely scratch the surface. Lauren announced this was ‘stupid’ (and I agreed), so after lecturing her about not judging people and how it may be all some people can manage, and aren’t we lucky etc etc, we instead opted to be dropped off at one of the viewpoints and then hike to another by the end of the day, where hopefully we could get the bus back to town.
Naturally, Lauren skipped and danced her way across approximately 12km of trails, uphill and down, through mud and rocks and over massive tree roots, while I lumbered behind with the bag, but we had a fantastic day. Some of the trails were well maintained and signposted. Some were barely visible. The map the NP provides is fairly rudimentary and hasn’t been introduced to the concept of scale. But figuring it out and getting pleasantly lost was all part of the fun.
It was wonderful to be out in the pure air, and despite coming across the occasional other hiker, we were in the main completely alone, which was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. The scenery was spectacular – snow on the mountains, those weird green-blue coloured lakes and rivers, and the vegetation just starting to show some autumn colours.
It was also great to be in the cool – Buenos Aires had been hot, at times stiflingly so, but here we could stride out with the (intense) wind on our faces and really move. Of course, we were incredibly lucky it wasn’t raining, as with the strong winds Patagonia is famous for, that would have been an altogether less pleasant experience.
This is one of those places where no amount of photography skill can do it justice. Certainly not what I can do with my little point and shoot. What is most impressive is the sheer scale – a feeling of genuine wilderness and being completely at the mercy of nature. We are literally at ‘the edge of the world’ – beyond the water is just Antarctica. It’s a wonderful feeling but also sobering, and photos can only capture a hint of what this place is like.
At one point I stopped to rest and allowed Lauren to clamber across some rocks to the other side of the river and explore. It was amazing to be able to just let her roam. She came back covered in seed pods and mud and declared “I love Patagonia’. Not bad for day one 😊
The highlight of the day was the chance to watch a fox making its way along the opposite bank of the river we were walking along – it stopped and had a good look at us before heading on its way. It seemed bigger than urban foxes I’ve seen in the UK and was a wonderful addition to a brilliant day.
By around 3.30pm we had reached the visitor centre where we were due to catch the bus at 4.40 pm – we had some soup and empanadas and then while I slumped over a coffee Lauren took herself off outside to play in the freezing wind, clearly still full of energy.
So how do you end a day in beautiful natural surroundings, a day of digital detox and solitude, of quiet communing with nature, of physical exercise and wonderful peace?
You go to Hard Rock Café for some stupidly loud music, horrifically unhealthy food and immense desserts of course!!!!!
Tomorrow – Penguins!!!!!