The journey began with a book. One written by Bruce Chatwin, when he went to Patagonia in search of a piece of skin and came back with stories of restless wanderers in this distant land.
It wasn’t the stories that lured me to the land, though the crazy wanderers had their charm. It was the sense of an ending that the land promised. And when, once I looked up a few photos of the place, I knew I had to go there. It took some time – it takes time to reach the end of the world – it is a miracle that today we can come back from such distances.
Getting to Patagonia seemed like an endless journey, and it took us a few days to get there. On the way we made a stop in the deserts of Atacama, and its harshness did not make the journey easy. Then there was a 4 hour plane ride from Santiago to reach Punta Arenas, and when we landed it seemed to be in the end of the world. The road was Rota del fin del mundo (Road to the end of the world), and almost everything claimed to be fin del mundo. We had another 5 hours to travel on this land before we could reach Torres del Paine (Towers of the blue) where we were going to make the first base in Patagonia. The first three hours of the road felt what I imagine traveling on Mars to feel like – desolate, surrounded by silence. Here and there we saw guanacos or sheep, but no humans until we stopped for lunch in a restaurant which seemed to exist pointlessly, for there could be no one around. It was run by one woman, and we thought we were going to be her only customer for days. Miraculously, just as we were about to leave, two bikers appeared – as if out of nowhere.
The last two hours to Torres del Paine were filled with beautiful scenery. Many times we criss-crossed paths with a rainbow which refused to get captured in a camera, and most other times we skirted blue and grey lakes outlined by rugged mountains. To call it beautiful seems horribly cliche and does not express what I really felt, but there are times when articulation is not possible. I waited to be horribly disappointed – and yet I could never come to it, something that greatly puzzled me,
We reached the Explora facilities at 3:10, were given a cursory tour, and shoved into the last expedition of the day which was leaving at 3:30. It was a hike to Mirador Condor – or Condor viewpoint, and I assumed that after my tough hikes in high altitudes of Atacama, this was going to be a cakewalk. We started walking from the hotel, and I was momentarily taken aback by the cold. The towers in the distance were majestic and oddly welcoming. The first part of the walk was indeed a cakewalk, until it began climbing rapidly into a steepness which I never appreciate. On the way we saw a haunted forest of silver black remains of trees, which despite protection were not able to regrow. Our guide told us about a traveler who burnt down the forest in 2012 in an attempt to burn his toilet paper before leaving the camp ground! It is unimaginable how many times this guy must have been cursed for completely changing the landscape of the place.
By the time we reached the top, the winds had become too strong and I couldn’t stand straight atop. it also started raining, which meant that I had to keep my camera locked in the bag. We still managed some pictures, and I share this because I can atlas partially see the towers here.
As we walked down, it started pouring. We had to climb down to an island where a car was going to pick us up for a short journey back to the hotel. Weatherbeaten, it was such a relief to get into the warmth of a car, and travel back to the comfort of a hot bath and cocoa. Moments like this make me wonder how much of an outdoor person I really am.
More on Patagonia later.