Traveling to Patagonia

This story was recently posted in the Washington Post.  I have also traveled to Patagonia and while I did not do any major hikes I went to many of the same places this man went.

Patagonia is a beautiful area to visit.  The glaciers in that part of the world are even more beautiful than the ones you see in Alaska.

Torres dep Paine is a wonderful thing to see.  When we returned from there several years ago…it was featured on the front cover of National Geographic.

 

Who: Henry Egghart of Alexandria, Va.

Where, when, why: I trekked through Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile, for a week in late February. I went with Backabush Xplorers, a meetup hiking group and travel company based in London. I had always wanted to travel to Patagonia, but it seemed so remote and adventurous. But when a group I had met while working in London was going there, I jumped at the chance to join them.

Flying from Dulles International Airport to Punta Arenas, Chile, took a long time because of the layovers. There are buses from Presidente Carlos Ibanez del Campo International Airport to Puerto Natales, the gateway town to the park, 3 1 /2 hours away. It has a frontier feeling, with weathered one- and two-story houses and free-roaming dogs. There are numerous hostels, hotels, restaurants and camping gear shops.

After buying food in a well-stocked supermarket, we caught an early morning bus for the three-hour ride to the park. Near the park, the cattle and sheep grazing in lush pastures gave way to herds of guanacos, a kind of wild llama, and a few rheas — large, flightless, ostrich-like birds. Several buses reached the entrance station together, so a small crowd formed to pay the entrance fee and watch a mandatory video on park rules. The most important one is that fires are not allowed, and cooking stoves are only allowed in designated areas; large areas of the park have been damaged by camper-caused fires. A boat took us across a turquoise-blue lake, past stunning mountains, to the start of the hike.

Highlights and high points: After we had been hiking for more than two hours by headlamp in the early morning darkness to see the first light hit the Torres, it started to rain. I feared there would be no view. But we were so high that the sun rose below the rain clouds, forming a brilliant double rainbow over the Torres and Lago Las Torres National Reserve. It was breathtaking.

Cultural connection or disconnect: I thought Patagonia would be wild, remote and lonely, and much of it is. Torres del Paine, however, is Chile’s crown jewel national park and very popular. Reservations are required for all campsites, camping is allowed only in designated sites next to refugios (mountain huts) and you must show your reservation to be allowed onto the trails. The best viewpoints are marked “miradors,” and a lot of people gather at them. The trails are rough, with frequent large rocks and puddles. On the other hand, the camping areas have warm showers, a perfect treat after a long day of hard hiking.

How unexpected: It surprised me that the glaciers in Patagonia flow down into forested areas, often ending in large lakes where bright-blue icebergs break off and float away. Also, I was impressed by the friendliness and honesty of the Chilean people. I never worried about getting shortchanged or taken advantage of. One time, a 5,000 peso note (about $10) fell out of my pocket, and a young woman ran down the street to return it to me.

Favorite memento or memory: This trip reminded me how beautiful, varied and well worth exploring the world is.